In the same year that I first got into hifi – 1972 – a revolutionary product was introduced: the Linn Sondek LP12 turntable. The revolution was in part due to the turntable, but more so due to Linn’s founder, Ivor Tiefenbrun, successfully convincing the entire UK high fidelity community that the turntable was the most important component in the playback chain.
But of course the LP12 was far from the first high fidelity turntable. Swiss firm Thorens had started making music boxes 89 years earlier, in 1883. By 1903 it was making phonographs, and then from 1928 electric-motor-driven record players. By the 1950s it was making some of the most highly regarded turntables in the world.
So, again in 1972, Thorens was a brand I would have jumped at, had I the money. Which, as a young teen, I most certainly did not.
Which brings us to the Thorens TD402 DD turntable. This is a very, very different turntable to the suspended sub-chassis Thorens turntables of those days. But a different approach, it turns out, doesn’t necessarily mean an inferior approach.
- The Thorens TD402 DD turntable was designed in Germany and is built in Taiwan (Thorens is largely German-based these days)
- It is a solid-chassis unit with a direct drive motor
- Two speeds – 33 1/3 and 45 rpm
- Built in phono preamplifier, can be bypassed
- Carbon tube tonearm with detachable head shell, adjustable tracking force and adjustable antiskating
- Audio Technica AT VM95E cartridge pre-fitted and pre-aligned
- Switchable auto motor-off
- 15% wow and flutter
- 67dB A-weighted or 60dB unweighted signal to noise ratio
- Available in gloss black or gloss walnut, both with aluminium top plate
- 420mm wide by 141mm high by 355mm deep
- The Thorens TD402 DD turntable strikes an excellent balance between ease of use, reliable operation, strong audio performance and versatility
- Price: $1499
- Available at fine high fidelity retail outlets, and direct from distributor’s retail division here
More about the Thorens TD402 DD turntable
The Thorens TD402 DD turntable isn’t the only direct drive turntable in the company’s line up. Its top-of-the-line TD 124 DD is also direct drive. And it costs around ten times more.
As mentioned, the turntable comes with a built-in phono preamplifier for magnetic cartridges. You can have this switched on or off. The same set of RCA sockets are used for both forms of the signal, so if you are using an external phono pre-amp, do take care you have the switch set to the correct position. An earthing point is included for use with any external phono preamp. Included with the turntable is a basic interconnect with earthing wire attached. I’d suggest that you replace this with something of higher quality.
The power supply is an external unit that plugs into a power point and feeds 24 volts via a thin cable. A hard power switch is on the back panel near the outputs. Another switch there changes the mode of operation. It offers a very basic semi-auto mode which monitors the position of the tonearm and only has the platter rotating when the tone arm is in a position to play it. When the arm gets to the run-out section of the groove, the motor runs for a little while longer then switches off. The arm just stays there, sitting on the stylus, but that stops further stylus wear. In this mode, the record also isn’t rotating when the arm is in its rest. With the switch the other way, it’s fully manual, so it’s up to you to stop and start the rotation. Stop and Start is controlled by one lever on the top, while another lever is used for 33/45 rpm switching. There’s none of that DJ-ish stuff you see on some direct drive turntables, like fine speed adjustments and strobe markings. This turntable is designed just for playing records.
The AT VM95E is a good, mid-priced moving magnet cartridge, quite widely used. The “E” stands for “Elliptical”, the shape of the stylus. One unusual – indeed, I think it might be unique – feature of this cartridge is it comes in several different versions with different stylus shapes. You can upgrade (or downgrade) by buying the appropriate new stylus and swapping it over. The styluses slip in and out of the cartridge body quite easily. Other available shapes are conical, nude elliptical (the supplied one is bonded elliptical, with a diamond tip attached to a stump of some other material), micro linear and Shibata.
I used this turntable/cartridge combination to take music samples with the standard elliptical, micro linear and Shibata styluses for a comparison I’ll be publishing here in the near future. Complete with downloadable high resolution digital samples.
The cartridge is designed for tracking at 2 grams (±0.2) and has a rated output of 4mV at 1kHz for a groove speed of 5cm/sec.
Setting up the Thorens TD402 DD turntable
As is usually the case with turntables, it comes largely disassembled in the carton. The assembly instructions are clear, though. If you just follow them step by step, you can’t really go wrong. The one potentially tricky part of setting up a turntable is aligning the cartridge, but you won’t have to do that because it’s already properly installed in the head shell. All you have to do is plug that in and rotate the collar to fix it in place.
You set the stylus weight by rotating the counterweight on the arm to balance the arm perfectly flat (with head shell and cartridge attached, of course), turn the floating weight marker ring so that “0” is on the mark, and then turn the whole counterweight until “2” lines up. That’s for the two grams recommended weight.
According to my Rega electronic stylus pressure gauge, this actually resulted in 1.83 grams. Turning the counterweight a little further to an indicated 2.15 grams had it virtually spot on. Then it was simply a matter of turning the antiskating dial to 2 as well. I checked that on the ungrooved band of a Shure test record, and the antiskating proved exact, with the stylus not moving either towards the middle or the outer edge.
Direct drive turntables tend to be more powerful than belt drive. Startup speed was perfectly satisfying for we record listeners. But at maybe a second, or second-and-a-half, up to a steady 33.33rpm from still, not fast enough for DJ types. I could use my carbon fibre brush without causing any perceptible slowing.
Listening with the Thorens TD402 DD
This is not my first outing with this turntable. Very slightly less than one year ago I reviewed this very turntable elsewhere (for tedious reasons, I wrote there under the name Thomas Bartlett) and I was extremely impressed. Since then I’ve upgraded my loudspeakers enormously so I was keen to have another listen. I remain impressed.
I did much of my listening using a Simaudio Moon 110LP V2 phono preamplifier, with a higher level of gain than that provided by the built-in phono pre-amp, and the performance in my system was markedly better. I mention this as a possible upgrade path, or for those who already have a high-quality preamplifier that they’d prefer to use.
For what follows, though, I used the built-in preamp.
And given that, the first record upon which I must remark is the extended dance mix of Men Without Hats’ 1982 12-inch single of “The Safety Dance”. This might seem like a strange go-to record for a review, but it actually has a rather high modulation level which can throw off some systems. (With one turntable with an inbuilt preamp and ADC, the digital output was clipped with this record because the peak output level was higher than that set for the ADC). On the Thorens TD402 DD turntable, this record sounded, if anything, a bit smoother than I expected. Clearly, neither the pickup nor the preamplifier was stressed in the slightest.
Moving on to something a little more hifi-worth, Pat Methany & Lyle Mays’ 1981 release As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls is a gloriously layered work, with powerful bass sections and gorgeously recorded percussive elements across the entire surface of Side 1, stretching from the outermost to the innermost tracks. So you get to see if the performance is consistent. Side 1 is drawing to an end as I write these words, and the performance was indeed consistent. There was a kind of effortless power throughout, and again a complete lack of stress. A bit too relaxed perhaps? Or just a lack of undue distortion? I’m inclined towards the latter given the full data retrieval that seemed to be evident on this recording.
The sound stage on this recording was a delight, with clear positioning of everything to the left and right, and also to the front and back.
I’ll briefly note that at the specified tracking pressure, this turntable with the fitted cartridge handily navigated both the high and low frequency tracking tests on An Audio Obstacle Course, a “trackability test record” released by Shure around the time that it launched the V-15 Type II (Improved) cartridge. That was with no audible distortion.
The “quiet” track on this record revealed only a tiny amount of very low-level rumble when I had it turned up very high. I experienced none of that during regular record playback, frequently playing quite loudly.
I find that I’m more tolerant of record surface noise these days than I used to be. I guess it’s because I know if it’s too unbearable, I can always seek out a digital version. But when I put on Cécile Ousset’s piano performance of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition I was reminded of how in those days most classical music LPs were marred by noise. And how infuriating it was. So much so that I’ve probably played this EMI album less than half a dozen times since I bought it in the early 1980s. So now, today in 2021, ignoring the noise as best I could, I have to say I was impressed by the way the turntable (and speakers) handled the dynamics of this recording. In a pretty, light section such as “In the Tuileries Gardens”, the tone was sweet and the delivery precise. But the heavy “Bydlo” immediately following, built largely of power chords across the keyboard, was captured cleanly, with its full weight preserved, yet without papering over the finer detail.
Let’s finish with the mainstream of mainstream pop: Billy Joel’s 52nd Street. Unlike the previous album, this one has a beautiful surface, since it’s a CBS “Half-Speed Mastered Extended Range Recording” I bought new. This turntable delivered Big Shot with a very wide sound stage and all instruments in precise locations. The tonal balance on “Honesty” was immaculate. The kick drum strong and the splashy crash cymbal in the left channel controlled. Both of those tracks were presented kind of two dimensionally, with a wide sound stage but not much depth. The following track, “My Life”, has the instruments mostly drawn closer to the centre, but also offered a lot more depth, along with some fascinating elements, like a lightly struck cymbal hovering continuously above the right speaker. If there’s weird phasing stuff in a recording, this turntable is going to bring it out.
I really did fall in love with the Thorens TD402 DD turntable because it ticked all my boxes. It offers a strong audio performance in the most important areas. It looks lovely. It isn’t fussy. It will fit just about any system. And, it provides a little extra in convenience for the user.
And isn’t that what we should want in all equipment?