Does the word Thorens conjure anything in your mind? For those familiar with classic turntables, it is an image that is in part similar to, but also quite divergent from, what is delivered in the Thorens TD402 DD turntable.
About: Thorens is a legendary Swiss maker of high-end turntables. It made its first one way back in 1928. It fell on hard times in the late 1990s as the CD crushed analogue competition. Under new management, it is now based in German, and continues to make high end turntables.
About the Thorens TD402 DD turntable
Legendary, indeed. One of the design features of those legendary turntables was the floating sub-chassis. The working parts of the turntable was isolated from the outer case by fairly soft springs, reducing noise from external shocks. The Thorens TD402 DD turntable is not like that at all. Nor is it belt driven.
The “DD” stands for direct drive. A low-noise motor with a slow speed of rotation is connected directly to the spindle, turning the platter. Direct drive turntables are typically fast to start up and slow down and are preferred by DJs. Traditionally audiophiles preferred belt drive, but I think there has been something of a reassessment of that position in recent years.
This is a two-speed turntable: 33 1/3rpm and 45 rpm. A lever to the left switches conveniently between the two. The lever to the right sets the platter to turning, or not. A small slide switch at the back of the turntable selects between full manual and semiautomatic operation. Manual leaves the damped cue lever to lower stylus to vinyl but leaves everything else up to you. When the stylus gets to the end of the disk, it will just keep on playing back the run-out groove indefinitely, even though it isn’t producing anything useful, until you push the cue lever back. If you leave it, you’re shortening the useful life of your stylus. You really ought to be considering a replacement after two or three hundred hours of playback.
The Thorens TD402 DD turntable tonearm
On the Thorens TD402 DD turntable, semiautomatic means that the turntable pays attention to the position of the tonearm. When it gets to where the run-out groove is, it waits around twenty seconds for you to do your duty, and if you fail to lift the stylus, it just stops the motor. After a moment the record has stop rotating and the record has stopped. No more wear and tear on the stylus as it just rests there. In this mode, the platter also won’t turn when the arm is back in its rest.
The turntable is fitted with a Thorens TP 72 tonearm, which uses a “carbon tube”. I think that means carbon fibre. That makes for a lightweight, but extremely rigid arm. It has a screw counterweight so that a range of different cartridges can be accommodated. It also has a removable headshell, which facilitates cartridge changes. Anti-skating is set simply with a dial with markings indicating the tracking weight.
An Audio-Technica AT-VM95E moving magnet cartridge is pre-fitted to the tonearm. This model of cartridge sells by itself for around $70 in Australia. It has a bonded elliptical stylus, a middling output level of 4mV (for a 1kHz modulation at 5cm/second) and a recommended tracking weight of two grams.
The Thorens TD402 DD turntable preamplifier
The Thorens TD402 DD turntable can deliver its signal natively – at a low level requiring the use of a phono preamplifier – or at line level using an in-built pre-amp. Another switch on the back selects between the two modes.
I like that. The built-in pre-amp means that you can use the turntable with any playback device with an analogue input and a volume control. The bypass means that you can employ a higher-end phono preamplifier, or use the turntable with an integrated amplifier with its own phono input. If you decide to upgrade to a more exotic moving coil cartridge, the in-built preamp simply won’t do (you need another twenty decibels of gain for those), so the straight-through option is welcome.
The Thorens TD402 DD turntable doesn’t use a suspended or floating sub-chassis, but a pretty solid plinth with everything solidly connected. Quite the departure, but a design style used by many other iconic turntables of yore. Nonetheless, it has styling cures of the Thorens of old. The plate around the turntable is silvery while the outside of the plinth is wood. Perhaps. It’s that super shiny wood veneer that you see in luxury car interiors. So shiny and smooth, it might possibly be plastic. Whichever, the Thorens TD402 DD turntable is a fine thing upon which to cast your eyes.
Installation of the Thorens TD402 DD turntable
Clearly the review model had been around a bit before getting to me. It was in parts, but not quite in the arrangement suggested by the manual. Should you purchase a new Thorens TD402 DD turntable, I have no doubt that everything would match up properly. The manual is quite clear about how to put things together and set up the turntable.
I’ve set up a few turntables in my time, but one aspect had me quite puzzled. The calibrations on the counterweight were utterly wrong. Generally, to get the right stylus pressure you first balance the tone arm, so that it floats with the stylus at the level it would be if playing a record. Then you rotate the counterweight on the end of the arm so that that tracking pressure you want is indicated by the calibration marks.
A floating arm
So I balanced the arm and turned it first to 0.5 grams, then 1 gram and so on to 2 grams. Rather than making the arm press down, the arm went up floating at a higher level. I consulted the manual and found if supplied new, you install the counterweight yourself. The turntable had come to me with the counterweight already on the tonearm … the wrong way around! I hope the previous reviewer used a stylus gauge to work out the tracking weight.
I mention all that for fun, because it gives a sense of some of the intricacies involved in turntables and, well, because I had to work it out so I might as well share it. Again, that’s not something that you’ll encounter with a new Thorens TD402 DD turntable.
Anyway, once I’d worked that out and flipped the counterweight the other way around, setup took just seconds. Seriously. A quick spin on the antiskating dial to the indicated position, and then I was spinning vinyl and enjoying music.
Listening to the Thorens TD402 DD turntable
Well, before we start listening, allow me to share my usability impressions. If you want a turntable that simply spins properly, cues to the track properly, has a usable perspex dust cover and just works, the Thorens TD402 DD turntable is for you. It was a genuine pleasure to use.
I did most of my listening using the built-in phono pre-amplifier. However, for the last couple of days I flicked the switch on the back and used a separate phono pre-amp – a rather delicious Simaudio Moon 110LP V2 moving magnet/moving coil unit.
At this point I should note that when you’re talking about vinyl and turntables, in my opinion terms like “transparent” aren’t really appropriate. That’s for digital technology, which may indeed offer a pure conduit to the originally captured recording. A turntable has something of the characteristics of a musical instrument. It really is a “player” of a disk. Perhaps, even, a “performer” of a disk. The Thorens TD402 DD turntable performed superbly with this and with all the material I listened to. On this one, the imaging was wide, and occasionally produced a quite deep sound stage. It wasn’t quite as definitive, though, as I would have liked in view of the noisy disk.
Spinning some LPs
As I’m writing, the Thorens TD402 DD turntable is spinning a disc I purchased on impulse at a second-had record store. It’s Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Tarkus, and unfortunately it has rather more surface noise than I would have liked, even though it looked clean enough when I bought it. But despite the clicks and pops, the presentation of the music is first class. I could hear the primitive processing of Lake’s voice, while Emerson’s keyboards – synths and organ – were rendered in a detailed and pleasing way.
So I pulled out a few LPs with which I’m more familiar. One I picked up only a few years ago when I was testing record cleaners. It turned out not to need much cleaning and remains in pristine condition, despite having been pressed fifty-five years ago. The album Dynamic Sound Showcase, King Stereo Japan is one of those compilation albums released in an attempt to convince the public of the virtues of stereo over mono. A tip: there’s a good chance that this kind of album has only even been played once or twice in its life. This one is stereo, very stereo. And dynamic, very dynamic. The music is jazz-ish, ranging from goofy to rather nice.
And the Thorens TD402 DD turntable delivered it with all its stereo separation and dynamism intact. I turned up the amp and the (less goofy) tracks were great, full of life and with remarkably well-place images across the stereo stage. In particular, the drums and other percussion bounced out into the room with no seeming compression, while the double-bass grounding of several of the tracks was solid, clean and comprehensible.
King Crimson, of course
Then, some King Crimson. This album is one I bought back in the day when vinyl was king. And if you wanted quality, and you could find it, you purchased a Japanese pressing. That’s what my copy of Starless and Bible Black is.
Track 2, Side 2, “Fracture” can be a difficult track, switching rapidly between delicate interludes of fast Fripp guitar-work and near heavy-metal interludes underpinned by an astonishingly present drum kit being artistically pounded by the amazing Bill Bruford. Every strike of cymbal or drum sounded in its place in a space between the speakers. Even that damned mellotron that King Crimson insisted on using on way too many albums didn’t sound as bad as usual.
Make sure your connections are solid
After all that wonderful trouble-free operation, I did that flick of a switch and moved to the external phono pre-amp. And then things fell apart. There was an enormous amount of hashy noise coming through my speakers. The music was audible over it, but clearly something was wrong.
I checked the wiring. When using the internal photo pre-amp on the Thorens TD402 DD turntable, I just connected the two RCA plugs on each end of the included signal cable into the appropriate inputs and outputs. Fine. But when you’re using phono-level output, in most cases you also have to connect the “Earth”. Because the signals produced by a cartridge – just a few millivolts, or a few tenths of a microvolt for moving coil cartridges – are so susceptible to electrical interference, the tonearm and metal parts of the turntable themselves must be grounded to drain away interference. There’s an earth connection – usually a screw connection – on all phono preamplifiers and on all turntables.
The signal cable packaged with the turntable has an “earth” wire with spades on either end attached to the twin-RCA cable. The whole thing looks a little flimsy for a turntable of this quality. Still, that’s what I used since it came with the turntable. Eventually I worked out that the electrical connection between wire and one of the spades was flaky. I made a separate earth wire and there was no audible noise.
Internal or external?
I initially found it difficult to pick the difference in performance between the external Moon preamplifier and the in-built one of the Thorens TD 402DD turntable. But I nonetheless preferred the former, because it’s highly configurable and with the click of a couple of dip-switches I could boost the gain by ten decibels, which my system seemed to prefer. With the turntable’s internal phono pre-amp the system spent a lot of the time with the volume control in the 5-o’clock position to get a really engaging level. But that will depend very much on the sensitivity of your system. I prefer to have the volume control closer to the centre – 12-o’clock – so that there’s plenty of adjustment range available on either side.0
Antiskating on the Thorens TD402 DD turntable
Antiskating is a rather esoteric subject. To cut a very long story short, for any pivoting tonearm on a turntable, the forces are misaligned. The drag on the stylus from the surface of the recording is pulling it at an angle which differs to the line between the stylus and the tonearm pivot. That results in a force pushing the stylus towards the centre of the record. And that force increases wear on the inner side of the track, increasing the damage for one of the stereo channels, while reducing the effective tracking weight for the other channel, increasing its distortion.
The solution is to apply a small force in the other direction to counteract this. Sometimes a counterweight on a thread is employed, sometimes a spring is employed. (Sometimes there is no anti-skating mechanism at all, which is not really a good idea.) The Thorens TD402 DD turntable uses a spring system. You’re supposed to just turn the dial controlling the spring until the tracking pressure of the stylus is selected. (The skating force is proportion to tracking pressure.) I did all my listening with the antiskating dial set to “2”.
Then, as I was finishing off this review I checked, as I usually do, by pulling out my forty-some year old copy of the Shure An Audio Obstacle Course LP, which has a track without grooves intended precisely for testing this. With the Thorens TD402 DD turntable’s antiskating set to two grams to match the stylus tracking weight, the stylus still spun rather promptly towards to centre of the record. After some experimentation I determined that the maximum setting – four grams – was the right one to keep the stylus perfectly balanced.
So, if you don’t have your own setup record, do the same. Apart from that “tweak”, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Thorens TD402 DD turntable as both a pleasure to use, and pleasure to listen to.