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Hi Fi World July 2016
Recommended Posts. Posted July 23, Share this post Link to post Share on other sites. Posted July 24, It's too heavy and something might happen to it. But you better understand—we take our Connie Companion doll pretty damn seriously. I was, in the truest sense of the expression, fooling myself.
Can that boast be made for any contemporary turntable?
Let's all just take a moment and clear the sleep-boogers of delusion from our eyes and say: That's ridiculous. The Thorens—with its cast-alloy chassis, its high-torque motor, its combination belt and idler drive, its heavy iron main platter and light aluminum upper platter, its "hidden" strobe and speed-adjustment control, its clutch mechanism for stopping the upper platter without stressing the motor, its vibration-isolation system, and its quick-change tonearm board—contains only a handful of off-the-shelf parts that might otherwise have found their way into an alarm clock or a water pump or an air-conditioner: eight screws, three fiber washers, three C-clips, and a short length of twin-lead wire.
Every other part was designed, drafted, engineered, and made for the Thorens TD And I don't mean "made" as in "band-sawn from a slab of MDF or acrylic. I'm 53 years old, I don't make a ton of money, I have two sets of car payments and a daughter who'll go to college some day, and I do believe I've finally had enough of all this bullshit. I've had enough of hearing people say that such and such a thing is well engineered when, in fact, it's cobbled together by an amateur.
When I look at a Marantz 8b amplifier, I know it. Yet when I return my gaze to an expensive turntable with a crudely bandsawn plinth, or a six-figure loudspeaker that uses an unmodified two-figure tweeter, or a megabuck amp in which a bazillion parts are stuffed every which way into the same chassis that the manufacturer uses for 20 other models, like Carvel's Fudgie the Whale cake mold, I know I'm looking at an underengineered mess, no matter how good it sounds footnote 1.
And I've reached saturation with this, friends. I've reached critical mass. And if that little blood vessel behind my left eye goes [i]BANG! That shouldn't be terribly hard to do: I'll start by avoiding products that can't seem to last on the market for more than two years without expensive revisions.
If you're going to pay top dollar to an engineer who swears he's given you his best effort one year, then "discovers" some new mystery material or circuit layout the next, you might as well do so on your hands and knees.
I'll finish by using real classics, such as my Thorens TD , as the basis for all of my listening. One might think that Wes's illustration would apply even more to owners of vintage Thorens turntables: Surely the ravages of time and technology have taken their toll, and many of the critical bits in any year-old turntable will have been replaced by now, the originals rotting away in some scrapyard.
The truth is quite different: Not only did the Thorens engineers get most of their flagship right the first time, but its various parts are remarkably hardy. And of the improvements I've put in place since that time, the most effective by far was the cheapest. I was then and still am utterly astounded that the idler wheel itself did not need to be replaced—but literally every Thorens expert with whom I've spoken says that the need for such a thing is exceedingly rare, occasioned only by contamination with oil or grease, or the sort of flat spot that results from having left the drive mechanism engaged for more than, say, a decade.
II performance levels.
That was because the gummimuffens on my Mk. II looked fine: They weren't in the least dried out or cracked—which is more than I can say for my player's original suspension mushrooms, which were useless or, as John Wilkes Booth might have said, "useless, useless".
The job itself was easy: Working from above, I simply removed three C-clips and their fiber washers from the motor retaining shafts, pried away the old grommets, and slipped the new ones into place, using a denuded Q-Tip to properly seat their molded-in grooves on the edges of the holes made for them.
Other, more expensive upgrades have further improved my Thorens, but none has been of the same degree as those six little grommets. Before all that, of course, I had to remove the TD 's platter—which is more or less where we came in. The only safe way to reassemble a 's bearing is to loosen the three small bolts that hold the bottom plate in place, allowing air to escape, and to gently replace the spindle—after which the bottom-plate bolts can be retightened.
Before replacing gummimuffens, belts, or virtually anything else, one must remove the three bolts that hold the platter to the bearing-spindle flange and lift it carefully away—slightly more difficult than it sounds, as the platter is quite heavy, and must be lifted with sufficiently even force that the platter comes straight up and away from the spindle.
Allowing a tiny amount of WD to seep between the platter and the record spindle—which is, in fact, the very top part of the bearing spindle—will help, as will polishing that top spindle the next time your turntable requires disassembly. That, too, got my attention: Many Q-Tips were soiled in its cleaning, and its oil is now fresh as a daisy.
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And while I had the chassis upside down, I cleaned the speed-adjustment mechanism's thin metal band with a rag dipped in WD, and cleaned and lubricated the pivot points for the lightly sprung brass hinge that allows the idler wheel to go in and out of contact with the platter rim. Doing that, then adding a drop of Thorens oil to that mechanism's main pivot from above , made an enormous difference in my TD 's ability to accelerate from a standing start.
But it wasn't really so hard at all, and I'll bet you're up to it, too. Do it with the motor casing still fastened to the turntable: The drive pulley, which is held to the motor's armature shaft with two setscrews, must be removed from above, and the motor cover must be removed from below.
From there it was a simple matter of removing the armature, cleaning its shaft and the upper and lower bearings with several more swabs, soaking the porous bronze bearings with oil, waiting, adding more oil, and carefully realigning the lower bearing during reassembly. The motor, an obviously durable and well-made thing, responded happily, and appeared anxious for its next 46 years of vinyl-driving.
Chief among them, of course, is the estimable Juerg Schopper. Since , Juerg's family has operated a musical-instrument store in northern Switzerland, which long ago added records, record players, and tape recorders to their line of merchandise.
Today the family business exists as Schopper A. Of the latter, Schopper's specialty is the classic Thorens turntable, and their operation has expanded to include the engineering and manufacture of TD replacement parts and upgrades. Thanks to his friendship with key veterans of the company's plant in St. Croix—most notably the youthful Jacques Basset—Juerg Schopper has been able to pick up where the Thorens engineers left off.
Schopper's crowning achievement as a manufacturer may be his replacement for the original magnetically reactive platter. For reasons that probably go beyond its advantage in centrifugal energy, that massive iron platter is considered one of the keys to the 's excellent musical performance—second only to its combination of a relatively powerful motor and idler-wheel drive—and most Thorens enthusiasts appear to agree that the company's briefly offered and significantly less heavy aluminum-alloy platter doesn't sound nearly as good.
But the flaws of the original are well known to owners of Deccas and other phono cartridges with similarly greedy magnets, and Juerg Schopper has offered them the first really viable alternative.
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The resulting metal is almost completely nonmagnetic—and in the hands of the machinists whom Schopper A. Yet the greatest achievement of all is one of a more general sort: Drawing on his own experiences, as well as those of his employee Gino Bertolo—who has developed a motor-rebuilding regimen slightly more intense than that with which brain scans are administered—Juerg Schopper has begun to offer full TD rebuilds, the fruits of which are available either as ready-to-ship products, or as a battery of services for current Thorens owners.
To help me appreciate this series of accomplishments, Schopper recently sent me a completely refurbished TD to compare with my tidied-up original. The Schopper sample featured Juerg's upgraded bearing, main platter, and upper platter, along with a new beechwood plinth, isolation grommets, armboard, drive belt, platter mat, and, of course, gummimuffens. Its motor had been rebuilt and tested by the good Mr. Its appearance was ravishing, its sound even more so.
The full brace of Schopper refinements created a record player that could compete with virtually anything I've heard in terms of treble openness and clarity, midrange detail, and—especially—bass extension, yet which preserved and enhanced the 's well-established strengths: its relentless sense of musical flow and momentum, the size and solidity of the images it creates, and its ability to startle and engage the listener with its dramatic and decidedly nonwimpy sound. You could look at it another way and say that the all-out Schopper treatment makes a musically successful product a bit more.
In a way, that's true—but not in a pejorative sense. The Schoppered sounded every bit as tuneful, colorful, and substantial as the original, yet it simply had more bass and treble extension, and clarity throughout. I've tried, as much as possible, to swap the Schopper upgrades one at a time to my own TD Mk. II; as of this writing, I've done so with all but the newly manufactured upgraded bearing and Gino Bertolo's remade motor.
And the Schopper main platter was especially wonderful, endowing the old with a greater dose of drama during the loud bits, and greater poise and calm during the quiet ones—although before I heard the improvement, I had to remember to compensate for the new platter's nonmagnetic properties by resetting the tonearm's downforce.
The old platter increased the effective tracking force at the level of the record by a significant margin, simply by pulling down on the cartridge's magnet.
What an idiot I was. I can't help seeing yet a different parallel—this one to the world of the very-low-powered single-ended triode amplifier. To those who've made peace with high power, the average SET must seem awfully wrong.
And if there were no high-sensitivity, high-efficiency loudspeakers in the world, that impression would be reasonable. Now I wonder about low-torque motors driving record grooves under high-compliance cartridges think Shure V , and high-torque motors driving records under low-compliance cartridges think Ortofon SPU. Over the years, I've worried so much about matching turntables to tonearms and tonearms to cartridges that I may have missed an even more crucial point: matching the turntable with the cartridge.
Now that the Thorens has captured my heart—no other way of putting it—I'm turning my attention to those things I've missed along the way. My reasons have almost nothing to do with sound and everything to do with music: Except for the best DSD applications I've heard, music that's recorded and played back digitally doesn't have the momentum that I hear in even the grungiest, lamest analog settings. II—only more so: Not just sounds being pushed at me, but lines of notes being pulled along in front of me.
Lately, that has made all the difference. Footnote 1: I can't help seeing a parallel between our dilemma and that of the automobile industry. Because American consumers in particular came to regard the automobile as a necessity, even the most foolish companies were spared the Darwinian fate they deserved, and they survive today, putting on cattle drives at car shows and competing to see whose onboard DVD player has the widest screen.
As a good-sounding turntable, it's a perennially recommendable gem, but as an engineering exercise it's only fair. Some core elements, such as the main bearing and two-piece platter, were beautifully done if somewhat derivative, but the pubs had apparently opened by the time the steel top plate was "designed"—and to suggest that the fiddly dressing of the tonearm cable was engineered into the design as opposed to being an after-the-fact kludge, howsoever necessary, is mildly outrageous.
Posted July 24, edited. Immediately after checking into our hotel, my wife goes to work distributing the contents of our suitcases among the room's various cabinets, closets, and drawers. Thus do I earn the luxury of complacence: Every morning thereafter, my things are right where I know they should be.
Looked at from another direction: If I had to rediscover from scratch the location of my clothes every morning, it would take me half the day to get dressed.
Fair enough—but what's good for the underpants is not so good for the hi-fi. If you've ever heard an old, obsolete audio component perform as well as or better than a brand-new, state-of-the-art product, then you've heard proof that some of the things this industry has learned about music reproduction in the past half century are hopelessly wrong and no longer worth knowing.
We have to find some way to unknow them.
A case in point is the Altec C loudspeaker driver, a near-perfect example of which I just scored on eBay. The C is a direct descendent of the Western Electric A, which, when it debuted in footnote 1 , represented the state of the art of single-diaphragm full-range drivers: smooth impedance curve, high sensitivity, and flat frequency response all the way from 70Hz to 13kHz. But it wasn't long until the industry turned in a direction that would make the A and its descendents nearly obsolete.