Test Thorens TD 1600 with TP 160: Let the Good Times Roll



Date: 2024-05-31


The TD 1600 is perhaps the most irresistible of all new Thorens players - aesthetically and technically: the proportions are perfect, the sub-chassis works superbly. But together with the new tonearm, i.e. the Thorens TD 1600 with TP 160, the combination comes within reach of a quality that has often become unaffordable elsewhere.

Walnut or black? Automatic or manual? You have to make a few decisions when ordering the Thorens TD 1600. The player is also available as TD 1601 with an electronically controlled servo lift and automatic limit switch. This costs an extra 500 euros. 500 euros, which 70 out of 100 buyers are apparently happy to pay. An interesting number, which is now based on significant numbers because the 1600/1601 has been around for a while.

So the “big” sub-chassis Thorens is not primarily bought by hardcore analog fans who, after two pieces, are already back at the player to tinker with something. Especially since all the adjustment options are also available to the comfort customer: the arm height adjustment, for example, which used to fall victim to the automatic system, remains fully usable in the 1601. And since the end switch can be switched off, nothing stands in the way of thoroughly enjoying recorded endless grooves. After all, everyone should have the chance to see Godspeed You! To hear Black Emperor's “f# a# ∞” as it is intended and already indicated in the album title with the infinity symbol. After a few revolutions you can then switch off manually. Unless, like the author in 1997, you have sunk into a kind of trance and only realize after half an hour that a - quite obvious - endless loop has been running the whole time.

Visually, the Thorens is the archetype of a high-quality turntable. You can't draw a device like this in a much more classic way: stable, thick-walled wooden frame, aluminum upper deck, the laminated tonearm board on the right with the all-round joint, which makes it clear that the arm and plate bearings live on their own chassis, separate from the frame. A flick against the armboard or plate immediately shows what type of connection there is between the sub-chassis and the frame: the former gives in softly and elastically and slowly comes to rest again.

The subchassis stands on three conical springs made of steel wire, the spring constant of which, together with the mass of the plate, arm and subchassis support, results in a resonance frequency of approximately 2 Hertz. At the latest a few hertz above this, the springy suspension no longer transmits any energy. The synchronous motor could be vibrating happily: Since it is not part of the sub-chassis, but mounted on the frame, its vibrations cannot find a way to the sensitive parts of the player. The only potential secret route that remains is the drive belt, but that too is elastic and not very transferable at the typical interference frequencies.

Historically, this has always been the main task of a subchassis: to make the engine disappear as the main source of vibration. Early Thorens and Linn models achieved fantastic signal-to-noise ratios despite their rustic little motors that were controlled directly with mains frequency. Today's Thorens - like current larger Linns - has a two-pronged approach: On the one hand, it uses the almost perfect decoupling of a freely swinging sub-chassis. On the other hand, it electronically ensures that the engine runs smoothly and noiselessly right from the start. For this purpose, the motor receives synthetically generated alternating voltages, the amplitude and phase of which are precisely adapted to the specific unit. For the technical implementation of this motor control, Thorens did not buy an off-the-shelf solution, but rather commissioned the veteran German developer Walter Fuchs to do it. The true electronics genius of the 1600/1601 is hidden deep in the frame. The impressive separate transformer house, connected to the player by a lockable cable, only supplies the circuit with the necessary juice.

The plate has a classic structure, two parts and made of finely shimmering, uncompromisingly precisely turned aluminum. The inner plate has a diameter of 16 centimeters with an approx. 1 cm wide step on the edge on which the outer plate ring lies. Ringing alive on their own, the two halves of the plate calm down instantly and completely as soon as their contact surfaces meet during assembly. Very similar to the legendary Thorens ancestor TD 160 - or the Linn LP12.

But also different again: Thorens now turns both plate parts out of aluminum, while Linn, as always - and like Thorens once did - first casts them from the zinc alloy Zamak and then brings them into their final shape on the lathe. Zamak is more than twice as dense as aluminum, which is why the outer plate of my LP12, for example, is a pound heavier than that of the 1600, despite the smaller wall thickness. The fit on the 1600 is actually a touch more precise.

The brief sideways glance at the LP12 is no coincidence, or just because the player is standing here with me. But because the models, with their classic lines and sub-chassis construction, fall into the same audiophile prey scheme and are also quite close in price to each other in terms of basic equipment. This basic equipment on the Linn is quite spartan: The “Majik” package contains the MM Adikt cartridge, the Krane tonearm (made by Clearaudio) and the very small motor control, which consists of a passive circuit board without speed switching. Theoretically, you can also listen to 45s by pressing an aluminum adapter with a larger diameter onto the pulley and then putting the belt back on. But I've never seen anyone do that before. From a practical perspective, the basic LP12 is a single-speed fixie until you take pity on it and give it the external Lingo power supply. For around 2,000 euros extra. Only then is the functionality and functionality comparable to Walter Fuchsen's control boards and power house, which the Thorens 1600 comes with as standard. The situation is similar with the pickup: The Linn Adikt is a (very good) MM with a gold ring heart. But for 4400 euros, the complete price of the Majik LP12, we can easily get the Thorens with the in-house MC TAS 1500. And that is simply even better than the Adikt.

The 1500 is built by Audio-Technica. The origin is not as easy to recognize here as it is with the small Linn-MC Koil, also produced by AT. This is due to the own aluminum housing that Thorens designer Helmut Thiele tailored for the TAS models - while Linn simply adopts the body of the AT-OC series. Technically there are clear parallels: Both OEM ATs bring a super-stiff boron needle carrier and the easy-to-touch MicroLine diamond into play, whose almost obsessive detailed work appeals to many, but not all, music fans. In fact, the TAS 1600 is the even better choice for the TD 1600, not only in name but also in terms of sound. It costs 400 euros more and boasts Audio-Technica's best diamond, the “Special Line Contact”.

The big step: Thorens TD 1600 with TP 160
The TAS 1600 plays so naturally and harmoniously with undiminished attention to detail that the decision is a classic no-brainer. Especially since we are still at an extremely competitive total price of 4,700 euros. It's not cheap fun, but it's sustainable and a lot more perfect in every detail. In addition to the good motor control, the Thorens also comes with an outstanding tonearm ex works. We don't mean the TP 92 with which the 1600 originally came onto the market. But the new TP 160, which shouts “delicious!” loudly with every nine inches of effective length. Designer Helmut Thiele has drawn the TP 160 as a modern revenant of the legendary EMT professional arm 929. And at least for my taste, it hit the mark.

This matte silver and matte black clay tool with its large caliber J-bent tube and iconic large bearing cylinder inspires instant confidence. And then pays back this advance in practical use and in the hearing test with the most generous interest rate. Stable, stiff, extremely smooth and fully adjustable, it makes experimental analogue researchers and pure music connoisseurs equally happy. And behind its discreet appearance it also has something to talk about for mechanic nerds. Namely a new bearing for vertical movement that follows the principle of cutting edge storage. The arm balances like a seesaw on a sharp blade made of hardened steel, which stands in a also hardened shell with a slightly wider opening angle.

Helmut Thiele has eliminated two weak points in his design that bothered him with previous cutting edge bearings. On the one hand, the bottom of the bearing shell is not rounded in any way, but consists of two halves that meet in a precise line. On the other hand, the Thorens bearing can neither slide sideways back and forth in its seat nor tilt upwards out of it. This is prevented by small but strong neodymium magnets, which always keep the cutting edge and bowl perfectly centered. The rotation of the arm over the plate, on the other hand, occurs quite conventionally in ball bearings, albeit of the finest Japanese provenance.

The TP 160 comes with a newly designed headshell with a classic SME clutch. Instead, you can mount any third-party shell or an SPU cartridge on the front of the arm. To ensure that the overhang is exactly right even in such headshell-less, non-adjustable systems, the arm tube is even axially adjustable. The ease of assembly and replacement inevitably comes at the cost of some stiffness, because removable headshells of this design never actually fit 100% free of play. The standard Thorens head performs significantly better in this respect than the Technics parts. The headshell has a small clamping screw that allows the azimuth to be corrected after opening with a 1.5mm Allen key. This is quite fiddly, but fortunately you rarely have to do it: with well-made pickups, the azimuth should be correct if the system is exactly parallel to the record. Especially since a needle that is not vertical can be straightened by turning the system, but then the entire rest of the generator is crooked. So you slip from the rain straight into hi-fi purgatory.

In any case, we simply aligned the Thorens system in all axes parallel to the plate/platter. With the VTA, aka tonearm height, this is exemplary easy: first loosen the small locking screw on the arm base, then screw it up or down with the large perforated ring nut, whereby one full turn corresponds to exactly one millimeter. As a turning aid, Thorens includes an aluminum pin that fits into the hole in the nut on the side. But it's just as easy without it.

Also exemplary is the magnetically working anti-skating with a classically scaled adjusting wheel, which can be turned carefully even during operation. The two 1600 models differ when it comes to the lift: The 1601 raises and lowers the arm at the touch of a button using a miniature servo and a small gear. Where this fits, the 1600 has the tried and tested manual lift with silicone cushioning. The great popularity of the servo model is certainly due to the somewhat unsteady nature of all real subchassis: you have to operate the manual lift carefully because it is located on the moving part of the player. The metal lift button of the 1601, on the other hand, sits perfectly isolated at the front of the frame. If necessary, you could also operate this with a rubber mallet without the playback level noticing anything.

The rocking typical of the subchassis in the 1600 is strikingly harmonious and wobble-free. And all without any special spring adjustment ritual, as a new Linn requires during the first setup. Thorens has basically retained the traditional three-spring sub-chassis, but has given it a few very effective modifications. This includes a ballast weight that centers the center of gravity of the subchassis symmetrically between the springs. Likewise the new motor position on the front left instead of the rear left on the frame. Above all, a thin steel cable directly opposite the engine, which counteracts the pull of the belt and thus ensures a balance of the forces acting on the subchassis.

Hearing test
In combination with this player's standing (instead of traditional hanging) springs, the result is an absolutely well-behaved, predictable vibration behavior that didn't change one iota during the month-long guest performance in my listening room. If the steel springs settle slightly at some point, they can be adjusted on the base plate without the player having to open it.

In the listening room, the Thorens presents itself as a practically perfect turntable. The scanning with the TAS 1600 is so unshakable that you stop secretly sorting your record collection according to more or less “well-pressed” copies and then tend to only play the good ones. Heavily compressed and otherwise bad records don't stop existing: “Amber” by the band Clearlake (Domino - WIGLP152), for example, came out in 2006, so it was made at the historic peak of the Loudness War and actually sounds terrible. Even the best record player doesn't help. Instead, Mice Parade’s “Obrigado Saudade” from 2003 (FatCat Records – fatlp29) jumps into our listening room with astonishing dynamics. Acoustic guitars, percussion, and Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir's dreamy vocals in the first track "Two, Three, Fall" seem almost three-dimensional, fresh and colorful. And in the following, long “Mystery Brethren” it is pure pleasure to listen to new layers of instruments - almost watch them - as they interweave with the existing ones. And this lively, colorful sound texture doesn't become confusing, but rather spreads out in front of the speakers effortlessly and clearly. In this case, by the way, a pair of Klipsch Heresy IVs, which develop an unexpectedly audiophile sensitivity on the new, outstanding Cayin Jazz 80 integrated amplifier.

I've had the record for 20 years. It also shows that long playing times don't necessarily mean flat sound: mastering engineer Mandy Parnell managed 29:34 minutes on the A side alone. There was no vinyl boom in 2003, so labels thought three times about whether they should risk an expensive double album. The record still sounds fantastic, but it's not easy to pick up because Parnell has really used the record's radius to the limit. For the last tracks on each side it becomes very narrow in the groove, which only has half the circumference of the first track. The " Special Line Contact" diamond of the TAS 1600 doesn't mind this admirably: the music neither becomes duller nor unclean, nor does the dynamics suffer.

Dynamics in general: The Thorens may look classic and somewhat sedate, but it is a very tight and impulsive sounding drive with bright, agile timing. Like its technical cousin Linn, it brings bass lines and drum rhythms to full, energetic life. It does this even better than the first generation 1600, which had a TP 92 instead of the TP 160. The arm upgrade made the player more expensive, but also understandably better and more balanced (and, in my opinion, much prettier). It is therefore pleasing that Thorens offers an upgrade that includes the arm replacement and the necessary modifications to the sub-chassis. This means that owners of the first 1600 generation can also enjoy the new arm - even if it's not cheap.

Is it worth it? Absolutely! Especially if you want to run MCs with the player, the TP 160 is clearly superior. In much the same way that the Linn Ekos is superior to the Akito from the same company - only in terms of price on a much friendlier basis. The TP 160 offers the stability and quietness that top MCs need, it provides the mass and strength to deal with the mechanical forces that the usually rather stiff MC generators introduce into the headshell. The point could be increased even further with a fixed headshell. But here I am happy to make this small compromise. Because such an interchangeable headshell is simply much more pleasant and versatile in practice. Especially for record listeners who like to experiment and would like to try out a different pickup. And because you really don't find much of this compromise in the sound: I heard the Thorens-MC not only in the TP 160, but also in the Linn Ekos 1 on my LP12. It also sounds fantastic and not that dissimilar, at least not blatantly more dynamic.

The TAS 1600 may have Audio-Technica genes, but in the Thorens arm it sounds better than the AT original AT-OC9XSL, on which it is obviously based based on the data sheet: more coherent, a little more powerful. Perhaps the Thorens-specific case with its slightly higher mass is responsible for this. Hi-hat cymbals really sound like metal, with finely traced opening and closing and a fascinating, shimmering bronze fine structure. But the voices are not too woodcut-like, but with a real, weighty body and expressive phrasing. Bass lines march in a springy, muscular manner and ensure a perfectly harmonious overall balance. Anyone who is afraid of thin-lipped singers with a lisp and has perhaps avoided MCs in the past: It was probably not just the MC's fault, but also an overtaxed arm and a stiff hip. Even under such conditions, MCs often still provide sharp outlines, but no longer fill them with color, life and substance. That's what makes really good drives and arms. The 1600 is a really good drive. Even a completely outstanding one. And even though that's difficult for me with a device that costs 4,000 euros, I'm toying with the idea of ​​calling it "cheap." Simply because I can't think of a really equivalent lathe at this price.

Conclusion Thorens TD 1600 with TP 160
The new TP 160 tonearm has made the TD 1600 more expensive. On the other hand, an arm of this quality with a different name, smaller quantities and perhaps a touch of esotericism would be worth the price of the complete player alone. In this respect, the TD 1600 with TP 160 is an undoubtedly luxurious, but certainly fair offer.

The technical data
Thorens TD 1600 / TP 160
Concept: Belt driven turntable with 33/45 rpm
Tonearm: TP 160 with SME headshell, effective mass: 14 grams
Turntable: 12“ / 4.2 kg (aluminum)
Pickup recommendation: Thorens
Scope of delivery: 12V power supply, dust cover (acrylic), RCA cable, Thorens rubber mat
Versions: Real wood frame, black high gloss, walnut high gloss, top plate made of triCom
Dimensions (W x H x D): 45.4 x 18.0 x 36.9 cm
Weight: 11.0 kilos