This week, the Thorens TD-402 DD turntable stopped by our test room. Sold for €890, this semi-automatic, direct drive model takes classic design elements from the brand, such as the aluminum platter, the thick chassis with its wooden edges, and the large switches used to stop/start playback and control the rotation speed of the platter. The turntable is fitted with a Thorens TP 72 tonearm featuring a carbon tube on which an Audio-Technica VM95E is pre-mounted. With a design inherited from the brand’s iconic turntables, the Thorens TD-402 DD is the first model in over 30 years to use a direct drive system.
Thorens TD-402 DD: the brand
Thorens is a Swiss turntable manufacturer known for its high-end models and the use of the floating chassis, a technology developed to ensure optimal damping of the vibrations responsible for causing distortion and loss of micro-detail during playback. Today, the brand’s catalog is comprised of turntables, phono preamps, cleaning tools and products for vinyl records, platter mats and high-end stabilizing weights.
Created in 1883, this family company was initially based in the village of Sainte-Croix in Switzerland and started its activity by manufacturing music boxes. The very first phonograph manufactured by Thorens was made in 1903. At the time, Thorens also decided to vary its product range in order to avoid putting all of the company’s eggs in the same basket, and also made lighters and harmonicas. Then came the hexaphone, a phonograph designed to read six wax cylinders simultaneously. During the 1910s, the popularity of large horn phonographs was rapidly growing. Thorens then developed a phonograph fitted with a handle designed to listen to 12” records. These phonographs were beautifully crafted pieces of furniture and doubled as true pieces of art that embellished the era’s living rooms.
The year 1929 is an important milestone in the history of Thorens. This very year, the Swiss company opened the door to two major technological leaps. The very first direct drive motor system for phonographs and the first amplified needle featuring a magnet, in other words the ancestor of the modern cartridge, were both introduced by Thorens.
Maintaining its status as a trailblazer in the world of musical restitution, in the 40s Thorens started selling tools and products for professionals in the record cutting industry, such as the Thorens record cutting machine for example.
The story of Thorens turntables starts with the release of the legendary TD-124 in 1957. Due to its success, this model rapidly became one of the brand’s iconic models and was revamped several times. The original version of the TD-124 is still very much sought-after by collectors. Numerous Thorens TD-124 enthusiasts restore old models piece by piece to bring them back to life. This turntable was initially sold without a tonearm and featured a 4.3kg cast iron platter, a 4 speed selector, and a +/- 3% pitch corrector. It was also fitted with a quick start/stop system, an integrated strobe system to accurately verify the platter’s rotation speed at a glance, a spirit level, and benefited from an unprecedented anti-vibration design, which made it an unparalleled turntable at the time. With the desire to design a turntable on par with the home phonographs of the time, Thorens designed the TD-124 to be an elegant deck made to effortlessly fit in any type of interior decor. The varnished walnut base gives the turntable an elegant and sturdy look that can be found today with Thorens’ current turntables, including the TD-402 DD.
In the late 50s, early 60s, the Swiss brand remained very active and added numerous turntables to its catalog. For example, this is when the TD184, TD134 and TD135 were released. The first Thorens tonearms also made their way into the brand’s catalog during this time and quickly made a name for themselves thanks to their high-quality build and inertia which ensures excellent groove tracking.
In 1962, Thorens released the Thorens TD-121 and TD-111 turntables, two more affordable versions of the TD-124. These two belt-drive models use the same chassis as their older sibling and offer simpler features. With only one rotation speed (33 RPM), the TD-111 did not have a strobe system, spirit level, nor decoupled platter. This model was Thorens’ solution to offer a more affordable platter without sacrificing the build quality and high-end design for which the brand is famous.
Thorens then moved its head offices, along with its research department and factory to Germany. The same year, the Thorens TD-124 turntable received a few updates. Renamed Thorens TD-124 MKII, the turntable was sold with a Thorens TP-14 tonearm. A new milestone in the history of Thorens was achieved in 1965 with the release of the Thorens TD-150 turntable with TP-13 tonearm. This turntable features a brand new 3-point floating subchassis which holds the platter, the ball-bearing spindle, and the tonearm. The main chassis is fitted with a 16-pole, dual phase AC asynchronous motor. The zinc aluminium metal alloy casting platter rests on a stainless steel axis with a ball-bearing tip and is driven by a belt system. This new floating design was a significant step forward in the domain of background noise reduction and became one of Thorens’ iconic technologies.
During the 60s and 70s, the Golden Age of Hi-Fi and vinyl records, Thorens continued to expand its offer while also revamping its most popular models. The brand reached its peak in the domain of turntables in 1979 with the extremely limited release of the Reference model. This very high-end turntable was developed with the sole purpose of making the absolute reference turntable, regardless of the price. The Reference turntable was entirely handmade and its run was limited to 100 units.
This colossal turntable weighing close to 90kg uses a belt drive system combined with a three speed motor (33 RPM, 45 RPM, 78 RPM) and a 12” platter weighing 6.6kg that rests on an aluminum floating chassis. The floating structure ensures optimal vibration absorption and the 4 point suspension system with gold plated support is also impact resistant. Each anchoring point can be adjusted separately. The panel where the controls are located is also gold plated, but the overall color of the turntable and tonearm were entirely customizable given the unique nature of the model. Used Thorens Reference turntables are extremely rare, but some may be found at online auctions where bids reach over €45.000.
In 1982, Thorens released the TD-524, the brand’s last direct drive model until the arrival of the Thorens TD-402 DD. This model was designed to be used in clubs and was followed a year later by the Thorens Prestige turntable, which was a celebration of the brand’s centennial. The Thorens Prestige shares numerous features with the Thorens Reference but weighs “only” 55kg and is fitted with a new quartz speed control. The Thorens Prestige is a simplified version of its older sibling and used models can be found nowadays for a price neighboring €25.000.
After remaining amongst the most innovative brands in the world of hi-fi during the 80s and he 90s while offering a wide range of turntables, including the surprising Thorens Concrete with its concrete base, Thorens faced financial difficulties in the early 2000s. The vinyl record market was waning at the time, with the exception of DJs and a handful of enthusiasts, and Thorens came really close to bankruptcy. As a result, Thorens underwent a major reorganization. In 2002, the company moved back to Switzerland and managed to survive in a rapidly changing market where digital formats were becoming increasingly popular. Despite it all, Thorens turntables were still held in high esteem by vinyl record enthusiasts and the aura of the brand remained intact.
In 2018, Thorens moved back to Germany while continuing to set the tone as one of the market leaders, notably with the release of the Thorens TD-1600 and Thorens TD-1601 turntables with floating chassis, introduced at the 2019 High End show in Munich.
Thorens TD-402 DD: Thorens TP 72 tonearm and Audio-Technica VM95E cartridge
The Thorens TD-402 DD turntable is fitted with a Thorens TP 72 carbon tube tonearm. The TP 72 is a straight tonearm measuring 8.8” (223.6mm) and has a tracking force of 0 to 4g. The TP 72 tonearm is compatible with cartridges weighing between 3.5g and 6.2g and is fitted with an antiskating wheel which can be adjusted from 0 to 4g. The headshell is compatible with the SME standard and can be separated from the tonearm by simply unscrewing the ring located at the base of the headshell. This type of design is extremely practical as it allows you to change the cartridge easily and rapidly.
The TP 72 tonearm is fitted with an SME detachable headshell on which an Audio-Technica VM95E cartridge is mounted. This moving magnet cartridge featuring an elliptical stylus combined with an aluminum cantilever is an entry-level model, so we were quite surprised to see it on the Thorens TD-402 DD. However, it is important to note that it is possible to change the cartridge very easily and that doing so ensures a simple yet drastic improvement. Thorens points this out.
Thorens TD-402 DD: switchable phono preamp and auto-stop
The Thorens TD-402 DD features a preamplified output which allows the user to connect the turntable directly to the auxiliary input of a stereo amplifier or AV receiver without having to go through a phono preamp. However, the turntable’s integrated phono preamp can be switched off if you would like to use a dedicated phono preamp. A switch located at the back of the turntable lets the user turn the preamp on or off. A switch allowing the user to activate or deactivate the auto-stop function is also located at the back of the turntable. When the auto-stop function is activated, the platter stops rotating once the tonearm reaches the end of the groove.
Thorens TD-402 DD: unboxing and installation
In the box are the Thorens TD-02 DD turntable with its Audio-Technica VM95E cartridge preinstalled, an aluminum platter, a rubber mat, a counter-weight with a graduated wheel, an RCA cable with a grounding spade, a power adapter compatible with European, British, and US sockets, a plexiglas dust cover, and two hinges to attach it to the chassis. Every part looks well made, the chassis is made of MDF with a walnut veneer and the overall design is reminiscent of the iconic Thorens turntables. The dust cover and hinges are also well made, which is proof that the brand didn’t overlook anything and didn’t try to cut corners to the detriment of overall quality. The aluminum platter and its thick rubber mat promise good inertia and very good coupling with records without needing a felt mat.
The installation is easy and fast:
- place the platter and the mat on the motor’s axis
- install the dust cover by inserting the hinges in the notches located at the back of the turntable
- install and set the counter-weight
The recommended tracking force for the Audio-Technica VM95E cartridge is 2 grams. To set up the counter-weight we used our trusty Elipson electronic scale to rapidly and precisely set up the counterweight. The installation and adjustments took us only a few minutes.
The Thorens TD-402 DD’s MDF chassis with its lacquered wood veneer gives the turntable a “wooden cabinet” aspect, reminiscent of 60s and 70s vintage design. The use of large switches for the speed selection and to turn the motor on and off adds to the retro esthetic which gives this turntable undeniable character. This is a clear asset for the TD-402 DD, which can be easily added to any type of interior given its elegant design that goes hand in hand with the vinyl record experience.
Thorens TD-402 DD: testing conditions
For our review we connected the Thorens TD-402 DD to the auxiliary input of the Atoll IN200 signature amplifier. We then connected a pair of Elipson Legacy 3230 floorstanding speakers to the amplifier using Viard Audio Silver HD12 HP speaker wire. In the second part of our test we replaced the floorstanders with a pair of Elipson Facet 8B compact loudspeakers. At some point in our test, we also deactivated the integrated preamp of the Thorens TD-402 DD turntable and replaced it with a Thorens MM-008 preamp. We also switched the pre installed cartridge with a Grado Gold2 mobile magnet cartridge. Taking the cartridge off the headshell is done quickly using using a small flat-blade screwdriver. It’s possible to make the process even easier by unscrewing the ring and taking the headshell off the tonearm. If you would like to regularly change cartridge depending on the type of sound you’d like at the moment or the record you’re listening to, or just to change cartridge in an extremely simple way, you can use various SME compatible headshells. This is especially convenient for listening to mono discs as they require a specific cartridge.
Thorens TD-402 DD: listening impressions
We started our listening session by connecting the turntable directly to the amplifier driving the Elipson Legacy 3230 speakers. Starting playback couldn’t be easier. Simply select the rotation speed of the platter with the large selector on the left, and switch the turntable on with the selector located on the right. The vintage look of these two selectors adds to the vintage character of this turntable. Once the tonearm is lifted, the turntable platter starts rotating and all that is left to do is to lower the cue lever. The direct driver platter rotation is smooth and quiet and the Thorens TD-402 DD manages to maintain a very low level of background noise.
We started out by listening to Abbey Road by the Beatles. The sound was soft and detailed. Everything was clean and balanced and the channel separation offered a satisfactory stereo effect. We noticed that the restitution of the entire sound spectrum was very coherent, which may be due in part to the meticulous work of the Elipson Legacy 3230 speakers. With the track “Here Comes The Sun”, each guitar note was reproduced with a relaxing softness and without a trace of background noise. This model is a display of Thorens’s expertise in designing turntables. The listening experience benefits from a nice warmth and never once was the sound aggressive. We then moved on to the Led Zeppelin II album, a very different record from the Beatles’s classic, as a soft and relaxed sound restitution wouldn’t work for some of the tracks on this album. While the listening experience was never unpleasant or unbalanced, we found ourselves wishing for more punch and dynamics at times. This was the case with the track “Moby Dick” during which the energy required to faithfully reproduce John Bonham’s famous drum solo seemed lacking. In this particular case the performance was too shy and mild to bring the drummer’s style to life and provide the energy needed for the rest of the track.
We decided to rectify this timidity by mounting the Grado Gold2 on the TP 72 tonearm’s headshell. Changing the cartridge was fast and simple. It only took a few minutes and we were once again ready to listen to records. We continued our listening session with Hisaishi Meets Miyazaki Films and the difference in the performance was already obvious. The soundstage opened up and broadened: the Thorens TD-402 DD offers great sound spatialization, which gives the soundtracks written by the Japanese artist the scale they deserve. The soundstage is filled with micro-details and the dynamic range of the Grado Gold2 cartridge let the turntable fully express itself when necessary while remaining soft and warm during quieter moments.
We then listened to the MoFi version of On The Corner by Miles Davis. This is a very unforgiving test when it comes to stereo effects and restitution of a complex soundstage. The Thorens TD-402 DD manages to do a very competent job and everything is very clearly layered. The percussions, the bass, and the trumpet are restituted with a great amount of detail. In order to fully enjoy the quality of this MoFi version of the American trumpeter’s album, we deactivated the phono preamp and placed the Thorens MM-008 in between the turntable and the amplifier. The soundstage became even more spacious and precise. The sound filled the room without ever being tiring, which is an essential aspect when listening to Davis’s musical experimentations on On The Corner. The entirety of the installation lets the Thorens TD-402 DD express its full potential. We experienced once again the softness and control that make the turntable so compelling, with the addition of a certain amount of freedom and energy which seemed to be lacking beforehand.
We concluded our test by pairing the Thorens TD-402 DD to the Elipson Facet 8B compact speakers in order to test the turntable’s performance with loudspeakers in a more suitable price range. We were in for a pleasant surprise. While the analytical precision of the massive Elipson Legacy 3230 was lost, the sound restitution became a lot more fun. Albeit less detailed, the listening experience remained soft and entertaining. It was a real pleasure to listen to some of our favorite records and the sound image was well balanced. The small Elipson Facet 8Bs do not shy away when the music calls for solid lows. They managed to deliver the instrumental tracks of the album IV by Cypress Hill with a healthy dose of rhythm while extracting the vocals in a very intelligible way.
With the classic Dark Side Of The Moon by Pink Floyd, the Thorens TD-402 turntable paired with the Elipson compact loudspeakers remained soft and relaxed. The sound did not lose its warmth and retained enough clarity and detail to fully deliver the richness of the arrangements.
Thorens TD-402 DD: compared to…
Rega Planar 3: the two turntables are in the same price range and are yet completely different. Both models can deliver the entirety of their potential when connected to a quality amplifier, but the Thorens turntable appears to be more relaxed and musical in less favorable conditions. More analytical and strict, the Rega Planar 3 shows more energy when needed but can lack warmth if the cartridge used is not capable of compensating this trait. When it comes to substance, softness, and a relaxed listening experience, the Thorens TD-402 DD takes the lead.
Thorens TD-402 DD: conclusion
The Thorens TD-402 DD turntable honors the legacy of the brand. Combining relaxed and warm sound with the classic Thorens esthetic, this turntable takes the elements that made the brand successful and adds an integrated preamp and a direct drive system. Quiet and responsive, the return of the direct drive system on Thorens turntables is a success. Another positive point, the Thorens TD-402 DD can be easily upgraded thanks to its switchable phono preamp and its SME compatible TP 72 tonearm. The turntable will benefit greatly from a cartridge with more pronounced performance and from a dedicated phono preamp to deliver the entirety of its potential. The Thorens TD-402’s vintage esthetic and its solid dust cover make it a compelling deck which can be easily integrated in any type of interior. This is a pleasant turntable and a well designed model which marks the return of the direct drive system in the Thorens catalog in a dignified manner.
What we liked
- The soft and warm sound
- The stylish vintage look
- The simplicity of use and easy installation
We would have liked
- A bit more energy
- Tighter and more detailed lows