Another Thorens Reborn: TD160

MikeC's Audio Craft
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Thorens TD160 Reborn

The AR Turntable (1961), the Thorens 150 (1965) and the Thorens TD160 (1973) are the progenitors of the UK floating subchassis turntable wave that began with the first Ariston, which more or less became the Linn LP12 in 1973. The Linn LP12 managed to stay in production continuously since then, morphing in many ways to become an elder statesman of vinyl play, with the top Klimax LP12 today priced at around £15,000. The first LP12 models were more or less a better execution of the Thorens 150 and 160, with better quality parts and finer precision.

The Thorens 160 is long out of production, but remains a perpetually popular record player among enthusiasts, having enough of the core qualities that made the LP12 so successful, at a fraction of the cost on the used market. It is also a popular target for restoration and modifications. A professionally restored Thorens 160 can fetch US$1,600~$2,000 even with a fairly modest tonearm like a low-end Rega.

I acquired a moderate quality sample of the TD160 early this year. It came without a tonearm. Functionally, it was sound enough. The motor was quiet, its shaft straight, the pulley in good condition. The platters were OK, if a bit oxidized over the decades. The main bearing showed a bit of wear, but all-important point and sides were unscratched. A slight pock mark showed the wear of the 10mm shaft point at the bottom of the main bearing housing, but very close listening with a stethoscope in my anechoic chamber revealed no low frequency noise when spun by hand.


This TD160 looks better in the above photo than it did in person.

The previous owner had removed the original Thorens TP16 tonearm in favor of another, and he had drilled a hole for the armrest of that other tonearm, and there were also holes left on the top plate left behind by the removal of the original armrest. The teak veneer plinth must have been in poor shape because it had been painted thickly with semi-gloss black paint. In short, this TD160 was ready for the major makeover I planned.

THORENS TD160 BASICS

Most audio enthusiasts are familiar with the concept of a platter/main bearing bolted on a subchassis that is suspended on springs riding on bolts which extend down from the top plate. The motor is secured to the top plate and isolated from the platter/tonearm by the springs and resilient belt. What the drawing below doesn't show is that the tonearm is also attached to the subchassis.

The TD160 has a 16-pole synchronous AC motor with a 2-step pulley made of high quality plastic, and a mechanical switching arm that allows 33 or 45 RPM with a simply turn of the switch on the front panel. Both the top plate and the subchassis are made of plain sheet steel, although the top plate has a stylized layer of aluminum glued to it for cosmetic reasons. I didn't take any photos of the underside; it was no different than a dozen other TD160s I've examined over the years.

An Aside: Looking with the clarity of hindsight, the floating subchassis introduced another variable for speed instability, the very real possibility of relative movement between platter and motor, either due to external shock, or transient increase in drag from a highly modulated part of the groove or even a burp on the AC line. This has the potential to affect speed stability. Awareness of such issues didn't escape the engineers of the time, surely, but one thing the soft spring subchassis turntable did better than all its competitors — when properly placed on a rigid stable table — was to avoid acoustic feedback and reject external vibration. It was, at the time, so much better than anything else, that perhaps the other factors paled in comparison

A NEW PLINTH FROM RECOVERED WOOD

The first task was to build a new plinth. There was a strip of Mahogany wood, probably from Central America originally, recovered from a partial renovation project I helped with in our house a few years ago. It had been part of a beat up banister. I had hoped it could be cleaned up and used for a turntable plinth. There wasn't enough of it for the larger TD125 project I'd already done, but there was just enough for this TD160. I spent time cleaning up the wood piece, planing and then sanding it. It was far from perfect, as there were some small holes that looked like they'd been made by parasites in the original tree, and the grain was not perfectly consistent. But I love the idea of repurposing old things, so I went ahead and miter-cut four pieces to size.


The Mahogony wood pieces, planed, cut and roughly placed. Note bug holes.


Some days later, after gluing the pieces together, with internal perimeter groove for very sturdy corner and side supports of 3/4" Baltic Birch plywood. The Mahogany was transformed by the application of two coats of polymerized Tung oil. The little bug holes were plugged with a mix of white glue and Mahogany sawdust.

Later, after some other internal support blocks were put in, along with a 3/4" Baltic Birch bottom cover, with a beveled edge with four coats of flat black paint. as is my custom, pure beeswax was applied to the wood by hand several times, and buffed to a light sheen. It is easily renewed with a fresh application of beewax if/when necessary.


A view of the interior.


Quick mockup of the TD160 in the new base with a Micro-Trak wood tonearm that was popular among broadcasters in the '50s and '60s. Just to see what it would look like.


There was another wait while the platter was polished for me, and the above was the result.

At this point, I decided that the top plate, with its additional holes, had to go. I ordered a new cosmetic top plate from a Swiss dealer on eBay selling "New Old Stock" (NOS) Thorens parts. It would be nearly US$100 delivered, after taxes, but I felt the cost justified.

I was also looking for a suitable tonearm, one that would mate well with a wide range of cartridge, including higher mass, lower compliance moving coils. I found just what I was looking for: A used Linn Akito tonearm, probably from the early 1990s, in very good condition, except for the usual mounting marks around the headshell. I'd actually sold and owned these tonearms before, and knew them to be significantly superior to Rega tonearms of similar price, with much better bearings and as good rigidity in the armtube and headshell, which is fixed. The Regas have a justified repuation especially in the UK, for excellent value, but the bearings of the lower priced models never impressed me, and the single large nut to secure the arm to the turntable was never as functional as the Linn 3-bolt setup, which also eases tonearm height adjustment.

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