Thorens TD124 Turntable Reviewed

Thorens TD124 Turntable Reviewed

The Thorens TD124 has received a resurgence of interest as of late by both collectors and ultra-fi modifiers. It's a classic design, both in looks and design. Its use of a belt with its idler wheel was a giant step forward in turntable technology still employed in many modern designs

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Indoctrinated as we are to worship belt-drive turntables above all others, it's hard for many to accept that - even today - there are idler-drive decks that can match the best of the later, succeeding formats. In the early years of hi-fi, before the belt-drive conquered all, the primary drive method was an idler wheel rubbing against the inside rim of the platter. With hindsight, all we can imagine is rumble and motor-noise being transmitted through the system. But, as Garrard 301/401 owners know, and the new Loricrafts prove, it just ain't so.

Garrard, however, didn't have it all its own way back in high-end audio's first decade. In 1957, the Swiss firm Thorens launched a turntable that, to this day, is the classic Garrard's main rival among collectors, a model that faces off against the 301/401 in the way that Mercedes-Benz fights BMW, or Pepsi challenges Coke. And before the hate mail arrives from around the globe, yes, I know about Weathers, Rek-O-Kut, Lenco, Connoisseur, Collaro and myriad other great turntables of the era, but the global consensus is that the 301/401's only real rival was the Thorens TD124. What makes the TD124 doubly important - aside from it bettering the Garrard in nearly every way, from build quality to sound to looks - is that it was a harbinger of things to come.

Additional Resources

Oops - there it is. I've said it. If you Google 'THD124', you'll find close to 10,000 sites, the best of which will tell you how to rebuild one from the ground up, while others will tell you how to modify them (or not, depending on your purism). But all will argue that the TD124 is a deck worth coveting. Forced to choose between the Garrard and the Thorens, I'd opt for the TD124 every time. And nearly every serious collector I know who's owned mint examples of both seems to agree. So please, leave your xenophobia at the door, and accept that the TD124 was more sophisticated, better assembled, with higher quality parts, and in possession of a key feature that distanced it from its idler-driven contemporaries: a belt.

Thorens cleverly used a belt to drive the TD124's idler wheel, the turntable thus going part of the way to providing the isolation so cherished by belt-drive obsessives. It provided a smoothness, a 'silence', a sense of coherence that the belt-less idler drives couldn't quite attain. [Note, however, that there are cults in audio even for pure direct-drive decks such as the Kenwood/Trio L-07D and the big Technicses. It's not what does the driving; it's how the whole package works. Lord knows there are enough truly awful-sounding belt-drives out there; conversely, anyone who dismisses an L-07D has either never heard one, or is simply a completely prejudiced moron.]

Continue reading about the TD124 turntable on Page 2.
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Launched in 1957 and first appearing in The Hi-Fi Yearbook in 1959,
the 'Thorens TD124 Transcription Turntable' sold for a heady 37 17s
plus purchase tax of 14 10s, and was most often armed with the 12in
from Ortofon. As with many decks of the day, the TD124 was a
four-speed, catering for 78s, the then-new 45rpm 7in singles and 33
1/3rpm 10in and 12in LPs, as well offering 16 2/3rpm for the ill-fated
spoken-word LP format. These speeds could be adjusted by +/-3% for
perfect pitch, but equally useful for accommodating 78s which often ran
as high as 80rpm. An illuminated strobe ring on the underside of the
platter was seen through a window at the front, while the pitch control
was a concentric knob built into the speed selector switch at the front
left-hand corner.

Beneath a ribbed rubber mat was a massive cast-iron platter, driven
as mentioned above by a train consisting of a 4-pole motor (everyone
agrees that the Garrard's was better), driving a belt, which
transmitted the rotation to a stepped pulley, which in turn rotated the
idler. The platter fit directly on the spindle and was secured by three
screws, and featured a light aluminium sub-platter, which contained a
built-in adaptor for large-hole 45s; this was accessed by pushing down
on it, which released a spring that raised it, and turning it
clockwise. You returned it to the down position by pressing and
rotating it slightly counter-clockwise. This was a nice touch, because
it meant never having to look for an adaptor.

As evidence of its superb engineering, the TD124 employed a heavy
main bearing and 14mm shaft of the sorted demanded by modern turntable
users whose memories go back no further than the Linn LP12. The
precision-turned spindle was highly polished to a standard that even a
watchmaker finds impressive, and it was fitted with near-zero tolerance
into two sintered bronze sleeves. A feature which endeared it to
broadcasters was a slip-clutch mechanism that endowed the TD124 with
near-instant acceleration to the chosen playback speed, and which
became a feature of the EMT professional turntables descended from the
TD124.

Most favoured of the TD124s is the TD124/II, released in 1966,
recognisable by slightly modernised styling, a change from cream white
to light grey paint and a mat with fewer ribs. Its primary change was
the replacement of the 4.3kg cast-iron platter with non-magnetic 3.63kg
aluminium platter, beneficial for users of moving-coil cartridges with
string magnets, most notably the Ortofon SPU and its variants. The
platter of the TD124/II did not have the same shape in the centre and
needed an intermediate disc on which the platter was fixed with three
smaller screws. (When Thorens first released the TD124/II, some escaped
with cast-iron platters - collectors, take note).

If noise was/is the curse of idler drive turntables - including the
TD124 and its belt coupling - part of the cure was in creating some
form of suspension. Alas, from the factory there wasn't much, just four
mushroom-shaped rubber isolation feet, but some users fitted TD124s to
the wonderful SME plinth, others used the Black Night Rumble Cure,
while later generations would have access to high-mass solutions such
as the Slate to which my TD124/II is fitted, or sophisticated stands
from Mana, Townshend and others.

The TD124/II had a short lifespan because belt-drive was the coming
form of the 1960s, especially when coupled to suspended sub-chassis, as
per Edgar Villchur's AR turntable of 1961. It in turn inspired the
Thorens TD150, later aped by Ariston, which begat the Linn LP12, and
eventually Thorens' own TD125, which replaced the TD124/II as the
company's top model. From the early 1970s onward, it was belt-drive or
nothing for most audiophiles.

Keeping TD124s running today is difficult, but not impossible.
Thorens itself changed hands and the spares situation became a mess, but
various independent sources can supply belts, idler wheels, even the
mushroom feet. I would start with www.vinylengine.com and follow its
links. New belts and other spare parts can be obtained from Rolf Kelch
at www.rolf-kelch.de. And why would you want to go to the trouble of
maintaining a deck designed nearly 50 years ago? Because it sounds
wonderful. Our own Ralph West reviewed the TD124/II for Hi-Fi News in
July 1966, blessing it with this apt description: 'The TD124 has long
been recognised as the Rolls-Royce of transcription motors.'

Set up properly, with attention paid to isolation and fitted with a
robust 12in arm carrying something like an SPU, the TD124 is capable of
producing rich, coherent sounds with sublime stability. The sound is
fast, never sluggish, and it's a perfect source for vintage valve
systems that seem a bit soft compared to more modern hardware. But - and
it kills me to say this for fear of audiophilic reprisals - the most
charming thing about the TD124 is that it looks so right. Which in turn
has made it a favourite for collectors.

Once bitten by the TD124 bug, you'll probably be seduced by some of
the variants. The hilarious TD224 was a record-changer version of the
TD124, at double the price, that showed you didn't need to stack LPs on
the platter. Half the appeal is watching it work, like a hardtop
convertible folding its roof into the boot: an arm would lift the LP off
the platter, transport it to the side position, collect a new record
from the top stack and place this on the platter. In addition to sparing
the LPs the indignity of rotating on top of the previously played
discs, it also meant that VTA was unaffected; you can imagine the change
in tracking angle between the first disc and the last in a stack of
six.

Another variant, and quite rare despite it being slightly more
economical, was the TD121. This was a mildly stripped TD124: the chassis
and drive system were identical, but it offered only one speed, its a
pitch control had no strobe, there was no slip-clutch, the bearing
diameter was reduced from to 10mm, and it had a one-piece platter. Also
rare but desirable are B&O and Tandberg-badged variants.

The Thorens TD124/II made its last appearance in The Hi-Fi Yearbook
of 1970, its price having actually dropped over the years (a stronger
pound???) to 37 plus 9 15s 10d purchase tax. Today, an absolutely mint
TD124/II can command as much as 1000, while audio fairs turn up
butchered ones for as low as 50; I'd be suspicious of any outside the
250- 700 span depending on condition. Whatever way you manage to
acquire one, you'll own a prime example of 'Schweizer Präzision', about
as close as hi-fi ever got to wrist-watch standards of attention to
detail. And you'll never be in doubt as to the meaning of 'pride of
ownership' or the value of 'Swiss-made'.

SIDEBAR: Schweizer Präzision - the Thorens TD124 'Bible'
Time to brush up on your German: Joachim Bung has just published a
magnificent book telling the full story of the TD124; unlike most recent
audio histories, this deals with a single model rather than an entire
brand. And it still manages to run to over 100 pages!

Schweizer Präzision - and my German is severely limited to cognates
shared with Yiddish - covers the story in detail, the complementing and
expanding on the now-rare publication from Thorens itself, Thorens: The
Fascination of a Living Legend, published in 1996. Bung gets straight to
the heart of the matter, limiting pre-history to three or four pages.
What follows is a mouth-watering mix of chapters detailing the
chronological saga, augmented by profiles of hard-core TD124 owners,
wonderful reprints of old literature, detail shots of the innards,
amazing historical photos, information on maintaining and tweaking
'124s, and much more.

Now the good news: If Bung gets enough advance requests, he will
produce the second edition in English; he has continued to unearth more
material that would justify a second edition regardless. So this isn't
merely an alert for you to buy the current volume; I'd, too, would like
to see it in English just because my German sucks. So get in touch with
Joachim, and tell him you want to be counted among those who'd kill for
an English reprint. And if you just can't wait for or don't need it in
English, the price is only 23 Euros plus postage. For payment details,
and to add your name to the list for a second edition in English, use
the following addresses or numbers. Tell him HFN sent you:
Redaktionsbüro Joachim Bung
Stichelwiese 2 b
61389 Schmitten
Germany
Tel. +49 6084-3764
e-mail: [email protected]
www.redaktionsbuero-bung.de

Sidebar: Thorens TD124 Timeline
1957 Thorens introduces the TD124 turntable. Initially issued without tonearm but with arm board
1958-61 A series of simpler and less-costly derivatives is released,
including the TD184 (1958), TD134 with BL104 tonearm (1959), the TD121
and the TD135 with BTD-12S tonearm (1961). The latter was Thorens' best
tonearm until the TP14 arrived in 1966
1962 Introduction of the TD224 record changer, based on the TD124 but
with smaller spindle bearing and shaft, and the additional hardware
necessary to store and retrieve a stack of up to eight LPs; unlike other
changers, only one LP was left on the platter at any time
1965 TD150 with TP13 tonearm is released, an all-belt-drive turntable without the idler-drive stage
1966 TD124 is revised to TD124/II status, available with TP-14 tonearm
1967-8 Production of the TD124/II is wound down, though some spares
would remain, with parts sufficient to build decks for availability as
late as 1970; the TD125 would replace it as the flagship model

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