In 1957, Switzerland-based Thorens introduced the TD 124 turntable, a record player destined to become a classic. (TD is an initialism for tourne disque, French for turntable.)
A Thoren's brochure from that same year itemized the TD 124’s “11 main elements that result in 41 advantages.” It noted the turntable’s “strongly ribbed, solid chassis, crafted in cast aluminum,” and its two-part platter including a “flywheel [subplatter], crafted in stabilized cast iron, [which] possesses excellent characteristics for the magnetic shielding of the drive system, as well as great inertia.” Continuing, it lauded the TD 124’s “main bearing, fitted with a 14mm spindle made of hardened, mirror-polished steel,” its braking system, leveling dials, surface-mounted spirit level, and four “mushroom-shaped, rubber dampers [that] guarantee smooth suspension in a built-in frame as well as decoupling from the base.”1
Between 1957 and 1967, Thorens manufactured more than 90,0002 TD 124s. In 1961, the TD 124 sold for $99.95, just under $900 in today’s dollars.
Even today, alongside the Garrard 301, the Thorens TD 124 remains highly desirable—one of the most sought-after vintage turntables in hi-fi.3 For its fans, it’s the gold standard of vinyl-spinning machines, overbuilt to meet the demands of radio stations, recording studios, and audiophiles.
That last group includes this writer, Stereophile Editor Jim Austin, and it included the late Stereophile deputy editor Art Dudley, who owned both Thorens TD 124 and Garrard 301 turntables when he passed in April 2020. (He previously owned two TD 124s. He gave one of them to me.)
Today, Thorens is owned by former Denon manager and ELAC CEO Gunter Kürten.4 The company’s turntables are designed in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany, by the team of Kürten; Helmut Thiele, Thorens’s head of R&D, tonearm development, and bearing design; Walter Fuchs, head of R&D, electronics, and firmware; and John Jian, R&D boss of Thorens’s manufacturing partner in Taiwan. The TD 124 DD is Thorens’s latest ’table, available in a limited run of 500 units.
In contrast to SME’s recent reissue of the Garrard 301,5 which was aimed squarely at authenticity, the new Thorens pushes in two directions: The company aimed to maintain as much of the original as possible while updating its function in key areas. The 37.5lb TD 124 DD includes a 3.5kg, 5/8 tall, diecast aluminum platter, replacing the original’s iron main platter. That’s probably a good idea since the original platter’s ferromagnetism attracted the magnets in cartridges. The new Thorens also adds an external power supply.
Here’s the biggest change. The TD 124 DD uses “a 12-pole … direct-drive motor”—the quote is from Thoren's press materials. That direct-drive motor replaces the original’s most distinctive feature: a drive mechanism that utilized both a belt and an idler wheel.
Decades ago, direct-drive turntables went out of fashion, but lately, manufacturers have started using them again, having reportedly solved the “cogging” problems from that earlier generation, which led to the eventual widespread embrace of belt drive.
“The challenge was to give the new direct drive the necessary smoothness,” Kürten wrote me in an email. “Often, direct-drive motors tend to a slip-stick effect.” That’s cogging. “The transfer point from the magnet to the pole must be as smooth as possible. This was achieved with the newly developed firmware of the direct-drive motor and a newly designed thrust bearing. The new, ‘Super Silent Direct Drive motor was developed by Thorens and is manufactured in Taiwan. It’s screwed directly to the die-cast aluminum chassis. In contrast to a belt-drive, this direct drive is directly coupled with the platter and … has much less rumbling.”
The new Thorens dispenses with the original’s aluminum outer platter, which had a lever that, when engaged, lifted the outer platter off the spinning main platter, stopping its rotation so that the record could be changed without turning off the motor. This mechanism had to be adjusted just right or the lifted outer platter would rub against the inner platter. In its place is a more sophisticated (and hopefully less tweaky) electronic braking system.
“The purist design and basic construction are based on the original,” Thorens’s press materials state. “The … aluminum chassis now rests on vibration-damping elastomer elements whose viscosity is identical to the original’s rubber ‘mushroom’ isolators.” Also included in the package is a handsome plinth made from black-painted wood and a new tonearm, the TP 124.
Things change fast in hi-fi. When I started this review, the TD 124 DD was to be offered with a special Ortofon-made phono cartridge, the Thorens-Ortofon SPU 124, and a flight case for a package price of $14,000. As I was preparing the review, Thorens gained a new US distributor, Focal Naim North America; as this review went to press, Focal Naim announced that the TD 124 DD will be sold without the flight case or the cartridge (but with the tonearm) for $11,499. The cartridge will be sold separately, for $2899, and the flight case will cost $699. I reviewed the new 124 DD with the SPU 124, as it was too late to make a change.
124 vs 124
Anthony Chiarella, who is serving as a publicist for Thorens, delivered a new gun-metal–gray TD 124 DD, which, apart from the color, looks almost identical to my original beige TD 124. The new model arrived with chassis, plinth, and tonearm assembled at the factory; all I had to do was install the platter and tonearm and set up the cartridge—which is easy with a collet-mounted “pickup head” like the included SPU.
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