Thorens TD 403 DD record player – Classic modern top performer



Date: 2022-10-31


Thorens follows up: The TD 403 DD is already the second Direct Drive/Plug-and-Play turntable of the young 400 series - and scores not only with the smoother running direct drive but also with a new top tone arm, high-quality MM system and class Sound at the official price.

Anyone who hears Thorens automatically thinks of belt drives with a sub-chassis in a classic design. The record player specialist is well known for this. But the success of the TD 402 DD direct dive turntable has encouraged the Bergisch Gladbach-based company to expand the 400 series for ambitious vinyl players with a higher-ranking direct-drive model: the TD 403 DD. It also follows the plug-and-play approach: the turntable comes as a complete set with a pre-assembled and adjusted tone arm and an adjusted scanner. The turntable is ready to go in just a few simple steps. Great! This is how the TD 402 DD stands in front of us, ready to play - and its successful design is also striking.

Modern Design my noble Aura
Here we have succeeded in combining the typical Thorens look with a modern look. The basic geometry and the classic toggle switches make it easy to identify the origin of the TD 403 DD. The tidiness and straightforwardness of the design, to which the new tone arm contributes significantly, give this turntable a modern touch. This applies in particular to the black version of our test model: Its MDF frame is finished with a flawless, high-gloss, deep black lacquer. This wet look finish gives the clean design an elegant aura. If you want a more classic hi-fi style, you can choose the high-gloss walnut version. Either way: The plate, which carries all the controls and components, is made of finely brushed and anodised aluminium. This increases the noblesse of the TD 403 DD. However, this upper deck turns out to be a multi-part piece: The aluminum panel is glued flat to an MDF level and pressed with it. A special adhesive tape is used for this. This results in a sandwich-like structure with a vibration-absorbing effect.

Motor with high running smoothness
The engine is screwed under this deck. It is a so-called pancake motor: its pickups run over circular magnets. This ensures a particularly smooth movement and leads to a very smooth running of the drive. This in turn means that there is no need for a sub-chassis, which uses conical springs to render disruptive vibration energy harmless. The engine of the TD 403 DD is quite strong per se, but the developers deliberately did not exhaust its potency: The throttling of the power apparently led to a more consistent performance. This motor also sets the turntable in motion very gently and leisurely. It takes a few seconds for it to reach its target speed. Therefore, the TD 403 DD is not a turntable for DJs - although it is a Direct Drive model, as the double D in the model name indicates.

Constancy of rotation
This motor axis is reinforced with a slightly tapered brass sleeve, which in turn carries the turntable. When the plate is put on and taken off, the precision and accuracy of fit of this turned sleeve becomes apparent: it seems to literally nestle against the hole in the plate. The platter, in turn, contributes to smooth running: the 22 millimeter high discus weighs one and a half kilos and is therefore noticeably heavier than the platter of its little brother, the TD 402 DD. The more mass causes a higher inertia and promotes the constancy of the rotation. It is adjusted with great precision, as a check of the two adjustable speeds of 33⅓ and 45 revolutions per minute with a flashlight and strobe disc shows. The speed selector switch and the start/stop switch are positioned on the left and right in front of the turntable. The on/off button is pretty close to the pickup system. Here you should be careful not to touch the sensitive needle during operation.

Attractive jewel for audiophiles: Tonearm TP 150
Let's come to the tonearm: With the new Thorens TP 150, an equally audiophile and attractive piece of jewelry is used here. This tonearm clearly sets the TD 403 DD apart from the more simply equipped little brother model of the 400 series. The TP 150 was created by Helmut Thiele. The experienced developer and industrial designer has been shaping Thorens' phono portfolio for a decade. With the TP 150, Thiele has created a homage to the almost legendary EMT 929 studio arm in terms of design. Above all, however, he paid attention to versatility: The TP 150 should be universally applicable for all systems. That's why the straight-lined arm offers a wealth of features and adjustment options when you take a closer look. Even its effective mass of 14 grams, which makes it a medium to heavy model, speaks for full compatibility with expensive or more exotic top pickups. The arm's SME bayonet connection allows the headshell under which the scanning system is located to be changed in a matter of seconds.

Adjustable in all directions
The J-shape of the arm also eliminates the cranking, i.e. the otherwise necessary headshell "kink" that minimizes the tangential tracking error angle of the scanning system. Therefore straight shaped, normal headstocks can be used. This significantly simplifies the adjustment of the pickup. The orientation of the scanning system can be adjusted in all directions - after loosening the respective locking screw. The azimuth, which describes the exact vertical position of the stylus to the record, can be adjusted in two ways. The tone tube can be rotated on the bearing block. However, the tube is already perfectly horizontally aligned at the factory. Thorens therefore recommends the second option: the attachment in the headshell can also be rotated. For the adjustment of the VTA, i.e. the immersion angle of the needle in the record groove, the entire arm unit can be adjusted in height. This is easy, super-fine and supple and over a very wide range via a thread. To change the height, simply turn the perforated stainless steel disc on the bearing block using the supplied pin. A great solution!

Weight split and clever anti-skating mechanism
The tracking force is adjusted using a counterweight that is placed on the back of the tonearm. The heavy weight is in two parts, one disc can be unscrewed for ease of use. This also enables an extremely large range of systems and headstocks to be used. The correct tracking force is set quickly and easily using the scale on the weight. Helmut Thiele came up with an extremely elegant solution for anti-skating, which neutralizes the pulling force acting on the needle during play: No weight dangles unattractively on the gallows. Instead, the thread is fixed to the movable tonearm tube mount and unobtrusively wrapped around the cylindrical block. The nylon thread then reaches the weight with little friction via a ruby ​​guide. This in turn is embedded in the slot of the boom, which connects the tonearm base to the armrest. Here the weight rests on a rod and can be moved easily, but without adjustment. The anti-skating force can be adjusted precisely using the scale on the boom.

System question: Topp-MM as standard, Thorens-MC as upgrade
The supplied headshell is also of high quality. The headstock sits perfectly on the tonearm with no play, which is important because of the SME lock. Two slots are used to attach the scanner and allow overhang adjustment and tracking error correction. So here too: maximum flexibility. Thorens has already equipped the headshell with the system that is also included. It is the 2M Blue from the Danish pickup specialist Ortofon. This extremely high-quality moving magnet scanner already costs two hundred euros per se. The 2M Blue features an elliptical cut diamond. It is naked, i.e. without a border, glued to the needle carrier. As a result, the system has less mass. The 2M Blue acts extremely agile, it is known for its neutral and clean scanning. If you want more - please: Thanks to its flexibility, the TD 403 DD can also be equipped with an MC system. Thorens even has its own system up its sleeve for this upgrade, the TAS1500. It is manufactured to Thorens specifications by Audio Technica.

Construction and setup
During the setup, the TD 403 DD shows how well thought-out and high-quality the solutions, especially of the tonearm, are when you want to optimize the settings to your own taste. But you don't have to: Thorens has already set the arm at the factory and installed and adjusted the MM system. The TD 403 is quickly ready to play: put the plate and rubber mat on top, screw the headshell system combination onto the arm, put on the counterweight, balance the arm by turning the weight and then use the dial to set the specified tracking force, now actually the one as well Check the set anti-skating value - done! The user manual guides you step-by-step through this setup. With the cinch cable that is also included, which even has its own ground wire, we connect the turntable to our phono preamp. Unlike its little brother, the TD 403 DD does not have an integrated preamp. Anyone who chooses this significantly better-performing turntable also has higher demands for the preamplifier.

The Thorens TD 403 DD in practice
We connect the turntable to our Lehmannaudio Decadeon. Since the supplied cable also has a separate grounding wire, the slight humming is completely a thing of the past when you use it - great! Jacob Dinesen's current disc "Let The Hard Times Come" is the first to hit the turntable. The Danish singer and guitarist, who credits Bruce Springsteen and Allan Taylor as inspiration, has recorded an intimate singer/songwriter album with Jens Pilgaard on bass and Jesper Andersen on percussion. The opening "Ordinary Guy" lets us sink into the sofa with a pleasant sigh: Dinesen introduces the song with a plucked western guitar - and it is perfectly captured in this recording and reproduced just as impressively by the TD 403 DD. We hear the finely varying attack of the fingers, we hear the silvery-metallic sound, the steely glow of the treble strings. We can even hear Dinesen playing the picking with just his fingers.

Plasticity and clarity
However, a guitar only sounds really round if you can also hear its wood: the neck and the body, which as a body of sound really makes the sound vibrate and gives it volume. We also hear that with ease, we experience which tones the instrument responds to particularly well. Wow! Now Dinesen comes in with his relaxed, melodious, slightly rough voice: it really does remind you a little of Springsteen. Here, too, the TD 403 DD achieves a wonderfully vivid, wonderfully defined, transparent and extremely clear reproduction. We experience all the little twists and turns that Dinesen performs with his voice: sometimes a little smokier, sometimes a little throatier, but always with a constant urgency that never sounds obtrusive. In addition, Dinesen's voice - like his guitar - is underlaid with a subtle reverberation that reflects the studio dimensions well. So we experience the songwriter and guitarist as if he were singing and playing in front of us.

Nice space and depth
This mapping has a reality that makes our listening room forget and an intensity that imperceptibly makes us gasp. The beautiful atmosphere is now carefully grounded by Jens Pilgaard's bass. Jesper Andersen rhythmizes the whole thing with a subtle bass drum and a figure played on the snare with a brush. As useful as the bass and drums are, we can hear both instruments very well. They expand the space, give the recording a nice three-dimensionality and acoustic depth gradation. The bass has a pleasant contouring, and the bass drum is also very articulated. With the elaboration of the subtleties, the dynamic gradation, also with the beautiful volume of the mids and basses with simultaneous transparency, the reproduction has a quality that as we attribute it to a more sophisticatedly polished stylus rather than an elliptical stylus. The TP 150 tonearm/Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge pairing works excellently. The smooth running of the TD 403 also ensures sovereignty and relaxation in playback.

Big stage with room to develop
We also experience this with George Benson's version of the classic "Rainy Night in Georgia", the grandiose singer and guitarist is supported in his interpretation of this song by a second guitar, a string ensemble, keyboards, organ, bass and drums. First of all, we notice the clean reproduction, the beautiful openness and spaciousness of the presentation: the numerous musicians have plenty of room to develop on the imaginary stage. Here, too, in the larger format, we experience a very nice gradation, breadth and depth. Again we enjoy the very good plasticity - most obviously with Benson, who lives up to his position as front man with his pleasantly velvety tenor, but also with the strings: They are not just an artificial canned synthesizer, but clearly recognizable as real violins and violas .

Easy and effective optimization
We are particularly impressed by the bass: it fills our room with a wonderful volume. We can get a little more out of this. By turning the weight, we slightly increase the set weight on the needle. This gives us even better scanning with a richer sound. The minimal lowering of the entire tonearm is also a plus. For example, the guitar sounds rounder and the percussion a little smoother. A simple but effective tuning is also lining the TD 403 DD with effective absorbent feet or wooden blocks. They should be a little higher than the mounted feet and ideally placed on the outer edge under the frame. This increases the definition, especially in the bass. He clearly gains contours. In addition, the mids are a bit more robust. Benson's vocals are now free of the slight thickening. This measure is also a dynamic gain: the drums sound crisper and more to the point.

Upgrade to MC system: Plus in all disciplines
Our final tuning is then somewhat more expensive: We upgrade the TD 403 DD and swap the Ortofon 2M Blue MM scanner supplied with the Thorens TAS1500 MC system. With its microlinear stylus cut, it also promises better treble pickup and even lower distortion. And holla: The difference is immense! George Benson and his band sound even more coherent, as if they just got into the groove and would play the song again, but this time to the point. This is also thanks to the dynamic gain: the music has increased in vitesse and impulsiveness. In addition, the resolution is splendid: in the strings, even the bowing can now be heard. The drum cymbals have a wonderfully fine silvery quality and, despite the large number of musicians, are up to their full, audible fade away. The plasticity of the instrument has experienced a clear gain. The three-dimensionality also gains: the playback sounds even more open, airy and free.

For us and before us
The big surprise for us, however, is the bass: Anyone who is mistaken in believing that an MC delivers a more refined and dynamic playback, but with a poorer bass range, will be disabused here at the latest. What a lush yet clear, clean, uncompressed bass! How does the Jacob Dinesen recording sound with this MC cartridge? After just a few seconds, it is clear that the beautiful recording is now having even more impact. Dinesen's voice touches us even more, his guitar seems even crisper, the subtle bass has more carrying power despite all the restraint, the rhythm pattern of the snare played with brushes sets even finer accents. The softly sung background has not only a filling character, instead the individual voices are clearly perceptible and give us the even stronger impression.

With the TD 403 DD, Thorens is adding an impressive turntable to its 400 series for ambitious vinyl players: the direct-drive player scores with great smoothness and a very balanced, clean and sovereign sound. The new top tonearm TP 150 contributes in particular to this: With its quality and the wide range of setting options, it offers maximum flexibility with regard to the cartridges that can be used. The TD 403 DD already plays at a high level with the supplied Ortofon 2M Blue MM system. With the upgrade to a top-of-the-line MC system like the Thorens TAS1500, it achieves an even higher level of sound culture. Added to this is the easy handling: the TD 403 DD is fully prepared and already adjusted at the factory - and after the quick setup, it is then completely uncomplicated in everyday operation.

Test & Text: Volker Frech

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