The year 2022 marked significant anniversaries for several prominent loudspeaker manufacturers, all of which we’ve covered on the SoundStage Network. In England, Monitor Audio and KEF celebrated their 50th and 60th birthdays, respectively, while here in Canada PSB also turned 50. Each of these brands released one or more products to celebrate the milestones, and justifiably so. Surviving, let alone thriving for half a century or more in an industry that sometimes seems like a revolving door of companies is no mean feat, and deserves to be feted. In a marketplace that often feels crowded, these brands have succeeded where others have not, and they merit credit.
But if turning 50 or 60 warrants our recognition, what can one say about an audio manufacturer that is 140 years old? Established in 1883 in Sainte-Croix, Switzerland, Thorens started out building music boxes several years before German-born American inventor Emile Berliner would file a patent for his Gramophone, a device that reproduced sound recorded on disc-shaped metal or shellac “records.” The Gramophone and its shellac discs were succeeded by turntables and long-play vinyl records, and Thorens ultimately established its reputation as a leading turntable manufacturer; a status it maintains to this day.
Although Thorens originated in the late 19th century, the company’s rise to audio prominence really began in 1957 with the introduction of the TD 124 turntable. Less than a decade later, prominence turned into dominance when Thorens introduced the TD 150 in 1965. The following year, the company relocated its research, development, and manufacturing to Germany. In 1968, the TD 125 replaced the TD 124 Mk II as the firm’s flagship deck, and by 1972, the TD 160 had replaced the TD 150.
I mention these products because they are still coveted, many decades after their release, commanding high prices on the used market. These turntables gained a cult following in the early days of hi-fi, and the cachet of owning one has only increased with time.
I’ve only ever owned one turntable in my life: a Thorens TD 160 HD that I purchased in 2009. While I’m not anywhere close to being the sort of Thorens fanatic I’ve encountered online, I was excited when I learned I’d be spending time with the company’s brand-new TD 1500 ($2999, all prices in USD). The TD 1500 is a modern take on the TD 150, whose release nearly six decades ago marked something of a watershed moment in turntable history.
Springing into the future
The idea of adding springs to a turntable was still relatively new when Thorens launched the TD 150. The first mass-produced turntable to employ this technique was the Acoustic Research XA. Designed by American inventor Edgar Villchur and introduced in 1961, the XA’s own iconic status is confirmed by the fact that the Museum of Modern Art acquired one for its industrial-design collection.
Before Acoustic Research and Thorens disrupted the turntable industry, decks featured platters mounted on solid plinths. In fact, so do most ’tables manufactured today. Provided the turntable is well-isolated from vibrations, there are inherent advantages to this approach, not the least of which is lower manufacturing cost. However, unless you have a concrete floor, walking by such a turntable has the potential to produce vibrations that could be transferred to the plinth and tonearm. These can find their way to the stylus, preventing it from tracing the vinyl’s grooves faithfully. Similarly, sound emanating from the system’s speakers can interfere with the operation of the stylus.
To counter this susceptibility to vibration, Villchur mounted his platter and tonearm on a subchassis held underneath the top plate by three damped springs with a low resonant frequency. This reduced the transfer of room and airborne vibrations to the stylus, helping it to better track the record. Furthermore, the platter was driven by a belt powered by a motor that was mounted on the top plate, thereby isolating it from the suspended (or “floating”) subchassis. The design wasn’t impervious to vibration, and footfalls could still produce lateral movement in the suspension. Still, in demonstrations of the AR XA, company representatives would strike the top plate with a padded hammer and the music would never miss a beat. While this was unlikely to happen in normal use, withstanding such an impact underscored the fact that the AR XA could tolerate many of the vibrations encountered in a listening room.
In 1965, Thorens borrowed heavily from this design for the TD 150, as did Linn when the Scottish manufacturer released its Sondek LP12 in 1972. Other variations on the design have been released in the years since, but due to the sheer numbers sold, Acoustic Research, Thorens, and Linn usually come to mind when we think of suspended-subchassis turntables.
In 2019, Thorens underwent a reorganization. Under new CEO Gunter Kürten (former CEO of Elac), the company began reinvigorating its brand with the release of several new turntables that paid homage to iconic decks from the firm’s history—including the subject of this review, the TD 1500.
The TD 1500 was designed in Germany and is manufactured in Taiwan. To say that it resembles the TD 150 on which it’s based would be an understatement. One look at the new model and there can be no mistaking its lineage. Measuring 16.5″W × 6″H × 14″D, the TD 1500 has a similar, compact profile to the TD 150. At a mass of 15.4 pounds, the new deck feels substantial enough, but like many of its floating-subchassis brethren, it’s lightweight by the standards of a lot of solid-plinth turntables in its price range.
Like my own TD 160 HD, speed is controlled electronically via a knob in the lower-left corner of the plinth. Selecting the desired speed engages a DC motor that’s electronically monitored by an incremental encoder to automatically correct deviations from the target speed. The motor itself emitted a faint whir as it accelerated, but the sound was so quiet that I couldn’t hear it from even a short distance away. The 12″, 2.2-pound die-cast aluminum platter is topped by a rubber mat and gets up to speed in a matter of seconds.
The plinth is constructed from aluminum-covered MDF, and the armboard is covered in black acrylic. The suspended subchassis is made from a lightweight composite called Alucobond, comprising a polyoxymethylene core sandwiched between two thin aluminum sheets. Alucobond was chosen for its ease of fabrication, stiffness, and ability to absorb resonances. Interestingly, its most common application is as a façade in building construction.
Three conical springs suspended from the plinth hold the subchassis. These differ from the original in that they can be adjusted from above through corresponding holes in the plinth, which makes them far easier to access. Fortunately, the suspension is preset at the factory. When the TD 1500 ships, three transit screws (not two, as stated in the manual) are installed to prevent the ’table from wobbling during shipping. As soon as these screws are removed, the subchassis is free to move both vertically and laterally.
Relative to my own turntable, the TD 1500 was a revelation in this regard. While my TD 160 HD is also a floating-subchassis design, the suspension is far stiffer than the TD 1500’s. One of the key differences is that the plinth of the TD 160 HD covers the entire top surface. When I replace the tonearm into its holder, the subchassis doesn’t wobble as it did on the TD 1500. When I realized how much movement there was in the suspension, I’ll confess I watched a YouTube video to be certain this was normal. Turns out it was, but I wasn’t expecting it.
This may sound juvenile, but the vertical and lateral motion that resulted from pretty much all my interactions with the deck fascinated me. Fellow SoundStager Jason Thorpe has said that, for him, one of the appeals of using a turntable over any digital medium is the physical interaction one has with it. He’s right, and the reminder of analog’s mechanical nature was ever-present with the TD 1500. I loved it, even though I wondered if the constant motion might require more frequent adjustment of the suspension. My day job is in research, and the analytical balances I use require yearly calibrations to ensure the instruments perform accurately. Of course, the TD 1500 isn’t an analytical balance, but I can’t believe the play in the subchassis wouldn’t change over time and require adjustment.
The tonearm on the TD 1500 is also a new product, and Thorens claims it’s like the one on the TD 124 DD. That’s an impressive claim, given the TD 124 DD sells for $11,499 without a cartridge. Called the TP 150, the 9″ J-shaped aluminum arm has an effective mass of 15 grams and allows for height and azimuth adjustment. It’s fitted with an SME connector; a nice feature that allows one to swap out the headshell/cartridge in seconds. Anti-skate adjustment is made by sliding a weight underneath the tonearm. The weight travels along a nylon thread that moves over a ruby bearing. It’s not the most elegant solution, and I needed a sharp pencil to set it once I’d adjusted the tracking force at the desired 1.5 grams. However, that’s not the sort of thing one does too often, so in practice it’s a nonissue.
The headshell is premounted with a 2M Bronze cartridge from Danish manufacturer Ortofon. A moving-magnet cartridge, it features a nude fine-line diamond stylus: the same one used in its more upscale sibling, the 2M Black. The Bronze’s body is made from a polymer called Hopelex. A combination of polycarbonate and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), Hopelex is said to offer good rigidity and reduced resonance. With an output of 5mV, the Bronze doesn’t require much gain from the phono preamplifier for loud playback. The Ortofon features split pole pins with a silver-plated copper wire. Invented by Ortofon, split pole pins allow an MM cartridge to have a flat frequency response like a moving-coil cartridge.
Around back, the TD 1500 offers both single-ended (RCA) and balanced (XLR) connections. I used the RCA connectors because my TD 160 HD doesn’t have the option of running balanced. Since I intended to compare the two, I decided I’d do all my listening to the TD 1500 running single-ended. A dust cover rounds out the Thorens package, and I used it throughout the review period. The TD 1500 is available in walnut or high-gloss black finishes. The high-gloss black of the review sample looked sophisticated without calling attention to itself, but if I were going to buy this deck, I’d want to check out the walnut finish before deciding.
I don’t own a grounded phono cable, but when the Thorens TD 1500 arrived, I was fortunate to still have the review sample of the Pro-Ject Audio Systems X2 B turntable—the company’s Connect it Phono E RCA cable, which has a ground wire, comes with it. I used this cable to link the TD 1500 to a Saturn Audio 401 phono preamplifier, which was in turn connected to a Bryston B135 SST2 integrated amplifier using the RCA cables that came with my own TD 160 HD. The B135 powered Monitor Audio Gold 300 speakers using Nirvana Audio Royale speaker wires, terminated in spades. The electronics were plugged into an ExactPower EP15A power conditioner/regenerator.
My first (and lasting) impression of the TD 1500 was that it’s a quiet turntable. My second was that its sound is detailed and clean. These observations popped up repeatedly in my listening notes.
On the opening track from Charles Mingus’s Mingus Ah Um (Columbia Records / Legacy Recordings 8697-335681), the TD 1500’s tidy demeanor extended across the frequency range, and the frenzied cymbal splashes were crisp and vibrant. When the musicians stop playing and switch to clapping out the beat while the saxophone solos, it was a cinch to “see” what’s happening at the front of the room because everyone was so precisely carved out. Based solely on the infectious energy of “Better Git It in Your Soul,” it sounded like the musicians enjoyed recording it, or so it seemed through the Thorens.
The next track, “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” is somber and pensive; a touching tribute to a friend. Here the tone of the sax was rich and crystal-clear—full of body and incredible presence, much like the upright bass that elicited a space all its own through the TD 1500. Again, the deck’s inherent quietness made it possible to appreciate subtleties glossed over by less capable turntables.
On “Boogie Stop Shuffle” the music changes directions again. The tune is animated, and the tempo is upbeat. The music really does boogie, possessing a bounce that helps continue the emotional rollercoaster Mingus and company have created. With the Thorens, the sound was lively and captivating. “Boogie Stop Shuffle” sounded like it should have been used in the soundtrack to a 1960s spy film, such was the air of mystery and suspense it evoked.
Listening to the title track from Michael Hedges’s Aerial Boundaries (Windham Hill Records WH-91032), the Thorens sounded as clean as Hedges’s playing. More than anything, I found that the TD 1500 pretty much stepped aside, not imparting much of itself onto the recording. The leading edges of notes were crisp and well resolved, as was the decay of low frequencies coming from the dissipating resonance of the guitar’s wooden body. The guitar had sufficient weight, but I wouldn’t say it was abundantly warm. In the simplest terms, it sounded believable.
The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street (Universal Music Group Recordings B0014203-01) explodes out of the starting blocks with “Rocks Off.” The track that follows, “Rip This Joint,” elevates the adrenaline further, and “Shine a Light” has swagger. When I cued up the album, the Thorens/Ortofon combo clearly communicated the vibrancy of all the tunes across the album’s four sides. The music is generally well sorted on Exile, and I could easily pinpoint the performers on a sizable 3D stage. The backing vocals on “Tumbling Dice” were lucid, and the individual voices were easy to discern between the speakers. Again, I wouldn’t say I heard much of a “sound” from the Thorens—or at least, no overarching character that colored what it was playing.
Björk’s Homogenic (One Little Indian 539166-1) is a special album. Like much of her catalog, it’s well produced, boasting spacious soundscapes and grandiose sonics; characteristics that were ably communicated by the Thorens. What the opening track, “Hunter,” lacks in the ink-black backgrounds of my copy of the album on CD, the LP makes up for in the richness of the cello and sheer voluminosity of the thumping electronic bass. One critique I’ve encountered of early suspended-subchassis turntables is that they tend to have a woollier grasp of low frequencies. While I’m not going to suggest my vinyl copy of Homogenic matched the vise-like grip in the bass conveyed by the same track on CD, the bass was still solid and clear. Loose or poorly defined bass was never an issue. Like my own Thorens, the TD 1500 strikes a good balance between conjuring up plenty of detail while still maintaining the warmth that suspended-subchassis turntables are known for. Once again, this could be attributed to how quiet the TD 1500 was in my system.
On “Bachelorette,” the composition of lush strings and pulsating bass rhythm creates tangible tension. What I appreciated the most through the TD 1500 was how easy it was to unravel that tension. In typical Björk fashion, there’s a lot going on in this tune, and the clarity and openness of the Thorens-Ortofon duo pulled it apart. Homogenic is a wonderful fusion of deep electronic bass and gorgeous string arrangements, with the occasional accordion showing up—as it does when “Bachelorette” fades out. To say that Homogenic made for an engaging listen would be an understatement, but it takes a good system and, in particular, a good turntable to appreciate the facets of its many-layered production. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to it on the Thorens.
Recently, my local music shop had a new copy of the 1975 recording of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 (Deutsche Grammophon 479 3188), performed by the Vienna Philharmonic and conducted by Carlos Kleiber. I’ve had this on CD for years, and my vinyl copy of the symphony is the 1962 Herbert von Karajan with the Berlin Philharmonic. I enjoy both, but the Kleiber recording routinely shows up on lists as the definitive performance. I won’t pretend I’ve heard enough versions of Symphony No. 5 to have an informed opinion on the subject, but regardless of which one you choose, it’s a marvelous way to spend 30 minutes or so.
Through the TD 1500, the Vienna Philharmonic came at me like a force of nature; explosive in one moment, delicate and airy in the next. The brass in the final movement was intimidating, and the blare of the horns sounded imposing but never grating. Hearing this record through a quality system fronted by the Thorens deck is the reason one invests in hi-fi in the first place. The experience cannot be duplicated by a lesser system, or God forbid, a soundbar. Of course, it could sound even better on a greater system, but the next obvious step to improve upon what I heard from the Thorens would be to buy a ticket and hear the symphony live in person—though it won’t be conducted by Kleiber. The separation of the instruments across a stage of good width and perceptible depth gave the orchestra an incredible sense of presence, and the Thorens-Ortofon combo revealed it with ease.
The TD 1500’s low noise floor emphasized the dynamic shifts that are abundant throughout the performance. As the third movement transitions into the explosive fourth, there’s incredible tension during a moment of quiet that sets one up for the exuberance that follows. Part of what makes it so great is that you know this moment of quiet serenity won’t last; it’s almost as though Beethoven is having a bit of fun with his audience, keeping us on the edge of our seats as he waits to unleash the intensity and drama that are a hallmark of the Fifth from its opening four notes.
This is the first time I’ve been able to compare my TD 160 HD ($2900) against another floating-subchassis turntable. My TD 160 HD is fitted with a Thorens-modified Rega Research RB250 tonearm, on which I’ve installed a low-output Sumiko Songbird moving-coil cartridge ($899).
Aesthetically speaking, the TD 1500 and TD 160 HD have much in common, but if I were to choose one on appearances alone, I’d pick the TD 1500. I like its high-gloss finish and how the silver plinth complements the brushed-aluminum platter. Frankly though, both models are rather bland. Neither Thorens is likely to grab anyone’s attention on your equipment rack. Some turntables are striking in appearance and can become the focal point of one’s system. Not these two.
Returning to Björk’s “Hunter,” it was obvious that appearance wasn’t the only thing these two decks had in common. Given that they’re equipped with tonearms and cartridges from different manufacturers, I can’t use the term “house sound” to describe what I heard, but the overall character of the TD 1500 was incredibly similar to that of the TD 160 HD. Both turntables delivered a full sound, populated with precise images and impressive clarity. The bass had impact while remaining tight, with more of an emphasis on control. The rapid rhythm of the electronic drums sounded fast and clean. Björk’s voice floated between and slightly above the plane formed by the speakers’ tweeters. Despite being fundamental to this track, Björk’s voice wasn’t pulled out or spotlit in a way that overemphasized her singing. These characteristics were evident on both decks.
Switching over to Georges Bizet’s Carmen (RCA Victor LM-6102), differences in the characters of the two Thorenses began to reveal themselves. Through the TD 1500, the RCA Victor Orchestra was a touch more upfront, bringing a slight immediacy to the frenzied opening prelude.
Furthermore, the ringing of the triangle was clearer through the TD 1500, as if there was a hint more space around it. The orchestra still sounded somewhat closed-in on both ’tables, but that’s a function of the recording, not the playback system. Through both decks, the orchestra was presented with similar width and depth on the stage, and dynamically there was little to distinguish them.
Although there were aspects of the TD 160 HD that I preferred, such as the fact that the suspension doesn’t wobble when I pick it up to switch it out during reviews, I could happily live with either of these decks. I’ve been fortunate enough to hear some great-sounding turntables in the past couple of years, but never thought I’d prefer one of them to my own. That’s changed. For the first time, I would’ve been happy to keep the review unit; and if I did, I’d be curious to hear how the TP 150 tonearm responded to a cartridge upgrade. The Ortofon 2M Bronze sounded fantastic, but I wondered where the TD 1500’s performance ceiling is.
With a new CEO and a steady release of new models, Thorens may be poised to command a larger presence in analog reproduction. The market for turntables is becoming increasingly crowded, and I doubt if Thorens will ever dominate as it did from its heyday in the middle of the 20th century. However, with decks like the TD 1500, the company could be set to win over a new generation of consumers, as opposed to the older audiophiles whose love for the brand often seems borne from a sense of nostalgia.
I can’t imagine we’ll ever see a wholesale shift toward suspended-subchassis designs. Solid-plinth turntables are so prevalent and, in many cases, far more affordable than suspended decks, which simply don’t exist in the entry-level segment of the market. However, after owning one such turntable for over a decade, and now having had the opportunity to hear a brand-new model, there’s still plenty to love in this design. The TD 1500 is the most expensive turntable I’ve reviewed for SoundStage! Hi-Fi, and the best-sounding. To my ears it offers a terrific combination of clarity and precision, while still maintaining the warmth and fullness that make people want to invest in a high-quality record player in the first place. I’m not sure I could ever tire of its sound, and given the company’s extraordinary longevity, a potential buyer can take comfort in the fact that Thorens should be able to service the TD 1500 if anything ever needs attention. Enthusiastically recommended.