HiFiction Thales TTT-Slim II turntable & Simplicity II tonearm Page 2

The Thales combo, equipped with an EMT TSD 15 N SPH cartridge (the standard-mount version of the TSD 15 pickup head), played Sonny Rollins's "Without a Song," from The Bridge (RCAJapan Victor RCA-6011), like somebody's life depended on it: The music lost not one iota of its bounce in the translation from my Garrard 301-based player to this one. And I was especially pleased that Bob Cranshaw's double bass sounded no less full, and no less snappy, than via my reference player, although the Thales combo lacked the vintage rig's sense of impact.

But there was more to it than that. In "Without a Song," during his last break before the bass solo, Rollins plays back-to-back triplets that swim against the song's rhythmic stream in a manner I'm unable to describe. The Thales player nailed it, just as well as I'm used to hearing from my Garrard (and few others). And in the comparatively pensive "Where Are You," each one of guitarist Jim Hall's luxuriantly arpeggiated chords was a pure, tactile delight. Tactile goodness also characterized the piano sound on Herbie Hancock's debut album, Takin' Off (Blue Note Cisco 84109), especially Hancock's solo on "Three Bags Full."

Lately, I've spent a lot of time listening to the Electric Recording Company's reissue of Henriette Faure's recording of Book One of Debussy Preludes for solo piano (EMIERC 350 C 004, footnote 3). Thus, I can say with confidence that the Thales player allowed the piano every bit the same (large) scale as my Garrard-based player and conveyed the same eerie languidity, right down to the last weird, disembodied A at the very end. And the Thales combo wasn't far off the mark in its ability to suggest the instrument's corporeality, al though my Garrard allowed it to sound meatier still. Another good piano recording—by Reinbert De Leeuw, performing early pieces by Erik Satie (Telefunken 6.42198 AW)—sounded similarly good via the Slim II and Simplicity II, with good weight and concomitantly good scale.


But there's nothing like Satie's music, with its reliance on slow tempos and richly voiced sustained chords, to show up speed instability of whatever origin—and my copy of that De Leeuw LP has a bit of a warp in it: I'm accustomed to hearing from it a bit of warp-wow. I went back and forth a number of times between the Thales and Garrard-based players, and there was no question that unwanted pitch variations were less severe through the latter, presumably owing to the greater effective length— 307mm vs the Thales's 229mm—of my EMT 997 tonearm. All other things being equal, the longer the tonearm, the less severe the audible effects of warped and off-center records.

On one of those freewheeling Saturday mornings when I felt like annoying my neighbor—the one who plants things on my lawn and whose dog is bigger and even barkier than mine—I rooted around for the perfect loud Neil Young song to blast and hit upon the live version of "Ohio" from Journey Through the Past (2 LPs, Reprise 2XS 6480), performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young with Calvin Samuels on bass and Johnny Barbata on drums. On this track, which segues brilliantly from the last note of a live performance of Steve Stills's "Find the Cost of Freedom" (both songs are in D, played with drop-D tuning on the guitars), Stills and Young both play big, hollow-body Gretsch guitars that seem forever on the verge of feedback—a sound I adore: they scream with thick, sustainy notes that complement the very emotional vocal performances. On the Thales, that all came across as well as I've ever heard, along with a fantastically impactful, resonant sound from drummer Johnny Barbata's ride toms. It was a satisfying and altogether moving experience. No one called the cops.

One of my two favorite versions of the Bruckner Symphony No.8 is the one recorded in 1964 by Eugen Jochum and the Berlin Philharmonic (2 LPs, Deutsche Grammophon 138 91819); my copy is an early tulip pressing, and it sounded thrilling on the Thales. The Wagner tubas in the first movement sounded especially real—at the other end of the dynamic spectrum, so did the very delicate harp playing in the scherzo and the adagio. The Thales combo seemed to do the best it could with DG's less-than-lushly-textured string sound, but it was the equal of my Garrard in scale.

My only criticism was that the Thales player didn't equal my reference in its ability to shrug off surface noise. (What is it with DG records from just about any era Is it my bad luck, or were their records less durable than average?)

Listening to the Thorens TD 124Simplicity II combination
Though it may strike some as faint praise, the first thing that impressed me about the sound of the Thales arm on my vintage Thorens was that it maintained my system's core musical strengths: Lines of notes moved in time with realistic momentum and flow, and neither musical timing nor pitch relationships became the least bit ponderous or unclear—high praise, indeed, considering that I've been spoiled by such musically accomplished arms as the Schick, the GrooveMaster II, Sorane ZA-12 and SA-1.2, and, of course, the EMT 997. The scale that opens Maazel and the Vienna Philharmonic's Sibelius Symphony No.4 (Decca SXL 6236) was as spellbinding as ever. In the chords that open Mendelssohn's Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream, by Peter Maag and the LSO (DeccaSpeakers Corner SXL 2060), the harmonies between the notes played by the flutes and, ultimately, the oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and horn, sounded true, not sour. And the moderate swing tempo of Frank Sinatra's "Oh, You Crazy Moon," from Moonlight Sinatra (Reprise FS-1018), was propelled by relentless rhythm guitar and drum kit, sufficiently steady that Sinatra's own timing shifts dazzled rather than annoyed.


Among the other records I tried was a long-time favorite: 1979's Manzanita, by the Tony Rice Unit (Rounder 0092). Apart from his groundbreaking lead work, guitarist Rice is celebrated by fellow musicians for his no-less-accomplished rhythm playing, characterized by a unique combination of fluidity and hard-charging momentum. The Thorens-Thales combination perfectly captured that sound—in both Rice's playing and its real-time influence on the other musicians in the ensemble—on "Blue Railroad Train" and others. No less delightful was the way this combination reproduced the tautly sustained notes from Todd Phillips' double bass on "Midnight on the Stormy Deep" and highlighted the stylistic differences between David Grisman and Sam Bush's mandolin playing throughout the album.

In the sense that I'm accustomed to thinking that the ultimate in involving playback is the sole province of high-torque idler-drive turntables and transcription-length tonearms—and of phono setups that require hours of painstaking tonearm and pickup alignment—the combination of TTT-Slim II turntable and Simplicity II tonearm was a surprise, and a very pleasant one. While it never delivered the sheer impact I continue to associate with old-style low-compliance pickup heads, both stereo and mono, it consistently played music in a way that captured and held my attention and brought out most of the things I love about my favorite records.

I admit coming away from this review thinking of the Thales tonearm as the star of the show: Just as the above-mentioned Sorane tonearms transformed my lovely old Thorens TD 124 into a drivemeister of a player that all but rivaled my Garrard 301's ability to communicate music's sheer physicality, the Thales Simplicity II enhanced its ability to play lines with musical clarity and nearly hypnotic momentum and flow: playback that was just as involving, but in a slightly different way. And it must be said: The Thales Simplicity II is nothing less than the most well-made tonearm I've ever used.

While the Thales products aren't cheap, they betray a level of craftsmanship that's hard to find in any consumer product—that and an engineering approach that's as conservative as it is original: What else can you say about a designer who, unlike so many competitors, can make a turntable this good without having to make it grotesquely, uselessly big?

Especially for the user who prefers standard-mount cartridges over old-style pickup heads—a group that surely includes the vast majority of phonophiles—the Thales player, and especially the Thales tonearm, absolutely must be given serious consideration by anyone whose budget can stretch this far.

Footnote 3: Actually Ducretet Thomson but relabeled for the reissue owing to international copyright restrictions.
HiFiction AG
US distributor: Wynn Audio
Unit 31, 20 Wertheim Court
Richmond Hill, Ontario L4B 3A8, Canada
(212) 826-1111

volvic's picture

Used to spend hours in the late 80's looking, adjusting then readjusting then tightening my cartridge on my Dennesen protractor only to go back and look at the cartridge from another angle and start all over again. Got so frustrated, I nearly gave up on vinyl. Fortunately, I did two things that cured my nervosa; I purchased an SME tonearm with its fixed mounting for cartridge and its sliding rail for overhang adjustment, voila overnight everything came into place. Secondly, purchased a Shure V15 MK V cartridge that came with this ingenious overhang slot gauge that further took away the guesswork of aligning the cartridge. Have three Shure V15's and still use them to this day. Have slept soundly since.

I think it might just be bad luck on your part Art, the DG recordings I own are very quiet unless, and it has happened, some previous owner's stylus was not up to par, but that is rare and have been very happy with the quality of the DG vinyl I have purchased. Not as good as Philips pressings but good enough.

So if the Jochum Bruckner 8th is one of your two favourites which is the other one? It must be the Furtwangler with the VPO from 1944 right? It has to be.

Anton's picture

I wish they were done by all.

p.chas's picture

Many thanks Art for another interesting review, although more comment on the several audible advantages of tangential tracking would have been appreciated (see the review of the Thales AV arm by Michael Fremer d/d 31 Oct.2010).
Even though the Simplicity arm does track tangentially, the offset angle still requires compensation of the skating force, and this is achieved by two very small (non-adjustable) magnets integrated in the counterweight.
Frank Schroeder's tangential tracking arm is getting much favourable comment on the web. Any chance
of either you or Michael (Analog Planet) obtaining one for testing?

Ortofan's picture

... SME Model 15A.

volvic's picture

Looks sharp and it replaced the popular model 10.

Michael Quinlan's picture

Hello Art
A longtime reader of Stereophile and of John Atkinson since HFN/RR days.
I am concerned about the structural integrity of the articulations at the headshell. We have been taught that any free-play or jitter in the turntable/arm/cartridge interface will create distortion by allowing the stylus to move of itself not driven by the modulations in the disc groove. This has always made sense to me. And to the generations of arm designers who have engineered increasingly large bearings with vanishingly small free-play, as applauded by Mr Fremer.
So with only your photo to guide me, it does appear the articulations at the headshell are small and poorly engineered and must allow free-play. Did you examine this aspect? Do you agree with the central issue?
An ongoing criticism of most parallel tracking arm set-ups is that they are a spider to catch a fly. The compromises involved are greater than those in a pivoted arm.
But see my avatar for what I have found to be a solution.
Keep on writing and I will keep on reading!!
Kind regards
Michael Quinlan