Thorens TD 124 DD Record Player

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 Thorens 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."

Between 1957 and 1967, Thorens manufactured more than 90,000 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. 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.)

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Today, Thorens is owned by former Denon manager and ELAC CEO Gunter Kürten. 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, 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 Thorens 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.

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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 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.

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"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 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.

The TD 124 DD's four aluminum leveling dials and 45rpm adaptor replicate the original, as do its illuminated strobe gauge and spirit level. The chunky aluminum switch that operated both power on/off and multiple speeds on the original machine now offers only 33 and 45rpm. A second aluminum switch operates the nearly silent electronic cueing device, much like the mechanical switches on the armboards of early Thorens TP 14 and BTD-12S tonearms, but now with electrons.

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Elsewhere are differences: The thinner, smoother rubber mat lacks the original's raised ridges. A fifth aluminum dial fine-tunes platter speed. An MDF armboard replaces the wooden one found on old TD 124s.

The TD 124 DD's 4mm-thick aluminum chassis has marginally sharper edges than the original and a rubber-damped backside, which fits into a multilayer, MDF replica of the classic ST 104 beechwood plinth, whose base is fitted with a plywood ("multiplex") plate and a layer of vibration-absorbing Basotect foam. The TD 124 DD's chassis felt comfortably supported on its plinth, with some compliance due to the rubber-mushroom suspension.

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The new TP 124 tonearm consists of an internally damped aluminum armtube with a heavy brass counterweight to balance the SPU 124 cartridge's 30gm weight. The effective tonearm length is 9.17". A second, lighter counterweight is included (along with a headshell) for use with more typical cartridges, which have less heft than the SPU 124. The TP 124 tonearm is a "cardanic suspended tonearm with Löfgren geometry." Chiarella explained, in an email: "'Cardanic" is a bearing arrangement whereby there are two ball bearing races in the vertical plane—above and below the arm tube—and another two ball bearing races to the left and right of the arm tube." Tonearm support rod, cueing lift, and antiskate filament sleeve are made of aluminum, as is the tonearm's cylindrical bearing housing.

The SPU 124 cart—which, as a reminder, is not included at the $11,499 retail price—is based on the Ortofon Synergy G. An output of 0.5mV is specified, and an internal impedance of 2 ohms. The SPU 124 cartridge uses "a highly polished nude elliptical stylus," Kürten wrote. "Mass has been reduced significantly, resulting in reduced VTF and higher tracking ability." In the US, the SPU 124 can be bought only with the TD 124 DD, although—again—it is sold separately. The retail price is $2899.

COMPANY INFO
Thorens GmbH
US distributor: Focal Naim America
313 rue Marion J5Z4W8 Repentigny
Quebec, Canada
(800) 663-9352
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
tonykaz's picture

I only knew one person that owned a Thorens Player; Mike the Electrician purchased one from Stereoland sometime in the 1960s, he had one Bozak, Macintosh 75 Watt Amp and later a pair of Horns.

Later in my life I discovered the wonderful Linn and all the Players being made in England. Then Shela at VPI sent us a Player that changed our Vinyl world. Then came Koetsu and Direct to Discs. Phew !

Seeing a New Thorens takes me back to powerful horns and smoking dope in front of Mike's music.

Fond Memories, 4-Sure.

I wonder if Mr. Gunter Kurten will manage to get the mechanicals of manufacturing under enough control to squeeze out the first batch of 500 without any of the gremlins that typically plague these types of projects. 500 is not typically a large enough quantity.

Fingers Crossed for Quality Control

Tony in Venice Florida

MauriceRon's picture

ken...

can you say something about the interview you did with steve gutenburg last week,where you made sexist remarks about a hi fi youtuber's wife...i wouldnt think this is the image a stereophile writer should be putting forward...

https://www.youtube.com/c/AndrewRobinsonphoto/community

ken mac's picture

Regarding my recent appearance in one of Steve Guttenberg’s videos, what I did was wrong, insensitive, insulting, and highly irresponsible. I’ve apologized via email to Kristi and Andrew. There is no place for sexism anywhere, anytime. At this, I failed. I hope the Robinsons can forgive me. I promise to do better. I am sorry.

Ortofan's picture

... forgo the unique feature of the original TD124, which was the combined belt and idler drive system.
It reminds me of so-called 'resto-mod' muscle cars, where the body is old but virtually all of the mechanical parts have been replaced with modern items.
Would there be much of a market for a new version of the Garrard 301 if it was converted to direct-drive?

Likewise, for the decision to move production to Taiwan.
Pro-Ject (and E.A.T.) manage to produce their range of turntables in Europe - and the vast majority of them are priced lower than this new Thorens model.
What prevents Thorens from doing the same?

avanti1960's picture

the styling is a deal breaker for me. 70's Era Thorens? Heck yes....

PeterPani's picture

There are so many modern good tables around. And vintage people will long for an old TD124. I spent a lot of work (years!) on my old TD124 and put 3 tonearms on it (stereo, mono, 78s). If somebody breaks into my home and takes away this soul - I might consider the new one...

ddiljak1's picture

For your Jelco tonearm, were you able to use the standard counterweight to accommodate the SPU or did you use a larger weight? Just wondering since the SPU is a little heavy.

Ortofan's picture

... its manufacturing partner, still have some work to do on the motor and/or speed controller in regard to reducing the peak value of wow and flutter down to levels exhibited by Technics products, or even some belt-driven units.

https://www.hifinews.com/content/thorens-td-124-dd-turntable-lab-report

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