$75 Thorens vs. $2K+ Michell...is this possible?

Hi all,

I've had my first turntable ever (a Michell Tecnodec purchased used with a Benz Glider medium ouput purchased new) for a couple of months now, and although it has sounded good at times and sometimes even great, overall it hasn't been what I've expected based upon the reputation that vinyl has over digital. Sometimes my table sounds smothered or rolled off in the highs, and sometimes I hear what I can best describe as noise/static/distortion on vocals when they get loud. Things have gotten a bit better with what I assume is break-in of the cartridge and some minor tweaking of VTA.

Yesterday, I purchased a well used Thorens TD 160 with an Audio Technica AT125LC. The cartridge is riding so low (I assume from use) that at times the body rubs on the record surface. I haven't had the time to do extensive direct comparisons, but the essence of what I expected from vinyl is here with the Thorens. An overall smooth, natural coherence that is emminently enjoyable to listen to. Natural, airy highs. Solid, but not overdone firm bass.

Again, I have not done direct comparisons, but I don't hear any of the downsided I heard with my Michell. There may not be quite the detail or soundstage width, but I feel like it's an overall more enjoyable listening experience.

I'd love input from the more experienced here to help me understand what's happening here.

Thanks much,
i have owned and sold several state-of-the-art tables, including a maplenoll athena, sota, a pink triange export and a goldmund studio that were no more enjoyable than a td 160 super or a td 147, or a variety of other classic inexpensive(relatively speaking) thorens tables. all those used tables floating around, and still operating is truly a marvel.
Well, it is all a matter of taste so there is no need to doubt yourself. There are all types of philosophies out there. It is great to hear from someone who actually knows what he likes. enjoy the music!

Did you hook up the Thorens without changing the settings on your phono preamp? If so, that would explain a lot. If you've been running the Benz on the MM setting, the 5mv output of the AT would be a much better match than the .8mv of the Benz. Also, having read your previous threads, did you mount and align the Benz yourself? You might want to check the alignment to make sure it's up to snuff. I'm assuming the AT was already mounted on the Thorens and, because you like what you're hearing, the alignment is probably pretty close.

The other big difference is your non-suspended Michell versus the very old school spring suspension of the Thorens. Suffice to say the tables will sound very different.

If your Michell/Benz setup is correct, you may be learning an audio lesson that I and many others have also had to learn: cost is not necessarily proportional to satisfaction.

I normally lurk here but can't help myself from posting on this one. I would imagine that a head to head comparison might be fun and even illuminating, so long as the same cartridge and vinyl are used for both. If it were me I'd be willing to buy a pair of cheap-but-well-regarded cartridges for the experiment.

First I think it would be necessary to confirm that both tables are set up properly.

But to your question, I think that many folks who have a vintage table dispose of it pretty early in their quest, perhaps in some cases prematurely so.

My modest TD150 with the awkward looking TP13A arm sounds mighty good, and to my ears as good or better than a handful of newer "good" turntables that I've heard. It is worthy of a good phono stage (I have a Wright which I think most would concur is in the "good" range) but I would bet a lot of folks move on with the table before they move on to a good stage. I have not compared my TD to a tecnodec and in fact my primary table is an idler now, but I can't get rid of the Thorens. Especially through the Wright it presents music in a gentle and very musical way and I love it.

Thanks for all of the great replies...keep them coming!

To answer some of the questions above, I'm using a Monolithic phono stage which was a distinct improvement over the built-in stage of the MF preamp I had. The input resistance sounds best to me (with Glider) at 1K and high gain setting. I changed it to 47K and medium gain for the AT/Thorens combo.

I bought the Michell used, but bought the Glider new from a dealer because I wanted it set up professionally (again being new to vinyl, I wanted the best chance of initial success so that I would give the format a fair shake.) It is placed on a sand box type isolation platform, and the Thorens is temporarily perched on an adjacent bookshelf.

I've thought about swapping the cartridges to compare, but I'm not that confident in being able to set them up properly.

How much time does it realistically take to break in a new cartridge? Is it possible I haven't given the Benz enough time (I'm guesstimating 20-40 hours total so far?)

If I were to keep the Thorens and sell the Michell, would the Glider be a good match for the table? Is it possible that a high output MM cartridge sounds better to me because of it's higher signal to noise ratio?
I have to say if a 75.00 TT and cartridge gives you great pleasure than your a step ahead of most. Please enjoy and think about how many just on audiogon that have five figure TT systems, and some are unhappy with them.
+++I've thought about swapping the cartridges to compare, but I'm not that confident in being able to set them up properly.+++

I'd say read the FAQs at Vinyl Asylum, download a good protractor from Vinyl Engine, and go at it slowly and carefully. Then follow the setup directions on the VDH site and you'll be good to go. Or first buy a $30 cartridge to practice on. Everybody has a first time.

+++If I were to keep the Thorens and sell the Michell, would the Glider be a good match for the table? +++

According to the tonearm database at the Vinyl Engine the TD160 came with three different factory arms, of differing effective mass, so it's going to be hard to say unless you know which arm it is. OR, unless you try it!

The Glider isn't even close to breaking in and will definitely get better although tweeking the set up could render more improvement as well.
Paul, I owned both the Michell and Thorens and what you describe would indicate some problems with the cartridge mounting or phonostage settings. Where do you live? Possibly there are some friendly Agon members that could check the cartridge alignment etc. for you? It really is not that difficult to set up a table, but I have had bad experience with a dealer several years ago, who claimed you could just mount a cartridge without any alignment tools on a Rega arm, as one won't be able to tell the difference on a sub $1k table !!??

Knowing the Glider and Tecnodec, I would expect a very lean, fast, sometimes too detailed and unforgiving sound. The Thorens will be more balanced, but also with less resolution and detail. Noise/distortion should not be part of any analog sound and indicated alignment or other problems.
I have owned a new VPI Scout with a Benz Glider M2 cartridge for about 3 months. Before that, I owned a Thorens TD-125 MK2 for about 2 years. The performance level of the Scout is very high and I feel that it can do just about anything. I never have problems with it as you desicribed with your Michell. My Thorens performance level was almost up to the level of the VPI, but not quite. I had a cheaper cart on the Thorens (Ortofon X5, I believe). It sounded very good for its price range, but there was little magic compared to the VPI and the Thorens would get a little confused on certain passages, where the VPI/Benz does not.

I believe that your Michell is not set up properly since you describe distortion in certain dynamic passages. Based on my experience with my Thorens and VPI, I believe that your Thorens could nearly approach or even match the performance level of your Michell. It will take a lot of work to get the Thorens refurbished and tuned, and match a correct cartridge to whatever arm you go with.

I have also found that my VPI and Benz Glider play whatever is on the record. If it is a rather pedestrian recording with lazy engineering, then it sounds like a rather average recording. This of course means the playback will have little, if any, vinyl 'magic'. However, if it is a great recording, then it is marvelous. Not all your records will sound great on a good table.
As others have pointed out, you're comparing apples and oranges. Unless you put the same cartridge on each rig you'll have no idea what the inherent qualities of the two rigs actually are.

Sometimes my table sounds smothered or rolled off in the highs,
And probably always will with a Glider on it. Smoothed, gentled, laid back, rolled off highs. Sounds like every Glider I've heard, on any rig.

...and sometimes I hear what I can best describe as noise/static/distortion on vocals when they get loud.
STOP playing those records until you solve this problem. If your stylus is mistracking your vinyl is being permanently damaged.

There are several possible causes of this noise and they've been discussed here many times. Twice within the last week on two thread I remember. Do a little searching/reading/research.

Wow, you must have a terrible set-up on the Michell. I'm not saying that the Michell is the best deck on the planet, but it is capable of very high performance when set up properly in a decent system.

In fact, my experience has been the exact opposite of yours. I had been playing around with some lesser turntables, a vintage AR XB with a Profile II arm, and a BIX with a stock Rega RB250. The AR had a nice, mellow, well-balanced sound, but it lacked the expansive soundstage, the wide dynamic contrasts, and the precise imaging and detailing of the Michell. What arm is on your Michell, anyway???

The BIX was a step closer to the Michell, but not quite there and it had issues with inconsistent speed all the time.

If your Michell sounds as you've described then there's no way that it's working right or set up properly. Years ago, I owned a VPI Aries with a JMW 10 arm and the extra flywheel and PLC. I was never satisfied with that deck and was much happier when I moved to a Michell Gyro SE II with an OL-modded RB250, which seemed more musical and better balanced.

Presently, I own a Michell Orbe SE and the Tecnodec and I have to tell you... They both KICK ASS!!!

I'm sure the Thorens is a decent sounding deck, but I highly doubt it comes close to the Michells in terms of bass reproduction, expansive soundstaging, and overall precision and detailing.

I've never used the Glider, but I know it's supposed to be a very good cartridge. I'd be willing to bet that my Tecnodec with the bottom of the line Benz MC20E-L (low output model) will stomp that Thorens combo into the ground, in convincing fashion (we won't even think about a comparison to the Orbe).

But this is the thing with analog turntables: setup is EVERYTHING. If you're not competent to do a proper set up, find someone who can help you. You haven't even scratched the surface of that Michell's potential...
there you have it gentlemen....the concensus is 'spending 2000 dollars beats spending 75'. the real question is...does spending 3200 dollars pay bigger dividends then receiving 15 dollars? after its fully broken in of course.
Your question gets into one of the big "fights" in audio—"New is Better" vs. "Vintage is Better." I don't feel like dealing with that particular argument today—I have enough stress in my life at the moment as it is. However, in my own experience, I have noticed that some vintage equipment will perform better (by my standards, at least) than some newer equipment.

That said, it's a given that the two turntables will have a different sound. The design philosophies vary.

The cartridges will also have a big impact. In this case, you have two different cartridge companies AND two different technologies employed. It's possible that you might like the Technodec better if you had a different cartridge.

You might be interested in an article on the Thorends TD 150 & TD 160 that is on the Hi Fi World website. (http://www.hi-fiworld.co.uk/hfw/oldeworldehtml/thorenstd150.html). This article includes one line that shows you aren't crazy: "These decks offer a great deal for very little. Some friends of mine, who owned a Gyrodec, recently set up a TDl 60 as an interim measure while a new arm was fitted to the Michell. Result? The Thorens stayed and the Gyrodec was passed on - they realIy are that good." Note that the Gyrodec was also made by Michell.
Don't be silly Jaybo, I would hope that spending $3200 on the correct product would yield better than a $15 return...

Hey, did I tell you about the vintage JBL Lancer 44 speakers I picked up last week for $30? It's got a full-range, crossoverless 8-inch driver that's already paying significant dividends. You should hear how those babies sound with my '70's Onkyo ss receiver and a Sony PS-LX2 direct-drive turntable with an old Grado ZC+ MM cartridge! I have one of those Oppo HD970 universal DVD/CD players in the same system that sucks eggs by comparison. But that Sony with the Grado into the JBLs is something I could be very happy with... I told my wife I should sell all my expensive gear and forget about upgrading ever again... but alas, that was only a fleeting thought. :)
I've really enjoyed everyone's responses, and I had no intention of starting any kind of heated debate, so I hope things don't go that way.

Again, I'd like to stress that I haven't had time to do any extended listening or direct comparisons between the 2 setups, but I was shocked by some of the fundamental characteristics I heard from my 75 buck Thorens that I have maybe not heard (or not heard consistently) from the TD. I should have time this weekend for more extensive evaluation...perhaps it was largely a matter of very low expectations from a $75 dollar purchase that my expectations were greatly exceeded.

I had a local dealer that was recommended in a previous post of mine(I live in Phoenix area) install the cartridge. I normally prefer to buy used to save money/get more for my money, but again I wanted to know that it was done right. Perhaps this did not happen after all. I also wonder if a different cartridge than the Glider would make me happy. I normally prefer realism to extreme high frequency extension and my ears can get sensitive to that kind of reproduction, but the Benz sounds very rolled off (again, I realize this could be setup.) Also per my recollection, the Michell/Benz combo also sounds a little light in the bass.

Finally, I realized why my low-rider AT cartridge was rubbing the surface of the record...there was 3 gr of tracking force set on the arm. I'd say it's safe to say the setup on the Thorens deck has not been exactly ideal either.
plato...i love old speakers, and some of the jbl's (even those over 30 and 40 years old) are still in service in homes and recording studios. the lancers and many others are evidence that some speakers age like wine, while most at any price age like fish.
Also per my recollection, the Michell/Benz combo also sounds a little light in the bass.

That is very much my experience with the Michell Tecnodec. Using a Denon DL103R and a Wright Phono was a lot better, but still not satisfactory IMO. This is the one area where the Tecnodec does not come close to the more expensive Gryro. Rolled of highs I would not expect - possibly this is a fuction of the loading. Which version of the Glider (L,M,H) did you get? If is the L version choosing a loading at a higher resistance might work much better.
I have Thorens TD145 MKII with Audio Technica AT125LC and TP16 MKII arm. I bought the stylus new. My friend has Sota Comet with Rega RB300 arm and Grado Reference Gold cartridge.

We compared them in his setup - LaScala and Dynaco ST-70 amp with PAS-3 tube preamp.

To my ear, some difference on details for certain music, but not quite readily noticeable on most others. Especially considering the price difference - 6 fold ($1200 vs $200).

I guess I need to listen more to appreciate the details, but at my current spending limit, I'd rather stick to mine for a while.
What would be the weakest point? The speaker or (pre)amp? Or both? Somehow he likes LaScala even though the strong trebles tires him sometimes.

Could you provide me sample system setup that may reveal the differences?
Those electronics are not the most resolving, although pleasant. Obviously, the more attention to detail in a system, from the AC to the cables to the components within the electronics, etc., the more you'll hear. The other point to be taken here is that, if you don't/can't heart the differences on YOUR system than perhaps they are not important to you; just not to assume that they don't exist.
I tried again with my friend's upgraded systems: McIntosh 275 and PrimaLuna ProLogue three, and Bellari VP129 tube preamp, still with Grado Gold.
Mine is ClearAudio MicroBasic phono preamp, still with AT125LC.

We tried a few different LPs -- Bach Toccata & Fugue by Ormandy/Philadelphia, LA4 Nauvoue Bach, Jim Hall Aranjuez concerto, and few other violin/cello concertos. Actually mine sounded better on all but T&F -- mine lacked a little bit on base and the sound lacked a little bit of detail with full orchestration.
But mine produced more pleasing highs and we felt little bit more liveliness.
Well, we did not swap the preamp. Bellari may be no match to ClearAudio preamp. The conclusion was that I would not need an upgrade for a while.
BTW, my system is Yaqin (YaOin?) MC10L tube integrated amp (made in China) and Taylo 7U.
"The conclusion was that I would not need an upgrade for a while."


The more resolving the system, the more each bit makes a difference and the more each difference seems to matter. Nothing wrong with enjoying what you have at whatever point your system is.