The Hub: Thorens TD-125: the table that couldn't get no respect

Back in the early '70's when I began to haunt "stereo joints" (as I called them), there weren't a lot of options when it came to turntables. The basics were Dual and Garrard, with the occasional Miracord (the US brand of the German Elac); later on, the flood of turntables from Pioneer and other Japanese brands hit. In those days, the table that was THE most serious turntable, sold with the best systems, was the Thorens TD-125. The absolute top table was the TD-125 with an SME 3009 arm (as listed for sale here).

I don't know this for a fact, but I suspect the TD-125 came into existence for two reasons:
1. While its predecessor, the TD-124, was the product of a Swiss music-box maker, it seemed more like the creation of a Swiss watchmaker. Its belt-drive plus idler-drive mechanism was hideously complex, and was undoubtedly expensive to manufacture;
2. The TD-124's organic styling and cream-enamel finish was very much a child of the '50's and'60's; the first time I saw one, I was reminded of mom's Sunbeam Mixmaster. As the new decade approached, the 124 looked old-fashioned, and its motorboard assembly seemed better suited to installation in a console, than standing proudly on its own.

The TD-125 replaced the 124 in 1968, crisply-bedecked in Scandinavian-style cabinetry. Its first iteration was made through 1971 (as seen here on the Thorens site, auf Deutsch) and the TD-125 mkII continued in production from 1972-1975.

At least by Teutonic standards, both tables are pretty simple devices, belt-driven tables with suspended sub-chassis for some measure of isolation against shock and feedback. An electronic speed control and strobe round out the design. It was available with Thorens' TP-16 arm, with the SME, or armless; a number of variants were made, including long-base models designed for mounting a 12" arm, and chassis designed for console-mounting.

If the description of the 125's design makes you think of the A.R. turntable, well, there are great similarities. Given its higher price (originally $280 vs. the A.R.'s $68), the Thorens should be better built, and in my experience, it is, and is quieter and more dynamic, as well. While the A.R. has often been tweaked and hot-rodded (thanks to parts made by my friend George Merrill, and others), the most-tweaked Thorens was the TD-160, and the 125 has been largely left alone. Haden Boardman wrote in Hi-Fi World of the deck's potential (seen here), but most 125's have remained stock.

Chris Thornton is a former Chicagoland Hi-Fi salesman entering his second decade as a sufferer of Audiophilia Nervosa. He picked up a Thorens TD-160 mkI at an estate sale, and following examples cited on Audiogon and the Analog Department (seen here), Chris cleaned, lubed and tweaked the 160, and was astounded at the improvement in its performance. "These old 'tables, you can't compare an old stock one with one that's been restored. Fixed up right, they just SING, and the build-quality is unbelievable"

Taking advantage of a steel-industry layoff, Chris now specializes in restoring and tweaking Thorens turntables, and today's subject is an example of his work. Chris usually installs a new Origin Live arm on the tables he rebuilds, but the vintage SME 3009 on today's 125 just FIT, both aesthetically and historically.

Chris' work not only offers excellent bang for the buck, but serves as proof that there are still plenty of opportunities out there for enterprising audiophiles with a commercial bent and some ability. It also shows that there's still a lot of great old gear out there waiting to find a good home and someone to put it into good working order.

So: keep hunting!
I have had several, the last about 20 years ago. If you really want to hear them sing take the platter off and give it a tap. They really benefit from a good mat.

A lot of tables have the same issue, and frankly, I'm not sure if it's a cause for real concern. Exciting a bell-mode resonance by balancing the platter on a finger and pinging it doesn't represent a condition that's going to be encountered while playing a record.

I sometimes think the whole dead-plastic-platter school of design has gone too far the other way; to me, those tables generally SOUND dead, as well.

That's a sweeping generality, and doesn't represent all cases. I'm just sayin'....
I have a TD-125, pretty much stock, and yeah, if you don't want the platter to ring, don't hit it with a hammer.

One thing I don't understand about Mr. Thornton's GORGEOUS rebuilds, is why he builds such a massive plinth. In a suspended deck, the table is decoupled from the plinth, so does it really matter how heavy the plinth is? I've never seen anyone re-plinth a Linn, which has the same basic suspension system.

An excellent question; I'll see if I can get Chris to respond to that.

My thought is that a more massive base is less likely to excite even a suspended sub-chassis. I could be wrong; it's been a long time since I had to work through equations in Dynamics class. ;->

Thanks for the comments, and thanks for reading.
he problem with a resonate platter is that it reflects the vibrations generated by the stylus tracing the groves. No one though this important when the 125 was designed but a better understanding of the micro dynamics of LP playback showed that it affected sound quality. This understanding led to both the non-resonate platter and the mats weights and clamps that have appeared over the last 30 or so years. The whole question remains open however as the current variety of attempts to deal with it attests. The Linn is designed as a total system where defects balance each other , it is either brilliant or high level Rube Goldberg depending on your point of view. It often sounds best placed on a flimsy table.The Thorens WILL benefit from a better plinth, as will most tables.

The arm-cartridge-platter system is yet another mechanical system in audio where one school of thought is to decouple everything, and another is to couple everything, to drain off energy. I think there are examples of each which work well, and make sense philosophically.

Yet another example where my answer to the question, "Which?" "both".
Hello all, First of all I would like to thank the numerous people who have expressed their continuous support and ongoing interest of our Thorens restorations and to Bill at Audiogon for submitting the Hub article. My work is merely the by product of a continuous passion and support of analog playback and my own personal interest in vinyl records. I'd say the toughest part of the entire restoration process is selling the turntables once they are finished! :) I would rather keep them all to myself but bills must be paid unfortunately.

Anyways, to address the question submitted by Jake4357; the massive plinth size on our current TD125/SME 3009 restoration serves dual purpose - to further decouple and isolate the main chassis and suspension from external vibrations (as Bill speculated) and for overall aesthetic appeal.

Lastly, we are currently working on our external website which will include detailed restoration pictures and descriptions of recent completed projects including: Lenco L75's, Technics SP10 MKII's and several vintage Thorens turntables.

Chris Thornton
Bear with me -- I'm a little dim -- but what I think you (Stanwal) are saying is that the stylus creates micro vibrations which a resonate platter amplifies and feeds back into the stylus?

So is the ultimate solution for a Thorens user to replace the platter with something acrylic? Assuming such a platter is even available? Or is a non-resonant mat sufficient?
That is exactly it. A good mat will help a lot. I use to sell several in the 80s, still have a Platter Matter somewhere. I am not as familiar with the ones today. I think they are probably better and I am sure they will cost more. TTWeights make some interesting ones and the carbon fiber ones look good if a little high. I doubt if a new platter would be cost effective VS treatment of existing one.

Yup. There are German specialists who make replacement, higher-grade platters for the TD-124, but I'm not aware of ones available for the 125 or 160. I can tell you that those pieces cost about as much as a whole restored table from Chris!

Larry at TTWeights does make fabulous mats and weights, as well as a remarkable megabuck table. The carbon mats from Austin Jackson at Boston Audio are an alternate route, beutifully made--but they're not carbon FIBER.

The joy(?) of audio: there's always SOMETHING that needs tweaking!

Thanks, all, for the comments.
This is the Carbon Fiber mat I meant;I have one of their CD mats.

Home > Analog Gear > Analog Accessories > Record Mats

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Mfr/Label: Millennium
Category: Record Mats
Ships on or before: Dec 14, 2009*
* All specified ship dates are estimates.
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Millennium's Incredible Platter/Record Mat Elevates the Performance of Any Turntable!

This incredible Carbon Fiber LP Platter Mat from Millennium Audio will elevate the performance of any turntable. It’s very thin (3mm) and should not affect VTA. The supplied carbon fiber covered record cap acts like a mini record clamp. This carbon fiber mat will increase soundstage width and depth, improve bass response and separate instruments into their own space. Dynamics will improve and your noise floor will drop. We’ve had great results on VPI, Rega, AVID, Clearaudio, Pro-Ject, Music Hall, Linn, Thorens, plus many more... and this mat will work on virtually any other deck out there. Our highest recommendation! 100% Money Back Guaranteed!
I had in mind the Millennium carbon fiber mat that Music Direct sells for $349. I have one of their CD mats. I tried to post a picture but it didn't go up.
I had a Thorens TD125, stock version, with Grace 707 MkII arm many years ago( @1977). I bought a stock Linn turntable in 1979 and the sound was far superior. Chris' mods might bring it up to another level. I miss vinyl. I sold my Linn back in 2002 and regretted it ever since. My huge collection of vinyl is sitting in a mothball stage in a rack. What a waste of great music. I don't miss all the negatives, although mostly minor, from playing vinyl.

Stanwal, thanks for the info. Looks cool.

Sherod: on any given day you've got LOTS of turntables to choose from here. Give it a shot!

Of course, I've got six turntables in my garage, none fully functional....;->
I first came across a Thorens TD160 MKI with TP16 tonearm at an estate sale, which after a restoration motivated me to jump start this whole endeavor. Never would I have dreamt the TD160 MKI would drastically improve sonically across the board over the stock form once the restoration and experimentation with stock tonearm rebuild/rewire, dampening, ect. was complete. But it did...

Sherod, let me assure you, if the TD 160 MKI and TD 125's performance was not drastically improved by the extensive modification and restoration process we undergo, then I would not waste my time. There is a ton of work put into these, they are very expensive to rebuild with the custom plinths and the restorations are also very time consuming. However, it just so happens where these models are concerned, along with the TD124, they are worth the investment.

People often ask in regards to our TD160 restorations, why do you restore only the TD160 MKI first series but not the later versions? The answer very simply is because the MKI TD160 were the best built of the 160 series and used the best bearings. The same bearing and sub platter/spindle in fact that their big brother, the TD125 MKII's used. Without a quality foundation to restore upon, none of these turntables could ever perform as well as they do.

Just giving this not too old article a bump so other members can see it. Recently a bunch of Thorens related forum posts have sprung up and I thought this one would make for a good read as well.