Upgrade Opinions, Thorens vs VPI


I'm looking to possibly upgrade to a better turntable.

My current setup is a Thorens TD166 MKII with the original tp11 tonearm. The table has a few mods including a solid cherry plinth and birch bottom with sorbothane feet. It also came with the 10mm spindle bearing, same one used on the TD160.

Amp: Rogue audio Sphinx 
Preamp: MM preamp built into the Sphinx
Cartidge: Shure M97xe with SAS stylus
Speakers: Monitor Audio Silver 8

The components listed above are my recent upgrades. I now think my table is due for an upgrade. 

I am considering installing a Jelco SA750D tonearm on my Thorens, since the tonearm is likely the weakest performing part of the table, or going with a completely new table.

I am considering the following tables:

Rega Planar 3 (possibly not a big leap?)

Rega RP8

VPI Classic 1 

Acoustic Signature Wow XL with Rega arm.

I am leaning toward the VPI, partly because I really like its look, but I do want the best sounding table under $3000 (subjective I know). Overall, I'm pleased with the current sound from my Thorens, so maybe the best bang for my buck would be a new tonearm. Some members have claimed that a Debut Carbon will blow the doors of a TD166, but in my personal experience, it's the opposite. So I'm thinking I'd probably need to spend over 1K for a real sonic upgrade over my Thorens.

Anyone have experience with VPI tables versus Thorens TD16X series? Any advice is welcome.
helomech
I have the latest Classic I. If you decide on the VPI, consider the OLDER version, which has the ability to hook up the SDS/Phoenix speed controller. Older models have the motors in the front of plinth. A mod by VPI is necessary for a newer model. I imagine just disconnecting the circuitry and a pulley?

Recent models have have a DC supply for circuitry that is a mini regen AC system powering the motor. This helps the motor get a steady voltage,but not PERFECT 33.3.If you want perfect 33.3 RPM, the SDS or Phoenix is needed.



TableJockey,

Thanks for the tip. I was unaware of the variations. I have a Music Hall Cruise control which allegedly is compatible with some VPI models. It works well with my Thorens. How do you like the sound of the Classic?
Older VPI is the clear choice.
Helmech,

relative to to the cost of my other components/speakers2-4K retail, I don't believe I would hear a substantial difference in SONICS until I hit next tier of expensive gear:5-10K? 
Just every now and then can you hear VERY slight pitch deviation during CRITICAL listening. Otherwise, The Classic is a keeper. If anything, I would like to tweak it with an outboard motor and speed controller and maybe the 3D arm.
I have mine on brass footers with a 4" maple slab. 
I make this assessment after hearing plenty of uber show/store rigs.

You probably can find the older Classic for a good deal since its been a few years now since its release.
Spend as much as you can tolerate on the phone stage/LOMC.

Thanks for the insight. 
I have a classic 1 10"jmw earlier model .I love it,ditched the feet and run 2" audiopoints ,cple grand you can find one no sweat.
good luck 
I have a VPI TNT-2 and just added a Phoenix Eagle and Roadrunner last week.  It's an outstanding table that just got a lot better.  
@theothergreg Did you have a motor controller before? Cheers,
Spencer
@sbank, no I didn't.  I tested my table and found it was running at 36 rpm so did some quick research on motor controllers.  I really liked the size and flexibility of the Phoenix products (not to mention the price) vs. the VPI SDS. 

With the table running at the correct speed, my cart is able to extract all the detail and resolution it is supposed to.
The phoenix stuff is great.  The feedback from the rpm guage makes this a plug and play system.  Once you decide on what voltage you want your motor to see it is automatic from there.  

I found another nice thing about having a rpm readout with .001 resolution if your belt string what ever is not tight enough you can see the numbers change more than usual.

Enjoy the ride
Tom
I don't get it. The first job of a turntable is to spin the LP at accurate speed and then to hold speed despite any effects of stylus drag, etc. What I don't get is how any turntable that fails noticeably (a big qualifier) in these tasks is acceptable, at these price points. Anyway, that's what you're looking for in a turntable.
I run my Thorens with a music hall cruise control. It seems to run at the correct speed (checked by strobe disc) when the controller reads 33.5 rpm.

 I agree that any table in that price range should hold perfect speed without an outboard controller.

There's almost too many options in turntables these days. Unfortunately I don't have a means of auditioning them locally. 
All thorens require 33.5 to run at the correct speed using the cruise control. 

BTW, upgrading the arm on your 166 will make a substantial improvement in its sound. The Jelco is an excellent choice. I went that path and completed modded out a 166. The 166 matched the level of performance of my WTRP, which I then sold.

Since then I have modded a TD 850 and a TD 150. Both completely pushed to the max. I can easily say that both would give any table a run for their money.

That being said.......if I wasn't  into modding things and creating jems of my own liking I would go with The VPI Classic.  I've played with a Rega 3, and while it has potential it is not realized in its stock form.
The Classic is, on the other hand, a nearly complete product that really only needs speed stabilization to get you to the end. 

Also, since a smart shopper can pick one up used at a very good price, it is a no-brain move.

I can't see how you would be disappointed with the Classic. But, as advised elsewhere, buy the best phono-stage and cartridge you can afford. Spend first on the phono-stage since there are a lot of great affordable options in cartridges.
Raymonda,

WTRP, are you referring to a Well Tempered? 

I am leaning toward the Jelco tonearm, partly because my TD166 is in beautiful condition and I think I'd forever wonder what could've been if I didn't maximize its potential. 
 
I also have a Pioneer PLX1000 with a modified (shibata) Clearaudio MM cart. It has very comparable performance to my Thorens with the exception of its direct drive momentum.

I currently use the preamp built into my Rogue Audio Sphinx, which many claim can compete with most preamps under 1k. It is better than my Parasound Z-Phono which is also quite respectable. 
 

The Classic 1 would obliterate a Thorens regardless of arm......
I've owned both, currently have a VPI HR-X

Currently, the greatest bang for buck in the VPI line would be the Prime....which for very little $ over the C1 would give you:
3D Arm (same as Classic Signature)
VTA Adjustment (which would required C2 to achieve)


Yes, I was referring to the Well Tempered Record Player.

Yes, it is fun modding and pushing classic tables to their max. You get your hands dirty, have more skin in the game and end up with something personal. Besides, it is alot of fun, too.

Right now I'm listening to my maxed out 150 with a Michell Tecnoarm arm and modded Denon 103. This table will tell you what your cartridge is doing, both the good and bad. It's fun shaping out the Denon for either of my modded Benz cartridges. It certainly give me a different window to view through.

My td850 has a current audiomods arm which is handing what my benz m.9 delivers. It has carbon fiber boards and a origin live motor. This table plays as well as any VPI. That is not to talk down VPI, as I feel that make great tables but rather to point out that there are alternative paths to get you there.

That being said, the 160 series can bring a great deal of fun but it does have limits to how far it can go. However, replacing the stock arm will get a great deal more out of the table.  

What ever way you end up going you are asking all the right questions and going in the right direction.

I appreciate everyone's input. I'm about 90% set on going the route of continuing to mod the Thorens. However, I do enjoy really deep bass, and I've read that even the best sprung turntables never excel in that respect.
I don't think modding is the answer... the table either has it or it doesn't to begin with. I owned a TD124 for many years along with a VPI HW19 MKIV w/SAMMA and I can tell you that while the 124 was very good and way cool to look at, the VPI was the better table. I can put a stethoscope on the super arm board that holds my Moerch UP4 arm, turn on the table and hear absolutely nothing. Try that with the 124 or 160! A used MKIV would be a great option.. you can start with a "lesser" HW19 and build it up over time like I did as well.   

I am with stewart0722 above. I own the Prime with Ortofon Cadenza Black with the Phoenix engineering system and upgraded (HRX I think?) record clamp, double pulley. Sounds really great and with the 3D arm it is hard to beat. You don't have to go crazy with the cartridge but a good one makes  a huge difference.

Now I also own a nicely, but not fully restored TD-124 with SME 3009 arm which was rewired. It has a Denon 103 and a nice plinth - all in equals the price of the Ortofon (which I got with a very significant discount). Comparing the two tables from this perspective I would say that the TD-124 (MK-I) stands the test of time.

The Thorens TD 850 is a different beast. It was made by Acoustic Signature and is built like a tank. It is a non-suspended table that absolutely has no resemblance to their sprung tables.

Stock this tables was very good. What I've done to it has elevated it to another level.

That being said, comparing it to my maxed out and modded 150 is not night and day. However, the devil is in the details. 

I could live happily forever with each table. But I am on a limited budget, so mega buck tables are out. They compete with tables in the 5000 range.

These units will play nicely with high end components and will tell you what is happening both up and down stream.

Now,  this is not a path that everyone would or should take as it requires an added skill set to achieve, as well as time. A quicker route would be to buy a Prime and be done with it. I can't imagine ever looking back and regretting that purchase. Although, the personal achievement and satisfaction would not compare when creating something on your own. Or at least, pretty much on your own.

Designing, cutting, drilling, finishing is not factored into the enjoyment of a straight out purchase.

Pride in creating can be of high value when the end results pay off.
Honing a person's woodworking skills should not be spent on a turntable.......leave that for the custom rack.....

Noone can build a prime, nor something that would compete head to head with a 3D tonearm, and be that the fact, the whole pride of ownership thing because someone built something sort of goes out the window.....

The Prime obliterates anything south of 6K in my opnion....especially when you factor in that you can get a significant discount on one......

The pride of ownership will be there......even though you didn't manufacture it in your garage.....
I would get a better cartridge....a turntable upgrade is spinning your wheels
So, building a better plinth is a waste of time? Modifying and building upon an already existing design is also a waste of time?

 That flies in the face of logic because without such activity progress would never occur. Nothing is perfect and everything can be improved upon.

i have no doubt the a stock Prime is an excellent product but that does not make other products less so and a waste of time.

As I indicated, it is when individual creativity and an excellent outcome converge which creates pride in ownership, not just work. Work with out results is just work. Work with results equals pride!

Please reread my post. At no time did I disparage VPI, but rather, I have praised them. My input was to highlight a road less traveled but just as rewarding. Obviously it is not for you but it is for hundreds others.

I would agree that money spent on a great cartridge and phono pre will give tremendous value and should not be taken lightly.


Raymond,

What I am saying is that if someone has said they have a 3K budget, and some of the potential solutions is to throw money at an old table, in hopes of making it a better table, then who am I to say they can't???

I'm noone.......

But:

If someone is going to throw a lot of money, and a lot of time and effort into a "creative" effort to improve on a design that obviously needs a lot of improving on, and they get to the end and the result is only a fraction as successful overall as going and purchasing a current state of the art high value product that will absolutely KILL!!!! the creative exercise.....

then in my case, I'd buy the new and find creative release somewhere else, because in my 30 year history as an audiofool, the end result is the important thing, that I get the absolute highest level of performance I can possibly achieve and that the sound transports me to a live performance, or brings a live performance to me......

Will a Prime get him there better than a home modified Thorens?

I say it will......and I also say the comparison will not be even close.....

I've owned Thorens, Dual and several VPI tables including Scout, Classic 1, Classic 3, TNT 2nd generation and recently an HR-X.  

I am now going to try the suspended world with a new Oracle Delphi MK VI 2nd Gen and an Oracle SME V arm/Transig Proteus cartridge.......

Which I will immediately start trying to improve upon in my garage.....
LOL


Ray et al.... What I’m saying is that sure...a better turntable, better plinth, better this, that, its all better....but I predict, that putting the very best turntable in the system with these components would not be heard. The Thorens is a very good turntable....The VPI may be better, but the difference in sound on this system is neglegable.
No doubt.....just buying a Prime will beat a 160 series maxed out mod. However, I think the only thing he has left is to replace the tonearm on his, as other mods have been done. 

Might as well, I say. That is only 500 as opposed to 3000. Upgrade the cartridge...phono stage and enjoy. Then see if the table is really the next step....if so, save up for a Prime. 

Or, just buy a Prime now. You can't go wrong with that move

BTW, Matt and Harry just modded the 3d arm. Darn......don't they know how to stay out of the Garage? lol

Harry modded the arm, Michael Fremer introduced it right after his Prime review, then yesterday on Facebook, Mat said that there’s no way they are going to offer the mod, because drilling the 3D arm carries too much risk of damage......general consensus is the sound was about the same.....introduced mostly to negate the criticism of the unipivot being wobbly when cueing a record.....
My Thorens will be maxed out for the most part, after I replace the tonearm. The other mods I've done have improved the sound slightly, but I have a feeling that a new arm will yield the greatest improvement and elevate it to another level. I already have the armboard for the Jelco, so in all, it would set me back about $1100 to install the new arm and a better cartridge (considering a 10x5). 

Of course, that's about one third of what it would likely cost to get into a Prime. I highly doubt a Prime will sound 3x better than my fully modded Thorens, as my table already sounds very good to my ears. My gut feeling is that I'll be well into the territory of diminishing returns once my Thorens is maxed out. I'm also thinking I might get more bang for my buck if I replace the tonearm and spend 2k on a cartridge, rather than spend 3k on a VPI and 500 on a cartridge. 

I'm fairly mechanically inclined and I enjoy modifying and improving things. Part of me feels it would be a shame to relegate my Thorens to the closet after all I've invested. It went from a humble $200 Craigslist find to a beautiful (piece of art in my view) table that produces very satisfying sound in its current state. 

If a Jelco tonearm and better cartridge yields a 20% improvement in sound, I think I could live happily with my Thorens for a long time.
And I'd have a lot of dough left for black discs and maybe a new listening chair. 
I would love to see pictures of your table. A Music Hall Cruise Control or Phoenix system would also be a great add on down the road.

Enjoy!



raymonda....no it wouldn't.  The numbers would be better, but you couldn't pick out the controlled system in an A, B comparison.
Try piano on inner grooves for wow and flutter. Maybe yes, maybe no.

Raymonda,
 I already have a cruise control. I think it made a very slight improvement. I just began disassembly of the table this morning, so it's not very photogenic at the moment. I will post pics when the mod is complete. Right now it has the resin subplatter with 10 MM bearing. I'm considering getting the zinc subplatter, but I would think it might be more prone to ringing...maybe you have some insight on the matter?


Buy some Dynamat and apply it to the underside of the table. It does a great job of damping resonance. 

I'm sure it is a looker and, if particular care is given to modding, it will sound very good. My experience tells me that after upgrading you tonearm, and where you are at, an improvement in your cartridge and phono stage will be more noticeable than an upgrade to your table. 
Trust me, that an amazing difference will occur after your arm is swapped out.

Enjoy your journey. In the end that is really what it is all about.
Thanks Raymonda.

I've already done the Dynamat mod to the underside areas. I will probably get the reproduction Super top plate from VN as well. 


helomech: I too use a Thorens 166 MkII that I purchased new in 1984. It has been modded by K-Works with adjustable racketball feet, new RCA cables, and damping to the platter.  I also added a K-Works Ersamat and KAB record clamp. I have 2 tonearm wands, one with an Ortofon OM-30 and one with a Denon DL-160. As far as the sound goes, there is obviously better out there, but needle-drops I bring to my local audio club generally get a lot of compliments, and they tend to sound a lot better than the standard commercial CDs of the same recording (I use a Marantz pro-sumer CD recorder via the MM phono section in my McIntosh C220 preamp).


FWIW, I asked a similar question to the Stereophile panel at the New York Audio Show in 2014. The answers were as you would expect - Michael Fremer (IIRC), who is not a big fan of suspended ’tables, suggested a non-suspended ’table in the $1500 price range. Art Dudley, who enjoys suspended ’tables, suggested I keep the Thorens if I liked it.


I also asked the same question a couple of years ago to the sales manager at VPI (he is no longer there, I believe). He said to get a Traveller (which was a current model at the time) and never look back.


In the end, due to falling income and general happiness with the Thorens as it is, I decided to stick with the old reliable TD 166 Mk II.


If you can, try to have someone bring over a VPI or other non-suspended turntable and try it in your system with you records.

Bondmanp,

Thanks for the input. I haven't heard of Kworks but I'll look them up. I've owned a couple relatively inexpensive non suspended tables and a suspended Pioneer PL55x. The Pioneer was very good, I almost regret selling it, but I didn't care for its look. 

I owned a Debut Carbon that doesn't hold a candle to the Thorens, but the debut is considered entry level. The main bearing is about 1/3 the diameter. 

My Pioneer PLX1000 direct drive sounds very good, especially for the $400 I paid for it used. My TD166 has a more fluid sound which I prefer with some music. The Pioneer excels with electronic music...go figure. Some have claimed that the Pioneer can hold its own against some VPIs, even a Scout.

I will likely make the drive to Acoustic Sounds to listen to a VPI, but I'm afraid they'll have it hooked up to a much better system. Maybe they'll be willing to swap components. 

I've finally updated my virtual system and have posted pictures of my modded out TD 850. I tried to show everything that I did to it.

Ray
Helomech-
Ive been following this thread.
Your table clearly is deserving of a more substantial phono stage
Personally, I would  do a cart as well(LOMC)

IMO , I believe you just can't hear your table at its best without a good outboard phono stage. My preference is tubes, but very nice SS approach tube magic minus the noise some listeners won't ttolerate (high volume listening)
The nicer phono stage also makes an existing cart shine in its best light.

More food for thought.

My Rogue Audio Shinx has a tube preamp stage, though the output modules are Hypex Class D, I'm pretty sure the class D portion isn't in the signal chain of the phono section (why would it?) so essentially it is a tube phono preamp, allegedly the same one in their Cronus amp. 
Many reviewers claim the Rogue Sphinx's phono section alone is worth the price of the whole amp.
I'm not familiar with the Rogue phono section but I can't imagine it being bad.
If you hold out for something used, you may even be able to find a VPI Prime for under or around 3K, which blows all the others clean out of the water. 
Rumor has it that VPI is discontinuing the Classic line of turntables...(I have the Classic Signature w/SDS)... If true, look for some deep discounts around the holiday season.
Post removed 
I finally took the plunge on a VPI classic 1 SE in the walnut finish.

Music Direct has them on clearance and I think it's a good deal at only $300 over a new Scout.

I really like everything I've read about the Acoustic Signature Wow XL. I almost bought one, but I would've had to settle for an entry level tonearm with that table to remain within budget.

I was also very close to continuing to upgrade my Thorens, but I think the VPI will probably outperform a fully upgraded TD16X. I will likely move it on to a new home, assuming I will like the VPI.

Part of my decision was the ability to return the VPI without hassle if I'm not impressed, and VPIs reputation for customer support.

I'll keep you posted on my impressions. Thanks for all the input.

I think the vpi has found a home. Enjoy.

Welcome to the VPI family!

- Mat from VPI
I would love to get your impressions of the Classic vs. the Thorens once you have had some time to evaluate it.  TIA.