Thorens TD 190-1
RIAAs figures are to be believed, sales of vinyl records in the first half of 2004
were greater than the sales of SACD and DVD-Audio discs. These figures dont count
hybrid SACD/CDs as SACDs, but they do indicate that many people continue to enjoy the very
first high-resolution format, the LP. The vinyl resurgence of recent years has brought
with it a new batch of turntables for those looking for an affordable way to enjoy their
Thorens is a Swiss company that traces its business back to
1883 and founder Hermann Thorens, who designed music boxes and movements. Thorens began
making phonographs in 1903, and continues this fine tradition today. Recently, they
introduced the TD 190-1 ($599 USD) to the competitive class of budget-conscious
As I documented last year in "How to Decide if a Turntable is Right for You,"
record players require much more maintenance and care in setup than do digital disc
players. This can turn people off to turntables, especially new users who are used to
plugnplay digital players. Like some of its competition, Thorens has tried to
minimize the maintenance and setup of their affordable models by including a premounted
phono cartridge. Users will still want to check that the cartridge is aligned properly,
but the difficult task of attaching cartridge to tonearm has already been done. Such
thoughtfulness makes these affordable models great for those new to vinyl, or who want a
turntable for occasionally listening to records but dont have a vinyl-centered
Anatomy of a record player
The Thorens TD 190-1 comes carefully packed, with an
owners manual that will help with the unpacking and assembling of turntable,
platter, and dustcover. The tonearm comes already attached and cannot be removed. The TD
190-1 is about 18" wide by 5" high by 14" deep and sits on four footers. It
is finished in a standard textured matte black. The clear acrylic dustcover attaches to
clips on the tables rear. The cover looks nice, but if its anything like
the clear acrylic covers of other tables Ive had, it will be susceptible to
scratches and discoloration. If you want it to continue to look nice, youll need to
take care. I could swear that all I ever did was put a few CDs or remotes on my dustcover,
but when I examined it recently, it looked as if it had been through a war. For best
results, use the Thorens dustcover as a dustcover, not a storage space.
The TD 190-1 comes with an Ortofon OMB 10 cartridge
already installed. The manual contains clear instructions on how to set the cartridge's
tracking and antiskating forces. The tonearm is designed to give easy access to both of
these adjustments; once you've set it up, it's easy to change the settings if needed. The
manual also explains how to go about changing the cartridge to another of your choice;
even someone new to turntables will find the directions easy to follow. I suggest you
double-check the tracking force with an inexpensive gauge such as the Shure SFG-2. You can
do without this step, but the precision it brings is worth it.
The supplied power cable attaches to the rear of the TD
190-1, which is where you'll find the RCA outputs and ground-wire connector. The RCA
cables are captive -- you won't be able to change cables. The controls are on the 'table's
front top and left side, near the tonearm. A knob on the front allows the user to select
the platter's speed of rotation: 33rpm, 45rpm, or 78rpm. Not many will use the 78rpm
option, but having it here sets the TD 190-1 apart from many other turntables. (If
you play 78s, you'll need the OMB 10 cartridge supplied with the optional Stylus 78, which
adds $50 to the cost of the turntable).
One group of features that sets the Thorens apart from many
other tables in this price category is its level of automation. After selecting the
platter speed, you can select the records diameter with a switch along the side the
tonearm is on. The choices are labeled 17cm and 30cm (for 7" and 12" records);
there is no 25cm (10") setting. With the diameter selected, you simply move the
Start/Stop switch to Start and everything is taken care of. When the tonearm reaches the
end of the side, it rises, returns to its rest, and the player switches itself off.
All of this automation can be bypassed by using the tonearm
lift to raise the arm, then manually placing it over the record and lowering the arm. Like
most things, there are up and down sides to this level of automation. As someone used to
an entirely manual table, I appreciated how much simpler automation makes things
(especially when the TD 190-1 returned its tonearm to the rest position). But the
plastic switches do not inspire my confidence in their longevity, and all of this
automation means more moving parts that can break down.
American idols: Fiedler, Brubeck, Cash
I listened to the Thorens TD 190-1 pretty steadily
over a couple of weeks and enjoyed it for casual listening. I first tried pairing it with
a Pro-Ject Phono Box, but found that the phono section of my old Marantz 2238B receiver
sounded better. The rest of my system comprised a HeadRoom Total BitHead headphone amp and
Grado SR60 headphones, a Rogue Audio Tempest integrated amplifier, and Quad 21L and Axiom
M22ti loudspeakers. The TD 190-1s automatic tonearm return made it much more
convenient to throw a record on without having to pay attention to when it would end.
Usually I wait to listen to records until I can be sure I wont be distracted, then
end up leaving the stylus on the spinning record long after the music ends. With the
Thorens, I found myself listening to more records than usual because I didnt have to
worry about that. A good thing!
When it came time to critically evaluate the Thorenss
sound, I pulled out some popular releases with which a wide variety of people are probably
familiar. Like all turntables near this price that Ive heard, the TD 190-1 did
some things well at the expense of others. In general, it was good at soundstaging and
conveying dynamic shifts, and had a sound that was smooth but at the expense of ultimate
First up was an RCA Living Stereo release of Earl Wild,
Arthur Fiedler, and the Boston Pops performing Gershwin [RCA Victor LSC-2367]. The
instruments were nicely spaced and did not crowd each other throughout Rhapsody in Blue.
The shifts from soft to loud passages throughout the piece provided the emotional jumps
that Im sure Gershwin intended. The sound was a little lean, which I could hear in
how instruments didnt sound as if their full weight was behind them. Wilds
piano, for example, sounded small; when he struck the keys, I found myself waiting for the
instruments full sound to emerge. Overall, some of the individualized
characteristics of the instruments seemed to be missing: the woodiness of Pasquale
Cardillos clarinet wasnt there, and the piano could have been mistaken for a
good electronic keyboard.
The sound was much better on Dave Brubecks Time
Out [Columbia CS 8192], each quartet member seeming to occupy his own place on stage,
but deep bass notes lacked definition and character. The overall presentation again seemed
smooth and not analytical. The cymbals sounded real, each stroke of a drumstick producing
a distinct tap on the cymbal; this is not always accomplished, and was a big plus in my
Playing my copy of Johnny Cash at San Quentin [Columbia
CS 9827], the TD 190-1s portrayal of the band and the appreciative captive
audience was accurate. The lack of deep resonance in Cashs voice might signal a
concern for bass freaks, but it didnt detract from my enjoyment of the music.
One of the TD 190-1s competitors is the Pro-Ject
1.2 turntable ($319), which also comes complete with a cartridge, a Sumiko Oyster. The
Pro-Ject costs less than the Thorens and is, therefore, a much more stripped-down design.
First, and perhaps a minor detail to most, the Pro-Ject cannot play 78s. Second and more
important, to change the speed of the Pro-Jects platter the user must remove the
platter, use a small tool to move the drive belt to a new location, then replace the
platter. If you listen only to records of a single speed, this wont matter, but
experience tells me that this is a real pain in the neck -- I have a few hundred 7"
singles that I rarely play because of this. The ease offered by the Thorenss
speed-selection switch is greatly appreciated.
The Thorens also did much better than the Pro-Ject 1.2 on
the knuckle-rap test. When I rapped on the shelf the turntables were on, both kept playing
their records without a problem; but when I rapped on the tables directly, the
Pro-Ject skipped much more easily than did the Thorens.
I played the same three LPs on the Pro-Ject 1.2 as I had on
the Thorens. With the Fiedler, I found that the instruments had more weight behind them,
but it was still not near the best vinyl has to offer. The piano was better reproduced,
and I found that I got much more wrapped up in the music. On Time Out, the bass was
much more authoritative with the Pro-Ject, and easier to identify in the overall mix.
Microdynamics also seemed better, as I could hear in the cymbals of "Blue Rondo a la
Turk." I heard fewer dramatic changes with the Johnny Cash record.
The differences between these two packages had a lot to do
with the partnering cartridges. Ive reviewed the two turntables as-shipped so that
consumers will know what to expect from the standard packages. This revealed that, while I
preferred the overall sound of the Pro-Ject-Oyster combo, I preferred the Thorens for its
ease of use. Considering this, I think the Thorenss set of features justifies its
higher price. But if I bought a TD 190-1, Id be looking to get a better
cartridge right away. Your dealer should be able to suggest better cartridges at many
Venturing into the world of vinyl is not for everyone, but
Thorenss TD 190-1 package makes dipping your toes in that pool easy and
inexpensive. For $599 you get a plugnplay turntable with a substantial base,
tonearm, and cartridge. The ability to play 78s is a nice bonus, even if the audience for
that feature is small, and the automation features are convenient. Vinyl junkies may want
to invest in a more expensive cartridge or even a pricier turntable, but those new to
vinyl, and those who want to enjoy LP collections that have been collecting dust in the
attic, should check out the TD 190-1. If youre not converting to a vinyl-only
system but just want to have the option of playing the occasional LP, then a mostly
carefree product such as the Thorens TD 190-1 is the way to go.
...Eric D. Hetherington
Price of equipment reviewed