Stereo Amplifier

Review: Thorens TD318 Turntable

When Thorens launched their new 300 Range of upper-middle price turntables, they promised further models to follow. We reviewed the basic TD321 model, with the addition of the Linn LVX pickup arm (prices are £317, 57 complete with the Linn, £238,84 without arm).

This latest TD318 model comes in at the budget end of the range, and indeed just gets under the £200 bracket complete with the new Thorens TP21 pickup arm. There have obviously been some economies, but these seem mainly to be in the materials used for the plinth, etc. and not too much in factors likely to downgrade the performance.

The thick two-piece motor-board is here given a black plastic finish instead of the beautiful rosewood of the TD321. However, as this black finish is applied throughout the TD318, except for a strip of silver plastic trim, the appearance should certainly blend with other units and furniture. The base is inset to help the slim-line look, and the perfectly plain clear-plastic lid has spring-loaded hinges to improve the 'feel'.

As with the other models, a floating suspension is used for that part of the motor-board carrying the platter bearing and the pickup arm. A new sort of leaf-spring was introduced by Thorens for this Series and it both provides the required isolation of the record playing components from any residual motor rumble and acts to minimize the effect of extreme knocks or acoustic feedback. As an economy, fine adjustment of this suspension is not provided. However, since this is factory preset for the installed TP21 arm, we can take it that no user-adjustment should be necessary.

A smaller main spindle bearing is employed but this was found to be beautifully finished and completely free running. The inner platter round which the drive belt fits is made of fibreglass instead of metal. Yet this seemed decently inert and, with the massive zinc alloy outer platter, there is a total of about 2.7kg to provide a considerable flywheel action and reduce short-term speed fluctuations. The drive capstan is of large diameter (speed change from 33-1/3 to 45rpm is switched electronically) which is said to reduce the risk of belt slipping, and of course indicates a relatively slow motor speed, In fact the small 20-volt 16-pole synchronous motor is driven by an electronic frequency generator. Only a low-voltage supply enters the turntable unit, so that mains hum problems are considerably reduced, a step-down trans former being wired into the supply cable at about 2 metres distance.

The controls along the front portion of the panel comprise a two-position speed selector knob, on/off button and raise/lower knob, The usual twin-phono signal cable and earth-wire, about 1 metre long, are filled.

The TP21 pickup arm is a new design based on a straight tubular tonearm with a removable diecast headshell, The twin gimbal bearings have a claimed friction of less than 0.2mN in both planes, Effective arm mass is quoted at 12.5g, The conventional calibrated counterbalance weight is easily adjusted to give any required tracking force, and bias compensation (anti-skating) force is applied with the usual thread-and weight system.

Since there is no user-adjustment for the arm height at the pivot pillar, it becomes necessary to employ spacers between cartridge and headshell to arrive at a dead level armpipe setting when the pickup is in play. Therefore, in addition to the usual hardware, a set of plastic spacers is supplied with depth s from 1 to 3.5mm. The alignment protractor has a special template drawing so that the correct spacer can be identified for the given cartridge before this is mounted in the headshell. Generous sized slots in the heads hell then permit fore-and-aft adjustment for the fine setting of overhang. There is even a pop-up rest on the cardboard protractor to protect the stylus during preliminary adjustments.

As often happens with semi-automatic turntables, the damped raise/ lower mechanism normally operates only when the player is switched on. However, during the alignment procedure I found that I could cheat the system and keep the protractor (and disc) from spinning either by holding the cueing lever at the 'down' position or craftily removing the drive belt before I started, In normal circumstances, this alignment procedure will be carried out once only, and so the fact that it is a little tricky is not serious.

How it performed

With the turntable connected to a good quality amplifier and loudspeakers, I made a quick check with a couple of medium price cartridges that everything worked according to expectations, The raise/lower cueing was first-rate, lifting silently and promptly, dropping smoothly to reach the record in an ideal 1.5 seconds. The calibration of the tracking force dial was accurate enough in practice, though its full 0.5g to 6.0g range will surely never be needed. As the TP21 arm is fairly basic, rather than mechanically sophisticated, I would recommend cartridge s requiring between 1.5g and 25g.

Switching off the motor while a record is playing automatically raises the arm, though not before the slowing down pitch-change can be heard. The auto-stop mechanism similarly raises the arm and appeared to have no serious side effects, such as the wow we used to get with early types of pressure-operated trip switch. All that is heard is the cueing lever clicking and a faint pop on the loudspeakers. The starting operation is rather laborious. The motor takes a full 7 seconds to get up to speed, and so there is really no point in trying to be quick in lowering the pickup as this will just produce a long wind-up in musical pitch.

Isolation from external shocks was fair, though slightly les s sure than with the more expensive TD321. Gentle shocks caused the suspension to vibrate visibly, though with no effect on the music. Firm bangs produced mist racking. Mechanical noise from the transport was practically zero, though faint needle chatter could be detected with an ear close to the pickup.

Subjectively, given a firm mounting platform, the TD318 was found to be capable of very musical result s with both ends of the spectrum adequately clear and stable-if not quite so articulate as on top-quality decks-and stereo imaging and depth were very satisfactory, Measurements showed wow-and-flutter to be a moderate 0.07%, with rumble at 64dB weighted, which is not quite up to the standards of the TD321 but low enough to be ignored in a music system at this price range.

Thorens should do well with this TD318, though I would suggest that the extra cost of the TD321 with a superior pickup arm would be money well spent by those who can afford it, and Thorens's really budget TD166 turntable (£ 159) is still an attractive proposition for the impecunious, yet critical, listener.