Swiss Precision – The Story of the Thorens TD 124 and Other Classic Turntables
Like many people my age, the first turntables I heard were idlers in hi-fi consoles and, like those same folks, our first turntables were either belt driven or direct drive. I fell in the belt drive camp, with my first real turntable being an AR-XA, purchased new for $88 in 1974 while I was in college. All of my tables since have been belt drives, including an unfortunate foray into linear tracking. I didn’t know any deejays or direct drive lovers, so I was never tempted to go that route.
Flash forward 40 years to the day I rushed up the street after our building super told me “Someone’s throwing out records.” A block away, I came quickly upon on a huge dumpster and a crew clearing out a multi-unit apartment building’s basement. Perched on the top of that 8 foot tall dumpster was a Velodyne subwoofer… like an audiophile mirage! As I worked to topple it from it’s height, a fella said “I guess you want the other one too?” “Sure!” I replied (neither ended up worth fixing). The best of my finds that day? 1) a large crate of laser discs, which went to my neighbor, 2) a pair of AR M1 monitors that I had repaired and gave to a friend and 3) a turntable acquired after the building super said “You can take this home too if I help me get it up these steps…” When he walked into that doorway lugging that heavy thing, struggled to get it up the steps, I dutifully jumped in to help and gave him a $20 for not tossing it into that dumpster. I didn’t know the brand at first glance, but, with that massive custom-made plinth, I knew it was something special.
When I got it home and took a closer look under all that dust, I found it to be a Neat Shield MO-19 idler, mounted on a beautiful veneered maple plinth not yet drilled for the mounting of a tonearm. Peering up under the plinth, I discovered that all its guts had been desoldered… that’s when it hit me that I needed to brush up on the technology employed. The Neat was an idler. Though I had heard great mumbling about idler driven tables in the few years prior, I knew nothing about the tech, nor had ever heard one.
The Neat Shield MO-19 idler was built in Japan for broadcast use as a competitor to the better known idler brands. With its huge Onkyo Denki hysteresis motor, it’s quite a deck. Being at times to frugal for my own good, I chose to build my own tonearms for the Neat, recently expanding my designs to the 3d-printed variety. Do a web search for the Neat Shield MO-19 and you’ll likely find my table and arm journey.
Since then, I’ve also acquired a modified Braun PCS5 idler, circa 1961, that few know outside Germany, as it was not marketed here in the States. Designed by noted industrial designer Dieter Rams, it’s a bit of a different animal – it uses a Pabst motor that turns the idler wheel, which, in turn, rotates an aluminum cylinder with a pulley carved into it, which then turns a sub platter with a rubber belt. That PCS5’s motor is of the 50Hz variety,… while perfect for use in Germany, it plays fast under our 60Hz USA power. As such, it’s become a bit of a personal project – I’ve managed to passively reduce the speed at the 33-1/3rpm setting from 40.2 to 33.7rpm with 3d printed parts… the work continues.
TD 124 Idlers – Stay With Me Here… There Are Lots of Pictures!
I received, for review, 3 volumes of of Thorens-centric hardbound books on hi-fi written by Joachim Bung – The expanded 2018 3rd edition, 2-volume set presented in a nice shrink-wrapped binder, written in German are titled:
1) “Schweizer Präzision – Die Geschichte des Thorens TD 124 und anderer klassischer HiFi-Platterspieler, Band 1” (2018 expanded third edition in German)
2) “Schweizer Präzision – Thorens-Vertrieb in Deutschland. der Schweiz, Großbritannien und den Vereinigten Staten, Band 2” (2018 expanded third edition in German)
Titles as translated by google translate:
1) “Swiss Precision – The History of the Thorens TD 124 and other classic hi-fi platter players (Volume 1),” 658 pages
2) Swiss Precision – Thorens sales in Germany. Switzerland, Great Britain and the United States – Volume 2),” 289 pages
I also received Bung’s “Swiss Precision – The Story of the Thorens TD 124 and Other Classic Turntables” (second edition 2008 – English translation), 306 pages. I don’t speak German well, so it was helpful, to say the least.
The new edition of Bung’s two-book 2018 set, with our without its former (translated) second edition from 2008, will be of interest to any Thorens lover and an absolute must have for any TD 124 enthusiast. Front and center is the Thorens TD 124 idler-driven turntable and its competitors from around the globe. The 2008 second revision and English-translated edition of this book covers, to list but a few topics: The Hi-Hi Turntables by Thorens in St. Croix, an overview of the 1957 to 1967 Thorens belt and idler wheel turntables, an encounter with Robert Thorens, head of engineering at the St. Croix factory, the story of Thorens and an article on Johan Granata, an expert in the Thorens TD 224…. and more…
As prized as this resource for those who own Thorens tables, both idler and belt drive, these books are as enjoyable to flip through as this author’s 2008 English translated edition is to read… and flip through. Bung is an engaging writer who has worked hard to ever-expand his editions, with his newly-revised two-volume in slipcase German third edition set including 60% graphic content of interest to any hi-fi enthusiast. Much of this content – advertising, photos, graphics and illustrations – are presented in English and beautifully reproduced. Flip front to back, back to front, it matters not (it’s in German, after all) – you’l love it! They’re a real hoot; granted, you’ll shed a tear or two when you see the original sales prices for tables the cost thousands today.
The pinnacle of playback, to many, was Thorens, one of the most noble brands in the idler world. From Switzerland, the Thorens TD-124 is still considered by many to be the best table ever made. Others would suggest the Garrard 301 and/or 401, which are both included here. Some of the best known brands are European – from Switzerland, Germany and England, with lesser known competition from both USA and Japanese brands. The volumes feature competitors of the Thorens TD 124 – EMT, Lenco, Garrard, Connoisseur, Acoustical (from the Netherlands) and Jobo. Two American idler brands, Rec-O-Kut and Empire, though little known in Europe, made the cut, as did Braun – even Neat got a mention.
Idler devotees, long convinced that a handful of the near-earliest model turntables are the best yet produced, are a voracious lot – they appear to spare little expense reconditioning and rebuilding their idler finds, often replacing their original plinths with a heavier custom-made variety to further reduce vibrations. Everyone who has an interest in early hi-fi, idlers and early best drives will drool over these volumes.
I’ve been involved with two Thorens tables in my years as an audiophile – one, my sisters and, the other, a TD 126 series lll DC model on which I was asked to mount what turned out to be a Thorens 126, series l arm. Some said it couldn’t be done – Ha! I managed to reconfigure the arm’s pin arrangement with eventual success. I’ve never operated a TD 124, or a Garrard 301, for that matter, but I am a member of a Facebook bespoke idler turntable group and an owner of two unique Neat and Braun idlers.
While some happily replaced many an idler driven table with belt and direct drive technologies, few vinyl lovers can deny the appeal of idler driven tables. When properly set up, they possess an uncanny ability to reproduce the PRAT and drive deep in a recording’s grooves. Once heard, it’s no wonder those smitten over the decades with idler wheel remain passionately devoted today.
With “Swiss Precision – The Story of the Thorens TD 124 and Other Classic Turntables,” Bung has compiled a drool-worthy look into this primarily idler-centric world that’s a must read and must see for anyone interested in vinyl reproduction and early hi-fi – leaving few doubting idler authority once experienced.
“Swiss Precision – The Story of the Thorens TD 124 and Other Classic Turntables” is well written, aptly translated and a must have for idler and early hi-fi fans, and it’s a keeper even if you don’t speak German, with enough pictures to satiate the most ardent non-reading audiophile, the sheer multitude gloriously reproduced product photos, hi-fi ads, diagrams and graphics of the day in these volumes are well worth addition to your library of classic components.
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“Swiss Precision – The Story of the Thorens TD 124 and Other Classic Turntables” 2008 second edition, English translation in hardcover, 288 page, four-color
Author, Joachim Bung
Published by Joachim and Angelika Bung, Schmitten, Germany (firstname.lastname@example.org), 2008. Hardcover, 288 pages, four-color, Price: 69 EUR plus 39 EUR packing and shipping.
The latest, 2018 German third edition of “Schweizer Präzision” in two volumes with slipcase, Price: 198 EUR plus 57 EUR packing and shipping.
Bung has revised the ordering menu on his website accordingly.
Please refer to this website’s contact page for orders.
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