NOTE: this guide is focused on the Thorens Turntables I know well: the TD-165/160/145 series.
It is widely believed that those old machines where built to such high specifications for the time that it is not easy to find one in really bad conditions. Many also believe that one of those old TTs would outperform today’s brands entry-levels and give a run for the money to many top record-spinners that use sophisticated modern technology. The fact is that the suspended, belt-driven technology devised in the 50s is pretty the same today but it is used in very expensive turntables. For example, the modern descendant of the old Thorens suspended decks such as the TD-350 cost 3600 euros! A similar price tags the king of all those turntables, the venerable Linn Sondek LP12.
Those vintage TTs are said to have a more characteristic open sound than modern rigid tables; they should also better absorb ambient vibration and motor noise.
Even damaged decks can be restored to life rather easily. Therefore, buying such an old table can result in a real bargain, provided you know what to look for and how to set it up.
Admittedly, buying a vintage turntable at a garage sale is a bit risky, let alone on the Internet. I’m trying to provide a humble guide to those who would like to have such a good looking and old fashioned deck in their systems. I will constrain the guide to the ones I know: the Thorens TD-165/160. And if there is any problem you can always send it to me!
Thorens TD 165
Thorens TD 160
Thorens TD 145
As of today, Thorens TD-165s are still the more affordable, but the high demand made their prices rise a bit lately: samples in good condition shouldn’t be priced above €150, but today it is no longer so. It is easy to find them above the 200 price tag; the TD-160 is another matter. It is not easy to find one below 400!
The TD-165 is just like a TD-160 but of cheaper built. Main differences are the wooden plinth, of better, real wood in the TD-160; the TD-165’s sub-platter is made of resin while the TD-160’s is made of zinc; the motor is slightly more advanced in the TD-160, having a clutch system that allows the platter to start spinning (and stop) quickly. The main visible difference is a better tonearm fitted on the TD-160 and 145, the TP16; the TD-165/166 is easily recognizable from the threaded weight hanging from the back of its TP11 tonearm. The TD-166 is a renewed version of the TD-165 with the same clutch system in the motor as in the TD-160. The TD-145 is a TD-160 with additional electronics that would stop the turntable at the end of the record and lift the arm. Nothing else. It is just something more to check before buying.
Of course it is better to check if the TT is in working electrical conditions by plugging it to the wall socket and seeing it spinning at both 33 and 45 rpm speeds: no strange noises should be heard…
1- TD-165 only. First thing to check on a TD-165 is the threaded weight for the antiskating setting in the back of the tonearm MUST be there, along with the two little shafts from which it hangs. It is possible to find a used one but it adds up to the final price of course. There must be two weights, the larger is removable and slides along the nylon thread to rest on the smaller one. Please, look for it on both TD-165 and 166. It gets lost easily. Even more easily, the larger, outer weight has gone missing.
2- The belt. For all of these turntables, I think the conditions of the belt are not important at all: I would certainly change it right away. The belt is very important, but upon buying a used Thorens you shouldn’t care less – just scrap it, unless you have reasons to believe it has been replaced recently. Just check if it hasn’t glued itself on the motor spindle or on the inner plater. I’ve never seen this, but you know… You can find many types of new Thorens belts. For the TD 165, 160, 145 and the likes the belt is the same. I’d suggest buying those marked Thorens, but it is important their are made of the same size (length, height and thickness).
3- The cartridge: it’s not a problem, it’s replaceable, if it’s there it is a plus. Provided it is of any value. The stylus is another matter. There’s no way to know what a used stylus has been playing in other people’s hands. If the cartridge is a good one and it is working, once you are certain that the stylus is replaceable, you can just be satisfied as it is. But we are talking about buying a used turntable. The cartridge can be added later according to your tastes.
4- The subplatter shaft. The most important part in this kind of decks is the shaft around which the sub-platter spins: remove the heavy outer platter and make the sub-platter spin slowly by hand, trying to hear any noises or signs of friction. The platter should turn smoothly and regularly.
The shaft shouldn’t show any sign of wear at all. Both shaft and socket should be lubricated while functioning. If they’re not, friction could have damaged both. In this case don’t buy the turntable unless the price offered will justify buying a subplatter replacement (see below). A sub-platter with an undamaged shaft can be found in the used market but it is not easy and could cost too much; but this should be taken into account in the final buying price: you’re willing to pay less for a deck with a damaged shaft.
Chances are there is no oil left inside the pit. No big deal. Remove the sub platter and inspect the shaft: no signs of friction wear should be evident. When cleaned, a sub-platter shaft should shine. You can oil it later…
Metal (zinc) subplatter from the TD-160
Plastic (resin) subplatter from the TD-165
Another matter of choice is the size of the … well… ….shaft. On Thorens TD-160 it has always been 10 mm in diameter. It HAS to be like that! Some TD-165/166s had a smaller 7 mm shaft but many also had the 10 mm one. It is debated whether the original TD-145 mounted a 7 mm or 10 mm shaft. Size matters according to somebody. A thicker shaft should rotate more steadily. As long as the shaft is in good conditions, a 7 mm one works anyway. It should not be paid for as a model with a 10 mm shaft, though…
5- The motor pulley. The belt connects the sub-platter to the motor pulley, which causes it to rotate around a metal spindle inserted in a socket. The motor spindle (and, therefore, pulley) should rotate smoothly with no wobble at both 33 and 45 rpm speeds. The TD-165’s motor pulley is similar to a plastic cone and the spindle is visible inside; the TD-160’s contains a metal clutch system within:
Plastic+metal TD-160 motor pulley
Plastic (empty) TD-165 motor pulley
6- Controls. Quickly inspect the working conditions of the two control knobs in front of the platter: the right one lifts the tonearm, the left one turn the TT on by selecting one of the speeds. Note: the tonearm should be safely resting on its armrest, that should be able to lock it into position with a small pressure. Also check the counterweight in the back of the tonearm: the TD-165’s is screwed to the back of the tonearm and should rotate with no big effort; the TD-160’s is kept in place by a small screw at its side.
7- Suspensions. The suspended decks’ typical design is made of an almost triangular metallic sub-chassis (the one with the pit hosting the shaft) which is mechanically isolated from the plinth by means of three suspension springs. It is useful to check how they work by pushing the platter downward near the center of rotation, to see if it is somehow free of moving vertically on the springs. Gently hitting the platter near the rotation center should cause it to bounce a few times if the suspensions are in order. If it does not, it is not necessarily a bad sign: the suspensions can be tuned, but if the springs have completely lost their elastic properties they should be changed.