We are looking here at one of the new generation of Thorens record players, the TD700.
We say record players because the TD700 comes already kitted out to play records only minutes after you've removed it from its packaging.
It is fitted with a Thorens TP42 tonearm and an Audio Technica AT95e moving-magnet cartridge, which was a favourite audiophile starter cartridge thirty years ago. It's rewarding and reassuring to see that it's still around and popular.
Unlike many of its modern-day rivals, the TD700 sticks with a traditional design. There's no skeletal, Perspex plinth to be seen here, for example, although Thorens has introduced acrylic plinths models into its range.
There's simply a straightforward rectangular fibre board plinth to which the mechanics, the electronics and the tonearm are fixed. If you want to be stylistically different, however, you can specify one of four finishes for your turntable – the review sample was black, but the deck can also be delivered in red, silver, or blue.
The TD700 is a completely fuss-free design to set up. In fact, the words 'set up' overstate what needs to be done and only truly apply to adjusting the tonearm settings.
All the deck then needs is a low-voltage power connection on the rear of its plinth – supplied by a wall-wart – and a connection to an amplifier (phono input, of course,) or phono preamplifier from the sockets behind the tonearm. Thorens supplies a suitable cable for this task.
The mechanical aspects of the turntable are fairly typical of the breed; it is belt driven by a synchronous AC motor with electronic speed change. The belt drives a sub-platter, upon which sits a substantial acrylic outer platter. This is topped off with a thin, floppy felt mat.
Thorens recommends siting the deck on "a sturdy piece of furniture" so we utilised a Quadraspire Sunoko Vent stand. This excellent stand also supports the rest of our system, including the funk Vector LP12. Unlike the LP12, though, the deck has no suspension: instead its plinth rests on three compliant feet.
Care needs to be taken with supporting this turntable because the way the feet are laid out seems to affect their efficacy: the two at the front appear to tolerate a finger tapping reasonably firmly on the plinth, while the single foot at the rear seems less successful: any tapping along the rear of the plinth provoked stylus skipping.
It's also worth considering only using the lid to cover the turntable when it is not in use. The hinges are not especially smooth in operation and, anyway, we've always preferred the sound of decks with their lids completely removed for serious listening.
We auditioned the Thorens through the phono input of a Roksan Kandy K2 amplifier feeding a pair of NEAT Motive 1 loudspeakers through chord company epic cables.
As noted above, the TD700 is supplied with an acrylic platter covered with a thin felt mat, so we simply have to try dispensing with the latter. The sound of discs placed directly on the platter is less musically enjoyable and cosmetically not so appealing.
Then we substitute an (acrylic) funk firm Achromat and discover that that it works its usual magic, particularly with bass guitar, adding weight, tone and definition to the instrument. It adds an appreciable degree of precision and control to music overall as well. We reckon that discriminating listeners might consider the addition is worth the £60 it adds to the price.
Out of interest we substitute a Linn felt mat in place of the standard Thorens mat: this too improves the performance but not to the same extent. The TD700 certainly seems ripe for tuning, though. Then we remember that this is not an article devoted to turntable tweaks...
As supplied, however, the TD700 gives a respectable account of itself playing music that ranges from Dr John through classical organs and choirs to Art Pepper.
Pianos sound secure in terms of pitch, which is always a good sign, and when a double bass player begins mirroring the pianist's left hand the two instruments remain distinct and individual.
Further up the spectrum things don't always seem as well organised, though; there's an occasional hint of distortion creeping in on energetic vocals and busy guitar work, especially when these occur close to the end of a side.
Time to drop some science! We decide to try an age-old ploy to refine and elevate the performance of the AT95E.
We remove the stylus assembly and apply a judicious couple of drops of that famous rigidity-enhancing chemical C6H7NO2, otherwise known as SuperGlue, to help it connect better to the cartridge body.
It works a treat and, combined with a precise realignment of the cartridge in the headshell we even have the inexpensive AT95E tracking organ and madly dynamic piano torture tracks without flinching. The TD700/AT95E combination might not have the leading edge attack of a topflight deck, but then neither does it have the typically stratospheric price tag that accompanies such machinery.
Nonetheless it can replay music with a more than decent sense of pace and energy; it definitely does not suffer from being laid-back as Art Pepper's up-tempo track Straight Life convincingly demonstrates.
Neither is it wanting in terms of dynamics: it puts in a very fine showing on that Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section LP, carefully sifting through Philly Joe Jones' drumming, Paul chambers' bass and Red Garland's piano looking for – and uncovering – the slightest change in level in any instrument.
It is similarly fluent in portraying Pepper's saxophone, delivering it rich with tone and timbre. On this brilliantly recorded 1957 LP the Thorens seems at its most persuasive and comfortable.
Having already tried a couple of tweaks on this deck there is one further alteration we are keen to assess and that is to see how the deck responds to a more sophisticated cartridge, the popular and widely respected Goldring 1042.
The better cartridge allows the deck to perform with greater delicacy and expression – a delicacy that the inexpensive AT95E merely hints is there. Instrumental timbre, for example, takes on more delicate hues and the sound as a whole becomes more secure: you tend to avoid those edge-of-the-seat moments that the AT can deliver on hard-to-track discs. The 1042 sounds more firmly planted in the groove and, accordingly, the music sounds freer and easier.
Then we substitute a pair of £30 chord company crimson interconnects for the supplied leads and realise another marked improvement.
Our only failure comes with sitting the deck's feet on CD cases, which often provides improvements but only, it seems, with items that have no built-in isolation. Here the cases destroy the music's timing, upsetting the temporal balance between the instruments.
Ultimately, the Thorens TD700 turntable delivers a very respectable musical performance for what is an unduly expensive record player straight out of its box.
The fact that you can then easily improve on the deck's performance with a small amount of tweaking is definitely an added bonus.