Featuring a built-in phono amplifier and USB port, Paul Rigby reviews this budget design from Thorens
The TD202 looks solid and trustworthy. Maybe it’s the square aspect of the plinth, the vertical sides to the platter and the straight tube on the arm. There’s a simplicity here that reflects old fashioned values. The design has a slightly 70s retro feel to it.
This is a budget turntable but the price is set in the middle area of budget. Hence, it is not a cheapo turntable, by any means yet its feature set is aimed more at a lifestyle audience than a pure audiophile clientele. Audiophile turntables such as your typical Rega or a host of Pro-Jects tend to be quite monastic in their approach: stripped of unnecessary features, simplicity of design and purity of purpose.
The TD202 does not follow this path. Firstly, it features a built-in phono amplifier. The fact that a phono amplifier is pushed inside the plinth means that the TD202 will be hit by high frequency noise which will target sound quality. There’s a balance to be had here, though. The great thing about the phono amp’s inclusion is that it will save you money. If your amplifier doesn’t feature a built-in phono amplifier then you’ll need to buy one. An external phono amplifier will cost you upwards of £60 so the TD202’s built-in model will keep costs down. It will also reduce footprint, if space is tight. A external amplifier will take up extra physical space.
You can turn off the built-in unit and attach an extra l phono amplifier if you need to.
Also, if ripping vinyl to a digital file is important to you then the built-in USB port will be of use, again saving you the trouble of buying an external unit. Yes, the built-in USB unit will also add some high frequency masking noise to sound but, if you need the USB facility, this is a good way to add convenience to the TD202 as well as value.
These features can all be viewed around the back of the turntable. While we’re here, you’ll also find the power button and connection for a wall-wart power supply.
Moving around the front, you’ll find that this 2-speed, belt-driven design runs the die-cast aluminium platter with a DC motor. The speeds can be changed with a swing-type toggle switch placed on the near left. The near right sees a similar switch choosing between start and stop. Above is a straight-tubed tonearm with a canted headshell. Hanging off the end of that is an Audio-Technica AT-95E cartridge with an elliptical stylus tip.
Measuring 420 x 355x 141mm, the turntable weighs in at a fairly light 3.9kg, about the weight of a Dual MTR-75.
I played two LPs, Ananda Shankar’s self-titled 1970 LP combined Eastern flavours with, rock and sitar within The Stones’ Jumpin’ Jack Flash. I also looked at Ella Fitzgerald’s …Sings The Harold Arlen Song Book and the track Blues in the Night.
I then roped in an Audio-Technica LP5x for comparison, which I currently hold as the best budget lifestyle turntable currently on the market. The LP5x is cheaper at around £350.
Starting with Fitzgerald, I quickly tested the internal phono amplifier which is fine if you’re short of cash but I’d recommend an external model as soon as you can afford one. An external model will extend dynamic reach and open up the soundstage.
Adding an external phono amplifier myself now, I did note a rather strident air to the upper mids and treble from the TD202, although detail was easy, forthcoming and plentiful. Treble-based cymbal hits were rather too splashy, blooming and lacking in control although the cymbals were full of vigour and energy. Bass was big and bold but focus was not the best while the lead vocal was relatively clear but lacked imagery. The output was reasonable but I felt that the TD202 could do better so I removed the AT-95e along with the Thorens headshell and replaced it with the LP5x’s headshell carrying the AT-VM95E, an improved version of the AT-95e.
Immediately, the sound improved. Dramatically, in fact, becoming wholly more civilised and precise. Although Fitzgerald’s vocal retained a slightly lit midrange aspect, it did calm, sat nicely into the stereo image centre and even held a sense of of the 3D in that her delivery had a measure of depth. The brass section on the right channel was less clinical now and more organic. You felt that the brass was being controlled by humans instead of machines, for example.
The AT-95E is fine as it stands in terms of its role as the default cartridge for the TD202 but I would look to upgrade the cartridge to, at least, the VM95E. The difference was immediately noticeable.
Continuing the test, bass was admirably focused on the left channel, easily discernible by the ear and nicely weighty. It might not have had the character exhibited by the LP5x but bass on the TD202 was full of impact.
The retention of a slight clinical aspect to the overall soundstage did accentuate detail so piano on the TD202 was more visible on here than the LP5x, for example. The same could be said for the very shy acoustic guitar strumming on the same channel.
Turning to Shankar, the TD202 almost seemed to prefer the more rocking aspect of the track. The slightly chaotic nature of the internal frequencies of a typical rock track was handled well by the TD202. The raucous aspect of the drums, bass guitar and, in this case, sitar allowed the TD202 to party. Instead of the stumbling when faced with the demands of accuracy from the earlier jazz track, this slightly loose-limbed approach was an easier hurdle for the TD202 to jump.
Nevertheless, I felt that the turntable could do better so I moved my aim away from the cartridge and towards the platter mat. The TD202’s platter might feature a rubber damping ring around the inner rim but it was still a pretty flimsy structure and the mat a-top was a plain ol’rubber thing. I have to say that I simply detest rubber mats. They flatter to deceive. They are worse than useless and yet are so common in lifestyle turntables. Whenever you see one, either immediately report it to the police for suspected terrorist activities or, better yet, replace it with a cork model. The one sold by Pro-Ject will do. The one in this Buyer’s Guide https://theaudiophileman.com/modding-turntable-pro-ject-rpm-3/ will do fine. Even better is a cork/butyl rubber mat but cork on its own is still fine and is also cheaper. That’s what I did here and sonics improved still further, showing me the the TD202 had the potential to be a fine sounding turntable, if only its attendant support accessories are up to the required performance level.
The new platter mat steadied the ship, added depth to the bass, control to the lead vocal, lowered noise, added reverb to the cymbals and basically offered an all-round improvement. It even made the original AT-95E cartridge sound listenable. Phew!
With the upgraded cartridge and mat in place, the TD202 performed very well indeed. Returning to the testing jazz track, Fitzgerald’s delivery was far more confident and emotive. There remained a slight illumination around the mids but the cymbals provided a much improved fragility in the treble area, percussion and the soundstage were better balanced.
The Thorens TD202 is a useful lifestyle turntable offering plenty of features including that internal phono amplifier and USB socket. A few tweaks will aid the sonics, that’s for sure and, if you’re prepared to do that, you’ll have yourself a turntable that will produce admirable detail retrieval. Its ability to dig into the dark recesses of the mix will mean that even subtle information will be easily presented to the ear. Worth a demo.
THORENS TD202 TURNTABLE
Tel: 01425 460760
GOOD: detail, easy to install and use, tweak-able, rock performance
BAD: cartridge, platter mat, forward midrange, price
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