The Thorens TP-16 Tonearm

A TP 16 tonearm rewired with modern litz wire is a revelation. It asks some questions about how it was reviewed in the past.  It appears, that even Thorens came to see it as a liability in spite of its always been held up  as an excellent tracker.  It just lacked excitement on the highs but the rewire add that.   A rewired TP 16 is the best upgrade you can make and ought to be the first step in upgrading or restoring a TD 160.

I’ve contemplated replacing the original Thorens TP-16 tonearm many times over the years. This was a common upgrade for Thorens TD 160 owners – often installing an SME tone arm. When Thorens released the TD 160 Super in 1982, it came without a tonearm.   That certainly gave me to lose confidence in mine.

I have my Thorens TD 145 since 1976.  The TD 145 is a TD 160 with an auto shut-off. Installing a replacement arm decommissions the auto shut off and the queuing mechanism it shares with the TD 160.  The queuing mechanism is integral to the turntable’s elegant and intuitive operation.  Decommissioning it disposes of an ergonomically insightful engineered solution that is the signature of the Thorens legacy.

For an SME tone arm I could live without the auto shut-off.   They are a beautiful piece of engineering.  In truth my desire for a SME arm was not all sonic – they look cool. What killed me is that I hated the idea of cutting into the top-plate – it would be irreversible.  Also, I didn’t like that without the auto shut-off my Thorens TD-145 would lose it’s identity.   In its own way the Thorens TP-16 tonearm is a thing of great beauty and a genuine mid-century artifact.  Without the TP-16 tone arm my TD-145 would become a hacked turntable.  So, it wasn’t just the auto shut-off that was the issue.   It was something more intangible related to the provenance and authenticity of the turntable. My relationship to the object itself and its personal meaning inspired me to devise a rewire.    I now believe changing out should only be done after consideration of rewiring.  That’s for sonic reasons not because the TD 160 quirky engineering makes it, in 2019, very cool indeed.

Reevaluating The TP-16 Tonearm

Thorens were being conservative when they implemented the TP-16 tonearm. By the late sixties high compliance (low mass) arms were already in the ascendancy. The TP-16 tonearm, in spite of its undeniable qualities, is a mid compliance tone arm and for that reason failed to win over the critics.  It was conservative and out of fashion.   The consequence of that is that more cartridge makers made fewer mid compliance cartridges and so for the end user the choices were fewer.  The TP-16 owner didn’t get to have “cool” cartridges.  That made the TP-!6 uncool.  It was still regarded a poor tonearm until the mid 1980s when medium mass arms found some favour among critics and audiophiles discovering moving coil cartridge again. Critics and audiophiles reevaluated the TP-16 tonearm upward.  It’s a very good arm with a terrible reputation based on notions that were  fashionable when it came out.  Give a dog a bad name.

 

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The above are three renders of the plastic part I 3d printed.  The printing material didn’t have the required rigidity to make the part viable.   The other versions are shown in the film Leonard and Suzanne (From 9min 20 sec)

Rewiring The TP-16 Tonearm

Like myself, most Thorens TD 160 owners stuck with the arm and suffered the reduced cartridge choice. When finally, I got around to upgrading my Thorens TD 145 I was compelled to resolve the TP 16 issue by doing everything I could to retain it.

That meant that a tonearm rewire was high on my list of priorities. I recalled Dimitris Lamprou excellent article from 2009 on vinyl engine advising on how to rewire the TP-11 or TP-16 tonearm.

Dismantling the arm is onerous and there are a couple of moments where one slip could could cost you the arm.   Removing the plastic head shell holder from the arm is the most difficult.  It is not recommend to any it but the most capable DIYers. Regardless of your skill level you will often have to break the plastic part to get it out. Putting it back wasn’t fully resolved in Dimitris Lamprou’s article.  It may have sonic advantages but it is hard to achieve without ravaging the head shell –  looks like a hack.  I’m seeking a more elegant solution.  I didn’t want my TP 16 looking like my bike.   My bike works fine but is crafted to discourage theft – its looks like a crock.

I turned to product designer, Bob Whelan, who 3D printed the plastic head shell holder and I had a second one hand machined by expert toolmaker and engineer, Mike O’Neill.  The machined version was made from acrylic, similar to the original but ours was made in one part which, unfortunately, didn’t permit the insertion of the cartridge clips.   Our earliest 3d printed version was the most successful and has been it on my turntable for over two years, during which I’ve been chopping and changing head shells nearly as often as I play a record.  However, I don’t believe this 3D part is viable as a DIY solution.  This is illustrated in the film above – Leonard and Suzanne from (9min 20sec).

 

Rewiring The TP-16 Tonearm Is The Prime Upgrade

In my opinion the tone arm rewire is the single best upgrade you can make.   It’s a revelation.    All the TD-160 upgrades that I can think of are about reducing noise.  Rewiring the tone arm is about preserving the strength of the signal.  That increases the depth of the sound you hear.    I think it does so by a significant margin.

Apart from that I got to keep the original arm with the functionality that was intended.  The auto shut-off on the TD 145 but more importantly, the functionally of the tear-drop queuing knob.  The tear-drop knobs don’t add anything sonically but they are iconic, they are fashioned to deliver a very satisfying user experience and are a perfect expression the modernist principles that are the bedrock of this wonderful instrument.  I’m a visual artist and a bit show-off, so, when I boast that I can’t tell the difference between my rewired TP-16 and the original – it pains me.  It pains me that my rewire doesn’t reveal itself stunning Technicolor.  But don’t take my word for it – there is no comparison sonically – a rewired TP-16 with a moving coil cartridge has to heard. Before you swap out your TP-16 tone-arm – listen without prejudice to a rewire.

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