About three years ago I obtained a secondhand Technics SL 1210 Mk2 in near perfect condition. As it offered ease of use when transcribing from vinyl to a CD Recorder, I put aside my ancient Thorens 125 with Mission arm and rather tired Audio Technica moving coil cartridge.
With a fairly new ADC XLM moving magnet cartridge installed the Technics immediately sounded good compared with the Thorens and its worn Audio Technica stylus.
But, in the years since, I have sensed something missing in records played on the Technics. This month I resurrected the Thorens and put in a fairly good condition ADC VLM -- a slightly better version of the XLM cartridge.
Repeatedly listening to the same records played on one turntable and then the other -- with friends including a musician and a non-enthusiast who also happens to own a Technics and a Thorens -- it became clear that the Technics lacked mid range detail and the stereo image was much less focused. Bass was notably absent compared with the Thorens.
The only sonic virtue of the Technics was its metronome steadiness -- an obvious product of powerful direct drive with quartz lock versus the Thorens' wobbly/stretchy belt and suspension and low torque motor controlled by a crude servo circuit.
The real surprise was how brilliant the 1970s vintage Thorens sounded -- the better focus doubtless due to the rigidity and superb bearings on the Mission arm (compared to the budget arm supplied with the Technics). Audible extra bass and lack of midrange colouration, presumably down to the deep suspension and heavy construction of the Thorens isolating it from feedback.
Aside from its woeful arm, the Technics is very substantially built and, though it responds audibly when the plinth is tapped while playing, it doesn't howl back at domestic volumes and any feedback sounds well damped.
The Technics SL1200 series is, of course, the default choice for professional DJs who seem to have a bit of cult thing with this model. But that can only be due to its robustness, reliability and widely available spare parts -- not forgetting the near-instant start and stop that's key to the DJ. However, due to its dominant position in the DJ field the SL1200 has, I think quite incidentally, been assumed to be a good sounding turntable.
The Thorens could not be easily transported due to weight and complex construction and would be a nightmare to cue up by comparison but I'm sure it would really show up the Technics on sound quality at disco volumes.
I'll continue to use the Technics for transcription from vinyl to CD, but with a worry that the resulting CDs may not be as good as they could be.
For listening though, it'll have to be the Thorens. In fact, it's revived my interest in my vinyl collection -- because the other thing that was apparent in the listening tests was how much more 'involving' the Thorens sounded compared to my very decent Marantz and Rotel (Philips swing arm laser mechanism) CD players. This may be down to the subtleties of room acoustics and reflected sounds which analogue recordings preserved compared to the "either ON or OFF" approach inherent in digital. This has to affect low level and out-of-phase information.
The Technics is now overpriced given the cheap arm but it's an efficient tool. It doesn't sound bad -- indeed hifi DIYers report good results from replacing the arm and upgrading the electronics. But suspended belt drive turntables like the Thorens (not the most expensive belt drive ever made) are in a different class.
I also replaced a Technics DD TT with a Thorens belt drive w Ortofon cartridge - night and day for the Thorens. Still have it but it needs a belt and I pretty much have all my albums on cd now. So yes the Thorens is better IMHO but I like cds with a good player these days. Is NAD still a serious player for amps and preamps?
I have a rather nice sounding NAD 55 watt receiver from the late 1980's (I think) -- a series that seems to still have enthusiastic users.
However I recently 'rescued' a NAD CD player just a few years old from the garbage and was surprised to find that while it could be made to work, the sound was a bit bright for my tastes. The very flimsy drawer mechanism had broken and the display lighting had also failed. This contrasts badly with the above -- and with the now very elderly Philips-based CD players I use.
Thorens belts can be found -- though I was shocked to learn how much for. The company name is now being used for some apparently high quality turntables -- though I don't think there's any obvious connection with the classic product lines like the 125 or 160.