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Audio

The perfect turntable for fumble-fingered audiophiles

The Audiophiliac spins LPs on the Thorens TD 190-2 turntable and likes what he hears.

Thorens started out making music boxes and clock movements in 1883 in Sainte-Croix, Switzerland, and moved onto manufacturing Edison inspired phonographs in 1903. So it knows a thing or two about extracting sound from grooves, it has been doing it longer than any other turntable maker on the planet.

The turntable I'm looking at today is a Thorens TD 190-2. It's a fully-automatic design. Most turntables with high-end aspirations are manual in operation, you have to lift the arm from its rest, put the stylus (needle) in the groove, lift the stylus at the end of the record side and return the arm to its rest, then turn off the platter motor. So compared with playing a file or CD, LP playback can seem like a lot of work. The TD 190-2 does all that stuff automatically. So even if you have unsteady hands, drink a lot, or you're totally blind you can play records with the TD 190-2 with ease.

Thorens TD 190-2 turntable.

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

The TD 190-2 is a belt-drive turntable, the same drive system used by the vast majority of audiophile turntables. Belt-drive means the turntable's motor pulley spins the platter with a rubber "belt." The turntable comes with a premounted Ortofon OMB-10 moving-magnet phono cartridge. We're looking at a pretty compact turntable, it's 14.2-by-16.5-by-5.1 inches (361-by-419-by-129 mm). The TD 190-2 is made in Germany.

It's a three-speed, 33.3, 45 and 78 rpm turntable, and it plays 12-inch (300 mm) LPs and 7-inch (170 mm) singles automatically. Turntable setup is straightforward, you just put the counterweight on the tonearm, place the platter on the turntable, and that's it. The TD 190-2 doesn't have a built-in phono preamp, so I used a Schiit Mani preamplifier for all of my listening tests.

The sound at first was slightly flat and two-dimensional with the turntable's standard cartridge stylus, so I removed it and popped in an upgraded Ortofon OM30 stylus, and the sound blossomed, transparency improved, bass filled out, everything about the sound was so much better. Alternatively, you can swap out the Ortofon cartridge for another brand.

I liked the TD 190-2's sound quite a bit, but the lightweight aluminum platter felt insubstantial, and the plinth base's pebbly grain vinyl finish looks out of place on an audiophile turntable. Still, the TD 190-2 is the only fully automatic audiophile turntable I'm aware of, but if you're OK with fully manual turntables I recommend the Thorens TD 203 or Rega Planar 3; they're better looking and sounding turntables than the TD 190-2.

Listening with AudioQuest NightOwl headphones my LPs' clicks, pops, and rumble were admirably low, and headphone listening is one of the ways I judge a turntable's quality. A quiet turntable is a good turntable. Lesser 'tables are noisier, so you're more aware of every click, pop and swoosh from your LPs.

I listened to all sorts of music with the TD 190-2, but when I played the 1975 version of the "Psycho" film score with the music's composer Bernard Herrmann conducting the National Philharmonic Orchestra I more fully grasped this turntable's musicality. The score's violent shifts and stinging strings are incredibly powerful, and the TD 190-2 let them be all they could be.

Nowadays there's lots of terrific turntables to choose from, but fully automatic turntables with audiophile street cred are rare. The Thorens TD-190-2 retails for $799, £399 or AU$899.

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