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hobbyists's views for hobbyists
Review of Joachim Bung's "Swiss Precision"

 

The legendary TD-124 is still spinning.
The legend is still being spun.


My first record player was an "antique" HMV 101 wind up gramophone. Then I switched to a second hand two-speed (33 and 78 rpm) Philips with a featherweight arm, later replaced by the AG 2140.

Philips 2 Speed - 33 and 78 - Record Player

As a student I had a Saterday afternoon job in a record store. When I had saved enough to improve my simple but musical audio system I of course looked at the Thorens TD 124. Too expensive for me!

Lenco L59

I had to content myself with a Lenco L-59 with the heavy headshell, springy arm and in time deteriorating clumsy lowering device.

Dual 1229

My next turntable was a Dual 1229 (with idler wheel drive!), which was eventually replaced by a Technics SL 150 and afterwards by a beautiful, second hand Thorens TD-125.

Thorens TD 125 Mk1

Thirty years ago a second hand TD-124 was offered in an electronics magazine. I travelled two and a half hours by train to collect the machine and two and a half hours back carrying the turntable under my arm. The deal included an SME 3012 with rumbling knife bearings.

The acquisition meant a completely new experience in understanding turntables and their mechanics.

The sales director of the electronics company who had imported the Thorens products in the nineteen sixties suggested that I would take out the bearing and the platter, add a motor, build a plinth and would construct a belt drive turntable. He knew very well that keeping a TD 124 alive was not easy. It would take much attention and care. He indicated that times had changed and the concept of a turntable had evolved.

Jean-Constant Verdier proposed his Platine Verdier with its 20 kg heavy platter and magnetic bearing, first described in l'Audiophile magazine from France. Melco showed the heavy three-legged platters. Thorens designed "Der Referenz" which seemed to have traits of an offshore oil rig that could withstand the heaviest storms and tides. See Notes on The Belt-Drive Turntable.

There were also the accurate Japanese top direct drives by Technics, Kenwood, Sony, Denon. As the Thorens TD 124 was considered an old concept, it was very easy to buy spare parts for the TD 124 for very little money.

DIY Basic Turntable

A friend and I bought new TD 124 bearings and we designed a heavy turntable: shape, size and weight of the platter, the stone plinth filled with sand, the arm base which made the interchanging of arms very easy. This resulted in the construction in 1980 of my own turntable with a 9.8 kg heavy platter, called "Basic Turntable". My experiences led to the publication of a rather comprehensive series of articles about turntable building (materials, sound, mechanics, coupling, etc.) in the years 1986 to 1995.

Thorens TD 124 Mk1

In the pre world-wide-web days it was easy to buy TD 124 tables. That made it possible to re-assemble a well functioning 124 with an aluminum platter instead of the iron one.

When the internet was becoming more accessable I published The TD 124 Page in 2001. The www let the TD-124 cult come out into the open. More owners of TD-124 turntables manifested themselves on the internet and exchanged ideas and knowledge. In the beginning only belts were available and on occasion an idler wheel, and rarely a Papst Aussenlaufer replacement motor.

Today there are all sorts of newly manufactured parts available: idler wheels, belts, rubber grommets, arm boards in many shapes and sizes, spindle bearings and bearing housings, and a platter is being manufactured to replace a damaged or less well turning item. This is all to the benefit of a sound reproduction with less rumble, with good values for wow and flutter, and achieving good transients due to the idler wheel. Yes, the legend is still spinning.


THE CULT

There are quite a few proud owners of the legendary TD 124 turntable. The reasons why they own this turntable, designed and manufactured with the legendary Swiss precision, are manyfold.
Some have acquired this model because they have become analog addicts and choose for a reproduction of the legendary records and want to use one of the best machines available in the era of Decca SXLs, Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft SLPEMs Red Stereos, RCAs LSC shaded dogs, Philips HiFi-Stereos, SAXs, HMV ASDs and American Columbia 6 eye labels. The aim of these music lovers is achieving a sound reproduction in style.
Then there are the collectors of vintage audio equipment and no collection is complete without a TD-124.

IDLER WHEEL AND BELT

Firm believers in the principle of the idler wheel also want to own a TD-124, although it is not an idler wheel drive in the strict sense and differs from a Garrard 301 and 401 in transmission, operation and sound.
Others buy the 124 because they love to restore and optimize an old machine and make it work to perfection. Even removing its original paint and have it sprayed anew professionally can be an option like several Lencolovers do with their L78s, etc. turntables.
Another reason for buying a TD-124 (or whatever quality legend turntable) can be that it was too expensive at the time, as in my case. Today prices shown in the eBay listings at about $500 (without tonearm) are still affordable prices if compared to the modern cosmetically designed heavy platter belt drive type turntables. And you should not pay too much in order to be able to buy spare parts and pay for maintenance.

JOACHIM BUNG'S APPROACH

The true historian approaches his subject with care and he will make observations from different angles. He wants to give a detailed picture, starting from the origin, following the development, and then finally placing it in a larger context to better understand the value of it. That is excatly what journalist Joachim Bung from Germany has done. I did not see and read his first book "Schweizer Prezision" which was only accessable for those who know German at least at school level. That 111 page book received much praise from those whose knowledge did not restrict them to just image viewing.

THE NEW EDITION

It was clear that the information and knowledge collected by Joachim Bung deserved a larger readership. But all great enterprises do not only need the necessary financing but also ask for a lot of work: translating, correcting, editing, defining a lay out, desktop publishing, selecting pictures and historical material like advertisements, reviews, documents, the retouching of images when necessary, plate production, color adjustment, etc. etc.
Some readers would probably say: Well he has got all this from the German edition, so only the translation is necessary and a few adjustments.

THE BIG SURPRISE

Well, that is not what happened. Preparing "Swiss Precicion" offered a unique opportunity to enlarge the scope of the book and pay a lot of attention to the timeframe the TD 124 was born, developped and manufactured in. There was not only the TD 124. There were less costly Thorens models too. And there were the competitors like Garrard, Lenco, Jobophon (Acoustical), PE, Elac, etc. And there were the manufacturers of cartridges and tone arms which were connected to the TD 124 and other makes, as today these are legends themselves: SME, Ortofon and Shure. And naturally, it is tempting to include a pioneer like Avery Fisher, and to dwell on other brands of tables, amplifiers, cartridges, arms and gadgets.

THE ENGLISH BOOK

And that is what Joachim Bung did. He extended the 111 page first German edition to a mere 290 pages of the English edition, all filled to the brim with pictures, detailed information, specifications, documents, etc. Did you know that Perpetuum Ebner in their PE 33 Studio turntable also used the belt and idler wheel concept, the same as in the TD 124? It is in the book! And did you know that Braun used the same principle of idler wheel and belt but in reversed order? It is in the book! (Note: It is the same way the simple Triotrack machines from Acoustical in the Netherlands were working.) The many brands existing in the nineteen fifties and sixties are extensively documented in detail.

THE FASCINATION

This book is not a book to page through and then put it on the shelf. Swiss Precision is a book to spend hours and hours reading and looking at the telling images. It is not just a book for the old buffs who witnessed the Lp era in the nineteen sixties and seventies. No, it is also a book for the younger generations, for those who have some interest in technique, in mechanics and the history of the front end where the rich analog sound reproduction begins.
The sheer variety and the ever surprising visual material make Swiss Precision a fascinating book. My advise is: Get your copy as soon as possible before it is sold out or before you will have to wait for another printing being ready.
It is worth every penny invested. And that is not a cliché!

THE SUBJECTS

  • The book does not have a register at the end for quick reference checking of names of people, products and item numbers. And I must tell you that this is very well so. It makes the reading adventure even more exciting and above all surprising. It is about the birth of the idler wheel and the belt drive turntables.
    But there is of course the contents as extensively indicated on the first pages from which I give a condensed list:

    * Encounters with the owners and designers. The years 1957-1967.
    * The competition: Lenco, Garrard, Connoisseur, Acoustical, Rek-O-Kut, Empire, etc., and EMT.
    * Tonearms, cartridges and accessoires.
    * Hifi in Germany and the various brands.
    * The legendary TD224 record changer and the engineers who designed it.
    * The rediscovery of the TD 124
    * The spare parts which are still available and manufactured.
    * And very important: tips for purchasing a used TD124.
  • This book is going to be a bestseller, if it isn't already.

© Rudolf A. Bruil - Page first published on the www on June 29, 2008.

If you want information on how to order this quality book, just send a mail by clicking on the author's name: Joachim Bung.

The price is €59, plus cost of shipment. That may be expensive. But if compared to the prices you pay for manuals (which of course have also their value), it is relatively cheap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From top to bottom: cover of "Swiss Precision. The Story of the Thorens TD 124 and Other Classic Turntables", impression of the pages, quality checking of a print proof, calibrating the PMS colors, the binding machine, final quality control, and a palet loaded with books.

 

Rudolf A. Bruil. Page first published June 29, 2008


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