Vinyl’s unexpected resurgence has been a welcome shot in the arm for the music industry, and one that has even surprised even the most passionate audiophiles who have never given up on turntables but understood that digital was the future. High-end digital playback has come a long way from the days of “perfect sound forever,” when it was nothing more than below average sound reproduction wrapped in a layer of convenience. Tidal, Qobuz, and Spotify have legitimized high-res digital streaming as a format that both the mass market, and audiophiles can enjoy, and the CD has sadly become the future 8-track of music formats; even if it can sound dramatically better than any streaming service with so many inexpensive quality CD players and DACs available today.
Thomas Edison would consider us unjustifiably spoiled with so many options, but he would also find comfort in the knowledge that there are passionate artisans and engineers in our midst who are raising the bar in the art of vintage turntable restoration. Old is not only new again, but in some cases, far superior.
Listening to records is the penultimate middle finger to the digital age; one where human beings text family and friends in the same room rather than talk to them, and where people flip through music selections on their smartphones with the same level of attention that they display when selecting a brand of cereal at the grocery store. Listening to music on a turntable requires paying attention to the process of playback, and the music itself; something that is seemingly quite difficult for most people these days.
With the majority of new turntable purchases falling below $500, the competition for the remaining 30-35 percent of the market has become the main event on high-end audio’s wrestling card, and with new brands entering the ring almost monthly, it has become confusing for consumers to know what to buy. Just because brand ‘x’ made speakers for the past forty years, doesn’t mean that they know anything about engineering a quality turntable.
Or does it make more sense to buy a vintage turntable like a Thorens, Acoustic Research, Lenco, or Garrard from a turntable artisan or restorer and become involved in the process; with the same level of passion you might show when restoring a car, having a bespoke suit fitted, or building a road bike for those treks across country.
Swiss-made (or German-made depending on the decade) Thorens turntables have been prized by audiophiles for both their sound quality and precision engineering since 1957 with the launch of the TD-124 idler drive turntable, and that list has grown over the years to include the TD-145, TD-150, TD-160/Super, and TD-125 belt-driven models that are prized by collectors and audiophiles. Thorens relocated their manufacturing to Germany, Poland, and Switzerland during some rather tumultuous decades for the company as it struggled to combat the birth of digital audio, and only recently in 2018 was restructured with new ownership that is based in Germany. Thorens is back in the game of manufacturing brand new high-end turntables, but has shown little interest in supporting legacy products that were some of the best belt-driven turntables ever made.
So why buy a used Thorens and have it restored to its original glory?
Dave Archambault, CEO, of New Hampshire-based Vinyl Nirvana has been quietly restoring, and rebuilding vintage Acoustic Research, and Thorens turntables full-time since 2011, and with a growing client base that includes Ben Folds, conductors, musicians, and award-winning actors and comedians, he has become the source for affordable restorations and reproductions that are second to none.
Vinyl Nirvana offers complete packages which include exotic hardwood plinths, a choice of tonearms, and cartridge options from Grado Labs, Ortofon, and Dynavector.
“Over the years, I’ve accumulated the largest stash of new/used Thorens parts in the world, which makes what we do invaluable. A big part of my business is helping the customer who discovers a 35-year-old TD-125 in their parent’s attic which needs to be serviced but they don’t know where to turn. Not only do I have the parts, but I can make it sound better than it ever did,” said Archambault.
“I’ve had a love affair with turntables since I was a little kid when I would listen on the living room floor with my siblings and that passion for records and mechanical devices has remained with me my entire life.”
Having invested in two of Archambault’s Thorens restorations, we would agree that he delivers a first-rate turntable, and a level of customer service that you should expect from a bespoke manufacturer or restoration expert at this level.
For those with deeper wallets and record collections that demand state-of-the-art playback, there exists a vintage turntable restoration expert in the heart of Indiana who takes both the aesthetic and engineering aspects of his work to another level. Christopher Thornton, CEO, of Artisan Fidelity has been obsessed with restoring and upgrading vintage Thorens, Technics, Lenco, and Garrard turntables for most of his adult life and his approach leaves nothing to chance.
With restorations and rebuilds starting at $6,500, Artisan Fidelity utilizes a team of engineers, state-of-the-art CNC machine shops, and a 3rd generation Indiana-based specialty woodshop to transform vintage idler, belt, and direct-drive turntables into analog playback platforms that challenge the best five and six-figure turntables on the planet.
Thornton is fairly agnostic when it comes to the type of drive system but feels that the age, or “vintage” if you will, of the turntable in and of itself, does not necessarily dictate the resulting playback integrity, or rather just because something is “new” or “old” does not automatically make it better by default.
“What is far more important in my opinion and direct experience, is the instruments fundamental design implementation, reliability, engineering quality, stability, and lastly displaying the ability to completely immerse the listener during long playback sessions.”
Artisan Fidelity offers a comprehensive design service, and selection of the world’s best tonearms and phono cartridges; including the top moving coils from Japanese brands like Koetsu, Miyajima Labs, Lyra, and Denmark’s Ortofon, and a portfolio of automotive grade finishes that belong inside the cabin of a Rolls Royce Cullinan SUV and are not something you usually find on a turntable at any price level.
With prices that max out at $58,895 – which doesn’t really make us feel any better, Artisan Fidelity can restore a vintage Thorens TD-124 or Garrard 301 with multiple tonearms into one of the world’s ultimate audio components. You may just need to sell all your records and children to afford one though.