Thorens TD 402 DD Review

by Bruno Brozovic

Thorens TD 402 DD combines vintage design with modern features like direct drive and auto start/stop. A turntable with a classic look with high-gloss walnut veneer and an aluminum platter shares many components with budget turntables. While its sound quality is solid, the included Audio-Technica AT-VM95E cartridge limits its potential. Upgrading to a higher-end cartridge significantly improves its performance, suggesting that the TD 402 DD could offer better value if sold with a more advanced cartridge from the start.

Intro

The history of the company founded in 1883 by Hermann Thorens revolved around music from the very beginning. And literally, because initially, a modest factory dealt with producing music boxes. At the beginning of the 20th century, the first cylinder phonographs were manufactured in a factory located in the picturesque Swiss town of Sainte-Croix, and a few years later horn turntables for playing shellac records.

Interestingly, these majestic devices remained on Thorens’ offer for several decades, until they were replaced by turntables resembling modern designs. In the late 1920s, Thorens released the first model equipped with an electric motor. In 1934, the company constructed a system that drives the platter axle through a set of gears, but the real breakthrough was the TD 124 turntable presented in 1957.

I should rather write “drive” because the device was delivered to customers without housing and tonearm. Buyers of the model from this year are just a few, but in the following years this facilitation was abandoned and music lovers had to construct a turntable around this specific drive unit properly.

The TD 124 had to be exceptionally good, however, because many users were eager to take on this task. Even today, this legendary model achieves sky-high prices at online auctions. It can be said that the 1950s were the period in which the Swiss company secured a strong position in the market, enjoying its reputation as a manufacturer of refined and reliable turntables.

Thorens TD 402 DD walnut version

Thorens TD 402 DD walnut version

 

Today we associate it primarily with designer projects with a shape that deviates from the standard rectangle, which, combined with unusual color versions, gives an electrifying effect. Thorens also produces high-end turntables, and recently they have once again reached their rich history with the introduction of the retro-styled TD 1600 and TD 1601 models. They are beautiful but expensive.

Just below them, in the corporate hierarchy, there is a very elegant, but smaller and much cheaper turntable marked as TD 402 DD. Maybe it’s worth taking a look at.

Construction & Design

At first glance, this turntable looks like the younger brother of the TD 1600 and TD 1601 models. Stylistically, it refers to the cult classic Thorens TD 160. The Thorens TD 402 DD resembles the TD 160 because of the two switches placed on the front, on both sides of the platter.

Thorens TD 402 DD Review

Swiss designers used their patents. Instead of giving audiophiles a modern turntable with a triangular base, they opted for a classic design reminiscent of the vinyl era. This choice is great because many music lovers like to come back to those times.

But that’s not all. The last two letters in the turntable’s name indicate direct drive, a feature some avoid and others praise. Direct drive is less common in home turntables, typically replaced by belt systems, which isolate the platter from vibrations.

Direct-drive turntables start faster and are more robust, making them appealing to many audiophiles. Thorens found that even the relatively inexpensive TD 402 DD could use direct drive without compromising quality. Now, we just need to test it in practice.

Thorens - TD 402 DD (Walnut)
  • Drive System: Direct Drive
  • Platter: Aluminum Die-cast
  • Tomearm Type: Static Balance, Straight
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio: 67dB or higher (A-weighted, 20kHz LPF) 60dB or higher (unweighted, 20kHz LPF)
  • Dimensions (WDH): 16.5" x 14.0" x 5.5"

Appearance and Functionality

Let’s start with the fact that the tested model costs $1000. Too much? Bargain hunters might think so, but for audiophiles, it’s still a budget option—potentially better than the basic models of Pro-Ject, Rega, or Audio-Technica, and more akin to them than the cheapest turntables from brands like Clearaudio, Roksan, AVID, Transrotor, Scheu Analog, Acoustic Solid, VPI, or Michell.

The Swiss knew exactly who they were targeting and timed it perfectly. Not just them; several leading turntable manufacturers noticed that owners of the cheapest machines were ready for an upgrade. As these users bought larger speakers and more powerful amplifiers, they started looking for slightly higher-end turntables.

This model offers a classic design with a high-gloss lacquered walnut veneer cabinet, an aluminum top plate with elegant switches, a chrome platter, a carbon fiber arm with a pre-installed Audio-Technica AT-V95E cartridge, and a built-in phono stage. It also features direct drive and auto-start/stop functions. This might seem contrary to the idea of a perfect, fully manual turntable, but I guarantee nobody will be bothered by it.

Thorens TD 402 DD walnut version

Thorens TD 402 DD Walnut version

In addition to the wooden version, we also have a black piano varnish to choose from. This color gives the Thorens a more modern look, though it still doesn’t quite match the triangular designs of the TD 209 and TD 309 models.

Everything indicates that we are dealing with a very interesting structure that stands out from the competition. However, $1300 is still no world record, so we shouldn’t expect a luxurious turntable for this price. The TD 402 DD is nice, but as soon as I opened the box, I realized it’s another version of a budget segment turntable. Models like the Reloop Turn 3, TEAC TN-400BT, Audio-Technica AT-LPW40WN, Onkyo CP-1050, and ELAC Miracord 50 are all variations on the same theme.

The housings, feet, buttons, and platters are changed, with different logos and rear panel accessories. But after testing many such turntables, it’s clear they share the same basic components, such as the cover with plastic hinges, power supply with interchangeable tips, and a tonearm with a screw-on headshell and anti-skating knob.

I even question whether “producer” or “client” is the right term here because I don’t believe Thorens designed this model from start to finish. Like Reloop, TEAC, Audio-Technica, and Onkyo, these affordable turntables are mass-produced in just a few factories in the Far East.

Thorens TD 402 DD High Gloss Black version

Thorens TD 402 DD High Gloss Black version

Each company involved in the production may have contributed something. For example, the Swiss might have helped develop the motor or tonearm. However, I suspect the creative process is remote, with the “producer” specifying their expectations (design, colors, motor, platter, tonearm, cartridge, and features), determining order quantities, and negotiating prices.

You might complain that Swiss turntables aren’t truly Swiss, German speakers have Polish enclosures and Norwegian amplifiers only see Norway for quality control, but if everything were manufactured on-site, the cheapest Thorens would probably cost $3000. Would that be better? I don’t know…

What I do know is this race is driven by customers who watch every dollar and want the best value. Manufacturers must find suppliers offering high quality at the lowest price. No one cares if the turntable is made in China or Taiwan. Music lovers are interested in functions, parameters, and anything that enhances comfort and sound quality.

Practically speaking, the TD 402 DD is user-friendly. After unboxing and assembling the platter, counterweight, cover, headshell, and slipmat, it’s ready to use in minutes. Unlike belt-drive models, there’s no need to fit a belt over a roller. The rear panel has toggle switches for automatic start/stop and bypassing the built-in phono stage, plus a switch for changing rotation speed on the front panel.

Downsides? The plug power supply, hinge assembly, and light aluminum platter aren’t great. The included rubber mat helps but isn’t attractive. I’d suggest finding a better mat. On the plus side, the drive is quiet and smooth, the tonearm is decent and easy to use, and it comes with the AT-VM95E cartridge. While not top-of-the-line, this cartridge can be upgraded to a Microlinear (AT-VMN95ML, $150) or Shibata (AT-VMN95SH, $180) model.

Sale
Audio-Technica AT-VM95ML Dual Moving Magnet Turntable Cartridge Red
  • M Series dual Magnet cartridge with 2.2 x 0.12 mil Micro-Linear stylus
  • Aluminum cantilever
  • Durable low-resonance polymer Housing
  • Threaded inserts in cartridge body enable cartridge to be mounted to head shell with just two screws - no nuts required
  • Compatible with any at-vmn95 Replacement stylus
Audio-Technica AT-VMN95SH Shibata Replacement Turntable Stylus Brown
  • 2.7 x 0.26 mil shibata stylus
  • Nude square shank construction
  • Replacement stylus for at-vm95sh cartridge
  • Package Weight: 0.024 kilograms

This brings us to the next stage of the turntable adventure. You can start with $25 for a better mat, then $150 for a cartridge that allows more precise reading of the music from the microscopic grooves. You might also consider bypassing the built-in phono stage and replacing it with an external preamplifier of a much higher class. Yes, it’s definitely an addictive hobby. But before we dive into these upgrades, let’s see what the TD 402 DD can do in its basic configuration, and then with accessories.

Thorens TD 402 DD Review – Sound Test

The main challenge with evaluating the sound of budget turntables is that many come factory-fitted with similar or identical cartridges. Since this microscopic component plays a crucial role in reproducing vinyl records, its quality impacts the final sound more than the drive or tonearm used. Often, it feels like these turntables are just variations on the Ortofon 2M Red or Audio-Technica AT-VM95E cartridges.

Manufacturers assume that novice users don’t need anything better and expect that when users want an upgrade, they’ll choose a higher-grade model. This also helps users learn how to change and position the cartridge, which is easier than it seems with turntables that have a detachable headshell.

The Audio-Technica AT-VM95E is a decent cartridge, but it’s also used in the Audio-Technica AT-LPW40WN turntable, which costs about $350.

In comparison, the Thorens turntable is larger, more elegant, and better made. Its base isn’t just a simple board finished with a wood-like veneer, and its legs don’t look like oversized caps from cola bottles. However, the higher price also brings higher expectations for the sound quality. Despite this, the sound is similar to the AT-LPW40WN because the cartridge determines much of the sound quality.

The AT-LPW40WN, now sold for $450, can be significantly improved by adding an AT-VMN95ML needle with a Microline cut ($150) and an external phono stage like the Clearaudio Nano Phono V2 ($500). These upgrades can elevate the sound quality to a completely different class for less money than upgrading to a higher-end turntable.

Who will choose the Thorens in this situation? A customer who loves its lacquered base with an aluminum top panel? Or music lovers who believe direct drive is better than belt drive?

In my opinion, Thorens should have installed a higher-end cartridge. With an AT-VMN95ML, the turntable would cost around $1500 but offer a much better value. Customers would get a complete device out of the box, providing greater comfort and peace of mind. The TD 402 DD could be assembled and ready to use in five minutes but with significantly improved sound.

Thorens could perform much better with more expensive cartridges and preamplifiers. Buying a better stylus could make the TD 402 DD the turntable it should have been from the start.

I think the distributor knows this well because, with the Thorens, I received an AT-VM95ML cartridge. At first, I didn’t know why, but after analyzing the turntable, it made sense. This is good news for customers. It shows that the distributor is aware of the TD 402 DD’s biggest issue and is likely looking to address it.

Thorens TD 402 DD – Sound Test 2

Let’s get back to the sound. I only listened to the base configuration for about fifteen minutes. Not because it sounded bad, but because it was a sound I’m very familiar with. Honestly, I could almost repeat everything I wrote in the Audio-Technica AT-LPW40WN review. Instead of repeating myself, I recommend reading that test.

I was really interested in changing the cartridge (needles), so I quickly turned off the engine, dismantled the headshell, grabbed the AT-VM95ML from the shelf, and went to work. After a few minutes, I resumed the listening session and quickly realized my assumptions were correct. It was a real improvement. The sound opened up, revealing details that were previously camouflaged. The dynamics, resolution, space, and vocal clarity improved, enhancing the overall realism. The analog character remained intact.

Thorens TD 402 DD Front side view

Thorens TD 402 DD Front side view

From a turntable that costs $1000, but sounds like models for $300-$350, the TD 402 DD turns into a great device in the blink of an eye, with sound quality finally matching the price. The improvement was so significant that I quickly reached for the beautiful Audio-Technica AT-OC9XML.

I also had to bypass the built-in phono preamp and use the Clearaudio Nano V2. The TD 402 DD got a boost with a $180 cartridge and a $500 phono stage. Misalliance? Not really. While the Clearaudio Concept might be more appropriate here, the Thorens still delivered incredibly clean, direct, and engaging sound, holding its own against much more expensive setups.

Most turntables come with cheap cartridges, often leading to damage by novice users. But I believe Thorens should have installed the AT-VM95ML from the start. Customers buy a complete turntable and judge it as such.

If the TD 402 DD had a decent cartridge installed at the factory and the price increased slightly to $1500, it would be a real killer. While replacing the cartridge is easy, upgrading incrementally leads us into high-end territory, close to turntables like the Thorens TD 309, which has a different drive, the TP 92 tonearm, and a fused silica platter, selling for $1600.

Thorens TD 402 DD Back side view

Thorens TD 402 DD Back side view

Thorens TD 402 DD Video Review

Thorens TD 402 DD Specifications

  • Function: manual with limit switch (can be switched on/off)
  • Drive: direct drive / direct drive
  • Motor: DC Motor
  • Speeds: 33-1/3, 45 RPM
  • Switching: electronic
  • Platter: dampened aluminum platter
  • Tonearm: Carbon tonearm tube and detachable headshell
  • Cartridge: Audio Technica AT VM95E
  • Phono preamp can be switched on/off
  • USB connection: no
  • Anti-skating: yes
  • On/off switch: yes
  • Power supply: external plug-in power supply 24V DC
  • Dimensions: W x H x D 420 x 141 x 360 mm
  • Weight: 5.8 kg
  • Finishes: high gloss walnut, high gloss black, brushed aluminum top plate
  • Scope of delivery: power supply unit, dust cover (acrylic), cinch cable, Thorens rubber mat, operating instructions

You can download & view the manual here->Thorens TD 402 DD Manual

Final Verdict

The TD 402 DD is a nice turntable, designed for music lovers who want a reasonably priced model with a direct drive and built-in preamp without the look of disco equipment. It offers a practical, classy package.

However, at $1000, it looks similar to the Audio-Technica AT-LPW40WN which costs $350. Customers might consider higher-end options like the Thorens TD 309 or Clearaudio Concept for slightly more money.

In its initial setup, the TD 402 DD uses the AT-VM95E cartridge, costing $70, which limits its sound quality. The manufacturer should have included a better cartridge. If a Thorens distributor offers it with an AT-VMN95ML or AT-VMN95SH stylus at a good price, get it. This would give you sound worthy of a $1300 turntable with built-in conveniences.

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3.6/5 - (25 votes) - Click on stars to leave a review

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