Interview with Heinz Rohrer of Thorens

Thorens is not only one of the oldest audio companies in Europe but also worldwide. Can you kindly describe how did all started and what build such a rich heritage and internationally acclaimed pedigree?

Last year Thorens celebrated the 125 years brand anniversary. Imagine what development happen during 125 years in the music reproduction. Trade registration of the family business Hermann Thorens established 1883 at Ste. Croix / Switzerland with the purpose of manufacturing musical boxes and musical clock movements. 1906 manufacturing of horn gramophones for shellac records. 1928 development of the first electric motor for gramophones and 1929 development of the first electronic pickup cartridge. (MM). 1940 start production of professional disc-cutting lathes. 1950 presentation of record players featuring three speeds (DB33, CD 43 and CD 63) 1957 introduction of the famous TD 124. 1966 relocation of the production from St. Croix Switzerland to Lahr / Germany. 1979 Development of the state-of-the-art turntable “Reference” as a benchmark for testing and measuring purposes. 1983 100 years of Thorens, further introductions of various turntables. Reorganization of the production facilities. 1994 development and introduction of new Thorens electronic audio components and the line Consequence. 2000 Thorens-Lahr organization filed for bankruptcy due to insolvency – export business handled by Thorens Export in Switzerland continued. 2003 full reorganization and new ownership for Thorens brand and the activities worldwide. 2005 Introduction of the TD 800 line followed by classical sub chassis players TD 350 and TD 160 HD. 2006 introduction of the Thorens Electronic line. 2008 celebration of the 125 years brand jubilee.

Can you lead us through the company development over the years periodically?

Founded in the French part of Switzerland, St. Croix situated in the Jura Vaudoise.Production stayed there until the late 50’s. Music instruments had changed over the years as you can imagine, but technic development did not stop. Gradually Thorens moved production and development facilities in the Southern part of Germany, the Black Forest Area, where we still produce our turntables.

What is the difference between quality of manufacturing in 70's and at the present time?

Oh, quality of the material and parts changed as you can imagine. Modern techniques and developments did not stop with the turntable manufacturing. Quality control before leaving the factories have a much higher standard now days.

Thorens is known about durability and Swiss precision. How is that evident in new products?

Over the years, manufacturing and developing methods have been transferred from one to another generation. The aim of Thorens is still to produce high-class machines in a highest level.

Do you consider your company an audiophile specific and dedicated to true music lovers ?

Yes, of course, I think the success of Thorens is based on audiophile thinking before business. We want to be present in the market with upper class Turntables.

What drives Thorens engineers and designer on the path of constructing new products?

The Thorens tradition and to be part of it, the enthusiasm for music reproduction and last but not least the competition.

Do you build everything in house?

Most of it but not all, we use the support of specialists in different ways.

How do you see arise of Asian market. Is this simulative for you and does it present a strong competition?

Asia is an important market for Thorens and in many countries we have very strong presence. A lot of Asian countries support big strong brands and this helps us to be one of the leading companies.

Can you tell us more about your electronic line?

The main devices of the electronic line – Power amp TEM 3200 and Preamp TEP 3800 – use a worldwide unique, patented structure. Inside design of power amp TEM 3200 allows for the first time in audio history the direct connection of valves and extremely beefy power MOSFET's without distorting coupling capacitors in a very reliable way. The benefit for the customer is a new level of transparency and control: crystal clear highs and extremely well controlled bass – combined with an extraordinary musical flow.

Why did you choose valves?

Valves are still the most linear devices for voltage and low power amplification, especially if combined with very well regulated power supplies and current sources like done inside the TEM 3200 and TEP 3800. Furthermore we prefer using NOS valves with a very high transconductance coming from professional broadcast and military use, which are a rarity in audio because there are almost no proven schematics from the past for these valve types. But all circuitry is developed in a radical new way and so we can take advantage of the very good features of these valves like high linearity and low noise.

Why all analog approach?

Using digital devices like switch mode power supplies or digital regulators would very likely cause some interference with the valuable analog signal. Additionally we spent more than a year for investigating several ways of implementing the volume control of the TEP 3800 preamp. Of course, a digital potentiometer is a cheap and reliable way for doing volume control, but compared to carefully selected analog potentiometer the dynamic range is poor and the transparency of the signal will suffer.

Do you think that digital is coming closer to the analog reproduction?

If the already available high-resolution standards like HDCD, SACD or DVD-Audio would be used in the mass market and supported by well-designed devices, yes. But unfortunately there are too many different standards, which compete against each other, and these standards are the starved poor cousins of the music industry. So we witness the opposite trend: the mass market is dominated by poor recorded CD's and sound compressed MP3 files. No wonder that the good old analog LP is still the matter of choice for the serious listener.

Your turntables cost expensive and a work of art? How do you plan, design and manufacturing the new products? Where are the borderlines between cost cuts and quality?

I do not agree that our turntables are expensive, they only represent a value which are calculated mostly from cost of production and the material / parts used. You may know that 80-85 % of the costs of a turntable are the value of the material used. Thorens can be proud of the quality they supply and I refuse to sell turntables with low quality material and performance. I want that new customers will feel the fine sound already with entry level turntables and Thorens aim is to keep our customers as vinyl lovers. Thorens is active in all three segments of the turntable market, meaning we offer entry level products as well as mid to high end products. Thorens wants to be able to offer a good value audiophile turntable also to new customers that are starting to use vinyl and buying first an entry level player.

Do you feel that such a prolific and highly specialized manufacturing is also art by itself?

Of course it is. Thorens has a long tradition of turntable development and manufacturing and the brand is a legend. Our significant construction characteristic is the sub chassis. Not many of our competitors use this Thorens feature in their own products.

What changed in production and manufacturing of turntables in past few decades?

Time does not stand still. New materials are used to optimize damping factors for example. We have made some comparisons between older Thorens models with the new ones and the results are significant better now days. Also Thorens followed the trend of using heavy material in two references. Combinations of materials and parts use are more and more important for the sound quality of a turntable. I remember development where we used more than 10 different platters to find out best suitable solution.

Can you tell us more about Thorens music? Is this only an anniversary releases?

Up to today we produced on our own initiatives, but with different partners two albums. The first one was a production with the famous Dresdner Staatkapelle. To my knowledge, it was the first vinyl production after 12 years of the Dresden Semper Opera. This Album has been produced in cooperation with Profil Media. The second one is the Thorens Jubilee triple Album made at the Blue Heaven Studio in Kansas and supported by Acoustic Sounds. This Album has been repressed already and I never expected this success. All details you can read and see on the official Thorens website

High quality reproduction comes with high prices? Is this a must?

Good question; a lot of long time Thorens lovers ask us to reproduce the legends… I think that it is not a must; think it as the identity of the brand. Pricing can not be compared to references sold 20-30 years ago. What was the price of a “VW Kaefer” what is the price today for a VW beetle”?

What do you think about redbook cd and Sacd format? Do you prepare some universal player for future or you are sticking with analog?

Thorens is an analogue player and remains an analogue player. We do not have the capacities to follow these trends so quickly as they come and go. We have to plan very carefully where we're going and what we offer.

What is your vision about most important thing in high-end audio system?

Thorens is a niche player and remains in a niche. We're competent for turntable development and have an exclusive system for our electronic line. We're trying to remain analogue company, to supply excellent equipment to our customers and stay innovative producer of consumer electronic devices.

What kind of audio components do you use in you reference room (cartridges, speakers, cables etc.?

Thorens cooperates with different manufacturers in the electronic consumer field. Our distributors works with different companies in the field of cartridges, amps, speakers and cables. What we mean is that these factors should not be given by an individual manufacturer but rather set by individual needs of each customer and his requirement. Therefore we do not recommend specifically equipment, but we aslo advise our dealers from time to time if it is necessary.

What is the goal of Thorens?

Thorens wants to be one of the leading manufacturers of music production equipment especially turntables. We want to be a first class supplier, continue to play a major role in new developments and keep the tradition of this well know company alive.

Do you think that live performance is reproducible on the home system? What is the secret of such reproduction?

Very difficult question for a short answer, there is no right or wrong, it is a matter of opinion, especially when it comes to what people might judge. One has to consider that most recordings are studio recordings and that in the strict sense recording is never going to sound like a live concert, because it is not. Dynamic compression plays a large part in limiting the playback system’s ability to sound realistic. One can say that vinyl medium offers a less compressed sound but at home you need a large enough room and the equipment to fill it.

It seems that analog reproduction is alive and well while many try to advertise it as a dying art? Is there rising interest or decline in last few years for this niche market?

I can only speak for Thorens. We enjoy a constant grow and presence in new markets, which we develop. You will see that Thorens will continue to develop new turntables, therefore we strongly believe in vinyl reproduction.

What do you plan for future?

We plan new developments around vinyl and we're small company compared with the big players. All I can say right now is that our engineers still have a lot of work left for future and that new products will follow.

How do you see future of high end?

We still believe in High End and there are clear signs of using good HiFi equipment at people's homes.

Any last thoughts for our readers?

Thorens is doing a lot and putting big efforts to communicate and present the advantages of using vinyl to the younger generation growing up with walkmen, MP3 players etc. We encourage people to spend some time at a shows, exhibitions and have experience about the ways and sound of playing vinyl. They have to understand the difference. Take your time in analyzing the desire about your equipment and search for the best combination that you feel you want. We'll stay with you in future with the tradition of Vinyl.