040-043_Thales TTT Compact_v8_CBPFSPPM.indd

040-043_Thales TTT Compact_v8_CBPFSPPM.indd
Belt-driven turntable with electronic speed control
Made by: HiFiction AG, Switzerland
Supplied by: Fi Audio, Scotland
Telephone: 01563 574185
Web: www.tonarm.ch; www.fiaudio.co.uk
Price (including arm): £14,985-£15,645
TURNTABLE
Thales TTT-Compact
With its revolutionary take on tonearm tracking alongside a battery-driven motor,
does this Swiss precision vinyl spinner show that great things come in small packages?
Review: Andrew Simpson Lab: Paul Miller
T
he tag ‘Made in Switzerland’
immediately puts your name
amongst brands offering some of
the most luxurious craftsmanship
on the planet, while at the same time it
implies a standard that you need to reach
to be worthy of the association.
HiFiction AG’s founder, owner and
designer of all Thales products, is Micha
Huber, a man with an enviable background
in the mechanical engineering of high-end
watch brands before he turned his hand
to vinyl replay. Rather like SME (and unlike
most turntable manufacturers) Huber
started out by making top-flight tonearms,
before expanding to include a range of
equally unique partnering turntables.
A CONCEALED SOPHISTICATION
The £8795 TTT-Compact is the more
costly of Thales’ two decks, priced above
its stripped-back TTT-Slim turntable and
partnering Easy tonearm package (£8850).
The Compact is graced with Thales’ higher
specification Simplicity II tonearm (£6190
as standard, or £6850 with ‘direct’ wiring,
as per our review sample) and the deck’s
deceptively understated aesthetic hides
some very sophisticated technologies.
Its elegantly shaped chassis is milled
from an oversized slab of low-stress black
anodised aluminium. Within this plinth
sits the main bearing, comprising a handpolished chrome-plated carbon tool steel
main shaft, which runs against a hardened
steel ball in two sintered bronze bushings
– the preparation involving a specifically
formulated oil.
And for the bearing’s outer casing,
‘spheroidal graphite iron’ is the order
of the day, given its noise and vibration
absorbing qualities. Of course, all of this
is fairly standard fare for a turntable of
this calibre, and this is also where the
Compact’s homage to traditional turntable
design largely ends.
Lifting the deck’s 6.5kg alloy platter,
which makes up a sizeable chunk of the
deck’s overall 16kg total weight, reveals
its mass to be concentrated around the
outer edge – which, says Thales, makes
its effective mass equal to that of an 8kg
platter. The platter’s hollowed-out inner
circumference hides a stepped sub-platter,
15cm across its lower section and with
a groove around its periphery to receive
a short precision-ground circular rubber
belt. Drive is by a customised Portescap
brushless DC motor with ironless windings.
Exploring the deck’s inner workings
further reveals exquisite levels of detail,
including the gold-plated motor sited
at the nine o’clock position, which is
suspended between two decoupling
towers via a flat metal spring to isolate it
from the main chassis, while preventing it
turning on its own axis under load.
To get the motor running, in place of
a mains controlled supply, four LiFePo
batteries are housed within the base of
the plinth supplying the power within a
closed loop system, which keeps the motor
RIGHT: Solid alloy chassis hides a battery-driven,
suspended DC motor. Platter has a rubberised
surface and note how the headshell’s angle
adapts as the twin arm tubes pass over the LP
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speed constant by comparing its feedback
to a precise reference voltage. When fully
charged, the batteries have a claimed 16
hours of use, before needing a boost via a
supplied charger which plugs into the back
of the Compact’s chassis.
GETTING A QUICK FIX
With the unit powered down, these
batteries can hold charge for many months,
while a recharge takes up to four hours,
with the bulk-charge achieved within an
hour. And if you need a ‘vinyl fix’ before a
full charge is achieved, you can part-charge
without worry, as the LiFePos don’t suffer
from any memory effect.
To get the Compact up and running,
you first have to free the sub-platter that’s
raised from the bearing during transit via
a pair of precision-made locking towers
(turntable makers using cheap cardboard
wedges take note). With their hex bolts
removed, rotating these towers a half-turn
allows the sub-platter to drop fully into the
bearing, ready to receive belt and platter.
You can then turn your attention to the
equally well finished partnering Simplicity
II tonearm, which employs two chopstick
style aluminium arm tubes (available in a
range of finishes) to reduce tracking error
[see boxout], alongside
a wealth of adjustment
options.
Armed with Thales’
alignment tool and
some of the smallest
hex keys known to man,
I couldn’t help thinking
its ‘Simplicity’ name
carried a certain sense of irony. But with
a steady hand the arm allows degrees of
fine adjustment you’d only expect from a
precision watchmaker. Cartridge fitting is
made convenient by a removable headshell
plate (held fast with a minuscule hex
bolt), and there’s a supplied site stand to
get your stylus aligned bang-on, before
reinstalling and connecting the cartridge
tags. These are joined to some of the
thinnest wires I’ve experienced. This
implied delicacy is further brought home
by the lack of any clamp to secure the arm
to its rest when not in use.
Azimuth and VTA can also be fine-tuned
using more hex-key tweakery, which can
be done on the fly, thanks a short threaded
rod which winds vertically against the
base plate to lift the arm. Downforce is
set using one of three supplied weights
(7-23g) which clamp to the arm’s rear
via two sliding rods.
Once set, all that’s
left to do is place your
LP of choice onto the
platter’s proprietary
high density surface,
before adding the
short, yet surprisingly
heavy, clamp which
sports the same rubbery finish on its base.
This material affords it impressive amounts
of grip for a non-threaded record clamp.
‘Stereo images
are rendered with
such an evenhanded control’
BEGUILING VOCALS
After cueing up the opening track, ‘Stop
Your Tears’, from Aldous Harding’s selftitled debut album [Lyttelton Records
LR-006], and with the Compact hooked
up to my Primare R32 phono stage [HFN
Jan ’12], feeding Musical Fidelity M6PRE/
PRX amplifiers [HFN Nov ’13], I depress
the deck’s 33.3 button and watch an inset
orange ring rapidly cycle through a dozen
flashes, before settling to a static glow
with the platter up to speed. Continuing
the refined Swiss theme having fitted a
TWIN TONEARM
From 12in pivoting tonearms to parallel trackers floating on beds of air and
mimicking the travel of the mastering cutting head, tonearms come in many
shapes and executions in their attempts to minimise variations in tracking
angles, as the stylus sweeps its way to the run-out groove. Thales’ ‘tangential’
approach uses two separate arm tubes, independently attached to a fixed rear
bearing of inner/outer rings and precision micro ball bearings, which determine
the pivoting headshell’s angle, keeping it tangential to the LP groove. Using
two tubes in this way has allowed Thales to adopt the compact proportions of a
standard 9in arm while replicating the behaviour of a more substantial paralleltracker. Hi-fi historians may also recall tonearm designs of decades past using
the twin-tube method: Garrard’s Zero 100 leading the charge in the ’70s.
ABOVE: Three threaded feet with captive ballbearing tips give firm support. Speed change is
via plinth-top buttons for 33.3/45rpm with fine
adjustment through two fascia holes
Benz Micro ACE high-output MC cartridge
[HFN Sept ’11], the music that greets me
is immediately defined by a broad and
dense soundstage. The Compact lets my
Dynaudio Focus 260 speakers simply fall
away as both stereo channels combine
to ensure Harding’s voice and plucked
acoustic guitar sound clear and confident.
What’s apparent from the outset is the
Thales’ ability to render a stereo image
with such even-handed control across the
board that you’re at once made aware
of nuances and details which could have
previously passed you by. Gone is the
slight hardness that I’m used to hearing
as Harding’s vocals become more firmly
projected, replaced by a gentility that
allows all the emotion to come through as
her singing gets more powerful, leaving her
sounding frankly beguiling – more so than
with most other turntables I’ve heard.
This ability to bring each performance
to life is further underlined by how the
Thales reveals the haunting background
vocals within the track to steadily grow
from deep within the soundstage, and with
all the sonic drama of a large choir in a
cavernous cathedral acoustic.
Many high-end machines can create
a sonic landscape that catches your
attention, but with the Thales there’s
an added sense of harmony within the
soundstage it conjures, suggesting
that very little, if anything, is being
compromised as it throws open a grand
window onto the music. Fleetwood Mac’s
‘Caroline’ from their Tango In The Night
album [Warner Bros 925 471-1] has plenty
going on in the mix, which can leave
even the most measured decks a little
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LAB
REPORT
THALES TTT-COMPACT
ABOVE: The Simplicity II tonearm wires can be terminated via block connections
with DIN/RCA/XLR sockets or direct wired phono (RCA) leads which cost extra. Rocker
switch next to its charger input caters for standby/off/charge settings
flustered. With the Thales taking
charge there’s no sense of it being in
anyway overwhelmed by the track’s
complexity. Instead it seems to revel
in the challenge, going beyond
simply pulling out all the musical
detail, and presenting it with a
cohesion that brings it all together
as the recording engineers intended.
As the track’s dazzling intro
drums and vocals make way for the
opening lead and bass guitar riffs,
you can hear how each instrument
feeds off the other, while being
granted lots of their own air and
space within the soundstage.
The Thales sound isn’t forward
or too centrally focused, so no
instruments or parts of the audio
spectrum are to the fore or shown
obvious favour. Instead, you get
a soundstage that’s more evenly
formed, affording you greater access
to all that’s going on within the mix.
END OF SIDE CHALLENGE
As it’s sited so close to the runout groove, the last track on the
A side of Fairport Convention’s
Unhalfbricking LP [Island ILPS 9102],
‘A Sailor’s Life’ has caused many
a turntable gracing my reviewing
shelf to ‘cower’, as the threat of the
those low rumbling bass notes and
Denny’s majestic vocals lay down a
challenge for pitch-perfect tracking.
But with the Simplicity tonearm
I’m treated to a sure-footed
performance, which allows me to
spend less time concerned with the
physicalities of playback and more
time to simply enjoy the music.
Denny’s voice sounds without
constraint as it swoops within the
soundstage uninhibited, and when
the rumbling low bass kicks in,
there’s no sense of erring towards
bloom or bluster at the extremes
(which I have had with the Benz
mounted on lesser tonearms with
this particular track).
Via the Thales, bass sounds lithe,
well rounded and of a depth you
perhaps wouldn’t expect from such
a tidy package. The lower notes on
Daft Punk’s ‘Giorgio By Moroder’
[Random Access Memories –
Columbia 88883716861] underpin
the music with plenty of punch
in the upper bass, seamlessly
reinforced with lots of body in the
lower registers.
There’s lots of bass texture too
for my Dynaudio drive units to chew
on, which shows how this deck isn’t
just about moving lots of air to show
off, since it can define each note and
instrument in a lifelike manner. In a
similar vein, the stripped-back piano
of REM’s ‘Nightswimming’ from
Automatic For The People [Warner
Bros 9362-45055-1] reveals how
the Thales’ sound is nicely balanced
through midrange and treble.
The midrange piano notes
have more sustained weight in
their echo compared to the upper
ones, highlighting their differing
reverberation qualities and offering
an insight into the way the piano
was played during recording. It’s
these qualities that set the Thales
TTT-Compact apart.
Thales’ TTT-Compact is an undeniably innovative, very finely
engineered and finished deck but it was not without technical
issue on the lab bench. The main bearing employs a hardened
and ‘hand-polished’ shaft running in a graphite sleeve but the
DIN-B weighted through-groove rumble was an acceptable,
but not exceptional, –66.6dB (re. 5cm/sec), a figure which
actually fell slightly to –65.5dB once the LP was coupled more
closely to the heavyweight platter via Thales’ clamp. Measured
through the bearing, rumble components at ~75Hz and
particularly ~112Hz held the figure to –67.4dB. The onboard
DC supply, decoupled motor with ‘short belt and flywheel’ are
other innovations and while flutter is kept low at 0.04% (peak
weighted) the wow figure is mildly influenced by a low-rate drift
[see Graph 1, below]. We have reported the same phenomenon
with other DC motor-driven turntables [see HFN Apr ’08].
The partnering Simplicity II tonearm is an exquisite piece of
design that succeeds in minimising tracking error throughout
the arc its describes across the LP radius. Friction within the fine
gimbal bearing is very low indeed at <10mg (both planes) and
achieved without play. However the necessary complexity of
the structure encourages a more complex resonant behaviour
[see Graph 2, below]. The various bending and torsional modes
of both arm tubes are reflected at the headshell from 105Hz450Hz with higher-Q modes (possibly from the bearing or arm
lift structures) at 580Hz and 1.4kHz. Readers may view full QC
Suite reports for Thales’s TTT-Compact turntable and Simplicity
II tonearm by navigating to www.hifinews.co.uk and clicking on
the red ‘download’ button. PM
ABOVE: Wow and flutter re. 3150Hz tone at 5cm/sec
(plotted ±150Hz, 5Hz per minor division). Note very
low rate drift as the W&F signal is averaged over time
HI-FI NEWS VERDICT
Rival superdecks can command
prices in this bracket, but few
can equal the Thales for its Swiss
watch build quality, or offering
such a small and stylish package.
The jewel in its crown is of course
the gorgeous ‘tangential’ pivoting
tonearm, which offers the
usability of a standard 9in arm
while providing a longterm cure
for tracking paranoia. The result is
a sound that’s exceptionally open
and balanced.
Sound Quality: 83%
0
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- 100
ABOVE: Cumulative tonearm resonant decay
spectrum, illustrating various bearing, pillar and ‘tube’
vibration modes spanning 100Hz-10kHz over 40msec
HI-FI NEWS SPECIFICATIONS
Turntable speed error at 33.33rpm
33.31rpm (–0.08%)
Time to audible stabilisation
5sec
Peak Wow/Flutter
0.10% / 0.04%
Rumble (silent groove, DIN B wtd)
–66.6dB
Rumble (through bearing, DIN B wtd)
–67.4dB
Hum & Noise (unwtd, rel. to 5cm/sec)
–49.2dB
Power Consumption
1W
Dimensions (WHD)
435x100x313mm / 16kg
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