Thiele TT01/TA01 Turntable Review
Under His Own Name – For almost three decades, Helmut Thiele developed in the background and for others. Now, with the sophisticated TT01 record player and the "Zero Tracking Error" TA01 tonearm, he has entered the league of super-turntables under his own name.
The fact that not everything works as you would expect with this turntable, set up by the German "industrial designer" Helmut Thiele in the large STEREO listening room, becomes clear the very moment you first come into contact with it. If you lead the tonearm from its resting position over the moving record, its – at four exactly calculated points – ingeniously suspended base turns in such a way that the arm and the pickup on it is always exactly in line with the groove during its way over the LP. Thus, it traces records virtually exactly as their original matrix was cut. With pivoted tonearms, the tracking angle error is normally unavoidable, only passing the zero mark twice on the circular arc of the pickup. Outside of that, it increases to around two degrees. Here, in comparison, this value is said to never exceed 0.036 degrees.
The tonearm doing all that is named TA01, has been growing for about a decade and is also available on its own. In this aspect described just now, it thus emulates extremely precise tangentially guided models. At the same time, however, it aims to reliably avoid their mechanical quirks and weaknesses.
The man behind it, Helmut Thiele, has been responsible for some highly praised devices in the last three decades and developed for renowned brands such as Acapella, Tannoy, Marantz, Pioneer, Vincent and many others (see box at the end of the review), but is only known to a few insiders among hi-fi fans. He gave the arm an ultra-stable double-walled carbon tube, which is additionally damped by means of a two-component gel. Together with the headshell – covered with ebony for resonance-reducing reasons – this results in an effective weight of about 14 grams, to which practically all modern cartridges fit. And thanks to the leveraging effect the needle tip has on the already extremely smooth-running bearings, tracking the record works reliably in every situation.
"Gentle On My Mind" creeps pleasantly under your skin, while flowing spatially large and light as a feather at the same time, coming as transparent as sonorous and colorful from the system. Thiele's team of TT01 and TA01 thus immediately delivers a strong proof of its considerable potential. In the form of serene sophistication and a coherence with dreamlike consistency, which create a good deal of high-end fluidity, the turntable raises and underlines its ultimate claim.
Let's take a closer look at the chassis, which is unusually wide at 51 centimeters and is mounted on three height-adjustable spikes. We then discover that it is a three-layer construction employing the "Constrained Layer Damping" method, in which different wooden boards are used that are glued together to mechanically separate the functional parts. Their optimal combination was worked out by Thiele in lengthy tests.
The lowest layer houses the synchronous motor – which is selected for quiet operation –, and thus has no direct connection to the platter bearing. While the latter is embedded in the upper layer, the arm base rests on the middle plate. Thiele promises the lowest possible noise with this design. To demonstrate the effectiveness of his approach, the developer lowers the probe of a highly sensitive stethophone onto the center of the spinning platter, with any sounds being strongly amplified onto accompanying headphones. Except for the noise of the internal amp, however, the headphones remained absolutely and utterly quiet. At least in part this was also claimed to result from the platter mat made of a damping PVC foam.
In actual listening, such effects, or their absence, are admittedly more difficult to detect because they are more or less immersed into the music signal. At this point, it should be noted that the "Zero Tracking Error Turntable" sounds explicitly clean, straightforward and tidy, but without even the slightest hint of sterility. For that, the performance simply comes along too fragrantly, breathing and with shimmering colors.
Detached From All Limitations?
It goes without saying that such ambitious encounters awaken the desire to immediately listen to all of our usual test records. Once again, Diana Krall's intense live album from the Olympia in Paris turned out to be as tough a benchmark as it was a reliable indicator of extraordinary performances.
The turntable, which weighs around 19 kilograms, delivered this by not only conveying the lively opener's rousing drive and the heated, concentrated concert atmosphere, but also showcased the entire event stretching out abundantly into every direction. Cooperating with top Ortofon cartridges such as Windfeld Ti Heritage or Verismo – which we recently crowned as a reference –, it illuminated the sonic structures of this song. Despite all its speed, it is captured with an immense differentiation, and its most delicate echoes or the tiniest tonal refinements were showcased in a particularly deep way. And all this with the stoic composure of a true expert.
The Thiele revealed its pronounced rhythmic sensitivity not only with the sometimes eruptive, sometimes elegant performances of Krall; but also in the subtle, finely spun compositions of the "Inner Symphonies" by the Polish duo of Hania Rani and Dobrawa Czocher – recently released by Deutsche Grammophon. The pieces require a turntable with an intuition for timing in order to build up their tension and not disintegrate into irrelevance.
The manufacturer, based in the Western German city of Duisburg, achieved the machine's balance between calm forward thrust and energizing composure by using a clever trick, among other things: in the middle of the self-centering bearing mirror, a 2.5-mm hole was drilled on which the seven-millimeter ceramic ball runs. This creates a tiny and even braking torque that makes the motor run more smoothly and prevents wobble effects around the medium speeds. The fact that a viscous special lubricant instead of oil was used for the 10-mm axle supports this strategy. Overall, this can be seen as further evidence of the expertise as well as the attention to detail incorporated here.
On the other end of the rear wall, the connection panel is found, which offers XLR outputs. This of course limits the cartridge options to MC models, which is reasonable given the price and level of the turntable and arm. Helmut Thiele swears by the advantages of balanced signal processing. This is reserved for MC pickups, but of course also requires an appropriately equipped phono preamp. Not a problem for our Brinkmann Edison MKII, which carries XLR inputs in addition to RCA. Otherwise, adapters have to be used – or Thiele has to install RCA jacks as an alternative. Even then, the German turntable should hardly play less accurately.
On The Spot
It's not surprising that Oregon's "Song For A Friend" from the ingenious "Distant Hills" album thus comes with compelling traction and stupendous conciseness. Glen Moore's bass is presented rich and with a snapping outline – it feels as if you can see the strings vibrating –, which is equally true of Ralph Towner's guitar. Both musicians appear vividly outlined, they are simply "there"! Listening experiences that entail such a beauty and perfection are rare. Helmut Thiele also knows this, and he prefers to deliver this masterpiece under his own name even more for that.
For about 25 years, Thiele has been the leading designer and developer for everything from Magnat and Heco, and for about a decade he has held the same position at Thorens. The popular TD203 and TD209 models originate from his mind, as do the highly contemporary TD1600 and TD1500 turntables. The arm for the EISA-awarded as well as Thorens' MC pickups TAS1600 and TAS1500, manufactured in cooperation with the Japanese specialist Audio-Technica, were also designed by Thiele. Furthermore, he also engineered the "Excalibur" pickups, built by another Asian manufacturer. This list, which also includes the "Drive" turntable and "Point" tonearm from Genuin Audio, could be continued indefinitely; we have only mentioned a few of the analog highlights from Thiele's creative output. No wonder that the time was ripe for his own "T" series....
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