How to choose between the neck to neck Thorens TD 203 or Rega RP3?

There is much discussion on the comparison of the Thorens TD-203 and Rega RP3 in the turntable community. Due to their similarity in superiority, it is hard to make a choice between the 2. However, we will find out based on the comparison on its brand reputation and the turntable’s specifications.

Torn between choosing Thorens or Rega?

Thorens and Rega are both known, successful brands in the turntable market. Thorens is a Swiss manufacturer of high-end audio equipment, although it seems to have branched into a more affordable range of turntables in recent years. It is renowned for the range and quality of turntables they produce since founded in 1883. Rega is considerably younger brand, founded in 1973. It is a high-end audio equipment manufacturer based in the United Kingdom (UK). Similarly, Rega is known for their turntables, along with its tonearms and cartridges. More impressively, it has produced award-winning amplification and speakers for over 20 years. With that, it is obvious that both Thorens and Rega are neck-in-neck when it comes their brand’s reputation. Now, we will look specifically at the 2 models, Thorens TD-203 and Rega RP3 – which is better?

Automatic or manual operation?

One of the most important and basic aspect to consider before purchasing a turntable is the type of operation of the turntable – automatic or manual. In this comparison, there is no comparison. Both the Thorens TD-203 and Rega RP3 are manual turntables – meaning that you do all the work and gets the interaction many turntable enjoys with their vinyl players. Although more work has to be done to enjoy manual turntables, manual turntables generally provides better sound performance from its added precision and exceptional sonic performance.

Belt-driven or direct drive?

Now, specifications. Both the Thorens TD-203 and Rega RP3 are belt-driven turntables. The Thorens has a flat belt around the sub-platter hidden within. It allows for electronic speed change – with a touch of the switch the speeds moves between 33⅓ and 45rpm. This is makes the turntable much more convenient compared to some other decks that requires you to open the platter to shift the belt from one pulley to another. Definitely a luxury in this class of turntable. Similarly, the Rega is a belt-driven turntable that sits on 3 compliant feet. However, unlike the Thorens, the Rega needs to be switched manually between 33 and 45rmp. This makes the Thorens much more convenient. However, it all depends on personal preference.

Considering specs such as tonearm, cartridge upgrades in future?

USB function is unavailable for both models. Although both the Thorens TD 203 and Rega RP3 allows for cartridge upgrade, it is slightly more limited for the RP3 due to the design of its tonearm. Speaking of tone arms, one of the most attractive aspects of TD-203 is its tonearm. Instead of the commonly used gimballed bearings used at this price level, it has a uni-pivot bearing for the tonearm. While gimballed bearings keep the arm locked in two dimensions, the uni-pivot bearing has a carbide tip resting in an arrangement of five small bearing balls. This gives it the flexibility to wobble in different directions until stabilized by the anti-skate weight. What this design does is achieve higher degree of details and ensures greater longevity since it reduces the wearing of the arm and the possibility of arm resonances.

The Rega RP3 tonearm differs from that of its competitor. A careful look at the tonearm mounting reveals that the RP3 has incorporated the new double brace tonearm. The machined part provides greater stiffness between the tonearm and turntable bearing, a significant aspect for structural rigidity. It is the key component in the RP3, contributing to both the lack of midrange smear and generous soundstage width. However so, due to the tonearm design, vertical tracking alignment cannot be set – meaning that the cartridge choice is limited slightly.

Sound performance: how do they fare?

When it comes to sound performance, the TD 203 might be lacking a wholesome soundstage compared to the RP3. The Thoren TD-203 conveys great performance for bass, making highs, mids and lows slightly underwhelming and the entire track a tad unbalanced. On the other hand, the Rega RP3 is liquid smooth and is impressively refined despite the upbeat presentation. The treble and upper mid is detailed. Its bass extension is well-integrated with the rest of the frequency and the RP3 always sounds cohesive. The RP3 does a great job of presenting a wholesome story while TD203 seem to only deliver part of the entire story.

Now the most important question: pros and cons

The Thorens TD-203 comes from a renowned brand with a historically successful reputation in the turntable community. It is made from high quality material and luxurious tonearm that contributes to the durability of this turntable. It is obvious that this turntable is designed with convenience and performance in mind – a manual turntable with electronic speed change and easy cartridge updates. This is all good, however, one down-side to it is its seemingly flat performance in the tracks’ highs, mids and lows. Should heavy-bass offends you, this is probably not the turntable for you.

Similarly, the Rega RP3 comes from an impressive brand that has produced award-winning amplifications and speakers. It has a great tonearm that contributes to its high-quality sound performance. However, the design of its tonearm proves to be one of the significant factors turntable owners consider before purchase. The fact that the design of the tonearm limits the choices of cartridges limits the upgrade choices, hence limiting the optimal performance of the turntable. Also, unlike the Thorens TD-203, it does not have an electronic speed change – making it slightly more inconvenient to change speed.

The recommendation from me

Whichever turntables you decide on, be it the Thorens TD-203 or the Rega RP3, will prove to be one of the best purchases in the market (for turntables in this class). In my verdict I will recommend the Rega RP3, reason being my love for quality music triumphing over convenience, any day. I mean that is the main reason why I invest in turntables in the first place. Personal preference though, as I know many of my fellow turntable-lovers do prefer the Thorens TD-203. So, depending on what appeals to you from what I have summarised above, take your pick.

Should you prefer my recommendation for the Rega RP3, you can check out more on our indepth review of the Rega RP3.

Rega RP3 Turntable with Dustcover, Elys2 Cartridge, RB303Tonearm (Cool Grey)

If you are more keen in the Thorens TD203, you might also want to look at our full review of the Thorens TD203.

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