Table Toppers, Take 4: Following the Loss of Some Key Gear in a Devastating Hurricane, a Restored Thorens Turntable and a Few VPI TNT Tables Became the Centerpieces of This Impressive Detroit-Area System

What better way to enter the impending summer season than with the second 2024 installment of our ongoing Table Toppers series? Back in late 2023, we posed a simple question to you, the AP faithful — in short, quote, “show us your turntables!” And hence, the almighty Table Toppers section was born, and we’re more than happy to continue on with this popular series as we approach the midpoint of the year.

A brief recap of the three previous installments in the TT series appears at the very end of this story under the “Table Toppers: A Brief History” header — and all three of them are worth checking out, if you haven’t done so already.

But now, it’s time for TT Chapter IV. Today’s tables, system, and amazing LP collection all belong to Dave Millon, who lives in Royal Oak, Michigan, near Detroit — and, in fact, you can see his system in action via the YouTube clip above! Dave is a recently retired Nurse Anesthetist, which means he has even more time now to enjoy the system you see here that resides in his basement and is centered around a restored Thorens TD 124 turntable that he got, in his own words, “for a song,” along with a VPI TNT table you saw doing its thing in the above clip.

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When I asked Dave to share the story behind his personal analog journey, his reply literally blew me away. “I started with an Akai table that got swept out to sea in Hurricane Andrew,” he began. Thankfully, Dave himself survived that horrible August 1992 Category 5 Atlantic hurricane relatively intact — and he then proceeded to anticipate my very next question by saying, “Luckily, all my record albums survived. I’ve been collecting since I was a teenager in the ’70s — although not too seriously back then.” As you can see by the expansive array of shelved LPs below, Dave is certainly quite serious about his collection these days. (We’ll get into his favorite LPs later in this story.)

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What table replaced the swept-away Akai? “When I relocated to another house in Miami, I bought a used VPI HW-19,” Dave continued. “My equipment choices were decidedly mid-fi at that time, mostly purchased from Circuit City. Somehow, I managed to buy a pair of Snell Type E/III [loudspeakers], which were a big step from the mid-fi stuff I was using prior to the hurricane. What set me further down the hi-fi path was reuniting with a long-lost audio friend who came to visit, and that rekindled my interest.”

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After many ensuing years — and following a move up to the Detroit area — Dave wanted something a bit more “impressive,” so he bought a used VPI TNT MK 3.5 table. “I still have it, along with an SME Series V [tonearm] and a Benz Micro Glider [cartridge], in another system,” he clarifies. “After a few years, we had our large basement finished, and I started putting together another system.”

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Even then, Dave remained struck by the VPI TNT bug. “Since I think the used TNT is a good value, I bought another, later model — an MK-6, also used,” he notes. “It has an Ortofon [MC] Winfeld cartridge mounted [as seen above]. A few upgrades, such as an aluminum platter and a [Trans-Fi] Terminator T3 linear air-bearing tonearm, rounded out that table. Air is supplied by a simple aquarium pump in another room. I have modified the bearing surfaces of the platter and of the dual-motor flywheel with sapphire watch crystals. That TT rests, via its hand-ball suspension, on two layers of granite.”

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And then it was time for the Thorens table to take center stage. “About 5 years ago, a friend sold me his father’s Thorens TD 124 for a song,” Dave confirms. “I have since refurbished it and mounted the unit in two stacked granite machinist plates that were water-jet cut to allow the drive unit to sit down into. A [Thomas] Schick 12in tonearm with a Soundsmith Paua MK II cartridge rounds that one out.” (The Paua is shown below.)

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Giving credit where credit is due, Dave continues, “The Schick is a good match for the vintage table. Thanks to Chris Harban at Woodsong Audio for the main bearing rebuild, Simone Lucchetti of Audiosilente for his fantastic parts selection, and Gregory Metz at STS for the perfect paintjob and loads of advice.”

More now about Dave’s restored Thorens TD 124. The table’s chassis has been duly stripped and resprayed. The platter has also been stripped and resprayed, with new Herbie’s friction dots applied. Woodsong rebuilt the main bearing, and a strobe light was wired to bypass the power conditioner/speed controller.

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Additionally, Audiosilente larger motor coils replaced the smaller stock ones, while the motor bushings were checked and re-oiled. Also added were a new metal cam strip, and the 5mm metal balls in the speed changer detent were replaced with Torlon ones for, according to Dave, “a silky-feeling speed change.” An Audiosilente idler with a ground-flat O-ring was installed, and the armboard is isolated from the chassis with 0.060in Sorbothane. Finally, the chassis is firmly bolted to the granite plinth (an example of which is shown above, on its own).

The electronics are all DIY builds designed by Salectric and Paul Birkeland from the HiFi Haven forum (more about these fine folks and the forum itself in a bit), while the SDS units for the TNT tables and the CD player are store-bought units. In general, Dave likes obtaining used gear. “I rarely buy new, as I feel the value is higher with used equipment,” he believes. “My cartridges are usually new, however. I began with a Sumiko BPS [Blue Point Special], and from there moved to a Sumiko Blackbird, which currently stands as an HO backup.” (Sidenote: Yours truly also deploys a Blackbird cart in my own main listening system.) “Other cartridges are the [aforementioned] Soundsmith Paua and Ortofon Windfield, plus an Ortofon [MC] Jubilee as LO backup,” Dave continues. “Our local equipment stores have mostly disappeared, but we have a booming used record store presence. There are at least five stores within 5 miles from home.”

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Other gear in Dave’s system includes (deep breath!) a Salectric-designed Izzy Wizzy X1 phono preamp, DIY Paul Bottlehead-designed preamps, Bottlehead-designed 3C24 monoblock amps, Arcam Alpha9 CD player, HealthKit Legato AS-21 speakers, HC808 replicas/Altec 802D drivers, DIY crossovers, Luminous Audio speaker cables, Grover Huffman interconnects, DIY VH Audio fine-silver wire interconnects, Blue Jeans interconnects, VH Audio V-Twist interconnects, Nigel-designed speed controller, Sowter 1990 step-up transformer, and Cinemag 3440AH step-up transformer.

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Dave’s musical tastes are centered around small-group jazz. “The be-bop, hard-bop, and post-bop styles are among my favorites,” he affirms. “West Coast jazz is also welcome. Most of my listening is from the ’50s to the ’70s, but there a number of current musicians I seek out, including Brian Blade, Joshua Redman, Bill Charlap, Danilo Pérez, and Charles Tolliver.”

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Vintage LPs suit Dave just fine. “I am always looking for older LP copies, as my experience with newer pressings has been wanting,” he explains. “The Blue Note Tone Poet series seems very well done, and I also have had positive experiences with a few releases from Cohearent Audio. Other new releases from Gearbox Records, VMP, and We Release Jazz have been excellent as well.”

Continues Dave, “I am not one to hunt down particular pressings, although I do think the German release of The Oscar Peterson Trio’s [1963 LP on Verve] Night Train stands head and shoulders above the common U.S. pressing! I would rather purchase a less-than-perfect pressing for something old than spend top-dollar for a ‘fancy’ re-release.”

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“The Americana or singer/songwriter genre is also frequently played,” he adds. “Some exceptional rock/blues bands such as The Black Keys, The Pack A.D., and Humble Pie are favorites here.” (Same here, Dave!)

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Before wrapping things up, Dave wanted to share some words about his local, close-knit listening community, and we’re more than happy to oblige. “I am a member of a group called Southeast Michigan Audio Club. or SMAC,” he notes. “We meet once a month for food, drink, conversation, and listening. We have been meeting for almost 20 years at members houses.” If you want to find out more about SMAC — and/or, for that matter, garner some good ideas for how to go about creating your own local listening collective — go here.

In addition to SMAC, Dave belongs to the above-noted reputable HiFi Haven forum, which you can check out for yourself here. “I do want to give a big shoutout to a couple of members of the forum too,” he says. “Thank you to Salectric [Dave Vorhis] for his excellent phono preamp design, as well as his help with building/troubleshooting the two units I am currently using. Also, thanks to Tsingtao_1903 for the lovely cast and formed aluminum horn replicas that he is producing, as I am especially, enjoying his A808 replicas.”

“Finally,” Dave concludes, “a huge note of gratitude to Paul_B [Paul Birkeland], who works in conjunction with Bottlehead as well as creating and building his own designs. He designed the circuits for my current preamps and those lovely 3C24 monoblocks in my system. Furthermore, he has been tireless in his helpfulness and support in my construction. Every day, Paul_B is on the forum helping folks with their tube-based builds. His creations are amazing! The above three guys are real gurus, in my opinion, although there are a number of other helpful folks residing there too.”

With friends like these, it’s no wonder that Dave’s basement system is the best it can be — and, to borrow a line, it’s getting better all the time. (You can see what I mean by that comment in the YouTube clip above that Dave has simply dubbed, “New Project.”) And, as I mentioned at the outset of this TT story, now that he is officially retired, Dave has even more time to listen to his favorite LPs and share in the love of analog with his fellow SMAC compatriots, as well as those of us here in the AP community as large — and isn’t that what it’s ultimately all about? Enjoy all your new spinning times to come, Dave!

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TABLE TOPPERS FAQ
Could you be our next TT feature subject? It’s never too late to participate! If you haven’t submitted your entry to us yet, see the instructions below for how you too can get into the Table Toppers mix yourself, as we never get tired of seeing our fellow analog lovers’ systems and setups. To be considered for Table Toppers, all you have to do is go here to find out all the necessary steps for submitting your system, and then email it all to us at the following e-address: editor@analogplanet.com, with “Table Toppers Submission” as your subject line. Happy spinning!

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TABLE TOPPERS: A BRIEF HISTORY
We kicked off our Table Toppers series back in November 2023 with (and please pardon the array of alliteration ahead) a truly terrific trio of turntables owned by Diogo Alfaiate of Lisbon, Portugal (all of which can be seen directly above). Then, in Part 2, which posted in December 2023, we featured a fine, fine array of analog-centric gear owned by Jake Juros, MD, a psychiatrist based in Los Angeles. More recently, in Part 3, which posted in February 2024, we turned our table-centric attention to Vince, who lives in the Santa Cruz mountains in Northern California, and we collectively marveled at the wide web of his system that centers on a quite striking Brinkmann Spyder turntable, as seen below.

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COMMENTS
Anton D's picture

What a great hobby.

Hi Fi Haven is a nice place, I agree.

In the past several years, the vast majority of any gear I’ve purchased has been through the marketplace at hi-fi Haven.

HiFiMark's picture

Dave is in DEEP...

Ever since I first read about them, I have been really interested in the Schick 12" tonearm. Perhaps Dave can write more about his experience with it?

Maybe I'll jump into the Table Toppers fray.

"You see, it all started in 1969 when my brother departed for the Navy and left his modest but very high quality record collection with me. I proceeded to wear them all down to the nubs with my plastic Sears record player, but what a heady time of musical discovery for an 8 year old..."

Anton D's picture

"I would sit and listen and talk for hours with my friends Paul and Winnie..."

I love your opening!

vince's picture

Good to see another Bottlehead fan. Where are you getting the housings? Are you fabricating them? Your gear looks great!

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