It’s a failing of mine. I’m impatient. And even at this stage of my reviewing career, I’m still excited when I receive new gear. Combined, those two traits are a recipe for disaster.

I’ve learned my lesson when it comes to unboxing a component. Back when I was first getting into this gig, I’d rip into a pair of speakers as if they were my own, as if they were never going to leave. Then, when I had to box them back up, the process felt like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. It would be needlessly stressful.

After a few of these episodes, I started taking photos of each step of the unboxing process. Amps and preamps aren’t too bad. Speakers, I’d decide on the fly—if the cartons just had top and bottom foam caps, I’d skip the photo documentation.

User manuals have also received short shrift, as they’re often not required. Amps and preamps are mostly self-explanatory, and any special tricks I can generally digest at my leisure once I’ve got the thing playing.

But turntables? Hoo boy. Turntables mostly have fewer than five moving parts, so they’re usually not too bad. Still, they’re precision instruments, so it’s best to at least take a quick look through the manual before you start yanking bits out of the box.

Tonearm in box

I recently received the Thales TTT-Compact II turntable, which comes as a package with the Simplicity II tonearm and X-quisite Voro cartridge. My first thought was that I should audition the cartridge on my VPI Prime Signature to get a feel for it, so off I went. The Thales ’table ships in one box, and the arm in another, smaller box. So I opened the tonearm box and rummaged around, finding the cartridge near the top in a clear plastic container.

The Voro was screwed to some sort of thick plastic shim that didn’t make much sense to me, so I grabbed a flat-head ’driver out of my garage toolbox, spun that sucker off, and tossed it back into the tonearm’s box. And no, I had not yet looked at the owner’s manual.

Next step was to bolt the Voro onto the tonearm of my VPI. I used the alignment gauge that VPI supplies to set it up, along with my extra pair of reading glasses, flashlight, and precision scale. The only fussy bit here: I had to ream out the VPI’s cartridge clips a bit wider with a toothpick so that they’d slip over the Voro’s pins. The resulting review is being published simultaneously with this article.

Pin reaming

Wrapping up the Voro review coincided with my return of the Musical Fidelity M8xTT turntable I reviewed last month. Now I had space on my equipment rack for the Thales TTT-Compact II turntable, the final destination for the Voro. So in came the Thales box and out came my phone so I could snap photos of the process.

Turntable in boxA photo at every step: Thales TTT-Compact II turntable

The assembly of the TTT-Compact II was fairly straightforward, including the installation of the zany Simplicity II tonearm. Let me tell you, the arm itself is anything but straightforward, what with its dual-armtube construction and pivoting headshell.

This time, I gave the instructions a quick read-over. That shim I threw back in the box? This was the headshell, and I had to re-attach it prior to alignment and mounting. Thing was, there was an extra piece attached to that headshell that wasn’t shown in the manual. So I took a look at the tonearm, and it looked to me as if I needed to unscrew the pivoting part from the business end of the tonearm and attach the extra piece in its place.

A mess of tools

The Simplicity II ships with a really nice Wiha flat-head screwdriver that looked like it would fit these screws. I stood there poised, ready to unscrew the headshell. But something was nagging at me. It looked like there were bearings in there—it just didn’t seem like a user-serviceable part. I turned back to the manual. It was sitting on my coffee table, closed up as if it had nothing else to offer. But right there, slipped in before the cover sheet, was a bright-red warning notice. WARNING. The two screws for the head bearing are preset and locked in factory. Do not release, tighten or readjust these screws.


Whew—that was a close call. Crisis averted. Now I had to take that cartridge and re-install a different, supplied headshell over the top of it, invert the cartridge, and slide it into this weird-ass alignment jig that Thales supplied with the Simplicity II tonearm.

These manipulations were foreign to me. My muscle memory accommodates the movements required to screw a cartridge to a headshell, to lift it, raise it up, hold it still until I can catch a thread, and secure it to the headshell. This was different. The danger factor skyrockets when things are different.

Alignment jig

Side story: I have tested motorcycles for Inside Motorcycles magazine for over 20 years. Manufacturers would hand over brand-new bikes to me without the slightest apparent concern, even though it was always possible that I’d drop and ruin them.

I only smoked two bikes in all that time. I hit a deer in Pennsylvania on a KTM Supermoto and threw away a Yamaha R1 during a racetrack session. I was not injured in either of these incidents. The KTM was a bit twisted and rashed up, but still rideable after a local dealer straightened it out. The Yamaha was not so lucky. The frame was bent and the engine side case was smashed in. I had to wait at the side of the track for the Trailer of Shame to bring me back to the pits.

I was extremely sheepish when I returned these bikes. The company representatives were utterly unfazed though. Their concerns were only for my safety and well-being.

Point being, when a manufacturer or distributor hands me an ultra-expensive cartridge that doesn’t have a stylus guard, I’m going to assume that they are aware there’s a chance I’m going to break it.

Cartridge closeup

I didn’t break it though. Despite its tapered shape, the Voro’s ceramic web shell is nice and grippy. Mark you this—I planned every move so that I didn’t have to change my grip or the positioning of my hands. The Thales alignment jig is precisely made; the slot that holds the cartridge is tight enough to prevent any side-to-side motion, while still retaining enough clearance to make it easy to slide the cartridge in and out.

The alignment process is magnificent. Looking down at the cartridge, which is lying on its back, you match up the scribed lines on the top plexiglass cover with dots on the lower aluminum base. Then, you align the cartridge so that the stylus sits underneath the center dot, and the cantilever lies straight along the center line.

Alignment jig

It was still a bit of a fussy process, as I had to pull the cartridge out of the jig in order to make changes. If I were to use it more often, I think I’d be able to tune the torque on the screws that hold the cartridge to the headshell so that I could move the cartridge while it was in the jig. But still! Being able to look down at the stylus and cantilever makes the installation process much more precise. It’s so much easier, so much more accurate—it’s a whole different level of precision and convenience.

Once the cartridge is aligned, all that’s left to do is slide the headshell onto the end of the tonearm and secure it with the tiny set screw that’s embedded into the tip of the headshell.

A cursory look at the Thales TTT-Compact II and Simplicity II could be somewhat underwhelming. It’s a small ’table and arm, not flashy like the Musical Fidelity M8xTT that it replaced. But the engineering and out-of-the-box thinking that went into the cartridge installation process alone has made me re-evaluate just how clever this company is.

Table and arm

I’ve got the TTT-Compact II up and running now, with the stylish and luxurious X-quisite Voro cartridge on point. If you’ve read my review of the Voro, you’ll have seen that I was quite taken with it when it was bolted to my VPI. You’ll have to wait for the full review of the TTT-Compact II to see what I think of the whole package. There’s more interesting tech baked into the Thales ’table and arm, so I think it’ll be worth the wait.

. . . Jason Thorpe