WE REVIEWED THE NEW TECHNICS
Back after a six-year hiatus, Technics’ all-conquering SL-1200 turntables return to reclaim their throne...
The Technics turntable has been a staple of the music industry since 1972. It's a groundbreaking design that's never been bettered, and includes the single most important technological innovation to the vinyl industry — the direct-drive motor.
Technics first introduced the direct-drive motor in 1969, but it was with the 1200s that it gained the recognition it deserved. The direct-drive motor is the torque-laden engine inside the deck that allows DJs to slow down a record with their fingers — then, when your fingers are released, it instantaneously shoots the record back to the exact speed it was being played at.
It was originally pitched at high-end audiophiles, but quickly became the turntable of choice for DJs.
This was chiefly thanks to the immaculate control and accuracy of that direct-drive motor, as well as the second most important addition to a turntable in the history of vinyl — the pitch-slider. Where would we be as DJs without that little bar to the right of the deck allowing us to alter the speed of the groove by 8% in either direction?
Alongside a seemingly indestructible build, they were the only turntable worth owning. They were solid to a fault. The weight alone was enough to induce a hernia in the burliest of geezers.
Technics have been a part of this writer's life since my early teens — ever since inheriting my uncle’s battered old 1200s with cracked, tea-stained lids and rusty pennies taped to the cartridges. And I wasn’t alone — over 3.5 million were sold, making them the most popular turntable on the planet. Times change, though, and with the advent of CDJs and digital file formats like MP3, the struggling vinyl sector dwindled — so it was of no great shock when Technics announced in 2010 they were discontinuing their turntable line. A big part of the DJ community cried inside, but we all knew it was an inevitability.
In the past five years, though, vinyl has seen a massive resurgence with music lovers growing tired of tinny, compressed-to-nothing digital files. Competitors like Pioneer DJ, Numark, Reloop and the recently revived Vestax have already thrown their hats back into the ring with new units, but Technics are the ones the DJ community has been waiting for (since the rumours of the re-release dropped).
There are two variations of the turntables on offer; the SL-1200G, and the 50th anniversary limited edition Grand Class SL-1200GAE (the ones that DJ Mag Tech have got our grubby hands on, poetically limited to just 1200 units). Just like 1972, Panasonic are adamant that these turntables are intended for high-end audiophiles, but the connection to Planet DJ will be a tough one to sever. Maybe the price will help cut those ties (the SL-1200GAE is £2799; the non-limited SL-1200G’s price is still unknown, but reported to be a similar figure).
Good news first: they still very much look like 1200s. After chatting with Technics’ Audio Specialist, Jonathan Danbury, he explained that the original tools and mouldings had either been lost, damaged or worn out, so they went back to the drawing board — starting from scratch. Former engineers — many of whom had retired — were drafted back in to aid the redesign.
Although it retains the classic look, almost every element has been upgraded — most notably, the engine. That bulletproof direct-drive motor has been completely redrawn and now resembles something that can be found in modern Blu-Ray players, making it even more accurate than the old motor, as well as eliminating the ‘cogging’ issue (tiny blips in the sound quality caused by the old motor. Personally we’ve never had this issue, but the high-end audiophiles this unit is aimed at would probably pick up on such nuances).
The platter itself has also had a revamp, now coming in three sections including a solid brass top-plate and rubber compound beneath — helping stability and, again, improving audio performance.
Even the tone-arm has been pimped up, now being constructed of magnesium alloy (aluminium on the G series), which again helps to improve the audio output even further by self-damping — again producing a clearer sound. The only original feature is the dust-lid. Well, they had to keep something from the original, for nostalgia's sake.
Now for the bad news (other than the price) — it’s even heavier! And not just a bit heavier — over 5kg extra! The limited-edition turntable that DJ Mag Tech has been testing out arrives in a custom silver flight-case with stunning polished aluminium top-plate, as opposed to the original soft ash silver finish we’re all used to. We are also treated to sharp blue strobelights instead of red, which is clearer and more aesthetically pleasing.
The speed range has also increased, with a 78rpm (revolutions-per-minute) option for any 78 owners out there (you select it by depressing both the 33⅓and45 buttons together). The sound performance is beautifully polished, especially at the bottom end with warmer basslines and richer, earthier subs coming through. They’re calling it the 'Ultimate Direct-Drive Unit', and we can’t disagree.
From a DJ’s perspective, the new platter is noticeably heavier under your fingers and the pitch-control is even more responsive — almost too sensitive compared to the originals. It’s amusing that they are distancing themselves from the DJ market (again), yet retain the pitch-control slider, even adding to this quintessential DJ tool with a 2x button — giving DJs twice the pitch range.
It’s also worth noting that they’ve stuck to the classic S-type tone-arm with no straight arm version offered on either deck (scratch DJs prefer a straight tone-arm, as it holds the record better under heavy pressure/movement. Almost every other turntable producer offers a straight tone-arm variant).
We’re also surprised there isn’t a digital output (an optical or similar cable produces lossless connections between player and amplifier, whilst a USB socket would allow connection to a computer for digital recording/transfer). Just the standard RCA cables (red/white/ground) are available, which, now, are completely detachable — at least that’s a big plus.
On previous models, the RCA connections were soldered onto the turntable, with the delicate horseshoe-shaped metal ground connection often snapping off. As a DJ tool, it does exactly what would be expected of a Technics unit.
There are a few niggles; the double-depress 78rpm caught us out in the mix a few times. Some DJs tend to adjust the speed using these buttons, and an accidental double-press means ending up in ‘chipmunk mode’. The centre spindle is also slightly shorter, which makes it a touch harder to wrap your fingers around.
In truth, our opinion really doesn’t matter that much. All the UK’s allocated stock is spoken for, as is the majority of the 1200 units available globally. That’s not to say they’re all sold, but if you want one, consult your local dealer now, because they’re not likely to hang about. In fact, just last month Japan’s three-hundred allocated units sold out in just a half-hour!
The DJ market will undoubtedly be interested in these new 1200s, but with the competition all offering top-end units at under half that eye-watering predicted RRP, there are plenty of alternatives. Perhaps the recently announced SL-1210 will be pitched at a more DJ-friendly price point?
The single most important factor is that the grand old masters of the turntable industry are back in the game — and that can only be a good thing.
Build Quality 9
Ease of Use 9
Value For Money 6
Sound Quality 9
Immaculate finish, along with a solid build. The 2x pitch button will come in double(!) handy. There can be no doubt that this is the best direct-drive unit money can buy.
Too flipping expensive!
Words & Pics: Daniel Lynch