Popular wisdom has it that Pioneer’s classic PL-12D was the best budget belt drive ever made, and for my money at least, it’s not far off. But as with so many products, there’s always something that comes along a couple of years later, that’s better in many ways but which doesn’t comprehensively outclass it. Sansui’s SR-222/II is such a deck. It’s an altogether slicker affair than the redoubtable PL-12, but the fact that [a] it wasn’t the first to market and [b] it didn’t paste the Pioneer in every respect – has insured its relative anonymity. As such, it’s a bargain – you can pick one up for £50 or less if you’re lucky…
To recap briefly. Being a ‘record buff’ in the nineteen sixties was all very well if you could afford the likes of Garrard’s 301, mount it in an SME plinth and add a 3009/SII arm (plus the compulsory Shure V15II), but those starting out on the hi-fi journey were limited to the likes of a BSR BDS80 or Garrard’s own SP25/III. These were a step up from playing your prized vinyl on your sister’s Dansette, but frankly not much. Allied to a Sonotone ceramic cartridge, and you’d get similar sonic results to growing the nail on your index finger and judiciously applying it as you span your disc on its axis. Frankly, sixties budget decks were God-awful, and didn’t it show?
Then, sometime around 1973, came Pioneer’s PL-12. Whereas the Brits had been making Neanderthal rim-drive ‘auto-changers’ with tonearms that could double as tyre levers, this Japanese creation sported a stable belt drive system and an S-shaped tonearm with relatively low friction, that was capable of tracking at surprisingly low weights – all for some £35. Japan Inc. had for several years been manufacturing some very slick belt drives, modelled – if we’re brutally frank – on Goldring Lencos – and Pioneer took the formula, added an integrated pick-up arm and chopped a few bucks off the price tag.
The result was an instant ‘best of breed’, a well engineered turntable with real audiophile features at an affordable price. The PL12 well and truly socked it to the competition, and Pioneer – unsurprisingly – couldn’t sell enough. The company’s rivals wanted a piece of the action, and first on the scene was Trio with its KD-1033 deck. This was no less worthy than the Pioneer, but didn’t really advance the breed. Then came Sansui’s SR-222. Like the PL-12 and KD-1033, it had a very smooth, crisp and warm sound, with no obvious nasties (such as wow and flutter) that the previous generation of Brit budget fare had so conspicuously suffered from.
Partnered with a Shure M75ED cartridge (a particularly symbiotic match, it must be said), the result was a very big and punchy sound. In fact, you’d be amazed – put either of these three (set up well with a decent cartridge) against your average CD player of today and it’s the record player that would still be spinning in the early hours…
1978’s mark II version of the SR-222 added superior styling and a lovely piano gloss black lacquer finish, and really is the one to have. It’s not quite up there in series one Rega Planar 2 territory in sonic terms, but the 452x139x370mm (6kg) deck looks better than the latter’s painted MDF. The 220m S-shaped stainless steel tonearm is a cracker – it’s a variation on the archetypal Jap 1970s Acos Lustre theme that gives fine results with budget cartridges, although Rega’s own Lustre-built R200 (fitted to the Planar 2, at twice the price) was better still.
Together with the 300m diecast aluminium alloy platter and four pole AC synchronous motor, the Sansui sounded very smooth and pleasant. By modern standards, it lacks grip, incision and focus, but it still makes a very nicely musical ‘analogue’ sound. By Rega standards, you’ll hear a lack of dimensionality, and curtailed frequency extremes, but it can be picked up for just one third of the price of a decent Rega thanks to its relative obscurity. Partner with with a decent basic moving magnet cartridge such as an Audio Technica AT-95E, and you’ll soon realise that it is a lovely little vinyl spinner that’s well worth seeking out.