Poor old Technics didn’t have an easy time of it in the UK when it launched the company’s first parallel tracker, the SL-10, back in 1979. The British high end scene had little or no time for Japanese products, and even less for decks with integral arms and cartridges. As for fully automated turntables that were actually designed with convenience and ease of use in mind – forget it!
To add insult to injury, this particular ‘all singing, all dancing’ affair cost a whopping £300, more expensive even than the hallowed Linn Sondek! The British press was puzzled – after all, weren’t fully automatic direct drives the province of people upgrading from music centres, rather than the holier-than-thou high end?
In truth, the SL-10 was a remarkable feat of industrial design – a fact later recognised by its presence in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Just 31.5cm square and 8.8cm high, it was barely bigger than an LP record, but packed a heady engineering punch. Direct driven by a quality quartz referenced motor, the well damped platter was complemented by a record clamp built into the turntable lid. Also fitted was a parallel tracking tonearm running on high quality, well adjusted gimbals, and powered by two electric motors that offered transverse and up/down cueing at the touch of a button.
As if this wasn’t enough, the arm carried a version of Technics’ top EPC-305MC moving coil cartridge firmly bolted in place. So well set up was the deck that its fine elliptical stylus (affixed to a boron cantilever, no less) tracked confidently at a mere 1.25g. Mounted in the base of the unit was defeatable head amplifier that brought cartridge output up to MM levels.
Despite its size the SL was not insubstantial, thanks to its double skinned diecast alloy construction. In use it was a gem. Internal sensors detected record size and set the speed and arm cueing position accordingly, as well as shutting down the tonearm should the lid be opened. Indeed, so ergonomically right was the Technics that it was a milestone in user convenience, several years before Compact Disc advanced the art still further.
Still, the killer punch was its sound. Although not up to the standards of a top turntable/arm combination, it was still a remarkably good listen. In the past, magazines had rightly pointed out that proper hi-fi and ease of use were mutually incompatible – but the Technics changed all that. The sound was very sweet and open, with loads of detail, lots of rhythmic zip and a nicely fluid, musical disposition.
The SL-10 was a huge success, and for a while world demand far outstripped supply. A year or so later, Technics introduced the SL-7, a rationalised ’10 that was substantially cheaper and easier to produce. Featuring a beefed up microprocessor, improved control circuitry, a different motor and a P202 moving magnet cartridge, it retained the ‘10’s diminutive dimensions but offered slightly better sound for just £200.
From this, the SL-Q1 and SL-D1 sprang, cheaper still but stretched to the standard ‘rack’ width of 430mm. The ‘Q1 sported a quartz referenced motor to the ‘D1’s cruder direct drive affair, while the cartridges were an EP-S22ES and a P23E respectively – both good moving magnet designs. Finally, the SL-10 spawned the mega-expensive SL15, which for £400 offered complex track selection facilities and Technics’ classic EPC-205IIIL cartridge. Although a moving magnet, it was generally preferred to the SL-10’s coil and made for a fine sound.
Of all the Technics parallel trackers, the SL-7 is reckoned to be the one to have, thanks to its relatively simple construction, superb build and excellent sound. Second-hand there are still quite a few of them around, and prices are pretty reasonable – pay between £80 and £250 for a mint SL-7, SL-10 or SL-15, or around £50 for the cheaper SL-Q1 or ‘D1. Parts are still available, and Ortofon still do a range of fine P-mount cartridges to fit. For analogue addicts who could do with putting their feet up once in a while, a Technics SL-series might be just the ticket.