For the DJ who had everything, in 1997 Technics brought you the SL-1200LTD, a thousand pounds’ worth of piano black lacquer and 24-carat gold plating affixed to probably the biggest selling, most long lived turntable in history. And as if that wasn’t enough, Technics threw in a pair of purpose-designed DJ headphones, a numbered brass plaque on the deck’s plinth, and a gold Technics logo emblazoned on the back. In the flesh, the LTD – limited to a ‘trifling’ 10,000 units world-wide, and 1,000 in the UK, is a distinctive thing!
The SL-1200 is one of the world’s most familiar turntables, so needs little introduction. If you ever owned a seventies direct drive, seeing a ‘1200 will bring the memories flooding back. At 12kg it is very well made, if not quite up with the best, and boasts outrageously good claimed performance figures – 0.01% WRMS wow and flutter and a weighted rumble figure of -78dB, thanks to its direct-driven quartz lock motor.
Prodding the ‘soft-touch’ start/stop button makes the high torque motor whip the platter up to 33RPM in less than three quarters of a second, while the integral electronic brake halts proceedings just as rapidly. To the right is the famous pitch slider offering +/- 8% control, with a centre detent in which the quartz crystal locks the correct speed on exactly. The LTD version boasts an extra button to do the same job without moving the slider. Around the deck are the many nice touches that endear it to the club DJs. Ideal for low-level lighting environments, the SL-1200 has a bright, clear strobe and a cute little light that pops up out of the deck to aid cueing. Everything from the phono leads to the dustcover is well made and sensibly designed, even down to the metal 45RPM centre-spindle adapter, with its neat storage recess.
My only gripe was and is the stock tonearm, which despite its gold-plating does little to instil confidence. A well-finished medium mass (12g) S-shaped design using a gimbal bearing arrangement, it’s not bad but it’s no SME, or Rega even. The bearings inspire little confidence, the counterweight wobbles around and I even found the dreaded stereo image destroying rubber washer fitted to an otherwise commendably rigid aluminium headshell – serious users should bin this straight away. In other respects, the arm isn’t that bad – it’s height-adjustable, for example, so it’s better than most of the mediocrity the Japanese used to fit on their mid-market decks.
On audition, my suspicions that the SL-1200 is a good deck hampered by a so-so arm were confirmed. I started with my Audio Technica OC9 installed and gently lowered – no slip cueing or scratching with expensive moving coils, thank you – the stylus into the groove of Alex Reece’s Feel the Sunshine 12inch. Although the Technics managed a lively, solid sound, the song’s usually magnificent bass line sounded distinctly uneasy, so I opted for an altogether less demanding AT-95E moving magnet, and things took a turn for the better. With fewer demands made of the arm, low frequencies tightened up no end, and the SL got on with making music in earnest.
The basics of the sound were spot on – big, bold, and brassy. Able to hold the tune and communicate the song’s rhythmic drive, the deck showed confidence and power. True, it wasn’t terribly subtle in its delivery, painting in bold strokes rather than intricate filigree detailing. But it proved an engaging performer, tending to distract the listener away from its weaknesses to the music being player. On Lloyd Cole’s Rattlesnakes, these became more apparent – within its wide, expansive soundstage, its stereo imaging left much to be desired. Treble detailing was splashy and imprecise, and stage depth wasn’t up to much either, sounding rather two dimensional and upfront.
As expected, shock isolation – thanks to a weighty plinth and big non adjustable rubber feet – was good, and I suspect the wobbly arm was actually helpful in this respect. Put it this way, it’s not quite as ‘sensitive’ as a Naim ARO unipivot! Indeed, the SL-1200 with standard arm is best described as sonically a bit rough around the edges, but pleasantly musical and rhythmic nonetheless. But there’s more, because if you get out the spanner and hacksaw and fit a Rega arm to the deck’s plinth (not an impossible task), ‘reliable sources’ have intimated that the deck is transformed into a giant killer.
The SL-1200LTD got the thumbs down as far as thousand pound hi-fi turntables were concerned back at the time it was launched, being the sort of thing many bought just because they could. It’s an interesting curio now, though.