Technics CD players were all were very ‘nineteen eighties’ looking and sounding machines, sporting big, fussy fascias festooned with facilities and vast, needlessly complex fluorescent displays. Players like the first generation SL-P10, for example, had real merit but they never managed to capture the imagination of either the general public or the audiophiles.
Still, one machine that stood out as soon as it was launched in 1987 was the SL-P1200, which was a (then) unfashionable top loading CD spinner with a pitch control and ‘jog dial’ for precise and accurate control of cueing. Like the turntable with which it shared a model number (and indeed feet!), the 1200 was a ‘pro’ design made for nightclub use, and like the turntable of the same name it was very robustly made – even more so than the SL-1200, as it happens…
The idea was brilliant – bundle all the front-loading SL-P1000’s internal componentry inside a large, robust, top loading casing with a vast angled display, making it ideal for ‘pro’ nightclub use. Matsushita, Technics’ parent company, had already found that adapting its old 1973 SL-120 turntable for pro use had proved a nice little earner, and so why not follow the formula for the digital generation?
Like the SL-P1000, the major sales point for the ‘P1200 was the large search dial, this time on the top right of the case instead of the front left of the fascia. This gave easy access to all its elaborate cueing facilities, such as A-B Repeat for example. The pitch control was virtually unique at the time, and must have seemed amazing to those who get excited about such things. The display is also big fun, being large and full of flashing legends and numbers – there’s a ‘music calendar’, track time display and even a tenths and hundredths of seconds display for when you do your split second cueing.
Although the button festooned top panel must have delighted spiky haired eighties button pushers, the real surprises were under the hood. By any standards, including those of today, the SL-P1200 is a beautifully built machine. Inside, it’s separated into four main sections, power, CD transport, control/servo and digital to analogue conversion. Two separate power transformers – one for digital electronics and the other for analogue sections – are used, and there are independent power supplies everywhere. Two Burr Brown PCM54HP DACs are used, there’s a headphone amp with its own volume control, and very high quality internal wiring is in evidence.
Sonically it sounds quite ‘well lit’ across the midband by modern standards, but move down the spectrum and you’re in for a shock, as the Technics has a truly powerful yet relaxed bass. In fact, it reminds one of a Meridian MCD Pro in the way it can pile-drive large amounts of barrel-chested low frequencies into the listening room. As it delivers that capacious bass, the SL-P1200 never for a second sounds out of breath – quite the reverse in fact…
The midband also shares the energy and commitment of the bass. It displays great enthusiasm for playing music – it really pumps out songs with all its (big) heart. In this respect, and in so many others, it is spookily similar its SL-1200 vinyl forebear. It’s a tad rough and ready, but has massive energy, tremendous energy and real resolve to make music sound magical. Also like the SL1200, it has a coarse treble that’s not going to win prizes for finesse and decorum. Likewise, stereo imaging is very strong left to right, but don’t wait up for a deep capacious recorded acoustic.
This was a special bit of kit, because no other machine sounded quite like it – such chest-pounding bass, real ‘up and at ‘em’ musicality and a sense of utter unflappability isn’t common even now. The downsides – poor depth perspective, coarse treble and a brightly lit midband almost go unnoticed amidst the fun it has. Then there’s the weird styling, garish display and tenths and hundreds of a second readout – well, your friends won’t have one, that’s for sure! Factor in the brilliant build and it’s an appealing purchasing proposition.
The SL-P1200 didn’t reach these shores until 1988, and then only in relatively small numbers, so don’t expect to snap one up for nothing. Particularly with a machine that could have been carted around every wedding and sixth form disco in town for the first half of the nineteen nineties, it’s essential to get one in excellent cosmetic condition (as proof of light domestic use only).
Two versions were made – the SL-P1200 and the SL-P1200B. The latter adds balanced XLR outputs in addition to RCA phonos, and a rear panel IEC power socket as opposed to a captive flying power lead – and it is very much the one to go for. Mint, boxed Bs are now going for as much as £750 to eager buyers, and this isn’t so silly considering its superb build, rarity and the fact that replacement lasers are still available from Technics Europe. Find a tatty non-B though, and you can look at as little as £250 – as with so many classics of the hi-fi and non-hi-fi variety, condition is everything. Either way, there are few better ways to play your classic collection of early Beatmasters, Bomb the Bass and Coldcut CD singles!