Rather like the first Volkswagen Golf, the original Pioneer PL-12D was the start of a generation of affordable, high quality products that did their job without a moment’s fuss, and did it well. It was a turntable to rid budget buyers of the scourge of rumble, wow and flutter, and bearing friction. Of course it had all these nasties, but in sufficiently low levels so as not to be a problem. Compared to rivals from BSR, Garrard and their ilk – most of which ran noisy, clunky rim-drive systems – the new Pioneer with its rubber-decoupled motor and belt drive was sylph-like and sophisticated. It not only sounded the part, but it made you feel you’d just moved on a decade from the agricultural designs you’d left behind, such as the old Goldring Lenco GL-69.
Launched in 1974, the PL-12D sold in vast quantities for its £40 retail price. Partnered with a Shure M75ED cartridge, the deck’s arm was good enough to track at 1.5g, which at the time was a world away from the 3g-plus your average Garrard would just about handle. Moreover, the deck came supplied with a teak-effect plinth and smoked plastic dustcover, which was the very height of sophistication for a budget record player of the time. Naturally the Pioneer went on to break sales records, but after a few years at the top, the likes of Sansui’s SR-222 and Trio’s KD-1033 were moving in on the action; these were all fine sounding machines selling for around £50 including cartridge, and looked sleeker and more modern than the PL-12D. And so in 1978, the company’s evergreen product was finally culled, and the new PL-112D surfaced…
It shared its predecessor’s classy looking spun-alloy platter, slick belt drive system and good quality S-shaped tonearm with well-adjusted radial bearings and all-manual operation – but gained an integrated platter which unlike its forebear wasn’t sprung. Also gone was a little stylus alignment aid. The 112 proved far nicer to use, with its silky damped cueing lever feeling like a ‘million dollars’, and was an altogether more attractive proposition to look at too. Still, this sadly didn’t translate to sales.
The deck just didn’t seem to sound as special as the original had, four years earlier, and although nicer to use, wasn’t anything special compared to the rapidly improving competition. By 1978, everyone seemed to have a £60 manual belt-drive deck out, and the Pioneer was just another. It’s in no way a bad deck, just not particularly special. Sonically it’s smooth, warm, sweet and fulsome but lacks the grip and insight of the SR-222/II Improved (which surfaced a year or so later). Cartridge-wise, it’s a fine match for cheaper Shures, and Ortofon VMS20Es can just about be used if you want a more delicate, less punchy sound. Nowdays, you’d be wisest to pop an Audio Technica AT-95E in, which will give a nice, crisp, musical performance.
Good but not great, the Pioneer PL-112D was one of the hi-fi world’s ‘nearly men’, overshadowed by its near-perfect (at the price) parent. These days, they’re almost pennies to buy – a mint boxed example shouldn’t be more than £90. Give it a clean up and a new belt and it’s a nice way to play vinyl on a budget, and will likely last another four decades without too much fuss.