1975, one decade into the widespread use of stereo LP in this country, and vinyl was living through in its harvest years. Sales records were constantly being broken as the likes of Mike Oldfield, Pink Floyd and Electric Light Orchestra produced mega-selling albums with lavish packaging, whilst Queen and Wings shifted hitherto unseen amounts of 7″ singles. There was a sense that vinyl had no rival; open reel was for studio use and police surveillance, cassettes were for cars and Radio 3 FM aside, radio wasn’t able to touch vinyl’s soaring sonics…
By the mid nineteen seventies, the turntable breed had already evolved into what we’d recognise it as being today. The first Technics SL-1200 appeared in 1972, offering direct drive in a package far more affordable than the broadcast-standard 1969 model SP-10, which is where the technology first appeared. The race was on for Japanese manufacturers to offer the technology in ever more affordable products. By 1975, only the budget turntables, such as Pioneer’s super little PL-12, were belt driven – quite a contrast to the UK audiophile market which was dominated by belt driven Thorens-type models.
Sony’s 1975 range offered a twist, however. As expected, the mid priced PS-4750 and higher end PS-6750 were direct driven, but sitting right at the very top was the breathtaking PS-8750, sporting direct drive augmented by a ‘X-tal Lock’. This was Sony-speak for what came to be universally known as quartz lock, a clever refinement to the direct-drive system, adding complexity but allowing it to achieve vanishingly low wow and flutter figures, and the associated rock-solid speed stability.
Two separate circuits were used in the servo control system of the turntable; one was the conventional servo and the other, switchable, was the quartz lock. The latter wasn’t affected by voltage and temperature variations during use, making for breathtaking wow and flutter measurements of 0.025% WRMS, when generally it was said that the ear couldn’t detect much beyond 0.1%. The system worked by the use of a ‘tape head’ mounted just inside the rim of the 320mm diecast alloy platter, with the platter’s inside rim sporting a magnetised material. This sent pulses to the magnetic head which fed them into the servo control circuitry in real time, telling it whether the deck was running at all slow or fast. Normally this would be referenced off the mains supply, but the ‘X-tal lock’ system had its own quartz crystal, oscillating at a very precise frequency, which gave a ‘fixed’ reference time independent of the mains.
The system worked brilliantly, and proved both an instant (albeit subtle) improvement in sound and a great showroom sales feature. Ironically, Sony’s implementation of the direct drive system in its high end decks was so good that the ‘X-tal Lock’ was of marginal effectiveness; the cheaper PS-6750 also gave a solid and pitch-accurate sound, but all the same the quartz crystal was the crowning glory to a turntable which – until the arrival of the later (and arguably inferior sounding) Biotracers, was the Sony Corporation’s biggest, most expensive and best hi-fi turntable ever.
The deck shows how the Japanese could manufacture a domestic hi-fi product like a military-grade precision instrument. The torquey direct drive motor spun the platter up to speed within half a revolution, with a built-in brake circuit to stop the turntable quickly when the stop or reject buttons were activated. The 237mm statically balanced tonearm’s jewelled trunnion mount and carbon fibre arm and headshell gave it the feel of Japan’s finest cameras, when hand cueing; the lift-lower mechanism even had its own silent motor! There was a photo-electric activated end of side auto stop, to save the (surely very expensive) stylus on your phono cartridge, should you be unable to wrest it from its run out groove.
Such finery didn’t just stop with the drive system and tonearm; the deck is beautifully built from a mix of materials; polished aluminium surrounds a frame made from Sony’s ‘SBMC’ material. Even the dustcover was a thing of beauty; heavily smoked acrylic complete with an ‘anti-static’ metal grid inset – somewhat reminiscent of a heated rear window in a car! It’s a largish beast too, at 458x184x395mm and heavy at 14.2kg. All of which made for an impossibly expensive turntable, which levels of precision and finish to put almost every British deck to shame.
Sonically, the Sony is clean and open, with little in the way of coloration right across the frequency band. It has the feel of a delicate, finessed performer, with an unerringly strong and grippy bass, a lovely silky high treble, and a neutral, open and expansive midband. Indeed, it’s surely one of the best sounding integrated turntables made, giving up only to even more expensive and advanced machines that followed in its wake several years later, such as Kenwood’s Lo-7D. The PS-8750 is a rare turntable, one that is unlikely to turn up in your local free-ads paper for £15. But despite its vast price when new, they do surface every now and again for less than the cost of a big Technics.