The technology arrived in 1970 in the Technics SP-10 broadcast turntable, and made jaws drop. Direct drive did what it said on the tin, moving the platter from its centre and without recourse to idlers, pulleys or belts. It had huge advantages, not least consistency over time, as well as the ability to control the platter speed to an extremely high degree of accuracy. No other drive system matched it, in theory at least. Initially, the problem was cost. The SP-10 wasn’t a consumer turntable and it took the SL-1100 a year later
to make it slightly more affordable. Technics then began its direct drive range in earnest, launching the SL-110 (the arm-less version of the SL-1100) in 1972. The SL-1200 followed later that year, and became an instant hit with radio stations, leaving the SP-10 for prestigious state broadcasters like the BBC and Japan’s NHK.
In 1975, Technics launched the SL-150 and SL-1500 (with integral tonearm, pictured). This was to be the brand’s ‘affordable high end design’, a sort of BMW 5-series to the SP-10’s 7. It offered the company’s proprietary direct drive technology in a compact but sturdy package, with a slightly lower torque motor compared to that of the SP-10. This was still more than adequate and it turned in an excellent 0.03% WRMS wow and flutter figure; this was better than practically every other turntable on sale, including the much-vaunted Linn Sondek LP12. Rumble was quoted at -70dB, a very good figure indeed for the day.
The ultra low speed brushless DC motor, complete with servo control, drove a 2.5kg diecast aluminium alloy platter of 330mm diameter, and the speed could vary by 10% around 33.3 and 45RPM. It sat on the main bearing, around which the DD motor worked. This was mounted into the silver painted aluminium plinth, which was relatively compact at 139x366x453mm. The whole deck itself weighed 7.8kg. A reasonable quality plastic dustcover was fitted to this, with friction stays to hold it up. The arm board was changeable, and came with an SME cutout as standard. For this reason alone, most SL-150s tended to be sold with the 3009 Series 2, then latterly the SME Series III.
Despite its not inconsiderable price of £150 in 1975, the SL-150 sold reasonably well in the UK. The market was beginning to obsess over British belt drive turntables, and so didn’t perhaps get the exposure it deserved. But through the big hi-fi stores of the day, like Laskys and Lion House, a good number of units went to very happy owners, going on to give decades of reliable service.
Sonically the Technics is very good, but not quite a top-tier turntable. It is fast, powerful, clean and engaging to listen to; in absolute terms it lacks a little smoothness and has a slightly restricted sense of stage depth and scale, but compared to most decks of the day it fared very well indeed. Bass is a revelation compared to many belt drives of the day, being powerful and ultra tight. The inky black silences and low surface noise are further tell-tales, giving away its excellent engineering.
In 1977 the SL-150/II arrived improved the deck’s sound still further with the addition of quartz lock, not that it was strictly necessary, such was the mark I’s excellent speed stability. More welcome was its even quieter motor, dropping rumble figures to vanishingly low numbers. It changed the look a little too, adding touches of rosewood veneer which aren’t to everyone’s taste. By this time, the British market was fully committed to our own native belt drive designs like the Ariston RD80, STD 305, and Dunlop Systemdek.
These days, like cockroaches after a nuclear war, many SL-150s survive. Some still work well, although quite a few others have speed stability issues thanks to failing components on the servo board. They’re easily fixable, and along with a few drops of the supplied oil to keep the bearing fresh, should go on to work for many years again. You can pick this classic Technics up secondhand surprisingly inexpensively considering what it is – less than £300 if you’re lucky, although it may need a service by now. It’s a lot of quality and engineering for the price of a new entry-level Pro-Ject or Rega, and will sound dramatically better. Funnily enough, the SL-150 hasn’t reached cult status like some its stablemates. It’s only a matter of time, though…