The Technics SL-1200 was always more than a disco fashion accessory. To those who’d only ever encountered Regas and Linns, the Technics might look like a chintzy bauble, but see one in the flesh and you begin to understand why it was always special. Its diecast aluminium upper section feels classy, as does the rubberised BMC composite base. The strobed brass and aluminium platter might look like it escaped from a late seventies music centre, but is heavier than you’d think at 3.6kg including its thick rubber mat. At 18kg, this new SL-1200G is heavy for its relatively compact (453x170x372mm) dimensions.
The motor, however, was always the SL-1200’s star attraction. Even on the previous version, spin a record then rub your finger against the side of the platter and you would feel the servo resolutely respond by pumping more power into the platter. Do the same trick with any belt drive turntable and you’ll hear a groaning noise as the belt stretches and slips, whereas the serious torque of the Technics fights you back. “Direct drive has many advantages over belt drive or rim drive technology,” explains Itani, “but after extensive research we learned there exists a minor issue with sound quality due to ‘cogging’. This causes tiny vibrations during rotation that can potentially effect the sound. Although the old SL-1200 delivered a good performance, we wanted to develop a completely new system that achieved the best ever direct drive performance.”
The G version gets a brand new coreless direct-drive design, with twin rotor construction and a hybrid encoder at the bottom of the motor housing. A micro-controller detects the rotor position with the precision of 0.7degree (540 points in 360 degrees), and generates appropriate drive current for stator coils. “That gives us smoother rotation control, resulting in superior sound quality”, explains Tetsuya Itani. The new motor puts out 3.3kg/cm of torque, up from the SL-1210MK5’s 1.5kg/cm), and because the speed control is now done in software there’s a USB port for future firmware upgrades. Another key tweak to complement this is the new, less resonant platter.
The tonearm retains traditional gimbal suspension construction, with the horizontal rotation axis and the vertical rotation axis intersecting at a single central point. Precision bearings are fitted using a cut-processed housing, and the result is that it feels lovely to hand cue. Whereas the SL-1200GAE Limited Edition [pictured] got a magnesium armtube, the cooking SL-1200G reverts back to standard, heavier aluminium, although this is nicely surfaced to a matt finish. Internal wiring is copper, while the non-captive arm cable uses the MK5’s OFC copper wire. The headshell is aluminium, and takes cartridges from 10g to 19.8g; it’s a standard classic SME type, so can be usefully upgraded to a fancier, more rigid carbon fibre type at a later date and this will yield a real improvement in sound. The new feet are said to have a high level of vibration damping, and this claim was soon confirmed by listening tests – although as with every turntable ever made it benefits from a rigid, level, vibration-free support. In use, the overall feel of this new Technics is wonderfully slick – rather like a precision Japanese camera – and the new brushed aluminium surfacing on top makes it look a lot less utilitarian than the previous model.
Although many think of ‘the Technics’ merely as a DJ deck, it has always been a capable hi-fi vinyl spinner. Fit a decent moving magnet cartridge to its stock tonearm, set it up well and remove the sound-muddling dust cover, and you have a strong, feisty sounding performer with a wondrously solid and propulsive base. That’s always been the case – indeed even the old SL-1200’s bottom end is special compared to pretty much any belt drive turntable. Elsewhere, higher up the frequency range the previous deck sounded very clean and crisp, but slightly bright and lacking in fine detail…
The new SL-1200G effectively takes up the baton from where the old one left off, building on the strengths of its predecessor. It goes to work on fixing the failings of the previous generation model, with a sweeter, smoother tonality – especially in the midband – and better soundstaging and depth perspective. In short, it’s less of a showy ‘DJ deck’ and more of a mature, hi-fi turntable. Tracking an Ortofon Quintet Black (£650) moving coil hooked up to an ANT Audio Kora 3T phono stage, and Randy Crawford’s You Might Need Somebody soon showed that this is even tighter and tauter in the bass that its predecessor. Yet where the old MK5 could sound ragged with female vocals, the SL-1200G is smoother and purer. It also manages to image slightly better too; image location was never a problem but the soundstage is now a little wider and falls back just a touch more than before. Compared to a price rival such as a Michell GyroDec/Tecno arm, the Technics is still way behind, lacking real ‘out of the box’ three dimensionality – but it’s fair to say that it makes up for it in other ways…
Spin up some classic electro-pop such as Heaven 17’s epic Temptation, and the SL-1200G absolutely shines. On fast, dense, uptempo music such as this, it’s totally arresting – it makes you sit up and listen. Like flicking your telly from Freeview to HD, things snap into focus dramatically, making most rival belt-drive designs sound as wallowy as tired old tube amp being asked to drive difficult loudspeakers. Musically it is one of the most exciting disc spinners to listen to – there’s so much energy coming out of the groove that it captures, bringing a visceral feel to the music. Again, that bassline dominates, but the electronic percussion is so accurately carried and everything bounces off it in perfect time. The only criticism is that the deck can’t quite convey the loudest crescendos properly, it’s as if the fitted tonearm just isn’t quite good enough. There’s no mistracking, just a subtle sense of compression – so one wonders if there’s going to be an armless version at some stage?
Spin up some classic rock music from REM, and again you’re struck by the wonderfully propulsive feel of the deck. Talk About The Passion is a Rickenbacker-laced ballad that can sound ponderous on lesser decks, but it feels like the SL-1200G has had a stiff expresso. It sounds fresh as a daisy and rhythmically captivating – that ‘laid back’ vinyl sound that many people love isn’t there; instead it’s much more akin to hi-res digital, but with soul. Rhythm is everything, from the wonderful attack on the bass guitar that never (unlike belt-drive rivals) sounds slurred, to the glassy clarity in the midband, which locates elements in the mix with laser-like precision. Moving further up the frequency range, and cymbals have a delicious, crystalline purity that’s rare even on the finest superdecks. Much of this could be said about its predecessor, but there’s none of its hardness in the midband now, and gone is that slightly processed feel.
The new Technics SL-1200G is a brilliant turntable, and a serious improvement on its already excellent forebear. However, there are two big issues to consider. First, it feels like the capability of the motor unit far exceeds that of the tonearm – even though the new arm seems better than its predecessor. Second, although way better than some price rivals in most respects, it features far stiffer competition at its new price than its substantially cheaper predecessor did. That’s got to make some people think twice and wonder if they shouldn’t go for a more balanced all-rounder, of which there are several. I love this new Technics, but at £2,999 it no longer offers the epic value for money of its forebear.