Technics SL-1200GR Turntable Review


Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,699

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Newly engineered from the ground up
Exceptional pitch stability
Includes 78 rpm speed
Minus
DJ features are irrelevant for most users
Detachable headshell may limit tonearm performance
No factory-installed cartridge option

THE VERDICT
Technics’s reborn legendary DJ turntable is now a better bet than ever for home audiophile use, but no longer quite the bargain it once was.

Way back in the May 2010 issue of Sound & Vision, I compared three sub-$1,000 turntables, including one that I felt was a bit of a rebellious choice for the audiophile listener. Over its nearly 40 years of production, the Technics SL-1200 series had morphed from one of the top models in the company’s industry-leading range of audiophile direct-drive turntables into a deck that was aimed squarely at the club and DJ market. As the years passed and the remainder of the Technics high-end audio lineup gradually faded away, the brand became synonymous with just one product: the SL-1200 DJ turntable in its various guises. I didn’t know it at the time of that 2010 review, but within about six months, Technics’s parent company, Matsushita/Panasonic, would announce the end of SL-1200 production and the death of the legendary brand with it.

Fast-forward about five years, when Technics made a triumphant return at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show with an all-new lineup of high-end electronics and speakers. The only head-scratcher was that there was no turntable to be found. Had Panasonic’s bean counters decided that there wasn’t a viable future for vinyl playback? Was there any truth to the rumor that making more than three million SL-1200s over the decades had irreparably worn out the tooling used to build them? After all, a Technics equipment lineup without a turntable makes about as much sense as an Italian restaurant without pasta. Something had to give, and SL-1200 fans around the world started a petition to let the company know just how they felt.

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Luckily, the wait for vinyl fans wouldn’t be too long. At the IFA Show in the fall of 2015, Technics teased the crowd, presenting a mock-up of a turntable but with no tonearm and practically no information. Did this signal the imminent return of the professional SP-10 series that you could use with your own tonearm? Technics was tight-lipped, but at least it looked like they had heard the cries of their fans, and a turntable eventually would be taking its rightful place in the brand’s lineup.

It finally debuted in January 2016: the SL-1200GAE. This appeared to be a super deluxe version of the venerable SL-1200 series on steroids, restricted to just 1,200 (naturally) individually numbered units, and sporting a very un-SL-1200-like $4,000 price tag. This limited-production special was followed quickly by the SL-1200G, which was essentially the same thing as the GAE minus the numbering. To the casual observer, it may have looked like Technics was simply picking up where they had left off a few years earlier—but what was the deal with those $4,000 price tags? After all, the SL-1200 Mk2 had been just $699 when it was discontinued in 2011.

In truth, the SL-1200GAE (Grand Anniversary Edition) and SL-1200G were nothing like the SL-1200s of old under the skin. Just about every part had been completely redesigned from scratch; the new models were simply wearing the familiar trappings of the old SL-1200. Think of the new decks as being like the Porsche 911 of turntables. The latest model might look kind of like a 35-year-old one, but take it for a spin and you’ll discover that they really have very little in common.

The real mystery was, to whom were these turntables with high-end price tags and DJ features being marketed? When the SL-1200 cost under $700, many audiophiles were willing to overlook the DJ trappings and appreciate its performance. But that’s a harder sell at almost six times the price. Still, I suppose the Technics marketing people knew what they were doing, because those limitededition, numbered GAE models sold out pretty quickly.

The SL-1200GR, also available in black as the SL-1210GR, is the third model to come along in the resurrected lineup, and it’s this one that should really be seen as the true successor to the SL-1200s of the past. When you compare its specifications with those of the other SL-1200 variants made over the last 39 years since the launch of the Mk2, it is the GR that most closely resembles its forebears. An affordable successor certainly makes sense, but it’s not as if Technics was able to simply fire up the machinery and start making Mk2s again. As with the higher-end models in the series, GR takes little besides its looks from the original. In fact, there’s only one solitary part that’s carried over from the older SL-1200 series, and that’s the dust cover, with its distinctive dome over the tonearm pivot.

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In 2010, I speculated that the Mk2’s remarkably low price could have been the result of Technics having amortized the cost of the tooling some time back during the Reagan administration. Unfortunately, that type of savings won’t apply to an all-new model, but the company has still managed to keep the price down to a fairly reasonable $1,699. Go back to the Porsche analogy and think of the SL-1200GR as being kind of like the turntable equivalent of a bog standard 911 Carrera—still an amazing machine, but less than half the price of the fancy GT3 version.

Setup
Unlike many more affordable turntables sold today, the SL1200GR doesn’t come with a pre-installed and -aligned phono cartridge. That makes sense because the deck is intended for buyers in both the audiophile and DJ worlds, who will want to use very different types of cartridges and styli. It does mean, however, that you (or your retailer) will have to install and align a cartridge and balance the tonearm. The good news: With its removable headshell and clearly calibrated arm adjustments, that job isn’t as difficult as it might be.

COMPANY INFO
Technics
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
JackGIII's picture

I've loved that song and album since '86. And it's long been my favorite bass test, especially that juicy riff in the outro. I've got the Classic Records Clarity Vinyl box (bought at closeout years ago), 4 single-sided 45 RPM discs. What a PITA! ;) I've enjoyed my KAB-modded SL-1200 Mk2 for the past decade or so, but have been wondering about this comparison - thanks!

John_Werner's picture

So many pertinent points made by Michael here the review should be read twice for those thinking about buying this new/old turntable. Speaking of new/old I find it curious it's all new save the dustcover as it looks anything but new. I'll have to trust measurements and the words of Technics and Michael. Obviously over decades of strong sales, and myriad clones, Technics feels the outward industrial design of the SL-1200 is iconic. I'd say they're correct. What stupefies is the several fold increase in price. After more introspection it made sense. Technics is a for profit business, of course. They knew they'd never get the sales numbers of the latter heady days of the analog era and instead of walking away made a worthy, if now somewhat costlier, much improved SL-1200. For many of us it's great to see the Technics name back. In the 70's they made some great audio gear. From receivers with some of the best FM sections (priced low compared to Marantz and McIntosh) to their all-out assault on pro-sumer reel to reel tape model RS-1500 ( better than the Revox A-77?), Technics was a solid affordable option for audiophiles. I hope they once more find their place in a confused audio world where it seems the market jumps from compact Bluetooth speakers to the truly outrageously priced high-end where every week a new speaker or amplifier appears with another zero added to the price. I was truly thinking Technics was crazy to price this new version of the SL-1200 at north of double the former price. After Michael's review I actually feel the new GR is a bit of a wonder looking so familiar but with real improved performance and build at a price that just might be a bargain all things (mainly a fraction of former sales potential) considered.

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