Technics SL-1200GR Turntable Review Page 2

The headshell utilizes the H4-Bayonet, often referred to as “SME-style,” mount used on most S-shaped tonearms since the 1970s when the SL-1200 first arrived. By removing the headshell from the arm, you’ll find that connecting the four wires to the cartridge pins becomes much less tricky. Also, Technics supplies a clip-on overhang gauge that lets you set the overhang and horizontal tracking angle with reasonable accuracy while the headshell sits in your hand. Once you’ve reattached the headshell to the arm, you need to balance the arm’s calibrated counterweight, set the tracking force and anti-skating, and adjust the vertical tracking angle using the height-adjustment ring, and you’ll be ready to go. One notable change from older SL-1200s is that the signal output now uses a pair of RCA jacks, allowing you to supply your own cable—or you can use the fairly generic but decent one that’s included with the turntable.

Technics supplied the review turntable with the excellent Ortofon 2M Black moving-magnet cartridge, and I also tried it with a Lyra Delos, which is a more upscale, low-output, moving-coil design. Because I still have the late-production SL-1200 Mk2 that I used for my 2010 review, I was able to make a direct comparison between this new upstart and its ancestor. What’s especially cool is that because the arm geometry hasn’t changed, I was able to swap the headshells and cartridges back and forth between the two turntables, making comparisons a snap.

118tech.bcl.jpg

With the two decks sitting side by side, it’s immediately clear that the fit and finish have been stepped up a few notches on the SL-1200GR. Everything has a smoother and noticeably more solid feel, with absolutely no play detectable in the tonearm bearings. The platter-and-motor combination is one area where Technics has made a lot of changes under the skin. Weighing in at 5.5 pounds, the new platter is about a third more massive than the old one, so the all-new coreless motor was imbued with about a third more torque, resulting in a nearly identical startup time.

Performance
Long-term pitch stability is often cited as a strong suit of direct-drive turntables, and the Technics drive system has always been one of the best. There’s no hint of the proverbial “hunt and peck” speed wavering and cogging that belt-drive fans often accuse direct drives of committing. Even the sustained piano chords at the opening of Sviatoslav Richter’s 1959 recording of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 on Deutsche Grammophon were totally in tune and steady as a rock by my ear. Technics makes a big deal about their new coreless direct-drive motor design, and it seems to be the real deal. There was a time when audiophiles would eschew direct-drive systems as not being capable of truly high-end performance, but more recent designs like the Brinkmann Bardo and the Grand Prix Audio Monaco have proven otherwise to many, albeit at vastly higher price points. Technics, with their coreless system, can now hold their own.

118tech.top.jpg

Going for a complete change of pace, I put on my original pressing of Bruce Springsteen’s The Ghost of Tom Joad. I reveled in the open dynamics and vibrancy of Springsteen’s vocal performance and the rich tonal color and texture of his fingerstyle acoustic guitar. Switching over to the Lyra Delos cartridge stepped up the level of inner detail to deliver even more refinement. I usually go to great lengths to align my cartridges with extreme care, and if I had one nit to pick about the SL-1200GR, it’s that the headshell connector can be just a bit sloppy. When you insert the headshell into the mounting collar, you’ll find that there’s just a bit of play, which can affect the azimuth ever so slightly (that’s the left-to-right tilt of the cartridge when viewed from head on). Quick and easy cartridge swaps are important to the DJ, if not so much to the audiophile.

So just for us, it would be nice to see a version of the arm without the inevitable compromises of the SME-style headshell mounting collar. As you might expect from the latest version of a turntable renowned for filling dance floors around the world, the SL-1200GR can deliver fast and powerful bass. The very slightly soft and rounded quality to bass notes that I noted in my 2010 review of the Mk2 appears to have been almost entirely eliminated in this new version, likely thanks to the use of a more massive platter with better damping qualities. Tony Levin’s amazing bass playing on Peter Gabriel’s duet with Kate Bush, “Don’t Give Up,” had a newfound sense of focus and solidity compared with the older table.

118tech.2.jpg

Conclusion
After living with the SL-1200GR for a while, I began to realize just how fuss-free and fun it was to play records on this turntable. The platter doesn’t wobble about on a bouncy suspension, and it can start and stop in an instant. The arm handles beautifully and the cueing lever drops the stylus exactly where you expect it to fall. And the motor has plenty of torque if you want to dust off your record with one of those carbon-fiber brushes. I found myself simply playing and enjoying the music on my records, without much of the analog ritual often needed with more exotic equipment.

The SL-1200GR represents the long-awaited return of the best-selling high-performance turntable in history. While I can’t really comment on its DJ-ing capabilities, I can say that it’s an excellent choice for the audiophile who wants a no-fuss solution that will likely last through a nuclear war. It really is a viable alternative to some of the popular audiophile offerings in this price range. I expect that if Technics left off a bunch of the DJ tchotchkes—such as the pitch slider, target light, and strobe platter—they’d actually sell a bunch more turntables to people who may otherwise dismiss this one as “just another DJ deck.” Until then, we’ll keep it away from the audio snobs as our own little secret.

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.

X