Technics has this to say about its new SL-1200: It’s not your father’s direct-drive turntable.
It’s true that the Japanese firm is bringing back its most popular product ever — the rugged vinyl-spinner that was ubiquitous with audiophiles in the 1970s and then lived on as a DJ favorite for decades after. But while the model designation may be the same, Technics has done more than just pull its 50-year-old blueprints out of the drawer.
The company noticed that as old SL-1200s became collectible items, a cottage industry sprung up to modify them. The direct-drive technology pioneered by the company offered many advantages, including speed accuracy, but one bugaboo with the design always was that the motor transmitted some vibration that could be picked up by the cartridge. Modders sought to minimize this weakness.
With the vinyl resurgence showing no signs of slowing down, Technics decided to bring back the SL-1200, but only after a significant redesign. The result is the SL-1200 GAE (Grand Anniversary Edition, $4,000), which the company will begin shipping soon. The turntable was the star attraction in the manufacturer’s room at T.H.E. Show in Newport, where demo model No. 0000 drew a steady throng of curious listeners.
Some, like me, were old enough to remember the original. (Indeed, I was one of the 4 million consumers to buy one. And, like many owners of the well-built product, I still have it and it remains in perfect working order.) Others were attracted by the legend built through the club scene and eBay auctions.
Outwardly, the new SL-1200 appears much the same — a compact plinth, a large metal platter edged with speed-control dots, a hinged dust cover — but underneath much has changed.
“One thing we developed for the new model is a coreless direct-drive motor,” Technics business development manager Bill Voss told me during a demo at the show. “Conventional motors are prone to something called cogging, which essentially is vibration. That’s why belt-drive became popular. The new SL-1200, though, has no iron core, which eliminates that problem.”
Other improvements over the old model include higher-precision motor control, a three-layer platter and a magnesium tonearm.
Voss played several cuts from Richard Thompson’s new album. With the SL-1200 GAE outfitted with an Ortofon 2M Black, Thompson’s acoustic guitar sounded crisp and his vocals were well-defined.
The turntable was part of an all-Technics display that included the SU-C700 integrated amplifier ($1,600), ST-C700 network player ($1,100), SB-C700 speakers ($1,700 a pair), SL-C700 CD player ($1,100), SU-630 amp/network player ($4,000) and ST-630 music server/CD ripper ($5,000). The small monitor-style speakers, especially, stood out with fine sound for their price range. (See John Richardson’s recent Part-Time Audiophile review of the speakers, amp and network player.)
For those already salivating at the thought of a modern audiophile version of the old SL-1200, there’s some bad news and some good news.
The bad news is that Technics is only doing a numbered-edition production run of 1,200 units worldwide for the SL-1200 GAE. Dealers began taking orders for the turntables a few months ago.
“There may be a few still unspoken for, but probably not many,” Voss said.
The good news, though, is that Technics will follow-up in the fall with a slightly less-tweaked version , the SL-1200 G. It will have a little different isolation material in the feet and some other small changes, but otherwise will offer all the improvements of the anniversary edition. The price will remain $4,000.
Can Technics repeat a legend? It appears possible. While the new model hasn’t even left the factory yet, it may not take several decades for this SL-1200 to become a coveted item.
“I’ve already heard about some people putting down deposits for two SL-1200s — one to play and one to keep in the box,” Voss said.