How do you follow a legend? With another legend, apparently.
This spring, Technics revived its 1970s icon, the SL-1200 direct-drive turntable. After spending several years out of production, the SL-1200 returned in a special limited edition that included many audiophile tweaks not dreamed of during its heyday.
The special-edition run of 1,200 (like the Japanese firm would choose any other number?) sold out in a heartbeat. Instantly, another legend was born.
Indeed, by the time many audiophiles, DJs and other music lovers had heard about the new turntable, dubbed the SL-1200 GAE (Grand Anniversary Edition), the entire lot was spoken for. Technics, though, realized the vinyl revival had created a demand far larger than what could be satisfied by a one-time collector’s item.
The company’s room at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest showcased its answer: the new SL-1200 G (merely Grand, with the anniversary now past), a full-production version that differs only slightly from the GAE.
“The only difference, really, is a different material used to make the feet,” Technics business development manager Bill Voss told me between demos. “Everything else is pretty much the same.”
That includes the tonearm. When I wrote about the SL-1200 GAE for Part-Time Audiophile in my T.H.E. Show/Newport coverage, I mentioned Technics at the time was mulling whether to go with something other than the magnesium used for the revived ‘table’s tonearm. But the magnesium proved to be such a big hit with buyers that it stayed in the newest version.
The price also remains the same. The SL-1200 GAE sold for $4,000, which is the tag on the G model.
As I noted in my report on the GAE, the SL-1200 at first glance looks nearly indistinguishable from the original version. There’s the same silver finish, control layout, compact plinth, metal platter edged with speed-control dots and hinged dust cover. But much of the innards have been upgraded with modern technology.
The SL-1200 was always lauded for the precise speed control afforded by its direct-drive design. This, and its robust build quality, made it a favorite of DJs and a highly sought eBay item. But the way direct-drive was implemented in those old models also became a bugaboo with some in the audiophile crowd.
The original motors had an iron core that tended to create “cogging”, an issue pertinent with minute speed fluctuations. The new SL-1200 G features a coreless direct-drive motor that Technics’ engineers say fixes that issue. Other improvements over the old model include higher-precision motor control and a three-layer platter.
The SL-1200 G is shipping now, and Voss said demand remains high. Along with interest from vinyl-spinners in the club scene, the new SL-1200 seems to be winning back audiophiles as reports of its superior sound circulate.
When I visited the Technics room in Denver, the SL-1200-centered system there certainly was making a good sound. The turntable was outfitted with an Ortofon 2M Black cartridge ($755). Other Technics gear included the SB-C700 speakers ($1,700 a pair), SU-C700 integrated amplifier ($1,600), ST-C700 network player ($1,100), SL-C700 CD player ($1,100), SU-630 amp/network player ($4,000) and ST-630 music server/CD ripper ($5,000), as well as a retro-cool 1970’s vintage reel-to-reel deck modified by Jeff Jacobs of J-Corder.
Voss put on a new Analogue Productions pressing of the Cowboy Junkies’ chill-vibe classic, The Trinity Session. The band’s slowed-down cover of Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane” sounded something like a mash of indie pop and Gregorian chant, with Margo Timmins lush vocals and the hushed rhythm section bouncing off the walls of the Toronto church where the album was recorded on a single Calrec Ambisonic microphone.
The Technics system impressively reproduced that atmospheric soundscape, while Peter Timmins’ delicate drumming, Michael Timmins’ bare-bones guitar and Alan Anton’s murmuring bass were clearly defined. It struck me that the system’s success in capturing such an ethereal mood likely was in large part due to the SL-1200’s rock-solid speed and pitch control, as well as the improved quietness of its drive system.
It seems Technics has another legend on its hands, one that likely will be winning fans for another 40 years.