To say the Technics (website) SL-1200 is a legend is an understatement. Rumor has it that they sold 3.5 to 4 million SL-1200s over its 50+ year history. Its distinct look, reliability and smooth pitch control made it the choice for DJs as long as I can remember. In 2020, Technics released a Limited Edition Technics SL-1210GAE Anniversary Turntable to celebrate the 55 year anniversary of the Technics brand. The limited run of 1200 units instantly sold out, with only around 300 units making it to the US.
I never owned an SL-1200 but played with many growing up. I remember experimenting with various record mats and mixing techniques as a young boy. That was about to all change when I took delivery of a Technics SL-1210 GAE Anniversary and gave it a spin.
How good could I get this $3999 (USD) table to sound when paired with the fabulous HANA Umami Red cartridge and modern setup tools? Let’s find out what 55 years of history can create.
Technics SL-1200 History
Technics released their first Direct Drive Turntable in 1970 with the SP-10. The later SP-10 MK2 became a studio reference and broadcast standard used by many including the BBC.
As the SP-10 was price prohibitive for most, Technics introduced the more affordable SL-1200 line. This built a cult-like following, especially in Japan. The SL-1200 had a long run from 1972 to 2008 when they released the sixth iteration known as the SL-1200 MK6. Through all of the various iterations, changes were generally minor. In 2010, Technics discontinued the SL-1200 series and paused production.
Six years later, the SL-1200 was brought back to life with the release of the SL-1200 GAE and SL-1200G. This time, the SL came back with a more modern presentation including an iron core-less direct drive motor, an upgraded platter with multi-layers and materials and improved chassis to improve isolation. I had a chance to listen to updated SL-1200s at CES 2019.
Technics SL-1210GAE Anniversary
This all brings us to today. The Limited Edition Technics SL-1210GAE Anniversary was released in 2020 to celebrate the 55th anniversary of the Technics brand. The SL-1210GAE is based on the Technics Grand Class SL-1200G hi-fi turntable with four notable changes:
- Slick all-black color scheme. The 10-mm-thick aluminum top panel of the Technics SL-1210GAE Anniversary sports a delicious anodized matte black finish. In addition, the operation buttons and tonearm also employ the same matte black finish
- Fancy badge inscribed with a serial number
- An added insulator made using features soft gel-like material to provide improved shock absorbing properties which is also used on the flagship SL-1000R reference turntable
- An added strobe light ON-OFF switch to get that mood lighting going
Priced at $3,999 USD (no cartridge included).
Technics SL-1210GAE Anniversary unboxing
The 1210GAE landed on my doorstep, double boxed, all 50+ pounds worth of love. Removing the outer box revealed the pristine inner box sporting its 55th Anniversary designation.
Upon opening the box, you are greeted by a shiny platter that is much heavier than it looks. The three-layer platter is made by aluminum die-cast attached to a brass plate. This sits on top of a thick layer of rubber attached to the bottom forming a third layer to reduce resonance.
The plinth comes out of the box for the most part fully assembled with the tonearm in place.
Once the Technics SL-1210GAE Anniversary plinth was removed from the the box, we discovered one of the four feet were damaged in shipping. Apparently, it was a known issue where some feet came unscrewed during shipping. My unit did take a small detour back to New York in order to have the dislodged foot repaired under warranty.
Once my unit had returned, I continued the installation process. The platter drops in and requires just three screws and associated hardware.
Next up was getting the cartridge installed. For this review, we decided to up our game with the Hana Umami Red Cartridge.
Hana Umami Red Cartridge
We are loving Hana cartridges over at PTA, and my last experience was using a Hana ML with a ClearAudio Innovation Basic. This time we decided to try their top of the line Hana Umami Red, priced at $3,950 USD, with the Technics SL-1210GAE Anniversary.
From Hana’s provided materials, they explain:
“Umami, officially coined in 1908 by Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda-san, as a synergistic combination of various quality ingredients resulting in higher taste intensity. Hana’s Master cartridge designer Masao Okada-san brings over 50 years of experience to this design, applying the Umami concept of synergy as he combines brilliant materials and classic Japanese techniques with modern audio engineering in creating his HANA-Umami Red MC cartridge
“The HANA-Umami Red (UR) concept began with essentially a blank sheet of paper, the goal to create an ultimate MC, surpassing famous high-end cartridges in both sound and value . It was conceived in late 2018 as a luxury transducer, embodying many of the special parts and designs found in the top phono cartridges. The UR would be a fusion of traditional Japanese techniques with modern audio engineering, creating through synergy, a sum greater than its parts.
“Okada-san realized a new cartridge body design, developing a unique shape with numerous manufacturing processes. The UR body uses our Auricle
design, mimicking the shape of the human ear, to more rigidly couple both the generator to the body and the body to the tonearm for enhanced bass and dynamics. This body design is “open air” with the generator partially exposed to reduce resonance. It is CNC manufactured from A7075 Duralumin for its machinability and stiffness. The UR is coated with a multi-layered Urushi lacquer finish (suppressing body resonance), originating from the Japanese Makie-artistic tradition, for both energy control and striking appearance. An ebony wood inlay is incorporated for tuning and added richness, a nod to the classic wood body cartridge designs, but avoiding overt colorations.”
The cartridge, out of the box, is a stunner with its gloss red finish.
DS Audio HS-001 Solid Head Shell
We could have mounted the Hana Umami Red cartridge to the provided Technics Head Shell and alignment jig, but we wanted to step it up with an upgraded head shell. We recently received the DS Audio HS-001 which is manufactured from a single piece of “ultra duralumin.” This design is more rigid and should provide better resonance control over the stock head shell. It also looks luxurious against the stock Technics.
One of its key differences is that it has vertical pins on both sides to keep uniform pressure when inserted into the tonearm. It also allows azimuth adjustment.
When using the DS Audio Head Shell, you will not be able to use the supplied alignment jig that came with the Technics SL-1210GAE Anniversary. The butt end of the DS Audio Head Shell, with its dual vertical pins, is not compatible with the Technics jig. This wasn’t an issue, since I was planning on using a more accurate Dr. Feickert Analogue Cartridge Protractor to do the installation. One challenge you will run into is there is no center point on the top of the Technics tonearm for the protractor pin. To work around this, very carefully put the pin from the protractor in the dead center of the screw located on top of the tonearm.
Ensuring the platter was locked into position using some handy painters tape, we precisely set the cartridge position with our protractor. The Technics SL-1210GAE Anniversary turntable’s strobe light came in handy to illuminate the position of the stylus.
The aligned cartridge was secured with the supplied Hana screws, but we added two washers provided by AnalogMagik as well as using the AnalogMajik torque wrench. This is a new process that I have employed in my turntable setups using the AM torque wrench for all cartridge screws. If you leave the screws too loose, your cartridge is going to start to move or break loose. If you tighten the screws too much, you will change the resonant frequency.
The AM torque wrench was developed by Richard Mak, Analog Editor here at PTA. Richard spent many hours testing different torque settings in 0.05 inch-pound increments until he found the optimal setting that kept the cartridge tight and didn’t change resonance frequency as much. Whatever that value was, it works. You can easily see things change for the worse by further tightening the screws past the recommended value and listening.
With the cartridge aligned and installed on the Technics SL-1210GAE Anniversary, we were ready to level the tonearm and set the style force at exactly 2.0 grams.
The supplied weight on the rear of the tonearm was very easy to make fine adjustments to, and had markings provided on it that showed the stylus force. Interestingly, the written increments on the supplied weight were in the same ballpark as our scale.
Things were moving along and I was itching to drop the needle, but there are a few additional adjustments required to get the cartridge ready to sing–specifically fine tuning the VTA, azimuth and anti-skate. To date I have been a proponent of setting those by ear. This can be a pain staking process, but I had a new tool in my toolbox this time. I was interested to see how well I could do all of these adjustments using AnalogMagik setup software and PC based measurements.
Leveraging the AnalogMagik test tracks and software I was able to adjust the VTA and anti-skate in minutes with a very repeatable process. Adjusting all of these parameters was very easy on the Technics SL-1210GAE Anniversary using the associated dials on the tonearm. No tools were required to make the adjustments to the table. The DS Audio Head Shell allowed for azimuth adjustment using a 2mm screw, but it was almost dead on, so I didn’t try to adjust it further.
The most fascinating discovery through the use of AnalogMagik, was how much I had to raise the rear of the tonearm to get the VTA in the recommended range. To the eye, it looked like the arm was flowing downhill. Post completion, we spent a few more hours listening to make final adjustments. The only change I made from listening tests was to lower the VTA 1 to 2mm to bring it inline with my taste.
Cabling for the Technics SL-1210GAE Anniversary was provided courtesy of our new favorite AudioQuest Element Series Fire interconnects.
The AudioQuest Fire interconnects connected the SL-1210GAE to my reference Dan D’Agostino Momentum phonostage. Loading for the Hana Umami Red was found to be best set at 100 ohms.
Technics SL-1200GAE Anniversary Speed Stability – WOW!
A negative perception about direct drive motors has been that they may exhibit “cogging.” Technics explains that any potential for this is eliminated with the modern coreless direct drive motors that have been present in the SL-1200 since 2016.
“Conventional direct drive analogue turntables have problems with degradation in sound quality caused by factors such as minute speed vibration during rotation and rotation irregularity called “cogging.” In the SL-1200G, the use of a newly developed coreless direct-drive motor with no iron core eliminates cogging. Also, the twin-rotor construction reduces the bearing load while maintaining high torque, and also reduces minute vibration during rotation. These factors enable reproduction of the warm, exquisitely detailed sound etched on analogue records.”
The motor advancements also took cues from the development of Blu-ray devices. Bill Voss of Technics went on to explain:
“The application of motor control technology developed for Blu-ray devices, and switching the drive mode depending on the operational status of the motor achieve a high starting torque and high-speed stability.”
All interesting, but how well does the Technics SL-1210GAE Anniversary measure?
Using AnalogMagik’s test tracks we found speed stability was impressive. Using a 3150 Hz test track, the measured frequency was 3151.79 Hz. Further measurements of wow and flutter measured less than 0.1025%. Generally this number needs to be greater than 0.25% to be detectable by the human ear. Both of these numbers are not surprising considering the modern direct drive motor being used.
Technics SL-1210GAE Listening
The Technics SL-1210GAE Anniversary took center stage in my room for several months. What I loved the most about having it was its approachability. It speaks to you, drawing you in and asking you to drop the needle. It is the first table in my home where I had no issue asking someone to flip the LP over, pick up the stylus etc. My other tables I treat like beautiful cars that I want to operate by myself. This was not a delicate piece of art. It is more an accessible tool that wants to get used.
Performance was better than what I expected at this price point. In addition to using the DS Audio Head Shell, one more modification I made to the stock turntable was to use a Stillpoints LP Isolator (LPI). This seemed to get the best out of the table, and when removed, the sound lost just a tiny bit of life.
Recording after recording, things that stood out to me centered around rock solid speed stability, quiet dark backgrounds and a large sound-stage.
From my past reviews, you will know that I love Ben Harper and his acoustic recordings. Listening to Harper’s album By My Side—a personal favorite I picked up from Record Store Day back in 2013—I was compelled to play the entire album twice over. The mid-range was smooth and beautifully reproduced, probably a testament to the Hana Umami Red doing its dance. Presentation was laid back and not in your face.
Moving over to Dead Can Dance, we can get a sense of the low frequency response and the tracking of instruments. On the Into the Labyrinth album, listening to the track “The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove,” I closed my eyes and enjoyed tracking the little details, the transients of the drums and layers of instruments with ease. The presentation once again reminded me of what I had heard with the Hana ML, but just with more gravitas this time with the Hana Umami Red.
I’ll wrap it up here since our own Marc Phillips, PTA Editor-in-chief, will be doing a follow-up review of the Technics SL-1210GAE Anniversary and how it compares to the SL-1200G he’s been listening to extensively for several years.
The Technics SL-1210GAE Anniversary was a blast to have in my room. It wasn’t the best turntable that I have tested, but it was the most fun. What stood out is its simplicity and how approachable the table was. It is a table that is made to be played. It’s built like a tank, and the associated setup was very straightforward.
At this price point with the associated Hana cartridge, it is a strong performer. Although you can no longer purchase one of these limited edition units, you can find a similar SL-1200GR that is available today. Does it outperform other tables at twice its price? No, I still prefer the ClearAudio Innovation Basic with Hana cartridge that is about 2x the price of the Technics SL-1210GAE Anniversary which provided an even more engaging presentation.
The Hana Umami Red continues to drive my interest in Hana’s offerings. The Umami Red provided more of everything that I was enjoying in the lower priced Hana ML. I think to fully appreciate the Hana Umami Red, I need to get it playing on my reference AMG Viella V12 turntable. More on that in the future.
It you are looking for a table that will last a lifetime and is priced under four thousand dollars, do give the modern SL turntables a closer look.
—Mohammed Samji, Senior Contributor
Editors’ Note: The Technics SL-1210GAE Anniversary and Hana Umami Red both earn our coveted Reviewer’s Choice Award.