Technics SL-1210GAE and SL-1200G Turntables | REVIEW











 

Why do a comparison between the Technics SL-1210GAE and SL-1200G? Everybody “knows” the Technics SL-1210GAE Anniversary turntable, which was just released last year, is better than the Technics SL-1200G. Why? Well, the classic Technics SL-1210 turntable was always better than the classic SL-1200, right? So it just stands to reason.

I used to hear that argument all of the time, that the 1210 was the model the generals of the 1200 Army used, and then they’d get it all after-marketed out with Jelco arms and outboard power supplies and very, very special rubber feet and then they’d go onto the internet forums and challenge belt-drive TT enthusiasts to an A/B comparison. Many years ago I visited the home of one of my fellow audio reviewers—he invited me over to hear a Technics that had a few mods but a very expensive cartridge on it—and he quickly corrected me the first time I muttered the number “1200.”

“Oh, this is the SL-1210 Mk. (whatever version it was).”

“What’s the difference between it and the 1200?” I asked.

You know, I don’t want to put words into this gentleman’s mouth fifteen or twenty years after the fact. But there was something in his answer that suggested, more or less, that the 1210 is the better ‘table, don’t really know why, but it’s widely accepted as true. Google it maybe, or ask on the Asylum.

The main difference between the old Technics SL-1210 and the Technics SL-1200 was that the 1210 came in black, with gold accents and markings and badges. Back when the first 1210 showed up, black and gold was cool. Goes really well with all those Patrick Nagel prints you got hanging on the walls in your listening room, right?

That’s the difference between these two current record players from the Japanese electronics giant, the Technics SL-1210GAE and SL-1200G, the latter being the ‘table I’ve used as my reference for the last couple of years. There’s one difference—there’s a new feature on the 1210GAE that turns off the strobe. The press info implies, however, that this is a new feature they may add to all future 1200s.

But here’s the real reason, at least in my opinion, why the Technics SL-1210GAE is possibly the “better” turntable. The older 1210s were made in smaller quantities than the 1200, which made them a “special edition.” Technics isn’t even being coy about that this time around—the GAE designation stands, of course, for Grand Anniversary Edition, which is what they did with the first run of 1200GAEs. While the Technics SL-1210GAE costs exactly the same as the 1200G, $4000, one day it will be worth a lot more money.

Why Do I Need to Review the Technics SL-1210GAE and 1200G?

At least that’s what I thought when Scot Hull first asked me if I wanted to spend some time with the 1210GAE. Mohammed Samji wanted to review it, and he got first dibs, but I was asked if I wanted a turn. “The differences are supposed to be cosmetic only,” I reasoned with Scot. What am I gonna say, that this turntable is exactly like the turntable I’ve been using every day for the last two years, but in black?

I don’t know if it was Scot who said it, or me, or some rando voice in my head. Two turntables and a microphone. Once those words were uttered into the universe, I realized that I did want to spend time with the Technics SL-1210GAE turntable. Not so much to review it, but to utilize it as an effective A/B tool for many of the analog products I have in my arsenal, everything from phono preamplifiers to cartridges to headshells to grounding wires to isolation devices to record clamps to record mats. Let’s dig into my audio toy box!

Before I could do any of that, however, I had to get to the bottom of the 1200 vs. 1210 controversy. Was one better than the other? Were they the same? If the latter was true, my time with the Technics SL-1210GAE was going to be much shorter than I anticipated unless I indulged in some comparisons of other products.

Comparing the Technics SL-1210GAE and SL-1200G

While I’m not the biggest proponent of A/B comparisons, and my protocols may not be as rigorous (or as hackneyed) as some demand, I do have a pretty thorough idea of how I wanted to proceed. First, I set the Technics SL-1210GAE and SL-1200G side by side, hooked up to one of three separate phono preamplifiers with multiple inputs—the Pass Labs XP-27, the Allnic Audio H-5500 and the Brinkmann Edison Mk. 2. Serious phono pre chops there.

The Technics SL-1210GAE and 1200G have two features that make them ideal for direct comparisons. First, I’ve become a huge fan of removable headshells because of the Technics SL-1200G. Need to swap cartridges quickly? This is how you do it, although you will need to reset tracking force and VTA.

Second, the two Technics turntables have removable power cords, so I can quickly make those comparisons—especially since I have plenty of identical power cords on hand. I even had two pairs each of the AudioQuest GroundGoody Saturn and Jupiter ground wires.

I started with a basic set-up—the Technics SL-1210GAE and 1200G with stock power cords, the stock headshell and the ZYX Ultimate Airy X cartridge through the Pass Labs phono stage. I tried several times to hear the 1200 and 1210, side by side, as basic and minimally enhanced as possible. Did I hear a difference between the two turntables?

Maybe.

I’m saying that for a few reasons. First, I felt like small and unavoidable variables such as the relative age of each unit and how many miles were on the odometer, or that new strobe feature, or even the timing of the system warm-ups in between swaps could have affected the sound in a million barely perceptible ways. To make matters more complex, I read Mohammed Samji’s review of the Technics SL-1210GAE and his list on design changes seems to be more comprehensive than mine by one entry.

In addition to all the badges and logos and whatever cosmetic goodies you get with the Technics SL-1210GAE, as well as that darned strobe feature, you get something else—“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,” it says in his review. Aha. That sounds like something that could impact sound quality. I wonder.

But then we have to step back and decide if I heard that kind of sonic difference between the Technics SL-1210GAE and SL-1200G. And I did, I did hear a little something in the background, a gentle shift in the overall size of the sound. If I was doing this blindfolded, I wouldn’t make any bets. I was just zeroing in, really focusing on the differences, and I feel like I found some but I’m not convinced they matter.

But here’s the thing. Over those months, the Technics SL-1210GAE and SL-1200G side by side, I never once developed a preference for one turntable or the other. I had so many gadgets on hand to use with either rig, so playing records was a little like ordering a la carte. And deep down, I feel that if there were any meaningful differences between the sound of the two ‘tables, I think I would have naturally gravitated toward one or the other. Sorry, but that’s as fine of a point that I can hone. I conclude that they sound too much alike to pick one as sonically better as the other.

Oh, but the Technics SL-1210GAE will be worth more money one day. Did I mention that?

Other Comparisons with the Technics SL-1210GAE and SL-1200G

The comparisons between the two turntables was sort of a bust, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t realize my longtime dream of having a tandem rig for A/B comparisons and audio whatnot. As I mentioned, I have a boatload of phono preamplifiers on hand. Over the last couple of weeks, some amazing cartridges have been quietly slipping into the mix. In addition to the Allnic and the ZYX, I’m also reviewing the $600 Sumiko Amethyst (because I always enjoy an over-achieving MM cart), the Goldenberg Classic from Switzerland, and even the same Hana Umami Red cartridge and DS Audio headshell that Mohammed Samji used for his review of the Technics.

I won’t go over each and every comparison I made–there will be full reviews on everything–but I will stop here to praise the Technics SL-1210GAE and SL-1200G for their general excellence. This is, once again, a $3999 turntable and arm combination. The cartridges I used ranged from $600 to $5000. The phono stages I used ranged from $2000 to almost $15K. Yet the Technics was always able to make those sonic differences clear and even somewhat obvious. There hasn’t been one time where I felt that the Technics SL-1210GAE and SL-1200G were letting anything else down or showing their limitations. They were eager and compliant tools for A/B comparisons.

I will, however, comment on a few of those accessories, tweaks and voodoo (as Eric Franklin Shook likes to call it) that I’ve used for many years without having the luxury of this kind of rig.

I’ve had the Funk Firm Achromat for many years. I used both with my back-up back-up Rega P3-24, the lime green one with all those mods. I recently sold that Rega, but I kept the Funk Firm products. Many have asked me what kind of replacement mat I use with my 1200G–it’s considered essential by many–but I never got around to it. Then I remembered the Achroplat, and how I always enjoyed what I did on that Rega.

On the Technics SL-1210GAE and SL-1200G, the Funk Firm added just a little bit of clarity and detail to the presentation over the stock rubber mat. I also felt that I lost just a bit of fullness and weight with Achromat.

Remember the Les Davis Audio 3D² constrained layer damping disc that I used to import from Australia? I still use them, all the time. I’ve always used them for the Technics SL-1200G–you can even see them in many of the photos in my reviews. With the Technics SL-1210GAE and SL1200G, the Les Davis Audio discs did what I’ve heard them do in countless demonstrations. They add fullness and volume to the overall sound. The Technics duo brought these differences into even sharper relief.

In the accessories section of the Summer 2021 Buyers Guide, I added a neat and functional record clamp from Pangea called the Record Doctor, and it only costs $29. On the Technics SL-1210GAE and SL-1200G, I determined that this almost-free device was able to flatten out those warped LPs I use whenever I want to test a record clamp’s effectiveness, and improve tracking. Sure, you can pay more for something made of exotic materials, and it might even do a better job. But if you’re using nothing right now, you should at least try the Pangea.

There is a difference between a record clamp and a record weight. Both help to couple the LP to the platter, but the weight can affect the sound in very positive ways due to the increased mass–if your turntable motor can handle it. That’s where the direct drive system of the Technics SL-1210GAE and SL-1200G comes into play. My reference Fern and Roby brass record weight did not affect speed one iota, easily observed through the strobe markings. The Fern and Roby also improved tracking and provided heft to some of the lowest frequencies.

Finally, I used the Technics SL-1210GAE and SL-1200G to listen to various headshells. This is sort of a new frontier for me, removable headshells, something I haven’t explored until the 1200G arrived on my doorstep nearly three years ago. I was able to compare the stock Technics headshell with those from Nasotec, Acoustical Systems, DS Audio and more. There are subtle ways in which the headshell can affect the overall performance in the rig, but I found the biggest differences in tracking. I plan on building a new headshell section in the next Buyers Guide in November, and the research here will inform my evaluations.

Conclusions

You know what I miss the most about not having a Technics SL-1210GAE and the SL-1200G, side by side on my equipment rack? Sounds silly, but it was having two platters and how easy that made swapping records in and out of play. I loved having that option, and I miss it now.

Did I learn anything from a direct comparison between the Technics SL-1210GAE and the 1200G? Not really. As I said, the 1210GAE’s gonna be worth more money one day, if that’s your main objective. For me, sometimes I prefer my hi-fi components to be sometimes silver, sometimes black. In this case, I might stick with the 1200G. Which I will do, for now. The 1210GAE is headed to Scot Hull.

The most important thing I learned was that these Technics turntables continue to be the real deal. For a guy who once spent way too much internet energy on dissing the original 1200s, I continue to find it fascinating that this is where I wound up, endlessly impressed with this well-made precision machine.