When Technics debuted the SL-10, the company’s first parallel tracker, in 1979, it didn’t have an easy time in the UK. Japanese items, particularly decks with integrated weapons and cartridges, had little or no appeal in the British high end sector. Forget about completely automated turntables that were created with convenience and ease of use in mind.
To add insult to injury, this ‘all singing, all dancing’ extravaganza cost a stunning £300, more than the venerable Linn Sondek! The British press was perplexed – after all, weren’t fully automatic direct drives the domain of consumers upgrading from music centers, not the high-end?
The SL-10 was, in reality, a spectacular piece of industrial design, as evidenced by its inclusion in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
As if that wasn’t enough, the arm was firmly anchored in place using a variation of Technics’ top EPC-305MC moving coil cartridge. The deck was so carefully set up that the fine elliptical stylus (attached to a boron cantilever, no less) tracked confidently at just 1.25g. A defeatable head amplifier was mounted in the unit’s base, bringing cartridge output up to MM levels.
Thanks to its double-skinned diecast alloy construction, the SL was not insubstantial despite its size. It was a real find when it came to use. Internal sensors sensed the size of the record and adjusted the speed and arm cueing position accordingly, as well as turning off the tonearm if the lid was opened. Indeed, the Technics was so ergonomically correct that it was a watershed moment in user convenience, several years before Compact Disc took the art even further.
Still, it was the sound that delivered the knockout blow. Despite not being up to the standards of a premium turntable/arm combination, it was a fantastic listen. Magazines had previously correctly pointed out that proper hi-fi and ease of use were mutually exclusive — but the Technics changed all of that. The sound was beautiful and open, with a lot of detail, a lot of rhythmic zip, and a good fluid, melodic feel.
The SL-10 was a big hit, and demand far outstripped supply for a time. A year or two later, Technics released the SL-7, a simplified version of the ’10 that was significantly less expensive and easier to manufacture. It retained the ’10’s compact size but gave somewhat better sound for just £200, thanks to a beefed up microprocessor, upgraded control circuitry, a new motor, and a P202 moving magnet cartridge.
The SL-Q1 and SL-D1 were born from this, with the SL-Q1 being even cheaper and the SL-D1 being stretched to the normal ‘rack’ width of 430mm. The ‘Q1 had a quartz referenced motor, as opposed to the ‘D1’s direct drive motor, and the cartridges were an EP-S22ES and a P23E, respectively – both excellent moving magnet designs. Finally, the SL-10 gave birth to the exorbitantly priced SL15, which cost £400 and included Technics’ iconic EPC-205IIIL cartridge. Despite being a moving magnet, it was favored over the SL-10’s coil and produced a pleasant sound.
Because of its very simple construction, good build, and fantastic sound, the SL-7 is considered the best of the Technics parallel trackers. There are still a handful circulating secondhand, and prices are reasonable — expect to pay between £80 and £250 for a mint SL-7, SL-10, or SL-15, or around £50 for the less expensive SL-Q1 or ‘D1. Parts are still available, and Ortofon continues to produce a good line of P-mount cartridges that will fit. A Technics SL-series might be just the thing for analogue enthusiasts who need to kick their feet up every now and again.