Technics SL-1200G Review

The Technics SL-1200 was never just a disco fashion statement. To people who had only only seen Regas and Linns, the Technics would appear to be a flimsy ornament, but once you see one in person, you’ll realize why it was always remarkable. It has a sophisticated diecast aluminium upper portion, as well as a rubberized BMC composite base. The strobed brass and aluminium platter may appear to have escaped from a late 1970s music store, yet it weighs 3.6kg, including its thick rubber pad. This new SL-1200G is heavy for its relatively modest (453x170x372mm) proportions, weighing in at 18kg.

The SL-1200’s big draw, though, was always the motor. Spin a record and then rub your finger on the side of the platter on the previous version, and you’ll feel the servo firmly respond by putting extra power into the platter. If you try the same trick with a belt drive turntable, you’ll hear a groaning sounds as the belt stretches and slips, whereas the Technics’ real torque fights back. “While direct drive has numerous advantages over belt or rim drive technology,” Itani continues, “we discovered after considerable research that there is a tiny difficulty with sound quality owing to ‘cogging.'” During spinning, this creates minor vibrations that may affect the sound. Despite the fact that the original SL-1200 provided good performance, we intended to create an entirely new system that would give the finest direct drive performance ever.”

The G model features a novel coreless direct-drive design with two rotors and a hybrid encoder at the bottom of the motor housing. A microcontroller detects the rotor position with 0.7 degree precision (540 points in 360 degrees) and generates suitable stator coil drive current. Tetsuya Itani adds, “This provides us smoother rotation control, resulting in higher sound quality.” The new motor produces 3.3kg/cm of torque, up from 1.5kg/cm on the SL-1210MK5, and there’s a USB port for future firmware updates because the speed management is now done in software. The new, less resonant platter is another important change to complement this.

The tonearm is built on a classic gimbal suspension system, with the horizontal and vertical rotation axes meeting at a single central point. Precision bearings are installed in a cut-processed housing, resulting in a pleasant hand cueing experience. Unlike the Limited Edition SL-1200GAE, which has a magnesium armtube, the ordinary SL-1200G has a conventional, heavier aluminium armtube, which is attractively finished to a matt finish. Internal wiring is copper, and the non-captive arm cable is OFC copper wire from the MK5. The headshell is made of aluminium and accepts cartridges weighing between 10 and 19.8 gram; it’s a basic SME type, so it can be updated to a nicer, more robust carbon fiber version at a later date for a significant sound enhancement. The new feet are supposed to have a high level of vibration dampening, which was quickly validated by listening tests – albeit it still benefits from a strong, level, vibration-free support, as does every turntable ever manufactured. In usage, the new Technics feels delightfully sleek – similar to a quality Japanese camera – and the new brushed metal covering on top makes it appear far less utilitarian than the old edition.

‘The Technics’ has always been a capable hi-fi vinyl spinner, despite the fact that many people think of it as a DJ deck. If you replace the standard tonearm with a quality moving magnet cartridge, set it up properly, and remove the sound-muffling dust cover, you’ll get a powerful, feisty-sounding performance with a wonderfully solid and propulsive foundation. That’s always been the case, and the old SL-1200’s bottom end is unique in comparison to almost every belt drive turntable. The prior deck sounded quite clear and sharp higher in the frequency range, but slightly bright and lacking in fine detail…

The new SL-1200G basically picks up where the old one left off, capitalizing on its predecessor’s capabilities. With a sweeter, smoother tonality – especially in the midband – and greater soundstaging and depth perspective, it works to correct the flaws of the previous generation model. In short, it’s more of a mature, hi-fi turntable than a flashy “DJ deck.” Randy Crawford’s You Might Need Somebody quickly demonstrated that this is even tighter and tauter in the bass than its predecessor, using an Ortofon Quintet Black (£650) moving coil connected to an ANT Audio Kora 3T phono stage. The SL-1200G, on the other hand, is smoother and purer than the earlier MK5, which might sound ragged with female vocals. It also manages to picture slightly better; image placement was never an issue, but the soundstage is now little wider and falls back slightly more than before. The Technics is still a long way behind a price competition like a Michell GyroDec/Tecno arm, lacking true ‘out of the box’ three dimensionality – but it’s fair to say it makes up for it in other ways…

The SL-1200G shines brightly when you play vintage electro-pop like Heaven 17’s epic Temptation. It’s totally arresting on rapid, dense, uptempo music like this – it makes you sit up and listen. Things burst into focus considerably when you switch from Freeview to HD, making most alternative belt-drive setups sound as sluggish as a worn old tube amp trying to drive tough loudspeakers. Musically, it’s one of the most thrilling disc spinners to listen to since it captures so much energy from the groove, giving the song a visceral sense. That bassline takes center stage once more, but the electronic percussion is so well-placed that everything bounces off of it in perfect timing. The deck’s only flaw is that it can’t fully transmit the loudest crescendos adequately; it’s as if the tonearm isn’t quite up to the task. There’s no mistracking, just a minor sense of compression, thus one has to wonder if an armless version may be released at some point.

Play some REM classic rock and you’ll be impressed once more by the deck’s beautifully propulsive vibe. Talk About The Passion is a Rickenbacker-laced song that sounds ponderous on lesser decks, but the SL-1200G sounds like it’s been given a stiff expresso. It sounds as fresh as a daisy and rhythmically compelling — the ‘laid back’ vinyl sound that many people enjoy isn’t present; instead, it sounds more like hi-res digital with soul. From the excellent assault on the bass guitar, which never sounds slurred (unlike belt-drive rivals) to the crystalline clarity in the midband, which locates pieces in the mix with laser-like precision, rhythm is everything. Cymbals have a lovely, crystalline purity that’s rare even on the best superdecks as you move up the frequency range. Much could be said about its predecessor, but there’s no longer any roughness in the midband, and the slightly processed sense is vanished.

The new Technics SL-1200G is a fantastic turntable that is a significant upgrade over its predecessor. There are, however, two major considerations to consider. First, even if the new tonearm appears to be superior than its predecessor, it appears that the motor unit’s capability greatly exceeds that of the tonearm. Second, although being significantly better in most ways than some price competitors, it has far more competition at its current price than its significantly cheaper predecessor did. That has to make some individuals second-guess themselves and question whether they shouldn’t choose for a more balanced all-rounder, of which there are several. I really like this new Technics, but at £2,999, it’s no longer as good as its predecessor in terms of value for money.