Technics SL-1200LTD Review

In 1997, Technics released the SL-1200LTD, a thousand pounds worth of piano black lacquer and 24-carat gold plating fastened to possibly the most popular and longest-lasting turntable in history. As if that wasn’t enough, Technics threw in a pair of DJ headphones, a numbered brass plaque on the plinth, and a gold Technics logo on the rear. The LTD is a remarkable object in the flesh, restricted to a ‘trifling’ 10,000 copies worldwide and 1,000 in the UK.

The SL-1200 is one of the most well-known turntables in the world, thus it requires minimal introduction. Seeing a ‘1200 will bring back memories if you ever owned a direct drive car from the 1970s. With a claimed performance score of 0.01 percent WRMS wow and flutter and a weighted rumbling figure of -78dB, thanks to its direct-driven quartz lock motor, it is quite well manufactured, if not quite up to the top.

The high torque motor whips the platter up to 33RPM in less than three quarters of a second when the ‘soft-touch’ start/stop button is pressed, and the included electronic brake stops everything just as quickly. The iconic pitch slider is to the right, giving +/- 8% adjustability and a center detent in which the quartz crystal precisely locks the correct speed on. The LTD version has an extra button that allows you to accomplish the same thing without having to move the slider. The many wonderful touches all around the deck appeal it to club DJs. The SL-1200 includes a strong, clear strobe and a tiny little light that pops out out of the deck to facilitate cueing, making it ideal for low-light scenarios. From the phono cables to the dustcover, everything is well-made and thoughtfully conceived, right down to the metal 45RPM center-spindle adaptor with its convenient storage recess.

My main criticism was and continues to be the basic tonearm, which, despite its gold plating, lacks confidence. It’s not horrible, but it’s no SME or Rega. It’s a well-finished mid mass (12g) S-shaped design with a gimbal bearing system. The bearings are shaky, the counterweight wobbles, and I even discovered the feared stereo image-destroying rubber washer attached to an otherwise sturdy aluminium headshell — serious users should discard this immediately. In some ways, the arm isn’t horrible – it’s height-adjustable, for example, so it’s better than much of the mediocrity found on Japanese mid-market decks.

My assumptions that the SL-1200 is a good deck with a mediocre arm were validated during the audition. I started with my Audio Technica OC9 in place and gently lowered the stylus into the groove of Alex Reece’s Feel the Sunshine 12inch (no slide cueing or scratching with pricey moving coils, thank you). Although the Technics produced a vibrant, solid sound, the song’s normally wonderful bottom line sounded uneasy, so I switched to a far less demanding AT-95E moving magnet, and things improved dramatically. Low frequencies tightened up a lot more with fewer demands on the arm, and the SL came back to generating music in earnest.

The sound was large, strong, and brassy, which was just what I was looking for. The deck displayed confidence and force by holding the tune and communicating the song’s rhythmic energy. True, it wasn’t delivered in a particularly nuanced manner, with strong strokes rather than fine filigree design. However, it proved to be a compelling performer, drawing the listener’s attention away from its flaws and toward the music being played. These flaws were amplified in Lloyd Cole’s Rattlesnakes, which had stereo imaging that left a much to be desired inside its wide, spacious soundstage. The treble quality was splashy and inaccurate, and the stage depth was lacking, sounding two-dimensional and forward.

Shock isolation was good, as predicted, thanks to a heavy plinth and large non-adjustable rubber feet, and I suppose the shaky arm was actually helpful in this regard. It’s not quite as ‘sensitive’ as a Naim ARO unipivot, to put it that way! Indeed, the SL-1200 with normal arm sounds a little rough around the edges, but it’s still very musical and rhythmic. But there’s more: Some claim that if you bring out the spanner and hacksaw and install a Rega arm to the deck’s plinth (which isn’t impossible), the deck will be converted into a huge killer.

Back when it was first released, the SL-1200LTD was panned for being the type of thousand-pound hi-fi turntable that many people bought just because they could. However, it’s now a fascinating curio.