Gramophone Dreams #11

Which record player has achieved international acclaim as a musical instrument in its own right?

Which turntable is revered for its near-indestructible build quality?

Which disc spinner has played more records—and made more people drink, drug, dance, and make out—than any other?

Which turntable has sold over three million units?

Hint: It is not made in the US, the UK, China, or Switzerland.

Few Stereophile-reading audiophiles wept when, in 2010, the Technics SL-1200 Mk.5 direct-drive turntable was discontinued. Those who did shed tears blamed it on the rise of the MP3 and the demise of the LP. Outside the audiophile world, people cried, barricaded streets, and demanded an explanation from Technics and its parent company, Panasonic. Corporate suits said the tooling had worn out. Record people everywhere, including yours truly, mourned in silence at the end of the SL-1200's prodigious run.

Well, folks, Technics turntables are back. Completely from scratch, using all-new tooling, Technics has designed and built a brand-new, jet-fighter-strength, direct-drive turntable with a slick, sophisticated look—one that flies rings around the old gray propeller model.

Panasonic is celebrating a half-century of the legendary Technics SL-1200 by releasing two new Technics Grand Class models aimed primarily at audiophiles: the SL-1200GAE 50th Anniversary Limited Edition (1200 numbered units) and the regular-production SL-1200G. The two SL-1200s are almost identical: in the SL-1200G, the finish of the magnesium tonearm will be different, as will be the silicone damping inside the new footers. Both models will cost $4000, and will be sold only through brick-and-mortar audio salons.

Nor is that all: Panasonic has decided to reestablish the Technics brand in perfectionist audio with a full line of high-fidelity audio components, beginning at the top with the new Reference Class, followed by the more affordable Premium Class (of which I recently reviewed the Premium SB-C700 loudspeaker), and this new Grand Class, which includes the ST-G30 music server, the SU-G30 network audio amplifier, and the SL-1200GAE 50th Anniversary Limited Edition turntable.

Description: The instant I first saw and touched the Grand Class SL-1200GAE 50th Anniversary Limited Edition, I realized that it is not just a tarting-up of the old workhorse SL-1200. New from the ground up, it has almost nothing in common with the used SL-1200 Mk.2 I bought at a stoop sale for $70.

Every time I'm near the shiny new 'GAE, I run my fingers sensually over the word TECHNICS deeply engraved on the hairline-processed, 0.375"-thick aluminum top plate of its plinth. This new fourth layer is added to the already substantial three-layer sandwich of die-cast aluminum, bulk molding compound, and heavy rubber of the SL-1200 Mk.5's plinth. No MDF anywhere! The new 'table weighs 39.6 lbs (18kg). The discontinued SP-1200 Mk.5 weighed 26.4 lbs (12kg).

After I run my finger over the logo, I usually lift off the thick rubber mat and gaze in awe at the brass top of the dynamically balanced platter, which is made of layers of die-cast brass, aluminum, and heavy rubber. The machined brass, resplendent to behold, reminds me of the copper-sandwich platter of Technics' most venerated turntable, the SP-10 Mk.3. The SL-1200GAE's designer, Tetsuya Itani, told me that he owns a Technics SP-10 Mk.3; that was his inspiration and reference for the new model. According to Technics, the SL-1200GAE's much heavier platter "delivers smooth rotational stability and inertial mass surpassing the SP-10 Mk.2."

Removing the platter reveals other new and important features. There is a Mode switch that, in its Manual setting, enables the use of two adjacent trimpots for adjusting Torque (Low to High) and Brake onset (Slow to Fast). With the Mode switch set to Auto, the SL-1200GAE exhibits Torque and Brake performance equivalent to that of the original SL-1200s. Also under the platter, also new, is a USB port to aid in servicing.

At the center of all this high-Technics newness is a brushless, coreless, twin-rotor, nine-pole DC motor. According to the Technics press release, "One problem that direct-drive systems have always faced was sound quality degradation caused by 'cogging', or tiny vibrations of the motor and rotational speed fluctuations. However, by combining the knowledge and expertise gained as the originator of direct-drive turntable systems with a newly developed coreless direct-drive motor without iron core, this 'cogging' [pole-magnet alignment detent] can be eliminated. Any potential minute motor vibrations are suppressed even further by high-precision rotary positioning sensors guided by a microprocessor controlled system; a feature unique to the new Technics turntable."

Fig.1 Technics SL-1200GAE, speed stability data.

Fig.2 Technics SL-1200GAE, speed stability (raw frequency yellow; low-pass filtered frequency green).

If the new platter, motor, and speed control are unquestionably big steps up from the original, so are the new isolation feet, made of heavy die-cast zinc, with a flexible leg of dense silicone separating the zinc feet from their mounting screws. The new feet allow the deck to move freely in three dimensions. Tetsuya Itani says that his goal was a full-table resonant frequency lower than 10Hz.

My favorite part of the original SL-1200 was its thick rubber platter mat, which delivered the full boogie energy of every song. Fortunately, Technics has not changed that. Also unchanged from the SL-1200s of legend are the overall look and layout, the Pitch slider—although pitch control is now fully digital—the Off/On and Start/Stop switches, and the 45rpm adapter. Unlike the old 1200s, the back of the SL-1200GAE has an IEC power-cord socket, and gold-plated RCAs with solid-brass grounding lugs for fitting the tonearm cable of your choice.

My biggest problem with the original SL-1200 was its aluminum tonearm. Compared to audiophile arms, it felt flimsy and imprecise, and favored high-compliance moving-magnet cartridges. (Moving-coil cartridges can overwhelm flimsy tonearms.) The new tonearm has an effective mass of 12gm, low friction, stainless-steel gimbal bearings, and a strong, light, highly damped armtube made of cold-drawn magnesium. It feels very precise, and seems better suited for the lower-compliance moving-coils favored by audiophiles. To accommodate heavy cartridges, the 'GAE tonearm comes with two extra balance weights, so the user has a choice of small, medium, and large.

Last but emphatically not least: The SL-1200GAE plays 331/3, 45, and 78rpm records. This shows you what Panasonic must believe is true of its new customer demographic. While the SL-1200GAE has every feature a dance or radio DJ user might want, the fact that it can also play 78s is, to me, huge—and might actually define this $4000 turntable's audience for the longer haul.

I believe that the collecting of vintage and new vinyl has only begun to catch on as a normal component of a sophisticated and discriminating lifestyle. Forget DJs with sneakers and headphones! Think foodies in Kenneth Cole suits drinking port wine and playing their latest black-disc acquisitions as a relaxed form of after-dinner parlor entertainment. The 'GAE's new Grand Class style and finish, plus its better-quality magnesium arm with detachable and upgradable headshell, make switching among stereo, mono, and 78rpm cartridges easy. Picture me smiling suavely in my slim-fit black suit, cueing up John Hammond's 1927 recording of "Purty Polly" (78, Sears Silvertone 9249) as my guests sip 1947 Porto rouge Sandeman.

ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Anton's picture

I am happy to see an old hobby horse start rocking again!

Next up....(Requests, I have a hunch there is a Class A turntable lurking in there.)

Comparison with the Achromat platter.

Upgraded phono cables.

Perhaps cartridge 'upgrades' to see how they compare!

Maybe a trial with a record weight, as well.

This table seems to cry out for doing fun things with it and seeing who does what to who!

Thanks again!

Is that speed chart good, or not good? Would an outboard speed control device change the data? (VPI, Clearaudio, Music Hall, etc...)

Herb Reichert's picture

is better than good, it has a very nice green line :-) compare it to others published in this magazine

Anton's picture

Thanks.

volvic's picture

For most of us this will be all the turntable we will ever need.

I would try the Oyaide BR-12 rubber platter mat, loved the changes it brought to my 1200, the MJ-12 would be overkill as the new Technics platter is heavier and has enough of that flywheel effect from the added mass. The other weakness of the older 1200 was the bearing, I am pretty sure Technics have improved on that so as to hold the heavier platter but they make no mention of it.

Dave Cawley of Sound Hi-Fi in the UK now offers the Technics GAE with an SME IV and external power supply. Probably does improve it, but why would you buy an anniversary model of a limited run and transform it?

I am almost certain that at some point Technics will offer the option of purchasing the 1200G without an arm, then I believe with a Graham or SME arm this table will be a Class A contender. It does so many things right that I immediately sold my TD-124.

Saint0's picture

I'm using the good old Shure V15 Type IV.

A. Hourst's picture

There’s only one way to know if Art Dudley really heard what he heard: do an ABX on both power cord.
But it’s probably too conclusive for the kind of cultists that buy 1000$/m audio cables. Many insecure audiophiles share the same fear of empirical science than alternative medicine sellers. C’mon Art, does this thousand dollar cable performs better than the placebo?

Anton's picture

What I would love to see: Do the speed measurements with each AC cord and compare the data.

Easy to do, would be very interesting.

30 minute project!

Herb Reichert's picture

Dear Anton, I do platter speed measurements on every table that passes through the bunker. Power cords and power conditioners can absolutely change the sound of electronics (therefore, I never use power conditioners or special cords on equipment I am reviewing) . . . . But, so far, neither has ever changed a speed measurement.

zimmer74's picture

As Herb mentioned, upgrading the headshell is worthwhile. I have the deck, and have replaced the stock headshell with the Ortofon LH-9000. With two different cartridges so far, there is much improved solidity of image and more sophisticated tonality and musical nuance.

vinylguy's picture

Mr. Reichert, you wrote:
"No matter which cartridge or phono stage I tried, my No.1 complaint about the new Technics was its tendency toward lowered viscosity. I wouldn't quite call it stiff, but no one could characterize the 'GAE as sounding liquid or licentious."

I agree with you, I own this table along with a highly modified Technics SP10 Mk3 and I have compared them extensively. The GAE is an awesome table and can be made much better by using a better mat and non-springy feet such as Track Audio's turntable feet.

I understand that when reviewing a product one usually reviews it stock so here is my point :) place the GAE in M (manual mode) for the Torque setting instead of Auto. Then set the potentiometer to about 1/5 maximum. You will lose nada as it relates to dynamics, slam and bass but you will gain the world in sustain, decay and if I took your meaning correctly "elasticity"..,etc.

I was quite shocked as it makes the Auto mode sound quite tight in direct comparison. Hope you try this, I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how the table is transformed to be even better than out of the box.

Happy Listening.

Herb Reichert's picture

and I was foolish and remiss not to think of Manual Mode!!! The GAE is gone now, but perhaps I will get the new SL-1200G to do a follow up on. I beg forgiveness.

peace and Fall cheer,
herb

vinylguy's picture

Mr. Reichert, I was happy to see your response. Hopefully you will get to do a follow up with the G model. I'd love to read your thoughts after placing the unit in manual mode and lowering the torque setting.

Best regards,

vinylguy

Herb Reichert's picture

"You will lose nada as it relates to dynamics, slam and bass but you will gain the world in sustain, decay and if I took your meaning correctly "elasticity"..,etc." nice !

vinylguy's picture

I''m flattered, thank you!!!

Best regards,

Vinylguy

Marc210's picture

" I love alnico because I feel that the material yields a uniquely relaxed, colorful, and naturally textured sound."

Doctor Fine's picture

Good review with wealth of information. However---
You can't compare the new model to an ancient model MK2. By the time of its demise the table was in its SIXTH iteration. MK6.
I have the Fifth iteration---the model SL1210M5G which has audiophile grade low capacitance wiring included. What wires does the new, very expensive unit have?
You didn't like the light weight aluminum arms on the older units? There is an easy fix for the older tables.
I added an extra head shell weight PLUS extra heavy counter weights to compensate on the counter weight end and VOILA!---my old aluminum arm now is HEAVY and LOVES low compliance carts like the super stiff DL103.
The same 103 which by the way would not even WORK using various super high end crazy expensive belt drive tables because it DRAGGED a belt drive table pitch speed crazy by biting into the vinyl of the record and SLOWING down the speed! The DL103 tracks at THREE grams!
THIS is one of the big reasons to go with high torque Direct Drive in the first place!
It, much like the ancient idler drive Thorens that Art Dudley is such a fan of---it has enough sheer POWER to drag a low compliance antique cart through the grooves with ease. BELT DRIVES DO NOT LIKE THESE CARTS and people should be warned how flimsy belt drive tables are by comparison to direct drive.
Meanwhile thanks again for the information you provided. The new model is on my list for my next project and if I think of it I will probably race the two tables to see what the new one does that a MK5 can't do. I'm not sure I asked for an upgrade at a higher price but even an old curmudgeon like myself can not deny audible progress when it happens.

Doctor Fine's picture

It occurs to me that what this table (the Technics SL1200 line) represents is Direct Drive technology in an advanced format which can be used by an audiophile without paying over $30,000 for the VPI Classic Direct which came out recently.
Even at the new price of $4,200 the Technics still seems reasonably priced.
But is there ANY competition for the new Technics Direct Drive table from ANY of the other major manufacturers, like in the old days?
Hmmmm. Currently it seems there are a lot of cheap Chinese CLONES of the OLD 1200 on the market from Numark, Pioneer and others.
These all cost under $600.
These clones are styled very much like a Technics SL1200 and are Direct Drive BUT they are cheaply made and the arms etc etc are typically made with cheap bearings and assembled in a shoddy manner.
And then there is the brand new DENON VL12 Prime.
It is coming out next month!
This ALL NEW SL1200 lookalike from Denon is actually made in house by Denon, not China. It looks pretty well made.
It MAY replace the OLD Technics MK5 at a price CLOSE to the old price!
It will be $900 which is close to the OLD price for a Technics table.
Stay tuned.