Technics SL-1200GR Turntable Review
It’s time to get back behind the ones and twos.
What is the Technics SL-1200GR?The Technics SL-1200GR is a…
… Let’s be honest for a second. If you genuinely have no idea what this is, I hope your time spent in the Amazonian basin living off the grid was restful. The Technics SL-1200 is a legend and one of a handful of devices in our industry that has widespread recognition outside of the people who express a direct interest in it. Between 1972 and 2010 and across six markets, it sold over three million examples and due to various strengths of its design, an impressive number of those are still going.
Such was the longevity of the SL-1200, many people had tacitly assumed that sales of the basic design would continue until the devil went to work in a snowplough. It came as a surprise therefore that just as the vinyl revival was showing some real signs of becoming significant, production ceased. The reasons given for this are many and varied but cutting through the hyperbole, it seems that sales had slackened off at just the point where serious questions were being asked of the condition of the machinery used to make it. Unsure if there would be a return on the investment required to renew everything, Panasonic knocked it on the head.
At least they did right up until the point where the Technics brand was formally relaunched and the gloriously illogical vinyl revival had reached the point where you could buy records at the same time as you buy pints of milk. The SL-1200 was suddenly back but the device that wore its name was a rather different beast. The SL-1200G looked like its predecessor but at £3,000, it was going after rather different clientele. Now, Technics has followed it up with the SL-1200GR or SL-1210GR if you prefer black to silver, which brings the price down to a rather less steep – but still significant – £1,300. As such, this review has to work out why, this ‘simplified’ version still costs roughly twice as much as the outgoing Mk6 and then go on to deal with trifling details like whether it is any good or not. Best get cracking then.
SpecificationsKey to what makes an SL-1200 an SL-1200 is the drive system. The argument over who got the first direct drive design to market is contested – most innovations are – but the Technics can realistically claim to be the first mass market iteration of the direct drive process. This means that the motor acts directly on the platter – spinning exactly at 33.333 or 45RPM. This avoids the potential pitfalls of wow and flutter that can be evident when a belt is used. A direct drive turntable should be able to demonstrate exceptional speed stability and as a side effect should be able to hit the selected speed in short order.
The catch is that when the motor acts directly on the platter, the behaviour of the motor acts on the platter too. Vibration and noise will be transmitted to the playing service. There is also a phenomenon present with direct drive known as cogging. As the drive of the motor moves between the poles of the motor assembly, this can lead to uneven rotational force. It’s worth noting that the ‘issue’ of cogging was something enthusiastically talked up by brands that made belt drive models oddly enough.
The SL-1200GR is – as you would expect – a direct drive model and its motor is closely related to the one in the SL-1200G. This is important because the identity of the SL-1200G is not as simple as a rejuvenated version of the old SL-1200Mk6. Firstly, as noted, the production equipment for the old SL-1200s was in poor material condition, requiring new tooling – and with it, considerable redesign – of components. Secondly, the 1200G incorporates design thinking from another Technics turntable. This was called the SP10 and it could make a reasonable claim to being one of the very best turntables ever made.
This means that the motor in the SL-1200G comes across as much more of a descendent of the SP10 with some innovations that never made it to the 1200 series in its first production run. The motor is a coreless design with magnets placed equidistantly around the platter. In the G model it has twin rotors to boost the torque and provide more even thrust. Here in the GR, it makes use of a single rotor to reduce the cost but the design remains the same. While technically down on torque, the platter spin up to full rotation time is still a nippy 0.7 seconds. Critically, if you are seeking to make objective judgments on the performance of new versus the original, the GR should have an advantage over the original with the G being at a different level again.
In keeping with the ethos of the original model, the GR allows for instant selection of 33 or 45 rpm via separate buttons and 78rpm by pressing them at the same time. +/- 10% adjustment is then available via pitch control and the platter edge is strobed to confirm at a glance that the correct speed has been reached. Speed control is via a feedback generator system – like it was in the originals rather than the optical sensor used in the 1200G. Anoraks will note the presence of a pitch reset function and no ‘detent’ in the pitch control at zero which means it follows the pattern from the Mk4 and onwards.
The platter that the motor acts on is a cast aluminium unit with rubber damping – the G model has a composite of aluminium and brass for its platter arrangement. This platter is much more in keeping with the original SL-1200 (the sandwich version is closer to the SP10) but it still weighs almost a kilo more than the original and there are some fairly in-depth charts to be had on the Technics website that suggest that the damping and resistance to outside interference of the new model is superior to the old one. A rubber mat is supplied – more of which in a bit.
The chassis that this is placed in is a multiple section design with an aluminium top plate mated to a lower BRC section. The guts of the turntable are attached to the plate and a degree of decoupling between the two sections is achieved by the use of silicone dampers. Crucially, the top plate of the GR is cast aluminium like the original 1200 rather than the beefier machined version used in the G. The two piece chassis is placed on four sturdy feet for isolation. Connectivity is provided in the form of a pair of decent RCA sockets and a ground connection and an IEC mains socket.
The tonearm that finishes this off is visibly similar to the one used on the SL-1200G. This is an S-shaped, captive bearing design with removable headshell. The key difference with the GR is that the armtube is made from aluminium rather than magnesium and the counterweight is simplified. This is perhaps the only area where the GR does feel definably inferior to its big brother. The armlift doesn’t feel especially reassuring, the counterweight is hard to fine adjust to the desired weight and the headshell – which is admittedly seemingly identical to the one supplied with the G – doesn’t feel any better than the one supplied with the Pioneer PLX-500. The movement and tracking of the arm itself is extremely good however.
DesignThe SL-1200GR basically looks exactly like an SL-1200 which is in itself probably the most shamelessly copied record player ever made. For those of us who arrived in vinyl from European belt drive practise, the Technics feels unavoidably fussy. The plethora of controls and the strobed platter speak of a world that has little relation to the business of sedately spinning records at home. And yet, despite this, the SL-1200GR looks and feels pretty good. It’s fussy but everything is there for a reason and works in a deeply logical fashion.
It is also superbly built. Armlift and headshell aside, everything on the SL-1200GR feels like it will last indefinitely. It’s worth noting that was we noted at the time they were reviewed, the Numark TT-250 and Pioneer PL-500 are… ‘loving homages’ to the SL-1200 but if you put the three of them in a row and scrubbed all their visible branding off, the Technics would still be identifiable by feel alone. I’m spoiled as I have spent some time in the company of the SL-1200G which is in a different league of construction again but compared to any preceding version of the SL-1200 – even one that has been kept unused (and good luck finding one of those), the GR feels more solid, more carefully assembled and more in keeping with a £1,300 device than simple photography will suggest.
It also has a secret weapon. As well as the SL-1200GR, you will also find an SL-1210GR in the stock list. This is identical in every way to the model you see here but it is finished in black. For those of a certain age, the 1210 is the ‘correct’ finish for this turntable – possibly because many clubs and venues decided it would be a harder wearing finish than silver (strange to relate, it isn’t which is why mint original 1210s are rare and expensive) and this meant our first exposure to this turntable was via a black rather than a silver unit.
It’s also practical. The footprint is manageable, there’s a lid and the connections are easy to reach. Fine adjustment of the tracking weight aside, it’s easy to setup, unfussy about placement and easy to use. It lacks some of the visual flair of some rivals at the price but Technics couldn’t have gone after this segment unless it was going to build a turntable that wasn’t just an SL-1200.
It’s fussy but everything is there for a reason and works in a deeply logical fashion
How was the SL-1200GR tested?The Technics has been run into a Cyrus Phono Signature phono stage, Naim Supernait2 integrated amplifier and Neat Momentum 4i floorstanders. All electrical items have been connected to an Isotek Evo 3 Sigmas mains conditioner. The Technics has been run as standard with mat and supplied headshell with an Audio Technica AT95 with Paratrace stylus and a Nagaoka MP150 cartridges (both of which are moving magnet). It has then been tested with a Funk Firm Achromat and Ortofon LH-2000 and Audio Technica AT-MG10 headshells holding Nagaoka MP150 and Rega Apheta 2 cartridges – the latter being a moving coil design. The test material has obviously been vinyl.
Sound QualityBefore we delve into the performance of the SL-1200GR, I’d like to make it clear that the performance of the original SL-1200 could be deeply impressive. Partnered with capable equipment and running a decent cartridge at a sensible tracking weight, it could always achieve more than what people might have pegged a ‘DJ’ deck for. It wasn’t the last word in delicacy but it had attributes that were deeply appealing.
And the new model? The good news is that everything that was appealing about the old model has made the jump to the newer model. One of the first records I played on the GR was Leftfield’s Phat Planet from the Rhythm and Stealth album. The sound was everything I expected it to be – a sound that is also part of mine and many other people’s formative years. The bass output of the Technics is simply phenomenal. Give the same cartridge as a comparative belt drive rival, the same supporting electronics and the same record and the SL-1200 will always find deeper, more detailed and assured bass. This makes Leftfield something you feel as much as hear – a visceral room loading presence.
That pitch stability makes all the difference too. Listening to the newly released Truth is a Beautiful Thing by London Grammar, Hannah Reid’s long sustained notes are something of a torture test for vinyl but here, they are as solid and unwavering as the Tidal stream. The SL-1200GR makes even exceptionally well-engineered rivals, feel slightly delicate by comparison. As you spend less time hearing minor fluctuations, you can in turn spend more time with the music. It also imparts a rhythmic assurance that is generally entertaining too. It’s different again from the precision of a digital device – more mechanical with a sense of the engineering involved.
At the same time, the new model has attributes that were less readily discernible before. This is still not the most delicate sounding turntable ever made. The recently reviewed (and admittedly more expensive) Roksan Radius 7 will open out material in a way that the Technics – even equipped with exactly the same cartridge – can’t do. Even so, it manages to sound bigger and more effortlessly three dimensional than the older models did. There is still a slight congestion to the midrange that affects pieces that don’t allow the Technics to demonstrate that exceptional bass response. Tonality is good too with the presentation less cartridge being fractionally on the warm side of neutral.
This means that the presentation of the Technics will closely follow your cartridge and phono stage choices. The initial testing with the default headshell and Paratrace equipped AT95 cartridge – effectively an ultra basic starter cartridge adapted to make use of a much more advanced stylus profile – the slight brightness of this design makes for a livelier and more exciting presentation with a slight sense of forwardness to it. The warmer and more balanced Nagaoka and Rega cartridges lose this slight sharpness and suggest that the Technics is sufficiently neutral to show the differences from ancillaries. It’s also interesting to note how much of the Rega’s performance the Technics can unlock. Given it costs fully three quarters the price of the whole turntable, that’s pretty impressive.
It’s also worth noting that there are some simple changes to the basic SL-1200GR that make an appreciable difference too. Removing the supplied headshell and testing both the Audio Technica AT-MG10 and Ortofon LH-2000 – for which I am grateful to Audio Technica and Henley Designs for loaning to me – have a meaningful and immediate benefit on the performance of the arm. Some of that congestion is eliminated and on a practical level, they are much easier to align cartridges in. Both of these headshells cost less than £60 (this being vinyl, you can spend a lot more if you want) and would be sensible to budget in at the start. No less impressive is the Funk Firm Achromat which drops the noise floor and further helps the Technics open out a bit. Including these bits and a respectable cartridge, the Technics should come in under £2,000 – and crucially, it is competitive in this configuration with similarly priced rivals.
Key to this is that it is an impressively forgiving device. Obviously dependent on cartridge to an extent, it is able to handle surface noise and worn records without incident and it will still respond positively to good pressings. More subjectively, the performance with electronic and beat driven music is so fundamentally ‘right’ that it never fails to raise a smile. Listening to the 20th anniversary release of The Fugees The Score or The Fat of the Land by the Prodigy, the Technics is in its element. It has a ‘just one more record’ habit that I normally associate with more expensive turntables. I rarely have a sense of obligation when reviewing record players but even so, the Technics has seen a lot more use than is strictly required to get a handle on it.
The bass output of the Technics is simply phenomenal
- Powerful and engaging sound
- Superbly built
- Considerable upgrade potential
- Looks a matter of personal taste
- Supplied headshell is poor
- Many will still consider it too expensive
Technics SL-1200GR Turntable ReviewThere will be a few people reading this who already own one of the three million SL-1200s in circulation for who the SL-1200GR doesn’t and never will make sense. It costs roughly twice as much as the last of the line originals and with the best will in the world, it isn’t twice as good. For some, this is gentrification in turntable form and it won’t be their cup of tea. Equally, taken objectively, the Technics is competitive in the field it finds itself competing in to not be a fringe interest. The rock solid presentation and awesome bass will win it plenty of friends and it will get great results out of a very wide selection of cartridges. There’s enough SP10 DNA in this new model to make it a little bit more HiFi without losing the bulletproof pro element that people love. On a dispassionate level, it still makes sense.
There is a bit more to the SL-1200GR as well. I am not sentimental towards the old model in a way that many people are… but… despite already owning more turntables than is strictly necessary, I covet the SL-1200GR in a way that I didn’t expect to. There’s something about its whole ethos that speaks to a world of fit and forget hardware that will handle a vast and disparate collection of music without breaking sweat. This is a rare throwback to a time when vast multinationals made turntables with the same steely determination to be the model to beat that goes into modern televisions. It might be a weird thing to be sentimental about – something which is not in any way artisanal – but the Technics is the functional opposite of almost every other record player on sale today. This is a device that performs superbly and makes you grin like an idiot at the same time. For that it comes Highly Recommended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £1,299.00
Ease of Use9
Value for Money8
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