Technics SL-1500C Turntable Review
Is this all the turntable a sane human will ever need?
What is the Technics SL-1500C?The Technics SL-1500C is an unsuspended, direct drive turntable. It is designed to sit alongside the SL-1200 models (now a three strong range of Mk7, 1200GR and 1200G), using a similar motor assembly but with fewer pro/DJ features. Instead, you get some extra functionality to make it plug and play and more real world user friendly. It certainly feels like a logical addition to the company’s range - not least because the more expensive versions of the 1200 have already been finding themselves in rather more domestic orientated surroundings.
The timing of the SL-1500C’s arrival is also important. I’ve been predicting the end of the vinyl boom with the same enthusiasm (and general lack of accuracy) that Vince Cable predicts recessions but it does seem at the time of writing (July 2019), that this is finally starting to come to pass. This doesn’t mean that we’re going to see vinyl vanish from the market again but it does mean that the role of turntable manufacturers moves towards consolidation - persuading those already ‘in’ to move a little further up the chain rather than hoping an endless influx of new arrivals continues.
As such, the SL-1500C looks to be perfectly set to achieve this but like anything else, it’s a balancing act. Has the convenience blunted the direct drive brilliance? Does it lose out to more minimalist rivals or, maybe, just maybe, is this a true record player for grown ups? Let’s crack on.
Specification and DesignAt the heart of the 1500-C is a high torque, direct drive motor that acts directly on the platter. Technics says that this is equivalent in torque and general performance figures to the SL1200 Mk5 but makes further improvements to the behaviour regarding cogging (the movement of the motor through the poles) and noise figures. Lurking in the original press release is a statement of uncharacteristic boldness for 2019. It states; Furthermore, the motor control was optimized in accordance with the platter weight. As a result, the SL-1500C has realized high rotation accuracy and high performance, and eliminated the need for parts replacement and maintenance. There are few other products - and even fewer under £1,000 - where the claim to being bombproof is laid out in plain sight.
The key difference between the 1200s and the 1500 is that this motor is locked to three fixed speeds - 33, 45 and (by pressing both buttons), 78. There is no pitch control, no reverse function as found on the new MK7 and no strobed platter and light. This is a turntable designed to have a record placed on it and to play that record. As I question how many SL-1200Gs have ever seen their pitch control move, I suspect that this is not going to be an issue for most buyers - and the SL-1200 Mk7 exists for this reason.
It has some other features to help with this convenience angle too. The SL-1500C is the first of the new clutch of Technics turntables to come with a cartridge supplied and a phono stage built-in, ensuring it can simply be connected to any line input on an amp or receiver and off it goes. If you do have a phono stage though, you can bypass the internal phono stage and use that instead. In times past, Panasonic/Matsushita was a fairly formidable builder of cartridges in their own right but they’ve elected to go with an Ortofon 2M Red for this application. This is the most affordable of the 2M series but a solid performer and something that has a range of stylus upgrades - more of which later.
Neither is this the only piece of convenience tech on display. The arm of the 1500C looks at least superficially similar to the ones on the 1200 but it has a party piece that’s fairly rare in 2019. Once the arm reaches the end of a side, it will pop up and sit raised at the end of the record to prevent the stylus simply banging away in the lock groove at the end. If you are the forgetful sort, this is potentially rather handy although, on a few very long sided records of mine, it has popped up before the end. The arm itself retains the detachable headshell arrangement of the other Technics arms and allows for quick and easy cartridge changes, albeit at the expense of some (notional ideals of) arm stiffness.
As such, this is a turntable that is designed to go into a domestic environment without needing much in the way of challenging set up, and be painless to use for the entire time that the sealed motor unit keeps whirring. Pretty much the only convenience aspect missing is the ability to digitise vinyl but as this is a thankless task that most people try once and then ignore forevermore, it makes sense not to have it.
While the basic design of the 1500C is fit and forget, this is not to say that there is no scope to pull the basic design a bit further. The cartridge can have a stylus change or the whole cartridge and headshell arrangement can be switched (and, the arm itself has adjustable height to ensure that this will work correctly too). You can move to an external phono stage instead of the internal one. There are aftermarket options for the rubber mat and I’m sure it won’t be too long before the whole arm and mount can be switched for something a little more ‘audiophile.’ What’s so admirable is that all that can sit in the future - you can buy the Technics and leave it be or potentially spend as much again on it.
There’s at least a fair chance that people will want to do this because the build and construction of the Technics do leave you idly wondering how far you can push it. All the major points of contact feel beautifully made and reassuringly solid. The buttons are on microswitches rather than two position devices but they still ‘thunk’ when you push them. The platter doesn’t start and stop with quite the same alacrity as the bigger models but it’s still hugely positive in operation. Like the SL-1200GR I reviewed here, the 1500C feels utterly non artisanal and that puts it in a different category to almost any other device on the market at the price.
It’s not perfect of course. The chassis isn’t as well isolated as the more expensive models which means it is a little microphonic and the arm doesn’t have the same ‘it’s going to last forever’ quality that the motor unit does. All these things have to be taken in the context of the price. There are some models for similar money that are a little more resistant to outside interference and a Rega RB330 or Pro-Ject 9C feels a little more solid than the Technics arm (although it is only fair to point out that on the occasions people have gone and measured the more expensive Technics arms, they’ve turned in a blinding performance) but for every advantage a rival pulls out, it falters somewhere else.
There’s also the small matter of the aesthetic. As someone who is not and never has been a DJ, I prefer the 1500C to its 1200 stablemates. It’s clean, well-proportioned and utterly timeless. The top plate has fewer perforations and general faff going on and as someone who prefers clean lines on my kit, I think it is a class act. You can buy the 1500C in black (and thanks to the arm being black, it is really very black indeed) but this is a product that looks better in the silver - even if the rest of your stuff is black. Don’t argue, just trust me.
It’s clean, well-proportioned and utterly timeless
How was the SL-1500C Tested?The Technics was initially set up as standard and connected directly to a Naim Supernait 2, connected to an IsoTek Evo3 Aquarius mains conditioner and Neat Momentum 4 speakers. From there, the 2M has been upgraded to a Blue, the phono stage switched out and a Cyrus Phono Signature used instead. From there, tests with other cartridges have been undertaken and the rubber mat replaced by a Funk Firm Achromat. The test material has been lots and lots of records.
Sound QualityI briefly heard the SL-1500C at Bristol and while the equipment and media in use with it were largely unfamiliar to me, there was the suggestion that it had retained a trait to its performance that is either going to be an annoyance, an irrelevance or a joy. I mentioned in my review of the SL-1200GR that; 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 basic sonic ‘fingerprint’ of the 1200 is so ingrained on bits of my brain that certain pieces of music sound fundamentally ‘right’ when played on it. The 1500C keeps this trait.
There are some differences though. Set up out of the box, the bass response of the 1500C isn’t quite as seismic as the 1200GR but it’s still deep, controlled and effortlessly propulsive. Apparat’s Holdon is still delivered as a visceral and thoroughly pleasing assault on the senses. This is a head nodding sort of device at the best of times and give it something with a bit of oomph and the effect is consistently entertaining. It does mean that - out of the box at least - it isn’t always the more subtle device going. Listening to the slow, shuffling Sunday Night Blues Club by Fink and there’s a bit more urgency than it strictly needs.
The top end is also a few notches from neutral. The 2M Red is the main culprit here - it’s a good cartridge but not a great one and it does tend to get a little etched further up the frequency range. The good news is that this is something that isn't hard to correct. Even if you aren’t falling over yourself to change the cartridge, you can buy a 2M Blue stylus for £110 and simply slot that in place of the Red one. The Blue is my favourite member of the 2M range and, at a stroke, that slight hardness at the top end is eliminated.
In fact, doing so reveals that the phono stage is rather lovely. It balances tonal realism with enough sweetness to make it very easy to listen to for extended sessions. The mighty first release from Black Pumas simply glides along with Eric Burton’s fabulous vocal turn sounding rich, detailed and beautifully integrated with the rest of the performance. Unless you have access to a phono stage in the £200+ range as a bare minimum, there’s little point in trying to bypass it. It is more than up to the job of handling pricier moving magnet cartridges too as some testing with an Audio Technica VM-95SH and Nagaoka MP-200 demonstrates.
The other area that can be addressed fairly simply is that, like a few of its relatives, the SL-1500C can feel a little thick and congested in the midrange. This can be significantly improved by changing the heavy rubber mat that Technics supplies for a Funk Firm Achromat - a ‘blown acrylic’ type mat that can be fitted in place. This costs £88 and honestly, it’s an absolute no brainer. Adding the 2M Blue Stylus and Achromat is going to raise your outlay to £1,097 but the result is significantly better than the already good starting point out of the box.
And, if you want, there’s still more to be had from it too. As I type, the 1500C is running with the phono stage bypassed into the Cyrus and an Audio Technica ATH-OC9EXN moving coil cartridge on the end. It sounds unreasonably good, with the same potent urgency it has out the box now tempered with a richness, three dimensionality and refinement that is fundamentally right across a wide selection of music. I have no idea how many 1500C buyers will make any alterations at all to their purchases but the potential is certainly there if they do.
The basic sonic ‘fingerprint’ of the 1200 is so ingrained on bits of my brain that certain pieces of music sound fundamentally ‘right’ when played on it. The 1500C keeps this trait
- Superb sonic performance
- Very well made
- Some useful convenience features
- Needs a little extra outlay to truly deliver
- Not as well isolated as the 1200
- Auto armlift not 100% effective
Technics SL-1500C Turntable ReviewThere is a degree of nuance to any conclusion reached about the Technics because there are more than a few variables. First up, for £900 this is not the best turntable available. The direct drive fraternity will be irritated for me to say it but £350 equipping a Rega Planar 3 (base cost less cart £550) will result in a better turntable. The counter to this, of course, is that the Technics comes with everything you need in the box, ensuring no messing around, it has electronic speed control and that natty auto armlift. They’re not aimed at the same people and for a ‘convenience deck’ the Technics is a strong performer.
It’s also important to stress that it can be a truly great one too, convenience or not. If you’ve got £198 extra over the base cost, changing the stylus and the mat brings performance up by more than the proportion invested. That it clearly has more to give after this point is even more impressive. As noted at the beginning, this is an example of the last turntable you ever buy. It’s good out the box and becomes great with a little work. It’s well made, painless to live with and makes vinyl enjoyable. For these many reasons, the latest member of the Technics family comes Highly Recommended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £899.00
Ease of Use9
Value for Money9
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