Direct-drive (DD) turntables were first designed as quality audiophile equipment, and required a lot of money of research & development (which is why small cottage industries turned to the belt drive turntables, which were cheaper to develop).
The advent of CDs in the early eighties caused the Japanese (which were the prime manufacturers of direct-drive turntables) to withdraw almost immediately from the analog front, which subsequently killed off all further development of direct-drive turntables. One DD turntable survived the exodus. In 1972, Matsushita brand Technics released the SL-1200, a mid-level model with lots of bang for the buck.
Thanks to its rich functionality, relative sturdiness and durability, the SL-1200 quickly became a club-favorite. As DJs have kept Technics’ order books filled, the Technics SL-1200MK2 (released in 1979) never ceased production.
What started as a fairly upmarket example of seventies engineering is now a marvel of cheap but high-quality mass production. Even if you are not the DJ-ing type audiophile, the SL-1200MK2 has plenty to like as a home listening turntable. At 27 pounds, it is as heavy as the Rega and Music Hall turntables combined.
And the cool thing is, Technics could sell this baby for double its asking price, but since it has largely amortized the costs of development and tooling for this model some time back in the 1980s, it’s been able to keep the price really low (in the $450-$600 price range on the used market). Compare it to the cost evolution of its contemporaries, and you’ll see that the SL-1200 beat inflation out-and-out, which is marvelous for us consumers.
The Technics SL1200MK2 is still hand-assembled in Japan, to the highest quality standards and built from the highest quality components (including high grade METAL parts), as it has been for the last thirty odd years. They just don’t build them like this anymore.
The SL-1200 is based on a heavy aluminum-topped plinth grounded on four height-adjustable compliant feet. The deck is sturdy, very heavy, and inspires confidence. The die-cast aluminum body, heavy rubber base, and lack of unnecessary components or empty space collectively allow the SL-1200MK2 to absorb unwanted vibrations that could otherwise interfere with the sound.
The heart of the SL-1200 is of course the tried and trusted direct drive motor, with its stator bolted to the plinth and its rotor part to the platter.
This means that instead of just spinning the platter, the Technics Direct-Drive system actually incorporates it into the motor, reducing the number of parts that can malfunction and making consistent, accurate speeds possible… It’s a system that has been providing fast start-up times and unequalled responsiveness for over thirty years: indeed, the 1200MK2’s ultra-low-speed motor and high torque of 1.5kg/cm allow for super quick start-ups (0.7 sec) and stops (torque is the actual pressure on the motor).
The other advantages of a direct drive are that there is no belt to replace, and wow & flutter are almost non-existant. The platter itself is of thin aluminum, damped with a layer of rubber. Even then it still requires the included thick and heavy rubber mat to quiet down.
The drive is controlled with a large start/stop button and a pitch control slider. A stroboscope light is always on, which may or may not distract you. A nice detail is the hidden stylus light that pops up at the push of a bottom, making cueing in dark rooms a little bit easier.
The SL-1200MK2’s tonearm suffers from a bad reputation, though we’re not sure why. Maybe it’s because it is not a single casting and thus structurally less rigid than often desired. Or because it has a detachable headshell, which to some may seem outmoded. But these are all imperfections that can be sidestepped by a proper choice of cartridge. The less-dogmatic music lover or record collector will find this tonearm very pleasing to work with.
The arm’s height, and thus VTA/SRA, can be set easily with a large rotating collar that travels over a range of 6 millimeters, and then can be locked in place with a lever. And the presence of a separate headshell (generic spares are available for a low $25) means that several cartridges can be hold in back-up. The VTF, VTA, and anti-skating dials all are clearly marked, so all one has to do is write down the settings for each cartridge. As long as you stick to suitable cartridges, you’ll find the arm to be surprisingly well-engineered, with decent bearings.
Yes, the SL1200 became popular as a DJ table, but it was originally designed as an audiophile home turntable. You need not spend more than a few hours with the SL1200 to realize this. It will blow your socks off. You will be impressed with its unparalleled build quality, its great sound quality, as well as its perfectly accurate speed and pitch control.
This turntable is legendary for a reason. You can spend more money on more expensive “boutique turntables”, but you’re wasting your money unless you spend three to four times as much. Keep your hard-earned cash and get some great LPs instead, because in the end, this is what it’s all about.
The initial impression left by the SL1200MK2’s considerable build quality extends to its sonic performance as well. This turntable has a big, bold sound, with tons of dynamic swing and lots of punch in the bottom octaves. With this emphasis on the beat, it’s no surprise that the SL-1200MK2 is the DJ’s choice.
Depth is outright impressive, the soundstage being very well defined. Tonality is very fine as well, a tad warm and round, with a nicely detailed and sweet treble. Rhythm and drive are present in abundance, making the sound “feel right”.
The SL-1200MK2 doesn’t come with a cartridge.
Coupling it with one of Benz’s second-generation ACE L, M or H cartridges yields an unbeatable record playing system! You can find these cartridges here.
If you are looking for a less-costly combination, then the Denon DL-103 is a perfect match, all the more so given the heavy Technics arm (The DL-103 requires the arm at its lowest or 0 position, something to think about!). Dramatically lower in cost, the sound quality expectedly scales down too, though not by very much. Overall, there is a fundamental similarity to the excellent results obtained with the Benz: the soundstage is slightly narrower, but the depth is still fine, along with the characteristic propulsive drive of the Technics. The reproduction does feel a bit less natural and more synthetic, though it’s hardly anything to bicker about. The result is still very musical and competent, with that calmed and sure air of professional equipment.
Other cartridges that will pair very well with the Technics include: Orotofon OM2, Shure Type 15 VMR, Shure M97xE Hi-Fi Phono Cartridge.
Read more: Choosing The Best Record Players
As phono preamps, you chan choose a Trichord Delphini MkII, a Trichord Dino+, or an AQVOX Phono 2 Ci, or a RIAA Pro-Ject Phono Box MK2.
As a power amp, the LFD PA0 is a good choice, and for loudspeakers, the Quad ESL-63 are great.
The truth is we –like the rest of the Technics SL-1200MK2– can’t help but like this turntable a lot. With the Benz MC Scheu and the Denon DL-103 cartridges, it performs outright impressively. This, together with the ridiculously low price you can find it at online makes it a no-brainer for quality of sound alone. Factoring in its battleship build and its easy-to-use functionality makes the SL-1200MK2 a massive bargain which should be especially attractive to record collectors using many different cartridges. If you are shopping in the sub-$1000 price bracket then you’d better not ignore the Technics… Whatever the supposed “experts” say. Really, it hardly gets better than this if you just want to listen to your cherished records without the hassle or exorbitant price tag of ultra-high-end audiophile equipment.