Perfect Sound Forever

The Vinyl Anachronist

by Marc Phillips
Part CXLIV: Technics on My Mind
(April 2022)

In the last few weeks, I've quietly made that decision that I've been talking about for the last few years. That's right, I'm buying a new turntable, that proverbial last one I will ever have.

It's probably not the one you think. In this column, I've talked about many, many candidates, everything from a Rega P10 to a fully restored Thorens TD-125 mk. II to an EMT 930 to a Linn Sondek LP-12 to... Well, you get the idea. I'm a kid in a candy store. I've always been like this when it comes to buying audio gear.

Once or twice, I even mentioned Technics. Many years ago, I thought that the new Technics SL-1200G might be something I could live with for the rest of my life. That's amazing, of course, since I made a name for myself right here at Perfect Sound Forever for dissing the sound of the original Technics SL-1200, and direct drive turntables in general. If you're familiar with this tale however, you'll know that the 1200G is a very different creature. Superficially, the two turntables look very similar. Inside, the G boasts a new direct drive design that simply elevates the Technics into world-class territory. A hint: the 1200G weighs a lot more than the 1200 even though they're basically the same size.

That's reflected in the price, of course. For many years, a Technics SL-1200, or the black-and-gold SL-1210, would set you back about $500. After the original 1200/1210s were discontinued back in the early 2000's, much to the consternation of fans all over the world, the prices on the used market skyrocketed to well over $1000. When this new version of the 1200 appeared in 2016, the SL-1200G (or, more specifically, the limited edition GAE version with special badges), people freaked out that the new MSRP was $4000. Everyone thought it was price gouging, based on the ever-increasing value of existing 1200 and 1210's, at least until they sat down and took a listen. That's what I did. I was floored.

Any issues I had with the sound of the original Technics SL-1200 and 1210--a dark, slightly claustrophobic sound that paled in comparison to belt-drive decks at the same price point--simply vanished with the new Technics SL-1200GAE.

Brinkmann Taurus direct drive turntable with 12.1 tonearm and HRS platform

Ironically, I spent over three years with a borrowed Technics SL-1200G until I had to give it back late last year. At the same time, I sold my two back-up tables, my Unison Research Giro and my lime-green Rega P3-24. Suddenly, I was without a turntable for the first time in a very long time. As I mentioned before, that was assuaged by the presence of a Brinkmann Taurus turntable that was in for review for a few months. The Taurus is also direct drive and yes, it's a much finer turntable than the Technics SL-1200G. But the Brinkmann with arm retails for nearly $22,000. The matching Brinkmann phono preamplifier, then Edison, was another $14K. Plus, I had all sorts of crazy cartridges in for review, culminating in a $6500 Koetsu Urushi Black with the classic Koetsu Stepup Transformer, another $5000.

Could that have been the last turntable I ever own? It could if I had that sort of money. As I neared the end of my time with the Brinkmann rig, I knew I needed to purchase that one last turntable. And, as always, I changed my mind about what I wanted about three times a day, depending upon who I talked to.

Eventually, I listened to me. And I really wanted that Technics SL-1200G back. It wasn't the Brinkmann, of course, but it was a reliable workhorse that always ran true. Thanks to the removable headshell, swapping and aligning cartridges was a breeze. The Technics never needed periodic adjustment--it's set-it-and-forget-it. I trust it to do what I need it to do, which is important to someone like me who reviews audio equipment for a living. Sometimes, I don't have time to futz around. Best of all, and I can't stress this enough, it sounds really fantastic. That's both "for the money" and in absolute terms.

Before I tell you what I purchased though, I realize that I'm probably confusing everyone with all the Technics 1200 nomenclature.

Okay, the first 1200 was the Technics SL-1200. It was grey in color, and you've probably seen a bunch of them in your lifetime. It was the best-selling turntable in history, somewhere around three million units. The Technics SL-1210 was the special edition of the SL-1200, but it came in a snazzy black and gold finish. Because they made fewer of these, a used 1210 will be more valuable than a mere 1200. Other than that, these two were pretty much the same.

When the super-duper Technics SL-1200G was introduced in 2016, in the same grey finish as that first 1200, it was known as the SL-1200GAE because it was a special limited edition with badges and other cosmetic goodies. After those sold out, the GAE turned into the G--the normal, non-anniversary edition without the special badges. That's what I used for three years. About a year ago, Technics announced the new SL-1210GAE, which is just the silver-and-gold version of the G. I compared the two side by side and found no sonic differences. So, after the GAEs all sold out, the new Technics SL-1210G was released. All four of these turntables are the same, with cosmetic differences.

Technics SL-1200G and SL-1210GAE

So I bought that last one, the Technics SL-1210G. I've always been unsure about the black-and-gold finish--it's a little too Patrick Nagel for me, but I also wanted something that looked a little different from the SL-1200G I used for three years.

And this might be the last turntable I ever own. A Technics. Ironic, huh?

That doesn't mean I'll stop playing with more expensive turntables--that's my job. But the Technics is there when I need it, backing me up the whole way. I'm going to treat this one well--I've already purchased a DS Audio headshell for it, and I have two incredible ZYX cartridges from Japan, the Bloom 3 and the Ultimate Airy X. I'm also playing with isolation platforms--I've tried both the IsoAcoustics Zazen II and the amazing (albeit costly) platforms from Harmonic Resolution Systems, and they make a huge difference. The HRS shelf I used with the Brinkmann rig was $3900 and weighed nearly 80 pounds, but they do have more affordable products that will work with the SL-1210G.

But here's another interesting bit of news. Later this spring, I'll be reviewing another Technics turntable, the more modest SL-1500C, which retails for just $1200. That's more in line with the original 1200, but I'll be curious to see if it's an improvement. I'll wager it is, even though there are plenty of people out there who still love the original sound.

Here's a funny coincidence. Steve Guttenberg, who writes The Audiophiliac column for CNET, has a habit of asking audio questions on social media to provide fuel for some of his columns. Just the other day, after I placed my order for the Technics SL-1210G, he asked this one:

"Belt vs. direct drive 'tables, have you switched sides?"

Evidently, I have. I've said mean things about direct drive in the past. I've amended and apologized more than once. After the experience of having that extraordinary direct drive turntable from Brinkmann, I know that direct drive, when properly implemented, sounds fantastic. It also eliminates such issues as speed variations. Direct drive turntables are also god-like in their ability to reproduce deep, deep bass.

After choosing to spend the next few years with a Technics direct drive turntable, I feel like I have one less thing to worry about in my audio future.

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