Here’s the first in the Retro Review series. The component in question is a Technics SL-J300R fully automatic linear tracking turntable system. One of Technics’ last consumer turntables, offered as part of their 360 series of components, the J300R was a turntable that offered the vinyl lover a simple, close-and-play turntable with many of the convenience features found in CD players, such as automatic track detection, track programming and repeat. It’s small, too – at just 360MM wide, the J300r is little larger than a vinyl jacket – and remains one of the smallest turntables Technics ever manufactured.
As part of the package, you got a Technics P-30 moving magnet cartridge. This is one of Technics’ T4P P-Mount cartridges. The T4P system was a standard devised by Technics and offered on their turntables for many years as a way to offer user-replaceable cartridges without the hassle of cartridge alignment. Tracking force and anti-skate are preset, usually at 1.25G – so all one needs to do is install the cartridge into the end of the arm, secure the single locking screw, and you’re ready to go. Many other brands offered this system on their turntables – and today, though there are no P-Mount turntables on the market, cartridges are readily available from various manufacturers such as Audio-Technica and Ortofon.
The J300R also benefits from their legendary Quartz direct drive system, and a brushless DC motor featuring a magnet that is directly affixed to the platter. Making the platter itself a part of the motor allows the motor to spin at real-time speed (33.3 or 45 RPM), which results in excellent speed accuracy, silent operation, and incredibly long lifespan.
But that’s not all. The J300r is a linear tracking turntable – meaning that the arm, and hence the cartridge and stylus, travels in a straight line across the surface of the record. This results in greater tracking accuracy, and less inner groove distortion – a problem that is inherent with pivotal tonearms as their cartridges must be aligned so that a compromise is met between the inner and outer grooves of the record. The mechanism itself is fixed to the lid – meaning the turntable can only run with the lid closed – and can be seen in the picture below.
As you can see, the arm slides along a rail (held in place with rubber supports to minimise resonance). It’s pulled by a guide rope, much like that found on the dial of an analogue tuner. The entire mechanism is driven by a small DC motor, which drives a gear assembly back and forth to move the arm to where it needs to be.
The use of a linear tracking mechanism is essential for this turntable to operate. Next to the tonearm itself is an optical sensor, which is used to scan the record to determine the record size, the number of tracks and the location of those tracks. Upon inserting a record, the player will first check that a record has indeed been inserted, to prevent the stylus being dropped on the rubber slipmat. If a 12” record is detected, the arm will traverse across the record, searching out the tracks and illuminating the track LEDs on the front of the turntable.
Pressing start causes the turntable to begin playback. Pressing one of the illuminated track numbers followed by start causes the player to seek too and begin playing that track. If you select a track in this way, the player enters program mode – meaning that once the track in question has finished, assuming no other track has been selected, the arm will return and playback will stop. If you simply want to skip tracks, holding the search control on the front causes the turntable to skip to the next track.
If a 7” record is detected, it cannot immediately be seen by the turntable. pressing start will cause the arm to traverse the record, at which point it will locate the 7” record and drop the stylus in the right place to begin playback.
This system does have its disadvantages. Firstly, it doesn’t work particularly well with coloured vinyl – and it won’t work at all with transparent or white vinyl. For those records, you’ll have to put the table in manual mode – at which point you can use the search controls on the front panel to move the arm to the correct spot.
Track detection doesn’t always work as planned – for it to work properly, the vinyl must be clean, flat, and undamaged. There are some user-accessible adjustments to adjust the position at which the stylus drops – so you get some control over the track detection system. The optical sensor also offers selectable sensitivity, which sometimes helps with difficult records.
So, how does it sound. Before we get onto that, it’s important to note that this particular example has been serviced and restored to full working condition. The tonearm mechanism has been relubricated, the tonearm belt replaced, and the main bearing oil replaced. This general maintenance should be carried out on all of these turntables, many of which are approaching 30 years old. It’s not a costly process if you’re handy with a screwdriver – the necessary materials can be had for under £15, and carrying out the work itself takes a few hours at most.
That said – once running, the results are surprisingly good. Many audiophiles claim that direct-drive turntables suffer from excessive rumble and surface noise – but in truth, that’s mainly due to lack of maintenance. Here, surface noise is incredibly low – better, in fact, than many modern belt drive turntables.
The speed is also very accurate – with no discernible wow and flutter, even during sustained piano notes. This rock steady speed allows instruments to really shine – emotional wavering guitar notes sound simply stunning.
I installed an Ortofon OMP-20 cartridge and got straight to some listening tests. Status Quo’s ‘Don’t Drive My Car’ offered up a beautifully rendered 3-dimensional sound stage, and a rhythmic, powerful, well-defined bass line. Sure, it’s not the most detailed sound – but what it lacks in detail, it makes up for in excitement. It’s a turntable that gets you up and out of your seat – a turntable that bring the life and soul to the party.
And it’s just as happy with emotional ballads as it is rocking out. Freddie Mercury’s ‘In My Defence’ is possibly one of my favourite rock ballads, and it’s delivered with power and precision here. There’s clear instrument separation, particularly between the instruments and vocals. The various layers of the track hang in the sound stage, painting quite the sonic picture in the process.
And it’s the same story with the Beatles ‘She’s Leaving Home’ from the 2009 pressing of SGT Pepper. The performance is smooth with no hint of distortion, and the rasp of the violins is beautifully portrayed.
For its time, this turntable is hard to fault. Not only did it offer the vinyl lover the same conveniences as their CD-Touting friends, it also offered surprisingly good sound to boot. It’s certainly unique – nothing like this is manufactured today – and, I can’t help thinking that with the resurgence of vinyl, it would be a hit.
So, should you run out and buy one? Well, sure. If you want a simple and convenient turntable, it’s a great option, and readily available on the second-hand market. Technics offered many similar turntables, dating back to the beginning of the 80s – so there are plenty to choose from. And with a little TLC, you can have one running, and sounding, like new.
That’s all for this Retro review – hopefully this has been of interest. Be sure to post in the comments below your thoughts on this machine – perhaps you own or have owned one (or a similar model) in the past?
Huge thanks to Alberto, who kindly shared the service manual for the J300R below. I’ve uploaded it to our library for use by anyone wishing to repair their own unit. Technics slj300r Service Manual