In October 1972, The Matsushita Electric Company, more commonly known today as Panasonic, launched a new mid-priced hi-fi turntable under its Technics brand. A departure from the belt and idler drive turntables of the day, it featured a brushless high torque direct drive motor, a heavy vibration-damped chassis and a low mass, S-shaped tonearm suitable for the modern high compliance cartridges of the day. Its specifications could be matched only by the SP10, the world’s first direct drive turntable introduced just 2 years earlier by the same company, a turntable that had quickly become the standard for broadcast and recording applications. This turntable was, of course, the Technics 1200.
In 1978, Technics updated the 1200 line introducing the MK2 model incorporating a host of improvements including greater resistant to external feedback, less internal vibration, an extremely accurate quartz-controlled motor and a sliding pitch control, replacing the rotary control of its predecessor. Aptly advertised as “Tough enough to take the disco beat. Accurate enough to keep it”, the 1200MK2 was the turntable that played a definitive roll in the birth of the modern DJ, extended disco mixes and the development of hip hop.
Several models followed, though the MK2 remained in production as the base model in the line until the 1200 product line was discontinued in 2010. The MK3/D in 1989 was intended for the Japanese market, the only changes being a pair of gold RCA plugs, a foil sticker on the reverse and a matt black finish. Released in 1996 to mark the 1200s 25th anniversary, the SL-1200LTD featured a gloss black finish with gold fittings, and was limited to 10,000 units all of which sold out within a year. The same year saw the release of the 1200MK4, a model aimed toward the audiophile market with a matt black finish, a removable RCA cable and a 78RPM speed option.
In 1997, the SL-1200M3D was released incorporating a revised pitch slider. The zero position detent was removed, and a control added to reset the pitch to quartz control mode regardless of the fader position. The stroboscopic power light was given an orange hue, and the dust cover hinges were removed. The MK5 followed in 2002, increasing the available anti-skate setting from 0-3 grams to 0-6 grams, replacing the target lamp with a white LED and incorporating a magnetic dust cover as a replacement for the hinged cover on previous models.
The M5G was introduced in the same year to mark the 30th anniversary of the 1200 line. Finished in silver speckled gloss black, it featured blue illumination of both the target light and pitch number, as well as an entirely digital pitch control offering both 8% and 16% pitch ranges. Minor improvements were also made to the tonearm including the wiring, which was replaced with OFC copper wire throughout.
2004 Saw the release of yet another limited edition in the form of the SL-1200GLD, based on the previous M5G and limited to just 3000 units. 2007s MK6 saw improvements to the vibration damping, tonearm mounting, target LEDs, pitch control accuracy and wiring. The final 35th anniversary model was released in the same year, the MK6K1, only a thousand of which were released and only in Japan. Identical to the MK6 aside from a traditional matt black finish, it was the final model released before the entire product line was discontinued in 2010.
The present day
The resurgence in popularity of the vinyl format and heightened demand for a new DJ turntable that could compete with the venerable Technics led to a number of manufacturers releasing turntables designed to do just that. They’re largely referred too as ‘Super OEM’ turntables, as most of the models on offer are built to a manufacturer’s given specification by a Chinese outfit before being badged with a manufacturer’s name and sold to the various worldwide markets at varying price points. They’re perhaps better known as Technics clones, as they usually mimic both the layout and feature set of the Technics 1200 line in order to offer a degree of familiarity for those switching between the 2, or indeed for those switching exclusively to a super OEM turntable to gain the advantages of the digital integration offered by some models.
Following the revise of the Technics brand and the introduction of several hi-fi product lines, Panasonic in 2016 announced a brand new Technics 1200 turntable. Christened the Grand Class Direct Drive turntable system, both limited and standard editions were introduced in the form of the SL-1200GAE and SL-1200G respectively. Aimed at the audiophile market with a £2799 price tag to match, the Technics 1200G and 1200GAE models incorporate a physical design not dissimilar to that of their predecessors, albeit with modern digital circuitry, a revised motor, a new platter and a heavier, prettier chassis. CES 2017 saw Technics announce a cut-price model (the 1200 ‘GR’).
The latest 1200 variants are however the subject of a later review, as in this article we’re focusing on the MK2; in particular the 1210MK2. As with all of the 1200 models mentioned above, the 1210 variants differ only in the colour, the addition of a voltage selector switch, and some minor revisions to their circuitry.
The 1210MK2 (hereafter simply referred too as the 1210) features the classic triple layer 1200 chassis, including a die-cast aluminium top, an inner plinth made from a proprietary low-resonance compound, and a thick rubber base with a set of 4 rubber damped, spring isolated feet. The top features the classic DJ layout with a large start / stop button positioned in the bottom left corner, accompanied by a column for the power switch and stroboscopic illumination, which illuminates the strobe dots surrounding the platter to indicate the accuracy of the deck’s speed. Said platter is a 332MM diameter, rubber-damped aluminium affair, weighing in at 2KG and topped by a thick rubber mat. A magnet screwed to its opposing side allows it to form part of the motor assembly.
Beneath the platter sits the second half of the motor comprising a central bearing and a set of coils around which the platter magnet rests. This is the basis for the direct drive system for which the 1200 series is legendary. 1.5KGF/CM or 0.15NM of torque allows the platter to reach 33.1/3 RPM within 0.7 seconds from a standstill. The 1210 also incorporates an electronic braking system, which applies a slight backward force to the platter when the stop button is pressed, counteracting the forward inertia of the platter allowing it to cease rotating almost instantly.
Along the front edge, a popup target lamp allows for accurate cuing of the stylus, particularly in dark environments. A button allows the light to rise from the base of the turntable, releasing a microswitch providing power to the light. When the lamp is pressed back into place, the light is extinguished to minimise premature lamp failure.
Over on the right, the sliding pitch fader allows for +/-8% pitch adjustment, with a central detent indicating the 0 position. At zero, quartz control keeps the turntable steady at exactly 33.3 or 45RPM, with wow and flutter measured at a vanishingly low 0.025% WRMS. Rumble is measured at -56 dB (IEC 98A Unweighted) and 78DB (IEC 98A Weighted); far beyond the noise threshold of the quietest vinyl pressings.
The 1200 Tonearm
Of course no turntable would be complete without its tonearm. Those fitted to the 1200 line are the subject of great debate among turntable purists, many opting to remove the stock tonearm and replace it with an aftermarket model from the likes of SME or Rega.
In reality the stock arm is built to extremely tight tolerances and offers a number of convenient features to boot. The S-shaped arm wand, designed to eliminate the resonance tone of the arm, rides on a gimbal bearing whereby the horizontal and vertical rotation axis intercept at a single central point. The bearings are finished to a tolerance of less than 0.5 microns, resulting in a bearing friction of just 7 milligrams (0.007G). The arm terminates in a universal headshell socket, designed to carry the supplied die-cast aluminium headshell. With a mass of 7 grams, use of the Technics headshell results in an effective arm mass of 12 grams.
The arm also features a helicoid height adjustment, allowing the VTA to be raised and lowered by a little over 6MM via a simple mechanism similar to that used in camera lenses. A calibrated scale is provided, as is a friction lock to keep the tonearm in place. Anti-skate is applied via a dial with an attached spring and has an adjustment range of 0-3 grams. A traditional counterweight is provided, as is an auxiliary weight which screws into the rear of the tonearm to improve arm resonance and offer a greater tracking force range when either a heavier cartridge, or the included 3 gram headshell weight, are used.
The arm terminates in a fixed interconnect with a separate ground cable. Internal wiring is comprised of a tin plated fine strand cable which is the weak point of the arm. The M5G uses an OFC cable which is significantly better. The MK2 isn’t a difficult arm to rewire, and the wiring is responsible for much of the criticism surrounding the arm and indeed the sound of the table itself.
In my view, a rewired Technics tonearm will happily track just about any likely cartridge or record, and to replace the arm only serves to alter the sound of the turntable, and such alterations are rarely an improvement, not least one that justifies the cost. Some of the aftermarket arms fitted to the 1200 line are of an inferior design to the original and thus don’t allow the full potential of the deck to be realised.
Technics provide an overhang gauge which, if used correctly with a stock Technics headshell will set the desired overhang of 15MM, allowing the cartridge to be aligned without the use of a protractor. The same setting can be achieved by setting the cartridge in the headshell so that the distance between the tip of the stylus and the rubber washer at the back of the headshell equals exactly 52MM, and then ensuring that the cartridge is parallel with the headshell. When correctly set, the Technics alignment does not conform to any of the commonly accepted standards (though it is closest to those published by Stevenson), and appears to be designed to offer a best compromise to fit a variety of different sized records.
Mathematically speaking, the Technics alignment calculated using their given inner and outer null points of 58.8 and 113.5MM yields a tracking error of 2.13 degrees, a maximum distortion of 0.761% and an average RMS distortion of 0.5%. Aligning the cartridge to the Lofgren A standard using the IEC 1958 / RIAA 1963 standard null points of 66 and 120.9MM yields a tracking error of 1.86 degrees, and maximum and RMS distortion values of 0.64% and 0.417% respectively.
A standard Stevenson alignment using the Technics arm mounting distance of 215MM and the 12” 1964 IEC / DIN standard null points of 57.5 and 115.6MM results in a tracking error of 253 degrees, and maximum and RMS distortion values of 0.866% and 0.567%. As you can see from the above numbers, the Stevenson alignment results in slightly higher distortion than the Technics alignment method, and the Lofgren A alignment is mathematically superior to both. Lofgren A does increase the overhang however to 17.8MM up from the 15MM specified by Technics, so depending on the distance of the mounting holes of your cartridge from the tip of its stylus, the slots in a stock Technics headshell may not offer enough room to correctly align the cartridge to a Lofgren A alignment. Any cartridge should comfortably align to the Technics alignment with plenty of room to spare.
In reality I found little difference between the two methods of alignment after A/B comparisons with the same cartridge, though a significant improvement was noted when aligning to a custom protractor vs the inaccurate Technics gauge. While the Lofgren A alignment did appear to lessen the distortion across the record, it didn’t combat the end of side distortion that was still present on some albums. Surface noise didn’t decrease, and any improvements that it brought to imaging were subtle. I opted to stick with the Technics factory alignment which brought improvement to the end of side distortion aspect, rendering the surface noise less apparent, providing stable imaging and offering the most consistent results across a variety of records and record sizes. You can find a couple of my custom printable protractors for the Technics Here.
Disassembly and Maintenance
I’ve owned a couple of 1200s over the years and have carried out both repairs and general maintenance where required. The 1210 is by far one of the easiest decks to service and maintain, thanks to a clever design whereby essential components such as the main board, power supply, motor and bearing can be accessed simply by removing the plastic motor cover situated beneath the platter.
Servicing the remaining components including the tonearm, switches, target lamp and pitch control requires that at least the base and often the inner plinth be removed. That’s not a particularly difficult task, and the entire 1210 deck can be disassembled using a couple of Philips screwdrivers.
The platter bearing is lubricated using Anderol 465 synthetic oil, and it is recommended that it is topped up every 2000 hours. Assuming you can find the correct oil, which in the UK at least is difficult to come by in small quantities, topping it up is as simple as applying 2 drops beneath the spindle and allowing it to find its way into the bearing. The oil can sometimes be found on Amazon or eBay, or can be ordered from KAB USA.
The ease of disassembly makes modifying the deck a breeze. A common modification that is known to produce excellent results involves the removal of the power transformer which is relocated to an external enclosure thus eliminating the mechanical vibration that it causes and therefore the hum that is picked up by the cartridge as a record plays. In reality whether you can hear the mechanical hum of the transformer is debatable. Its presence can be easily proven (place the stylus on a stationary record with the power to the deck switched on and turn up the amplifier), but it is more often than not masked by the surface noise of the record itself.
There are a range of aftermarket power supply solutions available which can be fitted, some offering a higher current and more stable supply to the deck’s circuitry. While I would advise against many of the common aftermarket modifications (including replacement of the tonearm), I do mostly approve of these power supply modifications. The new 1200 decks feature a switch mode power supply, which by design causes no vibration and should therefore be perfectly adequate.
There are other modifications too, including heavy duty bearings, platters, mats, feet, light colour changes and a circuit mod to allow for playback at 78 RPM. I am against changing the platter or mat, as both are designed to offer the correct load to the motor and the lip surrounding the stock platter and the profile of the mat are both designed to match the slight curve of an LP to offer greater surface contact between the LP and mat.
Some even claim they can tell the difference when the strobe light are disabled, though having never attempted this modification myself I can’t attest to its credibility. I feel the hour or so wasted disabling the strobe would be enough to make one believe that a difference could be heard. The 78 mod comes in handy though and is relatively easy to implement.
As with most of my reviews, I see little point in describing the sound of the Technics based on its performance with any given reference material. Such endeavours are fruitless as even the same example will perform differently were it to be used in another room or system. Instead I’ll attempt to describe its traits and give a more generalised overview, and suffice it to say that even in its stock form the Technics is a fantastic performer.
The Technics 1200 line is known for its incredibly accurate and stable speed. Its relentless rhythm and perfect timing lend it a level of excitement that is hard to ignore. Piano notes don’t waver. Bass notes stop and start with pin point accuracy. And, most importantly of all, the turntable itself is virtually silent.
Relentless timing would be nothing were it not for musicality, another trait that the 1200 has in spades. Thanks no doubt to its arm wiring, it can be a little edgy and unruly at the top end. But mids flow easily and the sound is coherent. While improved wiring and thus an improved top end would bring improvements in imaging, broadening the stereo sound stage, the Technics is able to overcome these shortfalls with a sound that provides enough musical satisfaction to distract from any of its minor deficiencies.
Mention a Technics 1200 in any audiophile circle, and you’ll invariably receive one of 3 reactions. “I own one”, muttered in a quiet, wavering tone in the hope that nobody heard. “Oh I’ve heard of those”, uttered in a slightly more confident manor by a more open minded member of the group. Or, of course, “Did somebody say technics?!”
That final response is more often than not the loudest of the bunch, followed by a lengthy debate as to the advantages and disadvantages of turntable drive systems, Japanese tonearm design, sound isolation and the 1200’s links to the DJ community. Many continue to claim that the 1200 was designed primarily as a DJ turntable, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Rarely is any of the information offered concerning the Technics based on personal experience, and rarely do such debates conclude in favour of the Technics. To this day I’ve yet to understand why. Class snobbery perhaps? There is so much false information in circulation concerning these turntables, arguably more than any other product in the audio world. And that, to me, is a great shame because it means that many may never have the opportunity to hear what a properly functioning and correctly setup Technics is truly capable of.