Thanks to everybody who submitted kind feedback on the Technics SL-1210GR review. It has proven to be one of our most popular articles and I wanted to follow up with the next model in the range, the SL-1200G. I would like to thank Doug Brady Hi-Fi for helping to make this review possible. I purchased the turntable on review here at considerable expense, but they were generous enough to offer some discount to help me bring you this review. I don’t earn any commission from this mention or any resultant subsequent purchases, but feel it is only fair to give credit where it’s due.
The SL-1200G (and limited edition SL-1200GAE, limited to 1200 units) was for a short time the flagship product of the newly relaunched Technics brand, introduced in 2016 to great acclaim and excitement from many, myself included. It relaunched Technics and with it the legendary SL-1200 series of direct-drive turntables, famed throughout the world for their rugged reliability, faultless dependability, class-leading speed stability and of course top-notch sound quality. Whether you sit in the Technics camp or choose to believe the marketing hype surrounding the many (arguably inferior) audiophile offerings that (somewhat successfully) tried to trounce the Technics during its heyday, there is no denying the 1200G’s heritage.
And yet most of that heritage reappears in looks alone, as the SL-1200G and all the subsequent are ground-up re-designs with only a similar aesthetic paying homage to the prior generations. This has proven a controversial decision by Technics with many praising the new ‘tables engineering, yet still many questioning why a turntable that certainly looks awfully similar to a 1970s design should demand a hefty premium. In truth, despite the classic looks and usability, none of the new Technics models bear any resemblance to prior models. And besides the dust cover, they share no components, as having produced over three million units the tooling was too worn to continue manufacturing anything from the old SL-1200 lineup.
A Ground-Up Redesign
The design of the SL-1200G starts with a new 9-Pole, coreless DC motor with twin surface-facing rotors. The cordless motor allows extraordinarily smooth and precise rotation while eliminating cogging, which is a rotational irregularity that can sometimes be felt (or heard) as small detents or ‘bumps’ when the permanent magnets interact with the stator coils. The coreless motor dispenses with the iron core onto which the coils are ordinarily wound. Instead, overlapping flat-wound coils oppose the face of each magnet, here in a twin-rotor configuration. The twin-rotor configuration places permanent magnets in a sandwich design with the coreless stators above and below, thereby minimising bearing load and thus further minimising noise and vibration. The motor is entirely maintenance-free owing to new self-lubricating impregnated metal bearings.
The coreless motor also brings substantial improvements in acceleration and deceleration, low electrical inductance, smoother rotation and minimal electromagnetic interference, which is especially desirable when the motor is placed directly beneath a phono cartridge. Coreless motors can also react to voltage changes much faster than a traditional motor and are more electrically efficient in operation.
In reality, cogging in the Technics direct drive turntable is a hugely overblown issue and is a phenomenon used by many industry ‘experts’ proponents of other products to deter users who may otherwise consider a direct-drive turntable. While it is certainly true that previous generations of Technics can exhibit cogging to some degree, it is so minuscule as to be irrelevant and it certainly should be inaudible. Objective proof as to the audibility of cogging in the previous generation 1200 is thin on the ground. Any eccentricities in the record, platter, bearing and other key components will far outweigh any ill effects caused by the minute levels of cogging in the Technics motor, old or new.
These however, are all areas on which the SL-1200G improves, and vastly so. The platter is a triple-layer composite of rubber, die-cast aluminium and brass, and is dynamically balanced for perfect rotational stability and high inertial mass surpassing the SP10 MK2. It’s topped by a mat in soft rubber, similar in looks though thinner than before. The platter is inert, with a knuckle wrap producing a dead ‘thunk’ even without the mat. There can be no claims of excessive ringing here.
With a new motor and platter design comes updated electronics. Borrowing drive technology from Panasonic’s Blu-Ray players, the 1200G is now controlled in software with a precise reference clock and optical rotary positioning sensors beneath the motor with the crucial gap precisely set at the factory.
The cabinet is a four-layer construction comprising a hairline processed and immaculately finished 10 mm aluminium plate atop die-cast aluminium shell, BMC (bulk moulding compound, similar to TNRC) insert and a heavy cast rubber base. This results in an acoustically inert cabinet with exceptional vibration control and excellent isolation from external influences. The hole lot weighs 18KG with the platter. And though the old Technics felt battle tank solid, the new machine takes that feeling to a new level.
To further improve isolation, the turntable sits upon four feet of die-cast zinc with silicone insulators which fully isolate the turntable in three dimensions, making it all but immune to the effects of external vibration and feedback. The feet of the limited edition SL-1200GAE used a slightly different silicon composite, but whether any difference could be heard between the two is debatable.
Now we get to the arm, which is another topic of controversy. Some say that the arm is vastly inferior to the rest of the deck, and should be immediately disposed of for an audiophile-approved replacement. There are arm boards already on the market for this, made simpler by the fact that the dimensions of the arm mount are very similar to that of the old SL-1200.
This is audiophile nonsense at its finest, and so is the claim often made that the arm is the same as that of the SL-1200M5G. Besides aesthetics, the arms have little in common. The gimbal bearings are more precise than ever before with a new cut-processed bearing housing and friction levels of an infinitesimal 0.5MG. And though it may look conventional, the S-Shaped arm tube is made of ultra-lightweight cold-drawn magnesium (or a low percentage alloy at least), chosen for its natural damping properties which make it an ideal arm tube material.
Anti-skate is still via a spring adjusted by a dial graduated in 0.1 gram increments, tracking force is set by a traditional Technics counterweight and the arm is still static balanced meaning that the centre of gravity is on the axis of rotation, and so the tracking force will remain consistent as the arm tracks record warps or vinyl of varying thickness.
The simple fact of the matter is that the arm fitted to the SL-1200G is extremely competent. In fact, it is as nice a piece of engineering as the rest of the turntable. It will match well with a wide range of cartridges and has a neutral, honest sound that is true to the source material and the cartridge used. It is my opinion that changing the arm will only tailor the sound to achieve a desired tonal colour, or to better suit a particular cartridge, and won’t offer an improvement on the excellent unit already fitted lest you spend many times the cost of the deck on the arm itself.
Also retained are the removable headshell, optional auxiliary counterweights and the helicoidal VTA adjustment. My only minor gripe here is that the lowest point to which the arm can be set is higher than the older models, and means that the arm can’t get low enough to be parallel with a record when using a cartridge shallower than 17 mm or so. This isn’t a dealbreaker and is easily rectified by shimming the cartridge or installing a thicker mat. I use an LP Gear HD headshell with an AT33PTG/II, and shimmed the cartridge using a spacer cut from 3 mm acrylic which brought the cartridge to the correct height to sit parallel with the VTA at the zero position. And besides, adjusting the VTA is merely adjusting the stylus rake angle, which changes with tracking force. So if the tracking force is correct, VTA adjustment isn’t as critical an adjustment as many would like you to believe.
The supplied headshell closely resembles that which Technics have been supplying for decades, for which there are countless clones readily available for very little money. The headshells supplied with new models however included gold-plated contact pins and adjustable azimuth via a tiny screw underneath. It does feel a bit flimsy given the price and quality of the deck and is the only boxed accessory that I would suggest you consider upgrading from the get-go.
Only the cueing mechanism seems to have been cheapened somewhat. It works perfectly well but feels more flimsy than before with more play in the lift platform itself. It’s still fully adjustable though via a screw on the cue platform and is factory set to 8-13 mm of lift.
Wiring is OFC copper and terminates in brass-milled, gold-plated phono sockets beneath the arm. There’s a ground bolt too and an IEC socket for power, meaning the SL-1200 is no-longer tethered to its cables. Decent RCA and ground interconnects, along with an IEC lead are supplied in the box.
The Power Supply
The SL-1200G uses a switch-mode power supply as opposed to the linear power supply and transformer as used in the models that came before. This has several advantages, not least the fact that any electromagnet interference that could affect the cartridge is eliminated. It’s also quiet. Silent in fact. My hearing is particularly sensitive at high frequencies and I can normally hear the wining and other various operational noises of all but the very best switch-mode power supplies. I hear nothing from the Technics; not a wine, not a whistle, not a hiss, nothing. This is a perfectly well executed switch-mode power supply that is more than up to the job of powering the turntable’s electronics and allowing them to perform at their best.
A common upgrade performed to older Technics models was the replacement of the inbuilt power supply with an external unit. This was done to eliminate the hum caused by the transformer which could be picked up by the stylus.
This is demonstrated in the below clip, recorded from a Technics SL-1210 MK2 using an Audio-Technica VM95SH moving magnet cartridge, with the turntable switched on and the stylus placed in a groove mid-way across a stationary record.
Note the high levels of noise caused by the phono stage (which is an especially quiet (89dB) model) and the recording hardware which was a studio-grade interface with ultra-low noise input and converter stages. Note too that I had to normalise the file to enable you to make out the noise at all. What this shows is that in reality, this noise is so far below the surface noise of a record that it is inaudible in normal use. And given that it is inaudible when an SL-1200 is used in a live setting with huge sound reinforcement systems, it is highly unlikely that it will ever be an issue in a domestic environment. Nevertheless, a switch-mode power supply as found in the SL-1200G has no hum at all and eradicates this issue entirely.
Some, however, don’t agree. There are many ‘upgrade’ power supplies marketed for this turntable already, claiming to offer reduced noise and better sound quality. Objective proof to support these claims is unsurprisingly thin on the ground. Suffice it to say that the power supply installed in any of the new SL-1200 models is more than adequate. In my opinion, any replacement will either be of no benefit and may even degrade the performance while also compromising the looks and the turntable’s compact form factor.
In The Box
The 1200G is supplied with documentation, power, RCA and ground cables and a dust cover with pre-attached hinges. You’ll also find the beautifully machined aluminium 45 adapter and the main counterweight along with the headshell, two auxiliary weights, some cartridge fasteners and an overhang gauge. And we can’t forget the platter itself along with its traditional rubber mat. In short, the 1200G comes with everything you need to begin playing records, besides the cartridge and amplification of course.
Setup is nothing out of the ordinary with the exception that the platter must now be bolted directly to three pillars on the motor. This is done with three included slot-head bolts and results in a very rigid and firm interface between platter and motor.
You can then set the cartridge in the headshell using the included overhang gauge. I covered the issue of Technics tonearm geometry in great detail in both my SL-1200GR and Original SL-1200 reviews so I won’t reiterate that here. Suffice it to say that there is nothing wrong with the geometry Technics intend, and the overhang gauge is a perfectly adequate tool to align your cartridge providing you use it with care. You can check your overhang by measuring the distance between the stylus tip and the rubber washer at the rear of the headshell which should be 52 mm exactly.
Tracking force and anti-skate settings are exactly as before, with the rear weight being calibrated to within 0.04 grams of accuracy. The two included auxiliary weights can be used in addition to the main counterweight to add more mass at the back of the arm which allows for heavier cartridges or heavier headshells. The two auxiliary weights can also be combined together to give you extra flexibility.
The 1200G will be instantly familiar to any users of Technics’ prior turntables. Everything works as one would expect with some notable additions. A simultaneous press of both speed buttons now switches to 78RPM. There’s a pitch control with a selectable adjustment range of ±8% or ±16% via the button above the fader. A few more selections offering wider ranges would be a welcome addition for those playing 78s, and could presumably be implemented in a software update. A reset button locks the speed to exactly 33.3, 45 or 78RPM and disables the fader, which like later generations of the ‘old’ 1200 has no detent at the central ‘zero’ position.
The start/stop button is every bit as chunky as before, and there’s the classic start/stop pillar with inbuilt strobe lighting. The 1200G has blue lights a plenty, though the pop-up target light is white. The way the target light slowly rises from the plinth when the release button is pressed is very pleasing indeed and all controls lend to the turntable’s premium feel. Unlike many high-end offerings, this is a turntable that really does inspire not only pride of ownership but also confidence in its engineering and long-term dependability. It feels solid, perhaps even more-so than the models of old; many of which are still running perfectly after several maintenance-free decades.
That hefty motor gets the platter up to speed in just 0.7 seconds with 3.3KG/CM of starting torque. Technics don’t give a spec for running torque but the deck feels considerably more ‘torquey’ than the older generation. This is in automatic mode where the turntable will control the starting and braking speed, as well as the torque gain automatically. Should you wish to experiment with these settings, a switch beneath the platter allows you to put the turntable in manual mode and adjust these parameters via potentiometers also located beneath the platter. These settings will likely appeal mostly to those using the turntable’s in a DJ or production scenario where back-cueing or beat matching is important. Hi-fi users can leave the deck in auto mode as I do, where it will ensure the best performance without intervention.
There’s a USB port under the platter into which you can connect a USB flash drive to upgrade the SL-1200G firmware. As of the time of this review (June 2018) there are no upgrades available, but this is a welcome nod to the Technics’ longevity. I would like to see some additional functionality; for example holding the Start button to disable the lighting, the aforementioned pitch ranges, or perhaps even a 16RPM option though I admit only a very small minority would find a use for the latter.
I haven’t provided a speed accuracy measurement for the SL-1200g as those measurements are limited by the accuracy of the test records themselves. All test records will have a degree of error however marginal, and I don’t own a test record where the margin of error is significantly low as to obtain an accurate representation of the SL-1200G’s performance. Nor do I set any store by the test results from smartphone apps which claim to measure platter speed using the accelerometer of the device placed on the rotating platter. This is because the weight of the given device can affect the platter balance and thus the speed itself, not to mention the possible effect on any speed sensing and correcting mechanisms. And besides, those measurements too depend on the accuracy of the accelerometer, the analogue to digital conversion inside the device and of course the controlling software itself. Take such measurements, and any claims based on them, with a pinch of salt.
However given that the SL-1200G is good enough to show the deficiencies in my batch of test records, rather than it being the other way round, we can conclude that the speed accuracy of the SL-1200G is outstanding and will happily show its high priced competition the door, with the exception of Technics’ flagship SL-100R.
Weighted rumble (DIN-B) measures an equally outstanding -73.46dB which again is reference level by any standard.
The sound of the SL-1200G is difficult to describe as in essence, it is neutral in tone, and the sound you hear is therefore that of the record itself. This is a good thing. Over the years some audiophiles have been led to believe that the turntable is the most important component in the audio chain. Of course this is nonsense, with the most important component being the speakers and the turntable and perhaps the amplification vying for second place. The job of the turntable is to allow the stylus to track the groove as accurately as possible and to impart no sonic character of its own, though reproducing faithfully the content on the disc. This the Technics does extraordinarily well and any flavouring to its sound will largely depend on the cartridge you use.
There are a few characteristics however that can be described. Firstly, the SL-1200G is quiet. And when I say quiet, I really do mean quiet; silent, almost CD-like. Audiophiles often talk about ‘black backgrounds’, a cliche intended to describe the unveiling of micro detail that is the result of a system whose signal to noise ratio, or the level of musical signal as compared to the level of any background noise generated by the system, is particularly high. All components will impart a degree of noise into the playback. Most amplifiers hiss, though arguably some more than others, and the phono stage will have a degree of noise due to the high amounts of gain required to boost the level of the phono cartridge. Usually the turntable itself, and the surface noise of the record are the biggest contributors, but the SL-1200G helps to close the gap considerably with a low level of through-groove noise that will take you aback when you first hear it.
It’s unsurprising then that the second characteristic of the 1200G is micro detail. These are the tiny, almost imperceptible details in a piece of music that are more often felt than heard. The scrape of a finger on a fret, for example, the rustle of sheet music or the pedals on a piano. The Technics doesn’t bring these to the forefront (as it shouldn’t), but it does allow you to hear further into a track and thus uncover levels of micro detail that are quite surprising from a vinyl disc.
Speed stability is of course impeccable. There is no wavering in pitch and there’s a solidarity and energy to the sound of the 1200G that makes it both an accurate yet extremely enjoyable listen.
SL-1200G Vs SL-1200GR / SL-1210GR
Many have asked whether there is a significant difference between the SL-1200G and SL-1200 / SL-1210GR. The truth is that the two turntables do sound similar in some areas yet vastly different in others. The SL-1200G is notably quieter, offers much better imaging, far more detail and its sound is more uncoloured than that of the 1200GR, not that the sound of the 1200GR is especially coloured in comparison to similarly priced rivals. The two do sound similar in terms of pitch stability and of course both are speed accurate. I suppose the best way to describe the difference in sound is that the SL-1200G is a more ‘confident’ sounding turntable, more authoritative with a greater sense of scale and dimensionality which really does add to the overall musical picture.
Build quality of the SL-1200G is also better, not that the GR gives cause for complaint in this area. Both are better built than most rivals, but the SL-1200G really does feel every bit the premium product that it is. Perhaps the biggest difference in feel is in the arm, where the 1200G has a lightness and fluidity to its motion that is unlike any of Technics’ previous models. It has to be said though that both are exceptional turntables, and should you choose to own either model you will have yourself a superb piece of equipment which will provide musical enjoyment for decades to come.
The SL-1200G is without doubt a triumph of engineering. Like the SP10 in the late ‘60s, the SL-1200G has raised the bar and set new performance standards that should redefine expectations for what high-end vinyl playback should be. The SL-1200G brings genuine engineering advancements to a remarkably affordable (in the context of hi-fi) price point. Were the 1200G the product of a boutique manufacturer bearing a British or American badge, it would doubtless come at a cost of several times its going price, and yet whether the design and execution would come close to what a large manufacturer such as Panasonic can achieve is questionable.
This is not the turntable for those who favour the fragile build, coloured sound, old school aesthetics or endless possibility for tweaking as so often seen in the mid to high end. This is not a turntable that will require any number of ‘upgrades’ to sound its best.
This is a turntable sold on performance, rather than marketing hype or brand bias. This is a turntable for those who want to listen to music, rather than hi-fi. It’s a turntable for those who want a turntable to paint an accurate sonic picture, rather than one splashed with excessive colour. This is a turntable for those who want high build quality, and a turntable that will run maintenance free for decades to come. This is a turntable that approaches the limits of what vinyl as a medium can offer. And as such, it is perhaps the last turntable many would need.
It is my view that in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the Japanese in particular were making great headway in advancing the vinyl format. With advancements in computer control came better drive systems and state of the art tonearms. Yet the prominence of certain names (mainly British) offering models based on designs that even then were decades old, and of course bias in the press, eventually led to the well-documented decline in vinyl to the point where the format very nearly disappeared entirely. Advancements in vinyl have grown steadily since, but one does have to wonder where the format would be now if things had been different. As I said in my SL-1200GR review, it is my hope that this time around we can put the snobbery behind us and instead appreciate that one of the biggest names in vinyl replay is back on the scene, and making every effort to produce its finest products yet. The SL-1200G is a masterpiece. You owe it to yourself to hear one.