September 14, 2016
Like the original in the ’70s, the new SL-1200 is not a DJ deck but a high-end performer. Paul Rigby explains how time and build have contributed to a price many believe is too high.
Values move up and down with demand, condition and gullibility but, if I look right now on eBay and check out the prices for the original SL-1200 turntable then I can see perfectly acceptable models fetching somewhere in the region of £300 to £600 depending on age and if the deck contains any upgrade tweaks. There’s cheaper and more expensive examples out there, of course, but that £300-£600 range is pretty typical.
“Yet, Technics is basically asking £2,800 for the new model!” you cry. Outrageous! Or is it? “And another thing, Technics charged that price for the limited edition model. Now the ‘basic’ model has arrived, they’re still asking £2,800!” Again, outrageous! But, as I found out, there’s more to that story than first meets the eye.
To address these questions, I managed to grab Technics’ own Jonathan Danbury for a quick chat.
Taking the points in reverse order, I wondered why would anyone want to plump for the limited edition SL-1200GAE in the first place? “There are a couple of differences,” said Danbury. “This first is underneath. The construction of the feet uses a different rubber type on the limited edition model. The main difference, though, is the arm tube. On the limited edition, it is made from magnesium but, on the standard version, the arm tube is made from aluminium.”
Improved feet can improve isolation and reduce damaging noise entering into the turntable but is this new arm tube really anything to shout about? I asked Johnnie Nilsen, who makes some of the best turntable arms in the world via his own, UK-based Audio Origami company. Is a ‘magnesium’ arm worthy of attention?
“For a start, it won’t only be magnesium” said Nilsen. “Pure magnesium really wants to blow up. You can set fire to pure magnesium and it’ll burn like one of those old fashioned fuses that blow up dynamite. This tube will be made from a low percentage alloy of some sort that will be mostly magnesium. It will probably be much lighter than the aluminium arm and stiffer, depending on the alloy type. Improving rigidity would improve the sound, lowering noise and improving detail retrieval. That said, a stiffer arm would put more focus on the bearings – you are only as good as your weakest link – so the bearings would have to be good too.”
OK, so the limited edition deck seems to be better than the basic model. So why is the bog-standard SL-1200 the same high price as the limited-edition version?
Actually, it isn’t.
That is, it’s the other way around. Basically, the limited edition price is the same low price of the standard version. Hence, Technics is effectively giving you the limited edition enhancements free, gratis and for nothing. The limited edition version should be a few hundred pounds more than it actually is, as Danbury confirmed, “The limited version is the bargain of the two. The limited edition version might be of a superior specification but we have not raised the price for that model so, if you are looking to buy, make sure that you buy the limited version if you can.”
If that’s the case, that still doesn’t explain why the basic model is priced at such a relatively high figure in the first place. After all, in terms of the design and operation, the new 1200 is exactly like the old 1210 series model.
That, actually is a big clue to the reason behind the price increase. One of the main reasons that the original Technics 1200 series of turntables was discontinued was because all of the original mouldings and dies (devices used for cutting out, forming or stamping material) had actually worn out, “Although there was one exception to that: the Perspex lid. Hence, the new turntable retains exactly the same lid as the original model. That includes the little dome over the arm’s bearing assembly so that the arm doesn’t touch the top of the lid,” said Danbury.
OK, forget the lid for a second. Apart form that, everything is completely new, so the whole design has been created from the ground upwards with the emphasis, said Technics, on the very highest quality reproduction, “For example, the platter is several times heavier than the original, using a brass top plate with rubber underneath so that it is completely dead and inert.”
This is an easy test for you to make, if your dealer doesn’t mind you walking up to his brand new turntable and hitting it. The original rang like a bell. Sonics suffer when this happens.
“The new design also includes a completely new direct drive motor system which removes the stator cogging which was a minor issue with the SL-1200 series. There’s also a new digital speed control system which is much more accurate, controlling speed better and eliminating any threat of wow and flutter. The old model had an analogue speed control system.”
OK, you can see then that the new design has improvements and that the company has had to make a whole heap of new tooling to get this new design off the ground. But, even so, isn’t the new version still a complete rip-off? Not according to Danbury, “The original run of the SL-1200 series ran for a very long time. We actually produced around 3.5 million of them, in total. Over that very long production period, all of the costs of developing the product plus all the tooling and machinery had all been absorbed. So, in reality, the price actually fell over the years. But none of those parts or tools exist any more (except for the lid) so we literally have to start from scratch. The present day price of making all of the parts and dies is astronomical compared to what it was in the ’70s.”
There is something else that you need to remember. Technics is not producing a DJ deck here. Originally, the first SL-1200 was sold for high-end consumer home use. This new version is aimed at the same market. Hence, sonic perfection is the name of the game here, not DJ features and value, “We are trying to produce the best SL-1200 that we can possibly make. In terms of the sonic performance, the new SL-1200 sounds more in league with the SP-10 series, the classic broadcast deck. Unfortunately, though, the production costs right now, to make a mechanical product of that quality and specification are much higher than they were back in the ’70s,” said Danbury.
The price of these decks is not really the issue. It is churlish to believe that it is. As it wasn’t with the original SL-1200, when that first came out (and that technically inferior turntable would be worth a few thousand pounds or more in today’s money, incidentally). The point is that the SL-1200 never actually died and we all thought that it had. This iconic deck, a symbolic friend to many, is back and that can only be a good thing.