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Audio

Technics SL-1200GR turntable, for DJs or audiophiles or both?

The Technics SL-1200GR may look like a DJ turntable, but it’s also a superb turntable for everybody else.

Technics

When I play LPs for non-audiophiles old enough to have grown up with vinyl, they can't get over how quiet my records are. They remember LPs with lots of pops, clicks, scratches and rumble, but not at my house! Even some of my 50-year-old albums are remarkably quiet, it's just too bad those folks never heard how good turntables could sound back in the day. No worries, it's not too late to buy a great turntable -- such as the new Technics SL-1200GR -- and discover why audiophiles' passion for playing records never waned.

Technics introduced the world's first direct-drive turntable, the SP-10 in 1970, while the direct-drive SL-1200 arrived in 1972. The SL-1200 remained in production up through 2010, with model revisions, and sold more than 3,000,000 units!

DJs rejoiced when word got out last year that the reborn Technics SL-1200 turntable would hit the streets. OK, not all DJs: That limited-edition SL-1200G, went for a cool $4,000, but they sold out quickly. Today I'm looking at the much lower price Technics Grand Class SL-1200GR, and I wondered, would it have what it takes to woo audiophiles? As you might expect for a high-end turntable, the SL-1200GR is handcrafted in Japan.

The Technics SL-1200GR turntable.

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

For the SL-1200G Technics engineers developed a radically new twin-rotor, surface-facing, coreless direct-drive motor; the SL-1200GR uses a similar, single-rotor motor. There's also a new die-cast aluminum platter. As high-end turntables go the SL-1200GR is a relatively compact design, it measures 17.7x6.8x14.6 inches (453x173x372 mm), and weighs 24.7 pounds (11.2 kg). A hinged plastic dust cover is included.

Audiophiles will appreciate that the "S" shape aluminum tonearm's height is easily adjustable over a 6 mm range to accommodate different brands of phono cartridges. The SL-1200GR tone arm's bearings feel super smooth and there's no play or looseness, this tonearm is built to high-end standards.

The turntable is a three speed, 33.3, 45, 78 rpm design, with stereo RCA output jacks tucked away on its underside, so you can hook up the rather basic looking standard cable, or upgrade to the cable of your choice, I used an AudioQuest Yukon cable.

I split my time listening to the SL-1200GR with two different cartridges, an Ortofon 2M Black moving-magnet and a Hana EL moving-coil cartridge. The 2M Black was pretty sweet, it was very dynamic and clear, the Hana EL was even more transparent, but in the end I preferred the 2M Black. I used Schiit Mani and Sutherland KC Vibe phono preamps for my listening tests.

As I pointed out at the top of this review one of the surprise differences you'll hear between a merely good turntable and a great one is the audibility of LP surface noise -- clicks and pops -- and right away you'll note the SL-1200GR is remarkably quiet. The noises are still there, but they've receded into the background.

For Neil Young's "Mirror Ball" album he joined forces with Pearl Jam and I heard more soundstage depth and dimensionality than I do with most rock recordings. Bass attack and power were strong suits of this turntable, you'd hardly expect less from a turntable designed for DJs.

I also played a new LP "Nothing More To Say" from the Frightnrs, a reggae band with a heavy soul influence. I visited the Daptone studio in Brooklyn, NY where this music was recorded, and now listening to this LP I'm hearing the studio's sound again!

With a 1963 recording, "Jazz Samba Encore," with saxophonist Stan Getz and acoustic guitarist Luiz Bonfa the sound was remarkably fresh and vital. The entire album was recorded in three days in a New York studio, and the energy leaping off the grooves was irrepressible.

The Technics SL-1200GR sells for $1,699 or £1,299, but the Australian price has not been announced yet (it roughly converts to AU$2,250). Yes, there are other modern direct-drive turntables selling for a lot less, the best one in recent memory was the Pioneer PLX-1000 ($699, £599, AU$849), and it was very decent, but the SL-1200GR is in another league.

I think Technics' only misstep was making SL-1200GR look like a DJ turntable, which will probably turn off a lot of audiophiles. A 'table with the same working parts sheathed in a more conservative looking design would attract a lot more people willing to spend $1,695 on a turntable, which last time I checked were definitely audiophiles.