We Begin the Technics Project!

Yes, I know I’m a hifi reviewer and I’m supposed to have expensive and mighty turntables or I’m not an audiophile…

Ok, I may not have any six-figure turntables like some of the grand pubahs, but nonetheless, I think I’ve put together a nice set of disc spinners from AVID, Brinkmann, Soulines, VPI and now Grand Prix Audio, with a stable of cartridges and phono stages to match. They sound great and help me do my job at TONEAudio, evaluating pressings and components.

Much as I love these turntables, I started my analog journey with the Technics SL-1200. Bought a new one from Pacific Stereo on 27th street in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with a Stanton 681EEE cartridge. Worked all summer for that puppy. The first record I bought was Edgar Winter’s They Only Come Out at Night – and I still have it!

But then I became an audiophile and the 1200 wasn’t good enough to pass muster with my like minded buddies, and it was kind of unthinkable then to have more than one turntable. I’m not sure why, but the 1200 moved on to a good friend and a Rega Planar 3 took it’s place, soon to be replaced by an Oracle Delphi mk. II.

Though the 1200 has tremendous respect in the DJ community for its rock solid speed accuracy and ease by which you can vary the speed and scratch to your hearts content, it’s been heavily dissed by the audiophile community until recently, where a number of enthusiasts have upgraded every aspect of the table. Tonearms, external power supplies, you name it.

Having revisited the 1200 myself about five years ago, I did find it a little dark, but there were still things I loved, like the speed accuracy and the solid bass foundation it lays down. A quick swap for an SME 309 tonearm and a TimeStep power supply proves that this is a worth audiophile table indeed.

Needless to say I was more than a little bit excited when the new SL-1200G hit the market last year. And because Technics was so reluctant to hand review samples out, I jumped off the cliff and just bought one from my good friend Antonio Long at AVSF. I have not been disappointed in the least.

Combining this with my modded 1200 mk.2 and a much older SL-1100 (thanks to Erik at Gig Harbor Audio) and the new McIntosh MP-1100 phono stage, I can mix and match cables, cartridges and tonearms to my heart’s content. And I plan to do so as time goes on. But more importantly, I will be playing a lot of records in room two at TONEAudio, because the SL-1200 is so much fun.

I guess I’m not an audiophile anymore. I don’t think I ever was.

Stay tuned, and show us your 1200s (and your story) out on the Analogaholic section of our Facebook page. I look forward to talking to you! – Jeff Dorgay

The Technics SL-1200G Turntable

The older we get, the more difficult it is to remember some of life’s firsts.

Once, while chatting with Jerry Seinfeld about his Porsche collection, a big smile came across his face recalling his first 911; a red, early 80s Carrera, and how hard he had to work to get that car. “You never forget stretching for the first one.”

So it goes for me with turntables. A full summer of chores put enough money in my wallet to walk into Pacific Stereo and plunk a shiny new Technics SL-1200 (with Stanton 681EEE cartridge) into the hatch of my Gremlin back in 1976. Ok, I’m not as famous as Mr. S, but I kinda know how he felt. Rushing home at a hurried pace, a quick set up with the enclosed alignment tool, and Frampton Comes Alive was blasting out of my JBL L-100s. I had never even heard the term VTA and my wallet was empty, but I was really, really, happy.

A little more than 40 years later, weaving through Portland’s rush hour traffic, trying to get to FedEx before they close, I feel the same sense of excitement on the way to pick up today’s SL-1200G. Last year, Technics released a limited quantity of the classic table, model SL-1200GAE. They sold out almost instantly, with a retail price of about $4,000. Yeah, that’s a lot more than I paid for mine, but all things considered, $400 back in 1976 is about $2,300 in todays money. So, is the new 1200, $1,700 better than the old one?  We’re about to find out.

Fortunately, between staff member Jerold O’Brien and I, we pretty much keep everything, or we know how to get our hands on it. Mr. O’Brien just happened to have a 1200 lying about from 1980, so that’s close enough. To make this even more interesting, I still have a 1200 mk.II that’s had some modifications courtesy of Sean Casey at Zu Audio, as well as a TimeStep power supply from Sound HiFI in the UK. (you can read that article here), so there will be none of that “well, I can’t really remember what a 1200 sounded like, but blah, blah, blah.” that you hear from the other so called experts. It’s 1200 fest at TONEAudio. We do our homework.

Attention to detail

Seinfeld is fond of mentioning what he calls “density of thought.” Comparing the 1200 mk.II to the current 1200G is much like comparing an 80s Carerra to a current 911. Most of the visual cues you know are still there, right down to that same cartridge alignment tool, but everything is finished to a much higher standard.

Those that like to geek out the older 1200s usually concentrate on a couple of areas first; dampening the platter and the chassis; the former being tougher than the latter, because of balance issues. Along with a greatly improved direct drive mechanism, Technics addresses both of these issues with the 1200G. The new platter is fully balanced, filled with a layer of deadening rubber and has a brass top layer to the platter. Popping the platter from the original 1200 mk.II on the current table quickly reveals the progress made. Images fully rendered on the 1200G shrink dramatically and a level of low level image focus and quality disappears. The delta is like going from a pair of Nordost Odin cables to a pair of Radio Shack interconnects.

The original 1200 benefited tremendously from having the tonearm rewired with premium wire, but thanks to a pair of RCA jacks underneath the table, a-la VPI, swapping the fifty cent interconnect for a pair of Cardas Clear interconnects brought the sound of the 1200G to the head of the class. Last but not least, for the perfectionists in the crowd (and I know you’re out there) replace the standard issue head shell and associated wire. In this case, a wooden Ortofon LH-8000 fills the bill nicely.

While the new G model’s tonearm looks remarkably similar to the one fitted to the original 1200, the bearings and counterweight are machined to a much tighter tolerance, and where the original arm was made from aluminum, the magnesium arm from the limited edition SL-1200 GAE is retained here. Even the dampening feet are greatly improved over the original model.

Just like any other high performance machine, the SL-1200G benefits from numerous small improvements that you can’t see. Better bearings along with refined motor and drive control circuitry all add up to more music revealed.


Considering all the fun I had taking the photos of this table, I kept wondering how it would sound on initial power up. In a word, dark. However, this is not the table’s fault. After the folks at Technics delivered a huge bag of cash to my doorstep via Fed Ex it sounded much better. Just kidding.

However, in all seriousness, setting up the SL-1200G with the tools in the box and a modest cartridge will not get you to audio heaven, but this would be like assembling a 911 engine with a pliers, and an adjustable wrench. That project would go equally poorly. Though the new 1200G looks a lot like it’s distant relative, all the verbiage in the manual is true; this table is a much more precise instrument.

Get your hands on some decent setup tools – now. A precise protractor like the Feickert or the Acoustical Systems SMARTractor, a good test record and a digital stylus force gauge. If you are a master of the Feickert setup software, that won’t hurt either. 30-60 minutes spent fine tuning the new 1200 will pay a world of dividends. Lastly, throw out the stock power cord and fit something a little better while you’re at it just for good measure.

I can’t fault Technics for any of this; they did their homework and built a solid deck. In their defense, the last $5,500 tonearm I purchased from SME resulted in throwing the packaged tonearm cable in the circular file, to be replaced with a $1,200 cable from Furutech. The good news is that you can at least get the 1200G up and running with the tools and cables included; but properly set up, it’s a sweetheart of a table.

Nothing but fun

The SL-1200G is so easy to use, it’s made vinyl playback a blast. Thanks to the three inputs on the Pass Labs XS Phono, and a set of three Rega Elys 2 cartridges, comparing the three variations on the SL-1200 theme is not only a breeze, but enlightening. Queuing up three copies of MoFi’s self-titled Santana (only a few pressing numbers apart, to keep it all as close to identical as possible) quickly shows the progress the Technics engineers have made.

Immediately the new table’s massive stereo image makes itself known. The mk.2 creates a somewhat small sonic landscape that is limited to the space between the speakers; it feels more like VHS. Where the gentle piano at the beginning of “Treat” feels small and uninvolving on the mk.2, moving up to the 1200G brings it alive, the piano now sounding much bigger and livelier. As the guitar is folded in, a similar effect is displayed and even the non-audiophiles in my impromptu listening sessions stood up and took notice.

All three tables exhibit great speed accuracy, but again the new model (and the TimeStep modded version) offer a much lower noise floor, resulting in a greater dynamic range. When tracking through a new, 45 r.p.m. copy of Kruder and Dorfmeister’s The K&D Sessions, the new table shines, with incredible bass weight that the other two can’t match.

Finally where I would never have mounted a premium cartridge to the original 1200, because of its general lack of resolution, this is now a welcome addition to the current model. Upgrading the standard issue Technics head shell with something from Ortofon or another specialty manufacturer, and some better head shell wires (in this case, a set of silver ones from Furutech) takes it all to the next level.

Switching from the $300 Rega MM cartridge to the $6,000 Transfiguration Proteus cartridge brought about quite the “ah-ha” moment, and convinces me that this is a world class table in the $4,000 price category. The Technics SL-1200G has the ability to resolve the difference between cartridges with ease, and thanks to the easily removable head shells, this was not a terribly difficult task. Even if you don’t invest in a $6,000 cartridge for your new 1200G, know it is up to the task.

Should you be of the “get a great table first, add the mega cartridge later” mindset, one budget cartridge that delivers astounding sonics with the 1200G is the $379 Denon DL-103r. It won’t offer the last bit of fine detail that the four figure cartridges will, but it’s level of sheer musicality and bass weight should keep your ears perked up.

I’ve never been a DJ, but…

I do have more than one turntable, and I can’t resist a good 45 r.p.m. maxi single. The well recorded ones offer up a level of dynamics that is usually a cut above a standard album. Radiohead’s “High and Dry” proved a perfect place to start. A mere push of the button is all it takes to get to 45 right now, and it goes without saying, the speed accuracy of the new 1200G is perfect – the red strobe now replaced by a rich blue.

As you might suspect, the rock-solid speed accuracy provided by direct drive makes not only for explosive transients, but sturdy bass response. Zipping through a handful of Prince 45s delivers a special quality, weight and texture to the lower register that I haven’t experienced with tables at this price before.

Yet the 1200Gs sole attribute is not solid bass response as the early mk.2 was. Where the original still provides a rock solid musical foundation, it’s not an audiophile turntable in stock form. The current G model adds the nuance that you’d expect from a great belt drive table. While the 1200G doesn’t have the level of finesse that my reference Brinkmann Bardo possesses, it grooves in that direction.

Switching the program material to solo piano underlines the 1200Gs solidity. It’s like taking the speed stability of a great digital recording and adding the tonal saturation of analog. It’s a compelling combination.

Lastly, I just couldn’t resist the urge to do a little bit of scratching, so the Ortofon CC Scratch came off the shelf and after resetting tracking and anti-skate (Ortofon suggests a 2-gram anti skate setting and 4-gram tracking force “because of the abnormal behavior of the tonearm when backcuing.” Try that on a $100,000 turntable.

Across the board great

As with a great sports car, much is to be said for balance. Those rare cars with an equal amount of stop, go, handling and feel are often much more fun on a curvy road than a high horsepower car that is a monster beyond your capabilities. The Technics SL-1200G is like the new generation Miata. It offers up such a balanced amount of analog performance, that you’ll never notice you aren’t listening to a $30,000 turntable.

If you haven’t considered a direct drive turntable for audiophile duty, I can’t suggest the Technics SL-1200G highly enough. I’m happy to award it one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2017 and not only have I purchased the review sample, I’m thinking of a second one, just because. -Jeff Dorgay

The Technics SL-1200G

MSRP: $4,000



Phonostage                Pass XS Phono, Audio Research REF Phono 3

Cartridges                  Rega Elys2, Ortofon Scratch, Denon DL-103r, Sumiko Blackbird, Grado Reference 1, Transfiguration Proteus

Preamplifier              Pass XS Pre

Power Amplifier        Pass XS 300 monoblocks

Cable                          Tellurium Q Silver Diamond and Cardas Clear

SL-1200 Upgrades: Sound HiFi

Though I am not a huge fan of modded gear, I’ve always appreciated the ingenuity exhibited by the DIY side of the audio world.

Just like my other favorite hobby (automobiles), there is always plenty of room for the wrench turners to coexist with the check writers, and while they always like to banter about whose approach is more pure, the decision to mod is up to you.

If you are new to the modding game, keep in mind that a modded piece rarely has great resale value, because once you start tinkering with anything, there are only so many people who will want to purchase your version of nirvana.  So keep that in mind before you get out the Sawzall. In this case, if you perform the Sound HiFi mods with care, you could reverse the process and go back to a stock SL-1200, should you decide to sell it.

From the beginning

My journey in HiFi started with a Technics SL1200 about 35 years ago, yet I quickly got caught up in being a proper audiophile trading that table in for a belt-drive Rega Planar 3.  To be fair to the Rega, I still prefer the sound of a P3 to the sound of a stock Technics SL-1200, which I find rather dark and cloudy sounding overall.  Careful attention to detail when setting up an SL-1200 will wring every bit of resolution for which it is capable, but this is still not a ton.

The good news is that Technics has been building the SL-1200 for a long time and the core turntable mechanism (motor, base and platter) is robustly built.  The direct-drive mechanism has a lot of torque and the table has a very weighty presentation with a fair amount of bass detail despite its other shortcomings.  While a basic “audiophile approved” turntable can easily run a couple thousand dollars without a tonearm, you can still find a like – new SL-1200 on the secondary market for $400 -$500 (in the U.S. anyway), so this is an excellent platform for modification.  Think of the SL-1200 as the Volkswagen GTI of the turntable world.

I’ve investigated the KAB series of modifications for the SL-1200, and they have ultimately left me cold because I still feel that the stock SL-1200 arm is the weak link in the equation.  The full suite of KAB mods certainly improve the SL-1200, the minute I drop a record on a Rega P5, or a nice used Linn LP-12, I’m still not that interested in the Technics.

However, the rabid enthusiasm for the 1200 out in the world of internet forums has kept my interest piqued.  The Sound HiFi mods described here were brought to my attention by a good friend on the MartinLogan forum (an SME owner) who had just heard the modded table at a friend’s house with an SME 309 arm fitted.  “You need to get this mod in for review.  You won’t believe how great the SL-1200 sounds with this arm and a good cartridge.”

Dave Cawley of Sound HiFi (www.soundhif.com) has been running a HiFi shop with on-site repair facilities for a long time and is a true analog enthusiast.  During our phone conversation, he said, “Look, I sell AVID, SME and Clearaudio.  I’m not going to tell you my mod will turn an SL-1200 into an SME 20, but I do think you will find it very interesting.”  Should you live anywhere near Sound HiFi in the U.K., they can modify your 1200 for you if you are not so inclined.  Sound HiFi also still services and refurbishes the legendary Technics SP-10 broadcast turntable, which is enjoying a tremendous resurgence in the audiophile world.

Choices, choices

There are a few different options to this series of modifications.  The external power supply is about $450 at current exchange rates (£299), the arm board for an SME arm is £89.95 and they also offer a great mat for £89.95.  A series of upgraded feet and a clamp can also be purchased to take the SL-1200 to the limit of its performance envelope.

Our European readers may have an easier time of this, as the SME arms are not as expensive there as they are here.  However, there always seems to be a great deal on a used 309 that someone is trading to move up the ladder.  A 309 in excellent shape can usually be had for about $900, and I’ve seen them as low as $700.  The M2-09 is a less expensive arm, but in much shorter supply and I’ve actually seen them selling for more than a 309.

I prefer the mechanical robustness of the 309, and the stock SME tonearm cable isn’t bad either, though once you get done with all of this, you now will be able to easily hear the difference an upgraded tonearm cable will make.  Should you decide to take this even further, I highly suggest the Furutech AG-12 tonearm cable. It offers world-class performance, and I use it on my other two SME tonearms.

Some assembly required

The Sound HiFi kit is relatively easy to install, but it will require good basic soldering and mechanical skills.  If you have never done anything like this, I would not make this your first electronic project without the help of a friend possessing some skills.  The instructions that come with the Sound HiFi kit have a few holes in them, so we will be posting some additional tips and photos on our website to guide you a little better.

Granted, I’ve seen far worse, but being a visual person, I wouldn’t mind just a few more pictures to ease the process.

As with all electrical and mechanical projects, the key is to budget an hour or so of quiet time and give yourself room to spread out everything.  As you remove the bottom cover of the SL-1200, there are quite a few screws to keep track of.

All the parts required were included and the organization of the kit was very tidy.  I was taking my time and taking pictures along the way. Two hours later, I had a very nice looking SL-1200 with an SME 309 ready for setup and adjustment that looked as if it came that way from the factory.  This speaks volumes about the quality of the Sound HiFi modifications.

The Sumiko Blackbird that I had been using on the SME 309 fitted to my Raven Two is now only a headshell swap and quick readjust away.  Now you have the versatility of setup that the SME arm offers while retaining the removable headshells that made the stock SL-1200 desirable.

The sound – glorious!

Yes, you heard right; I’m gloating about the sound of an SL-1200.  I performed the modifications in two steps –  first the power supply and then the tonearm – so that I could evaluate each step’s improvement to the overall sound.  Thanks to removing that big transformer from under the platter and adding the more robust external power supply, the SL-1200 sounds more open and focused, even with the stock arm.  But when the SME arm was added, the table goes from capable to outstanding.

The more practical readers in the audience will note  that adding the external power supply, arm board and a decent used SME 309 to the mix, I’ve quadrupled the original price of the SL1200; wouldn’t I be better off just spending $2,000 on a proper turntable, in a box with a manufacturer’s warranty?

Well, yes, if you worry about that sort of thing. But no, if you want to push the boundaries of what you can achieve for an investment of $2,000 in a turntable.  I’ve had the opportunity to listen to a lot of turntables in the $2,000 – $3,000 range from Rega, VPI, Pro-Ject, Music Hall, etc., and for my money, this one is the one to beat.

Would I give up my Rega P9/RB 1000 or Raven TWO with SME 309 for this table?  No, it’s not that good, but it’s so damn good for $2,000, paired up with your favorite $900 cartridge, that you may not ever need to spend more money on a turntable unless you have a mega system.  This truly is a magic combination, being much more than the sum of its parts. Some find joy in customization, while others find joy in turnkey solutions.

The big-bucks tables still offer more resolution at the frequency extremes, with more fine detail throughout, and that’s what you pay the money for.  But balance is the key to a great HiFi system, and for the Journeyman Audiophile, a five-figure analog setup is a waste of money.

I noticed immediately that the wonderful bass presentation of the stock SL-1200 is still there and, if anything, improved.  The table now had plenty of weight and  a high degree of bass definition.  When listening to Charlie Haden’s Private Collection on Naim records, I could really enjoy all of the texture present in his acoustic-bass playing. The one-note bass feel of the stock table now gone.   My favorite early Genesis records now sound  more like what I’m used to on my reference tables, and even LL Cool J sounded a lot better, with more bass slam and control.

I was not ready for the amount of delicacy and resolution through the midrange and high frequencies offered by the modded SL-1200.  The stock table is a clunker with acoustic music or densely recorded rock records; things become two dimensional lacking any kind of proper depth.  Honestly, I’d prefer a decent CD player to a stock SL-1200 any day.

With the Sound HiFi mods in place combined with the SME arm, serious analog magic is going on.  This is an analog setup you can be proud to own.  My usual group of audiophile buddies teased me to no end when they saw a Technics table sitting on the rack next to my Raven TWO and Spiral Groove SG-2, but the minute I put a record on, everybody shut up.

Listening to the first track on Lindsey Buckingham’s current release, Gift of Screws, the acoustic guitar barely makes it to the outer edges of the speakers with the stock table.  The Sound HiFi version extends the soundstage about three feet past the speaker boundaries, with a healthy measure of height thrown in.  Everything has a lot more body and my LP’s sound great again, not flat and lifeless as they did on the stock SL-1200.

Vocals take on a realistic character, now clearly hearing the subtle details that make good analog such a treat, with a very expansive soundstage no matter what I was listening to.  Combined with my ARC PH3SE phono stage, the SL-1200 and Sumiko Blackbird make an excellent showing. Stepping up to the Nagra VPS/VFS, even more detail is present.

Sure, pairing this table up with a $4,000 cartridge and an $8,000 phono preamp is a bit overkill, but the Sound HiFi SL-1200 makes a good showing.  Playing more in its league, with the Shelter 501, Sumiko Blackbird, Lyra Dorian, etc., and  a Lehman Black Cube SE, Dynavector P-75 mk.2 or the like, I dare you to find more pleasing analog playback for this kind of money.

Get out your credit card and call Dave

Again, if the idea of a project like this is not for you, the cost of shipping an SL-1200 to the U.K. and paying to have these bits installed may outweigh the cost of the end result.  Those of you who are handy and up to the challenge of creating something wonderful for a reasonable expenditure should look no further.  I can’t think of a more musically revealing turntable for this kind of money and I’ve heard most of them.

When assembling a system in the $10k range, every place you can save $500 is a big plus and money that can be invested in more performance elsewhere or perhaps for some room treatments or even more music!  The Sound HiFi modded Technics SL-1200 gets my highest recommendation, and you can plan on seeing it around here for a long time as my reference table at this price point.

NOTE:  This article was originally published in issue 22 of TONEAudio.  Dave Cawley has some even newer SL-1200 bits that we will be investigating soon.  This story is far from complete!



Preamplifier                Burmester 011

Phono Preamplifiers   Nagra VPS/VFS, Nagra BPS, ARC PH3SE

Power Amplifier         Burmester 911 mk.3

Speakers                      MartinLogan CLX w/JL Fathom F110 subwoofers (2)

Interconnects              Shunyata Aurora

Speaker Cables            Shunata Orion