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Technics’ SL-1200GAE is for audiophiles, not DJs

  • munich_2016The most iconic direct-drive turntable of all time? The answer will depend on who you ask.

    For baby boomers, it might be Technics’ SP-10, the world’s first direct drive turntable. Released in 1970, the SP-10 would see significant uptake in a market previously dominated by belt-drive and idler designs. It reportedly helped Technics gain a 30% share of the turntable market.

    The audible advantage for audiophiles largely stemmed from the SP-10’s greater speed stability which translated to lower levels of wow and flutter. This also didn’t go unnoticed by radio stations looking to rid themselves of the low frequency rumble that plagued their idlers. Even the venerable BBC adopted the MKII iteration of the SP10 as their studio reference.

    Generation Y-ers are possibly too young to remember Technics’ 1970s direct drive (ahem) revolution. Their misty-eyed reverence for direct drive probably stems from Technics’ SL-1200 introduced in 1972. In between, the more home-market-focussed SL-1100.

    The SL-1200 wouldn’t be refreshed with a MKII until 1979 – it’s this table that kickstarted many a DJ’s love affair with Technics.

    The SL-1200’s many subsequent iterations, including the black SL-1210, would go on to become the defacto standard for vinyl playback in the DJ world, largely thanks to broad adoption by hip-hop DJs. The SL-1200’s high torque motor and pitch control made it ideal for scratching.

    Furthermore, the Technics turntable’s robustness meant it could handle the rough and tumble of DJ life, both to and from – and inside – the DJ booth.


    When Beck wrote Where It’s At (“Two turntables and a microphone”), he wasn’t thinking about Dual or Denon. Every bedroom DJ serious about their craft in the back end of the 20th century scrimped and saved for a pair of Technics SL-1200 and a mixer.

    Technics reportedly sold 3 million units before marking the SL-1200 as EOL in 2010 with the following official statement:

    Panasonic has confirmed that it ceased the production of its Technics-branded analogue turntables this autumn.

    After more than 35 years as a leading manufacturer of analogue turntables, Panasonic has regretfully taken the decision to leave this market. However, Panasonic will continue to sell headphones under the Technics brand.

    We are sure that retailers and consumers will understand that our product range has to reflect the accelerating transformation of the entire audio market from analogue to digital.

    In addition, the number of component suppliers serving the analogue market has dwindled in recent years and we brought forward the decision to leave the market rather than risk being unable to fulfil future orders because of a lack of parts.”


    Alas, hindsight can be a harsh mistress bitch: 2010 was also the year that vinyl sales began to climb upward after almost two decades in the doldrums.

    Overhearing a Panasonic representative at CES 2016, apparently the Japanese mothership had anticipated calls for an SL-1200 reboot soon after bringing Technics back to life in 2014 with a new range of electronics and loudspeakers.

    Put yourself in Panasonic’s shoes for a moment and ask: which market segment would shout loudest in 2014 for resumed production of the SL-1200?

    Would it be the DJ sector, long since converted to a new digital standard in the Pioneer CDJ 2000 and, later, Serato and/or Traktor software? Bear in mind that only the most hardcore of vinyl DJs would find use for a re-issued SL-1200 – how many of those in the world? Almost certainly insufficient numbers to justify a resurrection.

    Besides, the last five years has clearly demonstrated that it’s the home listener (and not DJs) that are the dominant force driving the resurgent vinyl market. It’s classic albums and not remix 12”s that top end of year vinyl sales charts.

    And there is no more outspoken vinyl listener than the audiophile. Given the right audience, s/he will spill on the whys and wherefores of vinyl’s alleged superiority at almost every turn.


    Panasonic in 2015 might have spied the audiophile as the most ardent proponent of the Technics SL-1200. And it’s not hard to see why. I ran the (above) MKII version for six months in 2013 and found it not the most exciting listen – a little dull even with a Zu-modded DL-103r cart – but it easily bested entry-level units from Rega and Pro-Ject, especially on build quality. With the Technics, speed switching came at the click of a button; no need to lift the platter and move the belt in order to spin a 45.

    Moreover, many high-end turntables look and feel like zany home science projects (hello Well Tempered); finicky fragility seems almost built into their design and of stark contrast to the SL-1200’s bullet-proof sturdiness. Encouraging one to touch it, the Technics deck functions more like an appliance, allows the user to get more (quite literally) hands on with playback and without fear of breaking anything. After all, isn’t being hands on with vinyl one of the format’s main draw cards?

    Similar appliance-like ergonomics and robustness can also be found, to varying degrees, in the many the Technics clones coming to market since the SL-1200’s 2010 termination.

    Taiwan’s Hanpin will re-badge and tweak a ‘Super OEM’ version of the SL-1200 to any manufacturer that comes a-knockin’. Reload RP600, Stanton ST-150, American Audio HTD4.5 – to name three.

    The build quality of each SL-1200 clone isn’t consistent. The more ubiquitous Audio Technica AT-LP240 I find more than a little cheap and nasty. You don’t get what you don’t pay for.

    My personal favourite is the (above) Pioneer PLX-1000. Not only does the Pioneer feel as sturdy as the original, it looks the most like an SL-1200, and Pioneer’s US$699 sticker price is less than the cost of sourcing an original Technics on the used market (whose condition remains unknown until it lands at your door).

    Purists might bristle at Pioneer’s circular stop/start button – the original was square – but the arm and chassis are lined with rubber for better vibration dampening. And you knows who pays attention to these kinds of things? Audiophiles.

    The trick then is not to see the Pioneer as DJ turntable but one that would rival – and best – similarly-priced offerings from Rega and Pro-Ject. All things considered and with the right cartridge properly fitted – in my case a NOS Ortofon M20FL – I prefer the sound of the PLX-1000 to the Rega RP6/Exact combo that it replaced; a combo that costs twice as much as the PLX-1000 (without cart).

    Rega like to play up their turntables’ rhythmic vitality but the PLX-1000 makes music sound more grounded whilst simultaneously serving up more forward momentum, more drive. A ensures the Pioneer matches the Rega on qualities such as nuance and flair.

    What I’m direct-driving at here is the Pioneer clone reminds us that DJ and home audio performance don’t have to be mutually exclusive. I’m stopping short of claiming the PLX-1000 to match the performance of the Technics SL-1200 but I’m sure it’d be a close run thing.

    If you want the look, feel and majority performance of the Technics SL-1200 in 2016, go audition the Pioneer PLX-1000 at your local DJ equipment store – doubtful that you’d come away disappointed. Put a decent cartridge on it, preferably fitted to a better headshell that comes as standard in the Pioneer box, and feel confident of owning a giant killer.


    As we now know, Panasonic re-introduced the Technics SL-1200 to the world five months ago at CES 2016 and in the form of the SL-1200GAE (US$4000). And I was there. So too were a contingent from Panasonic’s Osaka headquarters (seen above).

    However, stopping DAR coverage dead in its tracks was the US importer’s refusal to furnish yours truly with an explanatory breakdown of the new SL-1200GAE’s feature set, the same detailing given to my good friend and Stereophile staffer Herb Reichert not five minutes before.

    “He’s a reviewer,” came our American host’s botched reasoning. Could it be that Panasonic’s Stateside representative was operating a two-tier attendee system? (I glanced down to see my press badge had turned inward but I just didn’t have the inclination to clarify my own press credentials). My consolation prize, a lifted mat, after which polite farewells all ’round and an immediate shelving of any photos and video taken…

    …until now.

    Thankfully, Panasonic’s European Product Manager for Technics, one Frank Balzuweit, could not have been more helpful in explaining the new Technics SL-1200GAE’s feature set on the ground at Munich High-End 2016 show.

    The SL-1200GAE (AE = anniversary edition) is limited to 1200 units worldwide but causing much consternation in the tech press is its asking price: US$4000.

    Never mind the quad-layer chassis (aluminium, cast aluminium, BMC, rubber) or the triple-layer platter (3.3kg of brass, rubber, aluminium) or the gimbal bearing-d magnesium tonearm or the core-less direct-drive motor (designed to eliminate the minute speed perturbations known as ‘cogging’) or the motor control tech borrowed from Panasonic’s Blu-ray players (for speed stability and high torque) or that the ‘table weighs 18kg.

    To the uninitiated, the price alone tells us that the SL-1200G/AE isn’t a turntable aimed at the wallet-conscious DJ. (That’s what the Pioneer is for). You could DJ with the new SL-1200GAE but two turntables and microphone here will cost you the best part of US$10K. Ouch.

    Panasonic’s genius is to wrap an audiophile-aimed turntable design in an SL-1200 shell. How else would Technics separate themselves from clones now that the design patents on the original SL-1200 have expired and the old factory’s tooling MIA?

    Instead, the nostalgic pull of yesteryear’s iconic design wraps all that will sonically separate the luxury newcomer from the old fella (and the Pioneer PLX-1000).

    Not that the Japanese market needed convincing. They bought sight unseen. The 300 units allocated to Panasonic’s domestic market sold out within 30 minutes of going on pre/sale.

    And as Balzuweit said to me in Munich, “Good luck getting one of the remaining 900!” which presumably have been divvied up among resellers in the USA, Europe and (the rest of) Asia.

    Thankfully, a non-limited run of the standard SL-1200G (also US$4000) will be released later this year. It swaps out the Anniversary Edition’s magnesium tonearm for aluminium and will feature different feet.

    Perhaps we might best frame the edition as a combination of the SP-10, built for audiophiles, and the SL-1200, taken to so readily by the DJ community. A wolf in sheep’s clothing and therefore the best of both worlds. One that will satisfy the baby boomers and Gen X/Y.

    Further information: Technics (Global)


    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. I hate to be that guy, but after scrimping and saving all summer (1984, worked at a record store, what is that, right?), to buy an HK T-60 turntable for $500 plus cart, which is still a lot of money, I still remember thinking that there had to be a better way to listen to music, and there was-cds had just started to be widely available. No surface noise, an hour of music or more without getting up, a shuffle function, etc. Fast forward, and Panasonic is selling a tt for 4k ? I just can’t see the value proposition. That is more by a ways than I have invested in my entire system. I still have that T-60 somewhere in storage , and the 600 or so LPS I can’t seem to bear to part with (though I want to everytime I have to move them) but will never play them again. Just me I am sure but for 4k, I’d rather have an Yggy, a decent set of powered speakers and a ‘phones/amp setup. Just sayin’. These are the good old days.

    2. I recently bought a Technics TT model 120 which is similar in looks to the 1200. I re-wired the unit and removed the built in phono pre amp. Then I coupled it with an external phono pre amp from Rega and fed that combo into a prima Luna
      Pre amp-amp combo. It sounds great! Very quiet!
      However the extraction of the built in phono pre amp was not easy and not recommended to a
      novice! However as a Rega TT owner from the past I cannot hear the difference between the two
      Different TTs.

      In short for $225 this TT is a great buy!

    3. Sweet. Over priced but very nice. Here come the Collectors…

      Nice ‘table but I’m holding out for something fully automatic and affordable like my Technics SL-QD33. I don’t collect equipment because that usually means it’s going to collect dust. I started buying vinyl albums again because I like the feel of holding an album in my hands. The same holds true (to a slightly lesser extent) with CDs.

      Downloads? Streaming? Nothing to hold onto but the memories associated with specific tunes and that’s because the music is good no matter the format.

      Thanks for the information!


    4. I’m sure Panasonic will have no trouble at all moving 1200 units of the LE model, especially in markets like Japan and China that think nothing of dropping $50K on the new Sennheiser Orpheus. The regular model in the rest of the world though, I’m not so sure.

      Yes it’s heavier than the old MKII, and yes the platter is a bit fancier, but a 7lb. aluminum sandwich type platter is not exactly unusual or particularly expensive to make. In fact, you can buy a similarly fancy replacement platter for the MKII from Oyaide that’s quite reasonably priced, especially by Oyaide standards. Technics has provided VERY little detail on the “new” tonearm, but from what I’ve been able to gather, the aluminum version is barely any different than the EPA-120 that came with the MKII, an arm that was mediocre even by the standards of the 1970s. It was never intended to be an “audiophile grade” tonearm, since SL-1200s generally went to DJs, it was intended to be able to take a beating doing that sort of work. One of the first things that usually goes when modding an SL-1200 for audiophile use is the tonearm, often replaced with a Rega RB-303 which while thoroughly mediocre in its own right is at least a lot better than the EPA-120.

      So let’s not kid ourselves here. You’re paying for the direct drive motor, which is ENORMOUSLY expensive to make from the ground up. This is why almost no one aside from Brinkmann and VPI have done it, and why everyone everyone just buys Hanpin motors and SuperOEMs instead. Which is fine by the way, I have no problem with Panasonic trying to recoup the considerable costs that I’m sure went in to creating this new motor. But why put it in an SL-1200 body with what is perhaps a slightly less crappy version of a crappy DJ tonearm?

      Why not put it in something clearly designed for the home market with a high quality straight arm like the SL-M2? If they were really smart, they’d offer it purely as a motor like the SP-10, 15, and 25, and then sell a plinth with a blank armboard like they used to. There’s quite a big market for new tables made from old SP-10s and Garrard idlers with new plinths and arms (Woodsong Audio, etc) and the MKIII version of the SP-10 has become unobtanium and sells for HUGE sums of money. I’m sure plenty of folks would leap at the chance to buy a new SP-10 style motor that they could fit into custom plinths and use with Grahams or SMEs, rather than try to scrounge for one on the second hand market.

      Also, please help me understand this. A stock SL-1200 MKII is a fairly dull sounding table. The Pioneer PLX-1000 is a Chinese clone of the MKII, that’s not as good as the MKII (I’ve seen them both taken apart side by side, trust me, it’s not as good). The PLX-1000 is a giant killer. Do you not see the cognitive dissonance here?

      • I recall finding the MKII a little dull when I owned it but didn’t compare it to anything else *at the time* – a conclusion made intuitively and without comparative data points. It might still be a ‘giant killer’ (i.e. better than an RP6/Exact) but without the certainty of an A/B at the time, I can’t say for sure. Not so with the Pioneer. The PLX-1000 was run up against the Rega RP6/Exact and I found the latter wanting in terms of heave-ho in the low end and midrange ‘meat’. The PLX-1000 (+ NOS Ortofon) is easily better than the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon w/ OM5.

        Moreover, your logic seems to hinge on having seen both tables subjected to a teardown and not your own A/B. Whose to say that the Pioneer doesn’t sound better than the MKII? Without listening to them both side by side, neither you nor I can say with any certainty which is the better sounding ‘table.

        • That’s fair, I haven’t personally A/Bed them, but the impressions I’ve gotten from folks who have is that they are fairly similar in terms of sound. I can say though that the Pioneer’s arm is even worse than the EPA-120, and being a Hanpin, there’s a fairly high chance of it having loose bearings out of the box. I know a few folks that have had to get two or three replacements before getting a good one.

          Far be it from me to ever praise a Rega. Their approach of going for low mass and somewhat sloppily built arms with no provision for adjusting either azimuth or VTA doesn’t work for me, so I definitely wouldn’t be shocked if both the Pioneer and MKII sounded better than the RP6. I think that says more about the Rega than it does about the Pioneer. The sad truth is that none of the modern belt drives that sell for around the Pioneer’s price are that spectacular. The Pro-Ject 1Xpression Carbon is probably the best of what’s available, but it’s far from perfect.

          For the price of the RP6 though, you’ve got some pretty solid choices: Clearaudio Concept, Origin Live Aurora, Michell TecnoDec, Pro-Ject PerspeX, and Sota Satellite among others.

          If you’ve got less than $1K to spend though, I still think your best option is something like one of the restored classic Thorens tables sold by Vinyl Nirvana, or a vintage Japanese table. I’d put one of Dave’s $1500 TD-160s up against an RP6 any day of the week.

          • I actually owned a Clearaudio Concept immediately after the MKII Technics and didn’t really warm to that either. The drop lever kept sticking and the dealer reckoned I had to “wear it in” (yeah, right) so *whip-crack* into the metaphorical bin it went. And like you I’m more partial to the Pro-Jects than the Regas. Don’t get me wrong though, I dug the sound of the RP6 but it terms of usability and tactility it doesn’t hold a candle to the DD Pioneer. What I’d be keen to find is a belt-drive at $1000 (or below0 that could seriously take on the PLX-1000. But no hurry. Next to come my way is a *modded* Technics SL-1200.

            • It’s funny that you mention it, I think there’s a definite weakness in the sub $1K belt drive market that is currently owned by the Pro-Ject/Rega duopoly, that’s ripe for somebody to come in and take advantage of. Awhile back I was trying to badger Jason from Schiit into making just such a table, since they’ve already dipped their toes into the analog market with the Mani phono preamp. He pondered it a bit, but I think they passed because Schiit already has plenty on their plate, and while Jason and Mike are both VERY smart guys, they aren’t mechanical engineers, so they’d have to hire somebody to come in for that kind of a project.

              In order to make a very competitive belt drive that’s at least in the ballpark with the likes of the Aurora and TecnoDec for $1K or less, I think a company that sells factory direct would be pretty much mandatory. The margins would be way too thin for a traditional company that works through dealers and distributors.

              The Jelco SA-250 is the lowest cost commercially available arm I’m aware of that’s any good, so if somebody could pair that with decent plinth (would probably have to be MDF to make the price work) and an acrylic or aluminum platter tied to at least a half decent isolated AC synchronous motor, I think they’d be off to the races. U-turn could probably do it, maybe call it the “Super Orbit” or something.

              What sort of mods does this SL-1200 have? The most impressive SL-1200 mod I’ve seen to date is the Sound Hifi Timestep EVO, which uses an SME 309TE in place of the stock Technics arm, the aforementioned Oyaide MJ-12 platter, and has a new bearing and new power supply. The mods apparently push it into reference grade performance, at a reference grade price: £2,969.

    5. I had the MK II in 1980 when I was working in BK in a later stage I sold it (did not loose much) as my collection of LP’S became a burden as I moved to new Jobs every 1 1/2 years ! It was a easy going LP player sturdy and pretty good for that time . In 2013 I found a new MK II player in Bali never used still original packing which I gave as a present to an LP Audiophile and he is very happy with it .Of course the Cartridge like in all LP player plays a role however I do not think 4000$ for the new player is worthwhile ! For that kind of money one can get better sounding players ! However many other people think otherwise and aim sure it will be sold out in a very short time .

    6. Happy to say I still have and occasionally use my SL 120 that I bought in 1976 with my first uni scholarship cheque. $350 with an SME tonearm and Grace F9L cartridge. Since then I replaced the cartridge twice and the stylus at least 8 times. I always thought the SL 1200 was a later model. Could be completely wrong, however.

      Major accessory is a 20 Kg piece of diorite from a monumental mason that the turntable sits on. Reducing feedback quite well. This mattered a lot when living in houses with “bouncy” floors and the added benefit of stopping enthusiastic dancers from sending the stylus flying across tracks.

    7. The flimsy belt driven audiophile turntables mentioned above are all toys in my eyes & ears, like comparing a Yugo to a Mercedes. The only thing required to make a 1200 MkII sing is to replace the arms internal & external wiring with solid silver wire, thats it folks. No one mentions hearing one with this simple modification. It’s transformative!

      Add a quality head-shell and any $4000 cartridge and the Technics 1200 MkII will out pace & track all but the very best audiophile tables. Now that my friends “is” a Giant Killer!!!

      BTW the best sounding consumer turntable Technics made is the 1600MKII, it’s top secret is the sprung tuned suspension. Only one they ever made. I have one rewired with a Kondo cartridge bolted on, why you ask … it’s fully automatic and I don’t have to stress when flipping albums in the dark after 6 fingers of Scotch.

      They off coarse added tuned suspension to the new 1200GAE, no doubt in my mind, it will be a force to be reckoned with.

      I for one have mine on order … can’t wait to hear it.

      • I too await my 1200GAE, the only one to have been bought in the Czech Republic. Tell me, please, which cartridge/needle will you be auditioning ?

    8. Congratulations on securing a SL1200GAE.

      First I will try my top cartridge, the Kondo IO with an Audio Note S9 step up transformer into the MM section of my Zesto Andros 1.2 phono amp.

      I will also try my Ortofon Vienna into the MC input of the Andros 1.2. This is a world class cartridge that was made only for the German market. Highly recommended … if you can find one.

      Hi-End Moving coils cartridges perform admirably on any of the SL1200 turntables with a silver rewired arm. Most people have only heard low-end cartridges paired with a SL-1200, thats a shame.

      The SL-1200GAE at $4000 is however a completely different pedigree with it hi-end features and sprung suspension … it demands a high quality cartridge and phono amp. If you can’t fund the cost of a a quality MC cartridge and its supporting cast, then the new Ortofon 2M Black MM should be on your short list. Technics used this cartridge to good effect at the Newport 2016 Show a couple weeks back.

      • Thank you kindly, much appreciated. I used to DJ many, many years ago and still have two 1210 MK5G turntables, also two completely new, never unboxed, never unopened 1200GLD, an Allen Heath mixer, and on the waiting list for a SuperStereo valve mixer (
        I have never heard an audiophile turntable, ever, and the most that I have encountered in terms of cartridges is the Ortofon NightClub E – I know you are probably shivering at the very thought of using such a thing 🙂
        If I may ask you one more thing, please.
        I will use the 1200GAE purely for listening pleasure, not mixing vinyl. I have a beautiful amplifier that does not have a phono input, but it can act as a stand-alone power amplifier if needs be.
        The question is how on earth am I going to listen to the turntable? Do I buy a seperate pre-amp with phono in, or is there a purely phono preamp…? I really have no idea. I would very much appreciate your thoughts.

    9. The simple answer is … Yes & Yes … you will need an outboard phono amplifier.
      Like cartridges, the sky is the limit when it comes to phono amp pricing.
      What I can say is the cartridge and phono amp need to be fine tuned to complement each other.

      I would send you back to Technics but they only offer phono inputs inside their integrated amps.
      However food for thought, at the Newport 2016 Show, their SUC-700 integrated made music with a 2M Black on the 1200GAE turntable.

      Perhaps check out Hagerman Audio Labs for some solid phono amp choices at various price points.
      At the bottom of my barrel, I’ve heard the Ortofon 2M Black & Cornet 3 make music together.
      I always advocate the use of tubes in a phono amp, so you can tube roll some NOS 12AX7’s to fine tune your system. I personally use a quad of 5751 tubes made by GE back in 1956 in my Zesto Andros 1.2.

      Dabbling with lower priced cartridges & solid state phono amps is outside of “my” comfort range.

      Best of luck with your 1200GAE.

    10. Hi John do you have any idea how or where one can purchase the 1200 GAE in Australia?



      • Sorry Tim – no idea. I doubt it’s even available here yet. If you do find a hook-up let me know, I might be keen myself.

      • Really? Wow – that’s awesome. I guess we can expect local pricing in the region of AU$6 or 7K ?

    11. Pretty interesting review in Stereophile this month – certainly looks like it’s punching above its weight class.

    12. Pretty please anybody know where i can order one within the UK i cannot find anywhere to secure one 🙁

    13. Apparently completely sold out everywhere according to technics Facebook page 🙁 you can now only purchase an overpriced one on evilbay…

    Split personality: Pro-Ject’s ‘The Classic’, VTE, DS2 DAC

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