in ,

Technics SL-1500C direct-drive turntable review

  • A 12” record spinning at 33 1/3 rotations per minute (rpm) can hold up to about 22 minutes of music per side. At less than an hour for both sides, it’s expm (experience per minute) is off the charts — maybe one reason why records have been known to change people’s lives. Back in high school in the 1970s, a friend turned me onto Jimi Hendrix and I can remember cueing up side 1 of “Are You Experienced”, slipping my ear goggles on, and falling hard for a world I had heretofore only dreamed of. Music was my rabbit hole. During the ensuing months, I bought the rest of The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s studio records and live albums in the order of their release, listening through from beginning to end, over and over, until I could hear entire albums in my thoughts. Music was my soundtrack.

    We collected records. And by “we”, I mean damn near everyone I knew, and we were serious about who we’d let in. As if just one Captain & Tennille single would taint the entire bunch, calling our character, and our seriousness as music lovers, into question. But we didn’t call ourselves “music lovers” or “audiophiles” or anything related to our passion for music because it was an integral part of our lives, as important as the worn Levi’s and boots we pulled on each morning before heading out for high school at the funny farm.

    The original Technics SL-1200 direct-drive turntable, perhaps the most influential turntable of all time, hit the scene in 1972 and remained in production until 2010. I very much doubt that Turntablism would be a thing without the SL-1200, which quickly became the DJs choice. In 2016 Panasonic, Technics parent company came to their senses and released a few new versions bearing the SL-1200 name.

    The Technics SL-1500C Direct Drive Turntable System (US$1200) is a direct descendant of the Technics SL-1200 adopting its single-rotor, coreless direct-drive motor, gimbal suspension construction and machined housing for a smooth stable ride but not its pitch fader or strobe light. The SL-1500C is meant to be a no-fuss, no-muss deal. Easy to set up, easy to use, easy to love. The included Ortofon 2M Red Moving Magnet (MM) Cartridge (US$99 when sold separately) arrives pre-mounted in the included (low mass) headshell, ready to be attached to the end of the classic Technics S-Shaped tonearm. I figure total setup time, including unboxing and cleanup, took me less than 2 hours. I took my time, read the very helpful manual, and followed the directions. I suggest you do the same.

    There are a few convenience features packed into the SL-1500C, tipping its hand at plug and play. These include a built-in phono stage so you can send the SL-1500C’s output to any line-level input, and auto lift-up, which is meant to automatically lift the tonearm up at the end of a record’s side. Both of these features are optional, you can bypass the internal phono stage by using the “Phono Output”, as opposed to the “Line Level” output, and auto-lift can be killed with the flick of the rear-mounted switch. While I get the appeal of auto-lift, I prefer to pay attention when I listen to records and getting up to lift the needle after 22 minutes of music, give or take, does not seem like too much to ask. Call me old-fashioned.

    I did make use of the cue lever to place and lift the tonearm, preferring its smooth steady ride to my hands’ hair raising shakes. The SL-1500C can play full-length records and 45s with the push of a button, another nice-to-have convenience feature. While lifting the platter from my Rega P3 (2000) to move its belt when changing speeds isn’t a huge drag, it can interrupt the flow.

    In addition to the Line and Phono output RCA pairs and Auto-Lift button, Technics also hides an on/off button for the phono stage, phono earth lead (for grounding the Phono output), and IEC receptacle in the recessed rear panel. While I also get the appeal of tucking the business end of the SL-1500C around the back and further hiding it from sight by recessing it into the chassis, it does make for awkward angles of head and hand when trying to check things once the ‘table is sitting on a shelf. Of course, for most owners, the SL-1500C will be a set it and forget it kinda deal so this minor inconvenience won’t be a real issue. It’s also worth noting that when making changes, like moving from the Line Level to Phono outputs, you need to fully unplug the SL-1500C from the wall before moving cables.

    This turntable’s feet are adjustable, so you can screw them up or down to level the SL-1500C once its found its home on a shelf, preferably a shelf that’s isolated from floor-borne vibration. The SL-1500C lived on my custom Box Furniture rack that weighs over 200lbs and sits on footers from Ligno Lab to provide spring-loaded isolation from everything that goes on on the Barn’s slab floor. The included dust cover should only be used when the SL-1500C is at rest – it’s best to remove a big chunk of plastic from your turntable when playing records when possible. Overall, the SL-1500C is very nicely put together and is, to my eyes, nice to look at in a burly kinda way.

    Once situated and set up, the Technics SL-1500C is easy to forget which is high praise for a mechanical device we need to touch every 22 or so minutes. It could not be easier to use – push the “on” button, make sure it’s spinning at the correct speed or push the 33rpm or 45rpm button to make it so, place a record on the platter, lift the tonearm, drop the tonearm, sit down. Typing that took more time than actually doing it. I like to take a quick careful swipe of my record’s surface with a record brush. I use an AudioQuest Anti-Static Record Brush, before lowering the needle, to remove the little bits of life that inevitably land on a record’s surface. This adds a few more seconds to the process.

    As good fortune would have it, the review sample Qualiton X200 integrated amplifier, which I recently covered for Twittering Machines, offers an MM Phono Input. I also have the Parasound JC 3+ Phono Preamplifier in Barn so I was able to put the SL-1500C through its paces in a few different system settings. The DeVore O/96 and Perlisten R7t speakers brought music to life in Barn.

    But let’s start with just the SL-1500C doing everything, sending its output to one of the Qualiton X200s line-level inputs. I kicked off the proceedings with a fairly recent purchase of an older (c.1970) used record, The Philadelphia Composers’ Forum performing Boulez, Dallapiccola, and Pousseur, twelve-tone chamber music with voice. My copy looks unplayed, which is one of the pluses of buying used contemporary classical LPs – they almost always look unplayed. This one is filled with rollercoaster rides of what can sound like perfunctory performances of scattershot sounds, but the included liner notes explain otherwise:

    “The trained listener will observe many striking structural devices (parallel divisions of the series) and an interest in symmetrical design.”

    I have a particular soft spot for the music of Luigi Dallapiccola, as his voice adds sunny warmth and moments of ethereal beauty to the twelve-tone scheme. With the Technics handling play and phono eq, Dallapiccola’s Concerto Per La Notte Di Natale Dell´Anno was nicely startling, convincingly jumpy and jittery, as the program calls for. Strings had a fair amount of body and texture, but they did sound a bit strained as if their full voice had been foreshortened somewhere in the playback chain. But the SL-1500C got all of this music’s sudden stops and starts right, sounding nicely timed and wound up for this wiry, propulsive music.

    Moving to another recent LP purchase, the equally challenging Fetish Bones from Moor Mother, released on Don Giovanni Records in 2016, also startles with abrupt shifts in sounds and menacing beats laying the groundwork for Moor Mother’s brutal vocals. From her liner notes:

    “The question always comes back to healing. How do we heal? Music is made every day. Books are written every day and collectively we are not healing. Why? Because in order to heal, in order to practice magic you must first heal one’s self.”

    Listening to the sonic onslaught contained that is Fetish Bones, it seems apparent that Moor Mother believes healing involves pain, and the SL-1500C running line out provided a convincing and punchy portrayal. When this music gets really dense with sounds, voice, and noise, things get a bit muddy with the Technics and its internal phono stage engaged. Switching to the Qualiton X200’s internal phono stage brought a bit more apparent body to the musical proceedings. This made Dallapiccola’s Concerto Per La Notte Di Natale Dell´Anno sound more dramatic and more striking, as the differences between soft and loud passages had more bite, more drama.

    Moving to the Rega P3 (2000) / RB300 tonearm (approximate cost US$750 in 2007) fitted with a Nagaoka MP-110 MM cartridge (around US$140) – and sticking with the Qualiton’s internal phono stage – gave Moor Mother more weight compared to the Technics. Bass improved with more body and impact and the Rega seemed to breathe more life into the recorded space, with a greater sense of the air in between and around the players. Overall, music through the Rega/Nagaoka sounded a bit richer if a tad dark, with the Technics sounding more incisive and more lit up. A bit lighter and fleeter of foot.

    A MoFi StudioDeck with the pre-mounted MoFi UltraTracker MM (US$1799) offered another interesting counterpoint. The StudioDeck is just a turntable like the Rega, so you’ll need an outboard phono stage to play music. I started the StudioDeck comparison using the Qualiton’s internal phono stage and the lovely Instrumentals LP by Adrienne Lenker. This is mainly acoustic guitar with chimes and birdsong occasionally joining in so we can zero in on every aspect of sound and reproduction. The StudioDeck proved to be as nimble as Lenker’s fretwork, pulling every last squeak, slide, and strum from this intimate recording. There was also a very nice sense of the hollow body that fills out the guitar’s sound and the room where the (small) recording took place.

    Moving back to the SL-1500C into the Qualiton’s phono input, I noticed a slight sonic shift in focus to Instrumentals’ upper register details, my attention shifting to the subtler sounds coming off Lenker’s guitar. With this change of focus, the Technics also felt a bit lighter on its feet, faster than the MoFi whose fuller body brought more attention to tonal contrasts and the resonant body of Lenker’s acoustic guitar. My preferences had me leaning toward the StudioDeck’s greater weight and richer timbral presentation, but these differences were rather subtle, even when doing direct comparisons. Which is another way of saying I doubt that anyone listening to the SL-1500C on its own will have even a passing thought related to a lack of body or tone. There’s an important distinction to be made between comparative differences of like components and actually listening to music, especially over the long haul where even seemingly obvious differences can eventually fade into insignificance.

    Adding the Parasound JC 3+ in between the Technics and Qualiton integrated amp to take care of phono pre-amplification duties brought further levels of refinement, giving even fuller voice to Soprano Valarie Lamoree and the accompanying strings and things on Dallapiccola’s Concerto Per La Notte Di Natale Dell´Anno. Bells rang out more truly, horns blurted with more guttural authority, making this rather difficult music a bit less distant, as if the more distinct reproduction brought out more of the ‘humanness’ in this fine recording. “Fetish Bones” became more ominous, more dangerous, and more daring with every sound and voice ringing and singing out more clearly, with greater resolution and separation, sounding more fully formed.

    While I’m not at all sure about how many SL-1500C buyers will opt for a relatively expensive outboard phono stage like the excellent Parasound JC 3+, I thought this exercise was instructive in that we learned that the SL-1500C’s performance can be bettered, when and if that feeling moves ya.

    Clawing my way out of comparative listening mode, I played through a bunch of records from my small, slowly growing record collection. My lifetime has seen two complete record collection purges, the last one being just over a year and half ago. So I am building a record collection almost from scratch. Again.

    The Technics SL-1500C has a lot to offer the budding record collector. Budget-conscious shoppers can get started using its internal phono stage so we are talking about a complete plug and play solution that sounds nicely balanced and incisive, capable of communicating the essence and importance of listening to records. Careful, one may just change your life. If the feeling ever arises, adding an outboard phono stage can improve the SL-1500C’s performance, but I’d recommend only doing so when you’re running out of room for your record collection.

    Further information: Technics

    Written by Michael Lavorgna

    Michael Lavorgna was born in Paterson, NJ into an audiophile’s home. He’s been listening to music on the hi-fi since the ‘60s and has been writing about this experience for some 15 years. Michael has contributed to 6moons and Stereophile and was the editor of (the recently-disappeared) AudioStream from its inception in 2010 until 2018. Michael's new home is TwitteringMachines.com.

    A short film about the GoldenEar ForceField 3

    Letters to the editor – Weeks #4-5, 2022