Ultimate Guide to Technics’ SL-1200s

An inquest into the history and wonders of the world’s most impactful Record Player - the Technics SL-1200.
History
  • Models
  • Are they really that good?
  • History

    Debuting in 1972, the first Technics SL-1200, were first released as a High Fidelity turntable for audiophiles. It was the first commercially available record player with a direct-drive motor design which audiophiles were reluctant to adopt due to the ‘cogging’ of direct drive turntables which can have a noticeable impact on sound quality if the motor and platter are not well isolated.  The audiophile’s trash, in this case the direct drive motor, was the DJs treasure. Thanks to the high torque design of the motor, it made it for the first time possible to stop a record during playback and have it return to full-speed play instantaneously the moment it is released. This singular feature propelled the 1200 as the record player of choice for clubs and DJs. 

    Over the next 7 years, Technics would re-design the motor and casing and release the much improved SL-2000-Mk2 in 1979. The re-design had won over the skeptics with the robust motor, heavy platter and rubber resulting in superior fidelity under the harshest of conditions and heaviest use. Besides the motor tweaks, the Mk2 had pitch control via a slider on top of the decks for the first time along with improved pitch control. This feature later turned out to be revolutionary; not only did they make beat-matching a lot more accessible for DJs, it also tuned the record player from a playback tool to one of music creation. As much as the Steinway was for pianos and classical music, the SL-1200 were for hip-hop and dance music.

    Models 

    ReleasedModelOverview 
    1972SL-1200Was sold in a SL-120 variation that came with no tonearm
    1979SL-1200MK2*Improved motor design & shock resistance. Change of pitch control to slider. This became the base model that all the later produced Technics are built on.
    1989SL-1200MK3*Released for Japan only. Features a matte black finish. 
    1997SL-1200M3D*Silver in colour. The dust cover was now detachable. The Power button was now recessed to stop accidental turning off. The pitch control has also been changed to non-clicking with an added pitch reset button. 
    1996SL-1200MK4*Released i nJapan only. Tailored for audiophiles rather than DJs. main improvements are a titanium tonearm and a 78 RPM playback speed along with the standard 33 and 45 RPM in previous models. 
    2000SL-1200MK5*Laast model with analog pitch control. It features an increase in the anti-skating range.
    2008SL-1200MK6*Minor improvements to the tonearm mounting, vibration damping and pitch control
    2016SL-1200GGrand Class, then released as a completely new aluminium re-build of the SL-1200 with a magnesium tonearm, an integrated micro processes and a new coreless motor that completely eliminates cogging. 
    2019SL-1200Mk7*Released for the DJ market, it has the same construction of the older 1200MKX models with the incorporation of the newer coreless motors. 

    *Technics SL-1200 and SL-1210 are almost identical for all models with the only difference being that the 1210s have a matte black finish whilst the 1200 are silver. 

    Besides the above models, there has also been a few limited edition releases, including the most recent SL-1210GAE which was released in 2020 in celebration of 50 years of the 1200s.  

    Are they really that good?

    It is thought that the Icarus factor for the Technics was their timelessness; it is what made them so popular amongst audiophiles and DJs, but also resulted in the drop in demand that triggered a 2010 halt in production; Unlike your smartphone, if you owned a pair of 1200, there was seldom a reason to upgrade. 

    For an audiophile, the high quality construction and durability of the Technics, and the subsequent high resale value made them desirable. For DJs, there is no real comparable for stability and pitch control. This is probably due to how the Japanese tech giant, Panasonic, (then Matsushita) dedicated a team of its engineers, headed by Shuichi Obata, to a multi-year project to overcome the common design issues with record players. The team proceeded to pioneer acceleration & speed control electronics and optimise the weight and construction of the base. The result was the SL-1200 having minimal wow & flutter, acoustic feedback, speed and resonance errors. The result was such a leap in direct-drive turntable design that it was shortly afterwards conducted to the CES Hall of Fame. 

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