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Technics SL1200 - a short review (Part - The 2nd)

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Technics SL1200 - a short review (Part - The 2nd)

Postby LPspinner » 23 Feb 2008 01:00

Technics SL1200 - a short review (Part - The second)

OK: The Ortofon 2M Bronze has been delivered, installed and running for a week – So, What do I think?

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Go to Part One

Why the 2M from Ortofon.

I would like to recap why I selected the Ortofon over all of the other possibilities. First up I wanted a user replaceable stylus so Moving coil cartridges are automatically eliminated. Now days auditioning cartridges at a dealer is pretty much impossible so selecting by ear and audition is not going to happen. In this aspect you are pretty much left to your own devices as well as being reliant on reviews, recommendations and past experience with a manufacturer’s previous reputation. Ortofon are pretty consistent with their product, and they tend to keep a product line going for a reasonable period of time. I do not wish to purchase an excellent sounding cartridge only to find that in 4 years time I can’t get a factory approved replaceable stylus with the same performance specifications and the same stylus profile. In Australia the Ortofon distribution network is wide and well serviced, a replacement tip is never more than a phone call and a 10 minute drive away and the pricing is always reasonable.

The Ortofon 2M series cartridges use a similar coil assembly to the Older OM series but built around a newer (and hopefully better) housing. The 2 higher end 2M models, the Bronze and the Black also use an improved coil assembly that includes silver plated copper wire, improved pole pieces in the coils and a lower inductance should translate into better high frequency characteristics. The Bronze and the Black both use a more refined fine line type profile in their stylus geometry rather than the traditional elliptical type tips; this should mean better high frequency tracking on the inner grooves of the record where the grooves become a little more cramped and the tacking ability of a cartridge can be a little more challenged. Also if I want to purchase a cruder and cheaper stylus assembly for use with older and less pristine records the 2M Red stylus assembly can be easily swapped over on the 2M Body for less than 90 Dollars Australian.

The general press reviews of the entire 2M series suggest a “family” sound that is generally detailed, reasonably neutral and a good subjective overall balance. The technical reviews I have read would also suggest a flat response with the Black and The Bronze also getting a good high frequency extension with a slight high frequency rise. The distortion and tracking measurements all seem to reflect a well engineered product and a manufacturing process that would suggest a consistency across multiple samples. So; it seems to me an almost no brainer, Ortofon – here I come.

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Also before I continue, I must add something that I was reminded of during the installation of the Ortofon. Supplied with the SL1200 is a cartridge setting gauge that is an absolute bonus for those that use multiple head shells and cartridges with their technics decks. You just connect and then bolt the cartridge into the head shell while leaving the screws just loose enough to slide the cartridge back and forth. You then slip the head shell in the gauge, move the cartridge till the stylus tip lines up with the end of the gauge while keeping the body inline with the head shell, tighten up the mounting bolts and the jobs done. There is no setting up with protractors or the associated risk of damaging delicate cantilevers when eyeing up and man-handling the cartridge into position. I set up both the AT95E and the 2M Bronze using the gauge and then checked the alignment with my Ortofon (Baerwald null point) gauge and both occasions setting up with the Technics gauge was spot on. It’s just so quick, painless and oh so easy.

After fitting, balancing and resetting the VTA for the Ortofon 2M Bronze I went through some basic tests to check the arm / cartridge compatibility. I then set the tracking force at 1.7 grams with the anti skate at about 1.5. The main thing I was looking for was the ability of the Ortofon / Technics arm combination to track warps without any undamped oscillations or uncontrolled bouncing over record warps which would cause cone flapping or excessive subsonic noise to enter the audio chain. My Phono preamp has a response that goes well below 15 Hz and any subsonic rubbish can easily trigger the DC protection circuitry in my power amplifiers. The Ortofon / Technics arm combination exhibited no undue subsonic resonances or inabilities to track badly warped records, At a Technical level the arm and cartridge appears well matched.

But how does the SL1200 and Ortofon 2M Bronze sound?

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Fitting the Ortofon brought about immediate improvements in the area of clarity and detail. I went back to the Earl Wild / Rachmaninoff recording and found more air and space around the instruments. The Bass, which is already a strong point with the Technics deck was even more controlled and better defined. The Double bass still had the richness and gravitas but they were more easily identified and positioned in the mix. Speaking of position, the stereo image was also markedly improved. The sound stage seemed to extend further back behind the speakers and fill out the back corners of the stage. Instruments could be more easily placed and subtle nuances were more easily discerned. However the whole image still failed to break free of the space between the speakers like it can sometimes do with my Linn / Ittok combo.

The main criticism levelled by most audio scribes against the Technics is that it can sound dark or shut in, well the Ortofon 2M Bronze went a long way to lessening this effect but it was never able to cure it completely. With the Ortofon 2M, subtle spatial details were more easily depicted and recording studio acoustics could be more easily discerned. On the John Lee hooker / Bonnie Raitt Duet with John’s foot tapping you become more aware of changes in his foot’s position by the changes in the sound of the foot scuffing, you became more conscious of the guitarist fingers sliding on the guitar strings and you just get more of that being their awareness that comes with higher resolution equipment. Again, despite the improvement the SL1200 / Ortofon combo only just fell short of my reference.

At the End of the Day

The final conclusion I can draw from this exercise is that the Technics SL1200 MkII deck has the potential to work with and benefit from the use of a high quality cartridge. As to selecting other possible cartridges that may yield better results, a popular cartridge combo with this deck seems to be the Audio technica AT440MLa or the lesser AT120E. Both of these cartridges have a reputation as sounding a bit fierce in the upper octaves, perhaps these cartridges may be tempered by the Technics own slightly dark character and end up in a very synergistic partnership. I have also seen other people using this deck with moving coil cartridges. Many Low output moving coil cartridges have a rising treble response; again this could be a path worth perusing to overcome the slightly “shut in” character of the SL1200. Personally I would caution against using mega expensive Moving coils in this deck from a purely cost effectiveness perspective. I would also keep the cost below 400 Dollars Aus or roughly 200 pounds UK. The Ortofon Salsa or Samba seems to fit this price bracket quite nicely; these Budget Ortofon MC’s are also very capable moving coil cartridges. Audio-Technica also do a AT-OC9 moving coil which looks good on paper though I have no direct experience with any of the Audio-Technica Moving coils.

Does all this mean I can’t live with the Technics … Well I’m not selling it Just yet. As a budget to mid priced deck I think it fairs exceptionally well on both build quality and sonic performance. In the area of bass performance and pitch stability the Rega and Project decks (and even my Linn) have a thing or two to learn from the SL1200. It’s sturdy and solid cast aluminium / composite plinth is an absolute bargain at the price and if you want a deck that is truly set and forget you won’t find any equivalent for sale as a brand new item today. All of the above criticisms I have outlined should be viewed in context of the asking price. If you are mindful with the matching of cartridges you should get some very pleasant results.

I originally purchased the unit for transferring selected LPs to CD and MP3 so as to feed my IPod, for that purpose I needed a fuss free set and forget deck. In this area alone the technics is an excellent choice since it is not particularly sensitive to the surface it sits on, its lack of springy suspension components other than the basic rubber feet mean that it is not going to go out of tune. The direct drive mechanism means it’s never going to need a new belt or other consumables and there is virtually nothing that is going to wear out with normal usage. For me, the technics is a keeper and an Ideal second, no fuss deck.

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The SL1200 is a deck that has been and still is spurned by many High end audio cognoscenti, I feal that the derision is decidedly undeserved and these detractors are denying them selves (and possibly others as well) the opportunity to listen to a good mid priced deck. The Technics is not the ultimate audiophile, cost is no object deck, and if you are seeking the absolute Vinyl statement then you had best look else where. If however you are in the market for a mid-priced sensible turntable that requires no maintenance and zero fuss then you should at least take a second look at the Technics SL1200 MkII, it’s not just a DJ deck - it can be quite happy in a domestic setting as well.

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Postby chrispanteg » 20 Jul 2009 01:00

Fit the PSU and the 1200 sound really opens up and becomes much more fluid with it 'it removes a lot of mush or a slighty foggy effect, then fit a better arm and mat.
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Postby Stan man » 06 Jul 2010 07:14

Hi spinner,

welcome aboard the 1200 trip. For starters, use a Baerwald protractor! the Technics over hang gauge is way off. About 2.5 millimeters off. I wonder how many 1200 owners went by this gauge, then purchased another arm, and was forced to use the correct protractor and is proclaiming how much better the more expensive arm is. Next damp the stock arm board for further improvements. The stock arm is a very good one.

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Postby JaS » 06 Jul 2010 08:42

Stan man wrote:For starters, use a Baerwald protractor! the Technics over hang gauge is way off. About 2.5 millimeters off.

I don't think it's fair to say the Technics gauge is off, it's just designed to align the stylus at different groove radii: Standard SL-1200 mk2 vs Baerwald alignment. Either method should give good results, but it's preferable to use a two-point or arc protractor as you can visually confirm alignment at both null points. What would be interesting is to compare an arc protractor designed to accurately align to standard SL-1200 null points (58.8 and 113.5mm) with one designed for Baerwald IEC null points (66 and 120.9mm)? I wonder how much of any audible difference is down to the inaccuracy of overhang tools vs protractors, rather than the geometry chosen by the manufacturer?

Regards,
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Postby cafe latte » 06 Jul 2010 08:48

I have to agree with posts above, you really need to use a proper protractor to set the cart up, I bought a second cart recently, and in my hurry to here it I used the Technics protractor and it was HORRIBLE, i was disapointed, but took the time to set it up properly and see if it made and difference. It took about 5 seconds of the needle going down to realise that I had found the problem.Also I agree that the arm base is really poor, put a finger on it while a record is playing and you can feel the music through it it really needs damping. I agree the arm is fine.
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Postby LPspinner » 06 Jul 2010 13:16

Hi Guys.

Wow, I thought that this blog entry had lived its useful life and was just sitting in the darkened corners of the Vinyl engine server…. Thanks for giving it a new life and reposting it as a forum post JAS, and thanks to every one else for the comments.

Re the protractor, I said in the post that I set up two cartridges using the supplied Technics setting gauge and then checked the results using an Ortofon mirror protractor which uses the Baer Wald IEC null points (66 and 120.9mm). I found the Technics protractor to give me the correct alignment in both cases. The critical factor to using the Technics gauge is to keep the cartridge in line with the head-shell and make sure there is no parallax error when checking the overhang. Be aware of these aspects and be precise when using the Technics gauge and you should get decent results.

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Postby scho2684 » 06 Jul 2010 15:45

Wow!, I did not see the date on part one, I wonder how this posting was floating around at the first page of the forum, because there it was when I gave my comments on it..... did not seen part two until now

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Postby cafe latte » 06 Jul 2010 23:45

Try a Technics arc protractor which you can download from this site, it is far different than the supplied protractor and the cart does not sit square in the head when you use it, check it out
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Postby etrout » 16 Jul 2010 00:27

One thing I'd add is that the 1200 is more sensitive to the surface it's sitting on than you might think. Putting it on an Apollo wall shelf yielded a definite improvement in clarity. Although the original surface was just an Ikea Lack table top sitting on top of some other Ikea coffee table type thing, so YMMV.

Also, I tried cheap brass cone feet from Parts Express as well as a set of large DH cones. I like both better than the stock, and am currently using the DH cones, although I'd say the difference between them and the brass is more of a difference in taste. My wife even noticed that the cones made the table more lively than the stock feet, and at $25 for a set of cheap brass cones, it's definitely worth trying.
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Postby Stan man » 16 Jul 2010 09:42

Hi ,
I use the "cheap Parts Express " brass adjustable cones. For me, these work better on my wall mounted deck than the Isonoes, which I sold. This , with the Mike New bearing 3.74 LB. copper matt, though I use it as an interphase,in conjungtion to my acrylic platter, has transformed my table to a real , much better vinyl source all together.

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Postby cortesiB » 11 Sep 2010 04:34

Hi

I have been using a Technics SL1200MKII from new when I purchased it in the very early 1980's. First the comment regarding the cueing lever coming down with a bump...never had this problem mine has been well damped and the whole unit has never given me any problems at all in the 28 odd years I have owned it. Still have original packaging and their is not one mark on it. Have had a variety of cartridges over the years, Grace F9E, Ortophon MC10 and MC30MkII. Now using a Grado Gold which is really awesome. These turntables are awesome and like any turntable, can give stirling results if you spend the time to get them right. Having owned a recording studio in the past, they are a much better unit for spped stability and imunity to airborne vibrations. Hey, for all you Linn lovers out their - they were used as a reference in recording studios, and also the deck used by radio stations. Funny how many people raved about the sound from top tuners when it was being produced from a technics SL1200!
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Postby beatcomber » 11 Sep 2010 18:47

The main criticism levelled by most audio scribes against the Technics is that it can sound dark or shut in


I found that wrapping the arm with some heat shrink tubing significantly improved sound stage depth and treble extension on my SL-1200MK2.

An absolutely highly recommended mod for only $2!
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Postby Virak » 15 Sep 2010 16:09

Stan man wrote:Next damp the stock arm board for further improvements. The stock arm is a very good one.


:-k That's a mod I haven't heard of before. How did you damp the armboard, and can you describe the effects?
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Postby chartz » 16 Sep 2010 19:27

Virak wrote:
Stan man wrote:Next damp the stock arm board for further improvements. The stock arm is a very good one.


:-k That's a mod I haven't heard of before. How did you damp the armboard, and can you describe the effects?


I thought you had to dump the old arm...
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Postby Virak » 17 Sep 2010 12:38

chartz wrote:
Virak wrote:
Stan man wrote:Next damp the stock arm board for further improvements. The stock arm is a very good one.


:-k That's a mod I haven't heard of before. How did you damp the armboard, and can you describe the effects?


I thought you had to dump the old arm...


:roll: Well, for starters, I've got a mint SL-1610Mk2.
Do I want to dispense of the automation and superb VTA adjustment, and install e.g. a Jelco with sh**ty (in comparison) bearing specs? No.
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