Technics: Direct-Drive Turntables

” Please be a set of 1210s. Please be a set of 1210s…” This was my mantra every time I stepped into a deejay booth – as the original Technics SL-1210 MK2s were solid. They took all sorts of abuse: pennies stacked up on the headshell forcing the needle into the grooves of the vinyl; beers got spilt over them; Dean and I once watched in horror as one of DJ Shadow’s turntables took the full weight of a Jungle Brother, as he clambered on top of it mid-set and proceeded to do the twist! These things were bombproof.

The only negative was when the pitch control was precisely in the middle ( so the green light flicked on ), they wouldn’t keep perfect time. However, even this was seen as an idiosyncrasy that endeared you to them even more. Apart from that, the timing was impeccable due to the quartz lock direct-drive motor. This motor is also used in the Technics SP02 – the machine that cuts most of the world’s vinyl records.

 

I also loved them because of the strobed platter edge – not only was it hypnotic, it allowed you to check if the record had got up to speed. My Dad owned a Technics SL-7 with the tonearm built into the lid with a sensor, so you could automatically skip tracks. This blew my 9-year-old mind.

So are the deejays choice good for home listening? And do direct-drive turntables sound better than belt-drive turntables?

First, we’ll take a look at the reference quality Technics SL-1200G – which takes its design thinking from the Technics SP-10 – widely regarded as one of the best turntables ever made.

Like the original, the SL-1200G are made in Japan, are solidly built, and share the same powerful & engaging sound. However, where the original had analogue drive systems, these have digital motor controls.

Precision Japanese Engineering

The SL-1200G has a twin-rotor driving the platter, meaning more torque. It also takes a lightning-fast 0.7 secs for the platter to get to full speed, which is a bit nippier than a reference belt-driven turntable Linn LP12 (which often takes 10 – 20 seconds). This, however, is part of the LP12’s charm “ Listening to records is like a tea ceremony ” says Michiko Ogawa, director of the Technics “…or flower arranging,” she adds.

The motor in the Technics acts directly on the platter (spinning exactly at 33.3 or 45RPM), this can sometimes lead to motor noise, but you don’t get the “wow or flutter” often associated with belt-driven turntables. This warbling effect can be particularly evident during an extended musical note.

 

Stability, Speed & Accuracy

Pitch stability in the SL-1200G means you can hear melodies, harmonies and rhythms more easily. This is thanks to the use of traditional analogue technology and advanced digital technology. Percussive tracks sound great too – the kicks pop!

The SL-1200G have been made with audiophiles in mind. They are the turntable that Abbey Road Studios use, and are best suited to music recorded by live musicians.

Big, Bad & Heavy 

One of the reasons the original 1210s were used in a club environment was the bass. If you’ve ever stood in front of the speaker stacks in the back room of Fabric, then you can attest to how good it was. The bass output from the updated Technics SL-1210GR is awesome – you get deep, detailed and powerful bass.

Technics SL-1210GR ( and their silver sister, the SL-1200GR ) appear to be more focused on the deejay market. They inherit much of the technology directly from the SL-1200G: “the coreless direct-drive motor and precise motor control technology that eliminated the cogging that originated from rotation irregularity, and including a low-vibration, high-rigidity platter and high-sensitivity tonearm.”

The SL-1210GR also has RCA sockets fitted, as the original 1210s had them built-in, if they broke, you were in real trouble.

The original Technics were mass-produced but were ” high quality with consistency and outstanding value”  Only twenty turntables are made each day of this new wave coming out of Japan. This means build quality is still great but makes them much less affordable than their predecessor.

So do direct-drive turntables sound better than belt-drive turntables?

Their stability noticeably has an impact on the rhythm, and melody of a piece of music, and I think the bass is superior. However, what the belt-drive turntables lack in accuracy and detail, they more than make up for in colour, timbre and charm.

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