Can a Technics SL-1200G challenge the state of the art?

struts

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For the last 15-or-so years I have been the proud owner of a Nordic Concept Artist (here sporting a Breuer 8c and Dynavector XV-1s).

Nordic Concept Artist.jpg

























This beautiful and great sounding deck (sadly no longer in production) was the brainchild of Robert Grubstad, proprietor of AudioConcept, one of the leading high-end dealers in the Nordic region. He designed and built it from the ground up and it incorporated some innovative ideas (for instance the mass-matched mechanical grounding) as well as good old-fashioned top-notch audio engineering. However over time the evolution of my digital source led to me playing less and less vinyl. As more and more of my listening went over to streaming I started to realise how few of my own discs (mostly contemporary rock/indie starting from the late 1970s) were unavailable in streamed form. Ignoring my singles it is currently less than about 50. And when I upgraded to a Vivaldi stack I started finding that in head-to-head comparisons I actually though the digital version sounded better . The Artist was good, but comparing it to current SoTA digital, I was for the first time starting to clearly hear its limitations.

The optimisation of my digital system eventually led to my ditching my preamp and driving my power amp directly from the DAC and this put my vinyl listening on hold for a few years. As the beautiful Artist was just sitting gathering dust I decided it was time to let it go so it could make someone else happy. However during a visit to a local dealer I started talking to my friend G who has worked there forever and at other dealers before that. He is a true veteran of the high end and someone whose opinion I respect enormously. He showed me a picture of his own current system and I saw a turntable that I thought I recognised. "What's that?" I asked. "A Technics SL-1200G" he said, "it's really good!" He didn't need to say more, I changed than plan and the sale became a trade-in. Very soon a new SL-1200G was spinning chez Struts, jury rigged with a Parks Audio Waxwing into the Vivaldi Upsampler while I figured out which direction to take on the preamp question.

SL-1200G.png

I started reading up on the SL-1200G and appreciating that this was indeed no ordinary high-end turntable. Above all the massive R&D resources of Technics (now owned by Panasonic) and the advanced tooling they were able to invest in for production contrasted what looked like the classic DJ deck from the vast majority of boutique audiophile designs. How many of those for instance could boast optical speed control technology that had originally been developed for Blu-ray players, or a specialized high precision machine specifically to test and calibrate platter balance? But on a subsequent visit to my dealer G told me a story that really got my ears twitching. He told me how he had compared his SL-1200G with a friend’s TechDAS 3. As you know, this is a serious audiophile deck costing in the region of $40k. Well, he said when they measured them up his Technics out-performed the TechDAS on every parameter: speed accuracy, short-term speed stability, long-term speed stability etc. He said his friend went away with his tail between his legs and came back a week later having used various test discs to “dial it in”. At this point he said it was now pretty much on a par with the Technics. This fascinated me, and what had started as an envisaged retirement from vinyl ended with me tumbling down a new rabbit hole.

Could the humble SL-1200G be used as the platform for an “assault on the summit”? A true SoTA deck that can go toe-to-toe with the best available? This idea was fuelled by the joy of having one in-house and being able to play my records again which had led to a major vinyl renaissance!

I started researching and soon realised that as far as the original "deejay" SL-1200s go this was a well trodden path. I found a wealth of information (some examples) on power-supply upgrades, bearing upgrades, sub-chassis tweaks and replacement footers, as well as platter-mat, -weight and arm-board and arm upgrades. About the only thing people never seemed to touch on the older SL-1200s was the motor - and that is significantly upgraded on the SL-1200G! As hard as I looked I could find very little information on people trying similar things with contemporary "audiophile" SL-1200Gs. So I thought “why not give it a try?”

So that is my new project. To identify tweaks and upgrades that will take my SL-1200G as close to the state of the art as I can.

And just to address one elephant in the room, yes, I know the SL-1000R is still available and out-performs the SL-1200G. It has an out-board power supply, a heavier platter and stronger motor, and maybe not insignificantly, can accommodate 10” arms. However, the only direct comparisons (such as this one) I have been able to find are of the decks in their stock configuration, including tonearms, raising the question how much the quality difference here (magnesium vs aluminium arm tubes etc.) may have been a deciding factor. And in that comparison even then a simple tonearm cable upgrade took the SL1200G to within striking distance of the SL-1000R. An outboard power supply and a better arm can be retrofitted, we’ll see how much of a limitation the 9” constraint turns out to be. Everything I have read convinced me that the SL-1200G is a good enough motor unit that my thesis is that I can actually evolve it to outperform the SL-1000R and at lower cost.

I have already spoken to Hugo at Ammonite, Dave at TimeStep and Arthur at TheFunkFirm so huge shout-outs to them for sharing their wisdom and experience. I also have a friend who is ex-Technics and who is introducing me to some former colleagues from Technics Product Management and R&D in Osaka. So I have started collecting various accessories and these are now winding their way towards the frozen north.

If anyone here is aware of people who have trodden this path before please let me know, I am really anxious to learn from the experience of others. Likewise if you have any ideas or suggestions of upgrades to try, or indeed if you think I'm mad, please drop me a line! @mtemur & @Johan K I see you have posted on relevant topics here previously and welcome your input.

Let’s see where we end up.
 
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mtemur

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I’m very glad that you’re enjoying SL-1200G. Unfortunately my experience with 1200G and AF3P is totally the opposite regarding wow&flutter but w&f is just a part of the equation and doesn’t tell too much about the final sound. Even if w&f performance had been equal for both SL-1200G and AF3P, the latter is a much better turntable in terms of sound quality that even SL-1000R can only dream of let alone SL-1200G.

IMHO magnesium tonearm is a big upgrade over regular aluminum one but the weakest point of all SL-1200 models over the years has been it’s tonearm. I don’t think it’s any different with 1200G. A good tonearm can make a huge difference. Replacing stock mat with Zanden, Teac or Steinmusic mat and using a good powercord are other upgrades pop in my mind.
 
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struts

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I’m very glad that you’re enjoying SL-1200G. Unfortunately my experience with 1200G and AF3P is totally the opposite regarding wow&flutter but w&f is just a part of the equation and doesn’t tell too much about the final sound. Even if w&f performance had been equal both for SL-1200G and AF3P, the latter is a much better turntable in terms of sound quality that even SL-1000R can only dream of let alone SL-1200G.

IMHO magnesium tonearm is a big upgrade over regular aluminum one but the weakest point of all SL-1200 models over the years has been it’s tonearm. I don’t think it’s any different with 1200G. A good tonearm can make a huge difference. Replacing stock mat with Zanden, Teac or Steinmusic mat and using a good powercord are other upgrades pop in my mind.
Many thanks! Yes, like all measurements, W&F tell only part of the story, at the end of the day it's the sound that counts. I still believe I can take the SL-1200G a good way, if not all the way, to the SoTA. And when I feel I have arrived I hope to be able to compare my FrankenTechnics with the AF3P and any other SoTA contenders I can chase down locally.

I agree that the arm is probably the single biggest potential improvement area and I intend to leave that until last. I have already snagged an external power supply and have among other tweaks three different platter mats (including the Stein) inbound. To be continued..
 
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Audiohertz2

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Many thanks! Yes, like all measurements, W&F tell only part of the story, at the end of the day it's the sound that counts. I still believe I can take the SL-1200G a good way, if not all the way, to the SoTA. And when I fell I have arrived I hope to be able to compare my FrankenTechnics with the AF3P and any other SoTA contenders I can chase down locally.

I agree that the arm is probably the single biggest potential improvement area and I intend to leave that until last. I have already snagged an external power supply and have among other tweaks three different platter mats (including the Stein) inbound. To be continued..

Arm , Mat , isolation , the issue with any DD is never drive or W&F this is their strengths, having motor direct to lightweight ringing platter , solid to plinth , poor arm plinth , and last but not least suspension..

Now all negatives and positives will be system sensitive , on a small format system you wont hear how bad the bass can get , or lack of jump , which would be obvious on large format systems..


Now does this mean you cant get good sound from a 1200G , no , time spent modifying and setting up any table will reap major rewards, by then how is it still a 1200G ..!


Regards
 
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Yeti

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You can take a Lenco idler drive a long way with modifications, I have a PTP at the moment with a solid bamboo plinth, but how far can a Technics go? There’s OMA’s cast iron plinthed SL10 for an example, not heard one myself nor the SL1000. Are the guts of an SO1200 G amenable to replinthing?
 
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Folsom

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The arm does seem like a weak point. I'd love for someone to demonstrate better speed control than a 1200. Frankly I don't think there is, anywhere, any price. The closest thing I have seen tested was a TD124.

As for the rest of it, well modifications seem necessary. The plinth leaves a lot to be desired on top of the arm. The platter is ok but not great, and felt mats are trash.
 
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struts

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Short Answer to your question : No
Long answer : Hell no .....

:)
Hi there!

Thanks for responding to my thread. I was just wondering, you seem convinced that trying to turn the sow's ear that is an SL-1200 into a silk purse is a non-starter. Is that based on actual experience or is just your considered opinion?

I happen to think it can. To your points:
having motor direct to lightweight ringing platter
The platter is not especially light (3kg, okay much lighter than the 9kg of the AF3P) but consists of a three-layer sandwich of brass, cast aluminium with a deadening layer of styrene-butadiene rubber which gives it a very high ratio of rotational inertia to mass. The fused unit is then balanced on an high precision machine to extreme tolerances. This is way more advanced than the simple machined aluminum platter of the AF3P. It definitely doesn't ring. Have you tapped one?
Screenshot 2024-02-13 at 09.52.14.png
solid to plinth
The plinth construction is actually deceptively refined. The aluminium sub-chassis is screwed to the rubber "tub" (23 screws!) with a sandwiched layer of Bulk Moulding Compound in between. So the whole thing is extremely inert. I am really unsure how easy it will be to improve on this but it is something I will be looking into.
Screenshot 2024-02-13 at 10.02.57.png
poor arm plinth
Yes, given the care they have put into other areas like the motor it seems surprising that the arm and armboard are so weak, but I will definitely be replacing both.
and last but not least suspension..
The suspension effectively relies on the feet and quite a lot of improvement can be made simply by swapping them out according to people I have spoken to who have tested different options. I have two sets of aftermarket feet inbound for testing so let's see how that bit goes. Afaik the AFP3 has no suspension at all.
on a small format system you wont hear how bad the bass can get , or lack of jump , which would be obvious on large format systems..
Was just curious what you mean by small format/large format? As in full range? My -3dB point is somewhere below 20Hz so if it is bad I expect I will be able to hear it.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. Appreciate all the input I can get!
 
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mtemur

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The platter is not especially light (3kg, okay much lighter than the 9kg of the AF3P)
AF3P has a 29kg gunmetal platter which doesn’t ring IME. AF3P also has optional suspension feet plus it’s regular feet. Even the regular feet are very effective up to a point considering the help of 55kg weight of the turntable if I’m not mistaken.

SL-1200G doesn’t has to be as good as AF3P. IMHO it’s good for it’s price. BTW modifying equipment doesn’t always end with better performance.
 
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defride

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A few years back I owned an SP10mk2 in an oak veneer birch ply plinth which in the time I had it was run with a Jelco 12" followed by a Funk Firm FX3. There was much discussion back then with owners of the recently released 1200G.

I didn't ever do the compare but in conversation with those that had there seemed a near consensus that a good SP10 was preferable to a stock 1200G if sound was the definer.

I added a Puresound Tenuto gunmetal mat to my SP10, lower noise floor, greater resolution. A lot of SP10 users have added them. Well worth exploring it or something similar on the 1200G

I understand a regular swap out on a 1200 is the tonearm using the likes of Hugo's arm board. A regular upgrade was to a Jelco, I don't know how the better Jelco's compare to the 1200G arm. On my table adding the Funk made a vast improvement over the Jelco. Top to bottom clarity with decays to die for. It's a really good arm.

I scratched an itch and bought a Brinkmann Oasis and initially preferred the SP10 combo. With some work on the Brinkmann setup it eventually surpassed the SP10 though perhaps missing the top end sweetness of the previous setup. Having heard what a Funk can deliver next to an SME V I suspect the Funk may have the edge in the highs next to the Brinkmann 10.5 - just a hunch.

Anyways a little relevant experience that may be helpful given the items you've mentioned.

I'd have my doubts that a tweaked 1200G can get anywhere near a well sorted TechDAS 3. Be interested to find out

BTW I remember that Nordic table from early Hifi+ reviews - fantastic looking piece, lusted after one - very rare in this part of the world
 
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Folsom

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The 1200G is intelligently designed but certain parts mass is just better. It is a limitation of price and design intention, all there is to it.

It appears like this model has less room to add mass to the plinth, or that it would do any good. I knew of a guy on the old one that went wild. Also the SP10 and other similar things were nice because you could just drop the assembly into another plinth that would be large and heavy.

My guess is at the price range this is THE table, which is also why I recommended it in the $10k system thread; but I am not considering it over other things that simply have vastly more mass and price to get it there.
 
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beaur

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Answering the question = No. Just too many compromises in the stock TT.

Now in your post you talk about modifications. Two ways to go; 1. Buy products form 3rd party sources that improve performance, which in my experience works about 60% of the time and 2. Basically rebuild the TT yourself over time. This results in the best overall improvement from the examples I have heard but takes skills and time that many do not have. Also if time included you would probably be better off spending the $$$ now on a better TT, unless it's a labor of love.
 
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struts

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AF3P has a 29kg gunmetal platter which doesn’t ring IME. AF3P also has optional suspension feet plus it’s regular feet. Even the regular feet are very effective up to a point considering the help of 55kg weight of the turntable if I’m not mistaken.
My apologies @mtemur, I was going on info from this review in Stereophile "The III is 6.3" tall without the tonearm base and still heavy at over 40lb, 20lb of that weight accounted for by its platter of machined aluminum." But this was the AF3, not the AF3P. I stand corrected.
SL-1200G doesn’t has to be as good as AF3P. IMHO it’s good for it’s price.
No, I agree, it doesn't have to be as good, in many ways it would be strange if it were at 1/10 the price. But I believe the chassis, motor unit and platter have the potential to considerably outperform the stock deck and it just happens to be an AF3 that I have to benchmark against. So game on.
BTW modifying equipment doesn’t always end with better performance.
Not all my tweaks will take things in the right direction, I'm used to that. That's the nature of engineering, almost always an iterative process. Two steps forward, one step back..
 
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struts

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A few years back I owned an SP10mk2 in an oak veneer birch ply plinth which in the time I had it was run with a Jelco 12" followed by a Funk Firm FX3. There was much discussion back then with owners of the recently released 1200G.

...

Anyways a little relevant experience that may be helpful given the items you've mentioned.
Thanks for the input @defride. I have a few of the platter mat options trusted advisors have recommended inbound as well as new footers and a couple of other tweaks. I haven't decided on an arm yet (so I'm still compiling my shortlist) and my plan is to get to that almost last. The final step will be a new cartridge, which I will select to be the optimum match for the arm I decide on. But I will perform most of the evaluations with my trusty Dynavector as (a) I already have it and (b) it's a known quantity (and a pretty good one at that).

I'd have my doubts that a tweaked 1200G can get anywhere near a well sorted TechDAS 3. Be interested to find out
Well, I'll be sure to keep you in the loop. And if I am successful I won't be expecting folks here to take my word for it. I will try to arrange a broader audition with the help of a dealer so some independent ears can give their own opinions.

BTW I remember that Nordic table from early Hifi+ reviews - fantastic looking piece, lusted after one - very rare in this part of the world
That's right, I remember that review now you mention it. But I can assure you that deck was very rare here too - and I live about 3km from the store! I have no idea how many Robert made in the end but it can't have been many at all. I'll ask him next time I see him.
 
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struts

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The 1200G is intelligently designed but certain parts mass is just better. It is a limitation of price and design intention, all there is to it.

It appears like this model has less room to add mass to the plinth, or that it would do any good. I knew of a guy on the old one that went wild. Also the SP10 and other similar things were nice because you could just drop the assembly into another plinth that would be large and heavy.

My guess is at the price range this is THE table, which is also why I recommended it in the $10k system thread; but I am not considering it over other things that simply have vastly more mass and price to get it there.
I agree that mass can be good for some things. High rotational inertia in a platter is good as it counteracts high frequency speed variation, however high mass is problematic as it stresses bearings and necessitates complex engineering solutions like air bearings or maglev, all of which introduce other side effects. In the end it gets like pharmaceuticals, you are taking drugs just to counter the side effects of other drugs you are taking.

And wherever you use it mass stores energy. That is the thesis behind the Rega Naiad for instance, going completely the other way and eliminating plinth mass to the greatest degree possible. Different roads to Rome.

I also tend not to believe that price is a reliable indicator of quality. There is an awful lot of vanity in this sport (especially when it comes to loudspeakers) and some of the SoTA gear seems to have crossed the invisible line into the luxury goods segment. I don't automatically assume a turntable is better than an SL-1200G just because it looks or weighs or costs the same as an oil rig. I am not taking a dig at TechDAS here because I know Hideaki Nishikawa's credentials and his pedigree, but the high end is full of turntables where the price is actually the main USP.

However whether they charge $50k, $100k or $200k for a deck the volumes for boutique manufacturers is so low that they can never compete with a behemoth like Panasonic/Technics when it comes to R&D resources and specialist production tooling. So I think there will be areas (and I think I have identified some of them) where a Technics will be superior to something like a TechDAS and others where it clearly won't be because it is compromised by its price point.

That's what this project is all about, keeping the good and trying to improve the mediocre and seeing where I end up. I believe the drive unit of this turntable punches way above its weight, now I want to find out if I'm right and if so how far.
 
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struts

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Answering the question = No. Just too many compromises in the stock TT.
Any in particular you have in mind? Any that haven't been mentioned here already?
Now in your post you talk about modifications. Two ways to go; 1. Buy products form 3rd party sources that improve performance, which in my experience works about 60% of the time
Yes, I am hoping to improve my hit rate by tapping people with real experience, including former Technics employees and other DD turntable experts in Japan.
2. Basically rebuild the TT yourself over time. This results in the best overall improvement from the examples I have heard but takes skills and time that many do not have. Also if time included you would probably be better off spending the $$$ now on a better TT, unless it's a labor of love.
I guess my approach is sort of a hybrid of these two. I am an EE by training, not an ME so I will be relying on others in some areas. And yes, this is a fun project (so you could call it a labour of love). This is my hobby not my day job. Which means I can spend as much time and money on it as I want to. :cool:
 

jeff1225

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The arm is the weak link IMO. If you could extract the motor/plater and put it into a plinth that would allow a 12" arm, I really think you would have something.
 

beaur

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Any in particular you have in mind? Any that haven't been mentioned here already?

Yes, I am hoping to improve my hit rate by tapping people with real experience, including former Technics employees and other DD turntable experts in Japan.

I guess my approach is sort of a hybrid of these two. I am an EE by training, not an ME so I will be relying on others in some areas. And yes, this is a fun project (so you could call it a labour of love). This is my hobby not my day job. Which means I can spend as much time and money on it as I want to. :cool:
Well it sounds like you have a plan of attack and are aware of the playing field. Two friends who love to tinker around recommended the Denon 3000 as a platform to modify, when I was asking for another friend. My tinkering days are over on both audio and cars as the electronics stump me. Wasn’t particularly talented at either but it was fun. Enjoy the journey and keep us posted.

BEAU
 
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bonzo75

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Exactly what Devon Turnbull of OJAS does, also with bespoke PSU

His system displayed in London fora few days sounded awful. Just good looking, marketing to his fashion crowd. And that with both tape and vinyl as source. Zero music knowledge too.

 
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