Is there an electronics brand with anything like the same emotional resonance as Technics? For readers of a certain age, every big night out, every best-ever gig, every memorable house party, came courtesy of Technics. Technics provided the soundtrack to our lives.
Which made parent company Panasonic’s decision to retire the brand back in 2010 seem not so much like a questionable business decision but more like a bereavement. And while its resurrection in 2016 was met with acclaim, the goodwill wasn’t unconditional. Those first new Technics products were a) punishingly expensive, and b) not that much cop.
Lately, though, there have been signs that Technics has rediscovered the whereabouts of its mojo. The SL-1000R turntable from early 2018 may have been a) punishingly expensive (£14,000, in fact), but it was also b) bloody brilliant.
And now, back in the real world, there’s this: the SL-1500C. At £899 it’s no one’s idea of a bargain, yet nevertheless it’s the most affordable product in the current Technics range. No one is going to part with £899 for sentimental reasons, though, not when there are plenty of other very capable record players to be had at this sort of money. So is the Technics revival, like the vinyl revival itself, the real thing? Or is it just a nostalgia-fest?
Because the word ‘Technics’ is immediately followed in most people’s minds by ‘SL-1210’ as surely as ‘and the Gang’ follows ‘Kool’, it’s perhaps worth starting with how the SL-1500C differs from the world’s most iconic turntable – because in many ways it’s pretty similar.
The SL-1500C is not designed as a DJ deck. So there’s no pitch control, no stroboscope, no target light… none of the stuff that made operating a SL-1210 such a hands-on experience. The SL-1500C is designed for putting a record on and then leaving alone until the record is finished.
There are plenty of similarities, though. The substantial plinth is a combination of aluminium, glass fibre and acryinitrile-butadiene-styrene (trips off the tongue, doesn’t it?), and the top plate is an equally hefty slice of aluminium. The power on/off switch, the stop/start control and the speed selection buttons are exactly where any familiar with the classic Technics decks would expect to find them.
And because it’s a Technics turntable, the SL-1500C is a direct-drive design. The coreless motor is governed by elaborate speed-management circuitry, so the dreaded ‘cogging’ that can affect lesser direct-drive decks (whereby the motor is constantly hunting between states of ‘too fast’ and ‘too slow’) is never an issue. Instead, the Technics is a model of speed stability and consistency.
As if any further confirmation of the SL-1500C’s heritage is needed, the tonearm – which is as sturdy and well-engineered as the rest of the ‘table – is the ‘S’-shaped design that’s familiar from most of the last five decade’s-worth of Technics record players.
Some premium turntables have a definite ‘hairshirt’ element to their design and features, as if being fiddly to set up and fussy to operate were somehow virtuous. Technics is having none of that – the SL-1500C is simple to set up and as convenient as they come.
It’s fitted with an extremely capable Ortofon 2M Red cartridge as standard, aligned in a detachable headshell which makes putting it on or taking it off very straightforward. It’s equally simple to adjust the arm height, too – so if you want to experiment with different cartridges, it’s easy.
The platter itself is a hefty aluminium design, and it’s rendered heftier (and more stable, and more inert) by the application of a generous amount of rubber damping on its underneath.
There’s a defeatable phono stage on board, too – so if your amplifier has phono amplification you can compare it to that integrated into the Technics, and if it doesn’t then that’s no problem either. Conveniences extend as far as a switch to engage an auto-lift feature – so the tonearm will (eventually) return to rest once the run-off groove has been reached.
And, like most Technics turntables, selecting both ‘33.3’ and ‘45’ rpm electronic speed controls at the same time results in 78rpm performance – ideal for the real archivist who was into this whole vinyl thing long before the hipster revival.
Many of the qualities fetishised by true vinyl believers – the sense of unity of musical performance, tonal warmth and weight, coherent and convincing timing – are delivered impeccably by the SL-1500C, but this isn’t the most immediately impressive aspect of the Technics’ sound.
With a heavyweight pressing of A Tribe Called Quest’s We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service spinning, it’s the SL-1500C’s absolutely surefooted and rigorously defined entry into low-frequency sounds that excites.
Many an expensive and well-regarded record player can wallow its way through bass notes – there can be a definite tendency to overplay vinyl’s bottom-end warmth to the point that bass can drone somewhat. But not here. The Technics snaps into the low-frequency stuff with absolute assurance and authority, describing straight edges and moving along at a very respectable clip. Without sacrificing any bass weight or detail, it stays clean and crisp in a way some rivals can only dream of.
This precision and control extends all the way up the frequency range. There’s a gratifying amount of detail and texture revealed in the vocal of Baby Huey & The Babysitters’ Listen To Me and beautifully judged attack at the top end of Tom Waits’ chaotic Singapore.
The Technics has little trouble handling the big dynamic shifts of Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain and is equally adept with the subtle harmonic variances of Unkle’s Lonely Soul. If you like your parties to be well supervised even as the guests let their hair all the way down, the SL-1500C is the turntable for you.
Tonal balance is equally impressive. Having integrated the whole frequency range very smoothly, and then dished the details at every opportunity, the Technics is even-handed enough to make the origin of every sound quite explicit. The organic sounds of wooden stringed instruments are every bit as convincing as the rapid and processed electronic beats, squelches and gurgles of Four Tet’s There is Love in You.
So accomplished is the SL-1500C, in fact, that its most impressive price-comparable rivals don’t so much sound ‘better’ as sound ‘different’.
Oh, there’s no doubt similarly pricey alternatives from the likes of Clearaudio or Rega are more subtle, and can reveal even more of the nuances of tone and timbre – but they can’t lay a glove on the Technics when it comes to clean definition of the attack and decay of individual sounds. They may have even greater rhythmic cogency, but they don’t have the same martial low-end control of the SL-1500C.
And they don’t have phono stages, either – the preamplification fitted to this Technics is very impressive indeed, and would probably set you back another £250 or so if you wanted an equivalent off-board phono stage. They don’t have auto-stop (though that’s hardly a deal-breaker), and they don’t have a badge that carries the emotional weight of the word ‘Technics’ (which, for some, might be the biggest deal-breaker of all).
After a rather diffident start, the Second Coming of Technics is well under way. Praise be.
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