TECHNICS SL-1200/1210 – a hi-fi turntable? – Pt 2

After the previous first audition, I have high hopes for this Direct Drive turntable.

The sound was punchy, with good mid-range ‘presence’ and reasonably good treble quality (using an elliptical stylus cartridge).

But before we can listen seriously,, we need to fix the adjustable helicoid arm-height base, which has become difficult to rotate after so many years.

This will allow us to raise & lower  the tonearm to correctly to optimise VTA (Vertical Tracking Angle) for different cartridge sizes and for elliptical or better stylii.

We can then test other cartridges in this turntable, including a high quality Moving Coil cartridge – this will inform us if the SL-1200/1210 is good enough to use as a ‘Hi-Fi’ or ‘audiophile’ turntable.

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Firstly, remove the platter & remove the 4 feet and the very heavy mass-loaded rubber base. Then a profiled sheet of ‘deadening rubber’ (above), fixed to the underside of the cast aluminium top frame.

The tonearm is fixed to the underside of the aluminium top frame by 3 screws and a Grounding wire.

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The arm-base rings have been separated. (The old grease was a bit dry but not completely hardened.)

You can see the cast alloy outer ‘bracket’ (fine-threaded, on the left), the brass adjuster middle ring (which has different inner & outer threads), and the tonearm main base.

The main arm-base is ‘multi-start’ threaded. Overall, this is typically nice Japanese engineering.

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The old grease must be cleaned off thoroughly and threads re-greased (regular BP ‘L2 all-purpose’ grease was used).

Re-assemby – take care to align the mult-threaded tonearm base correctly, before screwing back on, so that the height indicator marks are calibrated correctly in relation to the dial numbers of the middle adjuster ring.

Line up the adjuster-ring mark ‘2’ (approximately) with the line on the arm-base (as below), before carefully engaging the threads. If done correctly, the middle adjuster ring should turn from below ‘0’, up to beyond ‘6’mm’ height.

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The SL1200/1210 arm-base arm-height adjustment scale is calibrated from 1 – 6 mm.

The SL-1200/1210 operating manual has a table correlating cartridge heights to this arm-height scale. Very useful, it saves time when initially setting up your cartridge.

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With an Ortofon VMS20E MkII cartridge mounted onto a new headshell (Stanton copy of Technics). This headshell is lightweight and it is no longer necessary to add extra counterweights.

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And a final check of the cartridge level.

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As for the SP-10, the SL-1200 bearing requires very little lubrication. This oil (above) has similar low temperature viscosity to the Technics SFWO 010 oil (a SAE 30 synthetic I believe).

Apply 2 or 3 drops of oil once after every 2,000 hours of operation.”  (Technics SL-1200MK2 Operating Instructions)

Do not use too much oil – the SL-1200 main bearing  does not have a sealed ‘well’ at the bottom. The bottom ‘thrust pad’, a low friction, high-wear grade plastic(?), is un-enclosed, open in fresh air.

(Of course engine oils have many additives, but they should be inconsequential at the low temperature and low bearing loads in a turntable.)

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(The motor rotor ring magnet is attached to the platter – there is no sub-platter like the SP-10.)

Like the SP-10, the SL-1200/1210 platter has a heavy ‘rubber’ layer glued to the underside for ‘damping’. However, the platter still rings like a ‘gong’.

Platter mats:

We tested different mats.

  1. The stock Technics heavy rubber mat (from a Technics SP-10) sounds punchy, with warmth and strong lower-midrange tone. However, treble is ‘gritty’, ‘noisy’ and ultimately fatiguing.
  2. We tried a couple of rubber-type, non-slip sheet materials, which gave sweeter treble and quieter, less ‘noisy’ backgrounds, but maybe lacking a little ‘bite’, a bit ‘dull’. (Thinner mats, VTA was not adjusted.)
  3. This ‘Dr Suzuki Mix Edition’ DJ slip-mat dulled the high frequencies a little & dynamic range seemed ‘compressed’, sounding not as ‘quiet’ and also not as ‘loud’.
  4. The best mat for this turntable, for me, is the TransFi Reso-Mat. Overall open and ‘alive’, with wide dynamic range. Treble extension is sparkling and bass goes deep. Dynamic variations and tempoes are noticeably much better with this mat.

However, one hi-fi aspect remains below average with this turntable – image ‘outlines’ and focus are ‘blurry’ and not very clear or sharp. Nor much semblance of soundstage ‘depth’. My gut feeling is that this is because of the Technics tonearm. (We will later try to install a different tonearm.)

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Cartridges:

  1. The Ortofon VMS 20EMkII MM cartridge (with replacement stylus) is still a fine cartridge – good bandwidth, good tonal balance. Overall coherent, ‘alive’ and ‘present’ (loaded with Ortofon’s 210pF capacitor).
  2. A Transfiguration Temper W MC is a costly ‘high end’ cartridge. This cartridge shows that the SL-1200/1210 is a reasonably capable ‘hi-fi’turntable. We hear the dynamics of a moving coil’s low moving-mass and the resolving ability of a high quality stylus profile. Also the ability of a Direct Drive turntable to preserve leading edges and agile dynamics. Bass is punchy enough, rhythmically effortless, tight and stable – another Direct Drive strength arguably.

However, the tonearm on the SL-1200/1210, whilst competent, is likely a weak link here – some resonances and lack of regidity perhaps. There is still not much sense of stereo ‘depth’.

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SL-1200/1210 support:

Direct Drive turntables like this (as we found with to the Technics SP-10) need to be supported in a manner that is rotationally rigid.

The SL-1200/1210 has a high mass base plinth (12.5kg). But with the standard 4 soft ‘insulator feet’, compared to using solid wood blocks under the edges of the turntable base, the sound is ‘uncontrolled’, ‘cluttered’ and a bit ‘shouty’ on loud, dynamic passages. Piano tone has a bit too much ‘ringing’.

With the turntable supported on (3) simple blocks of wood MDF around the perimeter of the plinth (lifting the turntable off its feet), clean dynamics were restored, instrumental lines clearer, controlled but still ‘open’. Much more relaxed music-making. Bass weight is still evident.

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Other minor suggestions:

  • Remove the rubber ring-washer between headshell and tonearm socket – you will hear a sharper tone, more localised imaging, more detail and more ‘nuance’.

Next, we will consider how to install alternative tonearms onto the SL-1210, so that we can test how good this Direct Drive turntable can be, as a ‘hi-fi’ or ‘audiophile’ quality record-player.

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