Introduced in the early 70s, the Technics SL-1200 turntable has earned a legendary reputation among audiophiles and DJs. Few electronics are inextricably linked to a music genre, let alone a cultural movement. However, Technics managed to pull it off with this particular turntable. With over 3 million Technics SL-1200 turntables sold worldwide, many of which are still in use today, this model is an essential reference for DJs and the hi-fi turntable world. The latest version of this turntable, the Technics SL-1200 MK7, inherits the performance that forged the Technics SL-1200’s reputation. The latter is unanimously appreciated by vinyl fans due to its solid design and natural and detailed restitution of the phono signal.
Technics SL-1200 turntable: the emergence of a phenomenon
The Matsushita company, which would later become Panasonic, created the brand Technics in 1965. Initially launched to sell the high-end speakers developed by Matsushita, Technics rapidly became known for its direct drive turntables. In 1969, Technics released the SP-10 turntable, the first ever direct drive model designed for the professional market. Then, in 1971, the SL-1100 arrived on the consumer market. The Jamaican-American musician DJ Kool Herc played an important role in the history of Technics turntables. This pioneer of hip-hop used the Technics SL-1100 turntable for the system he set up upon arriving in the United States. This is how Technics became part of this music genre’s history and an essential element of this emerging movement.
After making its entrance on the American hip-hop scene thanks to musician DJ Kool Herc, Technics released the SL-1100’s successor a year later. The Technics SL-1200 was introduced in 1972 and was an immediate success. Two of the biggest names in early hip-hop, Grand Wizzard Theodore and Grandmaster Flash, adopted the Technics SL-1200 turntable and used the features and performance it had to offer to develop new sounds which would become the building blocks of the style.
Technics SL-1200 turntable: a hi-fi model tailored for DJs
The Technics SL-1200, initially designed as a hi-fi turntable, wasn’t destined to become the legendary DJ turntable that it is today. Providing excellent hi-fi performance, this Technics turntable stood out thanks to its durability, high precision and steady rotation speed. The alloy chassis of the Technics SL-1200 rests on 4 rubber feet that absorb unwanted vibrations and ensure a restitution without any distortion or interference. The S-shaped tonearm was 230mm long, weighed 12g (without the cartridge) and was designed to optimize groove tracking and precisely reproduce the signal without being influenced by exterior vibrations. The platter and motor coupling guaranteed excellent playback control, as the rotation could start and stop almost instantly. It took only 0.7 seconds for the platter to come to a complete halt at 33 RPM. Particularly appreciated by DJs working in clubs or on the radio, this function meant that a record could be played instantly, therefore avoiding any delay.
Technics SL-1200 turntable: the birth of turntablism
The platter and motor coupling also ensured a very quick return to the rotation speed if the platter was slowed down or the rotation was disturbed, an aspect that attracted the attention of a certain DJ and lead to one of the most recognizable elements of the hip-hop sound. The New York DJ Grand Wizzard Theodore described the Technics SL-1200 as being the “Mercedes Benz of turntables” and took advantage of the latter’s extremely sturdy structure, its steady rotation speed and its ability to return to 33 RPM or 44 RPM in under a second to develop a new technique: scratching. This technique, later perfected by Grandmaster Flash, is indissociable from the Technics SL-1200 turntable and the hip-hop movement. This is also the case for other techniques developed by Grand Wizzard Theodore, such as the needle drop, which allows the same part of a record to be repeated by lifting the tonearm slightly then letting it drop back into place.
Among the new improvements made to the Technics SL-1200 turntable was a system for adjusting the height of the tonearm. The latter could be placed at a height between 31.8mm and 37.8mm. A new counterweight that could be precisely adjusted and an anti-skating system were also introduced. These new features offered both audiophiles and DJs the ability to fine-tune the turntable to suit their needs.
The Technics SL-1200 also featured dials to adjust the rotation speed by +/- 8% (pitch). DJs that used a system with two turntables could therefore adjust the playback speed of the records so that the tempo of the sequenced tracks matched. To ensure perfect synchronization between two turntables but also to make it easier to use the turntable in a club or a dimly lit room, Technics also had the idea to include a new, particularly ingenious system using a stroboscopic light. This light was integrated into the on/off dial and lit up the edge of the platter. The strobe flashed at a frequency invisible to the naked eye and therefore looked like a simple continuous light. On the edge of the platter, there was a succession of dots in three different sizes. They were spaced so that a row of dots appeared to be a solid dot when lit up by the strobe light and when the platter was rotating at a certain speed. It was therefore possible to accurately adjust the platter’s rotation speed with the pitch dial and this system, notably by using the diagram situated under the on/off dial.
Technics SL-1200 turntable: the iconic MK2
In 1978, Shuichi Obata, the chief engineer who had worked on the development of the SL-1200 turntable, travelled to the United States and discovered its popularity in clubs and the emerging hip-hop scene. Once he was back in Japan, Shuichi Obata started to develop a new version of the SL-1200 that was released in 1979 under the name Technics SL-1200 MK2. This new version featured a pitch slider that was easier to use than the dial on the first version, along with a new quartz controlled motor. This update improved what were already part of the turntable’s assets. The rotation speed was unrivalled in precision and stability. For the first time, it was possible to stop the platter by hand with the latter returning to the initial rotation speed almost instantly. Even more robust than its older sibling, the Technics SL-1200 MK2 turntable used the same heavy anti-vibration chassis and combined it with a structure that was entirely redesigned for use in clubs.
In the early 1980s, the Technics SL-1200 MK2 became the favored turntable of DJs. It could be found in the biggest clubs in New York, such as the famous Roxy and Broadway International clubs, before being exported worldwide. During the 80s and 90s, hip-hop became mainstream and electronic music also began to emerge. The Technics SL-1200 MK2 turntable was then used in the most prestigious clubs in major capital cities across the world, such as the Tresor in Berlin and the Rex Club in Paris.
The success of the Technics SL-1200 MK2 was such that two very limited edition anniversary models were created. The first, released in 1995, was the SL-1200LTD. With 5000 units produced, the latter marked the sale of two million Technics SL-1200 turntables (all versions included). Based on the design of the SL-1200 MK3D turntable released in 1997, including the pitch lock feature that allowed the pitch to return to 0% simply by pressing a button, the SL-1200LTD also featured an elegant black lacquer finish and gold-plated details, including the start/stop button, the pitch slider and the entire tonearm and support. The second anniversary model, the SL-1200GLD, marked both the sale of three million Technics SL-1200 turntables and the 30th anniversary of the original SL-1200 model. With the same characteristics as the Technics SL1200MK5VG released in 2002, including the ability to set the pitch from +/- 8% to +/- 16%, the SL-1200GLD turntable also featured a black lacquer chassis and gold-plated details.
Technics SL-1200 turntable: end of production
With the arrival of digital sources, vinyl’s popularity started to decline. Pioneer’s CD players began to interest a number of DJs, who saw the practicality and space-saving characteristics this new support provided. Although some die-hard fans, especially hip-hop DJs, refused to leave their Technics turntables and vinyl records behind, clubs started to migrate towards less cumbersome and more practical formats in the early 2000s. SD cards, USB flash drives, and even the online music store Beatport became simple and easy to carry alternatives. After a few minor updates made over the years (Technics SL-1200 MK3 to Technics SL-1200 MK6), Panasonic announced that it was ceasing production of the SL-1200 turntable on November 1, 2010.
Technics SL-1200 turntable: the return
The end of production of the SL-1200 turntable in 2010 resulted in a huge hike in the price of old models, especially the original version and the MK2. Although most clubs had chosen to convert to digital, some DJs, musicians and audiophiles were still hunting for this legendary model. An online petition for the return of the Technics SL-1200 surfaced and gathered several tens of thousands of signatures. Following strong public demand and the resurgence of vinyl, Technics announced at CES 2016 that production of the Technics turntable would resume later that year with the SL-1200G model and the SL-1200GAE, a new version of the legendary turntable limited to only 1200 units.
Like their iconic forebears, the two new versions of the Technics SL-1200 are made in Japan and feature the exact same design, while adding a new optimized motor for superior precision and stability. The multilayered chassis of the Technics SL-1200G and the Technics SL-1200GAE has also been redesigned for better stability. These new versions of the Technics SL-1200 turntable feature an ultra-light cold drawn S-shaped tonearm made from magnesium that is 230mm long for enhanced groove tracking and even better damping.
With the first 300 models of the new version of the SL-1200 sold in 30 minutes in Japan, Technics’ decision to bring back its iconic flagship turntable model was a resounding success. During CES 2019, the Technics SL1200 MK7 was presented for the first time. Visually, this new iteration takes the iconic design of the original Technics SL-1200 and adds the SL1210’s black finish. This new version of the legendary turntable incorporates the features that established the reputation of its famous predecessor and improves its performance by introducing new technologies developed for DJs. For example, there is a switch to invert the rotation of the platter and a space behind the tonearm to hold a replacement cartridge. The slider used to adjust the rotation speed is joined by a x2 button to double the pitch speed and a “reset” button. The Technics SL-1210 MK7 turntable also features switches under the chassis that allow you to change the color of the LED or precisely adjust the rotation speed.
The Technics SL-1200 is an iconic turntable that undeniably made its mark on an era. This model, whose first generations can be compared to guitars and vintage amplifiers, is an integral part of hip-hop and electronic music. Ideal for DJs and audiophiles alike, this ultra-robust turntable with its legendary motor has evolved with changing technologies while keeping the essential, so as not to lose the qualities that forged the reputation of the original version released in 1972.