Back in 1975, I was involved in a project to build the sound system for a private disco club in New York City. We had a nearly unlimited budget, so we put in redundant power amps and big, efficient speakers, which were fed by a state-of-the-art mixing console. Naturally, the system included two Technics SL-1200 turntables. The SL-1200 was the premier disco/music-club turntable at the time. It offered great sound quality and effective pitch control, which allowed DJs to match keys or tempos, and it was practically indestructible. But it also had a following among audio aficionados. Technics’ 1200-series ’tables were so successful, in fact, that they stayed in production through various iterations from 1972 to 2010, with nearly four million units sold.
It’s ironic that Technics ended turntable manufacture just as the vinyl renaissance began. Finally, in 2016, the company introduced the be-all and end-all of “Grand Class” turntables, the SL-1200GAE. The nearly identical SL-1200G was released a few months later. The following year, they brought out the black SL-1210GR, the subject of this review, and its silver counterpart, the SL-1200GR, both listed for $1799.95 (all prices in USD).
The SL-1210GR (1210 hereafter) is a brick. It weighs 25.4 pounds and measures 6.8″H × 17.8″W × 14.6″D. The plinth is a two-layer affair: an aluminum die-cast chassis mated to a rigid base formed of BMC (bulk molding compound), a glass-fiber-reinforced thermoset polymer. Isolation from exterior vibration is enhanced with high-damping silicone-rubber feet, which are height adjustable for easy leveling of the turntable.
The 1210 has a new motor design trickled down from the top model in the Grand Class line, the SL-1200G ($4299.95). Technics describes it as a “single-rotor, surface-facing, coreless, direct-drive motor” that eliminates rotation inconsistency (“cogging”), a flaw that plagued early direct-drive units. Like the old SL-1200, the 1210 offers pitch control in two ranges selectively, ±8% and ±16%. Important for club or radio-station use is the 1210’s ability to reach 33⅓ rpm in just 0.7 seconds from a standstill. Its wow and flutter is spec’d at 0.025% WRMS (weighted root mean square), an amazingly low figure. The RPM app on my phone measured 33.36 rpm (+0.08%) at the 33⅓ rpm setting, with an estimated wow of merely ±0.02%. At 45 rpm, the registered speed was 45.04 rpm (+0.09%), the estimated wow an infinitesimal ±0.01%. These are the best wow estimates I’ve ever seen.
Underneath the platter are two small switches. One, marked BRAKE, controls how quickly the platter will stop after you hit the Stop button. The other, TORQUE, controls how quickly the platter comes up to speed. A selection of three startup-acceleration speeds and five stopping-deceleration speeds is available through these switches. These features can only be implemented in a direct-drive ’table.
The 5.5-pound platter is made of die-cast aluminum, its underside coated with a 1.2mm layer of rubber to eliminate resonance. A tap on the platter confirms its effectiveness. Four rows of strobe-reflecting dots encircle the platter’s edge. Gauging pitch is somewhat unusual, though. The 1210’s blue LED strobe light is synchronized to the selected RPM so that the large dots on the second row from bottom appear to stand still when the pitch is set correctly. The smaller dots on the row below and the ones on the row above appear still when the pitch is decreased or increased by 3.3%, respectively (approximately a quartertone); the ones on the topmost row appear still when the pitch is increased by 6.4% (approximately a semitone). If you fool around with the pitch control and mess things up, a press of the Reset button restores RPM to its selected preset value of 33⅓, 45, or 78. Once pitch is properly adjusted, the strobe LED can be turned off.
While the S-shape tonearm on its big-brother SL-1200GAE/G has a magnesium tube, the 1210 makes do with an aluminum tube, mounted on a gimbal suspension. Much to my delight, it features an interchangeable standard headshell, which makes cartridge installation easier. Unlike most of the turntables I’ve reviewed in the past, the 1210 does not come with a factory-installed cartridge; it’s roll-your-own time. For this review, I used the Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge from my Music Hall Stealth turntable.
The tonearm’s tracking height is adjustable to allow for different cartridge heights. A graduated ring at the base of the tonearm mount can be turned to one of seven discrete positions to set the arm parallel with the record. Tracking-height adjustment can also aid in adjusting the vertical tracking angle (VTA) for very thin records, such as the RCA Dynaflex discs from the 1970s, and the thick 180g releases of today.
A rear view of the 1210 reveals, on the left, the RCA jacks for the audio output and thumbscrew for the ground/earth wire. To the right is an IEC inlet. The power cable is supplied; it is so heavy, it could probably power an aircraft carrier tied up at dock—that, for a unit that draws a measly 11W during operation! Technics supplies acceptable interconnects, which I used for the audition. A generous cutout in the back panel facilitates routing cables.
Other features of note are the ultra-smooth, damped arm-lift lever and the bright-white stylus light that rises at the push of a small button to help cue up a record in low light. I think Technics was wise to make this an on-demand item; it’s perfect for club applications, but I expect most home users will never need it.
The turntable comes with a polished aluminum 45-rpm adapter and a three-year limited warranty.
Setup is reasonably easy and very similar to that of many other turntables reviewed on SoundStage! Access. The first thing you notice is the exemplary packaging. When you open the box, you are greeted by a read-before-use sheet with two instructions: to connect the cables to the output and power jacks before going any further (connecting the cables to the recessed jacks after the turntable is put together is difficult) and to remove the protective plastic cover from the magnet on the back side of the platter before placing it on the spindle.
The platter is wrapped in a dust cover and packaged in a fitted Styrofoam platform. Over on the side, a cardboard baffle holds the interconnects, ground/earth wire, and AC cable. The turntable/plinth assembly is held in place by two Styrofoam bulwarks, which also contain the counterweights, headshell, and 45-rpm adapter.
Assembly is straightforward: unwrap the components; install the platter over the spindle (remember to remove the magnet cover); install the cartridge in the headshell, or have your dealer do this as cartridge installation requires great dexterity (and in some cases three hands!); screw the counterweight onto the rear end of the tonearm.
Setting tracking force follows the usual procedure. First, have the cartridge and headshell mounted on the arm. Rotate the counterweight until the arm is parallel to the surface of the plinth. Then, place the arm back on its rest, hold the counterweight firmly, and rotate the scale dial until “0” is pointing straight up. Release the counterweight and rotate it and the scale dial in tandem until the combo reaches the manufacturer’s recommended stylus pressure. Set the antiskating control, which counteracts the friction-induced inward force on the stylus in the groove, to the same value set for the stylus force.
Finally, install the dust cover and connect the cables to their proper spots on your amp, preamp, or phono stage. And there you have it—“Bob’s your uncle!” as they say across the pond.
Unusually, starting the 1210 is a two-step process. On top of the strobe-light column is a ribbed circular switch. Turning it clockwise engages power and lights up the bright, blue strobe LED. Next to the strobe-light column is a rectangular START∙STOP control; pressing it starts rotation, pressing again stops it.
The 1210 is a fully manual turntable; it has no frills such as auto-stop or auto-return. But the cue device/arm-lift lever is very effective in gently setting the stylus down on the record and lifting it off.
Although it has speed buttons only for 33⅓ and 45 rpm, the 1210 can play at 78 rpm, if you have any of those old discs. To switch to 78 rpm, press both buttons together.
Now, time to enjoy some music.
One of the best-known works by the 20th-century French composer Francis Poulenc is his Sonata for Flute and Piano, composed in 1956–57 for the legendary flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal. It’s the first of four works for flute and piano on the album Jean-Pierre Rampal, Robert Veyron-Lacroix: Debussy, Prokofiev, Bartók, Poulenc (Columbia Odyssey Y33905). The last movement of the Poulenc piece, marked Presto Giocoso (quick and playful), intersperses staccato passages with lovely melodic segments, and creates a wonderful interplay between the two instruments. This high-quality recording faithfully captured Rampal’s celebrated tone and the large acoustic space around him. The flute appeared center stage, the piano somewhat below and farther back. This recording must have been made in a fairly large space; a lot of air surrounds the instruments. I’ve heard this piece through many vinyl playback systems, but only my Music Hall Stealth has delivered it with the precision and overall emotional effect of the 1210.
Usually, I limit myself to one classical piece per review. But as I was listening to a recording of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto featuring soloist Christian Ferras and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Herbert von Karajan (Deutsche Grammophon 139021), I was moved to include it here. The first movement, marked Allegro Ma Non Troppo (fast, but not overly so), has such lyrical solo melodies, I mellowed right out. I’m not a huge fan of DG’s orchestral recordings as they often sound thin and hollow in the midrange. However, the 1210 with the 2M Blue pulled all the music from the disc, with only some of that hollowness. When called for, thunderous bass issued from the timpani, which was very appealing, as was the overall fullness of playback. It was apparent that Ferras was moving around as he played: his violin sounded full one moment, faded the next, as if swallowed by the hall. Despite that, I was quite pleased with the sound.
In early 1980, a singer named Christopher Cross had a No. 2 hit on Billboard magazine’s “Hot 100” in “Ride like the Wind.” It was the sixth track on his debut eponymous album (Warner Bros. BSK 3383), and it stayed on the chart for 21 weeks. The story of a desperado who must “make it to the border of Mexico,” the song combines Cross’s tenor voice and screaming, fuzz-tone guitar (especially near the end) with plaintive backing vocals from Michael McDonald, of the Doobie Brothers. It is accompanied by a full orchestra and a rock’n’roll rhythm section. As you can imagine, a lot is going on in this song, and the 1210/2M Blue combination expressed it all fully—almost tangibly. There was a nice slam from the kickdrum and toms, and the orchestra sounded full and robust.
I’ve always loved Linda Ronstadt’s cover of the Stones’ “Tumblin’ Dice,” from her Simple Dreams album (Asylum 6E-104). On the 1210, it was amazing! I could visualize Ronstadt channeling Mick Jagger’s swagger, dead center, with the instruments tightly grouped around her. When Waddy Wachtel comes in for his slide-guitar solo, I could sense Ronstadt moving aside and letting him take her place. The kick drums had major cojones, and the guitar parts were searing, and the 1210/2M Blue pair delivered this intensity. I enjoyed listening to this record on the 1210 and played it so much, I probably drove my neighbors nuts.
My favorite songs by Blood, Sweat & Tears are “Lucretia MacEvil” and “Lucretia’s Reprise” from Blood, Sweat & Tears 3 (Columbia KC30090). “Lucretia MacEvil” sets the stage for “Lucretia’s Reprise,” where the sound is exceptional. It starts with an electric-guitar strum on the far right, followed by a bass just left of center. Then, the electric guitar, drums, and piano come in center stage, followed by a blast from the combined brass. The sharp trumpet blasts and equally sharp cutoffs can be hard for some turntable/cartridge combinations to reproduce clearly, but that wasn’t the case here—attacks and cutoffs were acutely tight. This tune really got me goin’.
I was so pumped, I brought out what I consider the ultimate dirty-dancing song of all time, the title track of Steve Winwood’s Roll With It (Virgin 1-90946). Other than the Memphis Horns kicking in on tenor sax, trumpet, and trombone, it’s mostly Winwood on this track. Besides singing lead and backup vocals, Winwood plays a Fairlight digital synthesizer, a Hammond B3, piano, bass guitar, and drums. Tessa Niles and Mark Williamson add backup vocals, and Mike Lawler plays keyboards. The down-and-dirty rhythm line from Winwood’s bass and Hammond B3 really creates a raunchy mood. I defy anyone not to move their bod to this song in a most salacious way. The 1210 brought all that feeling and rhythm through in the best possible way. I listened to this tune several times just to pick up all the sounds it contains.
Technics SL-1210GR vs Music Hall Stealth
This promised to be one of the most revealing comparisons I’ve ever conducted as I was able to use the same Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge on both turntables—any difference would be due to the turntables themselves. I chose “Beginnings” from Chicago’s original album Chicago Transit Authority (Columbia GP8), which was the group’s name at the time. (They changed their name to “Chicago” after receiving a cease-and-desist order from the real CTA.) The song starts with a quickly strummed acoustic guitar, which is soon joined by drums and bass and then a lone singer. The brass comes in a bit later and gradually takes over the stage from the guitar. Near the end, the singer and brass fade out and are replaced by rhythmic sounds from a wood block, cowbell, and maracas. I was eager to hear how well the dueling turntables would handle such musical richness.
On the 1210, I first noticed a solid bass line and drums—this record has some heft to it. The singer’s voice was clear and crisp, the guitar’s rhythmic strumming sounded almost as if it were in my room. When the brass entered, the playing was tight, and the timing was excellent. The drums were mixed in and extended, at times, from the far left to the far right, as if the drummer had six-foot-long arms. Depth was well defined, the guitar and singer imaging prominently up front. Attack in the brass was sometimes harsh, but only slightly. In all, I thought the music was extremely well reproduced. This was a turntable I could live with for a long, long time.
Switching as quickly as I could to the Stealth, I first noticed that the bass and kick drum had more oomph than on the 1210, but not annoyingly so. The guitar had almost a shimmer to its sound, which may or may not have been there by design. Brass sounded just as fine on the Stealth as on the 1210, and the soundstage was equally good, inducing a strong sense of depth. Attack harshness in the brass instruments was not quite as apparent on the Stealth as it was on the 1210.
So, which turntable is better? Frankly, I can’t say. The Stealth is somewhat cheaper than the 1210: $1649, with the 2M Blue, versus $1900. However, the 1210 has some features that the Stealth lacks, such as a pitch control, the unique strobe-speed indicator, and a hard-plastic dust cover. (The Stealth comes with a soft velvet cover.) These are both marvelous turntables that are a pleasure to listen to.
The Technics SL-1210GR is not a starter turntable; there are many less expensive record players that perform well in that role. But if you were early into the vinyl renaissance (or never left vinyl in the first place), and if you are thinking of upgrading and have a high-performance system, the Technics SL-1210GR most certainly deserves your consideration. It would provide years of high-quality playback and enjoyable listening.
. . . Thom Moon
- Speakers: Acoustic Energy Radiance 3; Advent ASW-1200 subwoofer.
- Amplifier: NAD C 275BEE.
- Phono preamplifier: APT Holman.
- Analog source: Music Hall Stealth turntable with Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge.
- Analog interconnects: Manufacturer-supplied on Technics and Music Hall; Wireworld Luna 8 (preamp to amp).
- Speaker cables: Acoustic Research 14-gauge terminated in banana plugs.
Technics SL-1210GR turntable (no cartridge)
Warranty: Three-year limited warranty, parts and labor.
Panasonic Corporation of North America
Two Riverfront Plaza
Newark, NJ 07102-5490