Preview: Technics SL-1000R Turntable

Grand Slam

Preview: Technics SL-1000R Turntable

When William Voss, Business Development Manager for Technics in the United States, called and asked if I wanted to hear the company’s new SL-1000R, I was all ears. For years, I’ve had to listen to various friends effuse about the merits of direct as opposed to belt drive. Once you’ve heard direct drive, they would announce, you’ll never go back to belt. They were driven, you could say, to tout the virtues of direct drive. Some are using the legendary Technics SP-10 Mk 3, which they have heavily modified, partly by embedding the original drive system in a new and massive plinth. One talented audio engineer who has taken this approach is Bill Thalmann of Music Technology, who lives near me in northern Virginia.

Given the intense resurgence of interest in all things vinyl, it was only a matter of time, I suppose, before Technics itself took a stab at reinventing its product from the ground up. Indeed, Technics, under the leadership of Michiko Ogawa, who also happens to be a fine pianist (if you check out some of her YouTube videos you’ll see what I’m talking about), appears to be aiming to make something of a splash with a variety of new high-end products. So I was most curious to hear the latest and greatest from the company, which has now produced a flagship version of its turntable with its own proprietary tonearm and outboard power supply. I should note that this is not the finished version of the ’table, but Technics is close enough to the final one that I was eager to listen to it as soon as possible.

Voss was understandably reluctant to commit his turntable—the only one currently in North America—to the tender mercies of FedEx or UPS, so he drove down from Connecticut to my home in Washington to install it personally. After we lugged it into my basement listening room—the total weight of the table is about 88 pounds—he took about an hour to set it up, emphasizing that it’s really made to be quite user friendly. The heart of the ’table is its coreless direct-drive motor, which derives from the SL-1200G which was launched in 2016. Technics explains that the “double coil twin rotor-type coreless direct-drive motor that was newly developed for this purpose had coils on both sides for 12-pole, 18-coil drive, with high enough torque” to drive the almost 18-pound platter. The platter itself positions tungsten weights on the outer periphery to increase the inertial mass to around 1 ton/cm. The control unit allows you to play LPs at 33 1/3 rpm, 45 rpm, and 78 rpm. It also allows for minute adjustment of the rotational speed to within two decimal places. The old-school looking tonearm is made out of magnesium with a detachable headshell.

Enough tech talk. What did the darned thing, which I used with an Ortofon A95 cartridge, sound like? Given all the hoopla over merits of direct drive and the excitement the ’table generated at CES, expectations, I’ll say it up front, were high. They were met.

First and foremost, it is incumbent upon me to stress what the phenomenal speed stability, perhaps the best of any ’table extant, of this Technics buys you—the repristination of LPs. Gone is the very slight edgy blur that can manifest itself on a variety of LPs. In its stead, you get the bull’s-eye-accurate reproduction of transients. On a very nice Erato digital LP of Vivaldi’s concertos for mandolin, I was smitten by the phenomenal rendition of the plucking of several mandolins. There was a sense of ease and solidity to the initial pluck that pretty much surpassed anything I’ve previously heard. This ineffably pristine sound manifested itself on LP after LP, whether it was Dietrich-Fischer Dieskau singing German lieder or Linda Ronstadt on a new MoFi pressing or Led Zeppelin II that the Technics was spinning. The turntable is also very uncolored. In some ways, it is most notable for what it does not do. It doesn’t intrude upon the music or create artificial warmth. Instead, it has a great sense of timing, never faltering or getting bogged down in complex passages. Throughout, there was a relaxed and smooth sound to the affair that was quite beguiling.

Does the ’table knock out my Continuum Caliburn? Nope. But consider the probable price—around $20,000—and sweat should begin to drip from the brow of many competitors. Put bluntly, this ’table is a game changer. It’s going to be awfully tough for any manufacturer in this price range to come close to its performance. Yes, you can probably ramp up its performance quite a bit by simply procuring the drive system, which Technics is willing to sell and calls the SP-10R. Then you’d have to create, or purchase, your own custom plinth plus tonearm(s). Word is that there are a number of vendors vying to offer precisely such modified versions of the Technics. More power to them.

If you have a lot of spare moolah, or simply can’t live without the best, then go for it.

As near as I can tell, Technics may well have produced the best drive system currently available. But if you’re simply in the market for a very fine turntable that will produce hours of ineffable listening pleasure, then I’d urge you to consider taking the SL-1000R for a test—dare I say it?—drive. It’s about time the industry had a top-notch product that doesn’t require a personal Fort Knox to purchase. Am I thinking about procuring one myself? You bet. With its latest effort, Technics hasn’t simply hit a home run but a grand slam.

Editor’s note: Watch for our full review of the SL-1000R when a production sample becomes available.