But what about the sound? In my first listen to the Technics I had been quite impressed with the way it sailed through complex orchestral passages. It seemed to deliver an enviable transparency coupled with a suave presentation of a variety of music, ranging from jazz to rock to classical. In listening to the finished version, I couldn’t detect any noticeable differences between it and the prototype, which didn’t really come as a surprise. My understanding was that Technics had not performed any radical surgery to the design. Indeed, if you take a look at the designs for the ’table, which Technics was generous enough to share with me, it’s hard not to be bowled over by the level of attention the company paid to the creation of the SL-1000R. I make no pretenses to any expertise in mechanical or electrical engineering, but even I could see that this product was executed at a very high level indeed.
The care and thought that went into the ’table were evident to me when I returned to an album that Voss had originally brought along during his first visit and that I subsequently acquired off eBay. It was a stereo Capitol recording of Tennessee Ernie Ford called Country Hits…Feelin’ Blue (now reissued by Analogue Productions on 200g vinyl). It’s extremely well recorded and makes for enjoyable, if not particularly challenging, listening. On cuts like “No Letter Today,” the Technics plunged deep into the nether regions as Ford deploys his bass-baritone voice to croon away. If anything, I would say that the phenomenal speed stability of the SL-1000R allowed it to poke into digital-like regions of black backgrounds and low noise floors. In this regard, it seems to me that LP playback has benefitted from the rise of digital, forcing analog to try and match some of the strengths of its rival format. At the same time, the native qualities of analog playback have been reinforced—a sense of continuity, warmth, and palpability.
Another album that I’ve come to cherish over the years is Jimmy Rushing’s Five Feet of Soul, which has been rereleased by Chad Kasssem’s Analogue Productions. Rushing, who sang with inimitable flair and lustiness, really belts it out on this album, with the backing jazz players more than keeping pace. On the song “’Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do,” for instance, the Technics delivered crushing dynamics on the sizzling brass sections, making it almost seem as though the players were about to overshadow Rushing. On this album, the SL-1000R also provided excellent clarity on drums, which emerged with a satisfying whack.
If there was one trait that was abundantly clear from extended listening, it was that the almost supernatural speed stability allowed complicated passages to resound in full glory without any of the attendant muddiness or blurriness that can sometimes plague vinyl playback. It is here, in many senses, that digital has over the years ruled the roost, but the newer generation of ’tables and cartridges has largely effaced this divide. Consider an album that I’ve come to listen to more frequently, a recording by the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 3. I must confess that I am not really a Tchaikovsky man, or at least not overly enamored of his later symphonies. But the earlier ones are less bathetic, and the Philips recording of Bernard Haitink conducting the Concertgebouw is really quite exceptional. The Technics could disentangle the more bombastic passages with ease; particularly impressive was the fidelity of the woodwinds and doublebasses. The ’table had no difficulty at all setting up an immense soundstage, conveying an impressively natural sense of the original acoustic in which the symphony was recorded.
The only caveat I would offer is that the Technics errs on the pristine side, which is to say that it is very uncolored and precise. Careful cartridge matching is a must with a ’table of this quality. Some listeners may gravitate to a fuller-sounding cartridge like a Koetsu with the SL-1000R. But the overall performance of the Technics is so compelling, particularly at its price point, that it represents a superlative accomplishment. As Itani put it in his concluding remarks to my questions, “Please check the sound quality of the SL-1000R. You will find it has very high S/N and produces every micro-dynamic of the music, without any hint of `transmission noise.’” How right he was.
Specs & Pricing
Motor: Brushless DC, direct drive
Speeds: 33 1/3, 45, 78rpm
Speed adjustment range: ±16%
Dimensions: 531 x 188 x 399mm (turntable); 110 x 84 x 350mm (control unit)
Weight: 88.7 lbs (turntable); 4.7 lbs. (control unit)
PANASONIC CORPORATION OF AMERICA
Two Riverfront Plaza
Newark, NJ 07102