The damping of the in-the-vinyl energy is not so obviously measurable, but you can get a good idea of it by banging on the edge of a stationary record while the stylus is resting on the record and with the volume set at a normal playback level. Ideally you would hear nothing through the speakers. In practice, the best you can achieve is a dull thud. Dull is the goal here. Forget the idea that what you hear should be “balanced.” It is the noise in the region of maximum hearing sensitivity that counts, that is the noise in the 2–6kHz region that you want gone. And as it happens, it pretty well is gone with the SL-1200G.
The combination of the Technics mat and platter works excellently. The platter was extensively redesigned to soak up more energy compared to the original, and it does so to good effect. The Technics mat looks a bit old-fashioned but it works well. However, the sound can be changed a bit (and arguably improved) by changing to a different mat. If you are fortunate enough to have a Torumat from way back when, you should give it a try. And of course there are various more recent possibilities.
Then there is the issue of isolation, for the most part from structure-borne vibration. Unfortunately, music’s lower octaves agitate the floor of the listening room plenty, and the resulting vibration goes into the turntable unless you do something about it. (There is a reason why some true believers mount their turntables on concrete columns that go through the floor, without touching it, and straight down into the earth below.)
The SL-1200G has isolation feet that work reasonably well, but it is advisable to put the turntable on an additional isolation platform. I tried a Townshend Seismic Sink (discontinued but it has a successor) to good if not overwhelming effect—isolation is already quite respectable but vibration absorption is additive—more is more. Of course other companies also make such accessories, though in my experience few work as well as the Townshend Sink (and presumably its successor, though I have not tried it).
Now we come to one of those awkward moments that occur so often in audio: the separation between what is actually happening and what is often said regarding the sound you hear from a reasonably well-behaved turntable. The SL-1200G is very well-behaved indeed, and in fact its performance is dominated by the cartridge and its loading. Since people no longer measure frequency response very much, they often tend to forget that where the cartridge loading is set affects the tonal balance of what you actually hear from the record.
Cartridges are just not reliably flat to the 0.1dB threshold of audibility, and loading can change the response a lot more than that, even if the cartridge is capable of quite flat response under ideal loading conditions. So before you spend tens of thousands on a turntable you ought to consider, and keep considering, that cartridge frequency response is a huge factor, and loading matters a lot, as does of course the intrinsic behavior of the cartridge itself. (And expensive cartridges are often as far wrong as relatively inexpensive ones.) I used an Ortofon Blue (supplied by Ortofon) and a Shure M97xE (of my own). I felt I was getting the best out of them and hearing their true character, which involves a bit of extra zip at the top for the Ortofon and rather the reverse a bit for the Shure—or at least I felt I was getting the best as far as what the turntable itself was doing. Turntables are big, cartridges small, and loading downright invisible. So it is easy to forget what is doing what—and what counts the most.
Still, turntables definitely do matter, and the SL-1200G is doing what it should in a top-notch way. To my mind it is quite hard to isolate anything that the turntable itself is doing wrong. The sonic result is a very solid sound with a great sense of stability and a quiet background. Next we shall get to what the built-in tonearm was doing. Note that since the ’arm is built in, it is not easy to separate the sound of the turntable itself from the ’arm’s contribution.
The Sound of the Turntable/Tonearm System: Examples
Let me talk about some specific recordings; first, Amahl and the Night Visitors [RCA LSC-2762]. I usually only listen to this at Christmastime (every year), but it was still out (hey, it is only late spring) lying around in my listening room and I got in the mood to hear it. (Incidentally, it is on the TAS Super LP list.) With the Shure cartridge mounted in the SL-1200G, the playback presented itself with stunning immediacy and precision. I am lucky enough to have a well-centered copy, and the pitch stability was wonderful. The sound was very detailed and resolution was superb, but this was intrinsic resolution from the quiet background, not on account of any hyped treble. This was “professional” sound in the most positive sense. I was really hearing what was there on the record to such an extent that I would have felt perfectly fine about evaluation if this had been a test pressing of something I was working on.
Also striking here was the perceived resolution of spatial information. This is of course part-and-parcel of resolution of detail in general—space is a matter of perceiving micro-structure of reflections and so on—but space tends to be heard as separate from detail within the fine structure of the music itself. Here one heard easily exactly where things were and how the microphones were placed. Spatially, this was “analytical”—not in the (negative) tonal sense, but in the sense of hearing what was actually on the recording. One could draw a diagram from listening. Perhaps not everyone likes this. Some people seem to want equipment to synthesize a coherent “soundstage” whether one is recorded or not. But personally I like to hear what really happened, where the microphones were and what they were doing.
But for all this spatially analytic quality, musicality reigned. Menotti’s marvelous pizzicato accompaniments were plucked with total precision, voices were solid and articulate, and the music was well-defined in addition to being beautiful and touching, if I may insert a personal reaction. (Anyone who can listen to “I Was a Shepherd” without a tear in the eye must have a heart of stone.)
Turning to Belafonte at Carnegie Hall [RCA LSO-6006], “All My Trials” (another heart-toucher if there ever was one), the back-up musicians were totally articulated, the voice seemed perfect. And for anyone who heard Belafonte live and/or hung around at Carnegie Hall a lot before they changed it (I did both), the concluding audience-participation “Matilda” was an earlier reality revisited.
One more aspect of the Technics sound in general deserves special mention—the resolution of pitch effects. Presumably because of the speed stability, one hears vibrato and tremolo effects, for instance, with a special near-perfection. Listen to Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Song of India [RCA LSC-2320]—positively uncanny in the definition of fine structure of pitch.