At this point, everyone knows Technics is back.The venerable Japanese turntable manufacturer’s SL-1200G dropped several years ago to near-universal fanfare, and the company has since released several less expensive ’tables. But it’s the non-DJ-styled SL-1500C ($1199) that feels like the most exciting of the lot. Its price is the most accessible, of course, and it retains many of the bones of Technics’ upmarket decks. Despite its simplistic appearance, the 1500C is packed with serious tech, including a new coreless direct-drive motor, which is a huge selling point, along with a built-in phono- stage and a very solid tonearm.
The SL-1500C uses the same general size and shape chassis as the SL-1200 Series, without the strobe or the sliding-pitch fader to adjust the speed. I really like the design: It’s simple and clean and industrial. Build-quality is very good, with simple lines and respectable overall finish. The buttons make a pleasing click, and the platter starts and stops very quickly. The shiny aluminum top plate sits on a matte black body of ABS mixed with fiberglass, which Technics claims helps with rigidity. The feet are adjustable and seem to provide decent isolation. The tonearm is the same S-shape model found on the 1200 Series with adjustable height and an extra counterweight for use with heavier cartridges and headshells. On the back is a switch to defeat the auto tonearm lift, two sets of RCAs, and a switch to change between the built-in phono preamp and a straight phono-level output.
Setup is absurdly easy, possibly the easiest I’ve ever done. I started out using the built-in phono preamp (more in a moment) and the stock headshell with the included pre-mounted Ortofon 2M Red cartridge. All it took was some placement, plugging, and balancing. Once I got the ’table level, the tonearm counterweight set, and the platter dropped in, everything was good to go. One interesting aspect of the platter design is the magnet that holds the platter to the motor. There are no screws; all you do is slide the platter down, and the magnets do the rest of the work. The platter itself is a fairly heavy 4.5 pounds and has a rubber-like deadening material applied to the underside. A knuckle rap on the top only produced a thud, so the deadening material seemed to be doing the trick.
Overall, the SL-1500C is a tight little package. However, I think one place some purist audiophiles may stumble is the stock tonearm, though I actually quite liked it. It’s highly adjustable, and with the included extra weight can handle a wide range of headshells and cartridges. The ’arm height is adjusted by unlocking a little knob and pulling the whole assembly up or down. It works great overall, especially given the supplied guide lines, which make setup almost impossible to mess up. While I know that a detachable headshell is not ideal for rigidity and adds one extra break in the signal path, I was happy to make that sacrifice for ease and flexibility. My only complaint is the tonearm lifting mechanism. The lifter rod is a little wiggly and the overall mechanism isn’t as sturdy as that on the SL-1200. I imagine Technics cut some corners there. However, it works fine, along with the auto-lift function, which I really loved but can be turned off for those that don’t want it. Overall, I suspect most listeners would be more than happy with this tonearm for a very long time.
Now, my first thought when getting the SL-1500C was this: Why would Technics include a built-in preamp in a ’table at this price point? Anyone paying a dollar shy of $1200 for a turntable probably has an outboard phono pre, or at least an integrated amp with a halfway decent phono preamp built in. I do like that Technics includes two separate sets of RCA outputs, allowing you to bypass the phonostage; still, if I could change one thing about this deck, I’d get rid of the phono preamp and save myself a little cash.
That said, the built-in phono preamp sounds fine. It’s nothing special. It makes music, and that music is somewhat lifeless, but acceptable. It’s not the worst built-in phono preamp I’ve heard, but it’s definitely nowhere near as good as just about any stand-alone phono pre, including my very inexpensive Schiit Mani ($129). I gave the built-in preamp just shy of a week of use, to do my due diligence, but felt relieved when I switched it off. Because, man, the fun really began at that point. As soon as I set up my Rogue Audio Triton II phonostage, things opened up, and the SL-1500C showed me what it was really capable of.
Diving into listening, I started out with the stock Ortofon 2M Red, but used my Triton II phonostage instead of the built-in phono preamp. I started with Bella Donna by Stevie Nicks, recently reissued through Vinyl Me, Please, remastered from the tapes by Ryan Smith. I’ve always been a fan of Nicks’ raw, gritty, husky voice, and it really shines on Bella Donna. Through the 1500C the midrange was clear and crisp, with Nicks sounding forceful and precise. The reverb on her voice hung just long enough; the attacks and decays felt sharp; overall I found myself very pleased. In particular, on the track “Edge of Seventeen,” Nicks’ rough voice belted into a really gritty and fantastic growl. That awesome guitar riff kept grinding along in the background, keeping pace with the solid drumming. Overall things were crisp, sharp, and focused.