(Video courtesy of Michael Fremer…thank you Michael).
Technics finally addresses one of the Achilles heels of audio that no other big make has done….the ol’ headphone jack. Technics has been doing some amazing things of late. They have come out with a completely redone turntable, the SL-1200 G that is rather expensive though, but given the build, the price is not far removed. That said though they have just done us proud in a showing at CES 2017! They are coming out with two new products that are not only affordable, but re-embraced that old school quality and brought it up to modern times.
Technics is coming out with a new version of the $4k 1200G called the SL-1200 GR slotted to be around $2000. While half the price of the 1200 G it retains at least 80% of what went into the 1200G! It is reported that the new SL-1200GR gets the new price point by replacing the magnesium tone arm on the 1200 G with one of aluminum and by replacing the motor with one of a less complex design. The platter is also reported to be somewhat lighter, but otherwise, the two turntables are near identical.
So what does this mean? Is the new lower priced table made differently in terms of quality and performance? The answer is “no”. The new SL-1200GR is hand-built in Japan, just like the more expensive SL-1200 G. The motor may be of a less complex design, but it does not mean that performance is effected, at least in anything notable to anyone. (The only people who may claim to notice anything are stoic audiophiles, but they would not even buy the $4k version anyway and it’s just “claims of perception”, so don’t let that type of thing influence you). Around here though we say, “the less complex the less that can go wrong”.
The platter may be a little lighter, but it will make no difference because of its design. Technics has dampened it exactly like they did on the 1200 G! I have seen the 1200 G personally and can tell you that it has one of the best platters I have ever seen in my opinion (absolutely no ring to it or anything). The platter on the 1200 GR is no different in those regards.
As to the tonearm being aluminum instead of magnesium, who cares? Sure it may be some difference in mass measurement and such, but does it make a real difference in performance? I admit that I am not an expert in tonearms, but to my logic, the answer is “not really”. I get tired of all the claims about how the tonearm material greatly impacts the performance of a turntable or the wires inside the tonearm or the connection point of the head shell or whatever while ignoring the things that really do make a difference such as the motor, the plinth, the platter and the cartridge for example, not to mention the cables and power cord having everything grounded properly and let’s not forget “set up”. (You can make a $60k table sound awful if not set up properly). So hats off to Technics for the new SL-1200 version and their ability to retain all the best from the expensive version giving more folks access to a good turntable and thus music!
Now to the first point regarding headphone jacks. Ever since the late seventies, headphone jacks on Hi-Fi gear have been questionable at best mostly. As time marched on, today much of the gear (except stand-alone headphone amplifiers of course), that has a headphone jack on it is an after-thought, pretty much more for cosmetics than function in my opinion. They are usually poorly built or integrated and one of the first things to go south anyway. They are often very finicky in what they will drive. They are also often noisy. I believe that these days the whole reason headphone jacks are included on much of the Hi-Fi gear is because the American consumer expects to see it and it gives the make an opportunity to tack on another $50 to $100 for a 50 cent part. With today’s headphone offerings, much of the time one must go out and get a separate stand-alone headphone amp if they want to use headphones and that is just us average folk, let alone the headphone enthusiasts. For example, I have a $1500 amp that will not drive my AKG cans with its headphone jack. I have a couple of amps from the early seventies and while it stands to reason that the headphone jacks on those pieces were actually functional. Sadly time is a cruel master and while I am able to drive almost any pair of cans plugged direct into the jack, they have become very noisy and not pleasant.
Technics has a new integrated amp (You saw in the second part of the video above), coming on which they did something unique among majors in the industry. Not just a headphone jack with a couple of wires going to the main amp board, not a half-hearted attempt, not a decorative ornament and not just an excuse to charge extra money. No, it is a real actual headphone amp built-in, not just a jack. They also gave a nod to old school feel with the looks of the unit harking back to the heyday of Technics with the silver box and big meters with the white background (yes, the meters are real and function). The slated price will be around $2500, which puts it in the affordable range around these parts. Does this mean there is no need for stand-alone headphone amps in future? Not at all, stand-alone headphone amps usually have adjustments for gain at least and possibly other features for headphone use that are not found in integrated amps and such. So headphone enthusiasts need not be concerned.
Basically, what Technics has done is make a very wise business decision by re-investing on themselves and going back to the good ol’ days of pride in workmanship. While the other big names have shipped off to China or wherever and cut corners without cutting price, Technics decided it was time to fire up the ol’ factory in Japan, take lessons from the past and take pride in their product again by building quality and keeping things “affordable” while offering today’s better quality.
Here’s hoping the other big dogs (the Onkyos and other mass producers), follow the lead and start doing the same because it would serve as a needed shot in the arm (one of many needed) to the industry and attract more folks into the sport.