Q. I have noticed from your past columns that the Technics SL-1200 turntable was something of a gold standard at its price point. What is the difference between the Technics SL-1200 and the Technics SL-1500? My SL-1500 is sitting here and I am trying to decide whether or not I should buy a pre-amp.
A. The SL-1500 looks similar to the SL-1200, but the noise isolation and the tonearm are not quite as good. It is still a fine performer and it is worth putting back into service.
You are correct that the SL-1200 (and its more recent iteration, the SL-1210) was considered a benchmark for its price. The turntable has an interesting history. It was developed at great expense in the 1970s by Matsushita (Panasonic) and at the time it was disregarded by many audiophiles because of its direct drive design, though the measured performance was superior to any belt-drive unit. The SL-1200 found an enthusiastic customer base in the DJ market due to its bulletproof construction, rock-solid speed control and ability to resist vibration and footfalls in a nightclub environment.
Over time (and with some excellent evangelization by people such as Kevin Barrett of kabusa.com), audiophiles started comparing the heavy-duty SL-1210 to flimsy belt-drive turntables that sold for the same amount or more. As increasing numbers of audiophiles approached it with an open mind, a movement started that finally got the SL-1210 the respect it deserved as a hi-fi turntable. I have one myself and use it to test and compare phono cartridges. Sadly, the Technics turntables were discontinued in 2010.
Many readers have been delighted with the $250 Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB turntable. It looks like a clone of the SL-1210, but it really isn't. It uses a simpler drive system, it has a less refined tonearm and is not built to the same high level of fit and finish.
I recently tested another Audio-Technica turntable that turns this concept in the other direction. The quality and mechanical parts mimic the SL-1210, but the outside appearance is different. It's the first turntable that I consider a legitimate SL-1210 replacement.
The Audio-Technica AT-LP1240-USB uses a magnetic drive system with Quartz control, similar to the SL-1210. The tonearm as well as the entire component feels very high quality with rock-solid solidity that must be experienced to be appreciated. It lists for $529 but is regularly available for $399. It has a built-in phono preamp and USB connection, but you must provide a cartridge.
In short, I love this turntable. I love the high quality and the way it looks, operates and sounds. With the same cartridge, you would be very hard pressed to distinguish it from the SL-1210 and at times I thought it was even better. It's great news for those who missed out on buying a new Technics.
My only real complaint regards the headshell wires, which were flimsy and hard to attach. If you buy the turntable, you may want to buy an extra set of wires or even a Technics-brand headshell to go with it. Better yet, order the cartridge and headshell from a turntable specialist and have them mount it for you before they ship it -- www.audiotechnica.com.interact
Read product reviews by Don Lindich at soundadviceblog.com.