The first time Technics died, it was a long and unnecessarily drawn-out affair. Parent company Panasonic inexplicably lost patience and faith with the brand around the turn of the century (despite it being one of the few true icons of consumer electronics) - starting its slow demise and leading to fewer and fewer Technics-branded products coming to market.
By 2010 it was official: Technics was no more. Anyone who’d ever ever visited a nightclub or danced to a DJ set was a little bit heartbroken.
But, in 2015, Panasonic had a change of heart, and Technics was reborn. And while many enjoyed the reborn audio brand, things weren’t quite the same - the first fruits of the brand’s resurrection were both uncharacteristically expensive and a bit misguided.
...Until now. Meet the budget-friendly Technics SL-1500C that will only set you back £899 / $999 / AU$2499. It's still not the most affordable turntable on the market, but it's first the reborn Technics has so far delivered really remind listeners of what they loved about the brand in the first place.
To most people, the words ‘Technics turntable’ means Technics SL-1210 - but the Technics template was set down long before the company designed The World’s DJ Deck, and it would seem strange were they to mess with the formula now. So, naturally, they haven’t.
That’s not to say the SL-1500C is a facsimile of the SL-1200/SL-1210. It’s not built as a DJ deck, but rather as just a record player, so it doesn’t feature pitch control, target light, stroboscope or the other ‘hands-on’ bits ‘n’ bobs that make the SL-1210 look such a purposeful machine.
But the SL-1500C has the same hefty aluminium top-plate, the same aluminium-with-complicated-composite chassis and the same overweight, utterly inert and resonance-rejecting aluminium platter. In fact, here the platter’s substantially rubberised to make it even more efficient.
And, of course, the SL-1500C is a direct-drive design. Technics has almost always preferred this technology for its record players (not just its DJ decks), and here it’s using a fearsomely over-engineered motor intended to resistance the restless ‘cogging’ effect that can afflict some direct-drive Technics-wannabee turntables. It’s engaged using the big ‘on/off’ dial and big ‘stop/start’ button familiar from the SL-1210.
Technics has gone to significant lengths to make the SL-1500C as user-friendly and painless as possible. Niceties start with the Ortofon 2M Red cartridge that’s pre-fitted to the detachable headshell - it’s simplicity itself to attach or detach it from the S-shaped tonearm.
It stands on four hefty (the word ‘hefty’ springs to mind a lot when trying to describe the SL-1500C) rubberised feet. They’re pliant and have quite a lot of articulation so, while - you should always put your record player on a sturdy shelf, where it can avoid vibrations - the SL-1500C isn’t as unsettled by less-than-perfect positioning as some price-comparable but less, yes, hefty rivals.
It’s also fitted with a switchable phono stage. Not every stereo amplifier has the necessary oomph to make a record player audible (though every mixer attached to an SL-1210 does), but because the SL-1500C is packing sufficient pre-amplification it’s compatible with any amplifier you care to mention.
There’s even a switchable auto-stop feature. When the needle reaches the run-out groove it can, if you so desire, return to its resting ‘off’ position. Such pandering to the user is not something you’d ever catch an SL-1210 indulging in.
Like Technics turntables of old, the SL-1500C has big ‘33.3’ and ‘45’ rpm speed-selection buttons - and, like Technics turntables of old, pressing them at the same time delivers 78rpm performance. Ideal for the true vinyl archivist.
There’s really only one place to start with a Technics record player, and that’s with some thumping dance music. So it’s out with a ‘much-loved’ (for which read ‘slightly knackered’) copy of deadmau5’s single-sided Lack of a Better Name to find out if the SL-1500C is worthy of its illustrious brand name.
The short answer is ‘yes’. The slightly longer answer is ‘yes, all day long’.
Much of what is so prized in the vinyl format - the warmth, detail and texture of its sound, the rhythmic surefootedness, the sense of integration and unity of performance - is here in the SL-1500C, and in good measure. But that’s not what is so initially remarkable about the way this Technics goes about music-making.
Many an otherwise-excellent record player overplays its hand where low frequency information is concerned. The temptation to overstate the luxurious warmth and substance of vinyl-derived bass seems almost impossible to resist - but the SL-1500C is made of sterner stuff. It absolutely snaps into low-end sounds - it doesn’t wallow, it doesn’t drone. Instead, it draws an unarguably straight edge at the start of bass notes and doesn’t let their decay hang around. The result is a sound that has all of the body and momentum vinyl-fanciers delight in, but none of the overhang. The SL-1500C is a snake-hipped listen where too many of its nominal rivals have the bass equivalent of muffin-top.
And above this gloriously well-controlled bottom end, the news continues to be good. One grinding gear-changing from deadmau5 to Ella Fitzgerald’s Dream a Little Dream of Me allows the Technics to showcase its keen eye for the detail and nuance of a vocalist’s delivery. Fitzgerald’s pure tone and impeccable phrasing is served up explicitly by the SL-1500C - her voice is utterly packed with character, and occupies centre-stage in the most natural manner imaginable.
To complete the nap hand of frequency response expertise, the Technics has sufficient bite and attack at the top end to make the fiercer moments of Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden properly forceful, but there’s never any suggestion things could get splashy or in any way out of control. The same LP highlights the SL-1500C’s confident manner with both high-level ‘quiet/loud/quiet’ dynamics and the low-level harmonic dynamics of Mark Hollis’s piano- and organ-playing.
Sound-staging is impressive, with recordings given plenty of elbow-room for individual instruments to make their presence felt. There’s depth and height to the Technics’ stage, as well as width, but despite all this breathing-room there’s no lack of unity to the sound the SL-1500C delivers. And no matter whether you choose to listen to the cramped, claustrophobic beats of Burial’s Untrue or the wide-open elegance of Brian Eno’s Another Green World, the Technics remains completely authoritative.
Overall, there’s remarkably little to take issue with here. Some alternative turntables (from the likes of Rega and Pro-Ject) will extract even more detail, and manage rhythms and tempos with even more assurance. But they don’t have electronic speed change, or direct drive, or a phono stage, or the build quality to survive a medium-sized detonation.
And they don’t say ‘Technics’ anywhere on the top-plate, either.
It’s been a bit of turbulent start for the reimagined Technics brand, but with the SL-1500C it seems the company is beginning to find its line and length. This isn’t the most out-and-out accomplished turntable you can buy in purely sonic terms, but it’s not far off - and it’s more robustly made, better specified and has greater cachet than any price-comparable alternative.
- Expect to see the SL1500C on our list of the best turntables in 2019