Technics Linear Tracking Turntables (part 2)
Technics SL-DL1 and other SL-7 challengers in the shape of turntables like Avid Volvere, Yamaha PX2, Pioneer PL-L1000 and, just for fun, an SL1200.
Avid Volvere turntable, Grado and Benz cartridges and Musical Fidelity M1 Vinl phono stage kindly supplied by Studio Alkmaar
Continued from part 1
The SL-DL1 is the only Technics turntable I tried thus far that doesn’t have quartz lock. It’s still direct drive, but not referenced by a Quartz PLL, which means that you can/have to manually set the correct speed. This is done neatly via a viewing prism that shows the bottom part of the platter which is spotted much in the way that the SL1200’s platter is. Via a built-in strobed light you can then see the dots on the platter move forward, backward, or stay perfectly still. In this particular sample, the adjustment wheel had to be set all the way to the maximum, indicating somewhat drifted off values in the electronics, but nevertheless, it still worked well.
I can’t say that this non-Quartz model sounds different from a Quartz model in terms of speed, accuracy or the (absence of) cogging which is supposedly plaguing all direct drive players.
I never hear any speed instability with any of the Technics players I have or had at hand at all, but I think I am starting to understand the related effect of this, which seems to be faster start-stop transients, at the expense of less decay/sustain, when compared to belt-drive turntables. I’m still investigating this though, so wouldn’t want to make hard conclusions at this stage.
For judging the DL1’s sound, I used the very same cartridge and stylus as I use in the SL7, and set up both players on the same platform. The DL1 can be said to be based loosely on the SL7, with most elements being the same except for the width of the player and without Quartz lock. Most importantly though, the upper part of the DL1 cabinet is made of plastic. And this really shows in its sound, the DL1 sounding closer to the J3 than it does to the SL7. The latter sounds much more luxurious, full-bodied and rich.
What I do like is that the DL1 doesn’t have a record clamp, as I routinely remove it from the players that do have it, leaving a rather “work in progress-esque” exposed well in the cover when it is open.
To add some more balance to this review, I connected a Technics SL-1210, the black version of the SL-1200. Hardly what one would call high end and not the most characterful player in the world, but still I have to say that it performs admirably. It has a very transparent, airy and overall pretty neutral and friendly sound and it seems to be even more pitch accurate than the SL7 and SL10, which aids DJ’s and audiophiles alike.
Compared to the SL-7 and SL-10, the SL1200 could do with more body through the upper bass and lower midrange and it also lacks the euphonic richness that the jacket size spinners seem to naturally have. The first cartridge I used in it is the Grado Statement Platinum 1, which was adjusted with the excellent Acoustic Solid protractor. Set up like this, the SL1200 produces a somewhat thin, but dynamic, well paced, free-flowing and relaxed sound, with lots of air and great transparency. The SL-1210 is lots of fun and sounds much better than audiophiles would want to admit, but I prefer the more luxurious presentation of the SL7 and SL10 and in any event, all Linear Tracking Jacket Size players track a lot better than the SL1210 does with the Grado.
To further up the game, I installed a much more high-end cartridge: the Benz ACE SH high output MC. This cartridge costs a lot more than the SL1210, so this is a bit silly but still interesting. Like the Grado, the Benz ACE Hi Output MC cartridge was adjusted using the Acoustic Solid protractor and after raising the tonearm to adjust for VTA and re-adjusting the VTF to cater to the much heavier Benz, listening resumed.
Above I stated that the Linear Technics players tracked much better than the SL1200 with the Grado? Well, guess what? With the Benz ACE, the SL1200 tracks even better. Yes, also on the last track. The secret is in the much more refined needle shape: a very fine line versus a normal elliptical shape for the SL7 and SL10. The Benz even tracks my most worn album as if it is in perfect shape.
The Benz doesn’t make for the best combination though, it being too clinically precise for the already thin-sounding SL1200. It works better with warmer and fuller sounding cartridges.
As part of the Artesania Turntable Platform reviews, I managed to get on loan from Studio Alkmaar a magnificent Avid Volvere turntable. While in terms of price no proper comparison material for the Technicses, of course, I did compare it to them, with interesting results.
As I learned quickly, a turntable’s sound quality is heavily dependent on the marriage between player, arm and cartridge. Even with a very good phono preamp, the sum of the total can still be underwhelming. This I gather was exactly the case with the Volvere. No matter which cartridge I tried, it wouldn’t sound right. Sure the Avid had deeper, more tuneful and more powerful bass, its midrange was both more detailed and more natural, its timbre much more natural, and its treble more precise… but it didn’t sing the way that the Technics SL7 did. Apart from my apparent inability to find a well matching cartridge, I also strongly feel that this is due to the heavy clamp that the Avid uses.
I tried the Grado Statement Platinum 1 and Benz Micro ACE SL. Both I think were not a good match with the Avid, the Grado sounding too lacklustre and the ACE sounding too technical. By now I have some more cartridges in house that I suspect will work better, such as the Audio Technica AT33EV, but alas, the Volvere is long back to Studio Alkmaar.
For every Technics jacket size linear tracker I tried, removing the sprung clamp resulted in much better dynamics, the players all sounding restrained with it in place. Seeing as the Avid goes one step further by incorporating a concave platter (higher on the inside than on the outside), it necessitates the use of the clamp for forcing the record to ly flat on the platter. Unfortunately, the platter being concave prevents experimenting with not using the clamp. And as a result, even if the Volvere is technically superior in every aspect, my emotions run deeper when listening to the Technics SL7.
Read more about the Avid Volvere in the Artesania Turntable Platform review.
Big Boy – Yamaha PX-2
Let me tell you boys and girls: this beast of a turntable really is something else. Until now the Technics SL7 was my favorite, but the Yamaha effortlessly and unashamedly puts the SL7 in its place. Even if I found the SL7 to sound much more real than the cheaper, plastic J3 and co, compared to the PX2, the XL7 sounds more synthetic and much less acoustically convincing. Of course the comparison is a bit off because the SL7 cannot take a high-end cartridge and as a result, its P202 cartridge + Tonar replacement stylus is much well-resolved, and also tracks less well than the Benz Ace SH in the PX2. The SL7 still sounds very nice, but it is quite simply outclassed by the Yamaha.
The Yamaha really deserves its own article, but in a nutshell, I bought this unit “for repairs or parts” and had it shipped all the way from San Jose, California USA to Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Of course, it didn’t play right away and I had to do some surgery involving replacing a worn belt and a whole lot of cleaning. Then it played, but using the cartridges I had at hand, just not very beautifully.
I tried the Technics P202 (p-mount with adapter) with Tonar replacement stylus, Grado Statement Platinum 1 and finally the Benz. The Benz did the trick and brought the PX2 to life. It may be a little bit over clinical in some cases, really showing you which records are less than well recorded, but in general I really like how it takes the PX2’s inherent powerful sound and adds to that with deep, solid bass and very Wadia-like midrange timbres (ie a little bit hard sometimes, but highly communicative). Some might prefer a more lush/fluid presentation and that can be achieved using Denon or Audio Technica cartridges. My best match at this moment is with the Audio Technica AT33EV MC cartridge.
I am thankful for my friend bringing by the humble Technics J3. In retrospect, it is not a great player, but still, it managed to get me to take my focus off digital and back onto analog. In spite of its cheap quality, it managed to show my Wadia a thing or two about emotional involvement. The J3 quickly gave way to the SL10 and SL7 which both really sound very good, much better than many other turntables in their price class I’m sure, and even in the context of higher-end players, they both perform admirably. They have a colorful, relaxed yet agile sound with deep, powerful bass and they make almost all your records sound good. For carefree listening, they are just perfect.
In the process the Technicses paved the way for big boys such as the Yamaha PX2 and Pioneer PL-L1000, and eventually, “normal” pivot arm turntables such as the Thorens TD160MKII, Linn LP12 and Avid Volvere, as I learned that tangential tracking may not be a prerequisite for perfect tracking as long as a very good stylus is used.
These players were the perfect re-introduction to analog for this spoilt convenience lover. I still like the convenience in these handsome “jacket size” players, of slapping on a record, closing the cover, hitting play and be on my way to the couch. It’s also very convenient that you can skip tracks without having to open the cover, and I want to emphasize once more that while I recognise that these players are old, and the electronics settings may wander far from their initial settings, most of them just play on without a care in the world. Where I did notice that the arm’s angle was off, this was easily adjusted and I have no doubt that as long as the correct azimuth is set, VTF is measured with a digital scale (not relying on the built-in values), and a good quality stylus is used, these players will continue to play just fine for a very long time.
Replacement Stylii and overhang
Finally, stylii vary greatly, no make that GREATLY, in quality. I will write an extensive review of replacement needles, but in a nutshell, I can already say that all replacement stylii I tried except for Tonar, are absolutely terrible. The best ones can be had from Jico, and if you can stretch to $130 + shipping and duties if applicable, go for the SAS types. Please bear in mind that T4P may be a very convenient standard and it actually works well, but is not made specifically with linear trackers in mind. All the replacement stylii I tried had varying cantilever lengths, some of which were multiple mm too long, which means that there is permanent mistracking because the overhang cannot be adjusted with T4P arms.
Blocking the arm lift to allow measuring Vertical Tracking Force
Measuring VTF seems impossible with these turntables because as soon as you stop the platter from turning or switch off the player altogether, the arm comes up. The simple technique below works for SL7, SL10 and SL15 and probably many other Technics players.
First, move the arm to a one-third position to the left to allow placement of the needle weight measuring scale. Naturally, I forgot to do this before taking the below photos.
Then use a toothpick to force the sprung arm lift down and lock it in place so that the arm also comes down.
Then while holding the tootpick in place, break it off just above the point where it touches the plastic cover to prevent it later touching the LP. Make sure to switch off the record player prior to placing the scale, otherwise it will fly off the platter and might be damaged. Now measure the VTF by lowering the lid (and with it the arm) into position onto the scale.
Note how low the cartridge is now, even though the arm lift is up?
This is how it is normally positioned.