Technics SL-1000R turntable

Technics SL-1000R

The other most visible part of the turntable is the platter; a triple-layer composite of rubber, brass, and die-cast aluminium, which is balanced with the addition of a dozen tungsten weights around the perimeter, all weighing in at almost 8kg in and of itself. The term 'balanced' in audio is often taken to mean slightly better than 'good enough', but this is an indicator of the obsessiveness of the manufacturing, in a good way; they use the same wheel-balancing machinery used to make sure the wheels of the Shinkansen trains in Japan run smoothly... at more than 200mph.

Below the bullet-train platter, is that direct-drive motor unit. It's a twin-coil, iron-coreless (and thus cogging free), twin-rotor design, with the sort of torque that could make it tow an Airbus. However, despite that high-torque motor (which helps to bring that platter up to speed and stop it almost instantly), it is not simply brute force, and is claimed to help contribute to the turntable's extremely low 0.015% wow and flutter measurement. That's impressive by direct drive standards; by belt drive, it's off the charts good, to the point where comparisons of this rubric are almost cruel. Technics engineers have also worked to minimise motor noise, which was a legitimate concern in early direct drive designs. 

The combination of advanced CAD/CAM design techniques, advanced measurement facilities, and improvements to engineering practices means, when it comes to direct drive motors, we aren't in the 1970s anymore. Modern design means issues like spindle-bearing precision and intra-motor vibration (which made some direct drive motors sound great, and some sound like your LP was in the midst of a tank battle) are resolved, and at this level, even the rigidity of the motor housing become functionally non-issues. Such are the advantage of mass and money!

In the past, the speed controller box was a bit of a weak spot, truth be told. This wasn't a design flaw in and of itself, but once again a function of the limitations of engineering and technology from 40 years ago. While optical sensor systems are relatively unchanged (light has not got faster in the intervening decades) the best servo mechanisms of the 1970s and early 1980s are no match for modern digital servo systems, and that relates directly to speed precision. The outboard supply offers 33.3, 45 and 78rpm speeds and allows subtle adjustments down to 0.01 of a revolution per minute. As in the first generation of products, this controller is not destined for wild changes in speed; think 'subtle tuning'. In fact, speed control is so accurate, these adjustments become almost redundant unless you have a collection of 78s, which were rarely recorded at 78rpm! 

If the SL-1000R motor and speed control hark back to the glory days of record players, the arm revels in them. It's a classic S-shaped 10" gimballed arm, albeit now with a magnesium arm tube and ruby bearings, with a locking collar for headshell mounting. If you start searching through the box for a headshell, you are going to come away disappointed. Panasonic UK recommends the DS Audio HS-001 Duralumin headshell, and Sound Fowndations stepped up and provided one for review. While we are on that subject, while the arm comes with cables, the phono plugs and earth terminals built into the turntable itself suggest the ones in the box are not quite up to snuff, and in this case, AudioQuest stepped in with a set of its excellent Leopard tonearm cables (again recommended). The turntable also needs a cartridge of sufficient quality to match its performance, and here we went with a Lyra Atlas SL (which is once again a popular choice, and goes some way to show how good the deck and arm are in real terms, in that they can more than handle a cartridge of this gravitas). This makes for one heck of a turntable front end, one that demands a great system with an excellent phono stage, and we went with the excellent Aavik U-150's input.

From the outset, this turntable was something beyond the pale. Here was a precision and snap to the sound that is more akin to really well-done digital, making many a well-loved record player sound a little too 'louche' in presentation. A singer steps up to the mic, opens their mouth, and they sit front and centre in the mix; no wavering, no imprecision. Until you hear this first hand, you might think that applies universally. When you hear the SL-1000R in full throat, you discover just how rare that precision is in record replay. OK, maybe you expect this with the audiophile approved recordings, but it did it on Van Morrison's Astral Weeks [Warner]! 

Then there is the dynamic range, which makes you wonder whether the whole digital audio thing was a decades long experiment in flat sound. I put on An Historic Return of Horowitz at Carnegie Hall [Columbia], and his 1965 assault on the pianoforte as he played the Schumann Fantasy in C Maj, was powerful, bold, and nothing like I've heard it on other formats. This was music played wild and not tamed but kept in place by the Technics.

Actually, it didn't matter what disc I put on the platter, absolutely nothing phased the Technics, and it delivered everything with gusto and energy. The overall soundfield has an almost architectural physicality to it and does so whether you are playing a delicate violin recital or the fully syrupy synth swirls of The Orb. The deck toes a delicate balance between being precise and sounding 'tightly wound', but its ability to play music 'red in tooth and claw' wins out. Other decks are more mellifluous, and a few bring that to the same kind of overall performance as the Technics, but there's no mistaking it; this is world-class vinyl performance.

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