Technics’ sudden decision, in October 2010, to stop making its iconic SL-1200 direct-drive turntable, then in its MK6 iteration, took vinyl fans by surprise. At the time, although sales of vinyl and turntables for home use were surging, their use in clubs was falling as DJs moved to the digits. According to Technics (a division of Panasonic), production of the SL-1200 was stopped not because professional sales dropped, but because the factory tooling for manufacturing them had worn out, and retooling wasn’t cost-effective.
However, as the growth of the vinyl market exceeded even the most optimistic projections and previous Panasonic profit centers like plasma HDTV shrank, Technics’ Home Entertainment Business divisionheaded by Michiko Ogawa, an engineer who in 1988 helped develop Technics’ AFP1000 ultra-thin, large-diaphragm loudspeaker, and is also an accomplished jazz and classical pianistre-entered the two-channel audio market and recommitted to making turntables (footnote 1).
At the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, Technics announced a new SL-1200 aimed not at DJs but at audiophiles. The new hand-assembled SL-1200, available in various versions (footnote 2), looked like the old SL-1200, but inside it was brand new: every one of its hundred-odd partswhich Technics displayed on a wall at last September’s Tokyo International Audio Showhad required retooling (footnote 3).
More recently, Technics came up with another surprise: a new servo-controlled version of the legendary SP-10, the world’s first direct-drive turntable, introduced in 1970 and intended for use in broadcast studios. In 1975, Technics had introduced the SP-10Mk.2, with quartz-locked speed control and external power supply. Technics also introduced the SL-1000Mk.2a ready-to-play system that included the SH-10B3 Obsidian base and the renowned EPA-100 tonearm and, sometime later, the EPA-500. In 1981, Technics introduced, mostly for sale in Japan, the SP-10Mk.3, which had a 22lb platter and pitch control with a digital display.
Though the more costly and sophisticated SP-10 series was originally intended for use in mastering studios and radio stationsa pair of SP-10Mk.2s drive the lathes at Bernie Grundman Masteringmany found their way into the home systems of audiophiles, housed in high-mass custom plinths.
So news of a hand-built-in-Japan SP-10, after a hiatus of almost 40 years, was big news indeed. Although the Technics SP-10R looks like previous SP-10s, it, too, is new; the motor in particular is an all-new design. Production will be limited to however many SP-10Rs Technics can build. I suspect that demand has already swamped supply.
The SP-10R is essentially a motor and a platter on a (mostly) metal chassiswhat Garrard and other suppliers to the broadcast industry used to call a transcription motor unitand Technics has made sure that it can be used as a drop-in replacement for older SP-10s in existing plinths. Alternatively, you can buy the new SL-1000R reviewed here: an SP-10R housed in a Technics-designed plinth, and with a new tonearm that’s more similar to Technics’ SL-1200series arms than to their older (and more highly regarded) EPA-100 and EPA-500 arms (both of which make for an interesting story, but not here!). The SP-10R retails for $10,000, the SL-1000R for $17,999; both are supplied with an outboard power supply.
Let’s start with the SP-10R turntable used in the SL-1000R, which has a coreless direct-drive motor based on the one developed for the SL-1200G. It’s a double-coil, twin-rotor design and produces enough torque to drive the ca 17.5lb platter. The upper and lower coils are offset from one another by 60° to improve the rigidity of the rotor substrate, suppress fine vibrations, and reduce self-inductance.
The motor’s outboard switching power supply, using a newly developed “unwanted noise reduction circuit,” suppresses noise that might otherwise reach the cartridge. There’s another noise reduction system to prevent noise entering through the system that communicates between the main unit and the control unit. Technics claims for the SP-10R the “world’s highest-level S/N.”
Technics claims stable rotation with 0.015% or less wow and flutter, which is considered to be the limit of what can be measured. The thrust bearings that support the platter are made of a special engineering plastic claimed to provide both high rigidity and reliability. Two stainless steel weights are placed at the bottom of the chassis to lower the center of gravity and thus help prevent vibrations. Technics claims for this system “overwhelming rotary precision and improved signal-to-noise ratio.”
An upper platter of 10mm-thick brass is laminated to a lower platter of die-cast aluminum. Embedded in this platter, near its outer rim, are heavy tungsten weights, to produce an inertial mass of approximately 1 ton.cm. A vibration-deadening layer of rubber attached to its underside completes the platter’s three-layer construction, which Technics says produces high rigidity and excellent damping of vibrations. Technics publishes a graph that suggests that both the SL-1200 series and the SL-1000R/SP-10R are better at damping vibrations than even the SP-10Mk.3. The thick, ribbed rubber mat looks like the ones used on the SL-1200 models.
Platter speed331/3, 45, or 78rpmis selected using controls on the SP-10R’s chassis. The outboard control unit has an OLED display that monitors accuracy of speed, and has pushbuttons for adjusting speed within a range of ±16%.
The tonearm that accompanies the SL-1000R will look familiar to anyone who owns an SL-1200, but, as with the various iterations of Rega Research tonearms, which look alike but sound very different, depending on price, the SL-1000R’s arm is claimed to have far lower-tolerance (tighter) bearings than Technics’ less-expensive arms, and is 10″ long (254mm, or 239mm from pivot to spindle), vs the 9″ arms on the SL-1200s. The SL-1000R’s arm has a lightweight, high-damping, S-shaped armtube made of magnesium; a static-balanced, high-precision bearing in a gimbaled system hand-assembled in Japan; and the industry-standard locking collet for the headshell. Technics doesn’t supply a headshell with the SL-1000R, instead recommending Ortofon’s LH6000 shell, but you can choose your own. In addition to the standard counterweight, Technics supplies auxiliary screw-on weights that greatly expand the range of cartridge weights the arm can accommodate: up to 31gm, including headshell.
Vertical tracking angle (VTA) and stylus rake angle (SRA) are adjustable through a range of 15mm using a rotating knurled ring that will be familiar to users of older Technics turntables. This raises and lowers the platform on which the arm is mounted.
On the plinth’s rear panel is a gold-plated, five-pin DIN jack for the phono cable.
The SL-1000R’s massive two-layer plinth is made of bulk-molded compound (BMC) and topped with a 30mm-thick aluminum deck. The SP-10R’s chassis is a three-layer assembly of BMC, die-cast aluminum, and a 25mm-thick aluminum top panel. It all adds up to a five-layer system sitting atop four height-adjustable silicon-rubber insulating feet, each horizontally reinforced with a cylindrical, vibration-absorbing, microcell polymer tube, all contained within a die-cast zinc housing.
The armboard bolts directly to the triple-layer platter/motor section, as do the two optional armboards, one at the rear (for 9″ arms) and one on the left (for arms up to 12″ long). The mounting facilities for the two additional armboards are hidden behind thick, removable aluminum panels. The direct-bolt base connection ensures a rigid, stable physical relationship between tonearm and turntable, which is importantbut in terms of ensuring the arm’s complete isolation from motor vibrations, it’s probably not so good. Still, Technics has gone to heroic efforts to damp motor vibrations at the source. When I listened to the top deck and armboard through a stethoscope with the platter spinning, I heard no noise at all.
Footnote 1: Technics, Panasonic Consumer Electronics Corporation, Two Riverfront Plaza, Newark, NJ 07102. Web: www.technics.com/us
Footnote 2: See my March 24, 2017 review of the Technics SL-1200G.
Footnote 3: You can see this array of parts in the video accompanying my conversation at the Tokyo show with Technics’ CTO and chief engineer, Tetsuya (Tony) Itani.
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