There are few products in AV lore more iconic than the Technics SL-1200 turntable, which was in constant production from 1972 to 2010. The direct drive SL-1200 was a mainstay for DJs the world over through the 1980s and 90s, making it one of the most sought-after turntables at a time when the rest of the universe was ditching vinyl records for Compact Discs. In 2016, Technics (which is owned by Panasonic) resurrected the 1200, and now in 2019 we find ourselves treated to a variant in the form of the SL-1500C reviewed here.
At first blush, the SL-1500C looks a lot like the 1200, but step within a few feet of it and you'll quickly be able to distinguish between the two. The SL-1500C is like a 1200 that was sent off to finishing school and came back sans any piercings or offensive tattoos. So, what you're left with is the same great functionality, robust build quality, and sonic performance, but with none of the boy-racer lights or pitch controls.
The SL-1500C retails for $1,199, a nearly $200 premium over the current DJ-specific SL-1200 MkVII. It comes in two colors: black and Technics' trademark silver, with my review sample being the latter. The SL-1500C is a larger turntable, which is to say it appears substantial and hefty compared to, say, a Pro-Ject, Rega, or even my reference U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus. That isn't a bad thing when it comes to turntable design, for they tend to sound better with a bit of extra. Speaking of mass, the SL-1500C itself weighs a substantial 22 pounds.
Like all classic Technics designs, this is a direct drive turntable, utilizing a high-precision motor to rotate the platter, which in the case of the SL-1500C is die-cast aluminum. The direct drive motor can be set at the push of a button to one of two speeds: 33-1/3 or 45 rpm. Press both buttons together and you'll be spinning at 78 rpm. A simple rap upon the large square Start/Stop button sets things in motion, literally. The S-shaped tonearm from the old days of the 1200 is present and accounted for with the SL-1500C, though its design and materials have been updated for 2019. At the end of the tonearm rests a "DJ-friendly" removable headshell, upon which is a pre-fitted Ortofon 2M Red cartridge.
The SL-1500C has a stereo phono output with a ground terminal for those wanting to connect it to a third-party phono stage or component with a built-in phono stage. It also has a phono stage/preamp built-in and it is compatible with moving magnet cartridges like the Ortofon 2M Red that is pre-fitted and calibrated. You can easily switch between the two output options as you see fit via a switch located on the back of the turntable itself. Lastly, at least in terms of features, the SL-1500C does have an auto-lift function that will automatically raise the tonearm, lifting the needle off the record when it reaches the end. The auto-lift functionality doesn't return the tone arm to its cradle; it merely picks the needle straight up off the record. In other words, it isn't technically an automatic turntable like some Technics models of yesteryear.
As for sound quality, the SL-1500C is something to behold. As a former owner of a 90s era SL-1200 (I forget what version exactly), the SL-1500C has a sound that I found to be very familiar, but more refined. I have always loved direct drive turntables, and after spending several years without one, having one in my system again was immediately noticeable. While my U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus spins at a very consistent pace, there have been a few instances where I have detected the occasional stumble in terms of speed accuracy, something I didn't notice in my listening tests of the SL-1500C.
Aside from the Swiss-like timing, the SL-1500C's sound on a whole is one of dynamic details. What I mean by that is that it gets so many of the finer details oh so right and presents them with great fervor, which makes for a lively but not forward presentation. In truth, I found the SL-1500C's sound to be more digital-esque, in that there wasn't a lot of romanticism and "warmth" one might generally assume would be present or want in their vinyl playback.
I'm not sure I would call the SL-1500C wholly neutral, however, as it is ever so slightly light in the bass, but the bottom end that is present is taut and textural, which I'd rather have over absolute extension. The midrange is about as uncolored as you're going to find at this price point, and the high frequency performance is a thing of beauty indeed. Spatially, I found the SL-1500C's soundstage to be very nicely appointed, with terrific separation both front to back as well as side to side, though it's not as cavernous as say a CD or digital high-res audio can be. The SL-1500C's true strength is that it sounds rather brilliant with a wide variety of source material, including hard rock, something not all turntables can claim honestly. My U-Turn Orbit Plus can play my Tool collection with gusto, but not with the same clarity throughout as the SL-1500C can.
Competition and Comparisons
At roughly $1,200, the SL-1500C isn't the most affordable turntable on the market today, but it is far from the most expensive. Fans of the original 1200 will no doubt say that the Audio Technica LP-120 or Music Hall USB-1 at $249 and $199 respectively look the part. While they may look like a 1200, though, I assure you from personal experience they're not remotely the same. While both are good budget options, and damn fine entry points into the hobby, king slayers they are not.
No, to compete head-to-head with the SL-1500C, you're going to have to go upmarket and consider contenders like the Pro-Ject "The Classic" at $1,099 retail, the Music Hall MMF-5.3 at around a grand, or the Thorens TD 240-1 for $1,100. All three are manual affairs, with the exception of the Thorens, which does offer auto start/stop and return functionality. All are belt driven and lack a built-in phono stage/preamp. Of course, you can spend a lot more and likely not get that much more by way of additional performance, unless you're willing to shell out triple, maybe even five times the SL-1500C's asking price.
It's been nearly a decade since I said goodbye to my beloved Technics SL-1200, and it's a piece of my audio history that I've missed dearly since. The SL-1500C is as good as I recall my SL-1200 being and then some. I love its subdued, mature design compared to my old 1200, as it looks more at home among other pieces of hi-fi gear, whereas the 1200 always felt like it belonged in a club. What I love more than anything is its sound: the SL-1500C is positively incredible and demonstrably better than my reference U-Turn Orbit Plus, though you do pay for that extra performance. While die-hard vinyl enthusiasts will likely call out Technics' inclusion of the Ortofon cartridge as a cost-saving measure (or cop out), I don't. I think it is an incredibly well-balanced cartridge that is suitable for a wide variety of musical tastes and genres. All things considered, the Technics SL-1500C is an incredibly well-rounded, easy-to-use, well-built piece that should provide those fortunate enough to be able to afford it with years of worry-free vinyl enjoyment.
• Visit the Technics website for more information.
• Technics SL-G700 Network/SACD Player Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Read Panasonic Brings Back the Technics Brand at HomeTheaterReview.com.