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VINYL HEAVEN 4

Another Epiphany
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Amateur Radio
Vinyl Heaven 4  -  Vinyl Epiphanies and Testaments

On this page are some extracts from other users experiences with the Technics SL-1200 Mk2 turntable.

One story in particular demonstrates an unnecessary, frustrating and pointless journey through other highly recommended but ultimately inferior turntables to reach the conclusion that the SL-1210 really was the best sounding turntable that a sensible amount money could buy.

The main thing is to sit back and enjoy your collection of favourite and cherished LP's and singles.

Wishing you Very Happy Listening!


Technics SL-1210 Mk 2

Back into vinyl - part 1

Originally posted on www.audiogon.com  and  www.kabusa.com/1200com1.htm

About five years ago, while I was living nice, quiet, and boring vinyl-less life, I run across some very nice LPs while walking around my local flee market. I got rid of all my records years ago, almost immediately after Sony and Philips promised us all “Perfect Sound Forever”.


My music life was easy and simple, few hundred of my CDs were complemented by couple hundred cassettes and only sometimes I was wondering how come some of my cassettes sounded very obviously better than CDs. But I would not let these thoughts bother me – digital was better, period. Doesn’t every manufacturer of audio equipment say so for 20 years now? Anyway, the albums I run across were so dear to me and so impossible to find on CDs that I bought them, without even thinking about the fact that I had absolutely no idea how to use them. Did they even sell turntables any more? Being a nerd I started searching the Net for information and to my surprise discovered that not only they still sell TTs, but there is a whole range of them, from 50 Presidents all the way to tens of thousands. I was considering getting me some of those 78s, so three-speed machine was needed.


I quickly found a site of KAB Electro-Acoustics, and called the guy, Kevin, was very helpful and knowledgeable. After hearing my pathetic story he very kindly described me current situation on the marked and few days later I was a proud owner of KAB Broadcast Standard, equipped with Shure V15VxMR. The LPs that I bought sounded amazing. They were almost 40 years old, though in very good condition, but the sound was so real that no CD could even touch it. Bare in mind, my system was nothing to write home about – middle-of-the-road ES Sony CD player, amplifier and cassette deck and Mission speakers. And then I found audio forums.


OK, I have to admit – I am always questioning my knowledge. Even when I am 100% sure about something, there will always be a thought buried somewhere deep inside, saying “What If You Are Wrong?” So I started asking questions and in return heard condolences about my turntable and really stupid explanations about why direct drive is inferior to belt drive. Someone even quoted well-respected magazine reviewer stating that a direct drive table is constantly changing speed at a rate of about 3500 times a second, which is quite audible. I bought it. I sold my KAB table (surprisingly very close to the original price), in my heart blaming Kevin for selling me this junk, and got myself a … well, I don’t think I should use any more names here – it is really irrelevant. Let’s just say that the table was listed at $750 and at that price point is considered to be a de facto standard in audiophile world. Well, this is where my problems started.


First, the damn thing was running fast. I was trying to get my dealer to fix it with no positive outcome. “The table is flawless” was the answer. Oh and did I mention “No Returns” policy? Running fast, switching between speeds was a nightmare, and then in 2000 they released an updated motor in which was supposed to fix speed deviation problem (what problem?) which set me back another $150. With no positive outcome. I had to let it go, losing a lot of money in the process. What do you think I did next?


Correct, I bought another belt-driven table from different manufacturer. It was about twice as expensive as my first one and was coming from the company that is even more respected in audiophile world. The construction of the table was very unusual. Almost as unusual as one of the first models from this company, shown in one of Stanley Kubrick’s movies. Built quality seemed to be better, but as I discovered, in order to achieve best results, I needed much better tonearm, special power supply etcetera, etcetera… Oh and did I mention that you can’t really clean the record on this table? Friction between the belt and the platter is too low for it… I got back to the previous company and purchased their just-released top of the line model. Exotic materials used for platter, outboard power supply, fancy words used in its description… I was not as stupid as I used to be, so I purchased it from Canada, thus losing my US warranty, but saving about 30%. Well, what do you know? The table was running fast! The brilliantly engineered power supply did not allow for speed adjustments without knowing the schematics and friendly technical support staff of the manufacturer was too friendly to respond to my request. Another bummer. I was getting smarter. No more purchases, I said to myself, before I am sure I know what I am buying.


Very famous and very local manufacturer just released reasonably inexpensive model, which I borrowed from my local dealer. Build quality was so low that I still don’t understand how people can actually mention the word “quality” when talking about this table? Platter bearing was loose, table was running slow and besides the motor was running hot as hell. I called the company with my questions and they responded that bearing has to burn-in (oh really?) motor has high operating temperature and speed can be easily adjusted by using their power generator costing a mere $1000! Thanks!


I tried few more tables. The more expensive they were getting, the more I was shocked by their poor quality. I got tired. My vinyl collection was several hundred LPs by now but I had no means of listening and enjoying. Then I called Kevin. I told him about my experience and my frustration and his simple and knowledgeable words got me back to real world. I have a degree in electrical engineer for crying out loud, cant’ I do something? And I did. To be continued…


Back to vinyl – Part 2

I decided to go DIY way. I built quite few audio things in my life. Back in Russia I built several pairs of speakers from the ground up, which to be honest sounded like you know what. Later I realized that when I used drivers from actual speaker manufacturers the results were much better. I shall not mention power amps and all sorts of tweaks – they don’t count if you have a PhD in electronics.


So I decided to approach this as an engineer. What is a turntable anyway? Tonearm part is easy – though some people get exotic and build them, there is no need for that. Second hand market in the US is not as extensive as it is in good old Europe, but it does exist and one could buy a very decent arm for very little money. Plinth (if any) has to be acoustically inert. Big deal! I live in New Jersey, kitchen remodellers are probably as common here as lawyers and realtors, no shortage of Korian and granite of any shape, form and color (I tried to write “colour” but my US edition word processor stopped me). Motor – well, not that difficult. Very high quality 32 pole DC motor with adjustable power supply would cost you a mere 5-6 hundred bucks (and don’t listen to that BS you hear at CES!). Bearing can be special-ordered from any reasonably good machine shop.


Depending on the quality and materials it would cost anywhere from $10 for a decent one to $500 for something out of this world. Platter can be made in the same machine shop using any material you want and the cost would be so low that is not even worth mentioning. If you are fan of acrylic, try calling a place that makes it and get a quote. You’ll never be able to look at one German turntable company without a smile… I was almost ready to start ordering components when accidentally run across… Technics SP10MK3! Not Mark 2, but legendary Mark 3! The one that lots of people are talking about but almost no one actually saw! I bought it from a guy in Australia for an incredibly small amount of money. Even with shipping it was still much less that you could expect paying for a piece of History.


I inspected it thoroughly when it arrived. It seemed to be in almost perfect condition, small scratches here and there, turning on and off, changing speed (and adjusting it). I ordered a service manual for it and began working on a plinth and tonearm. Korian plinth with space for 3 (three!) armboards - 12” SME arm for my dear Kontrapunkt B, RB600 for Exact that I use as a test platform and one extra space for heavy arm with Grado Statement that plays female voices like no other cartridge I ever tried. Is this Heaven or what? Well, it was Hell. Two months into the project everything was assembled. Amplifier was warm, phono corrector just re tubed with NOS Telefunkens, one of the last Frank Sinatra’s albums was ready to go out of the shelf when I heard terrible squeaking noise from the table that I turned on and that was spinning at exactly 33 1/3 RPM for the last hour… The motor was gone.


After I took it apart I realized that the table was probably very heavily used and before selling the owner put some really thick oil into its bearings so after you turn it on it would not be apparent that it is completely worn. I tried to find new motor with no results and the quotes from machine shops to rebuild the motor were so high that it did not make any sense to try to resurrect it. I sold SP10 in pieces and actually even made couple hundred vs. what I spend on it (including shipping from Oz), but once again I did not have a table! And I called Kevin again… To be continued… P.S. The reason why I did not mention any names in Part 1 was not political correctness. Coming from the former Soviet Union I am as far from being politically correct as it gets. I was just trying to be nice to people that own those tables and like them!


Back into vinyl – Part 3.

Interesting thing – Kevin (you know, gentleman behind KAB Electro-Acoustics?) never suggested me to buy 1200 again. He would talk about its benefits and quality and terrific price-performance ratio, but never actually tried to push me into buying it. This is so unlike one dealer that I use every once in a while. I’ll leave his name out of the picture. His showroom (which was just recently renovated) is just a few blocks away from my office (right in the middle of North East Philly), which makes it very convenient for me to visit him during lunchtime. Well, not any more actually. After driving to my office for six years I finally gave up to road rage and started taking a train. Now I can at least read, and by the time I come to work I don’t use the “f” word in my mind few dozen times. Anyway, this dealer humbly calls himself “Ultra High End Dealer”. He would not talk to you unless you promise to spend at least 5 Gs (plus cables) and his knowledge of electronics is pretty much limited to the names of the owners of high end companies.


It was very interesting listening to his story about great owner-designer of one British company named after him, while I personally know the guy who designed pretty much everything that came out of that place in the last ten years. He finally left the place. But just try to ask this dealer’s opinion about something – he would immediately tell you that he knows exactly what you need and he has it right here, or at least can special-order it for you… well, for extra 150 bucks, but what is 150 when you are spending 5 thousand? When I came to him with my turntable problems, he proudly showed me his latest arrival. That thing had tonearm by major manufacturer specially built (actually, “specially” in this case meant covered with 24 Karat gold), cheapo AC motor, chrome-covered platter, all for mere price of well equipped Nissan Centra. Oh, and did I mention that the plinth is an individually picked stone slab? Of course then I needed to replace my equipment rack, buy external power supply and probably run a separate line from my local power company. Same old story… I was tired, frustrated and little angry with myself. The solution was always there, right in front of me, but I was too blind to see it. I made a quick phone call and three days later a box was sitting on my porch. It was brand spanking new Technics SL-1210MK2…


Editors Note: --In case this conclusion seem contradictory, go back and read the second paragraph.--

Maybe later I will tell you what I did to it to improve on this simple and already very capable design, but this is a completely different story… Now I listen to my records every day, I change the speed to any one I want and I don’t need to hear anyone’s opinion on how bad direct drive sounds. This time the only one I listen to is myself. And maybe also my wife. Well, maybe also my son. He is 13. You know – the “MP3 generation”? He asked me few days ago – “Dad, can I have table like yours for Christmas?”


In my world it is too much for a Christmas present, but this time I think I’ll make an exception. In conclusion, when comparing tables from "High End" manufacturers with 1200 one has to understand the difference in production cost. If 1200 was built in one of these tiny places it would cost thousands. But even without taking price into consideration - I would put my modified MK2 against anything below 5-6 thousand, maybe even more. After my DIY project I was left with plenty of parts for three tables, so I built mine different from Kevin, with more radical approach to power (I removed all original power supply components) and replacing tonearm with RB600. Also, I got rid of pitch slider and strobe LEDs.


For the less adventuresome, all upgrades are available from KAB. So you can grow your 1200 at any rate you desire up to a world class KAB Audiophile Standard. This story was originally posted on audiogon.com in the analog discussion pages.


u can see more here:
.

Technics SL-1200 Mk II Arm



Here are some more comments - this time from the pages of TNT

Re: Technics SL 1200 review:

Dear Mr Ogiers, I'm sending this mail from Italy to sincerely thank you for your wonderful job. I've been an hi-fi lover and record collector for years, owned different types of hi-fi turntables and since 1992 I'm a fan of the SL1200 that I use together with my current system composed by Thorens TD160 Marantz 1060 amp and AR 3a speakers.


Gotta say that the SL1200 has always sounded extremely good, and the Thorens and all the other decks of the same category I used never did better.


Always liked the quality of its construction but I saw that all the "experts" were always talking bad about this deck. Anyway I noticed that none of them had listened to it. They simply say that it's a pro turntable. That's very unprofessional. All the SL1200 fans in the hi-fi world were take for a joke. Anyway none of them for what I know have stopped to state what the truth is, AND THE TRUTH ON THIS WONDERFUL DECK IS EXACTLY WHAT YOU STATED IN YOUR REVIEW.


I'm very happy that TNT is not afraid to speak the truth loud. I'd like to know if you have tested the SL1200 with the hi-fi mats, to see if that lush and warm sound can be improved. I can't wait to upgrade my deck in the better way, so I hope you could help me. Thanks.
I can't wait to read your future reviews!

Regards.
Alfonso

http://www.tnt-audio.com/feedback/october06.html


WO:
Dear Alfonso,
thank you for your letter. Indeed, as soon as one drops one's prejudices and listens it appears that the SL1200 MkII in its basic form is perfectly competitive in sound and in price with more fashionable products. All it needs is a suitable cartridge and some care in set-up. But this rule applies to any record player.
Kind regards,
Werner Ogiers

http://www.tnt-audio.com/feedback/october06.html


Re: Technics SL 1200 review
Werner,
I commend you for your review. Many "high-end" audiophiles are herd animals and refuse to check things out for themselves. Also, it is easy to let preconceived views influence ones thinking.


As you point out, the Technics is an older design, but, then again, it is not older than the belt drive turntable. Your review makes clear that the table was originally intended for the consumer market, however, with the Mk 2 version the deck was specifically marketed towards "professionals" as part of their pro line (along with the SP-15, 25, and 10 Mk2 and 3).


It shares the same motor and electronics with the erstwhile SP-25. I have 2 Technics decks. The SL-1100, and SL-1200 Mk5. The latter is similar to the Mk 2 with the exception of a Quartz lock reset, and a recessed power switch. Also, the stylus light is, I believe, now an LED. The 1200 Mk2 is a better engineered deck than either the 1100, or the original 1200.
The tonearm on the Mk5 has not changed from the 1200 Mk2. I have seen modifications allowing use of other arms, but, as you point out, the VTA function is then unavailable. An option would be to find an EPA-250 (which consists of the EPA 500 arm base and EPA 250 S-shaped tonearm assembly; they occasionally turn up on ebay).


This ought to fit the table without much modification, and would then allow adjustable VTA. In any case I'd like to mention that at least one MM cartridge can be used without problems. I have a V-15x MR sometimes installed, and with the damping brush there are no resonance issues.


Good MC cartridges work well with the arm. Some of the very heavy cartridges are best used in heavier arms. I would hesitate against using a stone Koetsu, a Fidelity Research cartridge, or an SPU in the tonearm, but who knows? Denons work well. Unfortunately, Denon has decided to offer only the spherical tip in their current 103 line-up. Nevertheless, the DL-103 (and I presume, the 103 R) mate well with the Technics arm. I have used both the 103 and 103 D with good results.


I have just ordered my second 103, and will then be sending my current Denon to Mr. van den Hul in order to have it re tipped. The cantilever will also be replaced with a boron tube. I am interested in hearing what difference a modern line contact stylus does for this ancient cartridge design.


Direct drive has gotten a lot of bad press over the years. Yet, two of the most highly regarded phono technologists have used this principle in their designs. Here, I am talking about Mitchell Cotter and Sao Win. As far as I know, neither Cotter nor Dr. Win are involved in hi-fi any more, but in this I could certainly be mistaken.


The idea that the quartz servo system "hunts and pecks" and that this is responsible for audible speed problems is foolish. No one will hear any flutter or speed variation with the SL-1200. A good check is Liszt lieder.


Just piano and voice--two of the most difficult instruments to reproduce. I own a Thorens TD-160 which I have modified in accordance to standard practice. I prefer the Technics. I can discern no speed related artifacts between the two, but the Technics is less prone to room vibrations affecting the tonearm. In general, I prefer mass and rigidity over a spongy, springy suspension, but I suppose that different installations have different requirements.


The Technics is also better in this respect than a Denon DP-75 I once owned. The latter's factory laminated wooden base was quite resonant, not unlike a guitar or violin. The base of the Technics is relatively inert.


If I could make any changes I would add the addition of 78 rpm. KAB offers an appropriate modification, but then the factory warranty is voided. In a more perfect world Technics would still offer the EPA 500 tonearm system as an option.


However, as it is, the standard Technics tonearm is well designed and functional. Like you, I have noticed and agree that it is surprising how friction free it feels when handling it. There is no bearing play I can discern.


Older designs are not necessarily always worth ignoring. There is a gentleman in Japan designing low powered tube amps that he mates with classic horn systems. He employs a primitive Grace oil-damped tonearm (ever see one of those?) with a Denon DL-102 mono cartridge in order to show off his wares.


So, I feel a bit modern sporting a Denon DL-103 on a Technics SL 1200.
Regards,
Michael

http://www.tnt-audio.com/feedback/october06.html


WO
Dear Michael,
thank you for your lengthy comment. You touch on some aspects covered less in my review, but then, reviews cannot be of infinite length, and so we sometimes have to leave things out. Yes, the damper-equipped Shure cartridges can be used with arms of excessive (relative to the cartridge's compliance) mass: the damping action cancels the negative effects of a peaky resonance at too low a frequency.

As for the DL-103's spherical stylus ... it may seem crude, but it keeps the cartridge cheap(er), and as long as the result sounds like music we're all happy, not?

Thanks for the feedback!
Werner Ogiers

http://www.tnt-audio.com/feedback/october06.html



Technics SL-1200 MKII

You might like to look at http://www.soundhifi.com/sl1200/index.htm for some of the hi fi world mods and also http://www.vantageaudio.com/

SL-1200 Brochure:  The Technics SL-1200 product brochure, from Vinyl Engine is here.

Read more about the Technics SL-1200 on Vinyl Engine: Part One Here > and Part Two Here >


Where To Buy YOUR Technics SL-1200 MK2

As with any piece of sophisticated equipment, such as the Technics SL-1200 MK2, the only safe option is to buy from an approved and authorised dealer. It is only in this way that users will be able to obtain the proper after-sales support.

In the UK there should be numerous authorised dealers. SUPERFI is a highly respected hi fi dealer and stocks various Technics SL-1200 models. Visit http://www.superfi.co.uk/index.cfm/page/moreinfo.cfm/Product_ID/228

In North America the renowned Technics turntable experts are KAB Electro Acoustics. There is probably nothing that KAB's Kevin Barrett does not know about the Technics SL-1200 line. Visit http://www.kabusa.com


NOTE: Now that Panasonic have discontinued the Technics SL-1200 the only way to obtain one will be on the used market.

Second Hand. Although the Technics SL-1200 is regarded as almost 'bomb proof' by many, make no mistake, it is a precision instrument and it is probably very wise to avoid buying a used model, unless it is certain that it has been used carefully and only for hi-fi reproduction and definitely not for DJ work or 'scratching'.





My own vinyl epiphany

Warning ...it does take a little while to get there.


How I Found The Technics SL-1200:

When CD's were launched in the early 1980's, I already had a substantial collection of LP's and 45's that I loved.  Early adopters of the CD format, in those far off days, said that vinyl (LP's and singles to you and me) were dead.  I did not quite believe the 'vinyl is dead' statement then and I'm glad I didn't, otherwise I might have sold or given away all my precious records as many people have done - and since regretted.

Having said that, the sound from my records was just not good enough on my old belt drive turntable, and when compared directly with a CD the sound of vinyl was unquestionably worse.  CD's were sharper and cleaner, and devoid of end-of-side and tracking distortions and lacked the ‘ticks’ and ‘pops’ of a dirty LP's and singles, but more of that later >.

Wow

I am quite sensitive to speed fluctuations and quickly notice 'wow' on tape decks and turntables that are not functioning properly.  Wow and flutter is completely absent from digital playback, but can plague magnetic tape and vinyl reproduction. Wow is the effect of the speed moving up and down from the mean pitch slowly, while flutter is the effect of the speed varying up and down from the mean pitch very rapidly and will blur and spoil musical detail. Some players are quite good while others are quite poor - the effect being obvious and completely unmusical,  spoiling the enjoyment of an otherwise perfectly good record. Even small, almost imperceptible, speed errors will cause subtle timing problems that will detract from pure musical enjoyment. 

Wow is a particularly disconcerting effect that can affect belt drive turntables (and tape machines), it may be caused by a badly engineered motor or motor spindle or a stretched and slipping belt for example.  The belt drive system a very low torque and so relies on the flywheel effect of the platter in order to maintain its speed. Sadly many turntable platters are very lightweight especially, it seems, when they are made out of a simple piece of MDF (fibreboard) or similar.

The belt can cause other problems; being elastic, it is very lively and will inherently introduce unwanted resonances into the drive system which will degrade the sound, the tension will also be pulling against both the motor and the platter spindle and bearing which will cause uneven wear in the bearings. Additionally on most familiar turntables the motor is screwed (or glued!?) on to the piece of MDF that supports the spindle bearing of the platter leading to a common problem of motor noise and poor signal-to-noise ratio.

The motors usually used in belt drive turntables are usually be simple synchronous AC devices which can be prone to speed errors due to fluctuating mains frequency.  Some such turntables are also well known to be prone to running at the incorrect speed, so records will play at the wrong pitch.  Without very high quality electronic speed control these turntables will almost inevitably be prone to unwanted speed errors and fluctuations. Other turntable designs use DC motors with electronic servo control to help reduce speed errors, fluctuations and wow. Apparently, however, DC servo motors can also cause some flutter as the speed is constantly being corrected at a very rapid rate. I must add that I did find that the DC Servo motor in the Rotel RP855 ran spot on the correct speed and with apparent good stability. In this respect scores better than some turntables that use AC motors that can famously run at the incorrect speed.


Bad timing - It's the drag

Apart from 'wow', there other speed inconsistencies inherent with “ordinary” belt drive turntable motor systems that will cause speed, pitch and timing problems, these are the effects of stylus drag.

There are two types of stylus drag, static drag and dynamic drag.  Static drag occurs when the stylus is lowered onto the record, it tends to slow the rotational speed of the platter, this applies particularly to belt drive turntables that have low torque (turning power). Towards the end of the record there will be less stylus friction and increased torque available, the rotational speed could therefore increase towards the intended speed - so the speed can vary across the side of an LP.

Additionally dynamic drag occurs in the few moments during and after a loud (highly modulated) sound as the energy is dissipated by the stylus causing increased friction and drag on the rotating record and platter.

**

My first turntable was one made by Micro Seiki, it was a semi-automatic belt drive model. It was solidly built and I had great fun playing all my records on it. It didn't have the greatest sound quality; the belt drive system suffered from some noticeable pitch instability and the bearing was rather noisy, so the signal to noise ratio was rather compromised, manifesting as rumble. Additionally it suffered a certain degree of mis-tracking distortion that I could never quite eliminate no matter how I arranged the cartridge in the arm. This became rather irritating at times.  The cartridge was quite good, however, being an Ortofon VMS20EII which had an even handed sound and was really quite detailed and revealing - mainly revealing the limitations of the turntable I fear.

Some years later, around 1990, I decided to upgrade.  From reading the hi-fi press at that time, it seemed that there was only one budget turntable to buy - a Rega Planar. Most so called hi-fi 'experts' seemed to suggest that a belt-drive turntable was the best, if not the only drive method worth considering and so I (along with so many other 'green' and impressionable hi-fi enthusiasts) was convinced (conned) by the magazine reports and hi-fi shop sales-people and decided that I must have this type of turntable.  I listened to an example in a hi-fi shop, but I have to admit that while its was certainly better than the budget Micro Seiki - the arm/cartridge did track very much better - it did not offer the revelation that I was expecting. 

I then listened to a Systemdek turntable which was vastly superior, but the particular turntable, arm, cartridge combination was ridiculously expensive as I remember. Out of my budget anyway. CD's were, of course, around at this time and offered the stability of sound, dynamism and lack of distortion that I was seeking from my collection of records.  I therefore continued my search.

After hearing the Rega I just did not believe that it was as good as the magazine reviewers claimed, and certainly it did not seem worth the asking price. Sure, the arm was a very nice piece of metal, but a the rest of the package was basically a piece of wood with a pretty basic motor fixed to it. I trusted my own ears on this matter, as anyone auditioning a turntable or a pair of loudspeakers (or any other component) really should. My suspicions were later confirmed by reading other owners' experiences with this turntable which cited: speed drift, pitch instability and noticeable motor noise and rumble. Many people's opinions admit that the deck plays too fast.

The manufacturer apparently refuted these complaints, but strangely some time later these non-existent faults would be 'fixed' if the owners bought an different (quieter?) motor that would be fixed to the wood using glue pads - real high tech' stuff.

I am very saddened saddened by all this, particularly as I like to buy British if possible and was so initially keen to buy one - but my ears wouldn't let me.

In the end, later in 1990, and after more auditions, I settled for a Rotel RP-855 turntable.  Admittedly it was relatively inexpensive, but it did offer an appreciable upgrade over my existing deck. The Rotel RP-855 is still a belt drive affair ( I had been convinced that I needed a belt drive turntable, remember), just like the Micro Seiki, Rega and Systemdek. However the Rotel, unlike some other turntables, uses a DC servo motor which has proved to be very accurate and stable and really is quite entertaining to listen to.  Apparently a DC Servo systems utilise a sensitive regulator to monitor the voltage to the motor which improves the long term speed drift and static stylus drag susceptibility. Being a DC motor, the Rotel also has the extremely useful feature of being able to adjust the rotational speed so that it would spin accurately at 33 and 45 rpm, a feature that seems impossible to implement on turntables that use AC synchronous motors - the reason why turntables with AC motors can to rotate several percent faster than they should! Playing music just a few percent faster than it should be makes it sound more energetic - more exciting if you will. This 'excitement effect' may be why such turntables get erroneously good reviews.

That's just my own little suspicion.

* Some Project turntables later offered electronic speed control units as an optional extra - which is a very worthwhile accessory.

The arm is nothing particularly fancy on the Rotel RP-855, but has always worked reasonably well, although there is still some noticeable end of side tracking distortion even after careful adjustments using stylus gauges. However the tonality pleasant and accurate, the drive system it is remarkably quiet and the output detailed and very pleasingly musical. Given its strengths, I felt that the Rotel RP-855 was a fair compromise for its reasonable price at the time, though not perfect of course, but offering much better value for money compared to that alternative turntable. The Rotel is certainly very well built and has also proved to be completely reliable during its 22 years of use.  However (scratches and static aside) my LP's still did not sound technically as good as most of my CD's, of course, though I tended to prefer vinyl's more inviting feel.

But there again.........maybe just I hadn't found the Holy Grail - yet?


The Holy Grail - found at long last

In 2007 I was looking again and stumbled upon a Technics SL-1200. I did some much more thorough research which proved to me that the belt drive system is actually a compromised system that may never be able to provide the stability and lack of unwanted resonances that is needed for truly accurate and, moreover, enjoyable sound. Looking back on the subject now it seems obvious that noisy motors and bearings mounted on bits of MDF, in the typical built down to a price turntable, is surely going to be compromised on an engineering level by speed errors & fluctuations, noise and unwanted resonances and vibrations. The sound quality must suffer.

Static and dynamic drag will cause subtle speed and timing problems and can only be overcome by extremely heavy belt driven platters. Such heavy platters are very costly and consequently very rare indeed. Another method that will eliminate speed errors is to use an extremely accurate frequency generator quartz lock servo system - such as used in the Technics SL-1200 series of turntables. 

All speed problems are totally undesirable but are completely solved by the Technics SL-1200 MK2 system. If only that hi-fi shop that I'd visited years earlier had stocked the SL-1200 series I would have bought one there and then!

So why do some hi-fi enthusiasts bury their head in the sand? Why recommend obviously flawed products to other people? Is it asking to much for a turntable that plays at the correct and consistent speed? For me the solid, immediately foot-tapping quality of the Technics makes it the direct drive stallion to many of the other belt-drive turntable donkeys and is my particular Vinyl Epiphany!  Phew!

http://www.gifs.net
It Really Gets My Goat!

All this has caused me to become increasingly frustrated with some Hi-Fi magazines that continue to ignore genuinely great products, yet continue to write in glowing terms about products that they state are excellent and yet when I have heard them I know that the claims must be, at best, misguided or at worst written to please certain manufacturers. On many occasions I have gone out of my way to listen to some equipment that has been favourably reviewed, only to find that it really is garbage. On balance, there are other occasions when some highly rated equipment has turned out to also be good in reality.

The simple lesson is that the only safe way to use such publications is to obtain a few clues as to what's currently on the market, then go out and listen for yourself, taking care to ignore all the shop assistant's biased ravings!


Trust your own ears

Any potential hi-fi buyer really should audition any potential new purchase such as CD player, tuner or amplifier - but absolutely must go out and listen to important items such as loudspeakers, turntables and cartridges since these items will impose a very particular audio signature on the overall sound.

Choosing hi-fi is as much about the technical accuracy of a particular component as it is about personal taste of course.  I doubt that many people could easily and immediately identify any really significant differences between one amplifier and another (as long as they are from decent well respected hi-fi manufacturers) though I am not saying that there is none, but the differences can be quite small. However the differences between components such as loudspeakers and turntables is extremely significant (which is why I now have a Technics SL-1200 of course) as is the huge difference between different loudspeaker models.

The key is take Hi-Fi magazine's subjective opinions will a large dose of salt - avoiding misdirection and the biased influence of  magazines and dealers who appear to have some axe to grind. Use magazines as a guide to what's available, take notice of the product specifications - if the manufacturer dares to publish them, if they don't, don't buy - above all audition and listen to hear find the best sounding and most pleasing equipment.


Hi Fi World Magazine - a good magazine!

I wrote these pages because I felt frustrated that there is so much dubious advice written and printed. Our correspondent Euan Stuart points out that in actual fact: "....Hi-Fi World have been pretty much the ONLY paper magazine to champion the 1200"  "...the 1200/1210 series are superb value for money players, which can be upgraded  to majestic levels  - check out the Hi Fi World articles - nobody fits an SME V and Koetsu Rosewood to a deck they don't rate..."

If only I had read those editions of Hi-Fi World magazine! Thank you Euan.
The SL-1200 should have been obvious all along. I hope my experiences and research might prevent future and continued heartaches, headaches and bank-balance aches of people struggling with endless and fruitless tweeks and money draining 'essential upgrades'.

Bias

I must admit that I have enjoyed reading various Hi Fi magazines over the years, but as my own listening skills improved I have become better at weeding out the good from the bad as far as Hi Fi journalism goes.  While there are some excellent reviewers writing for certain magazines, some magazines appear to have gone very down market, in particular What Hi Fi Sound and Vision which now seems to reside in the Clarksonesque school of sensationalist writing. 

While there may be one or two informative pieces between the glossy covers, it seems to me that most of the (so called) reviews are extremely superficial, highly subjective, very lightweight and generally omit any meaningful analysis or product specifications and are written in an unnecessarily sensationalist and typically 'blokey' FHM style that appears to have little relevance to serious music lovers and real stereo enthusiasts.

I appreciate that forming a personal opinion of hi fi sound is subjective, but surely there should be some objectivity in a written review and some of the reviews I have read must simply be plain wrong:  I have been out and listened to some of the 5 star recommended equipment and found that, at best, it sounds disappointing and at worst it's just plain 'B' awful.

Amazingly some of the shops that are selling this 5 Star junk even agree!  One frustrated hi-fi dealer exclaimed - well what sort of  hi fi journalism do you expect from people who are more used to writing for caravanning magazines and the like - i.e. they are just writing stuff for writing's sake and the end of month wage packet. They are not real stereo enthusiasts at all. They tell readers to buy this rubbish and we shift loads of the stuff, even if it isn't any good.

That's journalism.  Why let facts get in the way of a sensational but ultimately pointless (and sometimes downright misleading) article.

I often suspect, and one or two hi fi shops have confirmed this, that some hi fi magazines award top marks and highly recommend mediocre products so long as the manufacturer in question places lots of advertising with the publication.  I may be cynical, but I now take most of what I read with a kilogram or two of salt as I get increasingly annoyed with the garbage written in certain H-Fi magazines (such as must-have loudspeaker or interconnect cables that can cost up to and over hundreds of pounds - of all this is "snake oil" for the gullible):  The only safe way to use such publications is to use them for clues as to what's currently on the market, then go out and listen taking care to ignore all the shop assistant's biased ravings!


Some Funny Links

Here are some brilliant examples that you might think could have been given Best Buy Five Star reviews in a certain hi-fi magazine. High Wot Fi?:

http://sound.westhost.com/satcure/scam.htm

http://www.wrightsaerials.tv/ymbj/directionalcoaxial.html




In response to Andy Cullen who argued that I unfairly decried certain turntables and did not represent them - including an Ariston RD110SL - fairly, I have to say that this entire article was written because of the entirely miserable experience that I personally had while attempting to find my own perfect turntable solution. I had to conclude that it, in my experience, it was these very  products that were being unfairly represented in certain parts of the hi-fi press and these pages are the counter-balance.

"Dear Andy,

Thank you for your email.

Over the years I have gone on far too many wild goose chases prompted by some of the reviews in the hi-fi press to audition their recommended "5 Star" products, only to find that they are poor beyond belief and therefore to come away either disappointed, disillusioned or with an entirely different product.

This was especially true of Project and Rega turntables. I even had one dealer say exactly - "I know they're total c*** but we have to stock them because What Hi Fi keep recommending them". Therefore I went away and tried the SL-1200 and was utterly delighted.

This was just one of several similar experiences.

Therefore the article was written to put my side of the story - just my own views - to balance the material written by *some* of the hi-fi press - who get very wide and monthly publicity. Since I (and many others) have been astonished at some of the drivel written in some of the Hi-Fi press, I consider that to be the balance.

It's quite true that these pages are not a forum or a message board, though I will say that there are indeed some other references to belt drive T/T's that are not berated, and the Ariston might well be included one day on those pages as, perhaps, an example of an alternative T/T that readers might want to consider to play their record collection.

In the mean time there is plenty enough coverage and publicity given to Rega and Project in many other publications. I merely offer my side of the story; the way I see it personally as a consumer.

I am sorry that you feel the way you do, but I am grateful for your email and for taking the trouble to get in touch.

May I wish you a good weekend and happy listening.

Best wishes,

Mike."

This is my counter-balance and I speak as I find. I have heard poor belt drive turntables and adequate belt drive turntables - but for the price (and that's the critical thing here - the price) the SL-1200 cannot be beaten.



CONCLUSIONS
.

Perfect Sound

Which is better? Vinyl or CD? There's only one way to find out.......... Sorry, this isn't Harry Hill's TV Burp!

Vinyl and CD are very different. The great advantage of CD is that it is free from problematical surface noise and static. A good digital recording should be technically better than an analogue recording.
 
The convenience and potential excellent quality of CD and other digital sources is undeniable, but some CD's can have poor sound quality - I have found some recordings that have rather course and 'gritty' treble and even suffer from some subtle and inexplicable but very noticeable distortions. What is difficult to explain is that the music reproduction from some digital CD's that are not obviously faulty can seem less musically satisfying than from a good analogue source. Perhaps there are some digital induced distortions that are at a very low level, so not immediately noticeable, but none the less make some CD's sound less than satisfying.

From the technical articles that I have read (I'll admit to never reading Philips Red Book, the bible of the Compact Disc standards) the CD format should provide near perfect sound reproduction, and I have no reason to disbelieve this.

These effects cannot be put down to a particular CD player, as they will be noticeable on budget decks as well as very expensive machines.
Perhaps this is due to poor production, or bad CD mastering or pressing, rather than an intrinsic defect of the CD system, but certainly there are some CD's really do suffer from nasty gritty digital edginess.

Over compressed mp3 tracks can also sound utterly dreadful.

The CD manufacturers slogan of the 1980's was 'Perfect Sound Forever', but even though CD reproduction is never plagued by such trouble as speed error, wow and flutter, end-of-side distortion, mis-tracking or crackles and will have lower noise and distortion and a much flatter frequency response, they can certainly be damaged by scratches, just like vinyl records, and subsequently suffer skipping, jumping, sticking and in bad cases may even be rendered completely un-playable.  These should be rare occurrences if one looks after a CD carefully. 

Listening to a perfect digital recording is quite a revelation and one can have no complaints whatsoever about the sound quality. Indeed Mike Brown has produced several CD's that have absolutely magical, perfect sound demonstrating what a genuinely good digital recording can sound like. When done properly, digital is undeniably best.
That said, I can get just as much - maybe more - enjoyment from playing records as I do from CD's. In fact I find vinyl far more fun - it's nice and big, the sleeve artwork is large and there is some satisfaction in having to handle the delicate media with great care - like a valuable antique!

That experience can make playing those cherished vinyl records somehow more rewarding. Certainly a high quality vinyl pressing will sound very good indeed and is different experience to digital, because the turntable and cartridge combination, being electro-mechanical, will have some sort of subtle acoustic effect on the reproduction.
Perhaps it's as much about emotion as it is about the actual sounds.

As was stated on the previous pages it is relatively easy to design and mass produce a CD player in the Far East that can sell in the UK for £100 to £200 that will make the basis for a very good sounding real Hi-Fi system. This is due to the fact that a CD player consists mostly of relatively inexpensive highly integrated electronics. These Large Scale Integrated circuits (LSI) will be extremely cheap to make when mass produced, unlike precision mechanical devices which will be relatively more expensive. 

It seems certain that it is rather more difficult to design and manufacture a satisfactory high quality turntable for £300 or £400 that will sound as good as that relatively cheap CD player in terms of high signal to noise ratio (lack of rumble and noise), lack of wow and flutter and perfect pitch stability.  This is because the requirements of a good sounding turntable are down to high precision engineering and manufacture which is more difficult to accomplish, and therefore very much more expensive, than producing electronic equipment such as CD players.  The costs of R&D and engineering for the CD player, or constituent components, are also borne over a very much larger production run than would be the case for a new turntable design.


I don't know what it is, but I like it.

It is true that record replay can sound utterly dire if played on poor equipment, and will sound extremely poor even if played on good equipment that has not  been set up and adjusted properly. That's the snag with vinyl - it takes some real effort to set up a turntable and cartridge properly in order to obtain really good sound quality.

Vinyl remains an extremely enjoyable medium and in many listener's opinion the sound of analogue LP's is much more preferable to digital CD.  So how can this be? 
I have taken good quality LPs and recorded the audio onto a PC as Wave files (.wav  not compressed mp3 or aac files) and then burned the resulting files to CD using Windows Media Player or Nero and the resulting CD is, I would say, all but indistinguishable from the original LP. Does this prove that CD makes perfect copies of  the source material? Perhaps so.  But why do so many people (60 percent according to one recent listening test) prefer a piece of music played from vinyl to the identical piece of music played from CD?

Ideally the frequency response of a cartridge should be flat, but it is known that each cartridge has its own subtly different character. So maybe one factor in the LP vs CD debate may be that vinyl record reproduction is itself subject to its own form of distortion - but perhaps the ear, or a least some listeners' ears, regard this as a rather 'nice' distortion. The frequency response may not be as ruler flat as that achieved by CD players, but the audio signature of vinyl reproduction, in the form of a slight emphasis of certain frequencies, making records can sound smoother and warmer, can perhaps make for a pleasurable audio experience. Maybe this is part of the reason that can make listening to an LP a very rewarding?  This is a very difficult phenomenon to explain.

Perhaps it's a purely psychological effect that renders LP reproduction as a far more rewarding and physical experience: The listener has to carefully remove the beautiful black vinyl from its sleeve, enjoy its physical feel as it is placed onto the turntable and clean it, then gently lower an elegant tonearm (a Technics SL-1200 tonearm, of course!) onto the playing surface of the record then sit back, relax and enjoy the
nostalgia of remembering where all the clicks and pops are from all those years ago when the record was first played!

Some people still argue, on the other hand, that a good analogue recording really is better than digital, After all the word analogue means an exact copy, whereas a digital recording is split up into jagged bits of data, the ones and zeros that computer binary code uses, that attempt to represent a musical wave form. Well, it's an opinion!

The main thing is to sit back and enjoy your collection of favourite and cherished LP's and singles

Happy Listening!





More About Cartridges and Other Things >

Technics SL-1200 MkII >      Cartridges >

 
Cleaning Your Records >

Build A High Quality RIAA Phono Preamp >

Comments >

More about cartridges & alignment >



What Other Equipment Do I Need To Enjoy The SL-1200 MK2? >

How To Digitize Your Vinyl Records - i.e record music onto your computer >




Technics SL-1200 MKII


Links:

Other Technics SL1200 websites:



http://www.tnt-audio.com/sorgenti/technics_sl1200_2_e.html

http://www.kabusa.com
 
"Music is the shorthand of emotion" :
www.audiocognoscenti.com

Technics Repair - www.technics1210repair.co.uk


Other Links

Sound production, mastering, restoration and more - http://www.originalsound.co.uk
.

[I must reiterate that I don’t work for any company or organisation that has any connection with the manufacture or sale of the Technics SL-1200 series turntables.  It is when one experiences an epiphany as great as the one I have experienced with my SL-1210 MkII that realise that you just need to shout it from the rooftops.  Lacking any suitable rooftops, I am shouting it from the world wide web!]

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The opinions expressed on this website are entirely the personal views of the author. The author has no connection or commercial interest in any company or organisation in the audio or radio industry. No liability can be accepted for what the reader or viewer of these pages may or may not do with the information provided therein. Information and content within these pages may not be reproduced without the express written permission of the author.

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