With sales of over 3.5 million units, the Technics SL-1200 is one of the best-selling turntables of all time. It launched back in 1972, and as any well-travelled DJ will tell you, it helped to create modern DJ culture and revolutionise how people listen to music of all genres all over the world. So what made it such a success?
A revolution in music enjoyment
The key innovation differentiating the SL-1200 from most of its rivals is how the turntable platter is driven. Back in the 1950s and 60s, turntables took one of two designs: either belt-driven, or rim-driven. Both of these use a mechanism to adjust the motor to the appropriate speed. Not only does this mean a delay in the turntable getting up to the correct speed, it also causes vibrations which can spoil the sound output.
Not so with direct drive turntables, like the SL-1200. Because they have a higher torque than rival designs, they have a faster start-up speed and are less susceptible to extraneous forces, meaning less distortion.
Belt and rim drives also use a rubber belt to rotate the platter like a pulley – this rubber can perish and can need replacing, whereas direct drive turntables are maintenance-free.
But that’s not the only explanation for the SL-1200’s enduring appeal. The other is Technics’ unwavering dedication to sound quality.
A passion for audio
This has been at the heart of everything Technics has done since its first product launched in 1965. The Technics 1 was a closed two-way speaker system that, despite its diminutive size, achieved a bass quality usually only heard from floorstanding speakers at the time. This technical nous, combined with a passion for recreating audio as the artist intended, has run through Technics’ DNA ever since.
Its products reproduce audio signals as clearly and precisely as possible. Such is its dedication to audio fidelity, it has drawn up 100 internal guidelines consisting of various numerical performance requirements, design standards and a special selection of materials to be used. These must be adhered to for every single product Technics creates.
This helps foster a culture of innovation within the company that has been evident since its inception. The SL-1200 wasn’t actually the first direct drive turntable in the world – that honour goes to Technics’ SP-10, which launched two years earlier, in 1970. Because of its innovative nature, the SP-10 was quite expensive at the time, but the SL-1200 built on its revolutionary nature in a more affordable, consumer-friendly package. The results speak for themselves: 3.5 million units sold, a crowning place in the legacy of DJ culture, and 50 years at the top of the direct drive turntable market.
Rival brands saw the advantages of direct drive turntables, and followed suit, launching models of their own. But none came close to those created by Technics, who by now had built considerable brand prestige as the inventor of direct drive. At one point, Technics accounted for 30% of all direct drive turntables sold.
Numerous other groundbreaking Technics turntables followed, including the SL-10 – a fully automatic turntable – in 1979. The SL-10 was so innovative it earned a place in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. How many record players can you say that about?
Looking to the future
With such an enduring legacy, it might be tempting to live in the past, but Technics continues to look to the future. Its latest products prove that it continues to innovate to improve sound performance by eliminating noise and distortion from audio reproductions, creating a truly immersive audio experience as if the artist was performing live in the room with you.
A lot has changed in the decades since the first direct drive turntable revolutionised music listening forever. But one thing that remains the same is Technics’ dedication to producing the finest sound quality possible.