Technics SL-1500C Turntable
Technics SL-1500C Turntable REVIEW
It’s rare to come across a product that’s practically flawless, but GARY STEEL is so taken with Technics’ entry-level turntable that he gave it Witchdoctor’s coveted award.
As my rapidly diminishing circle of close friends can confirm, I’m rarely lost for words about anything, least of all music-playing apparatuses. It’s the lot of the born writer, I guess, this need to think carefully about everything observed and experienced and then tell the world about it, even if the world could care less. But here’s the thing: having reluctantly returned the review sample of the Technics SL-1500C to its parent company, Panasonic, I’ve found it really hard to articulate my thoughts about it.
Which of course, is of little interest to readers expecting useful, bite-sized descriptions and analyses of a product. Sorry. It’s just that on this occasion I felt it worth pointing out, because it relates back to the item in question – a turntable that is so adept and so perfectly up to the task that all I really want to say is that if this is your price point, then this is your turntable.
During my years working for hi-fi magazine Tone I learned to be a bit cynical about What Hi-Fi? award winners, but the SL-1500’s five-out-of-five-star rating in this case feels just right. International audiophile publications have all given an enthusiastic seal of approval to this model, which sits at the bottom end of the Technics range in pricing terms.
First impressions out of the box were that Technics, in recreating itself after some years lost in the abyss, has put a tremendous amount of R&D and loving care into its new turntable range.
If I was to say that the turntable was built like a brick shithouse (to use an antiquated saying) I’d be telling the truth about the build quality without getting to the essence of its looks. The 1500C is the opposite of all those dainty European hi-fi turntables with three pods for legs and will appeal to the music fan who prefers a slightly industrial look. It’s heavy as. Personally, I think it’s a fine-looking specimen and only wish I had fat, chunky speakers to match the visual aesthetic.
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Most vinyl lovers will be aware of the iconic SL-1200 and how it was for many years the only real choice for serious DJs. This infinitely robust turntable was never considered an audiophile item, but many dedicated hi-fi nerds modified their SL-1200s with audiophile tonearms, cartridges and styli. Then of course, for reasons known only to Panasonic, the 1200 was discontinued, and years later completely reborn with an audiophile finish (no mods required) at a much more expensive price bracket. The 1500 is like a no-frills version of the 1200, but while it lacks some of its handy features there’s no perceptible loss in hi-fidelity.
Compared to those fussy European turntables, setting up the Technics is dead easy. Although I’m old enough to have started my audiophile journey when turntables were the main mode of sonic transport, my failing eyesight and shaky hands make the typically fiddly tonearm (etc) adjustments something to fear. And yet, I had the 1500 out of the box and up and running within 30 minutes.
The one thing I struggled with at first was the cartridge, which was found in a small plastic bag encased in a similarly coloured hard plastic protective sheath of almost the same dimensions and colours, thereby making it difficult to figure out what was what. For a while there, I thought the protective sheath was the cartridge and that the needle was missing!
Getting the rest of it set up was almost a joyful experience, especially placing the impressively solid platter and its heavy rubber mat, then firing it up for the first time with its simple touchpad.
I chose a random selection of vinyl from my collection to avoid the tendency to play audiophile-quality vinyl, as the intention was to figure out how the turntable would deal with a real-world selection scenario. First up was the Pink Floyd compilation album Relics (1971), a New Zealand pressing I’ve had since 1972 and which still sounds great despite just a little bit of surface noise. What was immediately apparent was that – unlike my mid-price Pro-Ject turntable which tends to thin out the sonics – the Technics made the music sound full and bristling with life. Tracks like the trippy ‘Careful With That Axe, Eugene’ and the jazz-influenced ‘Biding My Time’ were reproduced with such vibrational energy that I had no desire to flick to Tidal Hi-Fi for a digital comparison. And that’s really saying something.
The 1970 Pretty Things album Parachute is a real doozy of post-Abbey Road rock that’s somewhere between psychedelia and progressive, and I just had to listen to my mint original UK pressing all the way through. It’s a beautifully engineered album but the kind of overdubbing employed was in its infancy, and that gives the record a strange out-of-kilter allure. The way the Technics brought out the layers and projected them through space was very different to the rather pinched, compressed sound I’ve heard on CD.
The self-titled 1980 debut by The Psychedelic Furs is an early production by Steve Lillywhite and bears his unique style – brash and loud and exciting but something your ears tire of quickly. It’s a great album though and ‘India’ followed by ‘Sister Europe’ make for a great bracket of simultaneously moody and raging rock. It sounded spectacular on the 1500 and I kept on wanting to turn up the volume just a little bit more.
Random Hold is another ‘new wave’-era band that never quite broke through to stardom despite an amazing pedigree. Their self-titled 1979 EP sounds incredible on the pessimistic track ‘Meat’ and the 1500C does it justice, capturing the full force of the detonating drums, the physically wrenching bass and the swirl of synths.
The Technics proved itself just as adept on acoustic music and really brought my Direct Metal Mastered pressing of The Horace Silver Quintet’s 1959 Finger Poppin’ alive. Once again, the music was rendered in such a way that I just had to listen to the whole disc.
New Zealand group Split Enz is celebrating the 40th anniversary of their number 1 album True Colours with a remixed vinyl edition. Sadly, my copy didn’t arrive in time to spin it on the Technics, so I reached back to my 1980 laser-etched copy, which sounded so good that it brought clouds of nostalgia flooding back.
I listened to dozens of discs but the last one I’ll mention is one of my favourite progressive rock albums: Emerson Lake & Palmer’s Trilogy (1972). This is one of my all-time favourites and I’ve got the various issues over the years including the recent Steven Wilson remix and the surround sound mix, but for the benefit of this review, I hit the 1500C with my original NZ pressing, which was purchased the day the album hit the shops. And you know what? It sounded amazing. The Technics really made it sound larger than life, reinstating the organic feeling I hadn’t experienced since I was first listening to this brilliant record on my brother’s 2.5-watt Bell Oriana. Except it sounded approximately a thousand times better on the Technics.
So, what to make of the Technics SL-1500C? At $1999 it’s more than double the price of an entry level Pro-Ject and other well-reviewed below the $1K threshold. At that price I’d want to make damn sure it was the turntable I was going to keep for a really long time. Would it be worth spending even a bit more to get a Technics with additional features? That depends entirely on the inclinations and pockets of the prospective purchasers.
For this listener, the 1500C is very tempting. The turntable is incredibly well built and it’s hard to find fault with it. It’s a real workhorse and yet its performance is not perfunctory. It’s a coreless direct drive so there’s no farting around with belts when you change speeds. It comes with an excellent Ortofon 2M Red cartridge for convenience, though of course you can upgrade. It can be set to lift off at the end of a record if you’re the kind of person that gets distracted and ends up in another room (or another house) before the end of a side and then forgets about it. But apart from that it’s all manual, which means it’s really simple and there’s less to go wrong.
There’s something comforting in knowing that Technics have concentrated on getting the basics right, and avoided the usual fripperies, although it does boast one thing that many turntables lack: its own onboard phono stage. That means if your amp doesn’t have a dedicated phono stage (or a rather poor one) then the option is there, and the 1500’s phono stage is really good.
I hesitate to call the Technics SL-1500C a workhorse, because it’s a mean machine that is capable of stunning musicality. But it really is a hybrid that gives the owner a taste of the legendary Technics SL turntable build, while sounding at least as good as any other turntable at this price point. Will a yet more expensive audiophile turntable give you an even better musical experience? Possibly. Locally, there are Rega and Mofi decks available that might have an edge in overall musical sophistication, but they’re more expensive and lack the practical aspect. For me, the Technics will be a hard act to follow.
- Type: Direct Drive Manual Turntable
- Turntable Speeds: 33-1/3, 45 and 78 r/min
- Starting Torque: 0.18 N.m / 1.8 kg.cm (1.56 lbs-in)
- Build-up Characteristics: 0.7 s. from standstill to 33 1/3 rpm
- Wow And Flutter: 0.025 % W.R.M.S.
- Turntable Platter: Aluminium diecast
- Diameter: 332 mm (13-5/64 inch)
- Weight: Approx. 2.0 kg (4.5 lbs) (Including Turntable Sheet)
- Type: Universal Static Balance
- Effective Length: 230 mm (9-1/16?)
- Overhang: 15 mm (19/32?)
- Tracking Error Angle: Within 2° 32’?(at the outer groove of 30 cm (12?) record), Within 0° 32’?(at the inner groove of 30 cm (12?) record)
- Offset Angle: 22°
- Arm-height Adjustment Range: 0 – 6 mm
- Stylus Pressure Adjustment Range: 0 – 4 g (Direct Reading)
- Head Shell Weight: Approx. 7.6 g
- Applicable Cartridge Weight Range:
(without auxiliary weight): 5.6 – 12.0 g / 14.3 – 20.7 g (including headshell)
(with auxiliary weight): 10.0 – 16.4 g / 18.7 – 25.1 g (including headshell)
- Head Shell Terminal Lug: 1.2 mm? 4-pin terminal lug
- Audio Output: PHONO (Pin Jack) x 1
EARTH TERMINAL x 1
LINE (Pin Jack) x 1
- Power Supply: AC 120 V, 60 Hz
- Power Consumption: 8 W (0.2W Standby)
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 453 x 169 x 372 mm
17-27/32 × 6-21/32 × 14-21/32 inch
- Weight: Approx. 9.9 kg
Approx. 21.2 lbs
- Turntable sheet
- Dust cover
- EP record adaptor
- Balance weight
- Auxiliary weight
- Cartridge(Ortofon 2M Red)
- PHONO cable
- PHONO earth lead
- AC power supply cord
- Owner’s Manual