I am reviewing upgrades for the Technics SL-1200/mk II, particularly the KAB PS-1200GX (power conditioner), DC1200 (regulator) and SX1200 (strobe disabler), sold as a package for $260.
In the summer of ’10 I acquired a Technics SL-1200/IIa from eBay. Within the first week I noticed that the transformer was transmitting some mechanical vibration to the cartridge. If you have one you can verify this yourself. Turn on your amplification and set the volume to the usual level; with the ‘1200 turned off, lower the needle to the lead in groove on the motionless LP. When the needle touches the LP the hum level should not change. Now turn ON the ‘1200, but don’t start the motor. Repeat the operation of lowering the needle to the motionless record, but this time you will hear a pronounced hum elevation when the stylus makes contact. With the ‘table turned on there is current flow to the transformer whose mechanical vibration is picked up by the cartridge. This noise will persist when the record is playing. The fact that the hum drops when the needle is lifted even 1 mm from the LP surface makes it clear that the cause is mechanical vibration, not electromagnetic induction. I removed the transformer, bolted it onto a wooden block and sat it on a different shelf with some connecting wire. Under the transformer and block I placed some packing foam. It looked rather shabby, but the problem was solved.
I further improved my turntable by upgrading the stock tonearm to an Origin Live Silver Mk II. It’s a wonderful arm. All the positive press about it is true, and you can check out an excellent review in sixmoons.com. As terrific as it was, the new tonearm didn’t solve a persistent problem with the ‘1200 that others have commented about: a dull recessed midrange. I swapped cartridges and made countless mods to my tube preamp to open things up, but to no avail. What solved the problem was replacing the stock thick rubber mat with a Funk Firm achromat 1200 – the version customized to work with the elevated outer rim of the platter on a Technics turntable. It takes only 10 seconds to do a quick swap between mats to confirm: muddy, diffuse, dull sound with stock rubber mat; lively, more solid, better defined, and more accurate tonal balance with the Achromat. And realize I had already added some stick-on Cascade VB-1 sheet to the underside of the platter to dampen its ringing. Apparently the aluminum platter needs a lot of help in this respect.
As the OL silver tonearm uses a Rega 3-point mount, by installing it I surrendered the ability to easily change the VTA that the Technics arm supplied. Later I took Pete Riggle’s VTAF (Vertical Tracking Angle adjuster on the Fly) along with his armboard adapter for Technics turntables. The adapter is superbly well built and improved on both the Technics and the OL mounts. The VTAF allows easy VTA adjustment and decouples the tonearm from the plinth. Big upgrade in convenience; huge upgrade in sonics! You can read about it here: http://www.vtaf.com/id81.html.
I mention the above to show that I was starting from a heavily tweaked and much improved turntable - one in which I might be able to discerned fine differences in further modifications. I’m an upgrade freak and can hardly pass up any kind of tweak or mod. But I hesitated to take the KAB power supply/conditioner, as I felt I had already achieved much of what it had to offer by removing the transformer. I contacted Ken Barton who referred me to Zakesman’s review: http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/frr.pl?ranlg&1093010514&openflup&25&4#25. The fact that he could switch readily between the internal power supply (PS) and the KAB PS, and described much improved sound with the latter, closed the deal for me.
I got the hardware from KAB: PS-1200GX (power conditioner), in which the DC1200 (PS regulator) and SX1200 (strobe disabler) are included with the price. The PS-1200 is actually two units: the power conditioner and a switch-mode PS that plugs into the outlet. I don’t want to call the PS a “wall wart”, as it’s more like the AC adapter box your laptop. The main PS1200 box filters the voltage from the wall wart, er I mean, power supply. Both the output cable from the PS box and the output cable from the PS1200 are about 2 m – sufficiently long that they can be separated on different shelves. The PS1200 output cable is apparently comprised of 20 AWG stranded wire and runs inside the turntable and connects to the DC1200 board. The DC and SX are circuit boards that the user bolts in and wires up. The DC1200 regulator board replaces a board that contains a single transistor. It was a breeze to install and required only a wire stripper and screwdriver. The SX unit was supposed to come with wires pre-attached to the board and wire nuts, so that a user with no soldering iron could install it. That wasn’t the case; but fortunately, I’m quite handy with a soldering iron, so connecting was no trouble. The papers that came with the devices had minimal installation instructions, so one really had to use the instructions at the KAB website to figure things out. There was no need to remove the bottom plate of the ‘table - only the cover below the platter. For me, it was nice to say “goodbye” to the unsightly three sets of wires dangling out the back of the ‘table: AC line, transformer in, and transformer out. I suppose that most installers would leave the original AC power cord in place, but I snipped it out. It is no longer needed.
I installed everything at once, and then listened. I can say without reservation that I’m happy with my purchase. With the preamp attenuators in their usual position, as soon as I threw the switch, I noticed that hum was lower by 8-10 dB than before the installation. Cool! Most – maybe all – other Technics SL-1200 owners would not have removed the transformer, as I did, and would likely enjoy around 20 dB of total noise reduction. Reducing this amount of noise will unmask some serious detail! For that alone, it’s worth the cost.
The strobe disabler didn’t seem to do much to improve sound quality, but as I mentioned, Ken Barton now throws it in with the deal. Okay, maybe there was a tiny bit more clarity with the strobe off, but the difference was not pronounced in my system. The strobe can be enabled/disabled by holding the ON switch for 6 seconds, so it’s easy to do an A/B comparison. Apparently the strobe light mainly serves to reassume us humans that the quartz clock is doing its job.
But regarding the sonic improvements wrought by the other hardware – Wow! With a stiffer power supply, one might expect more sure-footed dynamics and better bass articulation. I got that – bass lines in either electric bass or bowed double bass are easy to follow. The dynamic aspect of plucked bass (and other strings, too) in the Tchaikovsky scherzo movement of the Symphony # 4, was as convincingly real in its tactility as I ever heard in playback. Both low level and macro dynamics improved. And there was more: more detail, more immediacy; mids were lusher, and highs clearer. Everything just seemed faster and more immediate, as I said. In short, I heard pretty much everything that Zakesman described, even though I started without the transformer vibration. The only drawback is that with other sources of noise vanquished, that other noise bugaboo (record surface noise) is more noticeable. What are you going to do? Shut up and enjoy the music.
Super table. Some "audiophiles" might not agree-but this model replaced my DUAL (CS-5000) so that shows how much I love this unit. I'm considering a cartidge upgrade..from a STANTON 681 Mk3 EEE to a GRADO ( prob. the Gold 1) to improve the performance even MORE. PLUS, as I've heard from many reviews, I won't encounter the infamouse "Grado Hum" on the 1200. Can't go wrong. It's out of production now, but if at all possible, try to get your hands on one. PROBLEM SOLVED !!!
Needless to say, this is one turntable that you either love or hate. I love it. Now I want to say that along with the 1200mk2 I have a VPI Scout and the Gyro SE with the Michell TecnoArm, TecnoWeight upgrade and the VTA adjustment sleeve. I have a Shure V15xMR on the Gyro SE, a Aurum Beta on the VPI and on the 1200mk2 I have the Denon dl103R. I have two turntables hooked into my Pre-Amp at all times. I have never given up on vinyl so I listen to lp's all the time along with my CD's. It's not important about all the other gear I have but because what is important is that we enjoy the music. And what makes one man happy may not make another but that doesn't mean a thing. If you are happy then that is all that counts. Ok, about the 1200mk2. I always have the mk2 two on line. I rotate the vpi and the michell all the time but that damn 1200mk2 just doesn't want to leave the system for a rest and I'm running it stock. No fancy upgrades for the technics. The Denon dl103R is very happy with the technics and unless you have the ears of an eagel and are more than just gifted with an audiophile "golden ear," I don't believe you will have anything to complain about this classic turntable. It's reliable, built like a tank, and this is one of the things that annoys many people, and the direct drive is dead on and smooth as silk. By the way, it really is important to periodically put bearing oil on the technics. This only only have to do about every three to five years and you can buy it at KAB for not to much money. Ok, look, I read Stereophile Mag. every month. I have been a subscriber for about fifteen years and I have come to understand that if you take the reviews too seriously there will never be any turntable out there that will sound good to you. Thing is that most of that "not sounding good," will be a product of psychoacoustics. I'm telling you if you are on the market for a turntable, maybe the last you'll need, then you have to do yourself the great favor of getting a listen to the Technics 1200 series. Look, I'm 62years old. I have spent a fortune over the years chasing that elusive audiophile sound and looking back I could have saved a lot of money just trusting my ears and not some salesman pushing the exotic stuff. If I had could only keep one table it would be the 1200mk2. In fact I am going to order the 1210m5g because the time is coming when these turntables are going to sky rocket in price. Oh, and forget the DJ link. These tables were first constructed for listening to music before they were opted by the DJ's for scratching. anyway, trust me, you won't go wrong with a 1200 series and a good cartridge.
I have had a Linn Sondek LP12 with an Ittok arm since 1982. It sounds great, but was a pain. Finally, when the power supply went, I learned that a new power supply would cost twice as much as a new SL-1200mk2.
I decided enough was enough--I wanted a turntable that just worked. And the Technics does just that. It is beautifully built, absolutely silent, and easy to use. It seems immune to room vibration. Did the Linn sound better? Sure--a little, and by that I mean very little. But the Technics is less fussy, and from all I can tell, far more reliable. You are also not expected to spend a fortune to regularly tune or upgrade the thing.
I already love the Technics, probably for the same reason that I love my Honda Accord. It just does its job really well, day after day, at a very fair (but not cheap) price.
used this turntable for many years now and truouble free use is the best way to describe this. been dropped from about 3 feet, and no problems, still sounds great,..i use a dj cart because of the high output, i used to use a ortofon- x5-mc, because it sounds great, but the dj cart just snap right in the tonearm, very easy and great sound tight bass, great highs, and midrange is excellent, guitar solos are ear rattling w/ this.