17 May 2009

The Technics SL1200 FAQ

The Technics SL1200 FAQ

IMPORTANT: Use this information at your own discretion -- if you screw up your turntables it isn't my fault. Treat this FAQ as being purely anecdotal - I won't guarantee accuracy. If you go ahead though, be sure you have a solid idea of what you are about to do and observe all electrical precautions where pertinent. You should have some electronics experience if you open up your deck.

Initially this was going to be only a tweaker FAQ but there isn't that much more general stuff so I put it in anyways. This info checks out on Technics SL-1200Mk2 and SL-1210Mk2 turntables. I haven't looked at SL-1200Mk3 turntables which are supposed to have improved electronics over a standard Mk2. The physical stuff will be the same though. Also, the electrical information applies to the Technics SP-25's (they use the same drive electronics/motor). SP-25's are broadcast turntables FYI. This is all pretty easy stuff but if you need a more detailed explanation ask for help.

I've given up on the tonearm disassembly - I've done it but you need pictures to describe how to take it apart/put it back together. This also includes replacing the locking clip and calibrating the anti-skate knob as both require extensive disassembly. If I'm in a good mood I may try to describe the process in the future.

1.0 - 1200 history

Sometime in the early 70's Technics released the original SL-1200 as a hi-fi turntable. Then sometime around 1978-79 they did some work improving the motor, redesigning the casing, adding a separate ground wire, etc. and released the SL-1200Mark2. This is what the majority of DJ's have and this design still endures today. The SL-1200Mk2 is the only version officially authorized for sale in the U.S. by Technics. The following derivatives are available on the gray market in the U.S. and are international versions (110/220V). The SL-1210Mk2 is essentially the 1200Mk2 except in black. Everything else is the same(## word has it that the 1210 is lighter than the 1200 and is more susceptible to rumble,
etc.). (## To confirm that the 1200 and 1210 Mk2's are the same electronically speaking, the service manuals are identical for either model.)

The SL-1200Mk3 is also in black but is supposed to have a better motor and other improvements. If you want to find out what region of the world your deck was destined for look at the SERIAL NUMBER label. This is not the black label on the
back. Some of you don't have this info printed next to your serial # so you'll be out of luck. Next to the serial number is the model number: "SL- 1200MK2-MC" The "MC" part tells you where it was destined for:

MC - Canada
E - Scandinavia/Switz.
XL - Australia
EG - Germany
EB - Belgium
EH - Holland
EF - France
Ei - Italy
XA - The rest of the world (I think they also use XG here)

There are also a few other codes not worth mentioning. An easy way to tell if it is NOT a US version is to look for the 110/220V switch under the platter. The other giveaway is a Euro-plug with a US-adapter.

2.0 Tonearms & Cartridges
2.1 Balancing your tonearm

I've seen many differing methods for doing this so I've included descriptions from others on the ways they do it:

Method #1:

The way I do it with Stanton 500AL's: mount the cartridge in the headshell pulled almost all the way to the front. Make sure it looks straight in relation to the headshell when you put it down on the record - readjust as necessary. Put the height ring at 2.5mm. For most purposes I reverse the weight on the tonearm, push it all the way forward and set the anti-skate to the max. If you try scratching and the needle jumps back a lot turn it down in 1/2-gram increments as necessary. Pete Ashdown's method below is the same way I set it up for listening to my collection. Except I put the weight at about 2.25 grams. No coins on either setup. You should really look at your technique if it skips no matter
what you do. I reserve coins for really bad situations like springy floors. Some may not like the reversal of the weight but unfortunately, the 500AL's need at least about 3 grams for scratching, and calibrating it the way you are supposed to get's you at most about 2.5 grams.

Method #2:
This is what I ended up with on Stanton 680 cartridges.
Use the included weight that comes with the Technics head shells. Put a record on so you don't damage the needle, then swing it out over the record. Adjust the weight until it "floats" level above the record. Turn the weight indicator to "0". Now adjust the height until it is close to the surface of the record. This was 1.5 for me. Adjust the weight to 1.5 for just home listening, 3.5 for practicing and performance. Use an unpressed side of a 12" or a 12" with a large run- off to set the anti-skate. Put the needle on unpressed vinyl and adjust the skate (while
spinning) so it stands still. On 1.5, it should be about 1.3. On 3.5, you can't adjust it high enough, so just crank it to the max.

After much discussion on the bpm mailing list, the consensus on anti-skate settings is to set it at 0 if you scratch mix or at a number equal to the weight on the cartridge if you just listen to your records without touching them... The idea is that the anti-skate mechanism in the turntable is designed for normal record playing. A side note: several of the 1200's I have worked on do not have the anti-skate knob properly calibrated much like two decks with two different speeds at a scale setting of +1%.

If anyone else has successful balancing techniques that differ significantly from what has been already described get in contact with me.

2.2 - Other tonearm/cartridge anecdotes

It's supposed to be a DJ's secret that angling the cartridge inwards a few degrees (5-15) helps keep the needle in the groove when scratching. I haven't tried this but if you do be forewarned that this may wear out your records faster. It would probably be a bad idea to try this with nonspherical styli as well.
I saw FM20 (QBert et.al. and crew - 1992 DMC champs) perform here and I noticed that they had their tonearm heights maxed out and were not using any Stanton carts (xcept for one deck with a 500AL when they replaced a headshell). There are supposed to be Shure carts perfect for scratching -- I don't know which ones. Some people set their height rings to 0 though.

A more accurate way of aligning your cartridge in the headshell is with a GeoDisc from Mobile Field Sound Labs (?? - they press up those gold CD's nowadays) probably hard to find but I have one at work. Some say that the headshells on the 1210's vibrate more than those on the 1200's but on the 1210 I had for a while it wasn't any different from the 1200's. My guess is that the adjustments were done less critically on the 1210's since they aren't 'officially' offered for sale in North America and much of Europe. Read below if yours does.

2.3 - Which cartridge to get?

Stanton 500AL's are cheapest, decent, and can take a lot of abuse. You can run down to Radio Shack and get one in an emergency if necessary. Be careful not to buy the broadcast versions - make sure the needle is in WHITE plastic - NOT dark blue. If you get stuck with a blue one you can buy a replacement styli and replace the blue one. The model to look for is D5107A. This is the same one RS sells. You can also replace the styli with the D5107E which gives you the elliptical stylus.
Stanton 500EL's are rugged, have a better freq.response over the straight AL's (due to the elliptical styli) and still relatively cheap. Basically the
same cartridge body as the AL xcept with the D5107E styli.
Stanton 680EL's are popular with a lot of people for the elliptical needle (to help keep the needle in the groove) and for the slightly better response over the 500's. The 680AL has the spherical styli on it me thinks.
There's the new Stanton 890 which costs a lot but which has the 20-20k response. I haven't seen anyone using these...they probably behave the same as 680's from what I gather. Ortofon's (in general) look sharp and sound a lot better than Stanton's but are hard to find, expensive, and you can't put coins on the
Concorde Pro (xcept maybe if you have Danish coins...). You can't beat the ease of installation with a C-Pro though.
There is a Shure line but as mentioned above I'm not familiar with them at all. (someone needs to fill me in...)

more soon...