by Nick Seiflow
Here’s one for the Gipper; the Technics SL-10 linear-tracking direct drive turntable. It’s odd how some tables just get to you – and for me, this is one of those tables. Yes, it’s just a Technics (SP10 Mk III anyone?), but it’s extremely capable.
Wee it may be: light is is not. The first reaction picking it up is surprise; at 14lbs it is much heavier than expected. Exactly the same size as an LP cover, and only 3.5 inches tall this turntable will fit just about anywhere. In these days of ‘efficient’ living spaces this is a real bonus.The sprung feet have excellent compliance (Technics used to do a very good foot when they wanted) and when this little puppy plants itself on the table it doesn’t move. These feet are actually very effective at not transmitting vibration, and repeated banging on the table next to the table did next to nothing to disturb its composure.
The exterior is typical Technics: simple silver-grey painted aluminum, a few brushed chrome buttons, dark plexiglass lid and that’s that. Minimalistic and highly attractive, it makes a refreshing change from the bright colours and blinginess of many of today’s offerings. In fact, it doesn’t look like a turntable, and for this fact alone it deserves a design award.
Opening the well weighted lid reveals a few switches; speed, on/off, auto/manual selector, manual rotation switch (for cleaning the record) and a nicely articulated clamp with built-in strobe markings. Inside the lid itself there is the arm – all four inches of it – and the necessary tracks and guides for moving the arm across the disc. The simple black cover on the lid hides quite a bit of business; a motor, gears, thread drive for moving the arm, and a large circuit board. Of course, if you don’t take the table apart most of this will forever be invisible. Closing the lid feels solid and authoritative: all that’s left is to switch on, select play (I chose auto, so didn’t have to use the cue button), select repeat, or not, and sit back. The table makes little or no noise in operation, and there are couple of glowing red lights to indicate status and stylus position (including one for the strobe) and the general feeling is that this is not a cheap vinyl spinner. The Play and Stop switches on the top deck are multi-function: and deserve a brief mention. Pressing Play lightly advances the arm slowly; further pressure increases the speed. Pressing the Stop switch likewise will perform these functions in reverse. The cueing button mutes the output momentarily; another pleasant feature.
The platter is solid and damped underneath with a non-resonant compound. The 45rpm single adapter is built in and captive. Looking closely at the thick rubber mat reveals three radial apertures: these are for automatic record sensing. Technics supplied two paper mats to place over the rubber for playing transparent discs; no doubt these will have wandered far away by now, but wouldn’t be hard to recreate if needed.
Looking at the back reveals a socket for a power cord, RCA jacks, and more.
There is also a 12V input – a great option, and intended for use in the car (!) There is also a switch labelled MC/MM. Indeed; the SL10 originally came equipped with a fine moving-coil cartridge, the EPC 310, a cartridge which still stands comparison to modern high priced devices (now sadly virtual unobtanium) For this cartridge the built-in moving coil amplifier would be used: no need for external boxes and all those annoying umbilicals. Just fabulous. For anyone that values convenience the self-contained SL-10 is a godsend.
The table is named with the number ten; this is significant. Created exactly ten years after the legendary SP10, Technics was making a statement. It is hard to believe just what a stir this tiny table made in its debut.A host of cheaper imitations flooded the market, but the 10 still stands as the Statement turntable. Actually there were later iterations, the 5 and the 7, but the 10 is the purist’s choice.
It’s a linear tracker. Properly executed, this method offers the lowest tracking distortion as the stylus is always perfectly perpendicular to the groove. Linear tracking arms can be massive and extremely complicated. Price tags can easily run into multiple thousands of dollars. They are the logical answer to sorting out the problem of tracking anomalies and have many devotees in auddiophile-land. The Technics SL-10 version, by comparison, is really quite simple, with no need for complicated set up – but here’s the minor rub. The cartridge attaches via a P-mount. The ultimate plug and play. Usually no need to even adjust the tracking weight. Plug-and-play. For the tweakers this is a minor disaster. Nothing to adjust; just switch on and enjoy. Indeed? Audiophiles can thrive on the how-can-I-make it better if I-can’t-spend-hours-on-VTA-and-azimuth kind of activities? One sometimes wonders. I actually approve of the P-mount system. Rube Goldberg wouldn’t, and there’s a little Rube G. in many audiophiles: overt complexity isn’t always necessary but of course the pursuit of perfection can lead to some wondrous devices….
I love simple-to-use machinery, and I love this turntable. Even with a simple and cheapish P-mount MM cartridge from Audio Technica the SL-10 dealt with every record I could throw at it with aplomb. A rarer cartridge in the collection, the Azden (with line-contact stylus) elevated the performance higher, but the differences were not huge. I have a few torture discs, mostly classical, recorded on the ‘hot’ side, and mistracking was never on the audio horizon. Imaging was stable and wide throughout, and I would have had to do rigorous AB comparisons with other tables to see if bass extension was suffering – bearing in mind this would be as much a test of cartridge as anything else. But extension seems just fine….and the top end is no slouch either. I imagine the current crop of uber-tables would show the deficiencies in terms of absolute sound quality, but the sounds from the SL-10 needed no apology. At a used price of around $500 for an excellent example I would have no hesitation in preferring this to the current entry-level tables of the same price. To market such a unit in today’s money would necessitate a price tag of around five times this amount, so the SL-10 deserves a place in the Bargain category.
All in all this is a tremendously satisfying player. It gets out of the way beautifully, needs little or no attention, and takes up a tiny amount of space. Automatic turntables are somewhat looked down upon, but there are occasions that automatic (and repeat) are simply wonderful features to be able to choose. Simply feed the SL-10 with records and enjoy the sound. It’s like great software: one is aware that behind the ultra-simple facade there is some exceedingly clever thinking, and I for one like this approach very much. One could argue that the very best engineering can appear self-effacing, and this is certainly the case with this turntable.
The Technics SL-10. Perhaps rather overlooked, and maybe somewhat looked down upon. But it really shouldn’t be. This modest looking turntable, concealing under its simple exterior an electronic and engineering marvel, firmly deserves a place in the Hall of Fame. An iconic design, powerfully capable, and to be respected, its like will not return soon; sadly, the laws of supply and demand will ensure that. It’s the ideal player for those of us who simply want to listen to music on vinyl. If space is limited, and fussing with the music-maker isn’t your idea of good times I couldn’t imagine a better choice. Sonically, top-notch, despite the lack of huge choice of cartridges. And, did I mention, it plays upside-down? A perfect choice for our Australian cousins…
PS There will be a part 2 to this ode to the SL-10, with some internal pictures: I had the unexpected task of re-installing the thread drive to one machine. Keep your dials tuned to the Turntable Shop, and all will be revealed. Simple on the outside, sure. Not quite so simple under the covers….