03 July, 2012

Talk Vinyl: Technics SL-1200 Mk 2, Part I

Talk Vinyl: Technics SL-1200 Mk 2, Part I
Talk Vinyl: Audio-Technica CN5625AL MM Cartridge

Sometimes even I don't remember all the things I had written. It just came to me that I have never officially written about the ubiquitous Technics SL-1200 Mk 2, certainly and precisely the kind of thing cheaptubeaudio should aim to propagate (I won't say promote - it doesn't need it).

The Technics SL-1200 was in production from 1972 to 2010, a remarkable 38 years! It even has a wikipedia entry, which happens to be an excellent source of info. If you have time, read all the useful links provided. And If you ask me, one needs not worry too much about the various incarnations (including the 1210) - they are all marvelous! Even though it is no longer in production, you can still easily source one.

Second Coming
As readers may know, I have long used one of these in NYC. It stayed for quite a while in my Casual Listening Station (link here), but recently, after installing the magnificent Empire 2000E/III on it, I promoted it to the Day-to-Day Station (link here), no mean feat!!

As readers know, I spend time both in Hong Kong and New York, so I don't usually duplicate equipment. Here In HK, I have the magnificent bigger brother, the legendary SP-10 Mk 2, so it's not like I don't have a good direct-drive. But the SP-10 has a Rega arm on it, which does not let me change cartridge easily. So at the periphery of my mind I had always wanted a watchdog TT that allows me to change headshells on a whim.The SL-1200 fits the bill perfectly.

Recently in HK, after some discussion at a local forum (review33), I started thinking about the SL-1200 again, and within days got hold of a unit in good working condition. It was a wee bit cosmetically challenged, but do I love it!

This particular SL-1200 came with a no-nonsense cartridge - the seller doesn't even remember the model number, After some sleuthing, I am sure it is the Audio-Technica CN5625AL MM cartridge, which could be had for USD 15-25, a price that is lower than almost any replacement stylus!

I lugged it home, re-calibrated and put on the LPs that I happened to have bought the same day. I fed it into my reference system, which happens to be now:

Full-Function Preamp: Marantz 7C (re-issue version)
Amp: Wavac MD-300B
Loudspeakers: Tannoy Canterbury

This is only Part I, so I shall be brief, the sound that came out surprised me a bit. Not because any comparably priced digital source cannot touch it - I know that! Because it was better than even I expected. Very good scale and tone, proper perspective, fleshy presentation, solid bass, good soundstage, all that from a lowest-of-the-low cartridge! A cartridge that uses a conical stylus, surely frowned upon by audiophiles.

The sound from the CN5625AL reminds me of its bigger and more expensive (relatively speaking, only twice the price!) brother, the famous AT-95E, which I heard on my Thorens TD-309 TT (link here). Here, I cannot resist to mention that the cheap AT-95E forms the heart of very much more expensive Clearaudio MM cartridges! Of course, the CN5625 is emphatically not as detailed as its sibling, but the family sound is unmistakable. If you need a competent cartridge to play dirty, worn out and damaged LPs, this is it! It plays my heavily scratched Shadows LP very well, and I enjoyed it, loud ticks not withstanding! The rhythmic verve of Taking Heads was divine. With the marvelous sounding Elton John and Bryan Ferry, the sound was really enjoyable!

I better show that I am sober. Yes, I am sure the CN5625AL is not the last word sonically! Next, I shall change headshells and cartridges - stay tuned.

Before I leave, something interesting to me. The TT came with the cartridge installed ALL THE WAY upfront. Since I do not have the original SL-1200 alignment tool, I pulled out my Vinyl Engine generic Baerwald template and checked - it was spot on. Then I did a search, and this article in Vinyl Engine is a must-read. Apparently, the Technics tool is close to Stevenson. If you keep the cartridge square, the tool is pretty good, if not "perfect", but if you use Baerwald, you have to twist it a little to get the best offset angle. I re-examined and saw that this was exactly how the seller had done it (I think you can see it from the top pic; click to enlarge). The seller knew what he was doing!

I am not an alignment expert, anything but. But back in 2010, I wrote about my own experience in trying to align the SL-1200 using the Baerwald. The result was exactly the same! And I had not read the VE article! Great!

VE has a specific template for SL-1200, which you should take care to download. You MUST read the instructions and print it to proper scale.


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