Today, 12 October, is Technics 1210 day, an opportunity to celebrate one of the most influential pieces of equipment in the development of modern DJ culture.
Together with its predecessor, the SL 1200, the Japanese produced direct-drive turntables were (and in many cases still are) a mainstay of DJ boxes around the world, and remain a cult classic – their latest iteration, released in September, is the SL-1210MK7R, a limited edition variant with a gold tone arm, red head shell and Red Bull branding, produced in collaboration with the Red Bull BC One international breakdancing competition.
But things could have turned out so differently. It it wasn’t for the efforts of audiophiles and DJs around the world, the last set of Technics SL 1210s would have rolled off the production line ten years ago next month, as Technics parent Panasonic announced it was ceasing the production of analogue turntables.
In November 2010, the firm issued a statement to say, “Panasonic has confirmed that it ceased the production of its Technics-branded analogue turntables this autumn. After more than 35 years as a leading manufacturer of analogue turntables, Panasonic has regretfully taken the decision to leave this market. However, Panasonic will continue to sell headphones under the Technics brand.
“We are sure that retailers and consumers will understand that our product range has to reflect the accelerating transformation of the entire audio market from analogue to digital.”
A petition was hastily set up – “vinyl sales have been rising year on year for some time now having a recent resurgence, so quality equipment should surely be available to play records with,” it read – which garnered more than 27,500 signatures, prompting the electronics firm to re-commence production, which it did so in 2016.
The Technics SL 1200 MK2 was first released in 1979 – the sleek black SL 1210 MK2 – and thanks to the novel inclusion of a pitch shift feature, found its mojo during the early years of the hip hop scene, as budding turntablists used the system to create a whole new musical movement.
As author Brian Coleman put it in a 1998 XXL article, the embrace of the Technics brand by hip hop artists owes a lot to the design and circuitry of the unit itself, “Direct drive tables place the motor directly up against the platter itself, eliminating many shortcomings that frequently occur with belt-drive tables. Secondary to this is the stability and solidness of the turntable itself. Weighing several pounds, the casing itself is made of aluminum diecast and molded rubber, designed to reduce most vibrations, which can lead to feedback from low-end tones coming back through the needle.
“This sturdiness also makes 1200s the hardest decks to skip. Short of stomping on the turntable, it’s damn tough to get it out of its groove.”
Elsewhere in the article, Grandmixer DXT describes Technics as the “Mercedes-Benz” of turntables, while DMC world battle champ Roc Raida concurs, adding “The 1200 is just the perfect turntable. They’re the pinnacle for a DJ to have.”
They’re also extremely durable, with a lifespan lasting several decades – far removed from the ‘throwaway culture’ that permeates much of modern society – and can withstand serious abuse: water damage, fire damage, you name it.
One of the stand-out moments of the Notes on Rave in Dublin documentary, which tracked the history of club culture in Dublin, is when DJ Tonie Walsh discusses the history of his own set of SL 1200s, which were rescued from a nightclub fire in 1987.
“The dust jackets actually melted down on top of the decks,” he explains, “and afterwards, when I was handling the insurance negotiations, the loss adjuster said ‘I’ll give you the whole value of the decks. I went off to an audio engineer friend of mine and said ‘do whatever you can, here’s some money, fix them’.
“There’s still smoke damage, and staining from the fire, and the buttons are melted a little bit, but apart from the tone arm being replaced, they work perfectly.”
Let’s all take a moment to celebrate the Technics SL 1210 and its grey-hued brother, the SL 1200. Happy 1210 day! 🙂