What Hi-Fi (UK)
The vinyl revival means a phono stage is now a key part of your hi-fi kit. With manufacturers adding them to integrated amps, there’s more choice than ever
Few hi-fi brands enjoy the same kind of high-street recognition as Technics does, and that’s pretty much down to the legendary status of its SL1210 turntables in DJ circles. So when the brand was relaunched by parent company Panasonic back in 2014, it was something of a surprise that record players weren’t part of the equation. But demand forced the company’s hand, and there are now five domestic models, ranging from around a grand to the high-end beast we have on test here.
The SL-1000R still sits at the top in Technics’s hierarchy, and to say it’s a beast is no understatement. It weighs in at more than 40kg – so it’s a two-person lift– and, at more than 50cm wide, a stretch for many turntable supports.
The heart of this turntable is its direct-drive motor (with external power supply). That’s the main point of differentiation from most other high-end alternatives on the market, which tend to be belt-driven – the preference for a belt stemming from noise and vibration issues associated with direct drive.
Making direct drive work
The engineers at Technics have tackled these issues head-on and come up with a sophisticated double-coil, twin-rotor type design capable of a high torque output and an astonishingly low claimed wow & flutter figure of 0.015 per cent – a factor of at least 10 better than most belt-drive designs. All three speeds
– 33⅓, 45 and 78rpm – are on offer.
The plinth has a three-layer construction of a 25mm-thick aluminium top panel, BMC (bulk moulding compound) and a further die-cast aluminium section.
The feet that provide the isolation from the equipment support are equally considered in their construction, consisting of silicon rubber and microcell polymer elements in a die-cast zinc casing. They’re adjustable to allow levelling on an uneven support.
Overall build and finish is just as good as the price point demands, and the SL-1000R gives off a strong impression of quality and attention to detail.
Technics has stayed true to its heritage in the arm design. The one used here retains the classic S-shape arm tube from older models, but is made of magnesium for low weight and damping characteristics, while its ruby bearings are hand adjusted to ensure the minimum of free-play.
Where you’d expect to find a headshell, you just get a locking collar. There are plenty of options available but, considering the price of the SL-1000R, it seems a little mean of the company not to provide one as standard. Of course, there’s no cartridge supplied either, but this is normal with a product of this kind.
Our review sample comes with a Ds-audio HS-001 Duralumin headshell (£395) and a Kiseki Purple Heart moving-coil cartridge (£2495). A deck at this level deserves quality partners or you won’t hear what it can do.
Once the music starts, we’re deeply impressed. It doesn’t matter what you play – from a large-scale classical work such as Orff’s Carmina Burana to Nirvana’s highly charged Nevermind
– this deck takes it all in its stride. It sounds impressively composed and displays astonishing control, no matter how complex the recording gets.
Crescendos with composure
The Orff piece is savage at times, with wild crescendos that can sound truly chaotic – but not here. Without diluting the hard-driving nature of the music, the Technics organises things with classleading composure. Each note is rendered with precision and the kind of explicitly drawn leading edges that are so rare, even at this price.
Keep the noise down
The whole presentation is built on a wonderfully quiet noise floor, which speaks volumes for the quality of the massively built plinth and that highly developed motor design. A low noise floor helps with dynamic expression and the resolution of detail. The SL-1000R excels in both areas, delivering both large and small shifts in intensity with ease.
We can’t recall hearing another similarly priced deck that delivers stereo soundstaging with such precision and focus. It’s a wide soundstage, populated with precisely focused instruments.
Playing Nirvana shows that this deck is happy to party. It delivers Nevermind with the full-throttled enthusiasm it deserves – yet doesn’t forget to provide a thorough analysis of what’s in the groove.
Little we’ve heard comes close to matching the way this turntable delivers bass. It’s taut, textured and tuneful and lacking nothing in weight or agility. Add excellent rhythmic drive into the equation, no doubt aided by the deck’s terrific speed-stability, and you have a superb all-rounder that’s happy to play whatever kind of music you feel like. The SL-1000R is able to stand toe to toe with any rival without worry.
Back in vinyl’s heyday, the provision of a phono stage in your amplifier was almost a given. With records being the main source of music, the quality of the phono circuit was paramount for any manufacturer aiming to be a serious hi-fi contender.
But the rising popularity of the compact disc in the 1990s changed that. Manufacturers either discarded phono stages altogether as a way of reducing costs, or redesigned them as an extra feature – box-ticking exercises that never quite revealed the quality in those record grooves.
However, things have now come almost full circle. The recent interest in buying, consuming and playing vinyl has encouraged some manufacturers to take those black discs seriously again. There are now a number of fine integrated amplifiers with a phono input on the market – and the good news is that some of them sound truly great. In this round-up, we bring together five of the best current options from some of the top brands in this corner of the market, including Rega, Marantz and Naim – plus a surprise return from Norwegian brand Electrocompaniet.
Our round-up starts with the Rega io, an exceptional budget performer costing £379. Next up is a successor to an Award-winning integrated amp, the Marantz PM6007, before another entry from Rega, the Elex-r at £949. This amp was a favourite of ours, winning a first Award in 2014, but with its rivals upping their game, can this Rega hold on to its crown?
Also included here is Naim’s Nait XS 3, the third generation of one of our favourite integrated amps. Finally, the Electrocompaniet ECI 80D is a £2899 amp from a Norwegian brand we hadn’t heard from in over a decade.
So, which of these suits you best? It’s time to let the amps take centre stage.