The Technics SL-1200 is back, and this time for DJs again

First it was dead. Then, it came back but … inexplicably cost four thousand bucks and seemed to be for audiophiles, not DJs. Now, at last, the iconic* Technics SL-1200 turntable is back, and in a newly-manufactured form that might actually suit DJs.

The pitch: take advanced tech, learned from Blu-ray players, and turn it into an accessible turntable that delivers the performance and playing style of traditional players, with greater reliability and better sound.

If you don’t particularly need the name “Technics” on your turntable, of course, this may not even qualify as news. Manufacturers from Pioneer to Reloop now make reasonably affordable turntables that expand on the legacy of the Technics turntable and enable DJs to play decks like an instrument.

A couple of years ago when Panasonic revised the SL-1200 name, it at first seemed the company was surrendering the DJ market to those rivals. The first SL-1200GAE/1200G was a heavy, expensive machine engineered to within an inch of its life for vinyl consumers and deep-pocketed audiophiles. (Okay, I want to say “suckers.” At least people with money to burn.) Bizarrely, there wasn’t much mention of the DJs or hip hop producers who made the SL series famous in the first place. (Wired got the first preview; Vinyl Factory commented on the company’s explanation of that $4000 sticker shock.)

Now, it seems, we’re back to reality. The new SL-1200MK7 has specs more like a normal SL-1200, has marketing and specs intended for DJs, and while we don’t know the price, at least returns to a normal weight (just under 10kg).

The SL-1200MK7 (aka the SL-1210MK7 in Europe) then can be fairly dubbed the first Matsushita/Panasonic turntable for DJs to come off the assembly line in nine years – and the first in nine years to be a direct successor to the 1972 original 1200.

Onboard, some new engineering, now again in the service of DJs:

Coreless direct drive motor – okay, first, Panasonic are again making a new motor, apparently even after the 2016 audiophile take on this. It’s a direct drive motor like the original, but Technics promises the torque of the MK5, but without the iron core that can cause cogging (inconsistencies that impact audio quality).

To put it more briefly – this is the kind of more reliable motor Technics was pushing, but this time not so damned heavy and expensive.

Also new:

Reverse it. Provided you have a compatible phono cartridge, you can enable a reverse play function accessed by hitting the speed selector and Start/Stop at the same time.

Scratch-friendly – with computer control. Here’s the surprise: you get new motor control Panasonic have borrowed from the development of Blu-ray drives, using microprocessors to keep the motor operating smoothly. The MK7 tunes that relationship, says Technics, to work across playing styles – including DJing. What else does that mean?

Pitch is digitally controlled. Greater accuracy of pitch adjustment is another side benefit, because the motor can respond interactively as you play.

Well, apparently the original silver color is now reserved for audiophiles.

But there’s no question this is a sign of the times. Where as the digital age first seemed to jettison old brands and old technologies, all of them are back with a vengeance, from film photography to turntables to synthesizers. And finally even the likes of Japanese titan Panasonic, Technics parent company, are getting the memo. Just like a violinist wants particular features out of a violin, a DJ has expectations of what a turntable should be – not only appearance or moniker, but engineering.

And, let’s be honest, there is something nice about seeing new Technics in production.

Now the question is, can Panasonic trickle down new advanced tech in motors and control, inherited from advanced Blu-ray players, to the traditional turntable? If they can, they might just be able to best some of the other commodity turntables on the market.

Full details:
https://www.technics.com/us/news/20190107-sl-1200mk7/ [Press release]

[Product page]

A timeline of Technics turntables

The SP-10 started it all – at least introducing the world to direct drive turntables. But notice it didn’t even have its own integrated tonearm.

DJ Kool Herc was far enough ahead of the curve that he started on the 1971 SL-1100, not the SL-1200.

1970: SP-10
World’s first direct drive turntable (the enabling technology that would enable DJing technique and scratching)

1971: SL-1100
Starts to look like the turntables we know (integrated tonearm and platter). Used by hip-hop pioneer DJ Kool Herc.

1972: SL-1200/SL-1210
You’d feel at home cueing and beatmatching on this, but – note that the speed control was on a dial. (The 1210 variation of this is a Euro-friendly model with voltage selection and black, not silver.)

1979: SL-1200MK2
The SL-1200 was already a standard, but the MK2 looks more like the template DJs recognize today. Influenced by a field trip to Chicago clubs, the engineers unveiled the MK2 with Quartz Lock, a big pitch fader (whew!), and other details like a vibration-soaking cabinet and rubber.

Later revisions added other minor improvements, but it was really the MK2 that looks like the template for all DJ turntables to come – particularly thanks to pitch being on a fader and not a tiny knob (once Japanese engineers worked out how artists in Chicago were using pitch).

1989: SL-1200MK3
Improvements largely around vibration.

1997: SL-1200MK3D
The end of the center click pitch controller (so you could get hairline adjustments around zero more accurately).

2000: SL-1200MK5
Sort of the gold standard here, based on tiny performance enhancements and details like brake speed adjustment. See also the MK5G variation, 2002.

2019: SL-1200MK7/SL-120MK7
All-new motor, digitally-controlled pitch, reverse play.

And yes, I agree with my colleague James Grahame of MeeBlip in thinking this is all becoming a bit like the modern Spitfire kit remake planes, the Submarine Spitfires.

All photos courtesy Technics.

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Technics turntables return, but for DJs or aging audiophiles?

technics1

Panasonic, the company that still owns the Technics name, is engineering what it says is an all-new direct drive turntable.

And it certainly looks beautiful. Looks are all we get, as a prototype shown at Berlin’s IFA electronics show is just a futuristic aluminum slab with a platter on it. But as far as aesthetics, the company isn’t messing around: this thing looks like something you’d find in the listening lounge of a flying saucer.

Also interesting: just as Pioneer has done with their (excellent, by the way) new turntables, with the Technics model there’s a whole lot of new engineering. Japan seems to prefer doing that to simply reissuing the legendary Technics 1200 – and in the case of the Pioneer model, at least, the results work.

But, while DJs ears ring the moment they hear Technics (okay, DJs’ ears are generally ringing all the time), that doesn’t necessarily mean this is really DJ news.

Remember, there are essentially two vinyl revivals happening at once: there’s the DJ enthusiasm for the format, but there’s also the consumer side. And by consumer side, it’s not so much the kids picking up reissues at Hot Topic and Urban Outfitters an electronics giant might want to target. Think, rather, high-end audiophile customers. These are the types of people who will be impressed by the repeated references to “analog” turntables in a preview by Wired, whereas the rest of us might note that a phonograph is the very definition of analog, and that’s sort of redundant. (I mean, it’s obviously not a LaserDisc player. Well… although the styling might match.)

Speaking through a translator, a Panasonic representative doesn’t say much, but he is quick to use the phrase “high-end.” And sure enough, the Technics turntable announcement accompanies Technics-branded “premium headphones,” networked amp, and Hi-Fi all in one.

We live in a world where some people increasingly have an awful lot of money, and as with the gold-plated Apple Watch, you can expect electronics makers will start to plot how to separate those Scrooge McDuck-style wads of cash from their owners. (For more evidence this might be Panasonic’s strategy, look no further than the 4G-quality security camera system they’re apparently also hawking at IFA. You know you’re rich when you start filming security on your grounds in IMAX 3D, I suspect.)

In the tried-and-true history of audiophile equipment, then, Technics is targeting that demographic – people willing to spend more for better sound (or certainly the impression of high-end, recognizing those two aren’t always one and the same). Technics’ lineup since last year’s reboot by Panasonic have been squarely in that category, with reference systems running into five-digit price points.

And the video from last year’s IFA neatly sums things up. The whole line is marketed, literally, to people getting older who remember this stuff (that’ll be my Generation X and up). In fact, the marketing, with pounding heartbeat in back and nostalgic references to dust, comes across as music as mid-life crisis, part Viagra ad, part car ad, just with warm and fuzzy record noises:

And I do mean Viagra ad:

“Time has gone by … you’ve grown older. But the passion still lives deep inside of you. Rediscover the passion.”

Yeah, shut up Technics; you’re making me feel $#&*(ing old just because I remember mix tapes. I know I’m not as young as I used to be. I don’t have to rediscover anything, damnit! Wait… what were we talking about again?

Oh yeah. For more nostalgia:

So, that’s the audiophile angle.

The question is whether Panasonic can successfully cater to both at once. After all, DJing is now inseparable from the definition of what a turntable is. And:

  • It’s direct drive.
  • Panasonic does say the legacy of the 1200 series is part of what they hope to reinvigorate.
  • Patrice Bouedibela, the Berlin-based DJ who shot the pic above, is himself a DJ and tells me “more to be announced this winter!” via Twitter.

I’m intrigued. We’ll be watching. The turntable is due some time in 2016.

http://technics.com

And if you want something out now, this is clearly the successor to the 1200s to watch:

Pioneer PLX-1000

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A Tortilla Laser-cut Into a Record is the Future of Music

After all of this talk about streaming license rates and Taylor Swift and tangible media and the vinyl resurgence and cassette tape labels – no.

This is the future of music. Tortillas.

Actually, come to think of it, what are three things hipsters love? Mexican food, record players, and laser cutters. Done and done.

Yes, it’s ridiculous. But you have to admit: the phonograph is kind of one of the most ingeniously simple gadgets the human race has ever devised.

Also, I want to be able to stuff my next release with beans.

Apparently inspired by this, only – real. Thank you, Andrew Cavette, for making my day. And my lunch.

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Pioneer, The Company That Made CDJ a Hit, Teases a Turntable

pioneerturntable

The vinyl comeback couldn’t hit much more of a high note than this: it seems Pioneer, the company that popularized digital DJing and CDJs, is building phonographs.

Pioneer isn’t saying anything about the hardware that’s under plexiglass at Musikmesse, only that it’s a concept prototype. But they hardly need to. The hardware looks like someone took the most popular DJ turntable of all time, the legendary Technics SL-1200, painted it black, and re-lettered it with Pioneer markings. I don’t think they literally did that, though it almost doesn’t matter; the effect is unreal, like entering a bizarro universe where Pioneer invented the 1200.

The most tantalizing sign that Pioneer intends to make this a product is that the lettering is blacked out where the product identifier would be. It’s simply labeled “professional turntable.”

Technics walked away from the 1200 in 2010, just as vinyl records were making a niche resurgence. Vinyl still isn’t a mass market product, but then Pioneer is king of its main audience, DJs and clubs. And in a way, whatever Pioneer is cooking, it might make more sense to just make a turntable than bother people with thinking of it as part of a digital vinyl system.

Now, of course, Pioneer being digital, that may be exactly what they’re doing. But even so, the challenge of finding SL-1200s means that record lovers might pick it up anyway. This one should be interesting to watch.

I’ll say this: if Pioneer is going this route, it’s fantastic news for anyone pressing dance music on vinyl. It could create an entirely new market, just at the time that iPad apps start to stream digital downloads from Spotify. I can’t imagine anyone isn’t rooting for this.

Beatport Wax? Think about it.

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Submerged Turntables, Art Phonographs Underwater, and Life After Records

Submerged Turntable from Brian Lilla on Vimeo.

Once upon a time, Romantics dreamt of ruined architecture, rubble and stones on hillsides and whatnot. Today, we imagine ruined technology as our artifacts of culture lost. We don’t need a burning library of Alexandria. We can wait until our machines go out of warranty and go kaput.

That subconscious seems to flow in the literally-murky pool of “Submerged Turntables,” an art installation by Evan Holm. But the results are oddly beautiful, making the physical quality of the record enduring.

And here’s the upbeat bit: in those dark waters, the record still plays.

Evan calls the result a performance: the DJ as ark, saving music in the flood. He writes:

There will be a time when all tracings of human culture will dissolve back into the soil under the slow crush of the unfolding universe. The pool, black and depthless, represents loss, represents mystery and represents the collective subconscious of the human race. By placing these records underneath the dark and obscure surface of the pool, I am enacting a small moment of remorse towards this loss. In the end however this is an optimistic sculpture, for just after that moment of submergence; tone, melody and ultimately song is pulled back out of the pool, past the veil of the subconscious, out from under the crush of time, and back into a living and breathing realm. When I perform with this sculpture, I am honoring and celebrating all the musicians, all the artists that have helped to build our human culture.

Oh yeah, and then it all lives in a tree.

I give a talk in Ravensburg, Germany, next week, addressing this thorny and vague matter of “post-digital” – which is to say, really to do with how we cope in the age of digital overabundance.

This being CDM, of course, we care about the process as well as result. So how did he make those tables work submerged? And – how do you get a tree on a truck? A video for SFMOMA explains:

The Making Of the submerged turntables……….at the SFMOMA from Evan Holm on Vimeo.

Note the custom apparatus for the turntables – and the faces as the machine floods.

It occurs, looking through the site, that part of what online digital video does for installations is to make a narrative of the process of making. See Holm’s elegant Transistor Hive kinetic sculpture, which clearly frames the turntables as kinetic art.

In the earlier Crystal Turntables, salvaged turntables become encoding machines. Sound from the speaker tweeters paints calligraphic doodles on long scrolls of paper, seismological ink stories of the sound that passed through them.

Chrystal Turntable from Brian Lilla on Vimeo.

In his Gallery, Holm turns prints made by broken records into fossil-like images:

http://evanholm.com/gallery/

Below, from top: a wall of “fossils,” a record “ghost”:

fossilswall

recordghost5

It seems beautiful, transcendent work. Holm is a California-based artist.

Request: a submerged synthesizer? (Maybe an ARP Odyssey?)

submerged

http://evanholm.com/

Via Hackaday.com – yes, they live!

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3D Printed Records: We Talk to the Creator About Her Work, 3D Printing Potential

3D printing is transforming digital information into objects in ways we haven’t seen before. However, a project has been making the rounds through online media partly because it recalls a familiar object: the musical record. Amanda Ghassaei’s 3D-printed record sounds crude, but it makes clear the connection of data to printed, physical form: take a music file, make a printed album.

Amanda writes:

I’m a really big fan of your blogs and I thought you might like a project I’ve recently published on instructables:

I managed to actually print a working (although quite noisy) record on a 3D printer. I wrote a
Processing sketch that converts raw audio data to a 3D model of a record and printed these records out with an Objet Connex500 resin printer.

I find myself fascinated by the sound partly because it doesn’t sound like the original; it seems 3D printing has gotten as far as early phonograph technology. But here, CDM talks to Amanda more about what this demonstration means, some related projects, and where this may all be heading.

3D Printed Record from Amanda Ghassaei on Vimeo.

CDM: Apart from proof of concept, how do you imagine this might be used? And what would it take to get a method that was more sonically accurate?

Amanda: The real draw of this 3D printing in general is that it allows people to create customizable objects on demand. 3D printing doesn’t scale well for high-volume manufacturing, so it will never replace traditional techniques of record production, but I think as the resolution, techniques, and materials get better and cheaper, maybe we could see independent artists and tinkerers using this technology in interesting ways. I imagine 3D-printed records will be used for creative, experimental, or purely frivolous purposes, now and in the future, but who knows. I really wanted to record my own Christmas album (I’m a horrible singer) and give it to my family for Christmas this year, but I got so busy getting this project published that I ran out of time. It’s definitely in the works for next year…

As for increased accuracy, I have some ideas about how to improve the audio quality without having to increase the printer’s resolution. Hopefully I can try a few of these out over the weekend.

Groovin’: the 3D file represents a lot of geometry and data, says Amanda. All images courtesy the artist.

The first is RIAA equalization. I didn’t know this before I published this project, but all audio goes through a special EQ before it’s sent to a normal lathe record cutter; basically what it does is increase the amplitude of the higher frequencies and lower the bass. The needle mechanism of a turntable has a better frequency response to low frequencies, so it will naturally make things sound more bass heavy, and the RIAA equalization helps to counteract this effect. Some of the loss of higher frequencies in my records is due to the lowered sampling rate, but I think adjusting the EQ could help to bring out the highs a little more.

The second is higher RPM [rotations per minute]: with the record spinning at a faster speed, I can increase the sampling rate to about 16kHz at 45RPM and up to about 22kHz at 78RPM. I stuck with 33 RPM for these first tests because I wanted this project to be as close to the real thing as possible, and I wanted to maximize the amount of audio I could fit on each side – at 33 RPM I can get about 5-6min per side, at 78, this goes down to about 2-3min.

The last thing is the needle. The older needles used for 78s are about three times thicker than needles used for more modern, microgroove records. Since the grooves on my records are considerably larger than normal — about 10x as wide — I think the larger needle might be a little more stable and decrease noise. If I can find a 78 needle that fits my turntable, I’ll definitely give this a try.

Beyond this, increased printing resolution and new printing techniques are the only way to get these records up to a reasonable fidelity. If you listen closely to the recordings I’ve made, you’ll hear a repetitive whirring noise, a frequency sweep. This is actually caused by tiny parallel groves on the surface of the print, a side effect of the 600dpi resolution of the print head; every time the needle moves perpendicularly to these grooves, it introduces an extra noise into the output. A printer that could deposit material in a vector path, as opposed to raster, would help to remove these types of artifacts. Another interesting problem with my records is that the inner grooves have a considerably lower sampling rate than the outer grooves (I talk about this in a lot of detail in step 2 of my instructable). Basically, this is an issue of trying to map a Cartesian coordinate system on an object that is inherently polar, so maybe developing a printer that prints in a polar coordinate system would be better for this particular application.

More 3D printed records: here, for a Fisher Price toy player (and thus, more of the music-box variety, representing notes rather than audio signal).

Do you know of any related projects people might want to look at? (I saw one that used records in ice.)

Yes, those ice records were cool!

There’s the 3D printed and CNC-milled records for the Fisher Price toy record player on Instructables:
http://www.instructables.com/id/3D-printing-records-for-a-Fisher-Price-toy-record-/
http://www.instructables.com/id/Custom-records-for-a-70s-toy-record-player/
Ed.: I wrote about that project briefly in 2008.

my project used a library to export STL from Processing called “ModelBuilder,” it’s really well organized and works great. [Ed.: There’s a specific tutorial for 3D printing. May have to give this a try myself! -PK] I’m excited to use this library more in the future; I love the idea of creating 3D models by algorithm – lots of room for experimentation and complexity. You can read about it and download it here:
http://workshop.evolutionzone.com/2011/04/06/code-modelbuilder-library-public-release/
and here’s a collection of Processing sketches that use the library- I’ll be adding mine there as soon as I get the chance. (for now all my code is on Instructables):
http://www.openprocessing.org/collection/1768

Another thing I thought was cool, but nobody’s really talked about:

Aside from the resolution limits, the biggest obstacle I had to contend with was managing the huge amount of data stored in these record models. To give you a point of reference – one side of each of my discs can store about 5-6min of audio at 33rpm, and the resulting 3D model is comprised of about 25-30 million triangular faces. That’s 1.2-1.5GB of data. It’s pretty ridiculous really, I was essentially converting a 50MB WAV file into a 1.5GB STL [3D file]. I had to use a computer with 16GB of RAM just to export these files from Processing. After that, the printer software has to do a bunch of preprocessing on the model to convert it from a vector-based STL file into 130 rastered layers. For now, the machine running our printer only has about 4GB of RAM; this was only powerful enough to handle files up to 250MB, or about 1 min of audio, so that’s all I’ve been able to print so far. We’re in the process of upgrading that machine, so I’m hoping to finally print out a complete 5-6min side soon.

I talk a little bit in step 5 of my instructable about how I changed the algorithm to minimize the amount of data packed in the models. there are definitely ways of making it even more efficient (lowering the resolution of the inside of the disc, as each revolution becomes shorter in length), but I just haven’t had time to experiment with it yet.

Here’s that ice record project from the Shout Out Louds, for good measure.

From comments on YouTube:

Let me explain how we have done it. The mold is made out of two pieces. One negative 7″ vinyl cut made by a record plant in Germany from the original audio master and one silicon cap, the sole purpose of which is to hold the water still while freezing.

More detail on Fast Company’s design blog:
A Record Made Of Ice That Actually Plays

3D printing isn’t the only way to create new, playable music objects. Here’s a record made of molded ice.

We’ll continue this 3D printing conversation going on CDM. We’d love to see what you’re working on – especially if someone else takes on that Processing library. (Records could be just the beginning.)

Don’t miss Amanda’s site for other terrific work:
http://www.amandaghassaei.com/

A Record Player Made from Paper, as the FlexiDisc Lives; Thanks Be to Pythagoras

It’s not in any way digital – we’re in paper and needle territory – but clever design transforms packaging and notecard into playable music device. Create Transducer Music, anyone?

Designer Kelli Anderson concocted a novel approach to the wedding invitation for her friends Karen and Mike: turn the paper invite into a playable sound device. The couple even made and recorded their own song for the occasion. (The story of the individuals is worth mentioning – Karen advocates for the rights of makers and coders and Mike is a Grammy-nominated engineer.)

The device itself plays music without electricity or circuits. You may recall the FlexiDisc, the inexpensive records (normally made of vinyl, not paper), as seen in magazines, books, and comics. Here, a sewing needle is the entire playback mechanism, amplified by the paper and the kinetic energy of a person using their hand to rotate the disc. Working with her partner and music podcaster Daniel, Kelli turned to the power of geometry. (And I never miss an opportunity to work geometry into this site.)

A major breakthrough came when we realized that the ideal sound was produced when the tented page created a perfect right triangle with the flexidisc. The needle needed to be perfectly perpendicular to the flexidisc. (@Pythagorean theorem: at long last, you are an ally!) We also discovered that the “tent” needed two loosely-swinging bends to allow the record needle to travel as freely as possible. By creating two parallel folds, we essentially made the angle at the peak of the tent variable as needed. At the beginning of the track, the ideal angle of this peak is about 15 degrees. By the end of the track, the arm needed to stretch further towards the center of the flexi, with an ideal peak angle of about 35 degrees.

If you do want to play the results on a proper turntable, you can drop the same flexidisc on your (electrically-powered) record player for better sound.

The sewing needle at work. This and the movement of your hand is all that makes the player function. Photo by the designer, Kelli Anderson.

Details on Kelli’s (beautiful) blog:
A Paper Record Player

And listen to the song the couple wrote for everybody

Aside from being a chance to nerd out about sound, I’m going to take this as yet another example of inventive packaging for musical objects. I’ can also imagine it as the way we’ll listen to music should environmental catastrophe mean that we don’t have access to electricity on Earth any more. File this away for your next post-oil-crisis sci-fi short story, a la the (excellent) book on that theme, The Windup Girl.

Thanks to Howard Shin for this great tip – and Howard, Kelli, Daniel, Karen, Mike, and Pythagoras, I owe any one of you a drink if I see you.

As for music, the Pythagorean Theorem and Trigonometry are always your ally.

Previously: Reclaim the Album’s Soul: Tips for Handmade CD Artwork

Last Days of Compact Disco: Album Lovers Hand-Make Musical Objects

The History Of Modular Synthesizers (MIT Course)

Click here to view the embedded video.

This video, via MIT, takes a look at the history of the modular synthesizer.

It captures a lecture by Prof. Christopher Ariza, from MIT’s Music and Technology (Contemporary History and Aesthetics).

Topics covered include:

  • The Modular Synthesizer: Overview
  • The RCA Synthesizer
  • RCA Synthesizer Mark I
  • Buchla 100 Series Modular Electronic Music System
  • Moog modular systems I, II, and II
  • Modular synthesizer concepts
  • Key synthesizers

A PDF is available that goes along with the lecture.

See the MIT site for the full course description.

via AudioTuts