Technics 1200’s Mid Life Crisis

In October of 2012, our good friend the Technics 1200 Turntable will turn 40.  Kinda hard to believe, but true.  The original 1200s did not have the trademark pitch sliders that have been branded as a mix standard for DJs; the original design debuted in 1972 for about $499 (valued today at over $2500 each- in great shape & good luck trying to find a pair…) and had rounded rotary knobs for pitch control that allowed for a larger dynamic range of ±12 pitch as opposed to the current and popular ±8.

This breakthrough design was an endeavor by parent company Matsushita to design a quieter servo motor without relying on a belt driven design (aka the belt drive), so a magnetic drive mechanism, popularly known as a direct drive mechanism, allowed for better accuracy over time in pitch with far less wear on mechanics.  Pitch, of course is the actual variances in speed in the the revolution of the platter measured in rpm (rotations per minute), hence the term 45rpm and 331/3rpm, so the pitch control is a vital feature that allows the DJ to manually adjust the speed of the platter to allow for what’s called beat-matching between 2 records.  This little feature involving pitch revolutionized the entire DJ phenomenon.

Weirdly enough, belt driven turntables have still continued onward in the production lines of various turntable manufacturers.  The reason most likely being that it was profit driven and easier to make.  Belt drive turntables are mainly regarded as a real pain in the ass for DJs due to their inefficiency in speed, thus making mixing two records together painfully unreliable.  It also makes scratching nightmarish due to the low resistance of the slip mats.   But for non-DJs, belt drive systems were about 30% cheaper to buy than direct drive systems, costing as little as $30 and making their way into many households.

Recently, a lot of DJs and vinyl enthusiasts have been biting their nails over the last few years over rumors on whether the Technics 1200 will be discontinued, or more fittingly, retired from existence and eventually reduced to roam the pages of E-Bay and Craigs List, and as of September 2010, Panasonic finally gave the order to pull the plug.  Technics Panasonic has made an official statement, claiming that over the last few years the sales of 1200s have gone dwindled down 95%, and with the popularity of CDJs and DJ midi controllers gaining more and more acceptance in the marketplace, the future seemed very bleak for the ones and twos.  Guitar Center bought off all the remaining stock from Panasonic and inflated the prices; up to $1300 for an MK5.

In the 80’s, you could snag a pair of refurbished 1200s from a multitude of electronic shops for about $550 (yeah- that’s for 2 of ’em!), and at that time most of the DJ demographic didn’t even know what refurbished meant, and they were always sold in pairs. Today, the Technics MK6 sells for about $1100 for just one, further hampering the production and manufacture of this classic.  The design since the 1979 MKII model has pretty much remained the same with a couple of added features like quartz lock; a feature that literally locks the speed at 33 or 45rpm.

The usage of an actual quartz crystal element also known as a quartz crystal oscillator in the circuitry design allows the highest accuracy in maintaining speed by relying on its mechanical resonance to pretty much control the flow to the central magnet.  If you need a better look, just pop open the hood (lift off the platter) on any 1200 and it looks like something right out of a sci-fi movie.  The magnetic pulses provides the propulsion of the metal platter to rotate at precise speeds.

NEXT POST: Technics 1200: What are all those dots on the side?

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