Technics SL-1500C Review: My favorite turntable, and probably yours too
The first and very important point, which applies to absolutely all Technics turntables, is that they are direct drive. Direct drive in relation to Technics has a very long history – both with DJ devices, which cannot be otherwise, and with home models, including the oldest 1000th device.
A direct drive, in contrast to a belt drive (if you do not consider some low-circulation and very expensive options), can be done well only with a significant volume of production. Apparently, having felt the demand and the opportunity to realize these volumes, the manufacturer returned to the market when it seemed that all the places and niches in it were already taken.
Technics SL-1500C is a home model. In the company’s catalog, only SL-1210 MK7 is cheaper than it. All other options will cost more. Since the model is home, then you need to figure out what was reduced here and what was added in the construct.
First of all, the 1500 has no pitch control, no backlight and, accordingly, no stroboscopic marks on the disc. From what is not visible from the outside, the device has a slightly lighter disc (by a couple of hundred grams) and a less powerful motor (than the modern 1200, but the same as the 1210), not designed for DJ use. It is also not the tonearm itself that is slightly different, but the tonearm mounting assembly. And the player also has a built-in switchable MM phono stage, and comes with an Ortofon 2M Red head.
You take a turntable out of the box and everything turns out to be unusually simple, compared to anything else. The assembly takes about five minutes, no more. The head came to my test copy separately, but if we assume that it is simply preinstalled on the shell, then even a person with little experience can cope with the setup in ten minutes. And without a single tool.
This is undoubtedly the strong point of the device – especially for those users who are afraid to do something wrong. But it is also important that the turntable allows you to reconfigure almost everything – it is not a thing in itself, limited by the lack of adjustments.
On first acquaintance, the appearance leaves a pleasant impression. The workmanship is at the level: the device is weighty and well assembled, the parts are made of decent materials, everything is well processed. The case is placed on the surface with the help of adjustable legs that untie the player well.
However, there is no level in the kit – and if the task is not just to put it on the surface, but to set it according to the level, then do not forget to acquire this very level. The legs have a large stroke – even on a rather curved stand, it will be possible to place the turntable evenly.
The lower part of the body is made of heavy “deaf” plastic, this part is made as rigid as possible due to the ribs and, moreover, is weighted down by a metal insert at the bottom. The upper part is made of cast aluminum alloy. The top and bottom are twisted together by about one and a half dozen screws. All assemblies and components are attached only to the upper metal part.
Here you can find a motor, a power supply (by the way, a pulse one, and judging by the markings on the board – the same as for the SL-1210 MK7), a motor control board and a separate phono stage board under the additional screen. And the tonearm assembly.
The motor is quite compact and clearly intended for home use, not to be played on. The counter magnet attached to the main disc is flatter than professional models. The aluminum disc itself weighs 2 kg, including the weight of the rubber damping layer on the bottom side and the weight of the standard mat.
The disc was made with good accuracy – vertical beats are not visible either at idle speed or during playback, judging by the behavior of the tonearm. For a slight beating, one can take the fact that the bevels of the disk end are walking a little, within tenths of a millimeter, but this is a purely visual effect that does not affect the overall geometry and is due only to the fact that light bevels stand out against a dark background.
I did not like the standard rubber (or silicone) mat, which is just not ideal in thickness. Not to a critical level, but still. However, under normal conditions this is not so significant, but in all other cases the checkmate can be changed by choosing to taste – and we will return to this issue later.
The player’s control is nowhere easier. One toggle button, a large branded start / stop button and two gearshift buttons that, when pressed together, will turn on the 78th speed.
The behavior of the drive by ear does not cause any complaints, even at the highest speed. The motors spin up quickly, stop quickly, and, having adapted to the process a little, the plates can be changed without stopping the disc at all.
The dust brush is easy to use, the mat keeps the plate from slipping. So from the user point of view, everything is in order.
The turntable is equipped with the traditional Technics statically balanced arm with an effective length of 230 mm with a pivoting design and a removable shell. Everything seems to be recognizable – but there are nuances.
Usually, the height adjustment is carried out with a rotary ring located at the base of the tonearm base – here you also need to “open” the tonearm lock (the lever is located at the back of the base), and then move the whole tonearm with the base up and down, rather than twisting it. It was unusual – it took some time to get to the required accuracy.
There is a peculiarity here: if you remove the lock, the tonearm does not fall down all the way – it remains in place and holds with some effort, but at the same time it can be moved. And then fix it in the desired position.
Why they changed the adjustment familiar to Technics, which has been worked out for decades, I personally do not understand, because it is impossible to drastically simplify or reduce the cost of the unit in this way.
Another feature of the tonearm assembly behavior: it seems that if you “shake” it in a loose state, you will find a backlash. But if you do not make an effort (they are useless here), the tonearm unit will be where it was – in its place.
And measurements according to the tuning template, which allows you to fix the distance from the pivot assembly of the tonearm to the axis, do not show deviations, as well as measurements in azimuth. Perhaps, additional damping is achieved by the “elasticity” of the structure. Or it’s just done – and that’s it.
An essential nuance: the turntable has an automatic lift that raises the tonearm at the end of the record. The lift is switchable – it can be used or not. But this whole scheme is not a full-fledged hitchhiking: there are no mechanics in the design, and there is nothing but auto-lifting of the tonearm – even the rotation of the disc does not stop.
The tonearm is easy to adjust – just follow the instructions and everything will be fine. To install the head, the traditional Technics directive applies – the needle should be 52 mm from the “edge” of the shell.
True, there is no template in the kit, but it is quite possible to tune in more or less this way, and the head is already preinstalled in the factory delivery. If you want to be more precise using other methods, you need third-party templates. Everything here is limited only by personal wishes and own meticulousness.
It is not difficult to set the height by eye. However, as I already mentioned, you need to get used to moving the arm up and down with the desired accuracy. But for heads of the standard level (Ortofon 2M Red is included in the kit), superprecision is not so critical. Desirable, but an error of half a millimeter will not lead to something terrible.
You can even be guided by the paragraph of the instruction, which indicates what value of the height according to the marks should be set on the tonearm, depending on the height of the head in millimeters. Just remember that these values are given under the condition of using a regular shell.
You can set the weight in basic tolerances without scales, in a simple way – hang the tonearm at zero, set the counterweight scale to zero and twist the counterweight to the desired tracking force. I checked the results with different heads – the error was about 0.03 grams.
For budget heads, this is permissible, and much more expensive heads within the range of downforce are adjusted to similar values depending on the sound (by ear). Although, again: anyone who wants to install different heads and experiment should get an appropriate tool.
The anti-skating of the device is (probably) usual spring, and in terms of setting it turned out to be sufficient to set a value equal to the downforce or slightly less. This is enough – even if you run several corresponding test tracks. Of course, you can adjust more precisely, but then you need test disks and measurements.
In other words, the turntable allows you to make very precise settings, but it is not at all critical to do with the basic ones with a small tolerance – especially if you have a budget head.
The built-in phono stage is designed only for MM-heads and has no adjustments, and the documentation states that its gain is 37 dB.
Listen and have fun
We will listen in different combinations. Out of the box, with a standard head and a standard corrector; with external proofreader; and with it, but with a different head instead of the standard one. Plus you can try different clamp mats.
The only difference from the standard delivery of the player is the phono cable. It was not included with the demo sample, so I put in a simple old Audio-Technica interconnect, so as not to use something about a third of the price of the player, and added a grounding cable.
The first one to play was 7RAY’s “Jazzy Zoetrope”. The edition is modern, but completely analog, and in general the sound seemed recognizable to me, albeit somewhat simplified. Perhaps I was surprised by the amount of bass. There is a lot of it here, it is dense and voluminous. However, I cannot say that it is structured neatly – there is some degree of formality.
Even more surprising was that the overall sound was soft and rather dark. If there is a lot of bass, then the top, on the contrary, is smoothed out, devoid of sharpness. But they are not devoid of speed, like everything else – nevertheless, the direct drive is made well and works. The middle is even, not protruding – rather dense than airy.
The layout of the scene is correct, corresponds to how it was done on the recording. The scale is there, there is no inclination to miniaturization. And even the drawing of images and plans is present, although it feels a little air. The detail is average, and I will not fully assess the dynamics on this record.
In general, the feed with a standard head and with a built-in corrector is rather simple, but does not cause obvious rejection due to the absence of distortions. But there is a lack of transparency and openness at the top. From experience on other discs, I note that in the basic “configuration” modern editions sound more spectacular than the old ones, but at the same time on modern ones a certain vintage in sound is a little more noticeable – and this is clearly the contribution of the path.
Then I put on the Miles Davis record “We Want Miles”. The dynamics are even, but smoothed, and the overall sound is emotional, but rather soft and energetic at the same time. The instrumental parts are perceived together without being too divided, and the emphasis here turned out to be on the general perception – more on emotionality than on analyticity. The sound is also rather dark, with a smoothed top and solid bass, which is very noticeable even here, although it is not heavily accentuated on the recording.
Now it’s time to switch to an external corrector. The same records are basic and additional. The bass immediately came to its senses, gathered, became a little smaller in scale, there was a structure and texture. The detail has become higher, the darkness is less, although the sound, as I expected from the Ortofon 2M Red, did not become light – and the smoothness at the top, albeit to a lesser extent, remained.
The rhythm with the structured bass became more distinct and the dynamics more pronounced. In addition, the depth of the stage increased and there was a little more air. The touch of “vintage” in the sound has almost completely disappeared, the difference in the presentation of old and new editions has become less noticeable (differences are heard, but not their own reading).
In general, it is already quite possible to listen and enjoy, because it sounds really good. Is that soft and smooth, for my taste. Here it would be to upgrade the head insert to 2M Blue (they are interchangeable), but in the absence of such, I will simply change the head. And not on a budget MM, but on a more or less decent and seemingly suitable MC.
Along the way, I tried to change the mat and pick up a clamp. I didn’t really like the clamps, although I try not to use them unnecessarily. Right there, if necessary, a light collet will do, but heavy weight ones will not.
I liked the two-layer cork mat more than the original one in that the sound became sharper in the HF. But I would not say that this particular option is ideal: in HF it is not bad, but the middle has become tough and a little loud. In one place they subtract, in the other they added. The conclusion is this: I did not succeed in choosing the ideal option, but the path, even with a regular budget head, responds to the selection quite clearly. So if the owner has a desire, there is something to experiment with.
And then let’s get back to the head topic – put Audio-Technica AT33Sa. Of course, in terms of an intermediate link, I would try older MM Audio-Technica (a very common combination), but they were not at hand either. Delivered, reconfigured. Played on Richard Hawley’s “Hollow Meadows” CD. Even more interesting.
A delicate, fairly even sound, not sharp, without harshness or loudness, there is both intelligibility and a sense of detail, to the best of the air. The rhythm is not bad, exciting, but not intrusive. Emotional involvement is present. In terms of dynamics – everything is smooth, without fuss, without explicit accentuation of the main tones.
Perhaps there is even some softness. Complex fragments are worked out calmly, without any over-expression, but also without porridge. A little darkness remained in the sound, but now it does not interfere with anything, but is neatly woven into its own sound signature.
Another record is Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”. Surround sound with a fairly pronounced scale, detailed, not sharp, but with a share of drama. A certain amount of details fades into the background, but the general meaning is conveyed to the proper extent – integrally, together, indiscriminately into separate components and without protruding parts. The dynamics are even throughout the entire recording, the presentation is confidently detailed. Sometimes there is some predominance of the lower and middle parts of the range over the upper, which makes the sound less sharp and more dense.
Haydn’s recording of “Die Schöpfung” did not disappoint. The timbres have been simplified a little, but on the whole, everything is reliable and believable, the parts are well read, and the music is perceived emotionally. The scene is good in width and depth, there is good readability of images and natural proportionality. Little air. Note that I was going to finish on this disc, and the result was obvious after a few minutes – however, quite naturally, I wanted to listen a little longer.
And even put another one – François Couperin “Pièces De Clavecin: Troisième Livre”. The sound of the harpsichord, which is quite expected, turned out to be not sharp, but quite full, with good separation of sounds – and even the after-sound did not raise any obvious questions. They are just a little less corporeal than we would like, but with all these nuances there is a “body” of a completely healthy, rationally understandable transfer of music.
It is, of course, a direct drive turntable in character, but it does not look too much like the DJ Technics of yesteryear. It sounds softer and more accurate. Indeed, the “home” way of serving is cozy, but not sleepy. However, I have already written many times about the fact that with the similarity of the principle, direct-drive players can vary greatly in sound.
SL-1500C is simple in basic settings – which does not prohibit more precise settings, and this is a question for each specific owner. The same with the mode of use – you can bring home and listen, or you can gradually upgrade by changing heads, adding an external corrector and accessories.
The device will respond to all this – here it is quite transparent and flexible. So you can not only improve something, but also select the sound to your liking. In other words, for some it is a ready-made solution, but for others it is a platform for further improvements.