Technics SL-1200MK7 Direct Drive Turntable Review
UK electronic music pioneer Marc Mac tries out Technics’ new DJ deck for size…
SL-1200MK7 Direct Drive Turntable
I bought my first SL-1200MK2 around 1991, and before that, I used a pair of SLB-D22s for DJ duties – so you could say I’ve travelled a fair distance on the Technics journey. Yes, I’m old school, but I’ve always been ready for new school music technology. It’s just that I believe evolution and/or upgrades should be out of necessity rather than following fashion. So when the Japanese company announced the new SL-1200MK7 DJ turntable back in 2019, I was cautiously excited and ready for the evolution.
This was the first time for a long time that Technics was directly pitching a new deck at both home and club DJ users, so the excitement was off the scale. Naturally, people such as myself were wondering what would be changed from this iconic, award-winning formula. Not much if you believed the statement made at the 2019 launch: “We wouldn’t dream of drastically changing one of the most renowned products in music history.” Yet, it transpires that some things aren’t quite the same as the iconic SL-1200MK2 that we all know and love…
Side by side, you’d think the old classic and this new DJ-focused deck are pretty much identical. But to someone such as myself, who uses these decks almost daily as part of my music-making process, the real question is how does it feel? I still have my MK2, so I sat the new SL-1200MK7 alongside it and compared the two.
The first thing I noticed was the weight difference. It’s just under 1.5kg lighter, but it feels a lot more, with the new MK7 weighing in at 9.6 kgs and MK2 at 11 kg. Personally, I always felt that the weight added to the prestige of the classic deck and made it feel structurally advanced over most other turntables in existence when it first came out. Technics is trying to improve on the older DJ turntable, so all the upgrades and modifications are intended to enhance the user experience. Yet, for me, using lighter weighted materials on the underbody, plinth, power switch and start/stop switches makes it seem less sturdy than my old MK2.
Interestingly, the new deck looks a little thicker from its frontal aspect – it isn’t as sleek, and the edges are more hard cut, but these are only noticed when taking a much closer look. A more apparent visual change is the small recess in the plinth top for keeping your spare cartridge in a ready-to-go style, which is not a bad idea. You can also see a pitch control X2 button above the pitch slider, and pitch reset button below the slider. I still haven’t got over the original notch type reset/zero on the MK2, but that is now old news, and I can’t see Technics going back there. The MK7 pitch control slider action does actually feel pretty good; it’s the material that may take a little getting used to.
The pop-up cueing light feels like a downgrade compared to the hydraulically damped motion of the old one. However, the LED probably lasts longer and runs cooler. The same goes for the power switch/strobe light, although I’ve always liked the knurled top-turn style switch on the MK2 but had to have mine repaired after it came flying off! This won’t happen with the updated on/off switch design, so it’s a perfect example of Technics going through a checklist of upgrades to counteract known wear and tear issues. Another problem that most of us have had with the MK2 and other legacy decks is the wear on the RCA cables, but the MK7 has also dealt with that issue.
The dustcover is a disappointment. The new MK7’s just sits on top of the deck, unlike the MK2 and others in the series where you have a removable but hinged design. Why would you want an unattached lid floating around? That I don’t get. If I just want a quick spin on the MK2, I can lift the lid and play a record, then close it. I also tend to put a record on and then close the lid sometimes - now, on the MK7, I have to take off the lid then find somewhere to put it.
That all said, I still really like the MK7. It is attractive enough, and although it may feel cheaper in some places, the main parts that I’m really interested in still feel great. The tonearm assembly is little changed from previous models, looks good aesthetically and works as expected. One cool addition is the collection of dip switches under the platter for custom user settings, including LED light colour change, torque and brake adjustments, 78RPM and a very cool reverse direction feature. Although I’ll probably never use this, it’s a fun feature all the same.
Time to get into the practicalities. I must say the packaging is spot on and fits together like a well thought out puzzle with the platter separated carefully on the top compartment of foam, followed underneath by the lid and deck. Other parts include the slipmat, headshell, phono cable, IEC power cable and 45 adapter. Setting it up is very straightforward. When taking the platter out the box, you’ll notice a very different design than the MK2; this is part of a new development for the MK7, namely a coreless direct-drive motor system that’s said to provide high-torque performance, eliminate cogging and produce an even more stable sound.
It seems like some serious work has gone into this new drive system, and with the finger on the platter and hands-on the pitch slider, it actually feels pretty smooth. After using the deck for a few days, from a mixing point of view, I really like it. There are no dead spots or odd events with the pitch control, and I couldn’t notice any difference apart from maybe an improvement over my old MK2. Keep in mind this is nearly thirty years old, though! If I turned up at a club to DJ and saw two MK7s, then I wouldn’t have any problem. It really is unremarkable and behaves just as expected.
I set up the MK2 and MK7 with a pretty basic Numark DM905 mixer and a pair of Shure M44-7 cartridges. The old Reinforced Records catalogue has a lot of material that was made on old analogue gear – such as nineteen eighties sequencers and tape machines – and it doesn’t always have perfectly synced BPMs. Things can drift a little, so mixing is always a bit more challenging. You need to constantly use the pitch control and methods such as platter finger mixing to keep everything tight. The MK7 held up pretty well doing this. I mix most of the time – I’m no scratch DJ – but my basic scratch techniques held up okay also. The deck tracks well with no skating issues, and the needle sat in the groove even with my heavy hand.
So what about the sound quality? Okay, a slight change to the set-up for this. I switched the cartridge to a Goldring Elan and plugged in a Uher 700 mixer and a pair of Sennheiser HD600 headphones. This is stuff that I’m used to, plus I know this mixer has a pretty good headphone circuit. I picked out some vinyl that I know has interesting frequency ranges, dynamics and different recording techniques to see how they responded.
The 2021 pressing of Alice Coltrane’s Kirtan: Turiya Sings was a good place to start. This record has some interesting frequencies and voices that are recorded to cut through. It sounded good, very accurate around the 200 to 400Hz range and with fine clarity. Alice uses acoustic and synthesised drones, so pitch stability needs to be good, and we are already fully aware that Technics has got the SL-1200MK7’s digital pitch circuitry on point.
I recently remastered and pressed a 180gram vinyl version of 4hero’s Parallel Universe LP. As it’s partly my own work, I know exactly how this should sound, and it was just right. The MK7 was pretty much spot on, all the low frequencies coming over tight and unexaggerated, with crisp high frequencies and no obvious distortions.
For stereo imaging and overall frequency placement, the Harold Land Quintet on Chess Cadet records was my choice for reference. This is a jazz quintet recorded in Annex Studio Hollywood back in 1968; it’s very well done and should sound like you are in the room with the musicians when played on a good stereo system. Here it sounded fantastic – placement was better than the last time I remember playing that record.
My next test track was John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13, which is a retro electronic album with drum machines and synths recorded with ambience, detail and dynamics. Any unwanted noise would stick out like a sore thumb here, but again it was great. Finally, a test press that just came in this week. The remaster of Nu Era’s Beyond Gravity LP is a classic techno record with solid 909 drum machine kicks and hi-hats. Once again, it reproduced the audio as originally recorded; indeed, the remaster actually sounded better than the slightly over pushed original vinyl.
I’m pretty much down with this deck. The new Technics SL-1200MK7 ticks a lot of boxes. Some of the earlier points I made about the weight and thick body could be a problem when it comes to being used out in the clubs and fields, but that’s a test for a live sound engineer. My experience, I’d have to say, is positive. I would buy one. Maybe it’s a little expensive for bedroom DJs, but with so much work gone into redeveloping this deck, maybe selling it any cheaper was not an option.
Musical innovators are thin on the ground, but Marc’s claim is more robust than most. A pioneer of Drum & Bass, one half of Mercury Music Prize nominees 4hero and founder member of Reinforced Records, he’s hugely respected in the industry. Not content to bask in the glory of one genre, Marc has also made classic techno records as Nu Era and Jazz/Hip Hop as Visioneers.
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