The Legend of Technics 1200’s

Way back in October, 1972, The Matsushita Electric Company, better known as Panasonic, launched the SL1200 turntable under their Technics brand. This was the second in their new range; the first being the SP-10, which launched in 1970 and was the world’s first direct-drive turntable. Replacing the belt-driven systems used previously with a direct-drive system enabled them to get to the correct speed faster. This development wasn’t implemented with Hip Hop DJs in mind (they didn’t exist yet) but became a major factor in the development of DJing as an art form in later years.

The Development of a Culture

It wasn’t until 1979, with the arrival of the SL1200 MK2, that the Technics turntable really came into its own. Initially launched as a mid-priced hi-fi turntable for audiophiles to use at home, the Technics staff had started to notice the use of the 1200’s in clubs and discos during the 70s. The torque in the direct-drive system meant that there was (virtually) no lag in startup time and with no belt drives to worry about breaking, DJs could follow their instincts and start developing the foundations of their trade: backspinning, beat-juggling, scratching, mixing, etc.

Kool Herc was one of the pioneers in this time, he realised that crowds would go wild for certain sections of songs, ‘the breakbeats’. He would have the same track on multiple records, so experimented with extending these sections with his ‘Merry-Go-Round’ technique; essentially queuing the same loop on both turntables and cutting between the two, keeping the energy going on the dancefloor and kickstarting the idea of mixing as a technique. Other pioneers of this time include Grandmaster Flash and the king of scratching Grand Wizzard Theodore.

With artists like this singing the praises of the Technics decks, they quickly became the go-to piece of kit for DJ culture, first in the South Bronx, then later in downtown Manhattan clubs, before becoming the de-facto tool for DJs worldwide.

The Specs

Shuichi Obata, the inventor, began working with New York DJs to tweak the MK2 in favour of the burgeoning Hip Hop scene. The first upgrade was the pitch control slider, enabling DJs to adjust the speed of their tracks and have more control when it comes to beat matching. Other upgrades included greater resistance to external feedback, less internal vibration and an extremely accurate quartz-controlled motor.

Advertised as ‘Tough enough to take the disco beat. Accurate enough to keep it.’, they were built like a tank, perfect for the gigging DJ who’s moving from show to show and looking for a battle-ready, reliable piece of kit.

In terms of technical specs, the pitch adjustment allows for +/-8% movement, with a central indent indicating the 0 position. At 0, the quartz keeps it steady at exactly 33.3 or 45RPM, with wow and flutter measured at 0.025% WRMS. The tonearm is the subject of great ongoing debate among turntable purists, with most people opting to modify in some way or another, whether that be weighting it with a coin or opting for a third-party tonearm.

The Updates

10 years on; in 1989, Technics came out with the MK3, this version uses the same motherboard but came with a slipmat (after they had noticed DJs making their own) and they dropped the indent at 0 on the pitch control, to allow more precise control between -1% to +1%. In 1995, Technics released the SL1200LTD, a limited run of 5000 SL1200’s with 24K Gold Plated parts, to celebrate 2 million units being sold!

There were a few more updates up until 2010, when, perceiving a lower demand for vinyl, Panasonic decided to discontinue their analog turntable range. This led to an uproar in the DJ community and after a petition gathering more than 27,000 signatures, they brought it back in 2016, with a further update, the MK7, in 2019.

The Legacy

Not only were the Technics SL1200 range pivotal in the birth of Hip Hop culture, but they have also managed to remain relevant ever since; such is their enduring appeal and functionality. They have even spawned further subcultures from within Hip Hop.

‘Turntablism’, the super tech end of DJing, has been an ever-growing artform, enabled to progress by the DMC World DJ Championships, which are hosted by Technics and has been ongoing since 1985. It gives DJs 6 minutes to showcase their skills and exhibits how far DJing has developed since its inception in the early 70s!!

Take DJ Craze’s insane winning routine in 1999, for example:

Or France’s C2C, showing us how it's done in the group competition:

The 1200’s still pay a huge roll in DJ culture and will continue to do so for a long time!

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