Technics SL-10 Direct Drive Turntable Review

The Technics SL-10 direct drive, fully automatic turntable, continues Technics’ tradition of innovation and stunningly designed products. Read on to find out why this deck is one of the best vintage turntable buys today.

Ground-Breaking Design

The Technics SL-10 direct-drive turntable represented the pinnacle of design, engineering and product marketing, when it arrived on the scene in 1979.

The SL-10 was the first linear-tracking turntable to feature direct drive and was a radical departure from conventional design. It has the same width and depth dimensions as an LP record jacket, tiny for a fully-featured turntable. Yet within this compact package are a computer and precision tonearm drive system.

It was part of a luxury range of micro-hi-fi equipment, all built to the same high standards. A typical Technics system of the time, including an SL-10, looked like this:

Typical ‘high-end chic’ Technics system of the day.

The deck features a gimbal-suspended linear-tracking tonearm, and originally included a high-grade moving coil cartridge. Computer control systems allow foolproof operation of the deck, without ever having to touch the tonearm. In practice this means less “Oops, I broke the cantilever again” moments!

An LP jacket fits perfectly over the SL-10, it really is this small!
Opened up and you get just a glimpse of the inner workings of this lovely deck. Here you can see the underside of the lid and the linear tracking tonearm in the ‘parked’ position.

The heavy die-cast aluminum chassis, dynamically balanced aluminum platter and sealed design, combine to produce an excellent user and record playing experience. The SL-10 also came standard with Technics excellent EPC-310MC moving coil cartridge. The EPC-310MC is an excellent cartridge, featuring ultra-low moving mass and boron cantilever, but is sadly long since out of production.

If you can find an EPC-310MC in good condition, just buy it.

Impact

Think about the turntable marketplace at the time this deck came out in 1979. The SL-10 looks space-age now, how do you think it looked then..?! The Brits and Yanks were churning out cookie-cutter wooden belt-drive decks, which were in engineering terms to the SL-10 what a Timex is to an Audemars Piquet.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some innovative products at the time – the original Rega Planar 3 springs to mind as one excellent example. But even the Planar 3 was considered radical at that time, and if that deck was radical, the SL-10 was other-worldly! This stunningly compact, high performance turntable was an engineering world apart from the wobbly, almost home-made decks that were common at the time.

I can only imagine engineers working at the smaller European and North American hi-fi manufacturers at the time getting hold of an SL-10 for the first time. They must have truly wondered, after having their minds blown, how they would ever compete. The Revox B-790 / B795 series of linear tracking turntables from the great Swiss manufacturer was one attempt. I owned a Revox B795, it’s not as good as the SL-10.

The SL-10 was at home in the most expensive systems, whilst not being out of place in modest set-ups. Heck, the SL-10 was and still is considered such an extraordinary piece of engineering ‘art’ that the wonderful Museum of Modern Art or MoMA in Manhattan, NYC, a place I’ve spent many hours, even has a special SL-10 exhibit – I’m not kidding!

Specifications (courtesy of the Vinyl Engine)

Platter: 300mm aluminium die-cast
Speed accuracy: within +-0.002%
Wow and flutter: 0.025% WRMS
Rumble: -78dB
Tonearm type: Dynamic balanced linear tracking gimbal suspension
Effective length: 105mm
Cartridge type: EPC-310MC moving coil stereo
Frequency response: 10 to 60,000Hz
Dimensions: 315 x 88 x 315mm
Weight: 6.5kg

Technics of course has some more great info about the SL-10 at their dedicated SL-10 museum page. The Vinyl Engine also has their page with more info, and the always awesome Vintage Knob, has another excellent SL-10 page. You can also watch a short video I made of the SL-10 playing vinyl.

Servicing

These decks are relatively straight forward in terms of servicing and of course, Liquid Audio is here to help. They are very reliable, but regular servicing is a sensible plan. Standard servicing includes lubricating the motor and linear tracking mechanisms, checking and adjusting the arm and carriage and replacing the belt that drives the arm. Everything else is bullet proof, as expected of Technics.

Look out for perished rubber feet under the unit. I regularly repair these. Also check the cartridge, what type is it? Is the stylus still OK? Try to check out any potential SL-10 playing a record. Check that the arm traverses its full range of motion smoothly and that all commands receive swift responses. I’ll do all of this if you book it in with me.

Here we see the SL-10 main-board, with the platter removed. The aluminium platter is bolted to the motor. With the dynamically balanced arm, you could actually play the SL-10 standing in a vertical position. Anyway, this main board is very well laid out and engineered with excellent components.

Sound

There are no surprises here, sound is warm, with plenty of extension and drive. Mids and highs are also excellent if you have a good example of the Technics EPS 300 moving coil cartridge installed. The other common option is a Shure moving magnet cartridge, and these are also rich and full-bodied, perhaps a little warmer overall.

As long as you have a good example of a quality cartridge fitted, you won’t go wrong. The SL-10 is rock solid in terms of pitch and reasonably good at isolating environmental vibrations. The deck has its limits here though, mostly due to the rudimentary sprung feet and low-ish 6.5kg mass.

Should You Buy..?

Damn right you should. What do you want in a turntable? Push-button ease of use? No risk of trying to maneuver a tonearm and boron rod after several drinks? Sony Walkman-like build quality and superb sound quality to boot? If yes, there are few decks I could recommend more highly than the legendary Technics SL-10. At the prices they are currently selling for, the SL-10 represents a real bargain.

Technics SL-10

Technics SL-10
8.5

Chassis / Motor

9.5 /10

Tonearm

8.0 /10

Build / Finish

9.0 /10

Upgradeability

7.5 /10

Sound Quality

8.5 /10

Pros

  • Precision direct-drive system
  • Precision linear-tracking tonearm
  • Excellent pitch stability
  • No need to ever touch the tonearm
  • One-touch micro-switch operation

Cons

  • Limited range of cartridges available
  • No upgradability

Thanks for reading, leave a comment and let me know what you think!