Technics SL-10 Direct Drive Turntable Review

The Technics SL-10 direct drive, fully automatic turntable, continues Technics’ tradition of innovation and beautifully designed products. 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.

The Bottom Line

Should you buy an SL-10? 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

$300 - $600AUD
8

Chassis / Motor

9.0/10

Tonearm

8.0/10

Build / Finish

9.5/10

Upgradeability

5.0/10

Sound Quality

8.5/10

Pros

  • Precision direct-drive
  • Linear-tracking tonearm
  • Excellent pitch stability
  • Hands-free operation
  • Tiny footprint

Cons

  • Limited cartridge availability
  • Limited upgradability

23 thoughts on “Technics SL-10 Direct Drive Turntable Review”

  1. This turntable is certainly legendary! I wish I could own one. I had a chance for the similar Technics SL-7 linear tracker on eBay for under $300 here in Australia but I missed the bid by 15 minutes!

    1. Yeah the SL-7 is also a nice deck, but not as nicely built as the SL-10. I work on a lot of these, keep an eye out for them, they come up still for very sensible money.

  2. How did you pop the lid rest out? Do you just pull it? Mine is currently on the shop bench for routine maintenance but I’m worried about breaking the lid rest.

    1. Hi Nate, I’m not sure what part you are referring to but I suspect you may be talking about the stay that supports the lid? If so, it pulls out, but be careful, there are lots of things to break on an SL-10 if you are careless or don’t have the right tools. The service manual is also very helpful. Regards, Mike

  3. Yes, I meant the stay, thank you. Mine seems semi-stuck so a bit nervous about just yanking it. Had another question since mine suffers from this a bit: you mention repairing the feet. Any advice on this? I’ve read that perhaps using printer roller cleaner/rejuvenator? Any other advice?

    1. Hi Nate, no problem. I typically repair feet like this with epoxy. I’m not sure what issues you have with the feet on your deck but if you were local I’d say bring her in for a proper overhaul! Good luck getting her sorted.

  4. Could not afford the SL-10, but found a SL DL1 at a minimal price. Cleaned, re- lubricated, changed tonearm belt, and re-adjusted all aspects of operation. It’s lovely, heavy, and operates flawlessly. I truly appreciate the dynamically balanced arm on these wonderful mechanisms! Thanks for your review!

  5. Hi Mike,

    I was given a faulty SL-10 a few years ago by a friend who thought I could repair it (arm was stuck and “repeat” led flashing). I replaced the belt and lubricated the arm mechanism. The arm moves smoothly backwards and forwards under power of a 9V battery connected to the motor, but it won’t move under its own power. The platter spins and the arm drops onto the record (if it’s a 12″), but will only play as far as the pivot allows. This is frustrating, as it plays for long enough to give an idea of how good the deck can sound.

    I suspect a circuit fault on the drive board – it all looks sound and there are no obviously swollen capacitors. The only thing I can see wrong is that the red led identified as PL1 appears to have failed, but I don’t think this is important. Any ideas?

    1. Hi Mark and thanks for your inquiry. It definitely sounds like your deck needs to come in for a careful inspection. I have a few ideas, but with anything like this, I really need to physically inspect the equipment, assess any previous mechanical and electrical work and go from there. There are quite a few mechanical and electronic adjustments that need to be made as well. If you are local, give me a call and we can arrange for me to have a proper look at her! Regards, Mike

    1. No worries Mark, it’s on my home and contact pages – I’m in Carine, Perth, Western Australia. Very happy to assist if you are anywhere in this vicinity!

  6. I couldn’t be much further away without being an extraterrestrial – Essex, England!

    I would have thought sending the turntable to you would be prohibitively expensive, but maybe you could look at the board if I sent it? I’d want to be pretty sure the fault is on there though.

    Or do you know someone over here that could look at it?

    1. Hi Mark, that’s a bummer, unfortunately I really need the whole unit, there are many interacting adjustments that require the unit to be intact to successfully complete. I would also need the entire unit for troubleshooting purposes. I’m not aware of repairers in your area, so that’s not much help either, my apologies!

  7. That’s a shame – I’d love to get it going. Can I just ask a couple of questions:

    Do you think I can rule out jammed mechanism as it runs with the 9V battery?

    Both of the lid locking hinges are broken – do you know if replacements are available?

    Thanks,

    Mark

    1. Yes it really needs to be in front of me for me to able to offer much help. You can only rule out a jammed mechanism if the carriage makes the full traverse when operated by hand, from microswitch to microswitch. You can then feel for any sticking. I’m not sure if you are referring to the hinges or the lid catch/lock mechanism, but either way, these parts are no longer available.

  8. Thanks again Mike.

    When you say operated by hand, do you mean by manually turning the wheel that the belt runs on? Like I said it moves, but maybe the battery is too blunt an instrument to tell if it is sticking.

    It is the lid catch/lock devices that are broken. The lid does sit closed under its own weight, certainly closed enough to operate the lid position switch.

  9. Thanks again Mike. I tried that this afternoon and it’s nice and smooth all the way along. The start and end switches are working fine when the arm reaches them.

    I tried to fool the turntable into thinking it was closed when it was open, to see if a little jiggle of the arm might get it moving. I put tape over the three light sensors and held the lid position switch in, but it didn’t fall for it. I got the flashing “repeat” led, which is also what I get if I try to start it with the arm away from the start location.

    I probably need a friendly SL-10 owner willing to test my board for me by swapping it into a good turntable.

    Thanks for all your help – if I wasn’t at the other side of the World I’d send it to you to fix.

  10. I just recently purchased an SL-10 from a older gentleman who services & sells these units all the time, so needless to say everything was up to fine operating condition. He also tossed in a original Technics MC-310 cartridge. When it arrived I was truly blown away by the superb sound. But I had my doubts about the condition of the 310 stylus. I sent the cartridge in to Sound Smith for a evaluation, they recommended a re-tip, so I chose the solid boron cantilever with the nude fine line stylus. I tell you what this unit plays vinyl like nobody’s business, absolutely beautiful sound. So like mike sez if you run across one of these TT’s that is in decent condition definitely go for it, with a little tweaking, they are truly amazing.

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