It’s no real secret that I have a bit of an obsession with Technics’ legendary 1200 series turntables and in my time I’ve owned at least ten of the things – I’ve used them in clubs, in my record shop, at parties and in later years as my main source of listening to the black stuff. However, I’d never gone further down the modifying route than adding a different mat (Achromat) and a half decent cartridge (Denon Dl110 in the past). There are a number of companies out there who specialize in providing the bits and pieces to help those so inclined to improve upon the standard Technics 1210 and there’s no shortage of people who will claim that a suitably modified DJ spinner will blow pretty much all the competition out of the water. It has to be said there are also no shortage of people who say it’s all a waste of time and you’d be better off spending on a “better” turntable in the first place.
A bit of history first. The original Technics 1200 turntable was introduced by Matsushita in October of 1972 as a domestic record player but was quickly adopted by radio and club Djs. The SL-1210MKII (the turntable used here) was launched in 1979 with various upgrades and new models since then being introduced. Over three million of the 1200 series turntables have been sold. I like the 1210 for its rock steady pitch which to my ears gives a nice and solid feel to the music, though others have called the turntable “dark”.
A few months ago I decided that I’d have another go with the 1210 and this time would take it a little further than previously. A friend provided me with an Origin Live external power supply and so I thought it a sensible option to go the whole hog with Origin Live upgrades rather than trying to mix and match manufacturers. Cartridge throughout was the AT33EV from Audio Technica.
It has to be said that Mark at Origin Live has been incredibly helpful in the whole process and even updated the older external power supply to current specifications for me.
I’ll write about my upgrade path in the order that I did it so that you will get an idea of the kinds of improvements you can expect.
First up the Origin Live advanced external power supply (£295) was fitted and this involves taking the turntable apart, removing the internal transformer and soldering a couple of wires. The picture to the right shows the lump you remove. Now I’m certainly no expert when it comes to grappling with the soldering iron and I was a little nervous about the whole process, but it has to be said that it was absolutely painless and from start to finish took around an hour and a half max’ – I’m sure those more competent than myself could do it in a lot less time than this. Instructions are well written and easy enough to follow.
The power supply is a modestly sized silver box (available in black too I believe) which comes with a wallwart to power it and a cable to connect it to the turntable’s internals. Improvements are to my ears fairly subtle, but you are rewarded with a “cleaner” sounding turntable with a somewhat more focused sound in the bass frequencies. Is it worth doing? Well yes it is I think. In the world of hifi we are looking to squeeze every last bit of performance from our kit and adding the power supply does indeed improve the sound. However, if I was going through this process again and in increments, I’d be inclined to add the external PSU further down the path.
Origin Live RB 250 Tonearm
Next up the arm was changed for my OL modified Rega RB250 which I bought some time ago and has served me well. Fitting the arm involves removing the old arm (simple), adding the Origin Live armboard (£58) (See Pic) and then finally popping in the arm. Relatively simple, but it does involve cutting a larger hole in the bottom of the deck to allow you to get your fingers in there which will have an effect on resale value I’m sure.
The Origin Live modifications to the standard Rega arm include a structural improvement, internal and external rewire and a new counterweight stub. This has been my arm of choice for a good while now and adding it to the Technics produced the expected results – bigger soundstage with better imaging, greater oomph to the lower registers and an all round feeling that the cartridge is pulling more out of the grooves than with the standard tonearm. If I was choosing which of the modifications to do so far then I’d have been looking to add the better arm over the external power supply – the combined effects of the two are still well worth the effort to my mind!
Platter Mat and Feet
OL Platter mat (£39.95) and Feet (£39.95) were added next. The mat is different to the mats I’ve added to the Technics in the past in that it is a thin and flexible mat that is just 1mm thick – sort of rubbery feeling material. I was a little sceptical about the efficacy of this but sonic results spoke for themselves. Bass becomes more taught and imaging more focused. Instruments appear more “natural”. Adding the feet give you more of the same and for a combined cost of just shy of eighty quid a worthwhile and cost effective improvement. I sat the turntable on our dining room table with the new feet whilst messing about with it (it was there for a few days) and I now have four small marks where the material of the feet seems to have leeched through the varnish and into the wood – word to the wise, put the turntable on something you don’t mind getting marked.
Origin Live Silver Tonearm
The final modification I did was to add an Origin Live Silver tonearm (£675). Fitting is easy as it slots straight into the Rega mounting plate I fitted earlier. Set up is also a painless experience. Mark at Origin Live suggested giving the tonearm a good few weeks to “run in” and so I played album after album without listening to them – a real pain to do, but I wanted to hear the tonearm properly from the off!
A few weeks past and so it was on with some tunes proper and we were immediately rewarded with the biggest leap in sound quality over the other upgrades. No really, this was a pick your jaw up off the floor moment for me. The music is delivered much more “cleanly”, with a much greater insight into the mix. Imaging was stable and spot on whilst the soundstage just seemed to open up in comparison to the OL RB 250. Bass notes were much more solid and tight than with the OL RB250 and bounced along. The overall effect is that the sound becomes faster with no overhang on notes. Snares and hats on Hawkwind’s “Spirit of the Age” became immediately more percussive and keen. On Giorgio’s “Nights in White Satin” the pumping disco bassline is clearly separated from the horns and other instruments – it’s akin to someone going into the mix and giving clearer definition to where things sit in the mix. Playing Tom Paxton’s “California” displayed the vocals as being unforced and very natural sounding.
I popped the arm onto the Wislon Benesch Circle turntable I have and found similarly impressive improvements.
Each of the upgrades offered by Origin Live to the standard Technics deck provide a real and tangible improvement in sonic performance with some (to my ears) being more beneficial than others. If I was to make just one upgrade here it would be to change the tonearm to the OL RB250(or the Alliance arm, which is the current equivalent Origin Live offering) if on a tight budget or, if feeling slightly more flush, the Origin Live Silver tonearm, for it is with these changes that you get the maximum bang for your buck in my opinion. For eighty quid I’d add the mat and the feet next as the improvements far outweigh the financial outlay. Finally I’d add the external power supply as this too brings worthwhile sonic improvements.
I’m well aware that this goes against what many other people have found whilst upgrading their 1210s but I wouldn’t be being honest if I suggested the power supply made the most sense. Yes it is worth doing, but the effects are not as great as improving the tonearm for something better than the stock arm!
All in all what you get with the Technics 1210 with the Origin Live upgrades is a deck that I would suggest would be hard to beat for the cash outlay and, if you do it all yourself, it’s actually quite a rewarding process that you can do over a period of time when funds allow.
Author – Stuart
Review System: Audio Technica AT33EV cartridge, Electrocompaniet Phonostage, hORNS Mummy Loudspeakers, Van De Leur Preamplifier, Tellurium Q Iridium amplifier and Ultra Black speaker cables, various interconnects.