After a long absence, Panasonic’s acclaimed Technics brand has returned to Australia with a range of new gear, targeting not only its bread and butter of DJs but also audio enthusiasts who don’t like to compromise on sound and also don’t want to splash $10,000 on a record player.
I tested the SL-1500C turntable, which despite being the “entry level” model will still only get you a dollar change from $2000. It certainly looks like a Technics turntable, with the characteristic s-shaped tonearm and hefty, beautifully finished aluminum composite chassis. This is one solidly built unit. A little ostentatious, but more subtle than some of its DJ-focused siblings.
The most important thing to know about the SL-1500C is that it isn’t for the snobbiest of vinyl purists, but it isn’t strictly for newcomers either. It’s a high-end but easy-to-use player that gives you everything you need to get close to analogue perfection in a single box.
Setup is easy; you just set the heavy platter above the magnetic motor, fit the weight and you’re ready to go. The SL-1500C comes with an Oroton 2M Red cartridge, which is good enough for me, but a detachable headshell should make replacement easy for more discerning listeners. If your surface isn’t 100 per cent level, a quick twist of one of the four chunky feet can adjust height slightly to account. There’s a built-in phono stage, so you can jack it into whatever stereo you have without the need for a separate amp.
The direct drive motor design here is informed by some of the brand’s more expensive offerings, with a focus on eliminating the “cogging” distortion that can come with direct drive and cutting down on the need for parts maintenance over time.
The electronic speed control is kept accurate, Panasonic says, through technology refined through the development of its Blu-Ray players. Hitting the big Stop/Start button results in smooth and immediate rotation at speed.
So how does it all sound? I honoured Technic’s rave-driving tendencies with a steady diet of dance, rock and metal, and couldn’t find much to complain about. Northlane’s rapidfire bass hits boom but don’t linger, giving a clean but still warm sound with impressive detail, while less compact tracks like Dead Letter Circus’ Lodestar show off a vast soundstage where each instrument has room to breathe. Vocals and acoustic tracks are also elegantly imaged.
The most hardcore vinyl fan might be turned off by features like the optional pre-amp or the semi-manual operation (you cue the tonearm yourself but it will raise automatically at the end of the disc), but the SL-1500C offers a stellar compromise between purity and convenience, and packs a solidity of design and variety of features that makes it very competitive with other $2000 decks.
As well as my own speakers I tested the SL-1500C through one of Technics’ new OTTAVA S SC-C50 units, which obviously don’t have the same kind of heritage as the turntable to draw upon but are canny (if expensive) high-end Wi-Fi speakers that may appeal to those not satisfied by a Sonos or Google Home Max.
The powerful $1429 box has a somewhat-dated eliptical design, but it makes the most of that by positioning its speakers for maximum width and good stereo separation. Inside there are three tweeters, three midranges and a 12cm woofer. An auto-tuning “Space Tune” feature can adjust the output to your room to avoid reverb and noise.
When connected to the turntable via AUX cable sound was very rich, clear and loud given the relatively small cabinet, but the SC-50 is no slouch when it comes to more modern inputs as well.
There’s a USB port where you can connect a drive of FLAC files, or you can simply fling them to the speaker over your local network. If you’re using a smartphone to drive the music the SC-C50 works with Google Cast or Apple AirPlay, or you can use the ugly but straightforward Technics Audio Center app to connect direct to Spotify, Tidal, Deezer or internet radio stations. You can group it with other Google Cast enabled speakers, or (if your wallet can handle it) buy two to make a stereo pair.
The unit’s easy to operate sans phone thanks to a simple OLED display and buttons, and you can set up to nine favourites — anything from a Spotify playlist to an album or radio station — which makes it effortless to summon your most-requested internet music.
Overall, like the turntable, this will be overkill for many but offers a nice balance between simplicity of use and high-end build and sound.