SL1200 upgrade tonearm or replace cartridge?

The upgrade bug has started to bite again. I'm thinking of upgrading my tonearm from a stock sl1200 tone arm with cards wires to a SME arm (309, IV, or V).

My other issue is that my cartridge, a Benz Glider homc, I nearing the point where it could use a re-tip or exchange.

My budget is limited, so I can only do one of the above this year.

So my question is, which upgrade cart or arm?

Is the glider a good fit for the SME arms?

Which SME arm is the best fit for the SL1200?
Don't know if this is much help to you as I have no experience of the cartridge other than I just found out how much it costs. It seems over priced (match wise) to the cost of the turntable (when these could be purchased new that it), but given that you were thinking of upgrading the tonearm, have you thought about the SME M2 ? these look more suited to your turntable, and I expect would be easier to fit, though whichever one you choose will need a custom plate making for it.
With the stock tonearm (which I happen to think is pretty good already (with the right cartridge), why not try a downgrade to a higher priced MM cartridge ? There are several makes out there that might suit that arm better than the Benz and give a better sound, and give a better sound because of this.
Ortofon, Goldring and Audio Technica make good, higher end MM cartridges, my favourite being the Audio Technica AT440mla, though your Benz being such a high end model, you might not be satisfied with it. However, AT make some pretty well regarded, more expensive models as do Ortofon, so this might be a way to go which doesn't involve altering your turntable. You can then, still upgrade the tonearm later on when funds permit, knowing you already have a good cartridge to put in it.

I hope this helps you.

Rge Spares by SoundsSupreme
If you check out Jeff Dorgay's article in ToneAudio's Issue 22, he replaces the internal power supply with an aftermarket one, and the mounts an SME 309 and reports the results. An excerpt:

...if you want to push the boundaries of what you can achieve for an investment of $2,000 in a turntable. I’ve had the opportunity to listen to a lot of turntables in the $2,000 - $3,000 range from Rega, VPI, Pro-Ject, Music Hall, etc., and for my money, this one is the one to beat.....
Hi Nick,

Have you tried a Trans-fi Terminator T3 tonearm? I have seen a number of them used on Technics 1200 (check youtube and Vic's customer corner). See Dave Garretson's detailed review on AudioAsylum.
Johnny I had already seen that review, thank you. I think i read it in one of your others posts. It is one of the things motivating me to go along this route.

In the passed I had tried the Ortofon 2M blue, it wasn't bad for the money but the Benz Glider was a big improvement and I am not going back to a MM cartridge. Although the AT150 has always intrigued me. As for the SME M2, I do not know how much better it could be from the stock tonearm but by the looks of it the difference would appear marginal. If I am going to upgrade I want it to make a big improvements. Finally if I up grade the arm and decide thereafter to upgrade the turntable I will have a high quality arm on which to build.

The trans-fi tonearm definitely looks amazing, it would be fun to try. But it also looks very complex and that something I am not ready to own.
Concerning the Benz I would strongly suggest replacement with the new S-Class cartridge. I've read some time back that Benz suspended the re-tip and upgrade for a period of time.

I have an original version of the SL 1200. I also was loaned a much older Thorens 124 with an Ortofon SP which seems like a clanky deck but it simply out classed the Technics.

I've since purchased a trashed Well Tempered for $250. Brought it back to life and running a Benz Ruby Z (upgraded from an L Wood). I mounted the Ruby on the SL 1200 and that deck seems to suck the life out of the presentation. I'm not knowledgable enough to explain the shortcoming but I wouldn't gamble on upgrading a Technics unless it was an SP-10 III.

There are simply too many other choices out there.

Original arm.

I read somewhere, and maybe someone else can speak more definitively, that the servo circuit within the SL motor is constantly hunting for the proper rpm. While looking at the strobe it appears to be visually stable but the motor is continuously compensating.

I believe this function was accomplished with regulation independent and outboard of the motor in the SP-10 whose subsequent versions improved on those electronic controls and its power supply.

Back in the day most of the radio stations my wife worked at as well as others I visited the SP-10 and 15 became the mainstay in the last days of vinyl. The arm most often used was an older Ortofon RMG 309 (I think), with an Ortofon SP cartridge. I'm sure there is a newer more elegant and expensive version.

These things were a very long dog leg and were also used in conjunction with the older idler tables. With the table off the disc jockey would spin and queue the track, hold the queued record while he turned the table on and the felt topped plater would spin under the queued record then let go.

Try a Audio-Technica AT150MLX MM cartridge on your Technics. I use one, and it's a great combo. Highly recommended.
Vic, I think the "life being sucked out" effect you describe is most likely due to the stock tonearm more than the table as whole.

As for the speed searching, this is not my experience. My 1200 is absolutely stable, quartz locked at the correct speed. Maybe if you add additional weight to the platter, with copper mats and heavy clamps, such as TTW, then you may run into some torque issues.

Dave as I mentioned above, I find the at150mlx intriguing but I am totally satisfied with Benz Glider homc. I have not intention of going back MM at this time. If I did, I would probably like to try a Grace f9 ruby first.

I would like to redirect this thread back to my original questions.

1- Should I replace my cartridge which is nearing (but not yet there) it's end of useful life before upgrading my tonearm? The logic, is that new cartridge may provide sufficient improvement in performance thus putting into questions the need for a tonearm upgrade. However, a having a new cartridge may limit my selection of compatible tone arms, thus putting off the replacement cartridge until I have upgraded the tonearm would allow me full flexibility to change to an optimal cartridge for the tonearm selected. What came first the chicken or the egg?

2- I am leaning towards an SME arm, who has experience with these arm on the sl1200, at which would be best 309, IV or V, and are there any to avoid? Yes I realize that conventional wisdom would suggest that these arm may be overkill for the table.
I read somewhere, and maybe someone else can speak more definitively, that the servo circuit within the SL motor is constantly hunting for the proper rpm. While looking at the strobe it appears to be visually stable but the motor is continuously compensating.
I believe that's a widespread myth, and am pretty sure I even read it in Stereophile once. However, I've never seen any evidence that it's true, such as measured speed or pitch variations. Some people feel that the SL12x0 series has an upper midrange glare or resonance, and since the servo operates at 3500 Hz, some audio journalists *theorized* that the servo frequency caused the glare, but then passed it on as fact.

I've read on the site that this is false, and he has the 'scope captures to prove it. In my personal experience with my SL1210 M5G (and AT150MLX for that matter), I set about to neutralize all resonances and vibration I could find. There *was* a persistent subtle glare in the upper midrange; when I flicked the tonearm with my fingernail it seemed to ring at the same pitch. The tonearm is an undamped aluminum tube, which by its nature is very resonant. I wrapped the tonearm in inexpensive lightweight Teflon pipe thread tape and the resonant peak disappeared.

Most of the complaints about the Technics lack of clarity can be readily and cheaply addressed with damping and vibration control. I upgraded the headshell to a pretty inert LPGear ZuPreme, installed KAB's fluid damper, wrapped the tonearm, swapped in a sorbothane platter mat, replaced the stock feet with brass cones situated on inverted Vibrapod cones sitting on Vibrapod isolators sitting on a 3.5" thick heavy butcher block cutting board isolated by some silicone gel pads. It sounds convoluted but cosmetically it actually looks OK and every tweak I mentioned incrementally improved clarity, musicality, lowered noise floor, improved dynamics, etc.

Yes, the Technics has some resonant peaks and some clarity problems out of the box, but they have nothing to do with the servo frequency and are inexpensively neutralized.
Don't forget that all the damping and wrapping come at a price. These are fixes to tame resonant frequencies, to move towards a more musical and less analytical presentation. I would love to put my 10' vpi tonearm from a Traveler on my KAB 1200 deck, I just can't seen to get past this gastly Technics tonearm. It just seems to take some of the life out of the music.

02-07-13: Zenblaster
Don't forget that all the damping and wrapping come at a price. These are fixes to tame resonant frequencies, to move towards a more musical and less analytical presentation. I would love to put my 10' vpi tonearm from a Traveler on my KAB 1200 deck, I just can't seen to get past this gastly Technics tonearm. It just seems to take some of the life out of the music.
I don't get what you're trying to say. All the damping tweaks I mentioned improved the sound. It didn't just reduce midrange glare, it improved inner detail, linearity, microdynamics and macrodynamics. The sum total is that with these tweaks the music is more lifelike and involving.

The only place I encountered overdamping is if you put too much silicone goo in the KAB damping trough--then the dynamics flatten out and the music turns lifeless. This is the universal symptom of overdamping. This is easily fixed by filling the damping trough only one-third full.

Each tweak fixed something different. The record grip damps spindle and surface noise. The mat damps platter ringing; the tonearm wrap damps tonearm ringing. The brass cones/vibrapod/cutting board drain extraneous vibrations out of the chassis; the gel pads under the cutting board isolate the turntable from room vibrations. Each tweak addresses a different set of vibrations and resonances.

As for "coming at a price," it was $150 for the KAB trough, $10 for a used sorbothane mat, $50 for the headshell, $20 for brass cones, $56 for Vibrapods, $25 for a rubber record grip, $89 for a big, heavy cutting board and $30 for two computer keyboard gel wrist pads. The results were improved musical reproduction in every way with no subtractions.
I'm saying that I made the error of putting too much effort and modifications (and money) into a, relatively speaking, poor tonearm. Any of the aftermarket tonearms that the op mentioned will get you further up the food chain, by far, than any modification and tweak you can make to a $50 tonearm. I know I may be stomping on hallowed ground but I have owned and used a Kab 1200 for years. Ease of use, quick cart changes,great sound, I love it, I even have an Ortofon 2mBlack on it as I speak. The VPI Traveler that I've been trying out is just in a different league and most of that difference comes from the tonearm.
It's the law of diminishing returns.
Has anyone tried a VPI tonearm, such as a JMW 9t on a SL1200?

I kind of share zenblasters view why put money and effort into something that is fundamental flawed.

Johnny I've tried the Teflon wrap, the improvement was marginal at best.
Nick, I've pasted two links I used while researching changes/replacement of the arm on my 1210MKII. Lots of really good information.

Good Luck
Zenblaster: I agree with you. I've read enough testimonials of good tonearm swaps to agree with you that at some point you're throwing good money after bad on the SL12x0 stock tonearm. Technics must have realized this too, as they originally also offered the SL120 with an armboard drilled for a SME 3009.

In my case I added the KAB trough because I had just bought the turntable and had $150 to damp the supplied tonearm, but not $700-2000 to replace it. After that, I have less than a nickel's worth of pipe thread tape and a reasonably priced aftermarket headshell. After that the tweaks are things the Technics would need anyway for vibration and resonance control, and they don't add up to a lot of money.

At this point the only thing left is to upgrade the tonearm to get that more holographic soundstage and deeper inner detail. When the time comes I'll probably get an SME arm board from Sound Hi-Fi of England and search for a reasonably priced (?) used SME 309 like Jeff Dorgay (of Tone Audio) did.

Nick_sr: I think the improvement realized with the tonearm wrap is system-dependent. I have an Audio Technical AT150MLX which has a reputation for being forward and bright. Wrapping the tonearm quelled that bright spot. I suspect with a mellower signal chain or a cartridge with a kinder upper midrange, the tonearm wrap wouldn't do as much. You *do* have to also wrap the knurled collar that attaches the headshell to the arm to get the full benefit. That collar rings at least as much as the rest of the tonearm as a very resonant ping.
Vegasears: thanks for the links I had already seen the sound-hifi one, but the art of sound forum had some interesting threads. My favourite was a link to AudioAsylum that pictures of re-plinthed sl-12000 with two arms.

See link:

Johnny: You could be right about the system dependence, my phono stages is AR-SP16. I have wrapped the collar ring as it always seemed to me the most questionable point in the arm.
Johnnyb, thanks for your information regarding the effects of the servo circuit used on the SL1200s and pardon my layman's knowledge of this subject.

I still find it questionable though.

As I understand it a servo circuit reads some method of feedback so many times a second and when there is fluctuation error the circuit makes a correction.

The process of the error, the sensing of the error, and the correction of the error, however quickly its done simply must create some stepping. Almost digital in nature.

Consider, back in the day when these circuits were first developed the reading rate was, say, 100 times second. Today that technology can read thousands of times a second.

I'm not sure how one would measure this but obviously the Panasonic engineers had a method which led them to change and/or improve this function on the SP decks. Using outboard processing and power supply to drive the far more robust SP motor they made two more versions of these functions in the SP controllers. Did any of these updates make it to the drive of the SLs?

That said, I would be skeptical of claims made by anybody marketing products for the SL.

On the broader picture of the SL1200 my experiences are like Zenblaster's. It didn't take a great deal of money to find a deck that takes LP playback to another level altogether. I learned this lesson the hard way with poor speaker choices and expecting better electronics to remedy a fundamental shortcomings of the speakers.

Still, when I brought my brand new SL home, punched that start button for the first time and that platter came up to speed so damn fast, that turntable endeared itself to me and I will not sell it.

After reading your tweaks I think I'm going to give them a shot. Thank you very much.

02-14-13: Vicdamone
After reading your tweaks I think I'm going to give them a shot. Thank you very much.

Here is a picture of my SL1210 M5G and the tweaks I've made.

o The tonearm has the KAB fluid damper and is wrapped in Teflon pipe thread tape
o The headshell is an LPGear ZuPreme.
o The platter has an Oracle Groove Isolator sorbothane mat. I'm sure any good damping mat would work.
o The standard feet have been replaced with a Dayton speaker spike set. Available in various finishes, the black chrome is a great match with the Technics. At $29.95 they're a stone cold bargain for a set of four solid brass cones. The supplied threads are an exact fit for the threaded sleeves on the underside of the Technics. I unscrewed and removed the cones' adjustable tips to truncate the cones and create a concave bottom.
o The concave bottoms fit perfectly on the steel balls of the Vibrapod Cones, which then rest atop Vibrapod #2 Isolators. if you want to simplify, just unscrew the stock Technics feet and rest the threaded sleeves on the balls of the Vibrapod cones. This alone has a significant effect on lowering the noise floor and adding inner detail.
o I sit this whole mess on top of a 3-1/2" thick maple butcher block cutting board. I used to use an inexpensive 1-1/2" thick cutting board from Ikea. Moving up to this massive board ($100 or less from made a quite noticeable difference which my wife described immediately after the change.
Under the cutting board is a pair of computer keyboard wrist pads made of silicon gel.

Yes, it's a bit convoluted, but it actually looks pretty nice and the whole stack of cones, pads, and cutting board total about $200, less than a typical retail vibration isolation platform and more versatile. This enables me to take advantage of the Technics' outstanding torque and speed accuracy while minimizing its weaknesses in vibration control and isolation.
I had a SL1200 and felt the same way about the tonearm. I bought an adapter for the TT to put a Rega RB300 that I owned on it. It was a real improvement.

I ended up putting the table back to stock and selling it. I just never bonded with that TT. But to my ear it sound much improved with the Rega TA installed.
Ok, is all of this really necessary? I run my SL1210M5G bone stock, and I'm very happy with it. It sounds superb to me. That's my take.
Johnny it's nice to finally see pics of your TT and all it's upgrades. Looks great, I bet it sounds great too!

On a side note, earlier this week two tubes of my phono section died. Two Psvane 12ax7s that were less than 2 years old. Needless to say I am totally Pvissed! I replaced them with some EH tubes. Now the system is really sounding much better and the tubes still need some break in time.

So maybe my itch to upgrade was caused by the dying tubes! Then again maybe not.

Since i began researching my options in more depth, I am starting to like the idea of simply changing the arm wand, as shown in one of the links posted by Vegasears.

I figure the worst that can happen is that I scrap the stock arm. Then I will be forced to upgrade! And I may learn something in the process.

One other factor is that I just heard that Benz has stopped producing cartridges, this maybe my last chance to get a new Glider. Needledoctor has removed prices from their site and replaced them with a note "please call for prices and availability".
Can I mount a ten inch arm on the technics SL1200? The stock arm is 230 mm (9").
If you can swing it budget-wise go for a SME iv or v. I have heard them with a 1200. Both were out of my price range but prompted me to hunt down a OL rb300 with all the mods which I got for a song. Not as good quality as the SME's as far as build & adjustability but a definate improvement.
03-03-13: Dave_72
How would you go about mounting an SME tonearm?
Sound Hi-Fi of England, purveyor of many SL1200 mods and aftermarket parts including an SME arm board.

Tone Audio Issue 22, which includes a piece by the editor about mounting a SME arm with the Sound Hi-Fi arm board.
Oh ok, thanks for that. Interesting stuff. However, the stock tonearm on the 1210M5G doesn't ring or send subsonic signals through my speakers when tapped. And the 'table doesn't howl at high volumes. Maybe it's true that this is a better, more heavy duty model over a stock 1200 MK. 2.
Same toneam Dave, only differece is in the pitch control. All tonearms contribute unwanted resonances, some systems aren't revealing enough or have too much distortion to notice. I'm glad your happy with the sound of your table, it's a great music maker. It's tough to be satisfied in this hobby.
03-04-13: Dave_72
Oh ok, thanks for that. Interesting stuff. However, the stock tonearm on the 1210M5G doesn't ring or send subsonic signals through my speakers when tapped. And the 'table doesn't howl at high volumes. Maybe it's true that this is a better, more heavy duty model over a stock 1200 MK. 2.

My rig is also an SL1210 M5G with an AT150 MLX cartridge. However, every tweak I added as shown in the picture of my turntable produced an audible improvement in frequency linearity, dynamics, clarity, or lowered noise floor. When I tapped the tonearm I didn't get *subsonic* ringing, but a marked resonance where midrange hands off to treble. Still, much of this tweaking may be system-dependent and your TT could be a more natural match for your rack, wiring, electronics, speakers, component layout, and room.

The tonearm of the SL1210 M5G is different from the other 1200 series in a couple of ways--it's wired with oxygen-free copper and there is a set screw near the pivot for adjusting for DJ scratching. Other than that it's the same as the others--same weight, same shape, same bearings, no physical damping of the tube.
Ok, well Technics and KAB says (or said) better damping of the tonearm and higher quality OFC cabling.

Of course there is better, but I have a hard time justifying the prices when the Technics does a lot for me sound wise.
My apologies Dave, they are clearly different. I have owned both at times and never realized they were different arms. They both sounded very similar/good and look the same. I spend more time listening to music on my Tech, I spend more time fiddling around seeking perfection on my VPI.

03-05-13: Dave_72
Of course there is better, but I have a hard time justifying the prices when the Technics does a lot for me sound wise.

I agree. In the belt drive world, turntables that have the speed accuracy of the Technics cost $2500 or more. However, for very few dollars you can add vibration control tweaks to the SL12x0 series that lower the noise floor and improve dynamics, clarity, detail, smoothness and linearity.

Aside from KABUSA's $150 tonearm damper, many of the other tweaks are relatively inexpensive. Using Teflon pipe thread tape, you can wrap the tonearm for about 15 cents and get a smoother midrange.

Another very cost-effective improvement is to toss the stock Technics feet and place the turntable on a set of Vibrapod Cones, setting the turntable's female thread sockets (where the feet screwed in) directly on top of the metal balls of the Vibrapod Cones. For another improvement, set the Vibrapod Cones on top of matching (and weight-matched) Vibrapod Isolators. This entire tweak costs $56 and does wonders for inner detail and clarity. Vibrapod has a 30-day return period so your experimentation is protected.

You'll also notice a drop in record surface noise with KAB's Record Grip.

Even with these tweaks the SL1210M5G is a stone cold bargain. It enables you to retain the SL1210's strengths while reducing or eliminating many of its weaknesses.
Hi Johnnyb53,

Wow, so it takes that much money? What you think of the new-ish Luxman turntable?

I see there's endless mods for the Technics. I just might try some of those down the road. Meanwhile, I'm content with running it bone stock.

Yeah, KAB also has dedicated twist down clamp for the Technics. It's fairly new in the KAB lineup.

Definitely a bargain. No argument here!
Hi Zenblaster,

No apology necessary! No worries. Yes they do, so it's hard to tell the differences. Yeah, that's what's good about the Technics, it's a very easy table to set up and maintain. It doesn't require a lot of fiddling around either.
Have you decided what you are going to do?

My vote is the Trans Fi Terminator, then again I'm not the one setting it up. It looks very cool though and is rumored to sound fantastic.
Didn't read the whole thread so forgive me if I'm repeating anything here. I would look into a good Cartridge and Phono Stage . Then set it up correctly Can the Arm on the 1200 be adjusted for hight (vta) ? Itis amazing whate those two "components" can do when matched well . Another thing is cables , does't need to be mega bucks to make an improvement..
Really? Someone suggested SME iv and v for a relatively cheap turntable? All the SL1200s I have heard sounded a bit rough. It just seems like a top heavy approach.
Nick, I don't think your cart needs replacing it sounded GREAT the other day and tracked like a champ, I think that you just have some audio-nervosa on it. I like the job you did on the arm, the custom carbon fiber wand/headshell/direct wire are all nice but that SME arm...enough to make an audiophile buddy VERY jealous ;)
The negatives applied to a servo/quartz DD system can easily be reversed to a belt driven one...the belt is constantly expanding and contracting...but is it audible?...if a tree falls in the forest...haha....each system type has pros/cons,,,i have enjoyed both...currently have DD....
Yes really! I can't speak for all 1200s but mine are definitely not rough sounding. Mine are early MK2 units likely from the late 70s or early 80s, the construction differs from later units I have seen. They are more robust.

In the end I modded the original arm. I replaced the S arm with a carbon fibre straight tube. The results is quite good. I had some friends over a few days ago listening and they were very impressed with the result. you can check my system for some pics.

As to the comment regarding upgrading the phono stage and cartridge. I had already done this, I am using, ARC SP16, with HO Benz Glider and this has been one of the most beneficial upgrades for my system.

I am still interested in trying the SME arm but there is currently no budget for it.
Nick, I like what you did to the OEM arm. If you don't mind me asking, where did you source the materials? Changing to a straight tube look like a nice project.