Technics Sp10 Mk2 vs SL-1200G - I finally did an A/B

Guys, it is payback time. I have asked so many questions here to improve my knowledge or make a good purchase. I should give back now.

This is a topic that is HOT these days. Are the new generation Technics 1200G/GAE and Sp10-R better than the vintage Sp10 Mk2 and Mk3 ? 

I have myself asked this question multiple times here. The most common reply was a resounding "Yes" in favour of the new 1200G/GAE. The 10R is still too new and not many have a direct opinion. But in general, even those who have commented on the 1200G vs Sp10 mk2, almost no one has compared them side by side. Some have written based on aural memory, some based on specs and design, and some have written based on pure subjective opinion.

In any case, most of us are very happy that Technics has done it. A very few business oriented minds might be disappointed that their business around vintage Technics DDs would take some hit due to these modern machines.

Since I was in the market for a good high resolution TT to replace my modded Loricraft Garrard 301, I took active interest in the Technics DDs. Overall I was convinced that the 1200G is the machine to look out for. It was clearly favored over the smaller sp10 and more or less compared to the bigger sp10 mk3. I got a brand new 1200G and sent it to Time-Step audio for their Evoke PSU mod. It is a very well accepted mod in the UK markets. In general the Switch-Mode PSU of the 1200G is considered its Achilles heel so this mod was a necessity.

I finally had the 1200G at my home. I won't go into the process of setting up as it was a simple and straight forward one. I used its own Technics tonearm to start with. I tried couple of platter mats but its own default mat sounded fine so it remained. I have 2 cartridges to play, the Denon 103r and Ortofon Cadenza blue. None of them are esoteric stuff, but I find them very neutral and musically "right" sounding carts.

Straightaway the 1200G revealed that it was a more transparent and higher resolution player than the Garrard. The noise floor was lower, inner details more easily heard. Soundstage more precise and layered. Great! There was an extra sparkle to the sound which was quite thrilling. More like going from HD to UHD. What felt a bit lacking was overall dynamics and scale. The 1200G sounded "Compact". The Garrard was like a full blown full scale sound. I let the 1200G run at 78rpm for many hours so that the burn-in process is expedited. I also tried both the auto and manual servo settings to vary the torque and balance of the sound. As I listened more I also realized that the 1200G does not have the fluidity that I am used to with the Garrard or other belt drive TTs I have heard. Notes bloom but die out instantly, followed by a silence before the next note. Something that joins the notes so that it all sounds related was missing a bit. In terms of dynamics, the intensity of an "explosion or a shout" was kind of controlled. That takes away a bit of that startle factor which allows us to get awestruck with our systems. Bass on the 1200G sounded a bit chopped. It did not feel very deep and powerful. I rather felt I am listening to mid-upper bass with average impact. But when it came to details it sounded like a super Cd player in a good way.

I decided to play with the tonearm at this point. I have a 47 Labs RS-A1 tonearm which has its own standing mount. One can just lift it and place it at the right distance so that the under-hang is correct and you are good to go. It is a musical tonearm. Once installed, this tonearm gave the Technics a significant jump on the performance. Especially it made the Technics sound less hifi and more musical, more fluid, more jump factor. Just plain more realistic. But then it brought the same kind of improvements to the Garrard too. I did a lot of comparison shifting this tonearm between the 2 TTs. All my above comments about their differences holds true. 

After about 2 weeks and multiple hours of comparison on all kinds of music, I decided that while there are areas where the Garrard lacks and Technics clearly shines, musically Garrard is more realistic whereas Technics is more cerebral. I knew I was going to miss that hi-rez sparkle from Technics but I could only keep one so it has to go. I sold the 1200G. But the curiosity still remained so I bought a Sp10 Mk2.

After there 1200G left my place, the Sp10 Mk2 arrived. I did not have a plinth but I had read on Audiogon that it can be used in the naked form with a suitable isolation like the Audio Technica AT-636 Pneumatic footers. I have those footers so I installed the Sp10 on those footers and used the 47 Labs tonearm with Denon 103r for listening.

In the first 10 secs it was clear the Sp10 Mk2 is a more dynamic player than the 1200G. It sounded more like a Garrard in terms of scale, dynamics and drive. At the same time it was more transparent than Garrard. I had read couple of opinions that the vintage Sp10 DDs has more torquey motor drive. Here I was clearly hearing that. If I enter the room, I would not know which player is playing simply because of the similarity in slam, dynamics and tonality. My Garrard has the audiosilente idler wheel, woodsong audio brake disc and kokomo bearings. It is also driven by a dedicated AC regenerator for a clean AC input. In effect it is a much cleaner and neutral TT than typical Garrards. The Sp10 Mk2 is a less romantic sounding TT overall but it does not feel "compact", "thin" or "bright". It sounds natural, which is a very important trait to enjoy music. It sounds big and punchy without sounding colored or veiled. I have not even installed the plinth yet. My Garrard is still the king in the system but the Sp10 is a good contender with higher resolution and lower noise floor overall.

Guys, I don't know how to put it. I am not here to spoil the party of the 1200G/GAE owners. It is definitely a very complete package. You get warranty, company support, spares and all the peace of mind with the new Technics DDs. But if you are one of those adventurous types deciding between the old school and new gen Technics TT, the old Sp10 mk2/mk3 wins it for me, purely from the sound quality perspective. New technology probably has given the new Technics a bit more refinement but the drive, excitement and immediacy of real instruments still is conveyed best by the grand old boys.

My system:
. Loricraft Garrard 301 (mods: Kokomo mk2 bearing, Audiosilente idler wheel, Woodsong audio brake disc, Funkfirm Achromat, Monarcy Audio AC regenerator)
. 47 Labs RS-A1 tonearm
. Ortofon Cadenza Blue, Denon 103r carts
. Trilogy 907 phonostage
. Berning MicroZOTL 2.0 preamp
. Audio Note Conquest Silver Signature SET monoblock amps
. Tannoy Turnberry SE speakers

P.S: I did not compare the 2 Technics side by side but it was almost back to back as the Sp10 arrived after 3-4 days of the departure of 1200G. Since it was all in my own system, I had a good hang of what they felt like.
What I have learned in this lifelong hobby is that with turntables and analog, it really comes down to that darn cartridge and its synergy with the rest of the system.  Can the arm and table handle it?  That darn cartridge really has a lot to do with the way its going to sound and picking the right one is huge.
The tonearm was placed on the 1200G plinth and not on an external stand. So in that respect it was fine. In fact it significantly improved the 1200G compared to the stock tonearm. 

I have a few mats. I tried them on the 1200G and 301. Finally I chose to use mats which suits each of these TTs best. 

Anyway, the differences were so fundamental that changing mats or cables or even the rack wouldn’t change anything. I don’t use typical audiophile recordings to evaluate gears because I want to finally own them and not just write about them. I use regular music which I have grown up listening. Simple stuff like Cat Stevens or Billy Joel should allow me to be lost in their musicianship. Else I know something is less right. 

seems like you methodology has been completely sound and fair to both tables. Very useful in you sharing, despite the nick picking from some.

Does not surprise me as the SP10 has always been above the SL1200 in the past.

Does not surprise me that the tonearm is the relative weakness in the current SL1200 table.

I am surprised for the SP10R, that is you want a plinth - Technics are forcing you to buy the tonearm as well. Many audiophiles will opt out on that oversight alone.
Downunder, In your above post, are you suggesting that Technics ought to offer the option of SP10R + plinth but no tonearm?  If so, I was thinking the same thing myself.  Perhaps that will come eventually.  Because there might also be a market for the plinth alone, to use with an SP10 Mk3.  I would imagine the new plinth kills the old obsidian plinths that Technics supplied with the Mk2 and 3.  This is assuming that the old tables will bolt right into the new plinth. Well, at least the Mk3, because the Mk2 has a different shape underneath from the Mk3 and 10R.

To belabor the capacitor issue once more, I once replaced all the electrolytic capacitors in an SP10 Mk2.  There are 21 of them, as I recall.  Mk2s are now around 38 years old.  What are the odds that all 21 of those capacitors are still fully up to spec after circa 38 years, if they are still OEM?  (As you might imagine, my opinion is that the odds are slim.) By the way also, the cost of those capacitors was probably less than $25US.  I’d say it was a precaution well worth taking.
The thing I read and again things are subjective to each listener is that the 1200G sounded less real than the other tables. As I have never heard either of those tables that reviewer listened to, I have to say that I personally have not heard a table for 4 grand that sounds more real that the 1200G, that simple.

One thing I listen for in analog that helps me judge a table/cartridge performance is how they handle voices, piano, bass and drums. The piano is just such a difficult instrument to get right and I have not heard many tables in this price bracket or actually much higher price brackets get that piano to sound like it does on this table. The sustain and decay on the most subtle inflections are quite impressive to say the least. If the piano sounds right, most likely everything else will fit into place. This is very obvious on jazz recordings which is just very hard to find at this price point. The timbre and air is very realistic and sounds like real music as this table "gets out of the way" so to speak and lets a listener (this listener) finally really hear his collection. I can easily follow each instrument musical presentation and get to the heart of each musicians performance.

I believe to get this kind of performance, there will be compromises. Certain recordings are not going to sound like they did on lesser designs because this table is very revealing, accurate and neutral. If you want a more euphoric sound a belt drive or older design will in fact present these colorations in a pleasing way, no doubt about it. But then again, there will be compromises as with this piano thing. Through my experiences, tables that add these colorations will not get you there with regards to that beautiful piano. The 1200G is quite impressive for 4000.00 to say the least. If the SP 10 mark 2 can do what the 1200G does and if you can get it less expensive and know it is in good condition and not abused, all I can say is you are in for a treat.

One record that really surprised me is Black Sabbath Master of Reality.  That may not be everybody's favorite however the way the 1200G articulated the bass guitar is in such a way I have not heard from this record.

Right now I am listening to Miles Davis Kind of Blue on the Classic reissue and I have not heard Bill Evans Piano sound this good on this record which I feel does not compete with the original "not in the same ball park" but yet I have not heard this record sound this good ever. I can easily follow Evans I can "hear" that piano better than I have been able to on this record than on most turntables I have listened to and this with the stock "free" arm and stock power supply. I cannot even imagine what this table is capable of with a Triplanar, Reed, and so on. So if the two tables Pani reviewed do a better job than the 1200G all I can say is wow, go for it.