What vintage turntable should I buy?

This is a question I get asked a lot.

I will admit my turntable doctor bias: I like turntables that respond well to TLC and are relatively easy to fix. Typically that means a good design and good materials, which also means that they’re likely to last.

This will be a work in progress, so keep checking back. I will update this with more info and possibly create separate pages for the more popular brands.

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In general, these are reliably engineered decks and they keep their resale value due to their name being associated with the SL-1200 Mk2, the undisputed king of the DJ decks. The tonearms with removable headshells are very good for consumer grade decks and their direct drive designs were quite innovative. Some of their higher end models (like my baby that’s on the front page) are best-in-class playback systems. They are still in the game with the revival of their product line.

Models to look for:

The early “professional” decks: SL-1300, SL-1400, SL-1500, SL-1600, SL-1700, SL-1800. The original SL-1200, SL-1100 and 1100A are also excellent, although they can be difficult to find parts for. The SL-Q2 and Q3 are solid. Most of the direct drives through about 1978 are generally good bets, although they started to get plastic-y after a while. Their linear tracking direct drive decks are also generally reliable and sound good.

Models that are great performers but have known problems:

The SL-1200 Mk2. There are millions of them out there, and a good number have issues with damaged lateral bearings. My hunch is that they were put in flight cases with the counterweights still on and chucked around un-gently. The good news is that (for now) we can still get new replacement arms (and many other parts too). The 1200Mk2s also have had some quirky issues that pop up with pitch. But these are almost always fixable.

The SL-1300Mk2, SL1400Mk2 and SL-1500Mk2. These have known issues with the cueing cam breaking due to design issues. The good news is thanks to 3D printing, these beauties can now be repaired. The bad news is that it’s a bear of a job.

Approach with caution:

SL-QD22 and SL-QD33 — The QD33 was in production for a long time, so there are a good number of them in circulation. Several of these that I’ve seen have had the auto functions die due to control motors not responding properly, and I’ve yet to find a proper fix (if you know of one, please let me know!). They can be converted to manual play.

SL-BD20 and 20A — belt drive decks also with a long production run. These have frequent motor issues. The motors can sometimes be fixed, but also a pain.

Common flaws to look out for:

  • Unsteady pitch caused by dirty pitch controls (this is an easy fix).
  • Tracking issues on linear trackers caused by worn out belts (also an easy fix).
  • Bad solder joints on circuit boards; these can result in pitch problems like runaway speeds.
  • Trashed lateral arm bearings, especially on DJ’ed decks.
  • Bad motors on belt drive decks.

 

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