Vintage Review – Technics SL-5200 Turntable

This is the Technics SL-5200:

Technics SL-5200
The Herb n’ HiFi Den’s vintage Technics SL-5200.

This recently refurbished SL-5200 was initially released in 1978, and it presents a strong case for choosing vintage over a new turntable.

If you want to read about the refurb and restoration process of this specific deck, check out this post right HERE.

Intro to the Technics SL-5200

The Technics SL-5200 is a mid-range 2-speed Semi-Automatic Direct Drive turntable from 1978. The plinth is made up of a weighted down thick plastic/resin body with non-adjustable spring-loaded feet. The SL-5200 also has a thick aluminum platter and non-height adjustable “S” shaped tonearm with standard headshell.

The SL-5200 is one of Technics’ lesser-known turntables and wasn’t around for long after it launched in 78. It’s successor, the SL-Q2, is a little more well known on the vintage turntable scene, and overall, they are very similar in both hardware and style.

Technics SL-5200
The SL-5200 is THICC

I’ll admit, the SL-5200’s design is somewhat dated, unlike some of Technics’ more timeless turntables like the SL-1200, SL-1300, and SL-1700. However, the performance is just as smooth and precise, and undoubtedly “Technics.” Personally, I appreciate the loud and chunky disco-era aesthetic and think it adds character. However, I totally understand those that might think of the SL-5200’s design as a little bit too much for a modern HiFi setup.

This turntable, in particular, arrived at the Herb n’ HiFi Den with a trashed Pickering cartridge on a Stanton bayonet-style headshell. After researching, I found that the SL-5200 originally came with a Technics EPC-206c, but while refurbishing the deck, I decided to install an Ortofon 2M Red on a clone DJ style headshell, instead of trying to track down an OEM cart. I personally have never heard the EPC-206c, but I am positive it was more than acceptable for 1978. The 2M Red, however, should help this deck sound more up-to-date and comparable to more modern turntables.

Even with the SL-5200 being a middle of the pack turntable in Technics’ lineup, it’s important to remember that vinyl was pretty much the high-end audio format in the 1970s and Technics was, and still is, a turntable-focused company. And, keeping with the tradition of Japanese efficiency, a lot of the parts, measurements, and accessories are shared across a lot of Technics’ other products.

The SL-5200 was released in 1978, one year before the SL-1200MK2. Despite that, it has a very similar updated (for the time) tonearm bearing setup like the 1200MK2, even though it is fixed in place, with no height or azimuth adjustments. Like many full-size Technics turntables from the late 70s, the SL-5200 has a coreless no wear direct drive motor, that while not identical to the SL-1200MK2’s, is very reminiscing of it. It also originally came with the same cartridge alignment tool that was bundled with the 1200, and countless other Technics “S” shape tonearm turntables. Another Technics parts-bin special was the super thick rubber mat that looks and feels identical to the 1200’s.

Technics SL-1200MK2
A lot of similarities between the 5200 and 1200.
Image of SL-1200 by derivative work: 32bitmaschine (talk) – https://bit.ly/3fOnKCb

Aftermarket/3rd party addons include a cork+rubber hybrid mat and electrostatic brush arm, for reduced electrostatic interference. I also exclusively use an Audio Technica AT618 Disc Stabilizer on the Technics SL-5200.

Build and Layout

The word “THICK” helps describe this turntable a lot. Everything from the robustness of the plastic to the weight of the tonearm just feels hefty and substantial. The 5200 has a relatively high placed thick aluminum platter and is fully-equipped with a levitating 45rpm adapter rest, 1/4-inch headshell holder for cart swapping, a prism stylus illuminator, and a strobe light. All the controls are also pushed to the front panel and are accessible when the dustcover is closed, which makes it also a deep turntable.

In general, the SL-5200, like a lot of entry-level to mid-range turntables from this era, is a little plastic fantastic. Pretty much everything except the tonearm assembly and the platter is made out of molded plastic, including the switches, dampened queuing lever, and even the original 45rpm adaptor is made of plastic (the adaptor pictured is an original Technics machined milled aluminum adaptor).

The plastic has held up remarkably well over the years, however, and there are little to no signs of heavy wear. Technics actually touted the “advanced” plastic composite used on the turntable when it first came out in 78, called Technics Non-Resonant Compound or TNRC. According to marketing materials, it was developed to help reduce overall vibration and resonance throughout the body of the turntable.

SL-5200 Cross-section
A cross-section of the Technics SL-5200 showing the construction of the TNRC (plastic) plinth.
Image via Technics and http://www.vinylengine.com

The four spring-loaded feet are a little meh, to say the least. They are non-adjustable and seem to have sunk over the years. I gently stretched the springs close their original height, giving them back some more vibration absorption qualities. Because the feet are fixed in place, the turntable is more dependent on the surface being level as opposed to being able to adjust the feet to level it out.

The dustcover on this specific turntable is a weak point. When I initially got the SL-5200, it included the original dustcover, but the plastic tabs that slide into the rear-mounted spring-loaded hinges had snapped off, leaving it unrepairable.

The current dustcover is a custom-made plexiglass cover that uses metal washers instead of plastic tabs. It’s a little janky, with some wobble and the rare occasional slip, but overall, it looks great and is entirely manageable.

Technics SL-5200 with new dustcover installed.
This Technics SL-5200 looks practically brand new with a custom-made dustcover.

The rear of the turntable is where you’ll find an embedded power cord and hardwired RCA cables with ground wire. I’ll always prefer sockets over hardwired cables, but a lot of turntables, even up to this day, use a hardwired cable harness setup.  

One thing the Technics SL-5200 lacks is buttons, with all the controls being slider switches. Personally, I like the feel of a good button, but these switches have lasted for over 40 years, and they work great—more of a quirk than a feature.

Creature Comforts

The SL-5200 is a feature behemoth, hailing from a time when convenience and quality weren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. It’s something you don’t really see anymore today when it comes to record players and HiFi equipment in general.

A standout feature for me is the muted queuing system. All audio output is muted until about a second after the stylus hits the record. The result is an eerily quiet needle drop without any loud landing pops or clicks. The muted queuing system also helps protect your speakers from unnecessary damage caused by loud and fast needle drops, that at the wrong volume setting can be disastrous to a pair of drivers.  

After spending some time with the SL-5200, I’m now a little spoiled by muted needle drops. Whenever I switch to a turntable without it, it’s immediately noticeable. As small a detail as it is, it’s hands down, my favorite feature on this turntable.

The Technics SL-5200 is a semi-automatic turntable. When the stylus reaches the end of a record, it lifts the tonearm, returns it to its rest, and shuts down the motor and stylus illuminator. There’s also a “Stop” switch that lets you engage the auto-return no matter where the stylus is on the record.

Technics SL-5200 Layout
The SL-5200 is all switches and no buttons. Image via Technics and http://www.vinylengine.com

With all the slider-controls on the front of the SL-5200, there’s no START/STOP option. Bringing the tonearm towards the record turns on all the lights on the turntable and starts spinning the platter.

When looking at the smoothness and precision of the auto-return sequence, it’s hard to believe that the whole process is mechanical. There are no micro-chips or complicated circuit-boards beyond the quartz-phaze-locked motor inside the SL-5200, and all of the automated features, including the muting system, are done through an array of micro-switches and cleverly shaped cogged wheels. The entire sequence is very satisfying to watch, in my opinion, especially when you notice the “Stop” slider being automatically engaged and slowly slide back into place.

The auto-return sequence can be hypnotizing.

From my experience, some older semi-automatic turntables from this period can have issues with their return sequence, either being engaged prematurely or too late, defeating the purpose. I’m glad to report that this SL-5200’s auto-return works flawlessly, and didn’t require any work or adjustments during its refurbishment.

How Does it Sound?

This turntable is fitted with an Ortofon 2M Red cartridge, which dramatically brings it up to date on a sonic level. It’s a tremendous all-around cart that favors most music types.

Ortofon 2M Red - Tehcnics SL-5200
Ortofon 2M Red on the Technics SL-5200.

The 2M Red has that neutral, almost flat, classic Ortofon sound signature, but with just a touch of warmth. The 2M Red’s lows and highs sound very reference-esk, lending to an honest listening experience, that can be enjoyed both clinically with the tone controls set to “0” and with the “Bass” and “Treble” or equalizer set to your preferred “PARTY MODE!” setting 😉.  

I’ve installed Ortofon 2M Red carts on both new and vintage turntables, and the results have always been stellar. At $99, I can’t recommend the 2M Red enough as a general phono cartridge upgrade. If I had a little more of a budget, I would swap out the 2M Red for the more sonically capable Ortofon 2M Blue ($240). However, the carts themselves are practically identical, so I could just swap-out the stylus later, effectively upgrading to a 2M Blue.

Ortofon 2M Red and Technics Alignment Tool
Ortofon 2M Red sitting in a Technics Alignment Tool.

When it comes to speed precision, the SL-5200 is very accurate. My RPM-app speed tests returned 33.43rpm (0.29% fast) and 45.14rpm (0.31% fast) with a very impressive wow & flutter of ±0.0.2%. Technics states an official wow & flutter of ±0.025%.

The SL-5200 still runs great after 42 years.

I use an Audio Technica AT618a Disc Stabilizer, and the torquey direct drive motor has no issues with getting up to speed fast and staying there. According to Technics, it takes 0.7 seconds for the quartz lock motor to reach the set speed. Slowing down takes a little time, though, since the 5200 doesn’t have a braking mechanism.

The Technics SL-5200 is quiet AF! Even with all the added lights and auto-return function, I wasn’t able to hear any audible “noise” whatsoever during playback. The only “noise” the turntable itself makes is a mechanical clunk when the auto-return mechanism is engaged at the end of the record. The muted queuing feature adds to overall silence that 5200 radiates.  

The Technics SL-5200 from top
Visually loud and audibly silent. The Technics SL-5200.

I hooked up the 5200 to the built-in phono-stage on the Herb n’ HiFi Den’s R-N303 Network Receiver, and it sounded fantastic. The 2M Red is a very flexible cartridge, and it easily adapts to a wide variety of phono preamps from integrated preamps, standalone phono stages, and tube-based preamps.

It’s because of quartz-lock turntables like the SL-5200, I usually prefer direct-drive over belt-drive. The torquey frictionless motor is dead silent, but powerful, and doesn’t produce any rumbles, rattles, or hums.

When compared to newer similar turntables, i.e., reasonably priced and direct drive, all that really comes to mind are “Hanpin specials” like the Audio Technica AT-LP120 (in all its variants), AT-LP5, and the beautiful but flawed Onkyo CP-1050. I’ve had both the AT-LP120 and CP-1050 have come through the Den, new in box, and both suffered from several quality control problems like loose tonearm bearings, defective anti-skate, motor rumble, and queuing dampening problems.

The Technics SL-5200 is more substantial than turntables like the AT-LP120 and feels more engineered and accurate. Just the dense weight of the platter and solid feel of the tonearm in-hand project confidence and precision.   

Onkyo CP-1050
The Den’s old Onkyo CP-1050. A beautiful “Made by Hanpin” turntable that suffers from a lot of quality control issues.

It’s easier to compare the SL-5200 to the Den’s reference belt-drive turntable, the Fluance RT85, even though visibly, they are strikingly different. The RT85 has a higher build quality than those Hanpin decks and is very accurate and silent due to its offset servo-controlled DC motor, and overall is an excellent turntable. It’s also a pure analog deck (no preamp), has an “S” shape tonearm, and uses a very similar cart in the form of the Ortofon 2M Blue.  

The Fluance RT85 next to the Technics SL-5200.
The Fluance RT85 next to the Technics SL-5200.

The 5200 is more consistently accurate than the Fluance however. When testing speed and accuracy, RT85 returned a result of 33.42rpm (0.26% fast) with a wow & flutter of ±0.12%, acceptable much higher than Fluance’s stated ±0.07%. The Technics consistently returned a 33.43rpm (0.31% fast) and a rock-solid wow & flutter of ±0.02%, almost identical the ±0.025 stated by Technics. Gotta love that quartz-phase-locked direct-drive motor.

After calculating the new Ortofon 2M Red cart ($99) and a costly replacement dustcover ($110), this specific SL-5200 cost around $280 all in. If the

Personally, I think the most comparable “new” turntable in regards to performance and specs is the Technics SL-1500c or SL-1200 MK7. It has an almost identical tonearm and bearing setup, is direct drive, is also fitted with a 2M Red, and has an identical wow & flutter of 0.025%. However, the 1500C costs almost $1,000 more than this glowed-up SL-5200.

The SL-1500 is very similar to the SL-5200 on paper.
Image via Technics.

A turntable like the Technics SL-1500C is definingly more in the high-end territory. It’ more advanced with a new coreless direct-drive system that, according to Technics, is more accurate, a tonearm that’s made up of a better resonating composite, and it has better vibration dampening. Still, at the end of the day, on paper, it returns very similar results to the 42-year-old SL-5200. The 1500C also lacks a lot of features the 5200 has, like a stylus illuminator, strobe, and pitch control.

Overall, the Technics SL-5200 is a solid performer that really strengthens the case of Vintage over New, especially when looking at direct-drive turntables. Turntables like the Technics SL-5200 just aren’t a thing anymore. A robust, convenient, affordable, and accurate turntable that, while built to a price point, doesn’t compromise on what matters when it comes to excellent vinyl reproduction.

It’s true what they say, “they don’t build them like they used too.”

4 comments

  • Hi, really enjoyed this post. I dug up my Dad’s SL5200 and am excited to give it the same rejuvenation you’ve done!

    Like

    • Thank you, Dan! The 5200 is a great solid deck. It shouldn’t require a lot to get it up to snuff. Good luck with the glow up!

      Like

  • I have an SL5200 which has not been played for years. I found that it played beautifully when I first started it up again but now it keeps going into overdrive i.e. it suddenly speeds up dramatically until it stops. Sometimes, if I persevere it will play properly again. Can you suggest anywhere or anyone who could help me get it going again? I live in West Sussex. Thanks, Pam

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Pam!

      Thanks for visiting herbnhifi.com!

      5200s are great decks, so the speed issues sound a little unfortunate. If the quartz lock switch is engaged, I can guess it is one of three problems:

      1. Dirty quartz-lock switch or speed potentiometer: Might need a good DEOX cleaning to clear up some oxidation
      2. A blown fuse: there is a security fuse that could have blown that would explain why it shuts down after speeding up
      3. Leaky and/or dry electrolytic capacitors: Capacitors from the 70s and 80s are notorious for drying out or swelling/leaking over time. Those old caps should replaced.

      All 3 of the options will require you to flip the table and open it up. If you aren’t familiar with working on vintage equipment, it can be a little daunting. Both the dirty pot and blown fuse are easy fixes, but for a re-cap I would send it to a repair shop if you aren’t comfortable with soldering on to circuit-boards. I am unfamiliar with repair shops in Sussex or the UK in general, but a professional repair-person or electrician should be able to handle any of those issues without a problem.

      SL-5200s (and SL-5100s and SL-5300s) are solid decks and great performers, and are definitely worth saving.

      Good luck!

      Like

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