Panasonic has announced that it will relaunch its beloved Technics turntable—albeit in revamped form—as early as 2016, according to wired.co.uk. The Japanese company discontinued the popular deck in 2010, probably from a combination of declining demand and its disinterest in manufacturing replacement parts for malfunctioning units. Certainly over the last decade DJs have been increasingly moving away from using vinyl as their preferred format, but vinyl sales have been significantly climbing over the last few years, and the trend looks like it hasn't crested yet. Billboard reported that in the first quarter of 2015, vinyl sales rose 53 percent compared to same period in 2014.
Technics SL-1200 became the industry standard because they're incredibly reliable and durable (I've had mine for 20 years) and designed for optimal ease of use for conventional record-spinning and for tricky tactics like scratching and beat-juggling. Also, disc jockeys love that they start remarkably quickly due to their high torque, which facilitates beat-matching.
Popular Seattle DJ and renowned crate-digger Supreme La Rock (aka Danny Clavesilla), for one, is pleased by Panasonic's decision. Reached by email, he says, "I was not happy when Technics stopped making turntables in 2010. It's something I'd always want to be available or around. With that being said, I'm still rockin' with the set I purchased in '92, and that may have hurt them that they actually make these things so well! They're tanks and never break down, if you handle them with care. I'm glad to hear they're coming back and it will be interesting to see if they maintain their standard of quality or make them a bit cheaper to cut costs. [I'm] looking forward to the new ones and will buy a back-up pair if they come correct."
For a deeper look into the Technics SL-1200 and its successor, I interviewed Matthew Counts of Hawthorne Stereo. Let's allow an audio-equipment professional to explain the situation for you in detail.
When the legendary Technics 1200 was suddenly discontinued by Panasonic in 2010, right in the middle of the vinyl renaissance, we were all surprised. Word got out that the reason for its demise was a supply issue. Vendors could no longer supply critical parts and Panasonic did not seem interested in investing the substantial sums required to retool or modify production to make up for the lack of critical bits from outside vendors. Goodbye, 1200. At Hawthorne, we service at least one pair of 1200s a week and, while business has been brisk, parts are always an issue. Very little is available from Technics and we've been forced to stockpile from various warehouses around Asia as they clean out their inventory. Interest is still very strong. 1200s are great and reliable tables and still command very good prices on the used market—$300-500 for a decent mk2 (by far the most popular model.)
Pretty much any DJ grew up with the 1200. It evolved from Technics radio station direct drive decks, which were built into a counter. Since the early '70s, there's been a 1200, but the free-standing mk2 with pitch fader debuted in '78, I think, and has been the mainstay for pro use since. For many many years, nothing else came close. It's not a particularly fancy design, just a rugged direct drive motor built into a massive cast-rubber base that dampened vibration and prevented feedback. They're easy to work on and universal.
There are lots of other DJ tables out there. Any and all of the cheap ones fall in the you-get-what-you-pay-for category and aren't up to the task of professional or even heavy recreational use. The few heavy-duty pro decks from companies like Pioneer and Stanton are certainly good tables; however, they're expensive and haven't quite captured the market Technics had. Most folks just get tried-and-true 1200s and maintain them.
So I read today's news about an all new table coming from Technics with great interest. In an era where most professional DJs still using tables are using them to run Serato or Traktor, it's going to be a risk to launch a new and no doubt expensive replacement. There's a lot of competition in the turntable market for people just listening at home, but I think the name is going to matter and, if they make a good product, it will sell. Buyers will be folks steeped in hiphop and DJ culture, pro DJs, and well-heeled amateurs. In the meantime, the millions of 1200s out there are still going strong.