A Turntable Reborn Turns Its Back on Its Hip-Hop Legacy
Technics, the turntable that helped to evolutionize hip-hop and electronic music, has a global reputation for quality according to hi-fi audiophiles. So why is it that the turntable is losing popularity with the genres that helped to fuel its creation?This article originally appeared on The New York Times
UTSUNOMIYA, Japan — In the sofa-appointed listening room of a factory north of Tokyo, hi-fi fans can listen to vintage vinyl records on a sound system costing $45,000, including a sleek silver turntable. Musical choices include rock — the Eagles’ “Hotel California,” sounding warm and vivid through four-foot-tall speakers — jazz and classical.
Not on the menu: hip-hop.
Or disco. Or the thumping, floor-convulsing sounds of modern techno or house music, which helped make the record player at the center of this audiophile’s paradise famous.
The turntable, the Technics SL-1200, may not enjoy the name recognition of, say, Fender electric guitars or Steinway pianos. But if you have watched a D.J. scratching furiously behind a rapper in the last few decades, you have almost certainly seen one, or, more likely, a deftly manipulated pair.
“It’s the go-to,” said Darby Wheeler, a documentary filmmaker whose recent series for Netflix, “Hip-Hop Evolution,” keeps avid SL-1200 spotters busy. The turntables pop up everywhere — on concert stages and album covers and in the studios of genre legends like Grandmaster Flash.
“At the after-party for ‘Hip-Hop Evolution,’ the club had another brand,” Mr. Wheeler recalled during a phone interview, in a tone that suggested both mystification and embarrassment. “The D.J. looked at me and said, ‘What the hell, Darby, no 1200s?’”
That legacy seems like an easy sales hook for the Panasonic Corporation of Japan, which has reintroduced the turntable to great fanfare.
Panasonic has chosen mostly to ignore it.
Cover photo courtesy of Andrew Testa and The New York Times