US-Corner: Triple whammy. Or, how to retail in HiFi – Technics at Alma Audio
Now on to something completely different. Not really. More of a revisit to a subject near and dear to me.
As I had originally outlined in my previous article and featured visit to Alma audio for the Wilson Audio and MSB event a few months ago, I have for some time now lamented the fact that while coverage in magazines has rightfully focused on our beloved HiFi toys, little to no attention had been paid to the actual retailers of such fine brands. Fact is that it is precisely these retailers who carry the highest burden and generally most risk. Think not? Think different. Retail offices, preferably in a well to do, demographically speaking, area? Check. Payroll for a few well informed, honest consultants? Check. Bankroll several high-end equipment lines? Check. Earn a living whilst performing Herculean efforts in an ever shrinking, yet ever more demanding market place? Check. Still keen on this type of income? Read on.
To wit, our first visit as part of this triple whammy, brings us back to where it all started: Alma Audio in gorgeous San Diego. This time featuring the latest and indeed greatest from the one brand that few expected to bring us HiFi’s Art of the ComebackTM, none other than genuinely on a roll Technics. When, in 2010, Technics decided to cease production of the most quintessential of all turntables the world had ever seen, the 1200 Mk V, many, myself included, collectively sighed. An era seemed lost. Replaced by, well, not much really. Sure, many copied the Technics 1200 model, but no one ever actually managed a perfect copy. Kind of like the iPhone really. Then, practically from nowhere, 2016 saw the light of a cryptic message “this coming summer, please join us for a preview of the all new Technics 1200G”. Wait, what just happened? That Technics had been plotting a major HiFi comeback since 2010 could have been easily seen by the stacked announcements of various genuinely all new components, many eschewing that which made Technics famous in the early 70s. Quality sound at prices within reach of many keen to enter or re-enter the hobby again. That these announcements would then have included such a profound and historic re-release of the 1200 platform, left many in the industry snookered and shocked. Myself included.
Rather than merely re-spin production of the old 1200 parts, Technics engineers went full scale frontal assault. No doubt the deep pockets of parent company Panasonic / Matsushita enabled certain engineering feats that your typical little guy simply can’t afford: take a great design, apply ca. 2016-17 engineering and scale it to production. Voila, a new – old – legend is born. Indeed, looking at the new 1200G (which I reviewed and promptly purchased), one can’t help notice that while this deck may look like the previous generation deck, all parts are indeed new and have effectively been re-engineered from ground up with modern technology and far higher manufacturing tolerances. That alone ought to have improved the sound compared to the old series; adding fresh engineering solutions to the design simply took the deck to a level no previous 1200 could ever have dreamed of. Explosively dynamic, resolved, absolutely pitch perfect and playing far in advance of its new retail price of $4400, the 1200 has become my go to recommended deck for anyone seeking to get into vinyl on a serious level. Case closed. Or so it seemed.
Within days of the 1200 announcement, I, while on a call with a longtime vinyl connoisseur discussing the new Technics deck, proclaimed that it would be no more than one or two years following this release that the world would see the rebirth of the king of kings analog decks, coveted by many, afforded by few, the SP10 Mk III. Naysayers of course said what they always say: “No-way Hans Rey”. Too much, too this, too that, too the other. I kept my cool. Wait and see, I said. The 1200 will sell very well, which will help fund exactly such a project. Funny enough, summer 2017 came and what came knocking on the cable? Indeed, the announcement that Technics would indeed bring back – bigger and badder than ever – the awe inspiring SP10 deck, simply labeled SP10R (no doubt R standing in for Racing). But that wasn’t all. While the SP10R caters to the aficionados who wish to assemble their own best, Technics also thought of customers who simply wanted the best Technics had to offer in a package that’s accessible and turnkey: welcome the SL1000R. Armed with an appetite to showcase the new series of decks anywhere it made sense – read: HiFi retails that get it – you can only win genuine brand ambassadors and a healthy, growing customer base. At least that’s how affable and always on Technics front man, William Voss sees it. Burning the candle on both ends, I’ve seen and heard of Bill trekking criss-cross the country seemingly every time I clicked refresh on Twitter. Great, I thought as I was plotting a cunning intercept. It was only a matter of time and here we are, back at Alma Audio, with Fabio and Alex hosting a Technics SP10R/SL1000R launch event.
Also in toe was the ever visible and gracious Lynn Stanley, an audiophile’s ever present gift that keeps on giving. While there was no live performance of her songbook, she did play the latest 1 step pressings and happily signed and autographed copies of her latest releases. Judging by the audience that came, Lynn’s audiophile fame certainly carries over far more than just a local call with MaBell. Well earned I say, since seemingly like Technics, Lynn is omnipresent. The event was pretty much standard faire, with Bill doing three tours of demos throughout the busy day. Each demo was kicked-off with a thorough background on Technics, the resurgence of their analog domain and a discussion around the crowning achievement, the SP10R/SL1000R series. Having self appointed Analog Guru, Michael Fremer, discuss, nay, preview, the SL1000R deck a few weeks prior to this event on his blog, no doubt helped feed the frenzy even more. So profound was the deck for him that he voiced many a superlative which he usually keeps for only the best. No faux glitz here apparently, this is the real deal. As I had known the 1200G intimately, I could easily have written the preview myself for I knew that if the 1200G was as good as it was, the new SP10R would be better still. Add a surprisingly reachable retail price of $17999 for the complete SL1000R and $9999 for the SP10R “drop-in” deck, i.e fully compatible with existing, new and old SP10 plinths and bases. Where’s the SP10R is truly the naked motor unit and power supply only, the SL1000R is the real deal. Complete with and all new and updated triple layer plinth, the SL1000R also comes with an updated 10” version of the now classic Technics arm. While not the replacement for the infamously and obscenely overdone cost no object EPA-100 that many of us had really hoped for, this 10” arm does in fact include the latest and highest tolerance bearings and magnesium upgrades, including a big-boy obligatory 5 pin DIN connector for your favorite tonearm cable. My bold prediction for 2018/19 is yet another early Christmas gift in form of an all new EPA 100 arm. Mind you, I have no inside knowledge, nor scoop to affirm that other than just a good old fashioned hunch. We shall see.
Coupled with Dan D’agostino’s awesome Momentum M400 monoblock amplifiers, Momentum phono stage, and Wilson Audio’s to die for Alexia Series II loudspeakers, the SL1000R fronted by Ortofon’s A95, produced a sound so delightful, I jokingly asked Fabio if I could spend the night, deluxe sleeping bag and tuck-in service accommodations included. Intimately familiar as I am with Alexia’s sound and Momentum setup, Lynn Stanley’s 1-step produced a svelte, resolved mid range with focused, yet well beyond the audible range extended highs. As mentioned, bass and dynamics had been checked already. Think tight, low and fully in control. Frankly, I was smitten as a kitten. To my mind and humble knowledge, no other deck that I am familiar with exists that as a complete package comes close to what I heard at Alma Audio. Even bolder, even more refined, even more explosive was the sound compared to my 1200G, that I simply felt Fremer’s preview nailed it: this thing is truly killer, chiller. Build quality, a definitive north star for high-end at this price point, is indeed superb, truly bespoke. To competitors seeking to upend this feat, dress warm. I think anyone visiting with Bill Voss and Alma that day saw what I saw. Naturally, this fine scribe already requested a review sample which Bill promptly penciled into his already rather full review calendar. Viennese Sacher tortes as shameless bribes not withstanding, I would expect to get a review sample soon-ish, thereby taking a full, deep-dive front row seat into this platform in due time. Stay tuned, this will be foundational.