Many consider the Technics SL-1200 the best turntable ever made.
It was first released in 1972 and has been upgraded many times since.
The Audio Technica LP120 is modern copy of the SL-1200. It looks virtually identical.
But is it really an exact copy?
Given the huge difference in price, it can’t be, can it?
No. Despite the looks, these two record players are quite different.
Keep reading for a complete comparison of the Audio Technica LP120 and the Technics 1200.
One of these two turntables will be far better suited for you than the other. We’ll help you figure out which one.
- 1 Audio Technica LP120 Vs Technics SL-1200
- 1.1 The AT-LP120
- 1.2 The Technics 1200
- 1.3 Difference Between Technics 1200 And AT-LP120
- 1.4 Similarities
- 1.5 Advantages Of The AT-LP120
- 1.6 Advantages Of The Technics 1200
- 1.7 Why To Get The AT-LP120
- 1.8 Why To Get The Technics SL-1200
- 2 Technics 1200 Vs AT-LP120: Final Thoughts
Audio Technica LP120 Vs Technics SL-1200
We’ll begin our comparison by taking a brief look at each turntable individually, before going into the differences and similarities between the AT-LP120 vs the Technics 1200. Then we’ll look at the advantages of each and help you determine which one is the right choice for you.
- Compact and portable
- Extremely durable and high-grade materials
- Can digitize audio files from vinyl records
- No issues with skipping or wobbling
- Tons of advanced features for DJs
- Can connect to components with no phono input
- Only plays vinyl
- No built-in speakers
- Non-DJs don't need all of the features
The AT-LP120 is a direct drive turntable made by Audio Technica. It is a fully manual turntable, meaning you need to make all of the tonearm’s movements. There are no auto-return or auto-stop functions. See this article for more on the differences between manual and automatic turntables.
It has 3 speeds, 33, 45, and 78 RPM, which are selectable via the buttons on the top of the unit. It has 2 different outputs: analog left and right RCA, as well as USB output which you can use to hook up to your computer and rip the vinyl records to your digital library.
It is priced right in the middle of the mid-level turntable market. I like it quite a bit and I have quite a lot of experience with it, since I own one and listen to it almost daily.
It comes with a variable pitch slider, which you can use to dial in the correct speed for your album, if it needs some adjusting. It also comes with its wall-wart style power supply, which converts A/C power to DC. The exterior DC converter is a nice touch, because it keeps the unit quieter.
The Technics 1200
- One of the best turntables ever made
- Perfect for DJs
- Incredible sound and build quality
- High price
- Weight might be a negative for some
- Lack of dust cover might be a negative for some
The Technics 1200 is a short nickname for the Technics SL-1200. It was the catalyst for the start of what we now call DJ culture. These turntables started becoming popular in the 1970s and many still consider them the best turntables ever made.
The SP10, which was the predecessor of the SL1200, was the first direct drive (beltless) turntable and it quickly became popular. The SL-1200 first showed up on the disco scene in 1972, followed by the SL-1200 MK2 in 1979.
As more features are added, the popular and winning design keeps going and keeps the name SL-1200. Today you can purchase a new Technics SL-1200 MK7. If you are interested in previous models, we have a detailed comparison of the Technics 1200 MK2 vs MK5.
It has an aluminum S-shaped tonearm which helps to give you precision tracking without skips.
It is a high-end turntable that costs somewhere around the 1k mark (give or take a few hundred), depending on where you find it. To many enthusiasts today, the Technics SL-1200 MK7 is the gold standard for direct-drive turntables.
Difference Between Technics 1200 And AT-LP120
The Technics SL-1200 MK7 costs four time what the AT-LP120 does (roughly). The price difference is the most notable difference and the most obvious when comparing them side by side. But there are obviously other differences.
The Technics SL-1200 MK7 weighs a full 4 pounds more than the AT model, even though they are roughly the same size and form factor. This is a significant difference which is usually a marker of higher quality (but not always). In this case, the heavier weight being a marker of higher quality holds.
The Technics SL-1200 MK7 does not have any USB output, only analog outputs. This is a real bummer for me, because if you want to rip your vinyl records to digital with the SL-1200, you have to do it the hard way with a converter.
For the extra several hundred bucks this is a feature they really should have included. The much less expensive AT-120 has a USB output and they even give you the cable.
Selectable Light Color
The strobe light that points at the platter on the Technics can be set to red or blue, whereas the AT model is only one color all the time.
The biggest difference here besides the price is the overall quality of the audio output. With much more expensive components under the hood, the Technics just sounds better, no matter how you slice it.
Of course, you can replace the stock cartridge that comes with the AT-LP120 and get closer to the Technics sound, but there is no denying that the Technics is just a superior turntable sound-wise. It better be, for roughly four times the price.
These units look like twins, if set side by side. The Technics has been around in this same form since the 70s, so it is clearly the one being copied
The AT looks nearly identical with the same buttons in the same places. Even the strobe light and utility light are in the same place. The platter looks identical, too. I suppose, if there is already a perfect design that people love, why not copy it?
These are both direct-drive turntables that have no rubber belts to worry about or replace. Some say that direct-drive turntables are not as good as belt drive, because the higher torque motor adds more noise to the music.
This is up to you to decide. I think both these units do a great job of not adding more noise or hum to the output of the record.
A pitch control slider is present on both machines (and in the same place as well).
Both turntables have convenient strobe lights which shine on the raised specially placed dots on the side of the platter to help show you if your unit is functioning properly.
Advantages Of The AT-LP120
The price is lower by a lot. It is several hundred bucks cheaper than the Technics. This is a big deal, especially if you are on a budget.
The AT-LP120 has USB output which allows you to rip your records to digital, before they start to wear out. Since records begin degrading the second you play them, it is a real bummer that the more expensive unit has no easy way to rip your vinyl collection to the digital domain.
For me, the fact that the LP-120 is a little lighter is a good thing. I do have back issues from time to time and the lighter turntable is less stressful for me to move, if I need to. Or to set up.
The ATLP-120 has a dust cover that keeps the falling dust and debris (cat hair in my case) from landing on your records. The 1200 does not have a dust cover, because apparently if you are an audiophile, you like having dust and cat hair on your records.
All kidding aside, since turntables are analog devices, a closed dustcover will amplify all the vibrations in the room and you will hear them in the output of your unit. This is a real thing I can hear myself. For that reason, most serious audiophiles immediately discard the dustcover when they get a new turntable.
Advantages Of The Technics 1200
Well, the price is definitely not one of the advantages. But seriously, the quality of the SL-1200 MK7 is on another level than that of the Audio Technica LP120.
It is almost not fair to compare these units because the pedigree and build quality of the SL series from Technics is almost legendary and the fans of this unit are almost a cult. They are that raving and adoring.
This is for good reason, because this is one of the best sounding turntables you can get, as far as direct drive DJ-friendly ones go.
The sound output is just better with the Technics, and DJs like to say it ‘feels’ better to work on, because the motor is of such high quality. I can’t really comment on that aspect because I have never even DJed a set for my cats.
Why To Get The AT-LP120
I know this is going to sound gushing, but here we go. I love this turntable. I use it almost every day. I have heard more than a handful of great turntables in my day, and for the price, the AT-LP120 can hold its own against all of them.
If you are on a budget and can’t afford around a thousand bucks or more, the AT is for you. I fully endorse this thing because I know it is a great unit that will perform well for almost anyone.
If you have a bit more money to spend, but not quite enough for the Technics 1200, there are also higher quality models available from Audio Technica. The AT-LP1240 is a good example. Check out our comparison of the AT-LP1240 vs the AT-LP120.
Why To Get The Technics SL-1200
If you can afford it, get it. It sounds excellent, looks great, and lasts for years and years. If you are a DJ, you probably already have 2 of them.
They may not have a ton of features, but if you are serious about the sound quality and you are actively DJing and playing paid gigs, the money you make will be worth saving up for one of these.
Also, a great bonus is that you can brag to your hipster friends that you have an SL-1200, which is always nice, because you know their broke butts don’t have one, let alone two.
Technics 1200 Vs AT-LP120: Final Thoughts
The AT-LP120 might look virtually identical to the Technics SL-1200, but what is inside the unit (and what the unit itself is made from) is complete different. But so is the price.
The Technics is an incredibly expensive turntable meant for professional DJs, audiophiles, or those for whom money is not an object. The Audio Technica LP120 is an incredible turntable for the rest of us.
It doesn’t come close to the Technics in terms of sound and build quality, but few do. And they all cost a lot. But the AT is one of the absolute best record players on the market today, in terms of value for money.
To us, vinyl enthusiasts, AT’s (or any other maker’s) USB out feature is useless. Plain and simple: Had we wanted to listen digitalized music, wouldn’t have bought a TT and records. Instead, AT should have invested that amount in quality of machine itself. Or, equip it with a better. cartridge. Yes, AT-VM95E is a fine entry level cart, perhups the best in the price range… but still ENTRY. Switcing from 95E to 95ML on my MK2 was enormous upgrade, for a mere $100. (now I’m goin’ for an MC cart, with a tube PP…) Also the cover thing. My MK2 HAS cover – it’s NEVER on the deck when in use. Didn’t know MK7 doesn’t come with the cover: never mind – ANYTHING wide enough will suite to cover it when not in use. The only thing that DOES matter is the sound, and it’s a huge gap between the two. So is the price gap, though.
Verdict: AT is a decent replica to Technics, yet replica, only. And if a buck is the issue, digital/streaming is probably a better solution… Current price of an LP is, roughly, triple the price of the same CD release… And for a dozen of bucks a month one can have, in Hi-Res, all the music in the world..
I think it should be mentioned that Technics made many other turntables in the 70s and early 80s that shared a lot of the same internal components as the S-1200. I, for instance, have an SL-1700, which aside from lacking the pitch control fader, and gaining some semiautomatic tone arm controls, is every bit as high quality as the 1200 is, at a fraction of the cost. My unit came from a gentleman local to me who lovingly repairs and restores old turntables, including new capacitors and diodes on the boards for optimum perforce and sound quality. I scooped mine up for $400 paired with an AT-12Sa cartridge with Shibata stylus. This was my choice over getting the Audio Technica AT-LP120 and I couldn’t be happier. I also agree with the other commenter that the whole USB thing is kinda silly, then again I already have plenty of high end analog to digital converters at home, and would likely never use the built in one.
Julie Scorza says
My exbf has been doing the DJ thing now for over 30+ yrs and uses both turntables and a Pioneer digital dual player w/ mixer build in. Back in the late 80s and 90s he used 2 Technics 1200s but sold them to afford two CD players instead. Then those started acting up and he got the Pioneer player now. But only has one Audio Technica turntable and told me they don’t come close to Technics! I’ve listened to both and agree! So he’s going to buy 2 used Technics 1200s in great condition from a late friend’s estate! Smart move hoping he will start DJing again at places to make extra income. And he knows exactly how to rip recordings of his mixing manually from the Technics which the MK2s DO come with plastic covers. The covers are a tad shorter than the AT’s as there’s a domed bubble over the arm weight balancer.
Michael L Morrison says
I also play the AT-120LP and I absolutely love it. You run aground when you try to compare how they SOUND. Neither of these units makes any sound of its own and they come with different cartridges.
As one reviewer notes, the AT comes with the AT95E cartridge, which, for about fifty bucks, is a smooth and capable performer. I have always realized that the way to get the best sound from your records is to start with the best cartridge, so I quickly upgraded to the Audio Technica VM740ML. It’s the top line moving magnet one with the metal housing and Microline stylus. And yes, it costs more than the turntable did in the first place.
The metal housing really does resist acoustic feedback better and the Microline stylus is a world of difference. I have 400+ LPs, some from the 1950s, and the Microline very effectively reduces surface noise which some of them have from being played many times on primitive equipment. On some of my older records, this effect is very dramatic and positively eerie.
What you need to realize here is that the weak link in the sound you get from your LPs is the LPs themselves. There is no such thing as a completely silent LP groove and I have records with their own built in rumble and other extraneous noises. Some are just plane lousy recordings and in those days they were made with mag tape and AC powered vacuum tube equipment, which is inherently susceptible to hum and IM and harmonic distortion.
The engineers who recorded many of Leonard Bernstein and the NY Phil works in Carnegie Hall obviously flunked high school physics when it dealt with how sound propagates thru air and the differences between lower and higher frequencies. You sometimes get the feeling that none of them ever stepped outside the booth to hear what the orchestra actually SOUNDS LIKE. With this cartridge, I can hear the recordings get better down thru the years and I can hear the effects of different halls and venues.
When you come to grips with this, you realize that the job of the cartridge is not to deliver crystal shattering highs or scrotum flapping bass, but to pick up the information in the groove and pass it off, unchanged, to your first stage preamp. With this good a cartridge, there is no such thing as a “warm” sound to an LP record. I get the sound which was recorded on it, cool, warm, or otherwise.
What happens to it after that, and whatever you need for the end result to be depends on the rest of your rig and how aggressively you wish to pursue this. And it should be noted that the AT comes with a switchable built in magnetic cartridge preamp. The review does not say if the SL does, but I’m guessing it does, as if it does not, you may have another big bump in the cost of adding it to your rig. This might also be why the SL does not have a USB output, as, technology wise, that is easy to add to a built in preamp.
I have a hundred watts per channel with surround, and my up front speakers are custom made bass reflex boxes with both 12″ and 15″ woofers in each. With this stuff, I can shake the house. And the neighbors’ house. I can also guarantee you that the AT direct drive turntable produces no audible rumble. The stat given for this is -50db and I do not doubt it. That places the rumble below the audible threshold of the record itself.
The USB output for me is useful in that I have a few rare and long out of print records which will be digitized to be used as gifts and for me to play in my vehicle. I live in LA and some trips by car take a long time.
Judging from the photos, the SL and the AT are indeed identical in the turntable itself and the tonearm, which suggests the motor is also identical (reviewer should have determined this) and the onliest difference between them besides the USB feature is that the SL is built on a heavier slab. I would resist thinking of this as a quality of build issue. It doesn’t need a heavier slab; this just makes it harder to set up and move around and it costs more to make and to ship.. In some environments this may work to reduce the transmission of vibrations up into the cartridge, but here at home, this is not a consideration. And cat hair or no, you NEED the dust cover. If you doubt this, look at the tops of your furniture.
I’m not slagging on the SL, but I see no reason to pay three times as much for the same thing, and for the most accurate audio sound pickup, I do recommend you upgrade your cartridge on your AT-120. The Audio Technica VA540ML has the same specs as the 740 but in a molded plastic housing. Both of these are also available with the Shibata stylus if you prefer that. The Microline works on the same principle as it is designed more closely to match the shape of the cutting stylus and thus better fit into the groove.
David Richard says
Thank you for the detailed comment and all of the additional info!
It is perfectly OK that you’re entirely satisfied with your AT 120 (and I’m glad you’re), but you obviously never tried an SL, of any make… Guess not even seen one… For which you made several wrong presumptions. Build quality DOES make difference in sound quality, so does the coreless motor vs DC servo (no, motors in AT 120 and SL1200 are NOT identical at all!). Also known are issues in some AT 120 specimen’s performance, due to a poor quality control (China make!). Seems you were the lucky one…Being made in Japan and Malaysia no way that could happen with Technics! Then the longevity matter (for which one can hardly get 40 yrs old MK2 for less then 600€), etc… There’re many (just) reasons why SL costs triple the AT 120.
As for the cart thing, you’re right, one should definitely upgrade stock AT-VM95E on AT 120, so on SL too. Difference tho is that AT has limits, when any further cart upgrade gives no effect – while an SL can carry virtually ANY cart, Being a member in some Technics SL 1200 FB groups, I know of ppl successfully using (on SLs) carts costing thousands!
And one other thing: SL 1200 MK7 (or any previous MK) DOES NOT have built-in phono preamp… Probably bcs DJs have it in their mixers, while HiFi enthusiasts (like myself) demand a phono preamp of higher quality. For which I, for instance, use Pro-Ject Tube Box S2 (370€), with Benz Micro Gold low output MC cart (400€). Yet, for those in need of built-in PP, Technics as of recently made SL 1500C, which is basically 1210 MK7 with PP and without pitch slider.
Michael L Morrison says
I left a long, detailed, brilliant reply. It has disappeared. I am miffed.
Phooey on you.
David Richard says
It did not disappear. I need to approve all comments manually, before they appear live on the site (thanks to 100s of daily spam comments). Both of your comments are live now. Sorry for the confusion!
Michael L Morrison says
Thank you for your reply. I take back saying phooey on you and I apologize if you found it unseemly.
I scrolled straight to the comments to write, “are you seriously comparing these two?!”. It’s like comparing a battleship to the paper boat from IT, yeah they’ll both float, but with the 12’s you won’t get got like Georgie did!
David Richard says
I agree, but this specific comparison is one a lot of people ask about and one that gets searched for a lot on search engines.