Remember the Technics SL-DZ1200? I think we all do, but not fondly. Proving that Technics didn’t have the golden touch with everything, the DZ came, bombed, and bar a handful of die-hards, disappeared. But via a lot of homebrew hackery, one diligent user has managed to turn a dog of a unit into something that I’d actually like to use, and created the oh so unofficial SL-DZ1200 MK2, thus proving that it really is possible to polish a turd.
When Technics decided it was time to enter the CD market, the DJ world had very high hopes that they’d do the same for media players as they did for turntables. Sadly, the resulting SL-DZ1200 turned fell a very long way short of expectations. The sound was limited and poor quality, and the platter was nothing short of a disaster. And despite some firmware updates to fix the godawful sound, no amount of hackery could fix the truly terrible platter performance and poorly placed centre display. Until now that is.
Enter Stuart Littleford, a DZ owner with a dab hand for hackery. I’ll let him tell the story:
I first had a set of these about 4 years ago, having wanted a set since they came out, but being a vinyl head didn’t bother. I then saw a set going cheap on eBay and ended up buying them, I didn’t do any research into them I just assumed as they were made by the mighty Technics they must be of high standard, so wasn’t best pleased once I got them home to find out they didn’t live up to the Technics name.
After using them on a number of drunken occasions I just started thinking how I could make them better.
My first attempt was to try and stop the silly excess x y movement a bit like having a record with a hold too big for the spindle, It felt awful I remember making loads of new parts on cnc machines when I should been working, even cutting out records to different sizes to stop it moving, I then decided to open the unit up that’s when I decided to go the whole hog and change everything I could.
I found a way to stop the x y movement making some new parts; this took a few weeks to perfect. I then moved on to the next issue and for me at the time it was the stupid nipples holding the silver disk on, all I can say is WHY, such a stupid error trying to mix and these shitty little things kept getting in the way, they had to go, once they had gone the screen had to go, anyone everywhere knows djs use the centre of the record to beat match I still to this don’t believe the person or persons who designed the SL-DZ1200 had never been a real dj they couldn’t of been.
Each part of this conversion made the next part happen, as soon as I had decided the screen had to go I had to have a middle spindle with real vinyl but to do this was an absolute nightmare, it involves removing and the modding of many parts, all sorts of trial and error stuff just to get a vinyl record to fit on!
After that my focus was on the silly sd software, infuriating as anyone with this deck will tell you, I basically spoke to some top software engineers about by passing the Sd secure coding, it was possible but they were asking silly money to complete the job, but during this process I found a way to increase the bit rate of the mp3 files the unit can take I got it to take 210kbps from 192kbps, not much I know but I’ve done some research into the quality, I’ve done many many tests with friends and paying customers at some of my events(I run a sound system, www.darkussoundsystem.co.uk) promoting drum and bass played on our 18k pro rig and many people could not tell the difference between the two, many struggled comparing them to wave files too !
I also fired off a handful of specific questions:
Q. How long did it take you to get to this point?
A. So the idea is 3-4 years old and about 8 months from the first version to what we have now.
Q. How many DZs did you butcher in the process?
A. I been quite lucky in that I’ve not actually destroy one completely, had a few scares with blue screen and random stuff appearing but that was due to voltage drops which a found away around! I’m an electrical engineer and have been for 20 years but still had my heart in my mouth converting some of these, the first 3 were the hardest, I’ve done well over 20 sets now and not one has ever failed.
Q. Will you offer a conversion service?
A. I am offering a conversions service if you already have a unit it will cost £150 per deck, its not an easy conversion and each one takes 12 hours to complete
Q. Is it doable as a kit?
A. A lot of people have been asking about a conversion kit, I didn’t think this would be a viable idea at first but I’ve been persuaded to make them, my main worry was people skills in doing it, it really does involve a lot of soldering, modding and the adding of parts, there hard enough just to get inside for most people. But hey who I’m I to stop people doing it, it would quite rewarding doing it yourself and having a finished item, I know! I’m still in the process of documenting every stage and getting it in to a simple instruction sheet. I should have this finished shortly.
Q. Will you sell ready converted units?
A. I also have a number pre-converted MKII’s for sale at £350 and will do a deal if more than one is required.
There you have it — a man with a desire has made something quite bad potentially very good. The video speaks for itself, and the actual end result is a masterpiece. Making the DZ good is one thing, but I love the execution too, and truly admire Stuart’s tenacity to attempt such a project. If only Panasonic had spent just a little longer on the original, then the DJ landscape might be an entirely different place.
We’ll be getting a demo unit in for a test drive to see if we can get past our former experiences with the original DZ. Having seen the end result, it might be worth bagging yourselves some cheap DZs on eBay, if that’s at all possible now.