Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sony PS-X75 Turntable

I still miss my Sony PS-X75.  It had just the perfect combination of awesome performance and stylish looks.  To my eyes, this is what a great turntable looks like.  Today's designs are far more stripped down and basic, since vinyl records are a small niche.  But back in the 1970s, when millions of turntables were sold, Japanese manufacturers were able to devote their considerable engineering skills to the craft.

Sony's PS-X75 represented the third generation from their golden age of turntable design.  The PS-X5/6/7 series began the peak, it then continued with the X50/60/70 series, and then the great X65/75 tables.  They continued to refine this design well into the early '80s, when Compact Disc arrived and sent all the engineers scurrying away to master the new format.

This PS-X75 features Sony's unique tonearm, dubbed the "Biotracer."  It began on an earlier model and was pretty much perfected here.  The Biotracer uses magnets and electronic parts for its automated movements, promising shiny touch controls.  Just press a button and Biotracer takes care of everything - you never have to lay a finger on the tonearm.

The Biotracer design also tackles tonearm resonance, one of the oldest engineering challenges in turntables.  Most tonearms must be matched properly with the tonearm, so resonances do no interfere with the musical signal.  Sony's design essentially eliminates this problem.  In theory, you should be able to play any kind of phono cartridge on the Biotracer, regardless of its mass or compliance.

Can you see that light near the back of the turntable?  It's not just for looks.  This is a sensor that reads the record, and tells the Biotracer where to move when beginning and ending.  There are holes cut into the thick rubber mat (a smooth, almost plastic feel to the touch), that tell PS-X75 were the record is.  Just push a button to play '45 singles, and the table does the rest.

One great touch.  If you press the start button when no record is on the mat, the Biotracer moves out, then darts back into place, and the table stops.  Very nice...very nice!

The PS-X75 represents the pinnacle of Sony's turntable aesthetic.  You can see how gorgeous it looks, with the reflective black surface, lightly sparkled, and the shiny metal buttons.  A red LED light displays the functions in front.  And it might be hard to tell from photos, but this table is huge.  It's very big and very heavy.  My old Pro-Ject Debut III belt-drive would just get swallowed up.

All the brilliant technical innovations (many actually stolen from Sony's rival Denon) from the earlier PS-X tables are present here, and this is where I really find myself becoming a devoted Sony fan.  The BSL (brushless-slotless) motor provides very strong torque, yet remains extremely quiet.  Magnedisc and X-Tal Lock delivers an astonishly smooth and stable speed.  The chassis is made of non-resonant composite materials, mostly - believe if or not! - polyester and fiberglass.  If you grew up around hockey sticks, you'll recognize the feel.

Oh, and in case I haven't mentioned it yet - the music is spectacular on the PS-X75.  Can you tell how much I loved this turntable?  I still have a PS-X5, which contains most of the same features, but it's smaller, less attractive, and the tonearm is just a cheap aluminum tube, standard-issue '70s model.  Sony quickly developed far better arms.  It's good and occasionally great, but really not in the same league.

The one down side to the PS-X75 is the same with all vintage audio gear: time.  This machine was released in 1979, and I highly doubt that any of its engineers believed record lovers would still be playing 30 years later.  And this table uses computers and electronic velocity sensors.  If the Biotracer goes senile in its old age, you're going to be in trouble.  In my experience, vintage audio gear can still work like new, if it was treated carefully over the years.  As in all things, be careful and examine thoroughly when buying vintage.

Back when I bought my Sony tables, they were rushing through Ebay in waves.  Now, the current has dried up, but that should change sooner or later.  The PS-X75 and PSX-65 (same table, but with Sony's more traditional PUA-7 tonearm) are fairly expensive, anywhere from $200 to $500.  If that sounds expensive, then pay a visit to Needle Doctor and see what today's new turntables are selling for.  Five Benjammins are nothing but chump change in this game, kids.

Here are a few stats to impress you, if that sort of thing rocks your world:

Speed accuracy: 0.015%
150g load speed drift: 0%
Wow & flutter: 78dB
Platter: 32cm
Full speed ahead: 1/2 rotation


Will said...

I bought the Sony PS X-75 turntable in 1980 and 30 years later it still runs perfectly. I just had to change from the Denon 103D MC cartridge to the Denon 160 (the maid managed to clean the stylus right off the last one). I love the way the Biotracer arm comes to life when the table is powered on.

Publius said...

I'm a biotracer fan, and part-time turntable repair guy. I just acquired a near-mint PS-X800 that needs some love and adjustment.
Just so you know, they CAN be fixed. I've even found new-old-stock parts in parts warehouses online! Anyway, good luck... but don't give up hope if it needs work. You'll just need to find a good tech.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

Wow, that's terrific news. I know maintenance on a Sony Biotracer turntable, with all its computer parts, is much more difficult than another table. If we're still able to make repairs and keep them working like new, that's wonderful.

Thanks for reading and commenting. It's much appreciated.

Publius said...

I fixed a much more problematic Sony PS-X800 for a client. I had to replace 2 belts (as on mine). There are 2 belts for 2 motors that move the tonearm base (why two? One for slow/play speed, or for fast).

What else was wrong? One of the thin delicate wires going into the tonearm from the circuit board was bad with an intermittent fault. There are about a dozen wires to the tonearm for sensors and control and cartridge leads. I had to remove the tonearm and splice in a new lead).

What else? I bad sold solder join in the power supply board.

I'd fix one problem, then find the next!

Anyway, I'm loving my Sony PS-X800. It's looks are understated compared to the PS-X75, but it sounds amazing. I can't wait to try some different carts...

Problem: my wife has become aware of the Ebay value of the Sony, and wants me to sell it for cold hard cash.

In your opinion, how do the Sony Biotracers sound compared to a Thorens 160 or their ilk?

I'll check out your more recent blog entries... you seem to be interested in a lot of subjects.

Tony West said...

Hi Daniel Thomas MacInnes,
I have read your post.Really nice one.Sony PS-X75 Turntable model is good one and you have also provided many information about that in your post.Keep it up.
You can visit our website to know more information about Turntable.

Brian Schell said...

Hi all i am still using a ps x75 i bough in 82 i absolutly love it and curently its mounting a Koetsu Black and runs thru a BRB head amp. i would not trade this for any setup.
I listen and still get the chills from the ambient presence it poses,s to lay on me
fav pressing is Jazz at the pawnshop party on
Brian in Canada

Brian Schell said...

HI If you are wondering thorens vrs psx75 just borrow a telarc 1812 and try that on the thorens
it will skip right off on the cannons but the sony will track it so sweet it will give you the chills
I curently use a psx 75 with a koetsu black and a BRB head and boy o boy its my prized posesion
i listen to "Jazz at the pawnshop" and still get the feeling of being right there you will truly know that you have hairs on the back of your neck if you posess a biotracer

Best regards Brian

Rob said...

Hi Daniel did you take the step and get back into a PS-x75.
I purchased new in the early 80’s, the faults I’ve had with mine are, the microprocessor failed MB8841-327 and the arm lifter seized. The microprocessors
do fail more often if the turntable has been in storage for years without operation. Currently work is being done on a programmable chip that will replace the unobtainable processor.
In my opinion this is one of the greatest looking and sounding turntables of all time.

lincolnadmirer said...

Rob, if you are successful with the microprocessor, please post. Though I've not inspected it, from what I've read, I believe mine has failed on my beloved Sony. Sitting for months at a time between uses because I was afraid of it going out before I could get it re-capped, recently I went to use it and the buttons have all failed.