Technics is on a roll. Leave it up to the brand which helped define consumer HiFi in the 70s, to continue delivering the goods in 2017. That’s quite the stretch, in a competitive industry like the entry level consumer HiFi market. Looking though their luxe, visually bold website, nay, experience portal, one can’t help reminisce of the time when Technics was cool, hip and in ca. the 1970s and early 80s. Big meters, classy styling, not one but two 1200s reborn from literal ashes, all add up to to what can only be branded an effective retro marketing campaign to connect with today’s lifestyle audiences. Alas, I also can’t help wonder if this retro theme-ing was the right way to connect the dots for today’s hipsters. A quick spot check within my circle of friends reveals that most weren’t all that familiar with Technics in their glory days to begin with, thus leading one to posit that while retro is quite possibly cool, it’s also perhaps not entirely necessary. Swap retro with a futurist, app / software based platform rooted in solid hardware and one could create a truly next-gen system that speaks to today’s young guns with iPhones, iPads, and or some other Android phone.
I digress. One element that’s neither hip nor cool, is that when dealing with a large conglomerate like Technics, coming by review samples is a bit of an uphill climb. Scratch that, make it the Eiger section. Red tape, corporatism and other such vanities quite literally prevent an otherwise lovable fuzz ball reviewer like myself from even getting such a product in for a spin. It certainly helps that one is a well connected, lovable reviewer, as all I had to do was to dial S for Sunny and all fell into place. The Sunny of course standing in for Sunil Merchant, the affable and giant retailer in the LA basin also known as Sunny Audio and Video. A landmark authority on all things high-end, I have known Sunil for the better part of a decade and when it coincided that he had just picked up the Technics line, I instantly knew this was all meant to be. “You really have to review this new line Danny, I think you will be impressed. I’m selling this to a whole new clientele as a complete system with the 1200 series turntable and customers are genuinely impressed. In fact, I can’t keep any of it in stock, especially the new 1200(G).”, remarked Sunil. ‘Nuff said, I thought and coordinated a pickup, LA parking lot swap style. The hit was done and we were in and out within 15 minutes. To boot, we had no heat on our tails and ended up back in the LBC by hour’s end.
Joking and reference to Michael Mann’s epic and quintessential LA heist movie Heat aside, I do want to invite you to visit Sunil’s if you haven’t already done so. Seeing a HiFi salon of that size and scope in today’s fakakte retail environment that is often so full or rubbish and trivialities is indeed a beacon of hope for the future of this hobby. Sunil and his team are keen to help, advise and otherwise infect you with the HiFi bug, so much so that I genuinely can’t think of any other dealer who comes even close to being a full stop Disney destination for all things HiFi. No matter your taste, ambition or budget, Sunny’s Audio and Video will consult you with courtesy, knowledge and style.
Now then, eagerly anticipating the unboxing of these three Technics gems, I immediately took note of the solid, retro themed styling each of the components had on tap. The SU-C700 integrated and 1200G definitely could have come right out of a 70s lifestyle magazine; the SB-700 speakers—in flashy, cool, hip white—less so. Clearly they were stylized with modern day contemporary styling in mind; easily at home in any of Dwell magazine’s showcase properties, I had set them on a pair of custom made Sound Anchor four post stands, a reference of mine for quite the better part of a decade. While there may be more flashy looking stands, I have come to believe that stands are a quintessential, integral part of any compact loudspeaker. The SB-C700s then responded to these Sound Anchors no different than many compacts (including my reference KEF LS50W) before.
Perhaps the heart of this system was its front end: the awesome, genuinely high-end by any standards Technics 1200G turntable. The weight alone—40lbs—would lead any astute vinyl lover to realize that this deck meant serious business. From its four layer cabinet construction to an all new motor and drive system, about the only thing this 1200G has in common with 1200s of decades past is the look. Seeing is believing; this is one serious deck, complete with DJ styled pitch control, practically instant start / stop and that oh so cool, legendary feeling of the best that Technics had to offer. One caveat to this review was that I didn’t have any MM cartridge handy which is what the SU-C700’s phono input was designed for. Naturally, any vintage of modern day MM would no doubt work well here—in the end I opted for using my trusted EINSTEIN The Little Big Phono as an MC upgrade, thus allowing me to use any of my MC cartridges on hand. Heck, I thought, this would give me the opportunity to see how great a deck the 1200G really was. Naturally, no customers—if any—would opt for such a mad setup: after all, the 1200G alone retails for $4000; EINSTEIN’s TLBP another $4000 and Zu Audio’s awesome ZU-103 MkII yet another $800 bones. Then again, why not. Speaking of pricing, fleshing out the rest of the system nets another $1600 for the SU-C700 integrated and $1700 for the SB-C700 speakers. While the Technics system comes with standard prepackaged cables, I opted to upgrade these from stock to significantly higher level Nordost Tyr 2 cables for both the speaker and phono interconnects.
Now then, setup was otherwise pretty much straight forward, no app, no WiFi or Ethernet knowledge required. Classic looks, classic setup. My trusted MacBook Air in tow (connected via Nordost’s Heimdall 2 USB cable), I had an easy time feeding the SU-C700 any and all of my Tidal / DSD and hi-res PCM data via Roon’s stupidly great interface. Capable of serving just about any digital format is definitely a plus, though Technics should work with Roon to have the SU-C700 officially certified as a Roon endpoint. At this point, I feel that software is the new hardware, thus ensuring that Roon is capable of interfacing with your hardware platform natively is a virtual guarantee for future proof musical bliss. Even so, the Technics integrated appears fully featured: from phono input to USB, to Toslink (connecting your TV for example), and with plenty of Class-D power (a bit of an unusual choice, I would have expected them to power this with a classic AB circuit) on tap (40w into 8 Ohms), this integrated definitely makes the matching system speakers sing.
While the digital section is fine for an entry level—dare I say “mid-fi”—component, the system really shines much brighter with the 1200G in toe. Comparing cuts from Willie Nelson’s first album, 1962’s And Then I Wrote…, opens up a whole new level of resolution, depth and scale via the C700/1200G combo. Equally, Agnes Obel’s latest release, Citizen Of Glass, shines much more naturally and far more nuanced via the turntable. Take for example cut four, “It’s Happening Again”, which opens up with a piano—artistically drenched in reverb—and Agnes’ gentle, subtle yet oh so powerful voice and you can hear far more into the ambient hall of the vinyl than the digital cut, presumably both sourced from the same likely hi-res digital master. Whereas the digital section softens the image somewhat, the analog input via EINSTEIN’s insanely great Little Big Phono, shines a far more natural perspective of the same source. I suppose its today’s equivalent of the old commercial “is it Memorex, or is it real”. Via the phono input, the Technics system definitely is far more real sounding than otherwise.
Then again, keep in mind that the target audience for this system would probably opt for the less expensive 1200GR model, which, retailing for $1800, represents are more fair value. Add a solid vintage MM off Audiogon or eBay (tons of amazing Japanese models available!) and you can eliminate $7k off the total cost of this particular review setup. Far more reasonable I say. Far more reasonable still would be the assumption that the prospective buyer of this system would opt to keep it digital only. Certainly, digital only has its benefits: one less set of cables to deal with, one less component to deal with; lastly, a setup far less exposed to a more substantial placement routine for the 1200G. In other words, $3300 nets you a digital only entry level HiFi. Given the DAC’s double DSD and hi-res PCM capabilities, the hardware is mostly future proof. What will happen with MQA / Tidal or other similar hi-res streaming services is anyone’s guess. Given that the Mac / PC Tidal app does native unfolding of MQA’s 1st level, ie. up to 96khz, you can still enjoy the benefits of hi-res streaming sans native MQA hardware support. Generally speaking, the digital section of the SU-C700 plays where I’d expect it to: for an entry level HiFi component, the sound is straight forward which is to say clean, and reasonably resolved with an add of punch in the lower registers. Anyone listening to their favorite digital tunes won’t be disappointed.
Finally, who can deny the coolness factor of the retro inspired power meters bouncing around to the sound of the beat. Recalling my early childhood experiences, it was precisely these meters that always gave me the tingly feeling of high-end. Today, outside of McIntosh, power meters are mostly passé and frankly somewhat unnecessary. Given Technics desire to bridge the gap and connect the dots from their 70s glory days forty years on, I understand the reasoning behind their decision. Likewise, however, I can’t help but feel that instead of going all in on retro, Technics could have started with a clean sheet of design paper. Create a stunning piece of hardware and couple it with an extensible software platform to take advantage of regular updates. Maybe that’s yet in the cards at Technics. For now, today, this system is solid. The 1200G is the real star of the show. This deck plays well above its price and kicks the whole system—or any other truly high-end system—onto another playing field altogether. Dial S for Sunny. Well done!