In all fairness to Technics, I don’t really think they ever went anywhere in particular, but perhaps us audiophiles can be forgiven for wondering what went wrong, where we sinned so grievously that they felt that they had to discontinue the SL1200 turntable. [insert a big, humid, sigh here].
I kid. Especially now that there are rumors that Technics, a division of giant Panasonic, is not only “back” — but they’re bringing a whole host of toys to the party. Including, at some point, an updated replacement for that direct-drive Everyman ‘table, the SL1200. That’ll be exciting.
In the meantime, we have some very tender morsels to chew on.
First up? Honking big speakers. The SB-R1 ($27k/pair) are squarely in the mega-speaker price range (if at the — pardon me while I shake my head in dismay — low-end of that sky-high spectrum). I couldn’t help but think of the recent foray from Sony, when looking at the new Technics. Is this salvo part of a trend of mega-brands showing off their technical chops? Lets hope so!
I wanna say that the SB-R1 probably good and flat to the mid-30Hz region, with extreme high-end reach (way past 50kHz). The bass-reflex cabinets look huge (165 lbs each at 50″ tall), with four 6.5″ woofers firing forward, out into the room. 88dB at 4Ω, the speakers also feature a curious — to my mind, unique — flat coaxial carbon/aluminum mid/carbon-graphite tweeter driver. I’ve never seen something like this, though both flat drivers (Manger, for example) and coaxials (KEF, for example) aren’t all that odd. Together, you get the feeling they’re trying to stand out.
The speakers were here driven by the SE-R1 stereo amplifier ($17k), also from the Technics “Reference” line of products. The first thing you see are the VU meters up front, tastefully lit in a bluish-white light, the package carries the best of the “vintage receiver” look that seems to have completely (and unfortunately) dropped out of the market, leaving only McIntosh Labs to carry on the flame. I love it. One look, and I was happily remember all those hours at friends’ houses during the 70’s and 80’s, listening on their parents’ stereos while we were skipping school. Good times! The amp carries some innovative tech (gallium-nitride FET and pulse-width modulation, for example) designed to provide superior response; I was just happy to know that it puts out 150 watts into 8Ω and doubles cleanly down into 4Ω. I mean, c’mon. They had me a “VU meter.”
Fronting this system was the Network Audio Control Player SU-R1 ($9k). The SU-R1 is a digital source — with support for every file format/resolution — it’s also a preamplifier — and while it did not have a VU meter, it did have the Technics Digital Link.
It has eliminated the volume control function from the pre-amplifier, and instead transmits the volume control information, together with the audio signal, directly to the power amplifier in digital form. The power amp’s jitter reduction circuit reduces any effect of jitter in signal transmission, then performs the volume control immediately before the PWM converter.
This new sound transmission interface, Technics Digital Link, supports audio signals and also eradicates inter-channel effects by transmitting the left and right channel signals separately. Technics Digital Link has achieved an ideal amplifier configuration, minimizing any degradation between the pre-amplifier and the power amp, and resulting in superb stereo separation and reproduction of even the most subtle signals. The result is a more detailed and dynamic sound.
This was very clearly a high-end system with higher-end aspirations. Not exactly cheap. At all. That said, the sound quality I heard was refined and powerful — with a bigger room, the a**-kicking would have been prodigious. Still, my impressions were that the overall sound leaned more toward a traditional hi-fi signature — think fast and furious, with thunderbolts and lightning, rather than fuzzy-blankets and candlelight. It’s gonna thrill, for sure.
But that’s the big system. I also got to hear the cutover. To the “budget” system. That word is a bit slippery, so let’s just call it their lower priced system and have done. This system was fronted by pair of SB-C700 ($1,700/piar) loudspeakers that feature a similar coax driver array to the one in the much larger Reference speaker (it uses a much less expensive aluminum dome, instead of a carbon-graphite one). Scanning to the left, I saw VU meters attached to the fully-digital SU-C700 integrated amplifier ($1,600), which is good for 45 watts/channel into 8Ω, and has an innovative “speaker impedance optimization algorithm, using digital signal processing to flatten both the amplitude and phase-frequency response to make the most of your speakers. The result is a sound with better focus, spaciousness and definition.” That sounds like a plan to me.
A Network Audio Player ST-C700 ($1,100) is available for those fancy cutting-edge folks; a SL-C700 ($1,100) CD player is available for the Luddites.
I hear that Herb Reichert of Stereophile is reviewing the lower-cost system — based on what I heard at CAF this year, I expect to read “good things” in his report.
I found this room to be one of the most exciting at the show this year for several reasons — but the main ones being, “This is Technics!” and “They’re REALLY serious!”
Expect good things, folks. I am.