I’ve made it known that I truly miss using that Technics SL-1200G turntable that Scot Hull lent me for more than three years. I’m also aware that I’ve written a lot of words about my long history with Technics, culminating in my profound respect and admiration for not only the SL-1200G but the SL-1210GAE, which also spent time in my own home. I’m not even mentioning the feverish dreams I’ve had about owning the majestic SL-1000R flagship turntable one day–what a beautiful, gleaming machine that is. This makes it a little surprising, at least to me, that I’ve chosen to back away from Technics turntables to review the new and affordable Technics Premium Class C600 Series components as a complete system. The Premium Class, outside of the new Technics SL-1500C turntable, takes a very deep dive into the latest digital technologies.
The current Technics Premium Class C600 line consists of the Technics SA-C600 network CD receiver ($999 USD), the SB-C600 bookshelf speakers (also $999/pr USD) and the Technics SL-1500C turntable, which comes already fitted with an Ortofon 2M Red MM phono cartridge for just $1,199. Originally Technics wanted me to review the speakers and the network CD receiver as a complete hi-fi system for just $2,000 USD. At the last minute, Bill Voss of Technics US asked me if I wanted to try out the SL-1500C as well. Since this was during the Dark Weeks of 2022 when I had no turntable in the house, I jumped at the chance to play with another Technics turntable—even one that is priced closer to the original SL-1200 than the SL-1200G.
Occasionally I do review affordable gear for Part-Time Audiophile. Normally, I give one of a handful of stock reasons for doing so—because I’m always fielding questions from non-audiophiles who want something that sounds good without the high-end audio prices, or because our readers get ornery if we spend all our time talking about the big-dollar gear, or because I see price gaps in our Buyers Guide that need filling or, more commonly, the rest of the PTA staff is so spoiled that no one wants to review affordable gear unless it somehow changes their lives.
The reason for reviewing the complete Technics Premium Class C600 line, however, is quite different. This is, in effect, the witnessing of a curious and somewhat exhilarating high-end audio development where one of the old-timey Japanese audio giants remembers that pleasing the audiophiles is still a worthwhile endeavor. Many of these companies—Pioneer, Sony, Denon, Marantz and a few others—have their moments in the sun where one product, or even an entire line, is far more impressive than anyone expected. In my opinion, none of these companies have done this as consistently and as monumentally as Technics/Panasonic over the last decade.
This idea was reinforced when I visited the Technics room at High End 2022 back in May. Technics is one of those big companies, of course, that doesn’t exhibit using one system in one room. They get a big suite and fix it up professionally and bring every imaginable product they make. So, I was able to drool on an SL-1000R turntable, wax nostalgic with the SL-1200G, look at the Technics Premium Class C600 system and boast to everyone within earshot that I had this waiting for me back in the states. But I was most impressed with Technics’ so-called big system in the back room, comprised of components from the Reference Class and the Grand Class lines, which included an elegant SL-1000R and the beefy SU-R1000 integrated and the SB-G90M2 tower speakers and everything else Technics could possibly fit onto those racks.
The sound was, quite simply, everything you expect from a high-quality, high-end audio company that makes everything you need for a complete home entertainment environment. But the sound in that room was stellar. It wasn’t hey, did you hear the Technics room—not bad! It was wow, this system is definitely checking all my boxes. No qualifiers needed. I dug the sound in that room.
If you’re not paying attention to what Technics has accomplished across all its product lines over the last decade, it’s time you took a listen. If you want to hear how much hi-fi goodness you can get for two thousand bucks these days, a little more if you want a decent turntable included, listen up.
Technics Premium Class: SL-1500C Turntable
I’ll start off talking a bit about the Technics SL-1500C turntable. I had intended to write the Technics SL-1500C turntable as a separate review from the other Technics Premium Class components because it was just so good for its price. Technics US, however, requested that I explore all three components as a system. By that time, I had already scribbled out quite a few notes about my positive impressions of this analog rig—enough so that I included both the Technics SL-1500C and the Ortofon 2M Red cartridge in the Buyers Guide Summer 2022. I’ll try to give you a thorough yet brief summary of the SL-1500C, especially since I did use it quite a bit without the Technics Premium Class C600 line.
Due to its $1,199 MSRP, which includes both the 2M Red and a built-in phono stage, I wondered if the Technics SL-1500C was a spiritual successor to the original SL-1200, which cost around that much before it was discontinued in 2006. Oh, the answer is NO. The Technics SL-1500C is very different from the original 1200. You’ll notice the first difference when you lift the 1500 out of the packing box. It’s light. Even the original 1200 was heavy, especially for a $500 turntable. The 1200G series is even heavier—it’s a dense and compact beast.
Also, what happened to the slide bar for pitch control? And the strobe? The Technics SL-1500C is marketed as a non-DJ turntable, more of a lifestyle product. I have to admit that I still chuckled at the sight of the strobe/slide bar on the Technics SL-1200G I borrowed for three years. Are there DJs using two 1200GAEs for their rigs? The SL-1500C, however, looks more like a turntable that’s designed to fit into your home. It looks—dare I say it—like an audiophile turntable. The SL-1500C lands much more closely to the open, dynamic sound of the SL-1200G than the original 1200s, which is a good thing. It’s not dark or closed in. It sounds stable and secure in the grooves, and it operates flawlessly.
Technics Premium Class: SB-C600 Bookshelf Speakers
I’ll talk about the Technics SB-C600 bookshelf speakers next because, like the SL-1500C, I spent some time listening to it out of the context of the Technics Premium Class C600 series. The SB-C600 monitors are just $999/pair USD, which means that I shouldn’t expect too much from them, but at the same time I’ve listened to quite a few spectacular thousand-dollar speakers in my life. I also know this is an important price point for many people—I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me my opinion on the best loudspeakers they can buy for under a grand.
The Technics SB-C600 bookshelf reminds me a bit of the KEF LS50 in that it’s black, small and it sports a concentric driver. One quick glance and you might think the SB is Technics’ answer to the LS50, but it’s not. It has a different set of priorities—the bass fundamentals are delivered effortlessly, especially when placed on the Acora Acoustics SRS-G solid granite stands, and the Technics will play surprisingly loud. The SB-C600s are also more neutral from top to bottom than the warmer, midrange-focused KEFs.
The Technics Premium Class SB-C600 employs a coaxial driver containing a 6” woofer and a 1” dome tweeter, which is combined with the Linear Phase Plug to create a more accurate version of a point source. The Linear Phase Plug has a unique shape to it so that the sound wavefronts are “aligned regardless of the listening position.” That was another thing I noticed about the sound of the Technics SA-B600s—what a gigantic sweet spot it has! This trait became more remarkable when I moved the Technics Premium Class C600 system from my main listening room to my smaller office. I found it ridiculously easy to achieve great sound in much closer quarters and from a variety of listening positions.
Technics is really excited about their BDMA technology used for both the SB-C600 monitors and the much larger SB-G90M2 towers. BDMA stands for balanced driver mounting architecture, which involves mounting the driver on a sub-baffle on the inside of the enclosure at a point near the speaker’s center of gravity. As Technics explains:
“With the conventional method of mounting a speaker unit to a baffle, the centre of gravity of the speaker unit was located away from the support points, and so the force acting on the voice coil when driving the speaker produced vibration of the entire speaker unit. This produced distortion in the sound waves generated from the diaphragm, resulting in deterioration of sound quality. In addition, mounting the speaker unit to the baffle is a configuration that easily transmits vibration of the speaker unit itself to the baffle, and so unnecessary vibration sound was produced from the baffle, again with deterioration of the sound quality.”
The Technics SB-C600 design also focuses on a “Smooth Flow Diaphragm,” which means that the woofer driver itself is more shallow than usual, with no irregular shapes or contours between the cones and the surrounds and the front baffle. This is said to reduce reflections and create a much wider soundstage. The Technics SA-B600 speakers also features the Smooth Flow Port. The diaphragms are made from aluminum, the copper wiring is OFC and the caps are polypropylene.
Sensitivity seems on the low side, at 83dB and a 4-ohm impedance, but Technics recommends any amp that delivers at least 40wpc. The frequency response is impressive, at 40Hz-100kHz. The Technics SA-B600 also comes with some basic speaker cable, but I did veer away from the pure experience of the Technics Premium Class C600 system by using AudioQuest Rocket33 instead.
Technics Premium Class: SA-C600 Network CD Receiver
This is where the Technics Premium Class C600 system seems almost too good to be true—the wealth of features in this small yet revolutionary piece of gear. The SA-C600 is a light but well-made box that has an incredible number of features for a paltry $999. First and foremost, it’s a digital integrated amplifier–not class D, by the way–with 60 watts per channel, more than enough to make the SA-B600s to play nice and loud.
Technics has also included their Space Tune function which allows you to customize the Technics Premium Class C600 system for four installations—Free, Corner, Shelf and Wall. This equalization can be accomplished through your mobile device from your listening position. The digital amplification is also supplemented with the JENO engine, which stands for Jitter Elimination and Noise-Shaping Optimization. JENO ensures that the signal remains digital through all the stages to eliminate external noise. The power supply for the clock circuit uses the same noise-suppression circuit as the $18,000+ SL-1000R turntable.
Wait, there’s more! The first thing you’ll notice about the SA-C600, of course, is the top-load CD transport. Since the SA-C600 is a purely digital amp, which ensures that digital signal remains digital throughout its travels, there is no DAC because there is no need for conversion. The SA-C600 does contain a network streamer, as well as an optical digital input so you can hook up your TV. You also get coax and USB inputs, an MM phono stage, internet radio and more. Digital technologies such as MQA, Apple Airplay2, Bluetooth, Spotify Connect, Tidal, Amazon Music and Chromecast are supported by the SA-C600.
When you look at the Technics Premium Class C600 system, along with the Technics SL-1500C turntable and Ortofon 2M Red cartridge, it’s quite easy to imagine your life with this compact and yet stunningly complete musical system. This is a lifestyle product, no doubt about it. The only thing left to consider is the sound.
Sound and Listening
I used the Technics Premium Class C600 system in several—but not all—of the ways it can possibly be used. I started off with the simplest function, the CD player, and then I brought in the SL-1500C. Next, I streamed for a while. Finally, once the C600 system was moved into my office, I found myself rediscovering my love for internet radio and all those highly specialized stations. (I’ve got a thing for Scandinavian trip-hop, it seems.)
What I first noticed about the sound of the Technics Premium Class C600 system, across all formats, was the impressive and well-balanced lower frequencies. This has always been the Technics strength with all of its direct-drive turntable designs, including the original SL-1200s. There was a simple way to confirm this superb low frequency performance—yes, it’s Yulunga Test Time. The C600 system actually delivered that soft bass drum strike from “Yulunga” on Dead Can Dance’s Into the Labyrinth with texture, fire and unusual depth—unusual, of course, for a small pair of monitors that retail for a grand. That tone didn’t rattle the floorboards, but it stayed round and intact with plenty of decay.
In fact, thanks to the versatility of the Technics Premium Class C600 system, I was able to conduct the Yulunga Test with both the MoFi LP version and my original 1991 CD. Yes, the MoFi won that comparison, but not by a lot. (For years I considered the CD as one of the best-sounding silver discs I owned.)
I did find the line the Technics Premium Class system would not cross—not without a fight, anyway—and that was in full-bore rock-out mode. In my office, I could reach impressive results with some of my heavier favorites such as Tool, System of A Down, Faith No More and more in my office, but I heard the system strain a bit in the big room. That shouldn’t be a surprise, but I was impressed with how far the system traveled down that dirty road before it headed for the overload.
The C600 system did find paradise in my office, where I spent days in a little cocoon surrounded by groovy, cool space music coming at me from all sides. I could also experiment with the Space Tune function as my moods changed. With that impressively large sweet spot provided by the SB-C600 speakers, I could easily create an immersive, pseudo-surround sound around my work station.
I became so spoiled by this configuration that Technics US finally contacted me and said hey, you gonna give someone else a chance to hear this? I felt like telling them to back off, IT’S MINE! A cooler head of mine prevailed and I thought to myself, “Let’s stick a pin in this. Because this is a lifestyle product that even a hard-core audiophile like me can love.” I’m finally moving into larger digs later this year, and that’s when I’ll really start to miss the C600 system.
The last time I suggested an affordable component and/or system as a great solution for a bedroom or an office or a vacation home, I may have slightly offended the manufacturer because they were aiming for a more ambitious piece of the pie—a spot in a serious listening room. They asked if I could drop the qualifier, and I acquiesced. But I think they shouldn’t discount what I originally said because I think it’s an important talent.
The Technics Premium Class C600 system, considered in such “secondary” installations, is a no-brainer. It’s that good. Put it in your office and your co-workers will immediately plan grand schemes to purloin it as soon as your back is turned. In my office, it became indispensable in a very short time. Put it in a bedroom system and you may never get out of bed. Plus, the SA-C600 and the SB-C600 are so compact that it’s super-easy to stick them in your vehicle to take to the vacation house. Give the C600 system to your kids, and they’ll stop calling you dorky–at least to your face.
Adding the Technics SL-1500C turntable to the system takes the experience up a notch. The 1500 is Technics’ version of a no-frills yet audiophile-quality turntable that sounds superb for the money—in an ironic turn, I’d put it up against the Rega P3 at this price point, which could be fighting words for some. Plus, it’s easy to keep upgrading the Ortofon 2M Red to a Blue or a Bronze or a Black as time goes by–this line continues to be my favorite for MM cartridges.
Would I recommend the Technics Premium Class C600 system as a stand-alone primary entertainment system for a seasoned music lover? Absolutely. When I first heard the system performing as one, I immediately determined that this is the best answer to the question: what’s the best complete system for $2,000? My answer is this right here. The C600 system—SA-C600 network CD receiver, the SB-C600 speakers, the Technics SL-1500C turntable AND the Ortofon 2M Red–all get my recommendation.