The Technics OTTAVA f SC-C70 Premium All-in-One Music System is, simply put, one of the most fascinating products to cross my threshold in quite some time. Fascinating, in part, because it strikes me as exactly the sort of product that Technics has been rebelling against as a brand since its re-introduction in 2014. Fascinating, too, because I can't say that I've ever used or reviewed anything quite like it.
But what is it, exactly? Because its product descriptor--Premium All-in-One Music System--is so ubiquitous these days as to be completely unhelpful. Simply put, the SC-C70 ($999) is an integrated amp with a built-in CD player, built-in speakers, AirPlay, Bluetooth, Spotify Connect, TIDAL, Internet Radio, and DLNA streaming capabilities, with file format support for WAV, FLAC, AIFF, and ALAC up to 192/24; AAC, WMA, and MP3 up to 320 kbps; and DSD up to 5.6 MHz. Oh, and there's a built-in AM/FM tuner, to boot. And all of it is backed up by an amplifier section with 30 watts per stereo channel and 40 watts for the subwoofer. The only way Technics could have fit more "all" into this "All-in-One" would have been to slap an asynchronous USB DAC input onto the back panel.
The SC-C70 employs two noteworthy technologies: namely, acoustic lenses and a combination of DSP features known as LAPC (Load Adaptive Phase Calibration) and JENO (Jitter Elimination and Noise-shaping Optimization) Engine. The former is a reverse dome-shaped fin structure that Technics says provides a long sound path for its tweeters, resulting in an incredibly wide soundstage and wonderful stereo imaging for a device whose drivers are so tightly packed. The latter technologies work in conjunction to provide better time alignment across the board.
The design of the unit itself is also worth touching upon, because this is case where pictures just don't do the thing justice. The SC-C70 is graced with a solid aluminum top panel, in which its gorgeous little CD player is housed, as well as physical buttons for power and volume control, along with touch-sensitive transport controls. While the rest of the cabinet is mostly made of dense plastic, it is still beautifully built, right down to the gorgeous tootsies upon which the entire ensemble sits.
The first thing I noticed upon pulling this rigid beauty out of its box is that, for all of its well-designed elements, the SC-C70's bottom-firing woofer just doesn't seem to be well thought out. The problem? The woofer is entirely exposed and susceptible to damage, given that its only protection is a finger guard to the side to keep you from grabbing it when you pick up the chassis. This woofer desperately needs a grille of some sort.
The setup process is straightforward. The unit supports both wired and wireless network connectivity, and it's supported by a pretty standard mobile app that gives direct access to things like streaming Internet radio and in-depth setup functionality.
However, most of what needs to be done in terms of setup can be handled with the included remote and front-panel display. Upon firing up the SC-C70 for the first time, I was greeted with a firmware update, which took a few minutes. One thing the screen doesn't tell you is that, after completing said update, you need to disconnect the power cord and leave it disconnected for three minutes before plugging the unit back in. Little details like that mean that it's essential to read the instruction manual.
One other thing that warrants discussion is the SC-C70's Space Tune optimization technology, which consists of three preset EQ curves for one-boundary (1/2 space, or open air with just a surface beneath it), two-boundary (1/4 space, or against a wall in the middle of a room), or three-boundary (1/8 space, or corner-loaded) placement. The differences between these EQ curves are subtle but audible. There is one more option for iOS users: completely customizable room correction called Space Tune that's based on in-room measurements via iOS.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
I began my musical evaluation of the SC-C70 with a spin of Leon Russell's 1971 album Leon Russell and the Shelter People (Shelter Records) on CD, which proved to be the perfect collection of tracks to spotlight all of the unit's numerous strengths. Russell's cover of "Beware of Darkness," for example, provides ample opportunity for the system's expansive soundstage to really strut its stuff. The sense of space here is simply incredible, and the beautiful thing about it is that there's no real, hard sweet spot. Move your head from side to side, and you're still presented with a wall-to-wall tapestry of sound that just can't possibly be coming from drivers that aren't even separated by 17 inches of space. And yet it is. It's spooky.
What really blows me away about the SC-C70's handling of this particular track is the way it captures the richness and detail of the eastern instrumentation (what sounds to my ears like sarod and tabla, but I'm no expert on such instruments, and I can't find a personnel list for this recording, so don't @ me if I'm wrong). The modulated popping of the percussion and the bright tinkling of the strings demand precise time alignment if they're to be delivered with the proper precision, and in that respect the SC-C70 absolutely excels.
The tonal balance of its delivery of the song is also unimpeachable. I've heard decent bookshelf speaker systems that don't sound this neutral, this true-to-life, much less this engaging in terms of imaging and overall stereo presentation.
What about songs with really wacky stereo mixing, though? These are always the ones that throw me off when listening to single-cabinet stereo speakers. I'm thinking specifically about songs like "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Amazingly enough, the SC-C70 handles the erratic stereo meanderings of Hendrix's guitar, especially in the opening measures of the song, in a way that rivals the effect you get with a good set of headphones. Does it quite match up to the experience of real speakers out in the room, set six feet apart, perfectly toed in, six feet away from the listening position? No, of course it doesn't. But the fact that it's even worth making that comparison at all is startling. Especially the way it drags the wooshy pans of Jimi's Strat back and forth in front of your face at right around the 40-second mark.
Here, too, the SC-C70 proves itself capable of delivering the song's tonal characteristics almost perfectly, with perhaps just a little lost at the bottom end, for reasons we'll dig into deeper in the next section.
Orchestral music also gives the SC-C70 a lot of room to shake its tail feathers in a number of ways. One of my favorite pieces from John Williams's score for Star Wars: The Last Jedi is "Revisiting Snoke," which is laden with heavy strings, menacing horns, and oodles of deep, throaty choral elements. The Technics renders almost all of these elements with subtlety and nuance, utter tonal honesty, and a level of richness that just isn't in keeping with the cabinet's small size. I found myself startled, time and again, by punctuated horns, like when Kylo Ren's leitmotif is peppered into the end of the cue.
One thing you can't help but notice while listening to The Last Jedi's score, though, is that--despite having a rated frequency range of 40 Hz to 50 kHz--the unit's usable bass energy really starts to fall off below 60 Hz, and it's all but nonexistent approaching 50 Hz. Playing around with the unit's custom Space Tune room correction feature can bring out a little more of the player's bass potential, but this feature should be used with caution. At one point I actually managed to push the unit too far with my Space Tune measurements, resulting in overly bloated and overwhelming bass that threatened to rattle the chassis to pieces. Resetting Space Tune via the refresh button at the top of the app immediately fixed this issue, though. After much testing in a number of different locations in and around my house, I've come to the conclusion that the custom Space Tune setting almost always does more harm than good. Your best bet is to use one of the three subtle presets to tweak the player's output to match your environment.
Another concern, if you're eyeing the Technics system as a radio receiver, is that its FM reception is rather disappointing using the included wire antenna. Using that antenna, I'm only able to tune three local stations (out of a possible 29). If I tape the top of the antenna up in just the right spot on my exterior wall, I can almost tune my favorite local classic rock station, although it's a hissy, unlistenable mess. Meanwhile, my little Sangean tabletop radio, sitting right next to the Technics, can lock into that station as if its signal were beamed straight from the heavens by Zeus himself, even without the addition of an external antenna. In short, if you're planning on using the SC-C70 for terrestrial tuning, plan on installing an external antenna.
Comparison and Competition
While our fellow listeners across the pond have a number of products that are at least playing around in the same territory as the Technics SC-C70, specifically from brands like Ruark, we here in the Colonies aren't quite so blessed.
The REVO SuperCD (about $800) comes to mind (although it's not readily available), and it doesn't have built-in TIDAL streaming, as far as I know.
The Bose Wave SoundTouch music system IV ($599) is also a likely contender, as is the Tivoli Music System BT (also $599). I have to admit, though, that I simply don't have any hands-on experience with any of these things.
In the interest of complete transparency, I should note that much of what you've read above is based on my experience with a replacement Technics SC-C70. The first unit sent to me for review had some networking issues and Spotify connectivity problems that, after much research and a good bit of troubleshooting with Technics, appeared to be a rare glitch, the roots of which we still haven't gotten to the bottom of. Damage in shipping? Firmware issues? Something stemming from being passed around from reviewer to reviewer like a doob at a Phish concert? Some combination of the above? We haven't quite figured that out yet, but the replacement unit has experienced no such problems. Its network connectivity is simple and reliable (whether added to the network via Ethernet or Wi-Fi).
I mention that not to cast doubt on the reliability of the SC-C70, but merely to point out the difference in experience I've had with Technics as opposed to other companies whose network-connected audio devices I've reviewed. In this case, there was no finger-pointing. No blaming my network hardware (enterprise-grade Cisco stuff, for what it's worth). No attempt to pawn the issue off on me. What I was met with instead was a genuine attempt not just to fix the problem, but to discover its cause, on the rare off-chance that some consumer down the road runs into the same issues.
In the end, I'm rather pleased that I ran into these problems, despite all the headaches, because they gave me unique insight into how Technics operates, and how its representatives respond to the issues that sometimes arise when dealing with such complex connected gear.
Let's put those issues aside, though, because they're almost certainly not indicative of the experience that most people will have with the SC-C70. One of the questions I always ask when writing a review is, "Who is this product for?" In this case, I think the potential audience is somewhat limited to those who want a high-performance all-in-one music system that can be placed on a desktop or dresser or countertop--who for whatever reason don't have room for or don't want to install separate speakers, and who still want an audio experience that's elevated above what you'd get from your typical wireless speaker or other single-cabinet system.
If that sounds like you, there's of course the issue of value. At $999 or thereabouts, the SC-C70 isn't cheap. You could build a heck of a component bookshelf-based system that does everything this player does for less money. But factor in the gorgeous (and compact) form factor, the convenience, and the simplicity of this system, and it's hard to argue that this little all-in-one system doesn't justify its price. As I said in the intro, I've never experienced a product quite like it.
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