Technics is a brand that has been with us seemingly forever, and as a result there is no shortage of very diverse opinions out there about the brand and what it stands for. Some audiophiles look fondly upon Technics, whereas others--like me--remember the brand for its rack stereo systems the late '70s and '80s. In my youth, Technics was a brand I associated more with the likes of Radio Shack than high-end audio. Until, that is, I actually bought my first ever Technics product, the famed SL-1200 turntable, in college. The SL-1200 redefined, for me, the Technics brand on a whole, since that turntable was, and still is, one of the best ever made. While my experience from that turntable alone would've been enough for me to want more Technics gear, alas none was available, for by the early 2000s they had all but faded into the annals of audio history.
A few years ago, Technics' parent company, Panasonic, brought the famed moniker back. Rather than inundate the market with a bevy of branded gear, though, Panasonic opted for a more niche approach, keeping the product line sparse but well enough appointed that it served the end users' wants and needs at a few different price tiers. Couple that niche positioning with a hefty helping of nostalgia, and you're left with a recipe for success, at least in my eyes.
The first such products to the market, or at least the first to make headlines, was the Reference Class R1 Series, which consisted of a retro-sexy-cool stereo amplifier, a networked audio player/preamp, and loudspeakers. The whole system was nothing if not stylish and was a solid opening salvo for a brand looking to make a new name for itself. Fast forward to today and the Reference Class R1 Series has company in the form of two more classes: Premium and Grand.
As I stated earlier, each tier has everything the end user would need to build a modern competent two-channel experience, whether their fancy be analog or digital. For the purposes of this review, I'll be focusing exclusively on their newest stereo integrated amplifier, the SU-G700, which is part of the company's Grand Class.
The SU-G700 retails for $2,499 and is available through select dealers, including a few online. It looks a lot like the beefier and costlier SE-R1 stereo amplifier, which is a very, very good thing. I really do love what Technics has done with the look of all their new products, especially the SU-G700, as it's a near perfect blend of modern and vintage. The integrated amplifier comes in two finish options: silver and black. Technics sent me the black, though based on photos, I think I would've preferred silver. Still, the SU-G700 in is sexy in any finish, what with its bluish-white analog-style meters sitting front and center. I'm a sucker for meters, and I have to say, of all the modern amplifiers using them to trade upon our nostalgia for the good ol' days, the ones found on the SU-G700 may be my favorite yet, and the least pandering of the lot.
Sitting just above the large glass viewing window rests the SU-G700's substantial volume knob, to the right of which is a small digital display that shows you menu and input data followed by a second, smaller knob for input selection. Shifting focus to the far left side of the SU-G700's faceplate you'll find a simple on/off button as well as a quarter-inch headphone jack. That's it. The SU-G700's faceplate is as minimal as they come, and I think it's great. It makes for a far more sophisticated visual statement, and lets you know that the user experience is going to be one of simplicity and ease.
Make no mistake, though: the SU-G700, for all its simplicity and grace, it's still a substantial piece of kit, measuring nearly 17 inches wide by 17 inches deep and six inches tall. It tips the scales at a notable, but not back breaking, 27 pounds, thanks in part to its amplifier topology.
Around back you'll find the SU-G700 is very well appointed, something I wasn't expecting given how spartan and retro the front of the unit proved to be. Moving left to right there's a built-in, moving magnet phono stage, followed by two line-level inputs (RCA), above which rests a single line level output (RCA) that Technics is careful to label "Analog Source Only."
Above the RCA I/O section rests the SU-G700's digital I/O board, comprising two optical and two coaxial digital inputs as well as a single USB-B input, which the 700 labels as "PC." As for digital formats, the SU-G700 supports (near as I can tell) all flavors of DSD as well as PCM. Above the digital section you'll see a USB input (service only) as well as a mini jack labeled "Control." Located just left of center is the SU-G700's preamp outputs (RCA) and to the right of those, a single pairing of rather substantial binding posts. Toss in a removable AC power cord and you have the outside of the SU-G700 pretty much sewn up.
Under the hood is where the SU-G700 sheds its vintage flair for something far more modern. For starters, the SU-G700 is a 70-Watt-per-channel integrated amplifier at eight ohms, and 140 Watts into four, but the amplifier topology isn't Class A, or even Class A/B, but rather Class D. The SU-G700 is stated to be compatible with loudspeakers ranging in impedance from four to 16 Ohms.
The SU-G700 features Technics' own JENO circuitry. JENO, which stands for Jitter Elimination and Noise-shaping Optimization, is a carryover from the brand's higher-end products, and it effectively "re-shapes" all incoming signals--analog or digital--into the best versions of themselves. For analog-to-digital conversion, the SU-G700 utilizes a 192kHz/24-bit A/D converter from Burr-Brown (PCM1804). For those of you wanting to do a deep dive, I would encourage you to visit Technics' website and be prepared to do some light reading on your own.
In addition to its JENO architecture, the SU-G700 features LAPC or Load Adaptive Phase Calibration, which at first blush may sound like something along the lines of room calibration, but it's not. LAPC allows the SU-G700 to curb negative effects from your loudspeakers' changing impedance across its frequency range, resulting in a more linear response for both gain and delay, which in turn should net an audible improvement in sound quality. More on this in a moment.
The SU-G700 also utilizes a high-speed silent hybrid power supply, which is said to reduce noise, as well as an Optimally Activated Circuit System to effectively disengage any and all systems or modules not in use to further reduce noise during listening. This attentiveness to noise doesn't stop there; the SU-G700 even employs battery power in its preamp stages. All of this coupled with the fact that the amp is internally compartmentalized into three key sections, so that potential interference between circuits is minimized. This bracing also reduces vibration, which, depending on who you talk to, is a four-letter word when it comes to high-end digital playback.
The addition of both a Class A headphone amp and low-noise phono input are almost afterthoughts by the time you get through all the technical specs crammed inside the SU-G700, and yet they both share in the benefits afforded by all the aforementioned wizardry. But none of it matters if what's on paper doesn't translate to a listening experience that is equal to the SU-G700's promise.
Lastly, a few words about the remote. I actually don't mind the remote, which is good, since it's the same remote I used when I reviewed Technics' SL-G700 CD/SACD player. It's a bit on the larger side, but that means that buttons have adult-sized keys and spacing between them, and while it's not backlit, everything has the real estate needed to be easily readable. The remote can control not only the SU-G700 but also its matching CD player and network preamp if you were so inclined. It's not aluminum or sexy, but it's serviceable.
I took delivery of the SU-G700 along with the Technics SL-G700 SACD/Network Music Player and SL-1500C direct drive turntable. For the purposes of this review, I went ahead and connected the whole lot together, for a number of reasons: first, I don't own and disc player of any ilk anymore; and second, I wanted to know what the complete Technics sound experience would be like. At roughly $6,000 all-in, I could see potential customers buying all three Technics components and calling it a day.
For speakers I used my reference JBL Synthesis L100 Classics and for other A/B testing I did keep my U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus turntable, Marantz NR1509 AV receiver, and Crown XLS DriveCore 2 amplifier handy.
Setting up the SU-G700 proved to be one of the easier tasks I've had since rejoining Home Theater Review late last year. The integrated amp really is a joy to unbox and configure, as it is very thoughtfully laid out and straightforward, unlike its disc-player counterpart. Though, not unlike a modern AV receiver, the SU-G700 does have some higher-level functionality that is accessible via its setup menu (visible on the unit's faceplate), that you'll want to read up on should you want to pair the 700 with a third-party amp, subwoofer etc. Out of the box the SU-G700 comes pretty much pre-configured the way I would imagine the majority of users will likely use and interact with it, sans its LAPC setting.
With everything connected, I went ahead and used the remote to begin the LAPC procedure. It should be noted that should you employ an outboard amplifier (not sure why you would), LAPC is not available to you; it is only for use with loudspeakers connected directly to the SU-G700 itself. Turning the amp on and pressing the LAPC button the remote until the display screen reads "Please Wait" is all that is required of you to begin the procedure. What follows is a series of test tones that will emit from each speaker over the course of several minutes. The tones are not unlike what you're used to hearing from the likes of Audyssey or others room EQ protocols, only with the SU-G700 there is no external microphone or need to measure multiple listening positions. When the SU-G700 is done, LAPC is engaged (evident by an amber light located between the meters), and you're ready to rock and roll.
Technics touts the SU-G700's quiet operation a lot, so the first thing I did when I sat down to critically evaluate it was to see just how quiet it was. From my listening position some 11 feet from my JBL L100 Classics, with the amp idling and the volume dial at full, I heard no noise. None. Kneeling halfway between my primary listening position and the speakers' front baffles I still heard nothing. Sitting in front of my left main speaker at a distance of 12 to 18 inches, I heard something... I think. Pressing my ear directly to the JBL's foam grill I was able to hear tweeter hiss. Dialing the volume dial back to about three o'clock (full on being six o'clock) killed the hissing tweeters and rendered the speakers and the amp silent. Not bad. It should be noted, that my house has notoriously dirty power, and as a result I do have some noise issues, so the results of this test were impressive to me.
Starting with vinyl playback, I tested both the SU-G700's internal phono stage as well as its line-level input via the Technics' SL-1500C's internal phono stage. The SU-G700's phono stage is impressive compared to the other mainstay I had in the house, Emotiva's now discontinued XPS-1. The XPS-1 is one of those unique products that manages to be a lot better than you'd expect, but compared to what I was getting out of the SU-G700's phono stage (and even the Technics SL-1500C's internal one) the Emotiva definitely was outclassed. The XPS-1 seemed a little dark and veiled by comparison.
In truth, playing back Tears for Fears' Songs from the Big Chair LP (Mercury Records) had more in common with the CD than it did with a typical vinyl experience, which is a good thing. While vinyl may be seen as being "romantic," one doesn't want too much coloration. The combo of the SL-1500C and the SU-G700 proved to be one of near textbook neutrality top to bottom. Also, it was an exercise in speed, not to mention nuance. The SU-G700 is not an amp in the Krell or Pass Labs style that bowls you over with its brute force. No, the SU-G700 has an ease about it, more Bruce Lee than Thor the God of Thunder.
The SU-G700 was incredibly articulate, seemingly hanging on the trailing edges of notes and lyrics just a touch longer, and letting them fade into darkness just a little smoother than what I have grown accustomed to. This in turn made for an incredibly dynamic presentation, but one that wasn't bombastic. Sounds built organically to their crescendo versus going from zero to 11 then back again the way some amps do in hopes of impressing you. The soundstage was nicely layered and also very detailed, though, on this album at least, it didn't extend much beyond the left and right edges of my JBL speakers.
What I did find most impressive, though, was the degree of separation within the soundstage each instrument/element possessed throughout the album. Not that the presentation was disjointed, or didn't coalesce; there just seemed to be a bit more air surrounding each musical instrument that allowed me to hear nuances without having to listen too critically for them. Center imaging was also rock solid and sublime in its presence.
Moving on to CDs, I cued up Moby's hit album Play (V2 Records). The track "Run On" has always been a favorite demo of mine, and via the combination of the SU-G700 and the SL-G700 SACD player, I was privy to quite a treat. Since I was keener to test the SU-G700's digital prowess more so than the SL-G700's, I went ahead and connected the CD player to the 700 via an optical cable. This required me to set the CD player's digital output to "On," which immediately changed the display on the SU-G700 from "Unlock" to the incoming signal quality.
Once again, I didn't sense any real coloration of the signal, so you're not going to get a lot of adjectives like "warm" or "lush" out of me here. There did seem to be an added degree of clarity compared to vinyl playback, confirmed by the fact that I also own Play on vinyl and A/B the two. Minus the inherent noise of vinyl, there wasn't a great deal of difference on a whole between the two mediums via the SU-G700. If the SU-G700 when playing back vinyl is like looking through a window at the music, its digital presentation simply applied a bit of Windex and some scrubbing to said window. Everything throughout the SU-G700's frequency range was just that much clearer and managed to reach just a bit deeper and extend just a touch higher--that's about it.
And yet it was totally and utterly captivating, for what the SU-G700 lacked in coloration, it amazed with its retrieval of the finest detail. The subtle harmonies that are contained within the track "Run On," especially those buried in the record scratches, are easy to overlook. I've heard great systems completely gloss over them, and yet, the SU-G700 did not. In fact, for only maybe the third time that I've heard, the harmonies were truly separated from Moby's main vocals clearly and distinctly, occupying their own space just to the left of center and behind.
In my travels, only two other amplifiers have really managed this three-dimensional feat: Mark Levinson's N° 53 and Krell's now infamous 402e. Throughout my demo of Moby's Play, I kept coming back to my time spent with the mighty Mark Levinson N° 53 and just how much the SU-G700 sounded like a scaled down iteration of that truly great amplifier. I say scaled-down because there does seem to be a limit to the SU-G700's power, something I didn't experience with the JBL's, but I could see it happening with less efficient speakers. That being said, the SU-G700 didn't lack for dynamics or headroom. Moby's Play, both on vinyl and CD, proved this. Also, its soundstage was able to bloom beyond my speakers' boundaries whilst retaining all the aforementioned control, separation, and nuance.
I ended my evaluation of the SU-G700 with a film. I fired up Avengers: Endgame (Marvel) on Vudu in UHD and set the 700's volume to stun. Chaptering ahead to the climactic battle with nothing but two speakers in tow, the SU-G700 didn't disappoint. If anything it proved (to me at least) the power a properly configured stereo setup can have in portraying films brilliantly. I doubt any critical listener would've been left wanting for more during this sequence played back via the SU-G700 and a pair of JBL L100 Classics.
I mean, I'm no stranger to watching films blockbuster films in stereo. It's how I've been enjoying movies for several years now. But this may be the one of the few times I felt as if I was in the presence of more. The center focus and delineation throughout the SU-G700's soundstage is just incredible. Admittedly, I hadn't turned the SU-G700 up as loud as I did during Avengers, and while I may have thought I was taxing the amp earlier, nothing could have been further from the truth, as this baby had a whole other gear to give. I watched those meters bounce, and yet the sound was always clean, uncolored, and textural through and through. Dynamics were explosive without a trace of digital harshness. The sound was just so infectious in its ability to render even the tiniest detail faithfully and bring it forward from a virtual black hole in space.
If you are one that is looking for their amp to act as a de facto tone control for your speakers or other components, look elsewhere. If you like a bit of fat bass or a romanticized midrange, look elsewhere. And if you like your high frequencies sharp, this definitely isn't the integrated amp for you. The SU-G700 isn't going to stay with you because of a single sonic trait or house sound, but rather because you're not going to be able to put your finger on any one singular thing that it does, and that is its greatest strength.
There isn't much I didn't love about the SU-G700's performance, so my downsides are going to be focused more on what it lacks, rather than what it does wrong.
For example, if it had an HDMI input or two, the SU-G700 would be perfect. If it had Bluetooth/AirPlay support, I'd "127 Hours" my own arm off to get one. Lastly, if it had just one more analog input, bringing its total to three, I'd likely never ask to review another integrated amplifier again.
The only other gripe I have about the SU-G700 is that I feel, or fear, its niche status may make it difficult for enthusiasts to experience it firsthand.
Competition and Comparison
The full-featured, two-channel integrated amplifier market is going through a bit of a renaissance as of late, with notable additions to the market from makers ranging from Marantz to Mark Levinson. The Marantz PM-KI Ruby, which is part of the brand's Signature Reference Line, is likely the most direct competitor to the SU-G700 based on features and price. Retailing for $3,999, the PM-KI Ruby is a two-channel integrated with largely the same functionality as the SU-G700, and is designed to be the centerpiece of an all-Marantz system.
Moving on, one must also include the Anthem STR Integrated amp at $4,499. It too possesses much of the same features as the SU-G700, in addition to packing a more traditional Class A/B amplifier inside, which some users may prefer. It even packs more input/output options than the SU-G700.
Lastly, there's the Mark Levinson No 585.5, which is an absolute beast of a machine, not to mention costly at nearly $16,000. But the No 585.5 is truly a discrete dual-mono amplifier and preamp in one chassis, meaning it is essentially like buying a single No 534 and a No 523 together, give or take.
Of course, there are options closer in price to the $2,500 SU-G700 as well. NAD's M10 at $2,749 comes to mind, as does Marantz's PM8006 at $1,199. Marantz also just announced their new NR1200 stereo receiver, which manages to add some of the items missing from the SU-G700's repertoire and for a price of only $599. Stay tuned for my review of the NR1200 when it arrives in September.
I'm not going to beat around the bush here: The Technics SU-G700 stereo integrated amplifier is the kind of product I get a little weak in the knees over. It has both style and substance, coupled with a retail price that is on the saner side of the audiophile spectrum. While there are other integrated amplifiers on the market that may have a few more inputs, output, or features, the SU-G700 gets the balance just right for the price. It's nice, in 2019, to come across a product that is decidedly modern in its approach to sound reproduction, and yet feels altogether familiar--dare I say comfortable in its everyday use.
The SU-G700's sound is akin to only one other amplifier I've had the good fortune to review: the aforementioned Mark Levinson N° 53. The No 53 was an obscene amplifier, both in terms of performance as well as price, but there was an ease about it that no amplifier has ever been able to replicate, until now. While the No 53 could (likely) power the Sun, within its limits, the SU-G700 has more in common with the No 53's sound than any other amp I can recall.
An amplifier is not supposed to have a sound of its own, it shouldn't have a signature. In fact, you shouldn't be aware of its presence at all. From that perspective, the SU-G700 excels. Its whizzbang tech under the hood is no joke, and the resulting performance is something worth seeking out and hearing for yourself, if for no other reason than to put to rest this notion that digital circuitry can't be musical and emotionally engaging.
In truth, it's been a long time since I've been this excited by an amplifier. But the SU-G700 doesn't excite me by what it brings to light in a large, bombastic fashion. No, the SU-G700 excites by how confidently it goes about doing its job without needing to shout about it. It's beautifully Zen, and I love it.
• Visit the Technics website for more information.
• Technics OTTAVA f SC-C70 Premium All-in-One Music System Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.