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.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...