Technics Ottava SC-C70MK2 Premium All-in-One Music System Review
This iconic Japanese brand pulls no punches with this technology-packed, all-in-one music player, says Michael Darroch…
Ottava f SC-C70Mk2
Few classic hi-fi names carry as much kudos as Technics. There was no more widely recognisable name in turntables throughout the nineteen seventies and eighties – arguably hi-fi’s golden age. But it fell from ubiquity after that, until being rebooted ten or so years ago with the new era of SL-1200s. You can’t keep a good name down, and now there’s a steady stream of premium products bearing the Technics name. The new Ottava f SC-C70Mk2 is the latest to hit our shores.
Musically, ‘Ottava’ means playing an octave above or below what is written, and ‘f’ denotes ‘forte’ – meaning loud or strong. Designed as a premium one box wireless music system, the SC-C70Mk2 attempts to channel the spirit of these musical terms. It combines a host of digital and physical source options, with a compact internal 2.1 channel speaker configuration, in a package that balances performance, functionality and style. Yet it doesn’t require an imposing amount of space or a complex setup.
The SC-C70Mk2 supports the obligatory Chromecast and Airplay, along with TIDAL, Spotify, Deezer and Amazon Music. For those who prefer to cede control over your playlist to our broadcast overlords, there is internet, FM and DAB radio (sorry AM talkback aficionados!) Stored media is also catered for, with network (DLNA) or USB playback of digital files in all the usual formats; WAV and AIFF up to 384kHz/32-bit, DSD up to 11.2MHz, FLAC and ALAC to 384kHz/24-bit, and MP3/AAC up to 320kbps.
My personal favourite input is the CD player adorning the top surface of the player – almost unheard of in this genre of product these days. Technics has also included Bluetooth, 3.5mm analogue and TOSLINK optical inputs to ensure that almost any other source is catered for. While you can access all this using the C70Mk2 as a standalone unit, you can also partner it up with other devices for multiroom connectivity through Google Home or Technics’ own Audio Centre app. Thus you can see how Technics has blended the best of both worlds – the footprint of a wireless speaker with the functionality of a CD player and streamer.
The Ottava f sports two 80mm woofers and two 20mm dome tweeters for the stereo channels, which project through a specially designed ‘acoustic lens’ to help direct the sound. Technics says the drivers in the Mk2 are lighter and more rigid than the Mk1, and the acoustic lens was redesigned – part of the subtle changes compared to the previous model. There’s also a 120mm subwoofer mounted on the bottom of the unit, maximising the use of the smaller form factor, bolstered by bass reflex ports at the rear – so much of the lower internal space acts as subwoofer enclosure.
The drivers are powered by Technics’ proprietary JENO Engine digital amplifiers; each of the stereo modules outputs a claimed 30W apiece, and the subwoofer a substantial 40W. While this might seem modest, we are talking about compact drivers, and this is more power than many upper-tier soundbars provide per channel. Technics has equipped the Ottava with two power supplies – one for the amplifiers and one for the other circuitry – to minimise electrical interference.
The Ottava f comes packaged with a quick start guide, a full-sized remote control, power cable and the antenna for the DAB/FM radio. While certainly ‘compact’ considering what has been built into it, is still a solid unit. At 450mm wide by 280mm deep and 143mm high, the dimensions will challenge many stereo receivers, but where you save space is not having to add unwieldy source units or passive speakers to the mix. Internally the Ottava is made from wood, which provides the internal shape and mounting points for the various components. Add to this the twin circuit power supply and weighty subwoofer, then cover it in a steel casing, and we quickly get to an 8kg fighting weight. Cheaply made, this is not.
Externally, the SC-C70Mk2 maintains a consistent appearance from the earlier Mk1. The same brushed aluminium top plate maintains the premium feel, with the top-mounted CD cover being the visual break and illuminating during playback. Along the front-top section, we have the power button on one side and on the other, touch controls for stop/play/pause/track selection and volume. These are easy to use but don’t interrupt the clean lines set by the brushed metal finish. At the front is the same dark metal grill with the stainless horizontal lattice overlayed over the speakers. Central to this is a monochromatic OLED display which presents all required information; despite the small screen, it’s easy to read and navigate with good resolution.
While somewhat redundant as almost all features can be controlled by your phone, the remote is a refreshingly full-sized unit with well set out buttons. There is no backlighting, but it’s easy to feel for the main functions. The silver plastic finish doesn’t quite carry the same premium feel as the main unit.
Setup is simple via the Google Home app, being ready to go after the obligatory firmware update, but my recommendation would be to run ‘Space Tune’ before you start listening. This is Technics’ version of room correction and one of the biggest improvements from the previous-gen SC-C70. While the original Ottava allowed you to select from presets (a feature that’s retained in the current model) such as Free, Near the Wall or Near the corner, it required an iOS device to do actual room calibration. The Mk2 now contains Space Tune Auto, which performs this calibration completely within the unit, and you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t try it – if for nothing else than the entertainment value. Much like a home theatre room correction, it attempts to resolve acoustic traits caused by placement by emitting a series of very forte blips to read the room. Trying this out in two very different listening environments, I found there was a clear benefit, with a much more balanced and full output than the default.
This Technics box has a warm sound, its small subwoofer putting in a big effort to provide a strong bass output for a speaker of this size – even at relatively high volume levels. The enclosure and reflex ports certainly help augment bass performance, particularly considering the low height of the device, but the downside of this is that the bass seems based on the resonance of said enclosure and ports, which results in a less defined and controlled low-frequency output.
Further up the frequency spectrum, its softened mid and highs can leave the overall sound feeling a little flat. However, if you take more time to sit back and listen, the SC-C70Mk2 teases out a good deal of midrange detail. While helped by the wider real estate offered by the front panel, Stereo separation is still limited by the strict front-firing drivers. Even with the acoustic lens, this leaves a narrower soundstage than other larger wireless units like a Denon Home 500. If your aim is to tastefully fill a room with a full range sound, then this isn’t so important, but when solo listening, you need to get in closer to really feel immersed in the output.
Giorgio by Moroder on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories provides a mellow and funky beat, and melody so characteristic of this now-defunct French electronic duo. The Technics delivers a rich listening experience, with delicate detail providing a compelling backstage sound to the introduction monologue. The subwoofer ensures deep bass on the drum beats leading into those suitably sharp and retro synth lines. All felt balanced and pleasant, with a high volume capable from this small package without distortion. However, the simplicity of the song does help to mask some of the potential shortfalls in this compact design.
Vince Jones’ It All Ends Up In Tears is a clean sounding contemporary jazz album, characterised by the strong vocals of Scottish-born Australian, Jones, and a myriad of instrumental accompaniments. In the case of You Don’t Know What Love Is, the soft opening features gentle guitar and hand percussion, set to a dominant trumpet solo that never becomes harsh or fatiguing. Even as the track expands into a saxophone solo, with piano and bass added to the mix, the SC-C70Mk2 keeps good control over the sound, allowing to you appreciate each instrument both individually and in unison, depending on how much concentration you want to expend.
Eventually, the smooth vocals escape with every detail apparent, from the slight husk to the faint echo. Meanwhile, the reverb provides a nod to the live performance roots of the material. I often find brass instruments can be a telltale sign of shortcuts taken in speaker design, but not so here. The percussion, bass and brass balance is naturally reproduced with ease and clarity. Soft natural instrumental music such as this really seems to hit the sweet spot for this little Technics box.
However, Ben Folds Five’s Underground takes the SC-C70Mk2 out of its comfort zone and begins to provide a glimpse into the bass overload created by the subwoofer enclosure. The rhythmic bass guitar notes are so deep and powerful that they attract too much attention in the performance. Piano proves no problem, with the subwoofer standing back to let the midrange drivers shoulder more of the load. This provides fullness to leading notes and engaging vocals, but the warmth of the presentation means that subtle cues such as the gentle maracas lose a slight edge in the retelling. EQ control is on offer, with low, mid and high-frequency adjustments available – however, less is more here. I found only slight adjustments from centre were helpful in reaching a sound I was happier with, and broad EQ adjustment deviates too far for my taste.
One area that did not grab me was how certain types of heavy guitar music were rendered. A classic example of this was Tool’s Eulogy. The opening of the song had such promise, with a very immersive build up and real impact from the kick drum and snare. But, as the track transitions to the chorus, instead of exploding into my ears when unleashing the full power of the band, there was a definite sense of overpromising on the impact of the individual elements. There was also some underdelivering on the weight and impact of the music as a whole, which quickly became a little fatiguing. Not all guitar renditions are equal and switching to something more mellow like Cake’s The Distance, guitar solos were deftly reproduced with character and accuracy, weighted appropriately within the performance, and without fatigue. Interestingly, this was less obvious when listening to the same tracks on Spotify – as opposed to CD. This is a good example of less being more when it comes to feeding higher resolution sources to compact speakers!
There is no denying that this unit carries the ingredients of quality, but ultimately I was left with the feeling that unless you must have CD functionality, from a performance perspective, you can get similar or better levels of quality and output from other wireless music players without having to pay such a steep admission price. Of course, this does somewhat miss some of the finer points of this product, as while other wireless speakers might leave more change in my pocket, they most definitely do not possess such a ‘cool factor’ or the build quality that separates the SC-C70Mk2 from the pack.
There’s a certain irony to a brand famous for turntables releasing a product most notable for having a CD player. Still, in many ways, the Ottava f SC-C70Mk2 embodies the ideals of modern Technics products – it’s a total embrace of the digital realm. Deciding to buy one is somewhat like browsing for a Mercedes-Benz, in the sense that it definitely isn’t a compact system that you buy on the basis of simple value for money. Instead, it’s a premium product you buy because of the company that designed and built it.
While certainly not a poor performer, it is far from the class leader in terms of its sound, making it somewhat hard to justify the hefty investment. But what it does have is a sort of ‘James Bond suaveness’, a certain visual elegance that elevates it beyond the practical designs of its competitors. It’s a distinctly modern yet coolly retro take on the classic ‘boom box’. It seamlessly blends technology and minimalism into a product that bridges the gap between wireless speaker and stereo receiver with balance, usability and premium style.
With a 20 year passion for home cinema ensuring he will never be able to afford retirement, Michael’s days involve endless dad-jokes and enjoying the short time before his son is old enough to demand the home theatre becomes a temple to Frozen II.
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