Technics SU-R1000 Integrated Amplifier Review

Posted on 17th May, 2022

Technics SU-R1000 Integrated Amplifier Review

Is this flagship integrated amplifier one of the most advanced, innovative, and best sounding we've seen for decades? James Michael Hughes decides…

Technics

SU-R1000 Integrated Amplifier

US$9,500

Technics SU-R1000 Review

What defines the perfect amplifier? Easy – it's a straight wire with gain, something that magnifies the signal without adding or subtracting from it. But, alas, while the concept sounds simple, actually achieving it is hugely challenging.

Technics' new US$9,500 SU-R1000 is no ordinary amplifier. There's a lot more under the bonnet than you might suspect. The price tag hints at this, but many one-box amplifiers from other manufacturers retail at a similar cost or higher. So, what makes the SU-R1000 different and special?

UP CLOSE

Fundamentally, it's a large, powerful integrated amp that delivers a claimed 150W RMS per channel into 8 ohms or 300W into 4 ohms. In addition, it offers lavish Japanese 'battleship' build quality, a built-in digital conversion, plus an excellent MC/MM phono stage. But what really sets the SU-R1000 apart is the role digital plays in the design. Technics' Chief Technical Officer, Tetsuya Itani, calls this a 'full digital amplifier' rather than just regular Class D. While it does feature a switching output stage, it works in the digital domain throughout, without the need for a traditional DAC.

Technics SU-R1000 Review

Instead, all analogue sources are converted into hi-res digital at 192kHz, 24-bit resolution via Technics' so-called JENO engine (Jitter Elimination and Noise Shaping-Optimisation), while digital sources from streamers and/or optical disc transports go in direct. Complex digital processing is applied before the digital audio signal goes to the power amplifier section, and great care has been taken to minimise jitter, says the company. The SU-R1000 is much more than a conventional Class D amplifier then, and if you want to discover more about its workings, then Technics has uploaded various technical papers to its website – there's simply too much to talk about here!

Features of special interest include Load Adaptive Phase Calibration, which is a loudspeaker impedance optimisation algorithm that helps the amplifier handle changes in load impedance. In addition, active Distortion Cancelling Technology deals with the adverse effects of back-EMF created by the speaker drive units. The SU-R1000 also sports a novel MM/MC phono stage that uses digital processing for a more accurate performance. This will horrify analogue addicts because isn't the whole point of vinyl to keep the signal path purely analogue? Maybe, but I believe Technics has created something special here – a superb, ultra low noise MM/MC phono stage that offers several useful features rarely encountered…

Technics SU-R1000 Review

The amplifier comes with a test LP that tunes the phono stage to your pickup cartridge to ensure a wider, flatter frequency response, while enhancing channel separation. It has five different equalisation curves (IEC, AES, Columbia, Decca FFRR, and RCA), along with regular RIAA. While these curves are meant for old LPs mastered using vintage EQ, they're usable on modern LPs. To my ears, this phono stage is exceptional – as good or better- than many outboard high-end audiophile phono stages. You can even store configuration data for up to three pickup cartridges – either moving magnet or moving coil.

A choice of balanced/unbalanced analogue line inputs is offered, including one balanced line (XLR) and two unbalanced line (RCA) plus a set of unbalanced RCA sockets for record in/out, and lastly unbalanced MM/MC phono cartridge (RCA), and a balanced MC input (XLR).

Digital fans will appreciate the two coaxial (RCA), two optical (TOSLINK) digital inputs, and two USB inputs, plus another USB socket for firmware updates. Sampling frequencies range from 32kHz to 384kHz in 16, 24 or 32-bit PCM resolution, plus DSD from 2.8MHz to 22.4MHz. Even MQA decoding is offered, but you can't use the SU-R1000 as a streamer. Four pairs of heavy-duty, custom-designed brass binding posts are provided for the loudspeaker connections. These take 4mm plugs or bare wires, as required, and have a high-quality feel that enhances confidence.

Technics SU-R1000 Review

Tone controls are fitted alongside left/ right stereo balance control. Unusually, the former is split into bass, middle, and treble bands, with hinge frequencies at 300Hz, 1kHz, and 5kHz, and +/- 8dB boost or cut. Subjectively, this arrangement sounds good and works well.

Before serious listening can commence, it's best to calibrate the LAPC function. This takes about five minutes, with a series of short time-stretch pulses that let the amplifier tune itself to your loudspeakers to identify errors that are then corrected. Sure enough, I found LAPC produced a noticeable improvement with my Klipsch Cornwalls – more of which later.

THE LISTENING

Across all sources, the new SU-R1000 produces a very open and neutral sound that offers great clarity. Clean, detailed, smooth, natural, and effortlessly dynamic, it delivers lots of subtle information obscured by other amplifiers. Yet, the overall presentation is fluid and relaxed – it never screams 'detail' at you.

I found that playing Shostakovich's 14th Symphony with Leonard Bernstein on Sony, the double basses sounded much cleaner with LAPC engaged. I also heard a better portrayal of hall ambience, plus enhanced spatial depth, with voices and instruments more precisely placed. With the system switched off, transparency reduced, and there was a slight upper bass smearing. This disappeared with LAPC re-engaged. Subjectively, LAPC made the speakers operate more efficiently and effectively – everything sounded truer and more natural, more effortlessly real.

Technics SU-R1000 Review

Bob Downes' Open Music is an experimental jazz album from 1970. Here, there was a worthwhile improvement in clarity and separation, plus cleaner bass. Cymbal work sounded crisper and more tactile – more holographic and 'out of the boxes'. With LAPC off, the sound seemed a tad muddy and dynamically compressed. Engaging LAPC helped free up the sound, subjectively making the music appear slightly louder and more dynamic. It felt as though the speakers were being allowed to operate with fewer constraints.

Stereo separation is super wide, especially with LAPC switched on. It's really vivid and three dimensional. I actually felt able to reduce my normal volume listening levels by 1 or 2dB for what seemed like the same subjective loudness as other amps. Playing Marc Johnson's ECM album Bass Desires was a wonderfully open sounding thing via the SU-R1000. I heard great depth and clarity, especially at low frequencies. The whole sound was alive and dynamic, with fabulous impact on percussion. It almost felt like I was listening to the original master tape.

I got excellent results using a Marantz 30n SACD player as an optical digital disc source, connected via coaxial cable. I also tried it via the silver disc spinner's analogue outputs, but the digital connection sounded noticeably cleaner and smoother, with less upper-mid glare. Indeed I became critically aware of this while playing a CD of choral music. The SU-R1000's digital input gave results which were impressively sweet and relaxed during loud passages. Going over to the 30n via its own DAC and analogue outputs, voices tended to harden slightly during climaxes.

Technics SU-R1000 Review

Choral music is very demanding. The presence of many voices singing together – often with minute variations in pitch between each singer – can cause intermodulation effects. So, hearing how clean and relaxed the SU-R1000 can be during loud passages was an important sign. Similarly, string tone sounded sweeter and more natural using the SU-R1000's digital input. Massed violins were sharp and assertive but without the edginess and glare that often occurs with CD. On naturally recorded classical music, the sound was fresh, open, and very true to life.

It was instructive to sample Mozart's string quartets by the Quartetto Italiano on Philips. The LPs, issued between 1967 and 1972, were considered 'demonstration discs' on vinyl. Alas, after transfer to CD in the late eighties, these wonderful recordings sounded lean, bright, and unpleasantly edgy. When I first got the CDs in the early nineties, I found the sound thin, harsh, and almost unlistenable. Nor was I alone in this. Quite a few reviews on Amazon complained about the same thing, so it wasn't just me…

As my hi-fi improved over the years, the sound of these CDs grew less objectionable. But only now, listening via this amplifier's digital inputs has that edgy, glassy string tone finally been tamed. The tonal balance remains bright, but now I hear a crisp, incisive immediacy rather than thin harshness. The same discs, through the player's DAC, sounded much less agreeable.

It also lets you hear more changes of tone colour, and dynamics. Fine detail cuts through with greater ease. Intrigued by this, I compared the CD layer of an SACD via the SU-R1000's digital input to the SACD layer via the player's line output. As expected, the SACD layer sounded better, with greater dynamic separation between instruments. By comparison, the CD layer seemed slightly flatter and less holographic, but the differences were not vast. Using the SU-R1000's digital in, regular CD sounded the closest to SACD I've ever heard. Subjectively, I'd say CD was delivering about ninety percent of the SACD, which demonstrates what an excellent job the Technics is doing with digital sources.

Technics SU-R1000 Review

For vinyl fans, the SU-R1000's phono stage is something special. Once you calibrate your cartridge using the supplied test LP, vinyl reproduction is noticeably enhanced. The results are dynamic and highly detailed, yet extremely relaxed and natural too. For example, playing JJ Cale's album Grasshopper, the focus and precision I heard were amazing at times. Most of the songs are fairly simple guitar and voice numbers, but as several different producers and studios were used, there's a lot of variation in tone and balance from one track to the next.

Via the SU-R1000, I could really hear the studio acoustics change from track to track. Every tiny detail seemed to be present. Technics claim the use of digital optimisation allows the sound from LPs to be more accurately and faithfully reproduced, and I wouldn't disagree with that. It's as though layers of unwanted colouration had been stripped away, leaving a clean, pristine sound. Possibly, some listeners may judge the sound a bit too clear and open, with some of the rich resonance and 'warmth' you get with vinyl reduced – but not me.

The various LP equalisation curves allow you to alter the general tonality, and the changes are often fascinating. Strictly speaking, these equalisations apply to vinyl from the earliest days of LP, in the early nineteen fifties, but there's no reason not to experiment when playing modern LPs! They can benefit modern vinyl, not just old pressings. So, if you have an LP that doesn't quite sound right, try scrolling through the different curves to see if one of them changes things for the better. Hopefully, it will.

Technics SU-R1000 Review

Standard equalisation is RIAA, which came to be universally used by the sixties. The others are IEC, NAB, Columbia, Decca/FFRR, AES, and RCA. Of these, I found Columbia, RCA, and NAB to provide a very pleasing alternative to RIAA. The only one I consistently didn't care for was AES. Given the seriousness Technics has taken over the phono stage, it's a pity there is no stereo/ mono switch – this is a surprising omission, especially considering the company's admirable pedigree with turntables. Many early fifties mono LPs were pressed on a rougher, less pure sort of vinyl. So there's lots of vinyl roar when played by a stereo pickup, but played in mono, this largely disappears.

The SU-R1000 is extremely, almost eerily quiet – both electrically and physically. Even with the efficient Cornwalls, there was practically no residual hiss. During use, the casework gets warm to the touch, but the amp does not run hot. Build quality is predictably luxurious and worthy of comparison to highly-priced audiophile amps from the USA. The thick solid aluminium panels have a nice smooth finish, and those big power meters look absolutely gorgeous if you like that sort of thing!

THE VERDICT

This amplifier is exceptional in my view, as it offers outstanding sound quality. In terms of clarity, detail, naturalness, and dynamics, it's among the best I've ever heard. It really is remarkably good. With many recordings played – whether LP or CD – I've never heard them better, and some of these I've known for fifty years. By 'better', I mean fresher, clearer, and more effortlessly detailed and dynamic, as if you were listening to the original master tape. It's also highly musically engaging and involving. The sound isn't just superior in a technical sense; it's communicative and emotionally rewarding to listen to.

But can Technics really Bamba with the big boys? Faced with classy alternatives from high-end specialists such as Copland, Devialet, Mark Levinson, McIntosh, or Pass Labs (to name but a few), is anyone honestly going to choose the SU-R1000 in preference? My answer is a definite yes. Agreed, a lot depends on what you're looking for in an amplifier, but if you favour a neutral, open, natural, effortlessly detailed sound, then the SU-R1000 is as good as it gets. And for vinyl fans, in particular, the SU-R1000's built-in phono stage is really something special.

For those on a restricted budget, Technics' SU-G700M2 offers much of the technology found in the SU-R1000 at less than a third of the price. It's a tad less transparent and dynamic, but otherwise, it sonically offers around eighty percent of the bigger amp. With both, you really need to listen without prejudice – using your ears rather than your eyes. This still isn't 'the' perfect amplifier, but for many people, it comes surprisingly close.

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    James Michael Hughes's avatar

    James Michael Hughes

    An avid audiophile for many decades, Jimmy has been writing about hi-fi since 1980 in a host of British magazines, from What Hi-Fi to Hi-Fi Choice. Based in London, England, he’s one of the UK’s most prolific record and CD collectors – no streaming service can yet match his amazing music collection!

    Posted in:Amplifiers Integrated Amplifiers Applause Awards 2022 Hi-Fi
    Tags: technics 

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