Quick listen: Ottava all-in-one hi-fi system leads Technics high end audio expansion

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Panasonic's Michiko Ogawa said the Ottava hi-fi system produces a "rich and vibrant sound within a compact body"(Credit: Paul Ridden/Gizmag)

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At IFA 2014, Panasonic woke up its Technics music entertainment beast from a 6 year slumber with the launch of the first Reference Class R1 Series and the Premium Class C700 Series high end home audio products. The company revealed more additions to the new Technics family at this year's show, including an all-in-one hi-fi system, some new headphones and an early look at an upcoming turntable. Gizmag took time out from a buzzing IFA to have a look and listen.

Though the name Technics has appeared on a good number of cassette decks, amplifiers, CD players and speakers during its 50 year history, it is perhaps most widely associated with turntables, particularly the enormously popular SL-1200. We hoped that 2014's rebirth of the brand might yield a new vinyl spinner, and this year the company confirmed its commitment to do just that by giving a first look at a new direct drive turntable in development.

It's still fairly early days for the project, with the prototype on display in Berlin not much more than a direct drive motor and rather unassuming platter and chassis, but the company has said that the new Technics deck is heading for a market launch in 2016.

The new motor features twin rotors for minimal wow and flutter and reduced bearing load, but which are still capable of delivering high torque, a coreless stator design that nips motor cogging in the bud, and high precision, oil impregnated bearings to keep unwanted vibrations to a minimum. Panasonic's engineers have also reworked the turntable's motor control technology to ensure high starting torque and high rotational stability and adaptive control.

We'll be keeping a close eye on developments and will bring you more on the project as it moves forward.

At the center of the Technics booth, and the central figure in the new product announcements this year, is the Premium Class SC-C500 all-in-one hi-fi system, or Ottava for short. A year after relaunching the Technics brand at IFA 2014, jazz pianist and Director of the Technics project at Panasonic Michiko Ogawa explained that the musical playing technique used to enrich a performance influenced her naming choice for the new product because the system produces a "rich and vibrant sound within a compact body."

Some technologies from last year's products have made their way into the hi-fi system's SU-501 stereo amplifier, including JENO jitter elimination and sound optimization technology, Load Adaptive Phase Calibration for flat amplitude-phase frequency delivery, Digital Noise Isolation Architecture and a battery driven clock generator for digital accuracy. The system has a total rated power output of 100 W and can be controlled via a dedicated remote or using the latest version of the Technics smartphone app.

Feeding music into the system can be achieved via digital optical input, USB-A and -B inputs, over Ethernet, AirPlay-ready 802.11a/b/g/n or Bluetooth, or by just popping a CD into the player at the top. High resolution formats including FLAC, WAV, AIFF and ALAC, as well as lossy MP3s and WMAs, are supported and Ottava also boasts native support for DSD encoded audio at 2.8 and 5.6 MHz.

Music lovers can find a comfy armchair and grab a favored pair of high quality headphones to enjoy sounds from the hi-fi system, or opt to listen through the supplied angular speakers. These are capable of throwing out sound to every corner of the room thanks to symmetrically-arranged dual woofers and spiral acoustic porting. Lows and mids are diffused by a deflector while multi-angled tweeters look after the higher registers.

I was fortunate to grab a quick listen to the system before the noisy crowds arrived at the booth and the room-filling clarity, definition and delivery were superb. The 360-degree speaker experience lessened the need to find a sweet spot, though directly in front of the system (about 3 m/10 ft) did prove the most engaging.

The default EQ setting for the two tracks I listened to – 24-bit/192 kHz FLAC files of Every breath you take by The Police and some popping classical guitar by an artist I wasn't familiar with – was a little light at the lower end, but such things are tweakable. Once I gave the bass frequencies a nudge the output became more full-bodied and rich.

At higher volumes, the thrapping of the snare punctuated the air with crisp precision, decay on the guitar felt natural not clipped and the power of Sting's vocal filled the booth without any assistance from Panasonic's powerful PA system. Though I listened intently for signs of distortion when the vocal rose with volume and intensity, none were detected.

The overall aesthetic is high-end, clean and neutral, clearly the Ottava system has been designed to fit in rather than stand out. The Technics booth rep told us that the SC-C500 will cost around US$2,000 when it reaches American soil by March 2016.

A new pair of "almost ready" headphones are on display in Berlin this week. The hardware on the four sound test samples on show was complete, but the final design polish was reserved for the set locked away behind glass.

The EAH-T700 closed back, over ear headphones feature dual driver technology developed for "the most discerning music lovers." An angled 50 mm floating dynamic driver in each aluminum ear cup housing has been paired with a 14 mm super tweeter – the former holding dominion over the lows and mids, while the latter focuses solely on higher frequencies. The result is an extremely wide 3 Hz to 100 kHz frequency range.

By the time we got to the headphones at IFA, the Technics booth was buzzing with activity. However, the passive noise isolation proved pretty effective and managed to close off much of the background rumble. We only managed a very brief listen and would naturally reserve final performance analysis for when we've had the chance to take them for a proper test run, but early impressions are good.

The soundstage was wide, the imaging detailed and the dual driver tech magic certainly appeared to deliver on the frequency delivery. The vast majority of that range is outside what can generally be heard, but there definitely seemed to be more "feeling" to the lowest registers and a refreshing clarity at the higher points.

We weren't given pricing or availability information for these headphones, but audiophiles on a budget will likely have to look elsewhere for sonic satisfaction. Color us intrigued.

Other additions to the new Technics family took the shape of a Grand Series network audio amp and a music server. The SU-G30 features audio technology from last year's R1 Series in a home-friendly package, with the company promising users breathtaking clarity and distinct instrumentation. The network amp readily accepts input from legacy sources, but also supports high resolution digital formats up to 32-bit/ 384 kHz and DSD 11.2 MHz.

The ST-G30 music server comes with SSD storage for fast, silent operation, can receive streamed music from online sources and includes a "bit-perfect" CD ripper to flawlessly convert optical media into FLAC or WAV formats. Again, we have no pricing or availability information for these units.

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