When I was a little kid in the 1970s my parents gave me my own “compact stereo system.” Except, it wasn’t stereo, and it wasn’t high end. It included an LP record player, AM radio, mono amplifier, and speaker. It didn’t need anything else—just plug it in (or put in batteries) and listen. I enjoyed it quite a bit while doing the things that kids do. Of course, some years later I started getting into component hi-fi, which sounded much better but was not as portable or as convenient.
Well, here we have under review a pair of “compact stereo systems”—the $999 Technics Ottava SC-C70 and $799 SC-C50—that functionally aren’t completely unlike my first piece of audio gear. The SC-C70 even sports a visible CD drive under a glass cover, so you can watch your discs spin and spin. (An homage to the Technics legacy in turntables perhaps—the Technics SL-1200 was the pro industry standard for DJs for many, many years.) The whole thing is much better sounding of course, and much more sophisticated-looking than the brightly colored plastic of my first record player. The Ottava SC-C70 is a true high-end system of quality and refinement, with its brushed aluminum top, extensive remote, understated display, and very cool visible disc-bay up top. It includes not just a CD player, stereo amps and preamps, and speakers, but also an FM radio tuner, a streaming music app (Tidal-capable), and analog, digital, network, and USB inputs.
Why review just one, when you can review two? Indeed, Technics also sent me the $799 Ottava SC-C50 for listening and comparisons. It is essentially the SC-C70’s little brother, with no CD player. It is also a more recent addition to the line, and quite a different design in shape, speaker complement, and sound, though it does have most of the same features and abilities as its bigger brother, and sells for only a slightly lower price. Let’s see what these compact all-in-one players (systems) are capable of.
First let’s start with features common to both products. As comprehensive all-in-one units they include networking/streaming inputs such as Bluetooth v.4.2 (AAC, SBC), Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, wired LAN, and USB. Connectivity options and streaming services include Apple AirPlay, DLNA, Internet radio/podcasts, music files from network devices/phones, Spotify, Tidal, and others. I stuck with Tidal most of the time, since I think it sounds the best of the streaming services. A great feature of the SC-C50 is that you can buy a second unit and configure it for stereo operation, with one unit reproducing the left channel and the other reproducing the right. Multiple SC-C50s can also be combined to make a whole-house wireless multiroom system.
File formats that are compatible include linear PCM up to 24/96 on the optical digital input (TosLink). Both USB and wired LAN can input MP3, and AAC, WAV, FLAC, AIFF, ALAC—up to 24/384. The SC-C70 is compatible with DSD up to 5.6MHz, and the SC-C50 will decode DSD up to 11.2MHz. There is also a stereo analog input on 3.5mm mini-plug (AUX). Unfortunately, the power cable connects via a 3-cylinder style connector, so I was unable to try exotic power cords with the systems. In my last review (the Dali Callisto 2C wireless integrated loudspeaker system), I found that the AudioQuest NRG Z3 power cables made a huge improvement to the sound of such complex components. So if you can find a premium power cable with 3-cylinder style plug, give it a try.
Now for the unique details. The SC-C70 has a CD player, AM/FM tuner (antennas included), headphone jack, and remote control, and the SC-C50 does not. The SC-C70 has more buttons on top of the unit itself, nine total, spaced nicely across the top so you will not confuse them. The SC-C50 only has six buttons on top, arranged very tightly around the circular display. The signal processors/DAC circuitry in both are nearly identical. However, the amps in the SC-C70 are spec’d with more power at 20Wpc vs. 15W for the SC-C50 (FTC method). Considering these specs are fairly close, it is possible that they are the same amps, just with more heatsinking or bigger power supplies in the SC-C70. The situation is actually more complex than that, since there are three “channels” of amplification in the SC-C70 (driving five speakers), whereas the SC-C50 has four “channels” feeding seven speakers. The extra amp channel in the SC-C50 is for “center channel” speakers. How Technics thinks it can have right, left, and a distinct center channel in such a small, single box is beyond me, but the configuration seems to work.
A feature exclusive to the SC-C50 is Chromecast. You can use the Google Home app to set it up on the network, and then “cast” to it from Chromecast-enabled apps. Also, through some DSP magic (and a mic) the SC-C50’s “Space Tune” automatically adjusts the sound, and accounts for the nearby room environment to optimize soundstage, frequency balance, etc. The functionality is less automatic in the SC-C70, but that unit also includes three different Space Tune settings: free-environment, near a wall, and in a corner. As already stated, the speaker complements are different, basically three tweeter/midrange pairs in the SC-C50 (2½" midrange), and two sets in the SC-C70 (3¹/8" mid) for basic stereo. Both have a single reflex-ported 4¾" subwoofer, with its own amp.