Technics Ottava SC-C70 and SC-C50 Compact Stereo Systems

Ride the Current Stream

Equipment report
Technics Ottava SC-C70 and SC-C50 Compact Stereo Systems

You can connect music sources to these compact systems in a variety of ways, but I have become fond of either digital from my CD transport (or from the built-in CD player) or Tidal. For products like these (and the Dali Callisto system), which include DSP and D/A processing, it seems superfluous to send an analog signal, only to have it converted to digital then converted back to analog again for the speakers. Perhaps I am biased since I have no LPs anymore, but it is nice to have the functionality there when you need it, though I found analog, Bluetooth, MP3, and lossy streaming services to have noticeably lower sound quality. Give me pure CD-digital or Tidal (Hi-Fi or MQA) all day long. That is where the richness is, the vivid 3-D soundstage, the complex instrumental timbres, the subtle musical details, the artistic touches. That is what I like. These modestly-priced Technics systems have enough of a taste of the high end for you to hear the difference.

I was able to select the SC-C50 as a “speaker” in the standard Android Tidal app, after finding it on Bluetooth and pairing with it. However, the sound was not as good as Tidal-direct, and also for some reason the same tablet would not pair the Bluetooth with the SC-C70 (even though it was detected), so I was not able to compare one system directly to the other. I then installed the Technics Music App (for the SC-C70), and Technics Audio Center (for the SC-C50) onto my Android tablet, and used the Tidal functionality available within them. 

Listening to old Rush favorites like the albums Permanent Waves, Counterparts, or Test for Echo, I heard details I never noticed before. Was that a Balinese gamelan in the right channel on “The Spirit of Radio?” I was fonder of the frequency balance of the SC-C50 for this album than through the SC-C70, but they both had fine qualities. Both players did an admirable job of presenting bass frequencies—more so than you would expect from units of this size. The SC-C50 had somewhat flatter and smoother tonal balance through the midrange. It appears the inclusion of a subwoofer (if you can call a 4"-and-change driver such a thing) in both models was worth it. Not nearly as impressive as the Dali Callisto 2C speakers I just finished reviewing, but certainly enough to do credit to rock music. 

Moving on to Talking Heads’ 1980 Remain in Light and the more famous Speaking in Tongues from 1983, I was surprised by how many different elements—percussion, instruments, voices, noises, etc.—popped out of the mix here and there. It made it seem like there were nine members of the band rather than just four. Of course, in the studio they could add whatever tracks they wanted where they wanted, without having to play it all simultaneously. On tour they might have had nine people in the band anyway! All the extra touches made the music even bouncier, more danceable, and more exciting. Really fun stuff, this music will give you energy. Again the SC-C50 had a preferable frequency balance for me (smoother midrange), and I saw a trend emerging. Playing around with the “remaster” setting on the SC-C70 did not really help in this department, though it did make a noticeable change to the overall balance.

Partway through my review, the SC-C70 automatically detected a firmware update available on the Internet, so I clicked “install,” and it successfully updated to version 1.10. This was a very good update. Afterwards I noticed a more natural frequency balance, with more believable vocals, a more neutral midrange, and seemingly deeper bass. It really kind of spruced things up for this player, particularly with rock music (my main staple). For the SC-C70, though, the natural balance only applies when your head is on or near the horizontal plane of the middle of the unit. If you stand up things change. I’m not sure if this is due to the special louvers I saw on the tweeters in a cutaway-view drawing, or the additional horizontal rails that are obvious at the front of the unit. Sound can reflect off these on its way out of the front of the drivers, and in my opinion that causes the frequency balance to be less realistic, particularly for vocals as I stated previously. I would not say the vertical dispersion is super good, though things sound quite fine if you keep your head near the horizontal plane. This may be a very low place for your noggin, depending on placement, so I would recommend either a low chair, or a high table for the SC-C70 (I had both, but I’m tall) for serious listening.

As a true stereo speaker system, the SC-C70 could produce a soundstage, which Technics augments with some special DSP tricks. The unit throws up a nice illusion that it is bigger than it is—that the speakers are as far apart as widely spaced separate speakers. But that is all it is—a pleasing illusion—for if you listen to it at normal distances (five feet or more), you do not have much in the way of a three-dimensional soundstage. Streaming Wang Chung “Wait” from Points on the Curve, I found it hard to separate instruments and voices from each other spatially, though I could certainly hear their individual lines in the mix. The bells were particularly pleasing, though this player did not quite have the hyper-resolution (to make it clear whether the bells, for example, were synthesized or real) that more expensive systems have. If you put your head very close, of course, you get more spread-out imaging, but I doubt many will listen this way on a regular basis. As mentioned earlier, you can buy two Ottava products and configure them for stereo operation, that is one unit reproducing the left channel and the other the right channel for a more convincing stereo presentation.

My soundstaging impressions were very similar for the SC-C50. In fact, this is the performance area where I felt the players were most alike. They try (successfully) to present as wide and realistic a 3-D image as possible for such closely-spaced stereo (or 3-channel in the case of the SC-C50) drivers. However, they cannot compete with the spread-out and detailed imaging you get from widely spaced individual speakers. Nevertheless, the illusion was pleasing.

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