Technics R1 Reference System

A Triumphant Return

Equipment report
Solid-state power amplifiers,
Music servers and computer audio
Technics SB-R1,
Technics SE-R1,
Technics SU-R1
Technics R1 Reference System

With respect to highs, the Technics system is smooth and airy. Not as airy, mind you, as my reference system, with its ribbon-tweetered Metaphor speakers and megahertz-bandwidth CH Precision electronics. Those components yield an openness, vibrancy, and lightness that the R1 system can’t quite match. However, this is a limitation that’s only obvious upon direct comparison to a system—probably a far more expensive one—that excels in these areas.

On the other hand, compared to my reference system, the R1 more faithfully captures the sheer beauty of music. Consider, for example, Michael Wolff’s piano on 2am. Both systems offer concise attacks and sure-footed dynamics when Wolff stabs the keys. But the big Bösendorfer piano sounds so much rounder and more burnished through the Technics. That’s how a real Bösie sounds—indeed, these are its defining characteristics. 

Another way the R1 system won’t perturb your musical enjoyment is through speaker incoherence. In all my listening, the SB-R1’s drivers always melded seamlessly and none ever stuck out. The same could be said of the entire R1 system. All the important audiophile checklist items are there. Imaging is convincing and, as already noted, instruments are holographic. Players splay across a wide, deep, tall soundstage. The system dexterously handles big dynamic swings. Detail resolution, speed, and instrumental colors are all, as the name says, reference level. Yet these characteristics draw absolutely no attention to themselves. You can see them if you look; otherwise, they simply contribute to the musical whole. The R1 system is like Japanese lacquerware: smooth on the surface with layers of depth below. 

Before leaving the topic of the R1 system’s sound, I must raise two important points. The first concerns the “link” in the Digital Link. As I’ve already described, in the R1 system Ethernet cables effectively serve as digital interconnects. And as with all interconnects, the cable matters. I discovered this during an early listening session, when I was still using the wire that Technics had supplied me. On a streamed, hi-res version of Blood Sweat and Tears’ “Spinning Wheel,” the sassy horns weren’t as tonally colorful as I’m used to. Swapping in a prototype pair of Empirical Design solid-core Ethernet cables yielded not only a tonal kaleidoscope, but tauter bass and a larger soundstage. Lesson learned.

Also, as previously mentioned, the SU-R1 incorporates unexpected and highly welcome support for analog sources. True, the player subjects such sources to an A-to-D conversion. But the Technics ADC module turns out to be every bit as impressive here as in the SE-R1. When connected to a phonostage, the SU-R1 easily delivers (among other virtues) vinyl’s unforced detail and transients. For instance, on “The Goodbye Look” from the MFSL pressing of Donald Fagen’s The Nightfly, you can hear the rubber mallet heads bouncing off the xylophone keys. To be sure, dynamics are not as pronounced—nor are highs as extended—as going through a top-notch pure analog linestage. But let’s keep in mind the incremental cost to your system of having these inputs: zero.

The fact that the SU-R1 eliminates—or at least postpones—the need for those who don’t have one to buy a separate analog linestage is indicative of Technics’ continuing dedication to delivering high-value products. In the past, the company’s pricing has always been more than fair, and that’s true for the R1 system as well. While none of the R1 units is cheap, each could justifiably have been priced far higher. The complete system goes for $53k. Again, not cheap. But set that against the backdrop of the frequently-excessive prices found in today’s high end. Consider, too, the development costs associated with the R1 system’s cutting-edge technology. Finally, there are very few systems that achieve this level of directness and purity. Given all that, the R1’s price is eminently reasonable.

The Technics R1 is exciting on many levels. On a technical level, it points the way to a future where digital signal paths are much simpler and more direct—and therefore more like analog—and solid-state overcomes the last hurdle separating it from tube-like holography. On a sonic level, Technics has managed to create a system that does virtually everything right, including self-effacement in service of the music. Value is another cause for excitement. True, the price point of the R1 system puts it out of range for audio acolytes. However, this system will—and in my listening room did—satisfy some of the most finicky, hard-core audiophiles, used to listening to far more expensive gear. The Technics value proposition remains strong, even in this price range.

Finally, the R1 system is exciting in that it heralds the return of Technics, a brand that once paved the way for new audiophiles to enter the fold, and for numerous technical advancements that eventually became standard practice. Today, with the R1 system and lower-cost variants that incorporate much of its technology, the company is serving the same twin roles. Technics is back, and its return is most welcome.


SE-R1 Stereo Power Amplifier
Inputs: XLR, RCA, Technics Digital Link
Outputs: Two pairs of speaker binding posts
Power output: 150Wpc into 8 ohms
Input impedance: 47k ohms
THD: 0.05%
Frequency response: 1Hz–90kHz (–3dB, 8 ohms)
Dimensions: 18.875" x 9.5" x 22.3"
Weight: 119 lbs.
Price: $16,999

SU-R1 Network Audio Control Player
Inputs: USB A, USB B, SPDIF (coax, TosLink, AES-EBU), LAN, single-ended analog x 2
Outputs: Technics Digital Link, headphone, analog (single-ended and balanced), SPDIF (AES/EBU, coax, TosLink)
Formats: WAV, FLAC, DSD, AIFF, ALAC AAC, WMA, MP3, DLNA streaming, WiFi streaming
Dimensions: 18.875" x 4.75" x 15.4"
Weight:  37.5 lbs.
Price: $8999

SB-R1 Speakers
Type: Three-way, dynamic driver, floorstanding
Driver complement: 4 x 6.5" LF driver, 1 x 6.5" flat coaxial MF/HF driver
Frequency response: 20–100kHz (–16dB)
Nominal impedance: 4 ohms
Sensitivity: 88dB
Dimensions: 16.1" x 49.4" x 29.5"
Weight: 159 lbs. each
Price: $26,999

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