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Technics SU-R1000 Integrated Amplifier

Technics SU-R1000 Integrated Amplifier

Let me begin this review with my conclusion: The new Technics SU-R1000 integrated amplifier is one of the most innovative and best-sounding pieces of electronics I’ve had the opportunity to audition in recent years. It shows how quickly digital sound is evolving and provides an exceptional mix of well-engineered features in a single integrated unit—drawing on much of the technology used in the Technics SU-R1 reference system that Alan Taffel review in the October 2016 issue of TAS. 

What really counts from an audiophile perspective, however, is that the SU-R1000 provides excellent sonics from both its digital and analog inputs, as well as offering some unique advantages in terms of cartridge equalization and sound quality in its phono front end. The SU-R1000 also has the ability to use digital processing and test tones to improve its interface with a given speaker and listening room. At $9499, the unit is scarcely cheap, but it is still highly competitive at that price, and it offers a uniquely compact package for the electronics that make up a high-end system.

I’m giving this integrated the praise its designers and engineers deserve at the start because I’m going to go on to raise a number of issues about the manufacturer’s technical data and instructions—none of which affects its practical operation and sound quality. With proper attention to setup, the SU-R1000 provides a remarkably uncolored sound, and exceptional detail, dynamics, and overall performance. 

Technics SU-R1000 Integrated Amplifier rear

The SU-R1000 has no clearly audible colorations that affect its frequency response or performance from the lowest levels of amplification to the limits of its 150Wpc (8 ohms) to 300Wpc (4 ohms) output power. If anything, it may be too uncolored for some audiophiles. It has no voicing other than a clear effort to be as neutral as possible. If you use electronics that are voiced to add a touch of euphony to your system, you’ll have to give the SU-R1000’s other virtues priority. 

As for functionality, about the only practical limit I encountered is that it does not have built-in streaming, although it can handle any PCM signal from 32k to 384k up to 32 bits, and a full range of DSD signals, as well. Its digital sound quality rivals that of some of the best DACs, particularly in terms of life and dynamics, soundstage coherence, and timbral fidelity. It does very well with MQA, although I still prefer using actual high-resolution signals when the music truly has high resolution than reprocessing the source using higher sampling and bit-rates.

I should also note that there is another reason I’m placing this praise for the SU-R1000’s sound quality at the start of this review. I realize that a number of American and European high-end audiophiles have a lingering prejudice against Japanese products, particularly from firms like Technics, which make mass-marketed mid-fi as well as high-end gear. So, let me make it clear: This is no ordinary product, and some of its special features truly are special. More than that, whatever your current view may be of “digital sound,” this unit really is worth auditioning. This is particularly true with a dealer who will actually demonstrate what its phono-cartridge optimization and equalization and its Load Adaptive Phase Calibration (LAPC) amplifier can do to make subtle but very real improvements in interface, speaker optimization, and sound quality.

Features and Technology

Up to a point, an integrated amplifier is an integrated amplifier, and describing the basic technology and features tends to be repeating information almost all TAS fans already know. I also realize that most readers are far more interested in descriptions of the sound quality of a given product than in descriptions of its technology. 

However, the SU-R1000 has so many additional features and new areas of circuit topology that they really are worth exploring. Even if you are only interested in the overall development of digital high-end products, and how they can be used to improve sound quality, you will find reading about Technics’ tech and features interesting enough to visit the manufacturer’s web site. The text printed there does suffer from all of the usual marketing hype—sometimes making the real level of engineering progress unclear—but the SU-R1000 white paper gets many key points across. It also illustrates how meaningless it can be to call a modern switching amplifier “Class D” instead of getting into the design details. The SU-R1000 has a switching output stage, but one that is driven by digital signals. Digital sources are converted to analog in the switching output stage without the need for analog circuits or a traditional DAC. 

I’d pay particular attention to the description of the JENO (Jitter Elimination and Noise-shaping Optimization) Engine, ADCT (Active Distortion Cancelling Technology), LAPC (Load Adaptive Phase Calibration), Advanced Speed Silent Power Supply, use of four independent power supply units, the battery-driven clock generator, and, especially, the Intelligent Phono EQ. The descriptions are technically vague as to the “how” and full of details about exactly what they do to improve sonics, but the website gets the main points across, and it provides an interesting checklist for comparison with what other competitive integrated amps do—or do not do—in each area.

Technics SU-R1000 Integrated Amplifier interior

You also get a clear idea from the pictures in the Technics literature of how well the SU-R1000 is built, and how clean its “form follows function” design really is. There can’t actually be a Japanese version of “Bauhaus” industrial design at Technics, but there are obvious elements of that purist approach, and of the effort to create an appearance that borders on sculpture, in the SU-R1000. I also can’t avoid a personal addiction to the large illuminated VU meters in the front panel that show nominal wattage. It might well have been better to provide an LCD that made the menu easier to use, and the resulting set-up status clearer, but if that had been the case the SU-R1000 wouldn’t have come anywhere near as close to being a work of art.

There are also some practical aspects of the SU-R1000 that deserve attention. This is one of the best-engineered products I’ve ever reviewed, but it also has one of the worst instruction manuals. It skims over far too many details—like the character of the tone controls and phono equalization options. But more than that, the remote is designed for command-driven setup and adjustment, as well as ordinary operation. Many of those commands involve fairly complex sequences, which have to be carefully keyed-in using the small screen on the remote’s front panel. I’m a Mac person, not a PC person, and I found the manual to be a bit fuzzy on the proper order of commands, and it took me a day of so to get used to the remote. In fact, I had to experiment at times to figure out what the actual sequence was. 

This manual for the SU-R1000 is available for download, and there are many areas where Technics could provide a clearer picture of what to do, what actually happens when a given command is followed, and what to listen for. Technics does have some additional information sheets on the web that help with this, but having a couple of pages each that cover LAPC and phono-cartridge optimization in real depth, and that explain each control and feature in real depth, would be better. So would providing in-depth instructions on using other Technics equipment—and that from other manufacturers—for streaming and for using the DSD function. Providing better instructions for finding firmware upgrades and uploading new firmware would also help, as would an in-depth explanation of phono setup—especially the “rename” and “edit the name” sequences. (You can set up the cartridge-optimizer feature for three different cartridges with a front-panel name for each.) Oddly enough, Technics provided me with one of the best explanations of older phono-equalization curves that I’ve ever seen but did not include it in the manual. Note that the Technics offers both unbalanced and balanced phono inputs, if you have a tonearm whose wiring supports a balanced phono connection. Also, the phonostage is a completely discrete design. 

The “set-up” button also needs better explanation, as do the more esoteric aspects of how setup can affect the use of some of the connections on the rear panel. (One additional caution, the speaker binding posts require a limited range of spade-lug sizes, a bare stripped wire, or banana plugs.) 

If all this sounds a bit daunting, it also reflects the fact that this same complexity means that the SU-R1000 offers an extraordinarily wide range of adjustments to help integrate it into your system. Examples are the use of DSD or hardwiring a computer to use with the SU-R1000 (it would also be nice to add a Wi-Fi firmware upgrade at some point in the future). Other adjustments include easily defeatable bass, midrange, and treble tone controls, with curves beginning or centered at 100Hz, 1kHz, and 10kHz. As is the case with any such controls, it would be nice to have full details on each of the frequency curves involved. The fact they can provide as much as 18dB boost or cut does mean that you have to be careful about setup, but the tone controls are unusually clean and neutral, and a touch of compensation may really help in some systems and listening rooms. 

There is a headphone jack that works well with a wide range of headphones. There is a rumble filter for phono that kind of disappears in the instructions—although most TAS readers are unlikely to have equipment that really needs such a filter. There are inputs and outputs for analog recording, connections for driving a subwoofer, downloadable updating, using USB firmware. There is a really good switchable internal MQA option for digital playback. 

In short, this is a product with really exceptional engineering, once you get the command sequences right and experiment enough to understand its features. Technics has clearly worked hard to give the SU-R1000 as much flexibility as possible. Regardless of the awkwardness of some of the instructions, anyone with minimal computer literacy (and patience) will be rewarded by an extraordinary set of choices. (If worse comes to worst, you can always fall back on your son or daughter—or anyone else under thirty and older than six—for assistance.) 

Enough Technobabble: Let’s Get to Sound Quality

All that said, what really counts is that all the key design and operating features of the Technics SU-R1000 aren’t mere technical glitz; they lead to improvements in its sonic quality and reward the user or owner with exceptional sound. I don’t want to exaggerate the SU-R1000’s merits. It has notable competition at its price range, but I do believe it provides outstanding sound in virtually every respect, regardless of whether you use it with digital or analog inputs, does so with a wide range of speakers, and reproduces analog records truly well with a very wide range of cartridges.

The fact it does this with such a lack of coloration almost makes it hard to review. The key aspect of the Technics SU-R1000’s sound quality is not that it does some things well or is voiced in a way that emphasizes some particular aspect of music. It is that it does everything equally well, to the point where the colorations in the rest of your system and your listening room will largely dominate the sound of the music you hear. It is transparent and accurate in ways that even the most demanding audiophile, looking for components that do as little as possible to alter the sound of a recording, will appreciate.

I have a number of friends who look for some special coloration they feel enhances their music, and who might find this accuracy boring. I generally enjoy listening to their systems, but those systems alter the sound of every voice, instrument, and piece of music to suit the user’s taste. I feel a price is paid in the process. 

I found the SU-R1000’s lack of coloration in frequency and timbre to be far more real on live recordings I’d made on an amateur basis, and in reproducing the particular sound of older string instruments, woodwinds, and brass in classical chamber music, where many other solid-state and digitally amplified components tended to add a slight edge to the presentation, particularly where the instrument had a solo or dominant role. 

The Technics also had a sonic advantage I’ve found in a number of newer units: It did a cleaner job of reproducing older CDs and digital recordings. I’ve been surprised at how good some older CDs now sound played on a modern transport through the latest digital circuitry. I’m now using the new PS Audio transport, which does seem to help all by itself, but the SU-R1000 did a really great job even with some of my oldest CDs. I can’t help wondering if we’ll eventually find the same reasons for keeping our hard discs we found for keeping LPs, in spite of all the advantages of higher sampling and bit rates and streaming.

I particularly liked the upper-octave and treble response with the tone controls switched off. These are areas where many solid-state and switching amplifiers seem to produce added energy and “detail,” rather than properly reproducing the highs. They are also areas where some tube and Class A amps seem to soften the sound and become too warm. I want to hear the upper octaves that are actually on the record, CD, SACD, or streaming service, and I don’t want to hear my system add some coloration or change as I shift from one front-end source to another. 

Here, the fact that the SU-R1000 is integrated, and has so little voicing or coloration of any kind, really does make a difference. Far too many integrated amplifiers that include a phonostage don’t have one that lives up to the quality of their high-level inputs, and/or have a digital voicing that differs at least slightly from their analog voicing. The SU-R1000 isn’t perfect, but it is so well integrated that such differences are very hard to hear, are dominated by the colorations in the front-end sources, and are significantly less noticeable than those in many expensive high-end systems with separate digital transports, turntables, phono preamps, and/or streamers.

The SU-R1000 also has excellent bass, with exceptional definition and dynamic realism. It does not have the ultimate low-end power required to drive the least-efficient speakers with subwoofer-like capabilities to the limits on electronic music or full-range organ, but then no unit with a power amplifier rated under 500 watts does. When you really need it—and very few real-world systems and recordings actually do—brute force is brute force. In the real world, the SU-R1000 not only has excellent mid-bass, upper bass, and transitions from bass to midrange; it also does as good a job of reproducing low-bass spectaculars on almost all high-end speakers, as such speakers are capable of.

At the same time, life and air were about as natural as a given recording permitted. Dynamic detail was exceptional from very low to high levels, and so were midrange and upper bass detail. These virtues were particularly apparent (and exceptional) when a recording was acoustic in character, well-miked and recorded, and produced to sound as natural as possible. 

Some units seem to have problems in reproducing the more subtle soundstage details that are only retained when the music is really well recorded; the soundstage on such recordings is often better than many systems can show. The SU-R1000 did a particularly good job of reproducing depth, preserving image size and placement, and reproducing the entire soundstage without altering central fill or emphasizing left-to-right separation. It may take you a while to realize how natural this aspect of its sound is because the SU-R1000 calls less attention to the problems in the soundstage than many other components do. However, this is something you’ll appreciate if you are patient enough to do some serious listening. 

I also took advantage of the compact size of the SU-R1000 to verify these impressions with a bit of field work. I found that a number of my audiophile friends had the same impressions I did when I brought the SU-R1000 around for comparative listening. Moving the SU-R1000 was not as easy as it might seem. The unit weighs a bit over 50 pounds. However, it was worth the effort to hear how consistently well it performed with different front ends, speakers, and speaker cables. 

I was also interested to find that one of my most “digiphobic”—LP only, tube-only diehard—friends from college grudgingly admitted that digital was “getting better.” He may still go to his grave clutching a moving-coil cartridge in one hand and a 12AX7 tube in the other, but he may also evolve to the point where he’ll stop verbally assaulting any fellow-audiophiles whose taste in audio technology has actually made it out of the 1950s.

LAPC (Load Adaptive Phase Calibration)

Let me close my review by describing my experience with the sound quality of two design features I mentioned earlier, which interact with the rest of your system and listening room. The SU-R1000 makes no attempt to provide full room compensation, but it does have an interactive Load Adaptive Phase Calibration process that really helps in matching the SU-R1000 to a wide range of speakers and speaker cables. It also has a Phono Optimization process that allows you to improve the SU-R1000’s interface with virtually any phono cartridge. 

These aren’t options I can easily explain in words, and Technics again gives its copywriter precedence over its engineers, to the point where it doesn’t do all that well even in its separate information sheets and white papers. What I can say, however, is that both features worked well in my home with three different speaker systems and worked equally well in different systems in my friends’ homes.

In brief, the LAPC (Load Adaptive Phase Calibration) feature is one where my translation of Janglish into English indicates that LAPC allows you to measure the output gain and phase characteristics of the amplifier at the speaker terminal with the speaker connected, and employs an ideal impulse response that will work with a special Technics algorithm. Through the remote control, the user initiates the “LAPC Measurement Process.” This process uses digital signal processing to generates a TSP (Time Stretch Pulse) for each input, sampling frequency, and output to the speaker. The signal from the speaker terminal is taken into the DSP, which calculates the gain/phase characteristics at the speaker terminal, determines the difference between the captured signal and the generated signal, and creates a filter coefficient for canceling the difference, which is then stored in a non-volatile memory. According to Technics, this makes it possible to eliminate the influence of speaker impedance and obtain a flat output with both gain and phase characteristics.

I’m not sure how much compensation LAPC really produces, but the end result with every system I tried was, at least, a slightly smoother frequency response and better bass performance, although the degree of benefit varied with speaker and system. With a good recording, LAPC produced a more detailed soundstage and a slightly deeper one, with more realistic imaging and image stability. It also seemed to reduce room-interaction effects in a few cases. These were subtle benefits, but real. My only caution is that it did not seem to work with one speaker cable with large black boxes, the purpose of which is never clearly described in its manufacturer’s literature.

Phono Cartridge Optimization

The second interactive feature consists of an Intelligent Phono EQ that Technics says utilizes some of the DSP technology that Technics acquired through the development of LAPC “to realize high sound quality not possible with analog phono-EQ. This technology consists of three parts: 1. Accurate EQ Curve, 2. Crosstalk Canceller and 3. Response Optimizer. These functions can be turned ON/OFF to suit the user’s preference.

“An accurate EQ curve is achieved by a hybrid analog-digital system. The high-gain low-pass filter (LPF) performs analog processing, while high frequencies are raised after the A/D conversion. The use of the 40dB LPF (low-pass filter) suppresses the bit loss during digital filter processing, and high frequencies are raised with great accuracy to achieve a high S/N ratio.

“This function [also] measures the crosstalk characteristic of the installed cartridge by using the crosstalk-measuring signal recorded on the Calibration Record bundled with the SU-R1000. It then performs reverse-correction, using the built-in DSP to achieve significant improvement of the crosstalk characteristic. This results in a more precise image and wider ambience.

“[Additionally] this function measures the frequency characteristics of the installed pickup cartridge by using a TSP (Time Stretched Pulse) signal recorded on the bundled Calibration Record and corrects characteristics disturbance. It corrects the effect of impedance matching between the pickup cartridge and the phono equalizer to reveal the true sound quality of the cartridge. This technology aims to improve sound quality by avoiding a selector, such as a switch in the high-sensitivity phono-input line.”

I tried this feature with Grado and Ortofon mm cartridges and a Technics SL-1210GAE turntable, and with moving-coil cartridges using my own VPI direct-drive reference turntable. I also tried it out with two of my friend’s systems. The sonic results were not revolutionary, but they were real. The adjustment is relatively simple and quick to make once you work your way out of the instruction book. The effect did vary by cartridge and speaker, but it always produced a notably cleaner and smoother phono frequency response and a better soundstage. 

The ability to use a wide range of different phono equalization curves other than the RIAA curve also helped. I worked as a diplomat in Europe before the RIAA curve became standard, and while a good part of my older records didn’t make it out of Iran when I left, it is interesting to be able to try different curves, even if the record is theoretically RIAA equalized. Some of my Accent and Pierre Vernay records are cases in point, as are a number of German LPs that were made from tapes of live concerts during radio broadcasts. 

I also found that the fact that the phono section is not dead quiet at maximum gain was a sonic benefit and not a problem, although I would use an XLR cable for the phono input with a moving coil if your tonearm has that option. My experience is that a trace of noise at maximum gain usually means the phono input has more dynamic life without noise at real-world listening levels, and this was the case with the SU-R1000. 

I should, however, caution you that if you have built a phono-oriented system around a particular set of colorations from a given cartridge, using Technics’ Phono Cartridge Optimization may make some of those colorations less audible or make them disappear entirely. You’ll probably get better soundstage separation and imaging, but upper-octave response may sound significantly flatter, especially with certain moving coils.

Summing Up

I don’t want to imply that digital sound is taking over, or that tube and solid-state equipment are not still competitive, or that integrated amplifiers will become the wave of the future. I do believe, however, that the SU-R1000 is truly competitive and an excellent buy, even at its price. 

One of the potential curses of being a reviewer is that you’d like to keep every really innovative and great-sounding piece of equipment you audition, along with all your existing equipment. One of the benefits is that you realize there is no one right answer, and that even equipment that is decades old can still be exciting and “reference quality” in its ability to let you enjoy your music.

I do believe, however, that the Technics SU-R1000 lives up to all its claims. It is truly innovative, and should help rebut any lingering prejudice against both digital and integrated amplifiers. Accordingly, I’d give the same kind of recommendation that the Michelin Guide gives to its few top-rated three-star restaurants: They are all different, but they are also all “exceptional and worth a special journey.” The SU-R1000 is the kind of product that makes the high end fun! 

Specs & Pricing

Output: 150Wpc (1kHz, 0.5% THD, 8 ohms); 300Wpc (1kHz, 0.5% THD, 4 ohms)
Input sensitivity/impedance: Line, 200mV/22k ohms; phono (mm) 2.5mV/47k ohms; phono (mc) 300uV/100Ω
Frequency response: Line, 5Hz–80kHz (-3dB, 8 ohms); phono (mm), 20Hz–20kHz (±1dB, 8 ohms); digital, 5Hz –80kHz (-3 dB, 8 ohms)
Load impedance: 4 ohms–16 ohms
USB-DAC (USB-B): USB 2.0 high-speed , asynchronous mode
Supported formats: PCM (32, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192, 352.8, 384kHz/16, 24, 32 bit); DSD (2.8MHz, 5.6MHz, 11.2MHz, 22.4MHz* *ASIO native mode only)
Analog inputs: Two unbalanced line inputs, one balanced line input, one unbalanced phono (mm/mc), one balanced phono (mc), record input.
Digital inputs: Two optical, two coaxial, two USB
Analog outputs: Line-level out, record-out
Headphone output: Stereo 6.3mm jack
Dimensions: 430mm x 191mm x 459mm
Weight: 50.3 lbs.
Price: $9499

TECHNICS (PANASONIC CORPORATION)
technics.com

Tags: INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER TECHNICS

By Anthony Cordesman

I've been reviewing audio components since some long talks with HP back in the early 1980s. My first experiences with the high end came in the 1950s at the University of Chicago, where I earned part of my tuition selling gear for Allied Radio and a local high-end audio dealer, and worked on sound systems for local night clubs, the Court Theater, and the university radio station. My professional life has been in national security, but I've never lost touch with the high end and have lived as a student and diplomat in Britain, Belgium, France, Germany, NATO, Asia, Iran and the Middle East and Asia. I've been lucky enough to live in places where opera, orchestras, and live chamber and jazz performances were common and cheap, and to encounter a wide range of different venues, approaches to performing, and national variations in high-end audio gear. I currently hold the Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and my open source analyses are available at that web site. What I look for in reviewing is the ability to provide a musically real experience at a given price point in a real-world listening room, and the ability to reveal the overall balance of musical sound qualities that I know are on a given recording. Where possible, I try to listen on a variety of systems as well as my own reference system.

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