Updated: Dec 10, 2019
review - Technics SB-C700 loudspeakers
There seem to be a few common denominators with regards to the loudspeakers I tend to enjoy nowadays. One of those aspects is the 'point source' approach, either via full range, single driver loudspeakers like models from Eclipse and the Heco Direkt Einklang, or those that physically place the HF unit within the centre of the mid/bass driver, classed as 'dual concentric'. A few manufacturers have been doing the latter for many decades - KEF and Tannoy will instantly spring to many people's minds, but very few would think of Technics, who were also taking this approach over 30 years ago, even before KEF, and are continuing to do so after their 2014 'comeback'...
The SB-C700 from Technics is a dual concentric design. This is where the HF unit is placed in the centre of the mid/bass driver, which has many benefits. Firstly, all frequencies are perceived to emanate from a single point, which can help create more pinpoint imaging, and removes many of the negative effects created by conventional speakers where higher and lower frequencies radiate from two separate points. The output and dispersion from dual concentric speakers is radially symmetrical through 360 degrees, so whether measured vertically or horizontally, the results directly from the speaker will be the same. I find that speakers like KEF and Amphion with this more uniform dispersion tend to behave better in lively rooms, reducing the level of reflected sound heard.
The SB-C700 loudspeaker is an average size bookshelf design which is extremely pleasing to the eye thanks to its symmetrical design. Comparisons to KEF's revered LS50s are hard to ignore given they're both dual concentric designs, although the Technics are a little bigger. My guess is that those who aren't too keen on the looks of the LS50s - seemingly due to the outward curve of the front baffle - will be far more likely to prefer the look of the Technics offering, as their outward baffle curve is a far more gentle one. The curved sides also add to their looks, helping the cabinet look smaller than it actually is.
The dual concentric design comprises a 6.5" mid/bass driver and a 19mm HF unit, the response of the latter reaching up to 100kHz. I have to admit, I love the look of these speakers, particularly in white . It's a very simple design, the flat mid/bass driver and chamfered edges of the cabinet (which is up to 42mm thick at the sides) remove any harsh edges and help keep the gentle lines clean. These speakers only cater for single wire systems, but does anyone really bi-amp any more? Keep it simple I say, and if you feel the urge to bi-amp, go for a bigger and better single power amplifier instead, from which greater gains will be had.
At their price point, they're dangerously close to decent floorstanding speaker territory once you factor in the cost of a good pair of stands (I used Custom Design), but thankfully their performance doesn't make that a cut and dried decision. Producing a big sound stage with plenty of presence, there's no lack of fullness to the midrange that is usually enjoyed with a good floorstanding design. Bass lines were a little meatier and deeper than I'm used to from many well balanced bookshelf speakers, and certainly more so than the LS50s, but I'd expect that given the extra size of the driver and cabinet. Dual concentric design aside, the SB-C700s still offered something different to the competition, and at times I found it hard to pinpoint exactly what. The SB-C700s have a natural presence about them, although they really came into it's own when I moved them further from the brick/glass wall behind them.
There's an immediacy to their sound that many speakers nowadays seem to shy away from, probably to avoid the possibility of any slight harshness and to appear "nice" and inoffensive. This immediacy helped Sara Jay's vocals on Massive Attack's Dissolved Girl from Mezzanine, like many other small musical cues and noises throughout the album, pierce the inky darkness of the surprisingly large three dimensional sound stage, giving a great sense of depth and projection. This immediately made me want to dig out Boards Of Canada's albums.
Choosing Boards Of Canada's Campfire Headphase album, I went straight to track 2,
Chromakey Raincoat, and noticed that the second beat of each double beat is slightly subdued
in comparison to the first. That's not to say this won't be apparent on other speakers, but sometimes it takes a certain speaker (using their strengths or weaknesses) or system to bring certain small things to your attention, and the SB-C700s had a knack of doing just that. There's plenty of nice sounding speakers around to choose from, but personally, I welcome speakers like the Technics that dares to be different from the norm (however you perceive that norm) and not be scared to throw some detail at you. Moving on to their debut album, Music Has The Right To Children, an album of BoC's of which I am more familiar with, continued to unearth little nuggets of information that have so far escaped me despite obviously having always been 'there'.
My initial listening - mostly within days of taking them out of the box - was via the very capable Hegel Rost amplifier streaming from an Innuos ZENith II media server, but I thought I'd see if Technics' own amplification would provide any sonic benefits. So I booted up the SU-G30. Whilst the SU-G30 has tone controls for bass and treble (and very usefully, midrange), I decided to steer clear of them and listen 'as is'. I did employ Technics' "Load Adaptive Phase Calibration" circuitry though, which sends a number of pulses to the speakers not unlike an auto set up feature of an AV receiver. This measures the amplifier's frequency amplitude-phase characteristics in relation to the speakers connected to them (so this needs to be performed each time a different speaker is used), claiming to be able to achieve a flat response for both amplitude and phase. I'm always a little dubious about "correction" circuitry, but it can easily be switched on and off via the control app or a button on the remote, so results can be easily appreciated - and in this case they certainly make a very appreciable difference. The presentation of the SB-C700s with the SU-G30 is definitely fuller and more rounded than with the Hegel Rost, although I appreciate this aspect is one of personal preference. More about these amplifiers in future reviews though.
During Kraftwerk's 1983 album Tour De France, there were a few instances throughout the album where I thought I was listening to their stunningly produced live 3D The Catalogue, such was the level of clarity and room swirling layers of keyboards, and the taut, deep bass the album possesses. Impressive stuff. Whilst these average sized stand mounters can't reach the deepest depths of the bass this album occasionally has to offer (I've experienced it with KEF Blades), they do a very commendable job for their size, and certainly better than many other stand mount speakers.
Using a 24/192 file of Roger Waters' Amused To Death, I was particularly impressed by the
Q Sound sound effects - the snippets of dialogue and happenings going on all around the three dimensional soundstage during and in between the intertwined tracks. On this listening, the effects out at far left and far right seemed more vividly far left and far right than usual. Obviously a testament to how well the dual concentric design works and just how good it is at imaging.
As it was obviously apparent that well recorded music was getting the treatment it deserved from the Technics speaker, I decided to try something a little rougher round the edges. Enter The Black Keys' 2008 album Attack & Release and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's 2007 album Baby 81. I thought the slightly forward nature of the Technics speakers might clash with less refined, sometimes harsh and messy sounding albums. I think that unlike some other music genres, rock (not unlike punk) isn't generally an audiophile one. 'Middle of the road' rock is a little different, and is usually pretty well produced, which is why the likes of the Eagles are more popular among audiophiles and at hi-fi shows, but rock of the 70s from the likes of Led Zeppelin and early Pink Floyd wasn't particularly well recorded - you liked this type of rock purely for the music itself, in all it's loud, distorted glory. To me, trying to tame this aspect of rock music is akin to playing it at a sensible volume. I won't go into specifics about these albums, but I'll just say that the SB-C700s deal very well with the low-fi recordings of The Black Keys' earlier albums, conveying everything you should like about rock. They're not going to sugar coat anything for you, and you'll get exactly what you asked for. There are plenty of other speakers out there
that will add a nice sheen on everything and remove the intensity of a rock performance,
if that's what you desire.
Whilst using the SU-G30 amplifier, I thought it would be silly to ignore its on board MQA eqipped TIDAL app, so I searched out The Doors' L.A. Woman, as the last time I listened to it in full fat MQA, I felt it was better than the hi-res version despite it being noticeably smoother and less exciting in its presentation. Through the Technics pairing, it still retained that wonderful live "one take" feel that I love about the album, but (possibly due to the SB-C700s) pulled back some of that "edge" that I felt was missing from the MQA version. The extra space that the LAPC circuitry seems to add (or is that reclaim?) more than made up for the extra "zing" the hi-res file seems to have too. For an album that is almost as old as I am (no comments there please), it's astonishing just how good much of this album still sounds. The big, full bass of the SB-C700s is quite apparent on L'America, and you're able to hear every single instrument in the title track's sound stage quite clearly. And as for Riders On The Storm...
Dual concentric speakers tend to take a little bit of getting used to, or at least some time to appreciate what they do that other speakers don't, or in some cases, can't. The Technics SB-C700s are no different in this respect, but I've been used to this type of design for quite some time now, so I "got" these very quickly, although I wasn't prepared for the level of insight they were going to bring to the party at their price point. As already mentioned, the SB-C700s are not a speaker for those that want to sugar coat the shortcomings inherent in many recordings of some genres of music, but do provide a wonderfully detailed insight into music that many popular brands and models (with their "recessed" midrange) will flatly refuse you.
Initial system used was an Innuos ZENith II with CD and hi-res files and Hegel Rost amplifier and AudioQuest Type 4 speaker cable - SBC-700s placed on Custom Design speaker stands.
Second system used was Innuos ZENith II with CD and hi-res files, and Technics SU-G30 amplifier (with onboard TIDAL streaming including MQA files).
davidf @the little audio company