There was a sense of excitement in our office when we heard Panasonic was reviving the Technics brand. The legendary SL1210 turntable was lauded, of course, with further reminisces taking in some fine budget CD players and Award-winning middle-market amplifiers from the 1990s.
We almost got misty-eyed, but great old products can only get a company so far. Technics really needs the new ones to hit the mark, but if the SB-C700 speakers are anything to go by, re-establishing the brand could well be a struggle.
Build and design
First the good news: we like the way these look. There’s more than a passing resemblance to the KEF LS50 speakers, thanks to the use of a co-axial drive unit array. They’re nicely proportioned and look suitably classy.
That co-axial array consists of a 19mm-aluminium dome tweeter coupled to a 16cm mid/bass driver. The tweeter is a wide bandwidth design that is claimed to reach up to 100kHz.
The mid/bass unit is unusual. It features a flat diaphragm to avoid the ‘cuppy’ sound often associated with traditionally dished cones. A flat design is inherently less rigid though, so Technics has used a carbon weave/aluminium honeycomb composite diaphragm to get around that.
The SB-C700’s construction is impressive. These stand-mounters feel solid and are suitably weighty with it. The high-gloss finish on our review samples is immaculate and there’s plenty of attention to detail apparent in the fit and finish.
The cabinet’s curved shape isn’t just there to look pretty. It resists the build-up of internal standing wave and reduces diffraction effects.
The result should be a cleaner, clearer presentation where the enclosure contributes less distortion to the overall sound. It’s fair to say we’re quietly impressed by what we’ve seen so far. The single-wired SB-C700 speakers give every indication of being seriously engineered speakers.
An initial listen (while the speakers are running-in) shows signs of some good qualities. The SB-C700s sound clean and open, with crisp definition of the leading edge of notes. There’s also a notable degree of brashness to the sound so we decide to leave the standmounters running a few days before we start serious listening.
Unfortunately, it turns out a few more days don’t make much of a difference. The treble edge rounds off a touch, but that’s about it. We get the speakers a little out into the room, with just a hint of angle towards the listening position. With this positioning we achieve decent bass weight and optimised stereo imaging.
Trying them close to a wall ends up with the low end becoming unwieldy and the presentation being notably less articulate. The rest of the system consists of our usual sources (Naim NDS/555PS, Naim CDS3/555PS and Clearaudio’s Innovation Wood package) feeding our reference Bryston BP26/4B SST2pre/power combination.
We also use the Technics SU-C700 amplifier, the natural partner to these speakers, as well as the our current favourite amp around the £1000-mark, the Rega Elex-R.
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We start with Bruce Springsteen’s Radio Nowhere and aren’t impressed by what we hear. This is a hard-charging track, but the Technics speakers don't convey the sense of power properly. The music lacks the dynamic punch and drive we’re used to.
Its sense of organisation isn’t great either; this song’s production is really busy and the speakers struggle to keep a hold of the mass of instrumentation without getting muddled. Concerned, we switch to Leonard Cohen’s Popular Problems and are struck with how insubstantial these normally full-bodied songs sounds to our ears.
Tonally, things are hard and edgy, which doesn’t bode well for long-term listening. The SB-C700s strip-back the harmonic richness of the music, simplifying it while adding a fairly large dose of congestion. This is a wonderfully spacious production but through the Technics you’d never know, so cluttered is their presentation.
Their stereo imaging lacks depth too, leading to a flat, forward delivery. The story is much the same regardless of whether we listen to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or Bob Marley’s Exodus; these Technics sound forward, lacking the resolution and refinement we want. These are the kind of qualities price rivals such as ATC’s SCM11s deliver in abundance.
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We’re disappointed. The SB-C700s need to be better if they’re to make any kind of impact against some very capable rivals.
At the moment there’s a great deal of residual goodwill towards the Technics brand, but with products like this that won’t last long.