Technics is a brand that needs little introduction to most Copper readers. Technics was once a household name in consumer electronics but eventually faded to the point where the marque was discontinued. In 2015, Technics was brought back with the introduction of new high-end audio systems. Following is an interview with Bill Voss, Business Development Manager/US of Technics.
Don Lindich: Technics has seen a lot of changes since the brand was launched by Matsushita/Panasonic in 1965 as a Nakamichi competitor. As time went on the Technics name was used on mass-market equipment and rack systems, and later became something of a DJ brand as DJs adopted the SL-1200 turntable as the industry standard. After a period of dormancy from 2010 to 2015, the brand relaunched with an uncompromising high-end purpose. Do you see this as a return to the roots of the brand, or an even higher level of aspiration entirely?
Bill Voss: I see it as both. Our roots are [in] the many innovations Technics engineers have introduced over the years to a wide audience, and remain the fundamental building blocks of the new line and future developments. [The new] Coreless Direct Drive [turntable motor], for instance, was an improvement on the direct drive motor Technics invented in 1970. The concept for improvement was based on analog [design] principles with the addition of modern digital technology and materials among other things, to [ensure] the most accurate platter rotation.
DL: Reflecting on the previous question, sometime after the audiophile versions of the new SL-1200 turntable were released (the SL-1200GAE/SL-1200G/SL-1210GAE/SL-1200GR/SL-1210GR), Technics introduced a turntable for DJs, the SL-1200MK7. Was this part of the plan all along? How will you keep the Technics image and brand value high with audiophiles while also serving the DJ market?
BV: Turntables in general were not part of the plan. At least, not the plan I was given at CES in 2015, where Technics introduced two complete cutting-edge high-res digital audio systems to address the growing desire for ease of streaming digital music from computers, NAS servers, other devices and app sources. I believed in it and is certainly the reality now. But we didn’t ignore vinyl playback as both our Premium and Reference systems could accommodate the highest-quality phono stages if users chose to enjoy [vinyl]. At that time, the SU-C700 Premium Class integrated amp had a dedicated phono section and the SU-R1 Reference Class when used as a preamp had the option of an outboard phono stage for wider flexibility. Our new Reference Class SU-R1000 integrated amplifier, which was just announced, will again offer cutting edge technology with a very unique Intelligent Phono EQ to cancel crosstalk, optimize gain and phase (similar to the LAPC Load Adaptive Phase Calibration amplifier/loudspeaker interface technology) and improve accuracy of the EQ curve.
However, most everyone visiting us at CES 2015, while excited to see Technics back in the business, couldn’t help but ask, “when are you bringing back the turntables?” We told visitors that there was no turntable in the plan, we had done that already, vinyl was on the downswing, and how could we ever [equal] the monumental success that Technics turntables had in the 1970s and 1980s? So, while not in the plan then, [turntables] certainly must have been on our engineers’ minds because just one year later in 2016, we arrived back in the same suite at CES with the new $4,000 SL-1200GAE/G.
The turntable world was suddenly in an uproar with the announcement. But while the new Coreless Direct Drive [motor design] drew mass appeal from the audiophile community (and was considered a bargain at the price), it broke DJs hearts who were expecting a lower price. Of course, Technics rebounded the following year with another new 1200 model, the SL-1200GR, which set out to bring most of the SL-1200GAE/G experience at half the price. And it was very successful but still not quite the sweet spot the working pro DJs were looking for. So, at CES 2019 we introduced the SL-1200MK7 which now seems to be the right model to return us to favor [with DJs].
So, it seems we never really turned our back on vinyl. It just took us some time to ramp back up. I’m so glad we did. I mean, these days, everyone is enjoying vinyl, getting back into or trying it for the very first time.
DL: Are you finding that any consumers or audiophiles on a budget are buying the SL-1200MK7 as a hi-fi turntable? The SL-1200GR is a great audiophile turntable, but $1,699 is a far cry from $999.
BV: It’s hard to know exactly who is purchasing it but sales on the SL-1200MK7 are brisk, proving the MK7 with its Coreless Direct Drive motor, while certainly a top choice as a DJ “tool of the trade,” is also earning its place as an incredible audiophile bargain. With that starting price point, it lends itself to endless tweaking [in] trying various aftermarket AC power cords and interconnect cables, isolation feet and platter mats and it accommodates a wide range of cartridge and headshell combinations for various [types of] LP playback. Not so much of a secret anymore.
DL: Traditionally audiophiles have had a strong preference for belt drive turntables and shied away from direct drive turntables. Your current direct drive turntable line seems to have largely changed that, receiving highly positive reviews and widespread acceptance in the audiophile community. In a hobby that has passionate followers with prejudices and opinions that can be hard to change, how did you do it?
BV: The proof is in the pudding as they say. The engineers certainly did their homework. Turntables are analog components, but the new Technics models incorporate multiple digital control systems. Some models can even accept a firmware update! There are many fine details in the design of the new motor and control system. We try to explain them all [in our product descriptions] but [you’d need to be trained in] engineering [to have a full] understanding. The extra steps taken to assure perfect rotational accuracy from table to table in the manufacturing process, so that each one is as perfect as the next, is an example of Japanese engineering at its best, beyond the call.
DL: What product categories do you compete in, and how many different products does Technics now offer in North America?
BV: Over the years Technics has held the appeal of professional DJs as well as audiophiles. And we continue the 2-channel only tradition (no multi-channel or home theater gear yet) with our new line of turntables, loudspeakers, network-connected CD/SACD players and true-wireless earphones. We also offer digital amplifiers with proprietary functions like LAPC Load Adaptive Phase Calibration, which enables flattening of the frequency characteristics of amplitude and phase, which had previously not been achieved by amplifiers, as well as delivering a sound with richer spatial expression.
We recently added some specialty products like the Ottava Series of wireless speaker systems that are complete all-in-one, high-res audio solutions with networking, internet radio, access to streaming services like Spotify, TIDAL, Deezer and Chromecast built-in, and compatibility with Google Assistant. All [of this is] controllable from your handheld device via the Technics Audio Center app.
DL: Who do you see as your target customers and target markets?
BV: We continue to address the professional DJ’s need for a reliable tool of the trade with the MK7 turntables in particular, and to provide cutting-edge luxury products appealing to a wide range of audiophile needs in our Premium, Grand and Reference Series of products. The new true wireless noise-cancelling headphones open the door to a wider and younger audience for appreciating high-quality sound on the go.
DL: Besides the SL-1200 turntable, what are some other iconic and significant Technics products from the past?
BV: There were so many, I’m not sure where to start. It’s a little-known fact that the first Technics product introduced in 1965 was actually the Technics 1, a 2-way bookshelf loudspeaker, not a turntable. The first Technics turntable was the SP-10 and introduced direct drive to the world in 1970. It enjoyed similar status as the latter SL-1200s among professionals and audiophiles with a number of model changes and improvements over the years. Another turntable “first” was the SL-10 linear tracking (LP jacket-sized) turntable which could play [oriented either] horizontally or vertically.
Technics also made a statement in the art of tape recording with its Professional Series open reel recorders in the late 1970s and early 1980s. These offered state-of-the-art performance and like their turntable brethren, enjoy longevity with many still in use after 40 years.
In 1981, even before CD, Technics pioneered PCM digital recording on VHS tape in an all-in-one deck (PV-M100), which was available in a two-piece portable and a processor-only version. This was originally a 14-bit process that I felt was quite enjoyable and convenient to use. There are [actually] many highly-regarded companies that specialize in refurbishing the legacy turntables and open reel decks to bring them back to original or improved specs. Some of these are: J-Corder for open reel tape decks, KAB Electro Acoustics, OMA and Artisan Fidelity who specialize in turntable upgrades and modifications.
[For information on vintage Technics products, visit vintagetechnics.audio. The site has an amazing amount of detail. – Ed.]
DL: The Panasonic DP-UB9000 4K Blu-ray player is widely considered the best player available, filling a void left by Oppo going out of business while providing noticeably better video reproduction. When I began my review of the Technics SL-G700 network/SACD player it reminded me of the UB9000, because both components are heavy, flawlessly finished and feel like they are machined from a solid block of metal. My impression was that the UB-9000 and SL-G700 could be sister products, despite the different purposes, brand names and likely different engineering teams responsible for their design. Is there any commonality between Technics and Panasonic besides having the same parent company, and do you think we will ever see high-end Panasonic audio products, or high-end Technics video products?
BV: As you point out, Technics is and has always been a subsidiary of Panasonic, without whose technical, manufacturing and financial prowess could not have produced the Technics product line we know today. Digital technology plays a major part in all the product designs and is shared among the Panasonic Consumer and Professional divisions, whether appliances, entertainment (TV, video, Technics, audio, headphones), Imaging (Lumix, cameras, lenses), computers, and even personal care and other products.
A good example is the motor control system used in the new turntables which borrows a digital speed control mechanism designed by the Panasonic Blu-ray team. As far as crossover products, my guess is that Technics will continue to carry the high-end audio flag and this philosophy already plays a part in the sound quality of Panasonic’s flagship OLED TVs.
DL: Are you finding that customers purchasing Technics components are using them in all-Technics systems, or are they mixing and matching as audiophiles typically do?
BV: I would say that most customers’ systems evolve by mixing and matching. It’s rare for a system to be all one brand. However, it has been recognized by a well-known audiophile publication that our flagship R1 Reference System offers what they deem to be award-winning synergy as a complete system. I feel a similar appreciation for the new more affordable Grand Series which offers incredible audiophile value and great synergy and convenience when used together as a system.
DL: Your brick and mortar dealer network is still somewhat small, and I frequently receive e-mails from readers of my “Sound Advice” newspaper column who can’t find a dealer in their hometown. Do you have plans for expansion in this area? And what do you look for when selecting Technics dealers?
BV: It’s a long road to re-establish a product line even with the brand strength of Technics. It’s difficult to capture position in a dealer’s showroom as there are plenty of competitors. In the last five years I believe Technics has earned its place back in audiophile circles and will continue to grow market share and add new dealers. Although we’ve gained ground, we’ll likely never experience the top tier sales volume enjoyed in the 1970s through the 1990s. I like to say we’re not our father’s Technics. We’ve progressed cautiously using proven conservative methods to utilize the support of hi-fi and Professional DJ specialists in order to present the fine subtleties of a new, much higher-priced and technically-involved product line. But as the product line has grown we have added more and more dealers. And as we develop more affordable and mainstream (regarding ease of use) products, it will lend to more e-commerce thus more national reach.
DL: Please explain the difference between Technics’ Premium Class, Grand Class and Reference Class products.
BV: Premium Class is our entry-level audiophile line, which includes products like our SL-1500C turntable, SB-C700 loudspeaker and Ottava wireless speakers. The Grand Class, which is growing in popularity, offers advances in digital amplification, high-resolution audio processing and streaming and also includes turntables like the SL-1200GR, SL-1210GR and others. A Grand Class system comprised of the SU-G700 integrated amplifier, SL-G700 networking CD/SACD player, SL-1200GR turntable and SB-G90 coaxial loudspeakers, sells for $12,200 and I would put it up against anything even at twice its price. The Reference Class offers our flagship power amplifier, control preamp and the SP-10R and SL-1000R turntables.
DL: Anything else you would like to add?
BV: Probably not; my wife says I talk too much! 😉
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Newark, NJ 07102
All images used with permission of Technics. Header image: SL-1100 turntable, circa 1971.