At times it can seem hard to work out the strategy being followed by the Technics brand since it re-emerged a couple of years ago, to the extent that it can seem to be trying every possible approach in an effort to find out which one ‘sticks’. The original high-end ‘Reference Class’ R1 system used a pre-amplifier with a built-in network player, allied to a massive power amplifier, while the ‘Premium Class’ 700 series went more conventional, with an integrated amplifier, a separate network device and even a CD player. Then there’s the Ottava system, with its built-in player, amplification and streaming – and that’s before one even starts to unravel the now three-strong turntable range.
For its third range, the ‘Grand Class’ G30, the company has taken yet another approach. The first two products in the line-up are the ST-G30 and the SU-G30 we have here, but this isn’t another network player-andamplifier package: instead the ST-G30 is a CD ripper/network music store and the £2799 SU-G30 combines network music playback and an amplifier with multiple digital inputs, even enabling it to be used with a computer for direct playback.
In fact, for an integrated amplifier, albeit one using digital amplification technology, the SU-G30 is light on conventional analogue inputs: there’s just one set of line-ins and a moving magnet phono input (to suit one of the company’s turntables, of course). Everything else is digital: it has Wi-Fi and Ethernet connectivity built in, Bluetooth with aptX, AirPlay via its network connection plus two coaxial digital inputs and one optical.
It will play file formats up to DSD256/ 11.2MHz 384kHz/32 bit PCM (depending on how you connect to the music). DLNA network playback is supported, and the SU-G30 can also play music from iOS devices and USB memory via USB Type A or computers using asynchronous USB Type B. Spotify Connect is also built in, and the Technics supports digital radio via the vTuner platform.
So this is very much the modern digital amplifier, and indeed even the analogue inputs go through analogue-to-digital conversion before being handled by the amplifier, which may rather go against the analogue appeal of using a turntable in the first place. But then it’s perhaps best to view this as an amplifier for the digital music age, while making a few concessions to ‘legacy’ analogue music formats: if you want to play records and keep it analogue all the way through to the speakers, there are much simpler – and cheaper – solutions available.
So the SU-G30 may take a different approach to other Technics amplifiers when it comes to its features, but there’s much commonality with the rest of the range. The amplification is the company’s own digital design, here developing 50W into 8 ohms and twice that into 4 ohms, and the signal processing in the amp is similar. The power amplification uses in-house GaN-FET output devices to keep signal paths short, in that a single device offers both ‘push’ and ‘pull’, while the company’s Load Adaptive Phase Calibration technology helps optimise the amplifier for the speakers with which it’s being used, by playing and monitoring a sequence of test-tones during set-up. The USB and network inputs are isolated from the rest of the amplifier, to keep computer noise at bay, and incoming signals are also passed through via a two-step enhancement process, first attempting to bring compressed music up to CD quality and then upsampling everything to 176.4kHz or 192kHz at 32-bit resolution before it’s passed through the main digital circuitry. Also present and correct is the Technics JENO Engine, which deals with ‘Jitter Elimination and Noise-shaping Optimisation’: it’s all part of getting the cleanest possible signal to the digital amplification.
You can operate the Technics with the remote handset supplied – the front-panel display is fairly clear and easy to read, especially close-up – but it’s a much more satisfying experience to ‘drive’ this network amplifier using the free Technics Music app on a phone or tablet. It makes accessing and playing content much more intuitive and involves a lot less clicking to find and make settings. On a practical level, it’s worth noting that the amplifier offers not only bass and treble tone controls but also a third adjustment for the midband. Accessed via the menu system, these are subtle in their operation, making small adjustments to the overall sound simple, and can be bypassed completely using a ‘Direct’ function. It’s also possible to turn off the ‘Re-Master’ system, which helps inject some extra life into compressed music formats: if you play a lot of music in MP3 or AAC, for example – such as internet radio streams – it’s well worth leaving this switched on.
Also worth noting is that the speaker optimisation works rather well. Once set up you can turn it on and off at will; and while going from off to on isn’t one of those night-and-day experiences, turning it off after a period of listening sees a noticeable softening of sound staging and just a little less focus. So this unusual feature is definitely worth having, even if its effect will vary from speaker to speaker.
The only other operational point worth making is that, while Wi-Fi capability is reasonable here, for optimal stability – especially if you’re even considering using high-resolution music formats over DLNA streaming – I’d stick to a wired connection to your home network. I encountered a few buffering stutters when using wireless but with wired networking things were rock-solid.
Solid also describes the sound of the SU-G30. The balance here is warm and rich, with a generous smoothness that serves both large ensemble recordings and smaller-scale works rather well. It’s not so lush as to be cloying or slow but rather balances weight with openness, delivering a view of the music that’s easy on the ear but also very satisfying – and, after all, you can always inject a little more sparkle if required using the tone controls.
What’s beyond doubt is the substance of the sound the Technics delivers, and the fact that, despite its relatively modest ‘on paper’ output, it has plenty of power for the dynamics of music, breezing through Natalie Dessay’s ‘Pictures of America’ but also shining with Vincenzo Maltempo’s measured performances of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies, the piano having both lifelike weight and fine definition, with a real sense of the recorded acoustic around it. Similarly, the fluidity and beauty of Sirius Viols’ recent release of Christopher Simpson’s The Four Seasons sounds fresh and well-balanced via this amplifier: it’s not quite the most detailed sound around and is bettered by more explicit players and amplification, but the sheer ‘listenability’ of the Technics is hard not to like.
With careful system matching and cobbling together of components it would be possible to equal what the SU-G30 can do for the same kind of money; however, the combination of convenience, flexibility and sheer usability on offer here makes this a rather attractive buy.
Type Network amplifier
Analogue inputs One line, mm phone
Analogue inputs Two coaxial and one optical, network (Wi-Fi and wired Ethernet), USB Type B for computer, 2x USB Type A for portable and memory devices, Bluetooth with aptX, Apple AirPlay
Other sources Spotify Connect, internet radio
Output One pair of speakers, headphones
Tone controls Bass/treble/midband
Format compatibility PCM-based up to 384kHz/32 bit, DSD to DSD256/11.2MHz via USB Type B from computer; to 192kHz/24 bit and DSD128/5.6MHz via DLNA and from USB storage; S/PDIF to 192kHz/24 bit
Accessories supplied Remote handset, wireless antennae, optional control via Technics Music app on Android/iOS
Dimensions (WxHxD) 43x9.8x42.4cm
The hi-fi market is full of options for those wanting to integrate computerstored music into an existing hi-fi system. While few solutions are as compact and comprehensive as the Technics, it seems every manufacturer has its own take on the subject...
Rotel RA 1592
If you’re happy to use your computer as the control and source component for all your music, you could simply connect it via USB to an amplifier such as the powerful Rotel RA 1592 and enjoy your music all the way up to DSD quality. It lacks the streaming ability of the Technics – it has a network port but only for control purposes – but the Rotel comfortably undercuts the SU G30 at around £1900. More details at rotel.com.
Denon PMA 1600NE
At £1300 or so the new Denon PMA1600NE also offers USB input for formats up to DSD256/11.2MHz, as well as a more comprehensive range of analogue inputs than the Technics and outputs for two sets of speakers. Or you could keep it very simple with the same brand’s sleek little DRA 100 network receiver at just £699: no computer input but instead there’s network streaming at up to DSD128/5.6MHz and the ability to play hi-res music straight from USB storage. Details on both of these at denon.co.uk.
Musical Fidelity M6 Encore 225
If, however, you want to go even further than the Technics when it comes to computer music integration, look no further than the Musical Fidelity M6 Encore 225, which has both computer audio USB input and network streaming, plus access to online services and onboard CD ripping and storage, to make it an ideal standalone or networked choice. It’s around £1000 more than the Technics but has more power and is a complete ‘just add speakers’ solution. More details at musicalfidelity.com.