Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.
When I think of Technics, the first things that come to mind are the legendary SL direct-drive turntables. So it didn’t come as much of a surprise that their latest Reference Class integrated amplifier-DAC, the SU-R1000, has many features related to optimizing playback of phono sources. What is a bit surprising is that most of these phono-related features rely on digital signal processing (DSP) for their implementation. Not only that, once the phono signal is equalized, the entire signal path of the SU-R1000 remains in the digital domain until the speaker output stage.
For an audio company whose tradition is so heavily steeped in vinyl playback, what’s up with Technics including proprietary DSP in the design of the SU-R1000?
A wolf in very nice clothing
The SU-R1000 is priced at $9499 (all prices in USD), and its overall aesthetic is in line with its price tag. Sporting 6mm-thick, alumite-treated aluminum side panels and a 10mm-thick front panel with gorgeous illuminated dual VU meters, it definitely has a stylish vintage look that might make you think it’s an all-analog design. However, closer inspection reveals a small display in the upper right of the faceplate that indicates not only the input and volume level, but also the format and resolution of incoming digital signals and the status of the many available DSP functions. Above the dual VU meters is a large, centrally located Volume control knob with a positive but slightly light feel to it. To the extreme right and next to the display is a smaller Input Selector knob. On the opposite side is a Standby/On button with a blue LED to indicate that the unit is on and next to that, a 6.35mm output labeled Phones. The dual VU meters take up most of the bottom half of the front panel, but situated between them is the IR sensor for the remote and a Load Adaptive Phase Calibration (LAPC) indicator light.
While the front panel is a study in how less can be more, the back panel, although still neat and tidy, is chock full of inputs and outputs. Two sets of large speaker outputs are provided, and despite their plastic finish, they seem very robust. The menu system allows you to select between A or B speaker pairs or both pairs simultaneously. Connections for main-in, preamp-out, and tape loop are provided on RCA jacks on the upper half of the panel, between the speaker binding posts.
The lower portion of the back panel has analog inputs on the left side. There are two sets of RCA and one set of Neutrik XLR line-level inputs. In addition, there are two sets of phono inputs along with a ground connection. The first set, on RCA, can be adjusted for use with MM or MC cartridges via the setup menu. The second, on Neutrik XLR, is for use with MC cartridges only. To the right of the analog inputs is a bank of six digital inputs comprising two optical (TosLink), two coaxial (RCA), and two USB-B connectors. There is also a USB-A input for firmware updates and a System Control input to connect and synchronize similarly enabled Technics components, such as their ST-C700D network audio player. Finally, there is a standard IEC AC inlet for the provided power cord.
The entire chassis is said to be a highly rigid design. The inner chassis is made of upper and lower decks with steel plates separating the different circuit blocks and providing rigidity to the entire assembly. Measuring 16.9″W × 7.5″H × 18.1″D and weighing 50.3 pounds, the SU-R1000 is a very solid and striking-looking component with extremely high-quality fit and finish, in line with what you would expect for a component costing nearly $10,000. Unfortunately, the warranty is a rather ordinary three years.
While exploring the many available setup options, I discovered multiple DSP-based phono-optimization features, collectively referred to as Intelligent Phono EQ. The first option is Accurate EQ Curve, which provides a choice of equalization curves including RIAA, IEC, Columbia, Decca/FFRR, AES, NAB, and RCA. Technics claims the SU-R1000’s equalization is particularly accurate because of its hybrid nature: an analog low-pass filter reduces bit loss during the digital filter processing because only the high frequencies are equalized in the digital domain. They also claim this feature helps the SU-R1000 achieve a high S/N ratio.
The two other elements of Intelligent Phono EQ utilize the provided Calibration Record and DSP. The first is the Crosstalk Canceller, which measures the crosstalk characteristics of the installed cartridge and applies a reverse correction signal to minimize crosstalk. The second is the Phono Response Optimiser, which uses a Time Stretched Pulse signal on the Calibration Record and applies DSP to correct for the effect of impedance mismatches between the cartridge and the phono input. According to Technics, this method is superior to traditional impedance matching as it avoids the use of switches in the highly sensitive phono inputs.
Once the input from the phono section, or any other analog input, is converted to digital by a high-performance AKM AK5572EN analog-to-digital converter chip, the signal remains in the digital domain until the speaker output stage, as the SU-R1000 utilizes a digital amplification topology. According to Technics, all signals are converted to Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) with a battery-driven clock regenerator in the noise-shaping system to reduce jitter in the low frequencies, while a high-precision sample rate converter suppresses jitter in the high frequencies. Technics refers to this as their Jitter Elimination and Noise-shaping Optimization (JENO) Engine circuitry.
The SU-R1000 also utilizes what Technics calls Active Distortion Cancelling Technology (ADCT) to compensate for the distortion caused by the back electromotive force of loudspeakers. To achieve this, the output at the speaker terminal is digitized and compared to the digital output of the JENO Engine, then a correction signal is applied to the JENO Engine’s signal. Also, because digital amplifiers are susceptible to frequency anomalies due to the varying impedance of a speaker, the SU-R1000 employs Technics’ Load Adaptive Phase Calibration (LAPC). The system is calibrated by measuring the gain and phase characteristics at the speaker terminals using a test signal, then an LAPC correction signal is applied during playback.
Power output for the SU-R1000 is specified as a healthy 150Wpc into 8 ohms or 300Wpc into 4 ohms (1kHz, THD 0.5%, 20kHz LPF). Utilizing what is referred to as an Advanced Speed Silent Power Supply, high-frequency switching is fixed to approximately 400kHz to move it out of the audible range and reduce noise. Additionally, the power supply is separated into four independent units for the pre- and power amp stages and analog and digital circuits. According to Technics, this reduces power-line-induced interference between the circuits and improves the S/N ratio, although no specs are provided for this. Technics claims the frequency response of the digital inputs as 5Hz to 80kHz (-3dB, 8 ohms), line level as 5Hz to 80kHz (-3dB, 8 ohms), and phono MM as 20Hz to 20kHz (RIAA deviation ±1dB, 8 ohms). The input sensitivity/impedance is specified as follows: line, 200mV/22k ohms; phono (MM), 2.5mV/47k ohms; and phono (MC), 300uV/100 ohms.
The remote control is both chunky and solid—in a good way—and the buttons have a positive feel. You can directly access each of the inputs as well as the Dimmer, Bass, Treble, Direct mode (to defeat the tone controls), LAPC, Phono EQ Curve, and Mute. The other features are accessed through the Setup menu, which is a little cumbersome due to the small size of the display, but the available options include switching the menu languages between French and English, enabling or disabling a -20dB volume attenuator, MQA decoding, auto off, auto dimmer, and selecting between Pre Out or Record Out and Main In. There are no adjustable settings for the headphone output, but the SU-R1000 utilizes the same circuitry as the Grand Class SU-G700 integrated amp that Technics describes as class-AA, with separate operational amplifiers for both voltage and current stages.
DSP calibration. No computer? No problem!
I’ve become accustomed to calibrating audio components with room correction systems such as Anthem ARC Genesis, Lyngdorf Audio RoomPerfect, and Dirac Live, but calibration of the SU-R1000 is a little different in that it’s primarily meant to optimize phono playback. This requires the user to play the Calibration Record to measure the response of the installed cartridge and does not require the use of a personal computer. The process is straightforward, and it takes only a few minutes to play the test track and another ten minutes or so for the amplifier to process the data. Up to three cartridge profiles can be stored under different names.
You can read about my experience setting up the SU-R1000 in my blog entry at our SoundStage! Global website. Both the Cartridge Optimiser and LAPC, which also takes only a few minutes to configure, can be turned off through the menu system. I left these features on throughout the review process, as I found them to generally enhance the performance of the system. Their combined improvements were still relatively subtle, but much like my experience with room correction systems, there was enhanced imaging with greater definition in the bass and a cleaner presentation overall. I also selected the RIAA EQ Curve and did not engage the Subsonic Filter for the phono section.
To use the USB-B computer input, I installed the USB driver provided on the Technics website, which allowed me to connect an Intel NUC computer running Windows 10 with Roon and Qobuz or foobar2000. For those who do not have Roon or other software media players, Technics also has their Audio Player available for download, which provides a simple user interface and the ability to play back high-resolution audio files.
I also connected the analog outputs of my Oppo UDP-205 4K Ultra HD universal BD player to see how the SU-R1000 would handle line-level signals from a non-phono source and listened to the headphone output using HiFiMan HE400se headphones. Power cords, analog interconnects, and speaker cables were Clarus Aqua; a Pro-Ject Connect it E phono cable was used to connect my Pro-Ject X1 turntable with Pick it S2 cartridge. I also used an AudioQuest Carbon USB link and power conditioning from Blue Circle Audio and Zero Surge. The loudspeakers were always my MartinLogan Masterpiece Classic ESL 9s.
Pick a format, any format
The SU-R1000 supports digital audio of resolutions up to 32-bit/384kHz for PCM and DSD512 through USB, and 24-bit/192kHz and 24-bit/96kHz PCM, respectively, for its coaxial and optical inputs. And while it sounded exceptional with all of the digital signals I tried with it, up to DSD256 and 24-bit/352.8kHz PCM, I started my critical listening with the 2016 half-speed remaster of Peter Gabriel’s So (LP, Real World/Caroline International 884108004548). This album, produced by Daniel Lanois in his creative prime, is one of my favorites, and the LP sounded terrific on the SU-R1000.
There was excellent delineation between the lead and backing vocals and synthesized instrumentation on the frenetic “Sledgehammer,” but it was the SU-R1000’s ability to make the voices appear holographically in space before me with arresting realism that made me really take notice. The vocals of Gabriel and Kate Bush on “Don’t Give Up” sounded smoother and more natural than I am used to hearing them on this track, even when compared to high-resolution digital files. Bush’s translucent vocals floated gracefully between the speakers, while Gabriel’s less melodic but emotive voice provided a more solid but equally affecting aural image. There was a richness and fluidity to Tony Levin’s unhurried bass line that infused the entire track with a melancholy, but perfectly timed, foundation. And while the SU-R1000 was able to deftly convey that measured but slightly muted character of Levin’s bass, it was also able to make the electronic keyboards on “That Voice Again” sparkle with remarkable clarity. Playing back DSD64 files of tracks from So provided better low-frequency control and slightly more precise imaging, but the smooth, more relaxed sound that the SU-R1000 wrought from vinyl was always beguiling and quite remarkable, considering the relatively modest Pro-Ject turntable and cartridge being used as a source.
Listening to Jazz at the Pawnshop: 30th Anniversary (24-bit/88.2kHz FLAC, Proprius/Qobuz), the opening applause and murmuring of the audience were slightly set back and sounded strikingly realistic on “High Life.” When Arne Domnérus starts in on sax, softly at first, then louder as the song progresses, it was as if he were standing about ten feet in front of me and slightly to the right of center. There was a convincing reediness to the sax at low levels and when things ramped up, the sharp blat of each note seemingly jumped out from the background din of the Stampen jazz club where the recording was made. The vibraphone took up a larger portion of the soundstage, as did the drum kit, both extending most of the way between the speakers. Bengt Hallberg’s vibraphone solo with the audience clapping along is my favorite part of this track, and it sounded so pure and effortless as the mallets struck the bars and intertwined with the hand claps that I couldn’t help but smile as I listened to the SU-R1000.
The SU-R1000 could also really rock when required. “Summerfling (Wamdue’s Makin’ Me High Dub, 2000),” from k.d. lang’s Makeover (16/44.1 FLAC, Nonesuch/Qobuz) was absolutely banging. The thumping bass from my MartinLogan Masterpiece Classic ESL 9s was deep and well controlled, and the soaring electronic strings, synth effects, and lang’s voice were all placed exactingly within the expansive soundstage. I could not have asked for more in terms of high output levels combined with the SU-R1000’s ability to project a massive wall of EDM sound from my speakers with a clarity and composure as good as anything I’ve heard from any integrated amp in my system.
When I listened through its XLR analog inputs using my Oppo UDP-205 player as a source, I was impressed by the reproduction of Holly Cole’s voice on “I Can See Clearly Now” from Don’t Smoke in Bed (SACD, EMI/Analogue Productions). It remained transparent and detailed with just a touch of sibilance, a characteristic of this recording. Listening to a 24-bit/88.2kHz FLAC file of the same track sent to the SU-R1000’s digital input, I noticed the character of the sound didn’t change much, although I did note slightly more definition in the lowest notes of David Piltch’s bass. Still, I felt the SU-R1000 was extremely faithful in its amplification of the analog output of the Oppo UDP-205.
Marching to the beat of a different drummer
Of the integrated amplifiers I have recently reviewed, the Technics SU-R1000 is much like the Rotel Michi X5 ($6999) in terms of functionality. The Technics amp does cost quite a bit more, but both are top-notch integrated amps that accept digital signals and have built-in phono stages. However, the sound of the Michi was brawnier with more low-end grunt and a slight warmth. As mentioned, the Technics had no issue driving the ML ESL 9 loudspeakers to very high levels, but the Michi was still able to coax slightly more of the lower frequencies out of the ML’s dual 8″ woofers. When listening to the Cowboy Junkies’ The Trinity Session (LP, Sony 88985398961), there was more detail and a quieter background with the Technics. This provided a better sense of the recording space in Toronto’s Church of the Holy Trinity and the placement of Margo Timmins’s voice and the instruments around her.
When it comes to price, build, and sound, the Technics is more similar to the Yamaha A-S3200 ($7499.95), although the latter lacks a DAC and is a fully analog design. And while they go about their business in very different ways, I was struck by the similarly excellent sound both produced with LPs. The haunting vocals on Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence (LP, Polydor 3787448) floated eerily between the speakers with every change of pitch and tempo evident in the main vocals and the many complex overdubs. The Technics did image this a bit more precisely; the sound of each instrument was slightly more distinct than the vocals and the other instruments, but the soundstage was a little narrower and constrained to the space between the speakers. The Yamaha sounded almost as precise, but it was able to widen the soundstage a bit more so that it was just outside the speakers at times.
The SU-R1000 was noticeably better at driving headphones than the Oppo UDP-205, my reference for headphone outputs built into amplification and source components. When compared to the Technics amp, the Oppo got the broad brush strokes right, but the Technics was better able to fill in all the tiny details throughout the entire frequency range. For instance, “You Spin Me Round 2003 (Metro 12″ Extended Mix),” from Dead or Alive’s You Spin Me Round EP (16/44.1 FLAC, Epic/Qobuz), had good deep bass with both the Oppo and Technics, but the opening midbass beats sounded a little thin in comparison with the Oppo.
The ends outweigh the means
The SU-R1000 is aimed squarely at the audiophile who’s seeking a reference-quality integrated amplifier-DAC with a built-in phono stage of commensurate quality. Technics has definitely succeeded in that regard although I suspect some vinyl purists will take pause because it uses DSP to accomplish this. I had no issue with the means by which Technics achieved the sound quality produced by the SU-R1000; instead, I found myself admiring its daring, cutting-edge design and outstanding performance with both analog and digital sources. I would love to have one of these fine-sounding beauties alongside a Technics SL-series turntable in my system!
. . . Roger Kanno
Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.
- Speakers: MartinLogan Masterpiece Classic ESL 9.
- Headphones: HiFiMan HE400se.
- Integrated amplifiers: Yamaha A-S3200, Rotel Michi X5.
- Digital sources: Intel NUC computer running Windows 10, Roon, Qobuz, and foobar2000; AudioQuest JitterBug jitter reducer; Oppo Digital UDP-205 4K Ultra HD universal BD player.
- Turntable: Pro-Ject Audio Systems X1 with Pick it S2 cartridge.
- USB link: AudioQuest Carbon.
- Speaker cables: Clarus Aqua Mark II.
- Interconnects: Clarus Aqua Mark II, Pro-Ject Connect it E phono cable.
- Power cords: Clarus Aqua, Essential Sound Products MusicCord-Pro ES.
- Power conditioners: Blue Circle Audio PLC Thingee FX-2 with X0e low-frequency filter module, Zero Surge 1MOD15WI.
Technics SU-R1000 Integrated Amplifier-DAC
Warranty: Three years, parts and labor.
Panasonic Corporation of North America
Two Riverfront Plaza
Newark, NJ 07102-5490
Phone: (201) 348-7000