Technics Ottava S C50 Wireless Speakers – REVIEW
Technics Ottava S C50 Wireless Speakers – REVIEW
Could an aesthetically beautiful one-piece wireless speaker system compete sonically with a conventional stereo system? GARY STEEL may just have the answer.
Question: What do you want out of a loudspeaker in 2020? If your answer goes something like “the best possible sound from the smallest possible form factor”, then you’ll need to examine the Technics take on the wireless speaker, the Ottava S C50.
While a motley bunch of manufacturers – from well-known brands through to Chinese no-name K-Mart specials – have raced to grab a slice of the increasingly crowded portable wireless speaker market, there has until recently been a dearth of choice at the higher end.
What a blast to see Technics, the Panasonic-owned audio brand – after some years out in the cold – releasing a range of superb products, from earphones through to variations on their legendary SL 1200 turntable to the Ottava S C50 speaker system. Who better than a reanimated Technics to successfully research and develop a wireless speaker that can comfortably compete with similarly priced conventional stereo speakers?
It’s a “speaker system” because making distinctions is important, and the C50 is not merely a speaker. It is, in fact, a canny assemblage of tweeters (x3), midrange drivers (x2), bass (x1) and centre speaker (x1) housed in a rather attractively convex enclosure. And that’s not all, of course. Buried inside this thing is a decent Class D amplifier, and then there’s the “virtual” element that modern electronics brings to sound reproduction.
One of the key selling points of the C50 is its DSP (Digital Signal Processor) which – with the help of a mobile phone app – does some smart calibrations to ensure you get the optimum sound where you sit most often. (There have been a few issues with this app, and Technics are about to launch a new, improved version). There are also separate settings for having the unit close the wall, far away from the wall or in the corner.
Personally, I found that the C50 needed little adaptation, and it sounded great whether it was sitting on the spare desk in my moderately-sized office or given pride of place in our huge open-plan lounge/dining room/kitchen. Perhaps that’s because my house has tiles everywhere and is a resonant environment but the Ottava sounded great as long as the music source was one of quality.
I must mention here that the C50 is an amazingly adaptable device and goes way past one’s typical expectations of a relatively small wireless speaker. I’m a lazy listener and once I got to listening to selections through my Tidal streaming account, I felt little inclination to do anything much else. But in many ways the C50 represents an evolution of a concept created by Sonos earlier this century, wherein modular speakers could link up throughout an abode. Technics’ clever creation can be used in this supplemental fashion, but that’s not where its adaptability ends. While it’s categorically not a portable speaker, and it’s really designed to be plugged into the wall, the centre speaker (which can be used to accentuate dialogue against background sound effects) means that some consumers might find it an acceptable substitute for a soundbar. Certainly, one of its attributes is that the C50 fans its sound out in a remarkable approximation of genuine stereo.
Technics describe the Ottava as “premium class” and I’m not going to dispute this. It’s not light and that’s always a good sign for things that sounds come out of. I love that it doesn’t call attention visually but is exquisitely tasteful without being boring. If you’re looking straight on at the C50 there’s not much to see, just a pleasantly curved grill. But if you’re towering above it you’ll notice the fine brushed finish of its aluminium top and its circular control panel towards the back. The OLED screen is discrete and the signs around the circle indicating where you control the volume or activate the Bluetooth or whatever are rather tiny for my old eyes, but once you get used to them it’s a bit like Braille.
One cool thing is the white light that shines out from the bottom and pulses when it’s trying to connect to a signal. Another is the striking ribbed effect on the back. But ultimately, for all but those who are hung-up on aesthetics, the most important things about the C50 will be its sound quality and its versatility, so let’s dwell on those two characteristics for a moment.
Versatility: Firstly, this Technics will play nicely with just about anything. There are so many options that its versatility appears to be virtually endless, from its ability to be hooked up to old fashioned analogue sources to its ability to play files via USB and a myriad of wireless options. We’ll list these at the end of this review in the Stats section.
Sound quality: As you would expect from a 15-watt system the C50 isn’t designed to be turned up to ear bleeding decibel levels, but you know that already. What it does do spectacularly well is render pleasing sonic detail to a level familiar to those with “proper” hi-fi systems. And the fact that it contains adaptive technology to allow the speaker to get the best out of the room and your body placement gets over the hurdle faced by most who want a “separates” system but find it less than practical in a family situation where gear can be so easily trashed by dogs or kids.
What I need to be clear about is that the Technics C50 is the first wireless speaker I’ve heard that could genuinely replace a modest conventional stereo system without compromising on quality. That’s not to say that alternatives don’t exist. If you want to pay $6K there’s Linn’s very nice wireless speakers and similarly priced options from the likes of B&W and Naim. Those with an Apple obsession might be happier with that company’s HomePod, even though the overall sound quality is reputedly less refined.
I streamed a wide variety of music and genres through the C50 via my Tidal HiFi account, and the overwhelming impression of the sound quality was one of sophistication, clarity, quite astonishing sound separation (given the side of the speakers) and 3D-type dispersion. At times, the bass was so strong that I could hardly believe the thumping was coming from this smallish unit. At other times, I was amazed at the detail I was hearing. The odd thing about listening to full frequency floorstanding speakers is that sometimes, detail gets lost. Or perhaps it’s just my hearing and its ability to resolve all the detail thrown at me. Whatever, with the Technics I was quite often hearing detail that had eluded me on other systems. That may have been to do with the DSP effectively equalising the sound differently.
Now, it has to be said that nothing can replace the amazing whole-room dynamics of a large speaker, and despite its ability to create a sort-of stereo spectrum, the C50 sounded a lot more “over there” than sitting in the sweet spot of a great pair of high end floorstanders. You just can’t replicate that experience. Having said that, it’s also important to point out that I thoroughly enjoyed every moment I spent with the C50 and never felt like I was really missing anything.
I got hooked into a long and enjoyable session with my favourite jazz-rock fusion bands (Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, Return To Forever, Soft Machine…) and was astonished at the Technics’ ability to resolve the complex twists and turns and dynamics of this music. From intricate acoustic passages to bass-heavy rock-outs – the C50 handled it all beautifully.
Its bass-handling abilities are amazing for its size, but do, of course, have limitations. I found that there tended to be a sense of volume boosting to compensate for true depth at a certain point, but having a chunky low end (rather than a distended low end) is better to most than one which simply disappears.
Could you build up a conventional stereo system for the same price, or less? I seriously doubt that. Edifier does some excellent, conventional-looking but wireless-capable powered speakers for less than $1K, but they don’t come with anything like the bells and whistles and sheer versatility of the C50, and they don’t look as good either.
JENO Engine (Jitter Elimination and Noise-shaping Optimization)
Load Adaptive Phase Calibration (w/o Calibration function)
Twin Power Supply Circuit System
Coaxial Speaker Layout
Directivity-control Horn Structure
Output power: Front speaker (L/R): 20 W + 20 W (1 kHz, T.H.D. 1.0 %, 8 ?, 20 kHz LPF)
Front speaker (Centre): 20 W (1 kHz, T.H.D. 1.0 %, 8 ?, 20 kHz LPF)
Subwoofer : 40 W (100 Hz, T.H.D. 1.0 %, 4 ?, 20 kHz LPF)
Speaker unit: Woofer : 6.5 cm Cone Type x 3
Tweeter: 1.6 cm Dome Type x 3
Subwoofer: 12 cm Cone Type
Analogue input terminal: AUX IN x 1 (? 3.5 mm)
USB-A / Network Playback Support Codec: iPod/iPhone/iPad: No
WAV / AIFF: Yes (32, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192, 352.8, 384 kHz / 16, 24, 32 bit)
FLAC / ALAC: Yes (32, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192, 352.8, 384 kHz / 16, 24 bit)
DSD: Yes (2.8 MHz, 5.6 MHz, 11.2MHz)
AAC: Yes (32, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96 kHz / 16-320 kbps)
MP3: Yes (32, 44.1, 48 kHz / 16-320 kbps)
Ethernet interface: LAN (100 Base-TX / 10 Base-T)
Wi-Fi: IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, 2.4 GHz / 5 GHz Band
Power consumption: 42 W
Dimensions: 375 x 220 x 197 mm
Weight: Approx. 5.9 kg
Works with Google Assistant