Technics Grand Class SB-G90M2 Floorstanding Loudspeakers REVIEW
The new Technics Grand Glass loudspeakers are innovative, refined and consumer-friendly, writes GARY STEEL.
The cliché went that Japanese hi-fi gear sounded great according to graphs but that few human hearing mechanisms were used in its evaluation. A little like the grumpy “Jap crap” reaction to Japanese cars, the criticism reeked of Western superiority complex, if not a little racism on the side. But the thing was, back in the 1970s, Japanese audio gear did have a reputation for sounding rather thin.
Fast-forward 50-odd years and everything has changed. From the most boutique manufacturer of esoteric amps to large corporates like Yamaha and Technics, the Japanese are respected practitioners of the art, craft, science and technology of hi-fidelity gear.
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Technics has not just a raft but a flotilla of gleaming new hi-fidelity products hitting the market, and Witchdoctor has cherrypicked the gear that’s recently made it to New Zealand shores. The first out of the gate were these very shiny and aesthetically pleasing loudspeakers, which I auditioned over several weeks with several different amps and source components.
The first thing I noticed while unboxing and setting up these svelte babes was the supreme care Technics had taken with every detail. The build quality – perhaps represented in their 32kg weight – is top-notch, and clearly, a lot of thought had gone into both the quality and practical placement of the binding posts, base plates and spikes. (Speaking of which, it’s very important to mount those base plates, because they provide just the right amount of stability for these thin columns.)
As usual with Japanese consumer gear, the name of the speaker is a series of impersonal letters and numbers – the SB-G90M2. It’s a pity that they don’t also have an appropriate pet name. For the purposes of this review and my instant emotional attachment to the speakers, I’ll call them ‘Shiny Beauties’.
It’s a crowded market for premium mid-size floorstanders, so what’s different about these speakers? We’ll take a look at Technics’ claims and what makes the Shiny Beauties different, and then have a good listen to a wide variety of music using several different formats, while switching around amps and music sources.
What Technics Says…
You’ll notice the rather odd-looking device sticking out of the tweeter, which in itself gives the Shiny Beauties a look all of its own. This is called a Linear Phase Plug (no butt-plug jokes please), and Technics says that it provides “a high-resolution sound reproduction capability and a wide sound stage.” Their blurb goes on to say: “The tip of the Linear Phase Plug is made from a high-modulus, high-density brass material. It prevents the plug from vibrating unnecessarily due to the effect of the vibration of the mid-range unit, thus delivering clear and low-distortion sound.”
You’ll also note that the tweeter isn’t alone at the top, but forms the middle part of a mid-range speaker, making it look slightly reminiscent of Tannoy’s famous dual concentric tweeter/driver hybrid design. Again, I defer to Technics to explain this unusual configuration: “When sound wave propagates along an irregular surface, its wavefront becomes disturbed due to the surface irregularities and results in the degradation of frequency characteristics. This affects particularly the characteristics of high frequencies with short wavelengths. The diaphragm of the mid-range unit, which is part of the coaxial speaker unit, has a shallow shape with a smooth edge to reduce sound reflections so that the disturbance to the sounds radiated from the diaphragm is minimised, resulting in excellent frequency response, phase characteristic and wide directivity. This configuration achieves a wide sound stage and smooth and rich mid-to high-frequency range.”
In addition to this, Technics claims that they’ve gone to great lengths to eliminate unwanted sound, and that the signal to noise ratio is incredibly high. They’ve achieved this, goes they claim, by improving the balanced driver mounting architecture, which was “further optimised through the extensive CAE analysis and the speaker mount baffle was newly developed for the secure mounting of the speaker units. In addition, the rigidity of the entire cabinet was strengthened to take advantage of the balanced driver mounting architecture. The strength and shape of each and every one of the parts composing the coaxial speaker was reviewed painstakingly in order to remove unwanted vibrations and noise as completely as possible. What’s more, a sound path structure is provided inside the cabinet. This new and unique structure effectively eliminate standing waves that cause a resonance peak.”
As superficial creatures looking at the outside of the loudspeaker it’s easy to forget just what a crucial role the unseen innards play, but again, it’s worth repeating Technics’ claims in this department: “Unwanted vibrations generated by the speaker mount baffle have been further reduced by improving the vent holes using CAE and by allowing the one-piece woofer amount baffle to penetrate the bottom board for achieving higher rigidity. What’s more, the optimised vent holes improve the distribution of sound radiated from the back sides of speakers for enhanced response. In addition, the coaxial speaker mount baffle is separated from the woofer mount baffle to eliminate the mutual interference. Together, they further enhance the crispness of sound and three-dimensional presentation of sound field.”
In addition to all this, Technics reckon that they’ve dealt a lethal blow to the always problematic standing waves, by installing just the right amount of a patented sound-absorbing material. While the absorption of standing waves can lead to lack of dynamism and vividness in music, Technics have employed wave-guidance counter-measures to fix that problem.
Yeah, But What Does It Actually Sound Like?
All that’s a fair bit to chew on, but no amount of purple prose or technical claims will cloud the ability of my ears to determine the truth. I lived with the Shiny Beauties (okay, the SB-G90M2 speakers) for several weeks during which they were my main sound source, first feeding them music from my trusty Bel Canto S500 D-Class power amp/Rotel RC-1550 preamp with either CDs or SACDs from my lovely Yamaha CD-S2000 or Apple Lossless streamed through my Cambridge Audio CXN; and later, switching to the brand new Technics SU-G700M2 integrated amp and Technics SL-G700 SACD/Network player.
Listening firstly through my own gear, I was immediately struck by just how “nice” the Shiny Beauties sounded. Okay, that word can be used derisively but my context for the word “nice” is complimentary. My first impression was that these would be supremely unfatiguing and easy-to-live-with, and once I’d cranked them up I just couldn’t stop listening.
Although they don’t go especially deep (frequency range is listed as 33Hz-90kHz) and I’d definitely want to employ the services of a subwoofer given my listening proclivities, I found that the desiccated electronic dub of the recent Ripatti album, Fun Is Not A Straight Line (2021), sounded delicious. Streaming on Apple Lossless, there was copious room-filling bass from the two 16cm woofers, delicious mids and transparent top-end. Overall, I got the sense that there was nothing really missing from this sonic presentation. What I find with too many loudspeakers is a bulge of bass at the bottom where they’re manfully trying but failing to mine the deepest notes. The SB-G90M2s eloquently convey the advertised frequency range and do it so well and so effortlessly that on a carefully-engineered electronic album like this they really do the business.
On Sade’s somewhat neglected 1992 album Love Deluxe the sultry diva experiments with a combination of electronic rhythms and acoustic instruments, and I quickly discovered that these two were the Shiny Beauties’ particular strengths. They conveyed all of the breathy grain of Sade’s voice while fully capturing the minimal electronic drums and bass sequencers. What I noticed over and over again with classical, acoustically oriented jazz, electronic and any music recorded in one take in a room (as opposed to overdubbed and compressed) was the sense of music all around the room. In other words, while the desired impact of stereo separation and soundstage was perfectly captured in the sweet spot, the music sounded good wherever, and there was never the feeling that the music was coming from “over there” near the speaker boxes.
The way the SB-G90M2s dealt with one of my favourite audio testing tracks, Emiliana Torrini’s bewitching ‘Birds’ (Me And Armini, 2008) was telling. On some systems this song can sound rather edgy, but the Shiny Beauties brought out its natural sweetness. It’s a very odd recording with samples of birdsong underlying the performance and on an attenuated system both the fingerpicking on steel strings and her voice can sound over-emphasised. Here, however, her voice is as sweet as honey and although the guitar fingering is audible it comes across as transparent and easy on the ear.
Salmonella Dub’s Heal Me album (2007) boasts spectacular production by UK veteran David Harrow, and the power and dynamism of the NZ group’s dub/electronic/rock fusion is captured perfectly. The SB-G90M2s convey the power of the horns without any harshness as well as the heft of the bass and drums and the sonic trippiness of the dub elements. This was the first post-Tiki Taane album, however, and the vocals suffer for his absence. The Shiny Beauties are clearly voiced to highlight voices, which is a great thing for those who love vocals, but a slight hindrance on a track like this.
Espers were an American group whose reinvention of folk-rock took the genre to interesting and somewhat sonically edgy territory. Their second album, II (2006), was kind of like if Enya had joined a band of wayward experimentalists and freaks, and the result is sheer magic in the way it combines close-miked acoustic elements with almost grungy power-rock. It’s a very unconventional yet attractive and powerful potion, and the Shiny Beauties were up to the challenge. The shrillness of several sections feels somewhat toned down, but for most this will be declared a good thing, as that “fingernails down a blackboard” feeling when listening to music isn’t recommended. Every tiny detail of the fingerpicking action on ‘Widow’s Weed’ is audible along with screeds of ambient texture, but there is a downside: when the drums finally kick in during the relatively brief “heavy” sections, the sonic picture seems to retreat and contract.
It turns out that the SB-G90M2s are exquisitely voiced for acoustic and electronic music, and while they sound perfectly okay on rock music, it’s not their strong point. This is confirmed by Nirvana’s classic ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ (Nevermind, 1991). On a grunty, near-field studio setup up or a speaker geared towards “live”-like reproduction, the song and album sounds huge, dynamic and powerful. Once again, it’s not that it sounds bad on the Shiny Beauties, just that like many sophisticated domestic audiophile loudspeakers, they’re geared more towards gorgeous reproduction of natural tones like voices and acoustic music where they really shine.
An example of this is Holly Cole’s fascinating interpretation of the Mamas & Papas classic, ‘Dedicated To The One I Love’ (Romantically Helpless, 2000). Cole’s albums are always acoustically oriented jazz and torch songs and sonically fabulous, and this is no exception. The acoustic bass sounds attractively deep and textured and her reading of the song – with her characteristically distinctive, deep vocals – utilises an aboriginal didgeridoo to achieve an emotionally unsettling droning effect. It’s all captured exquisitely by the SB-G90M2s.
For contrast, I played Auckland based guitarist/singer/songwriter Tom Rodwell’s new Wood & Waste album, which was recorded straight to analogue tape using an old Neve desk at Neil Finn’s Roundhead studio. Rodwell is very particular about the integrity of sound and it is indeed an audio delight, as well as a truly exceptional blossoming of his songwriting talent. The Shiny Beauties relayed Rodwell’s record with great fidelity and I found myself unable to stop listening to it until the end of the album.
When I hooked up the Technics SU-G700M2 integrated amp and Technics SL-G700 SACD/Network player and repeated the music sequence, there were certainly some differences, but I was amazed more at the similarities. Using this all-Technics system, the speakers had just a little more sizzle in the top-end, but not so much that they even hinted at harshness. If anything, the bass presence was a little less forward, but overall, the speakers retained the sonic characteristics discussed above.
The Grand Conclusion
I loved my time with the Technics Grand Class SB-G90M2 Floorstanding Loudspeakers. They’re clearly a product that Technics has thrown its considerable skillset and resources behind in a profoundly successful attempt at coming up with a pair of audiophile speakers that solve several of the problems commonly associated with domestic playback.
We all know that the room the stereo speaker is placed in is the single biggest factor in the sound we hear, but few casual music or hi-fi enthusiasts have the ability to “treat” a room, especially those who have to fit their system in a common lounge environment and within the dictates of “the other half”. The SB-G90M2s, because of the canny innovations detailed at the top of this review, will sound good in most rooms. Yes, the room will still influence the sound but placement isn’t anywhere near as crucial as I’ve found with most of the other speakers I’ve auditioned over the years.
The SB-G90M2s have a sonic signature that’s just gorgeous. The highs are sweet-sounding and transparent and the detail they’re capable of resolving is astounding for a pair of $10K speakers. I found them hard to fault, except to note that they’re at their magic best on acoustic or pure electronic music rather than rock. And that in itself isn’t a flaw, because loudspeakers need to be “voiced” one way or another. Dedicated rock fans might prefer a pair of large horn-loaded Klipsch, for instance, but those whose tastes are more towards “refined” music like jazz and classical will love the SB-G90M2s.
Buying a pair of loudspeakers is a very personal thing. Auditioning them is a bit like going to different open homes and trying to choose a house. Inevitably, you’ll fall in love with several, with quite different characteristics. Ultimately, it’s about choosing the speaker (or the house) that you feel like you can live with (or live in!)… choosing the speaker that’s “more you” than the other.
The consumer is spoiled for choice when it comes to potentially gratifying speaker matches in NZ. While my speakers of choice are hybrid-electrostatic Martin Logans, the latest iteration of my MLs costs more than three times the price of the SB-G90M2s. Over the past year I’ve heard several loudspeakers I could comfortably live with, including models from homegrown manufacturer Theophany and UK brand ProAc. Many of the pluses and minuses in these instances come down to personal taste. If you’re on the hunt for a new pair of audiophile loudspeakers, my recommendation would be to listen widely, but definitely to have a good, long listen to the SB-G90M2s.