Technics Ottava SC500: the mini system updated for the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth age…

…And considerably more expensive. So, can a CD player, wireless receiver/amp and pair of tiny speakers really be worth £1700?

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For

  • Grade A sound for its size
  • Cute looks
  • Mainly good network streaming

Against

  • Seems crazily expensive
  • AirPlay is kind of broken
  • Less ideal for heavier music

Technics is a high-end brand with a retro air to it. Its latest project is reviving the SL-1200 turntable, but for the past few months it's been selling the Ottava, chiefly through John Lewis, for the never-knowingly-undersold sum of 1,699 quid.

This is essentially a good, ol' fashioned mini system (for our younger readers, that's a small and sexy combo of CD player, amp and separate, proper stereo speakers) but with Bluetooth, Airplay and DLNA wireless support.

Alarmingly, the Ottava SC500 is the most expensive such product John Lewis has ever sold. Well, unless you count Ruark's R7, but that's more like a walnut-veneered writing desk that happens to have a nice hi-fi in it. So… worth it?

• The best wireless speakers for every budget

• The best connected home and home audio streaming kit…

The retro approach and high price mean it's hard to compare the Technics Ottava SC500 to anything we've reviewed before. Its rivals would include the much cheaper but still premium (and very high quality) B&W Zeppelin Wireless and Naim Mu-So Qb. And I'd say the nearest rival in terms of potential buyers would be the full-sized, £895 Mu-so from Naim, or maybe something like Raumfeld's Stereo M system, though that's a lot bigger and a hell of a lot more rockin'.

The full system looks like this. The amplifier in the SC1500 is specfically optimised for the speakers, with a lot of vaguely baffling terms such as 'JENO Engine' (that's Jitter Elimination and Noise-shaping Optimization) and 'Load Adaptive Phase Calibration' thrown about.

Does it sound any good?

The result, it must be said, is fantastic audio. It has a clarity and sweetness that's well over and above the Naim Mu-so. However, as the first all-in-one to make the Mu-so look cheap (it's nearly double the cost), you'd be mightily disappointed if it didn't.

What it lacks is the oomph of the Mu-so. Yes, the speakers put out a lot of volume and depth, given their very compact and sexually attractive forms, but they can't defy the laws of physics. As you can see, they're little taller than the Ottava's remote. (Note to self: you have too many wireless speakers).

That's not to say this thing is incapable of handling dance music or heavier rock, but if you want to feel your chest and walls vibrating, buddy this ain't for you. It's much more at home with less bass-heavy music. I think you can tell that just by looking at it, really

That aside, audio is exemplary.

What does it do?

It might seem hopelessly retro to younger readers but I reckon a lot of customers will buy this for the CD player, with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi as added extras they may or may not use.

There's a lot about this system that feels old-fashioned, from its overall look, to the big infra-red remote, to the rather primitive iOS and Android app that handles the network functions.

Connectivity is limited to lone optical and USB inputs plus ethernet and N Wi-Fi. Yes, there's no analogue input at all.

The speaker cabling, as you can see, is non standard, with the amp firing the bass and treble drivers seperately - part of the reason the speakers sound so good, I presume.

Wireless connectivity is via Bluetooth, DLNA, and AirPlay. As such, you can beam music from a server, your computer or mobile device. For whatever reason, there's no Spotify Connect or web radio functionality built into the app, although obviously there are numerous ways you can send Spotify and web radio to the device.

Another reason I think a lot of users will make use of the CD (and the optical input) is that wireless connectivity is variable. Bluetooth is fine within its usual range limitations and sending music from iPhone via the Technics app was generally reliable, but not totally.

Over Apple AirPlay, matters were considerably worse. I'd never claim AirPlay is the last word in robustness, but the Ottava SC500 not only loses connection more frequently than any other compatible system I've tried - certainly in the higher price categories - but also buffers the sound long enough to put the music out of sync with any other AirPlay speaker on the same network.

So if you're thinking of buying this to add to an AirPlay multi-room system, think again. To be fair, I don't imagine that's an issue for a lot of you.

Should you buy one?

The Ottava SC500 is a pure lifestyle system. So the question is whether it fits your lifestyle.

Anyone who fancies themselves as an audio buff could no doubt wonder into Richer Sounds or wherever with 1500 quid and come out with a CD player, amp and speakers that sound better, adding a Bluetooth receiver and Apple TV or Google Chromecast for another couple of hundred, tops.

However, with or without a disk player, that would take up much more room, and be far less easy on the eye. Although seriously, does anyone reading this here, as opposed to on a hi-fi website, really need a CD player these days?

If, as mentioned, you like a really powerful, banging, oomph-y kind of sound, then the Ottava isn't for you either.

However, if you prefer listening at lower volume, and want a very rich, clear sweet sound, it delivers. I also wouldn't say it's puny by any means.

Personally, given that you could buy two pairs of Raumfeld's crushingly powerful Stereo M speakers or (almost) two Naim Mu-sos for this price, or a very extensive Sonos setup, I feel like the price is excessive.

While setup is simple and it looks neat, it's not as easy as the one-box solutions that are now the norm, and the audio doesn't have the kind of bass-heavy kick that a lot of listeners now prefer, myself included.

Even so, if you happen to be looking for something with a CD player and wireless connectivity and proper stereo separation, and you're relatively cash rich and time poor, I could easily understand why you'd be into the Ottava.

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