Technics Ottava review: This all-in-one home audio system is a great entertainer

Compact in dimensions but not in features and performance, the Technics Ottava f SC-C70MK2 is a next-generation all-in-one sound system infused with a most congenial and accommodating spirit. A personality kid with lots of pizazz, almost juke-boxish in its bubbly effervescence, the Ottava f is tuned to bring out the entertaining best in almost anything you throw at it via hard goods (CDs), streaming services, broadcast radio, and outboard devices, too.

A musical term, the Italian “ottava” means “at an octave higher or lower than written,” and the f is for “forté,” fitting descriptions for this overachieving music system that likewise scribbles outside the lines, confounding expectations for what an all-in-one music box can deliver.

technics ottava top with disc 2 Jonathan Takiff / IDG

The top-mounted CD player has an interesting roll-away cover that requires a tad of rear clearance. It closes with the assistance of a magnet, and the player won’t spin until it’s secured.

Even before you turn it on, the stylish looks and solid build make a strong first and lasting impression in this thousand-dollar bundle of goodness. There’s so much to like here: the premium-grade brushed-aluminum top and gray-finned front; the tactile hands-on operation, with top-mounted physical buttons for power and volume; and the flush, touch-sensitive transport and mode buttons. Adjacent is an innovative swing-around cover exposing the CD player. Made of thick, smokey plexiglass, the lid looks durable, but keep it out of tykes’ reach.

Operation also is possible from a generously sized IR remote control (with nine dedicated programmable Favorites buttons) and—best of all—from the easily mastered, mostly cooperative Technics Audio Center (TAC) app for your smartphone or tablet. TAC communicates to the music box via the same dual-band Wi-Fi 5 connection the Ottava uses to play music from streaming services.

technics ottava remote Jonathan Takiff / IDG

The full sized remote control is a helpful show starter, although the reception range of the Ottava’s infrared receiver’s is narrow.

If your home suffers wireless signal congestion, there’s a 10/100 ethernet port for hardwired network connectivity in back, along with inputs for optical digital audio (Toslink), 3.5mm analog audio, and a USB-A port for hosting stored media. A 3.5mm headphone jack is hiding in the front display zone, but this system sounds so pleasing on its own that I felt compelled to plug in my Andover PM-50 planar headphones only to prove the circuitry was satisfactory. And it is.

To a degree, the Ottava’s relatively small footprint and integrated nature trades on the ultra-compact “executive stereos” that first came on strong in the 1980s. Those mini and micro kits were likewise fitted with an integrated amp, speakers, CD player and FM/AM tuner section, and were often found humming in private offices.

technics ottava back 2 Jonathan Takiff / IDG

The rear jack pack covers the bases, with analog and optical digital (Toslink) inputs, a USB-A port, and 10/100 ethernet.

But with its additional streaming aspects and one-piece nature, Ottava’s most obvious rivals today are the very compact Bose Wave Soundtouch Music System IV  and the mid-sized, wood-encased Como Audio Musica I reviewed a couple years back. Both are priced around the $600 mark—40-percent less pricey than Ottava—and both are appealing in their chosen domain. But neither has quite the sonic sizzle or versatility of this larger-footprint show-off.

If you’re willing to pay the extra freight and have the larger tabletop space demanded, you will be rewarded with a more aggressive, dynamic Hi-Fi experience here. Technics literature calls Ottava a system for “casual enjoyment of high-quality music;” meaning, I suppose, that content is easy to access on it. But that phrase “casual enjoyment” also sounds a bit defensive and dismissive, which isn’t necessary. An Ottava could more than suffice as a pinched-for-space music lover’s one-and-only rig. It could also upgrade said user’s TV sound given adequate space beneath a wall-mounted TV or one installed in an entertainment center (provided they’re willing to get by without an HDMI connection).