Replacing a 1980s rack stereo with modern components or a single-piece system (Week 37, 2021)

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich

Week 37, 2021

Q. I want to buy myself a retirement gift. In my youth I had a wonderful Technics system with loud volume, deep lows, clear highs and great sound throughout. Back then you could go to the store and buy a complete, perfectly matched system like that. Today I have no idea where to even start.

My LP collection is gone so I will listen to CDs and streaming from Spotify. My budget is $3,000, but $2,000 would be better!

-J.C., Pittsburgh, PA

A. Your Technics system was most likely a rack system, comprised of matched components in a stand or rack and a pair of speakers. These systems varied greatly in quality, with the weak link typically being the speakers. Back in the day some enthusiasts on a budget (like college students) would buy a rack system and connect it to upgraded speakers to get a complete, decent-sounding system at an affordable price. Rack systems fell out of favor quite some time ago and while you can still build a complete system using components from a single manufacturer, it is not usually the best solution because few manufacturers excel at every component category. Somewhat ironically given your old system, Technics is one of the few brands that can still sell you a complete, no-compromise system using solely Technics components. Doing this with high-end Technics components would drive your price tag way over $3000, though there is a Technics option you may not have considered that I will recommend along with two component systems. Any of them will dramatically outperform the rack system of your youth.

For $3,000 I would start with Polk Legend L200 stand-mount speakers, now on sale for $1,199. The $999 Cambridge Audio CXA61 amplifier and $350 AXC35 CD player will match perfectly and the $549 Blusound Node will serve your streaming needs. Plan on another $100 for speaker stands as well. This comes to $3,197, but the extra $197 is very well spent. If you have to stay under $3,000 change the speakers to the Polk Legend L100, now on sale for an impossibly low $799.

For $2,000 we will keep the Bluesound Node and AXC35 CD player ($899 total) and change the speakers to the $699 Emotiva Airmotiv T1+ towers. A $400 Cambridge Audio AXR85 receiver will provide good, clean power for this outstanding $1,998. system.

You said $2,000 would be better than $3,000. Would $1,000 be better than $2,000? If so, I suggest you take a hard look at the Technics OTTAVA f SC-C70 MKII. This compact, single-piece system was one of my most popular recommendations of the past few years. The SC-C70 MKII resembles a Bose radio but incorporates a CD player, full streaming capabilities and cutting-edge, state-of-the-art technology throughout. Though compact, it sounds like a full-sized component system using tower speakers of the highest quality and at $999, it is a steal. When I first heard the original SC-C70 I was shocked by the sound and immediately guessed the price tag to be $3,500, given the technology, sound quality, Technics name, and materials and construction befitting a luxury product. When I was told that it was only $999 I about fell over and was anxious to get back to my computer to tell readers about it. Happy purchasers wrote to me expressing their enthusiasm, which matched my own.

The $2,000 system combined with a $999 Technics SC-C70MKII for a different room would be a great use of your $3,000!