Then I switched to “Miserere.” As much as I’d like to report an equally good listening experience, I can’t. Vocals sounded very slightly rough—first the main choral group, then the solo tenor. The solo group behind the main group sounded unfocused, and the reverberant echo was a bit smeared.
Wanting to hear another vocalist, I played “Just a Little Lovin’” and again heard a bit of roughness. As before, bass reproduction was quite respectable, and the instrumentals were fairly realistic, but once again Lynne’s voice had an unfortunate edge or roughness. So I think Bluetooth has a way to go yet before it’s equal to wired connections, though I was still amazed at how far it’s come in the couple of years since I first tried it.
I also wanted to try the A14’s mm phono section, but unfortunately, a couple of the evaluation tracks had no equivalent LPs; however, Shelby Lynne’s Just a Little Lovin’ did, so, of course, I used it. It exhibited the smooth, continuous sound typical of an LP, but also had a few pops and clicks, also typical of LPs. Although the bass did not extend as deeply as with the DSD version, it somehow sounded more realistic; although it’s exciting, the digital recording probably overdoes the bass. The LP’s bass seemed better integrated into the midrange. Microdynamics seemed to pop with a bit more energy. Lynne’s vocals benefited from the analog smoothness.
Next I played a recording by the Emerson Quartet augmented by Mstislav Rostropivich of Schubert’s String Quintet in C (Deutsche Grammophon Stereo 00289 479 4384) to get a feel for how the A14 handled a small instrumental group. The string sound was very smooth and continuous, harmonics were rich and accurate, and microdynamics were just right.
I’m not so sure I really determined how the phono input sounded so much as how LPs sound compared to digital. That said, I thought the phono section sounded deliciously expressive.
I don’t have anything available remotely similar to the A14, so going on memory I tried to compare it to the Yamaha A-S801 integrated amp I reviewed in Issue 263. The Yamaha was physically larger than the A14 and generated 100Wpc. Like the A14, it had an mm phono section and an advanced DAC. I used it with Yamaha’s YBA-11 Bluetooth wireless adaptor, which gave it Bluetooth capability similar to the A14. Like the A14, the Yamaha had a built-in headphone amp, and similar features such as tone controls and a balance control; additionally, it had a loudness control, useful for maintaining frequency extension when listening at low volume levels. It also had direct connections for a CD player, bypassing all those features. But unlike the A14, which has all its features accessible through the menu, the Yamaha had separate knobs for each of those functions—which I found easier to access than a menu. And it only cost $899, $400 less than the A14—almost 30% less, for 100Wpc. I used only file-based playback to evaluate the Yamaha.
On “Folia Rodrigo Martinez” the Yamaha exhibited similar bass performance, but didn’t quite capture the very light taps on the drum as well as the A14. The percussion instruments blurred into the background more than on the A14, but the viola da gamba was clearer on the Yamaha.
On “Miserere” the Yamaha was similarly free of brittleness, but the A14 was noticeably better at depicting the soundstage of this piece. On the A14, the small solo group behind the main group was reproduced with less smear in the reverberant echo. The Rotel’s soundstaging was way above the norm.
“Just a Little Lovin’” saw the Yamaha produce an equal amount of detail and bass impact, but the A14 was a bit better at reproducing the delicate cymbal. The extra power of the Yamaha could be useful if you used it with less sensitive speakers, but both drove the KEF speakers easily. My memory of the Yamaha’s sound is that it was more matter-of-fact than the A14’s, which was delightfully tuneful.
Rotel’s CD14 CD player and A14 integrated amplifier show us that Rotel still deserves its reputation for affordable high-quality audio equipment. In these days when lots of manufacturers are talking about building their “last CD player,” the CD14 is a fine performer at a modest price. Sounding good as a stand-alone unit, it showed even more promise as a CD transport. Because many integrated amplifiers now include high-quality DAC circuitry, using the CD player as a transport is a good way to step up the player’s sound quality—just plug its digital output into the SPDIF input of the integrated. Rotel even supplies the SPDIF cable.
I was hugely pleased with the A14 integrated amplifier. One of the crop of modern integrated amplifiers with a very capable internal DAC and Bluetooth connectivity, it’s ready to support virtually any source you might choose, even an mm phono cartridge, which sounded utterly delightful. With power a-plenty to drive most of the speakers you’d likely partner to, it’s a superb choice for a modest audio system, whether for a beginner, an office, or a bedroom, or even for a main audio system. While I appreciated its long list of features, what really impressed me the first time I heard it was its sweet, musical sound which encouraged long listening sessions. Highly recommended.
Specs & Pricing
CD14 CD Player
Formats supported: CDs, MP3s
Output: Unbalanced, fixed-level on RCA jacks
Dimensions: 17" x 3.8" x 12.3"
Weight: 13 lbs.
A14 Integrated Amplifier and DAC
Power output: 80Wpc into 8 ohms
Analog inputs: Moving-magnet phono, line level (4)
Analog outputs: Preamp out, speakers out
Digital inputs: USB, SPDIF on coaxial (2) and optical (2), aptX Bluetooth, RJ45 network
Digital formats supported: PCM 384kHz/32-bit, DSD256
Headphone output power: 90mW @ 16 ohms
Dimensions: 17" x 3 5/8" x 13 1/2"
Weight: 18 lbs.
ROTEL OF AMERICA
54 Concord Street
North Reading, MA 01864-2699
Speakers: KEF LS50
Preamplifier: Rothwell Headspace MC head amp
Analog source: Linn LP-12 turntable on a custom isolation base, Graham 2.2 tonearm, Van den Hul Platinum Frog cartridge
Digital source: SOtM sMS-1000SQ network music player with sPS-1000 power supply; QNAP TS-251 network drive for music file storage
Interconnects: Crystal Cable Piccolo unbalanced interconnects, CablePro Freedom unbalanced interconnects, Crimson RM Music Link interconnect cables
Speaker cables: Wireworld Helicon OCC
Power cords: Purist Audio Design Venustas power cords, Clarity Cables Vortex power cords, Audience powerChord e, Au24 SE LP powerChord power cords
Digital cables: Wireworld Platinum Starlight 7 USB cable, Audience Au24 SE SPDIF cable
Power conditioner: Audience aR6-T