Timing not only gives music forward motion; its subtle variations contribute greatly to emotional expression. Proper tonality has myriad benefits. Composers carefully choose their orchestration to convey emotional content through instrumental colors. The contrast between those colors is essential to enabling listeners to follow interleaving melodic lines. And obviously the tonal inflections of, say, a singer’s voice is a primary conveyor of emotional intent. Finally, without dynamics we would lose the subtle sweep that defines a melodic line, as well as the grand sweep of an orchestral movement or entire piece.
Of course, there are many other sonic attributes that we associate with high-end sound, like resolution, speed, spatiality, imaging, and frequency extension. There is no doubt that these add to the engagement factor—but engagement can occur without them. In contrast, the troika of timing, tonality, and dynamics is essential.
I hope I do not appear to be “dumbing down” my standards for affordable gear. The essential sonic elements I have described are not easy to come by! I regularly hear products—even expensive ones—that fail in one or more of these areas. So finding affordable gear that gets them all right is a find indeed. The new Rotel stack, I am happy to report, gets them all right.
Listen, for instance, to the Praga CD of Dvorák Serenades from Bohemia. If the timing isn’t just so, these octets stall faster than a Jag XKE. If the timbres aren’t spot on, instrumental lines become blurred, and if micro-dynamics aren’t fully captured, the interplay between musicians and the lilt of the music is lost. But through the Rotel stack, all of these elements are fully present. Strings are properly rich, bass is weighty, and the piano possesses a lovely round tone. Microdynamics and tiny tempo variations come through clearly, allowing the listener to hear the give and take among the players. Strings may be a touch more strident than would be ideal, but that is a small trade-off—and small trade-offs are precisely what we hope for in affordable components.
This is all great news, but there is icing on this cake because the Rotel stack makes very few apologies even in non-essential categories. Point the laser to Mary Guathier’s “Falling Out of Love” from Mercy Now and you will be amazed at not only the grittiness of her voice, but also the broad soundstage, well-placed images, and the rock-solid bass—all of which suck you right into her slithery world. Similarly, on the terrific Analogue Productions hybrid disc of Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, the Rotels not only get the infectious timing and tonal characteristics of the instruments right; their tinkling top piano notes are also airily unrestrained. Again, this last element is not essential to fully digging the music here, but it goes a long way toward hinting at that “real” quality we high-enders seek.
The sound only gets better with high-resolution digital sources. With such material, the RC-1570 exhibits a level of purity that is a skosh higher than it attains when handling the RCD-1570’s analog output. With high-res digital sources, instruments and singers step farther forward from a quieter background, adding to the drama of the listening experience. Apparently, Rotel has not lost its touch with DACs.
Modestly priced audio products may not be able to produce the “absolute sound,” but the best of them can fully deliver the heart of the high end. Rotel’s 1570/1552 stack falls decisively into this category, forming an incredibly affordable, versatile system that conveys all the music you could want—and more—with very few trade-offs. Rotel is back, my friends. And it is good.
SPECS & PRICING
RCD-1570 CD Player
Outputs: One pair RC A; one pair XLR; one coax digital RC A
Dimensions: 17" x 4" x 12 5/8"
Weight: 14.7 lbs.
Inputs: Four RC A; one mm phono RC A; one XLR; two coax digital; two optical; two USB
S/N ratio: 110dB (line); 80dB (phono)
Frequency response: 10Hz–95kHz +/-3dB
Dimensions: 17" x 4" x 12 5/8"
Weight: 16 lbs.
RB-1552 Mk II Stereo Power Amplifier
Power output: 120Wpc into 8 ohms
S/N ratio: >120dB
Frequency response: 4Hz–100kHz
Inputs: One pair balanced (XLR); one pair single-ended (RCA)
Outputs: Two pairs per channel of binding posts
Power consumption: 400W
Dimensions: 17" x 5.25" x 13.4"
Weight: 31.6 lbs.
ROTEL OF AMERICA
54 Concord St.
North Reading, MA 01864