Rotel RCX-1500 CD Receiver (TAS 218)

Equipment report
Categories:
Multi-format disc players,
Digital-to-analog converters
|
Products:
Rotel RCX-1500
Rotel RCX-1500 CD Receiver (TAS 218)

Rotel calls the RCX-1500 CD receiver the “most versatile component we’ve ever offered,” and I don’t doubt the claim. The RCX-1500 is a veritable multi-tasking, digital Grand Central Station. All comers welcome. Whether you want to play back a USB thumb drive or tap the RCX-1500’s high-performance Wolfson 24-bit/192kHz DAC via digital inputs, you’re covered. Want to wirelessly stream music from your laptop or just peruse the gazillion offerings on Internet radio? No problem-o. CD more your thing? The smooth, slot-load-drive adapted from Rotel’s excellent RCD-1520 player has got your back. The RCX-1500 is like a digital audio concierge—the consummate greeter who never gets ruffled and always has the answer.

The RCX-1500 may be a technological pack mule, but its brushed-aluminum looks are both handsome and unassuming. On the power side the amplifier boasts 100Wpc via Rotel’s Class D design, which when paired with Rotel’s legendarily beefy transformers will easily handle lower-impedance speakers down to 4 ohms. I can imagine users feeling a little intimidated by the mission-control-like front panel. The array of aluminized buttons is a bit overwhelming, but there is logic to the layout—inputs to the left, playback functions to the right next to the slot drive, and additional menu functions at the upper right. However, the remote control needs modernizing—calling it adequate is being generous.

Where the RCX-1500 departs from the traditional textbook CD-receiver is in its range of digital-audio connectivity. The Rotel’s tuner section expands beyond terrestrial FM/AM to include Internet radio, plus access to premium music services like Pandora, AUPEO, and SiriusXM. Thankfully, the RCX-1500 includes thirty user-selectable presets to recall preferred stations. The front panel houses a USB input for media storage devices ranging from thumb drives to iPod and iPhones, plus a mini-jack for headphones. On the back panel is a pair of digital inputs, coax and optical, as well as a USB Ethernet port for streaming Internet radio.

Streaming capability is supported by UPnP (Universal Plug ’n’ Play) technology that has been optimized for PC use via Windows Media Player 11-12. Both wireless and wired LAN dongles are supplied with the unit. Once the RCX-1500 is connected, music begins streaming wirelessly and music playlists from your PC appear on the unit’s front panel. Although Macs are not compatible with the latest Windows Media players, Apple users needn’t despair. There’s a good work-around using EyeConnect for Mac 1.6.7—a piece of third-party UPnP software that bridges the Apple/Windows gap. It was an easy download, its icon appearing in the bottom row of System Preferences. It identified the Rotel as part of my network, and I was off and streaming from my Airport Express. Supported codecs vary depending on setup, but include RealAudio, WMA, MP3, AAC and AAC+ (non-DRM), AU, WAV, and AIFF. However, 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV files were the preferred currency aboard my MacBook. If I created a playlist that had both AIFF and WAV files, my EyeConnected RCX-1500 skipped over the former and went straight to the WAV. Truth be told, not every electronic- or software-driven function on the RCX­ has the silky elegance of a Mac or a Meridian, but in this price segment no cheap shots are deserved.

The bonanza of Internet radio (15,000+ stations) and streaming services is both a blessing and a curse. Navigating the terrain a single alphanumeric button at a time is like trying to find a file in Dickens’ Office of Circumlocution. However, Rotel offers a nifty Web site at rotelradio.com that allows personalization of favored digital audio sites. Just log in initially by entering the unit’s registration key code, create a user name and password, and you’re good to go. The site is highly searchable and selections will be saved to My Stations and My Streams within the My Stuff top-level menu.

Sonically, the RCX-1500 is comfortable with smaller floorstanders of moderately high sensitivity, but my sense is that the ever-popular stand-mount monitor will be its most common stablemate. And this was proven by the field day it had with a smartly designed Fritz Speakers Carbon 7, a robust two-way with musically warmish overtones, lush bass response, and smooth controlled highs. When putting on the Fritz, the Rotel had a neutral, inviting sound. The Rotel amp section provided a springboard for the Carbon 7 to launch low frequencies even at smack-down levels; it also offered good articulation and nimble responsiveness with jazz quartets or smaller orchestral ensembles. Images and staging were stable. The RCX-1500 handled virtually every audiophile criterion in a balanced, workmanlike way, which is essentially what I’ve come to expect from team Rotel. Tonally the unit was at its most richly expressive in the midrange. Winds and strings were smooth, brass lively. Transient response was quick though not hair-trigger. Dynamic energy from the upper bass onward was very good.

Mildly subtractive at the tonal extremes­, the Rotel didn’t open up fully in the top octaves. (There was a sense of image constriction, less air, and a lower ambient ceiling.) Though its midbass was rich and lively, the bottom octave was also dynamically dampened a bit, and big rolling orchestral percussion tympani, bass drums, and the like tend to slightly thicken, although this is a characteristic that will depend on loudspeaker resolution.

As luck would have it, I had on hand for review the Wilson Audio Sophia 3. In the real world, this would be an unlikely pairing with the RCX-1500 (no letters of outrage, please), but at 87dB sensitivity this iconic full-range, high-transparency loudspeaker is a relatively easy load for most amps, as many Wilson speakers are today. Was the Rotel up to the challenge? It was. Actually these observations convinced me yet again that modern amplification, even at budget levels, is more than capable of eliciting very good performance from the most exotic speakers. Bass response was quite good­ with a warm combination of pitch, timbre, and impact. On an all-acoustic recording like Appalachian Journey [Sony] with its dovetailing violin, cello, and bass viol, some traces of image vagueness crept in, the soundstage narrowed, and the space and air between players was a bit compressed. The Rotel’s greatest sonic vulnerability when driving the Sophias was a reduction in dynamic nuance (a primary Wilson Audio strength) and a general contraction of soundstage dimension, which, together, reduced ambient information. As with the Carbon 7 there was a hint of opacity on top, a lowered acoustic ceiling. Similarly, during Nils Lofgren’s “Wonderland” on Acoustic Live I noted softened transient attack off his lively acoustic guitar.
In sum, while the RCX-1500 is not the final word in resolution, what shouldn’t be overlooked is the consistency of its overall sonic performance across so many digital audio formats—quite an accomplishment in this price segment.

On another sonic front I took advantage of the opportunity to compare the Rotel’s CD performance with the same tracks ripped to my MacBook’s hard drive, first outputted via USB into a Musical Fidelity V-link convertor and then into the Rotel’s S/PDIF connectors. The sonic results were close, but I gave a slight edge to the hard drive/Rotel S/PDIF combo vis-à-vis the Rotel CD player. On a track like Norah Jones’ “My Dear Country” [Blue Note], for example, there was more ambience, cleaner transients and backgrounds, and essentially a stronger breath of life to the performance. This result should come as particularly good news for hobbyists leaning towards the server for source material.

Today it’s not enough to market a receiver bundled with a CD player. Digital media and the Internet have seen to that. For a company to remain competitive, it needs to continually take the pulse of the market­, as Rotel has. By adding cross-platform connectivity Rotel restores the venerable receiver to relevance. The RCX-1500 is nothing less than what I’ve come to expect from Rotel. I’d call it an old friend with benefits.

SPECS & PRICING

Power output: 100Wpc
Inputs: Analog, digital, USB, coax, and optical
Outputs: USB, Ethernet
Dimensions: 17” x 5.6” x 12.25”
Weight: 18 lbs.
Price: $1500

ROTEL OF AMERICA
54 Concord Street
North Reading, MA 01864
(978) 664-3820
www.rotel.com/UK