I’ve encountered some great amplifiers over the years, but few have left the enduring impression that the Rotel RB-1090 did back in 2000. A looming and intimidating object, it weighed in at a spine-fracturing 100 pounds and stood an imposing 10 inches tall. Armored in a battle-ready black enclosure it was a powerhouse rated at 380Wpc of Class AB power and capable of 1kW peaks at 2 ohms. Its transformer was the size of a spaghetti pot, allowing it to laugh off difficult loads. It pursued deep bass like a high-voltage posse from hell, leaving even the lowest sensitivity speakers trembling in its wake. Yet it wasn’t all brute force. It could also tap dance around delicate transients and low-level musical cues with ease. Why the trip down memory lane? Well, the legacy of that big amp was never far from my mind as I delved into listening sessions with Rotel’s latest high-power integrated amp, the RA-1592. Would it summon favorable comparisons?
The $2499 RA-1592 is actually based on two current Rotel separates, the RC-1590 preamp and RB-1582 mk2 amplifier. It operates in Class AB mode and outputs a hefty 200Wpc into 8 ohms. Although it bears some physical resemblance to the smaller RA-1570 integrated, the RA-1592’s output capability is much greater and it has a much higher damping factor. Per Rotel tradition, the heart of the amp section sports a rugged power supply with an oversized toroidal transformer, coupled to select T-network, slit-foil capacitors.
The preamp section is a thoroughly modern rewrite of source connectivity. Analog and digital stalwarts should be equally satisfied. The RA-1592 is respectful of classic analog with three RCA inputs including moving-magnet phono (5.2mV, 47k ohms), plus a single pair of balanced XLRs. There are also preamp outputs for connection to an additional amplifier, and twin mono subwoofer outputs. Its digital section is driven by an AKM 32-bit 768kHz DAC, while its asynchronous USB input supports PCM files up to 24/192, DSD64/128, and DoP. For digital sources, a threesome of coaxial (RCA) and optical (TosLink) inputs are available for resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz—plus there’s a convenient front-panel USB input for smart Apple devices, iPads, and the like. Finally, Rotel has included Bluetooth aptX, an enhanced version of stand-ard BT that delivers higher resolution, “CD-like” quality.
The brushed-aluminum front panel is bedecked with a quartet of navigation buttons stationed at the lower-right front panel: Menu, -/+, and Enter. There you can individually adjust for variable or fixed volume to all inputs, bypass or adjust tone and balance, and dim the display. (A software update allows you to dim the piercingly bright blue power/standby light.) There’s also a timeout function for power and a startup volume preference setting. Nestled below the fluorescent display are two rows, seven buttons per row, for input selection. However, I challenge you to read the teeny-font labeling beneath the pushbuttons in low light—even with your 2x cheaters, you can’t. The better plan is to keep the remote control handy. It’s not backlit but it’s a legible RC, nicely laid out. Custom integration has also been addressed. The RA-1592 includes 12-volt triggers, RS-232, and a network connection for software updates and IP control through automation systems. As for its looks, the RA-1592 is unshowy—just a plain-Jane, stamped, folded, and vented case to contain its neatly arrayed circuitry and heavy heatsinking. Sure, we all covet the swanky CNC-milled aluminum cabinets, the marquee-name parts, and the Area 51 mystique of some fancy brands, but overall I don’t know another company that brings to the table this much sheer “go” for $2500.
In terms of setup, I nailed the Bluetooth connection swiftly and smoothly. I only needed to look for “Rotel Bluetooth” in my iPad Air BT set-up menu, give it a tap, and the music began to flow. Sonic quality is dependent on the file compression scheme, but for casual listening or background music at a party there’s no beating the convenience of streaming. Its performance was better than expected, and it operated without annoying hiccups or drop-outs.
Turning to critical listening—and isn’t that really why we’re all here?—the RA-1592 was everything and more than I’ve come to expect from Rotel. It was obvious from the outset that Rotel has taken much of the muscular magic and dexterity of the RB-1090 and channeled it into its flagship integrated. The rich, balanced Rotel midrange was proudly on display from the opening bars of Marc Cohn’s “Silver Thunderbird”; Cohn’s heavy piano punctuations and his throaty vocals seemed filled to the brim with rich harmonics and dynamic energy and attack. Significantly, the Rotel’s top-end was fluid; the dark cast of treble shading that I encountered years ago has been largely ameliorated. Here the top end was more immediate, and lent the presentation liveliness, along with transient sparkle and speed.
The RA-1592’s sense of reserve power and dynamic headroom was suggestive of the hulking RB-1090 in its bass extension, slam, and pitch definition. During Jen Chapin’s cover of “Master Blaster,” the acoustic bass reproduction attached itself to the acoustics of my listening room and delivered the resonance, snapping string attack, and bloom that I’ve come to expect from this superb Chesky SACD track. Compared with the relentless power and control of the 1090, the RA-1592 comes up a little short in extreme grip and backbone at high outputs (flagging a bit with low-sensitivity loudspeakers such as my 83dB ATC SCM20SL) but, taken from another angle, the amplifier section was more lithe, and a little quicker off the mark. Orchestral layering during Vaughan Williams’ The Wasps Overture was realistic with a clear illusion of rows of players extending to the back of the stage. More to the Rotel’s liking was the new, spirited Aerial 5T, a two-way compact of 87dB sensitivity ($4350/pr., review forthcoming). The Rotel elicited luscious bass response and excellent overall balance and dynamic impact from these stout little monitors. Low-level symphonic passages—a tender harp melody, or the slow sustain of a triangle, or the rattle of a tambourine, for examples—impressed me as well-defined in space and intimately expressive.
In comparison with a reference integrated amp such as the Pass Labs INT-250, I noted a slight loss in mid/upper treble eloquence and air, a subtraction of bloom and saturation that lightly impacted the resolution of string sections and winds. The Aerials grew slightly shaded on top, and a little darker character prevailed overall. The Pass threw just a little additional light onto these upper octaves that lifted inner detail and harmonics. It was classic Rotel core values at play: Rather than over-reaching and upsetting the whole sonic applecart, a little conservatism is often the better path when so much performance has already been attained.
Turning to computer audio (via iTunes/PureMusic3, Audience Au24 SE USB cable), the Rotel was as smooth, consistent, and musical with digital files sourced from my hard drive as it was with discs through the superb T+A MP 2000 R media player (review forthcoming). Imaging remained precise, as did midrange tonal character. The differences were modest but during symphonic music, the Rotel conveyed a modestly shallower orchestral soundstage and during Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” a heavier, darker bass character overtook the timpani and bass drum cues—colorations that seemed to cloud timbral detail somewhat.
In the past I probably wouldn’t have mentioned the RA-1592 headphone jack but today that would amount to reviewer malpractice given the segment’s current popularity. Alternating between two top headphones, the Audeze LCD-X and the HiFiMan Edition X, the Rotel’s headphone input performed quietly and accurately. The efficient and flexible HiFiMan was very well suited to the Rotel; its warm, approachable tonal character emerged true to form. The more difficult to drive Audeze experienced a slight sag in dynamic energy and bass extension, a thin cloud settling over its vaunted transparency. If you’re pining for a fancy outboard headphone amp, be my guest, but all things considered, Rotel’s built-in headphone out is up to the challenge for most midrange ’phones.
There’s a lot of capability and complexity in today’s high-end electronics and with that comes high expectations and little to no room for excuses. To that end, Rotel connects with a one-two punch of glitch-free performance paired with a level of connectivity that will appeal to listeners across the generational spectrum. The RA-1592 delivers on the promise that Rotel made years ago—rock ’em, sock ’em performance at a stingy, blue-collar price. Well played Rotel, well played.
Specs & Pricing
Power output: 200Wpc into 8 ohms
Analog inputs: Four RCA, one XLR
Digital inputs: Three coax, three optical, USB, iPod USB
Outputs: One pre, two subwoofer
Dimensions: 17″ x 5 7/8″ x 16″
Weight: 37.04 lbs.
ROTEL OF AMERICA
54 Concord Street
North Reading, MA 01864
By Neil Gader
My love of music largely predates my enthusiasm for audio. I grew up Los Angeles in a house where music was constantly playing on the stereo (Altecs, if you’re interested). It ranged from my mom listening to hit Broadway musicals to my sister’s early Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Beatles, and Stones LPs, and dad’s constant companions, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. With the British Invasion, I immediately picked up a guitar and took piano lessons and have been playing ever since. Following graduation from UCLA I became a writing member of the Lehman Engel’s BMI Musical Theater Workshops in New York–working in advertising to pay the bills. I’ve co-written bunches of songs, some published, some recorded. In 1995 I co-produced an award-winning short fiction movie that did well on the international film-festival circuit. I was introduced to Harry Pearson in the early 70s by a mutual friend. At that time Harry was still working full-time for Long Island’s Newsday even as he was writing Issue 1 of TAS during his off hours. We struck up a decades-long friendship that ultimately turned into a writing gig that has proved both stimulating and rewarding. In terms of music reproduction, I find myself listening more than ever for the “little” things. Low-level resolving power, dynamic gradients, shadings, timbral color and contrasts. Listening to a lot of vocals and solo piano has always helped me recalibrate and nail down what I’m hearing. Tonal neutrality and presence are important to me but small deviations are not disqualifying. But I am quite sensitive to treble over-reach, and find dry, hyper-detailed systems intriguing but inauthentic compared with the concert-going experience. For me, true musicality conveys the cozy warmth of a room with a fireplace not the icy cold of an igloo. Currently I split my time between Santa Fe, New Mexico and Studio City, California with my wife Judi Dickerson, an acting, voice, and dialect coach, along with border collies Ivy and Alfie.More articles from this editor
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