Show of hands: Who hasn’t owned or come across someone who currently owns a Rotel component? Thought so. Celebrated by audiophiles as a maker of reliable, no-nonsense electronics, Rotel has long been the blue-collar default in audio circles for its combination of sure-fire performance, quality, and affordability. The RA-1592MKII is Rotel’s latest integrated amplifier and is priced at a sensible $3199.
With its handsome, brushed-aluminum faceplate and engraved logo, the RA-1592MKII represents Rotel at its unassuming but substantive best. The tall front panel houses a central display with two rows of pushbuttons for input selection. A headphone input is located on the left, below the power button. A front-panel USB input is also provided for smart-device audio playback. Old Schoolers will appreciate the large volume knob to the far right—thank you Rotel for this classic touch.
The amplifier delivers 200Wpc of Class AB power into 8 ohms. The MKII version sports upgrades to all important circuits, including capacitors in critical signal paths. In numbers, this amounts to the replacement of over 28 key components, and that doesn’t include other tweaks to the power-supply circuits, not to mention Rotel’s famously robust power supplies themselves and its in-house-manufactured transformers. The digital section uses a DAC that is sourced from Texas Instruments. Its 32-bit/384kHz circuitry features twelve new coupling capacitors with improved frequency response and higher component tolerances.
Connectivity is very good and consistent with this price segment. The MKII supports both traditional Bluetooth streaming plus aptX and AAC high-quality audio streaming. There’s MQA and MQA Studio decoding and rendering via PC-USB, plus PCM PC-USB audio up to 32bit/384kHz. The MKII is also compatible with Roon via PC-USB. To be clear, the RA-1592MKII is not a network media player. Rather, it’s a traditional integrated amp with a DAC section, and thus the user is tethered to a PC (with installed media software). The same goes for streaming from subscription services like Tidal or Qobuz.
Fortunately, setting up a PC laptop via USB is easy and only requires downloading and installing a Microsoft driver. For my MacBook Pro, it was even easier: no download required. For this evaluation, AppleTV was connected using an optical input, and for DAC-comparison purposes I ran a SPDIF from the digital output of my dCS Puccini.
The RA-1592MKII back panel is replete with source inputs, both digital (three each for coax and optical, plus network and PC-USB) and analog, including a set of balanced XLR inputs and a moving-magnet phonostage. There is a pair of mono sub outputs, dual speaker terminals, plus RS232, Ethernet, and 12V triggers to ensure integration with control systems. A fully featured remote control is included. During playback the front-panel display indicates volume, the selected source, and tone settings. Menu settings and configuration are also accessed through the center display. Tone and balance controls are provided as is the ever-popular tone-control bypass for those preferring the purist approach. Variable gain is the default, but the user can configure fixed volume levels for all inputs. In a nod to energy conservation, there are auto-power-off settings that span from 20 minutes to 12 hours. The renaming of inputs is not offered.
However, there are a couple of areas where Rotel might up its game and offer owners a more engaging user experience. The first would be adding a larger and graphically hipper display. Currently, the tiny font size alone would make an eagle squint. Also, offering a downloadable app for smart-device control of the MKII would be a nice touch and a necessary one should Rotel ever consider marketing a “MKIII” network-player version.
Parenthetically, Rotel touts the upgraded parts selection that has gone into the MKII. Some may scoff and cry marketing opportunity, but in my view, this is not idle puffery. Part-selection is a very real thing in electronics. I still recall an afternoon in Ojai, California, spent with legendary (now late) mastering engineer Doug Sax. He recollected sitting down with colleagues and swapping out capacitors in a new set of electronics to hear the qualitative sonic differences. The differences were not subtle. I have always approached such seemingly small changes with an open mind. So, while it’s not possible for me to credit any one specific modification or upgrade that went into the MKII, what is absolutely clear is that the MKII is a quieter, more transparent, and less electronic-sounding amplifier than any Rotel that I’ve previously experienced.
While it’s a bit of a split decision ergonomically, where the rubber meets the road—in sonic performance and musicality—the results are pretty much unanimous. Which is to say, the MKII evinces rock-solid musicality across all criteria. Its general signature is a bit midrange forward, darker overall, with a lush velvety character and a weighty, well-defined bottom end. Its wide dynamic range imparts physicality and impact to large-scale orchestral music. The treble octaves are clean, relatively free of clutter or grain. The Rotel manages to convey something that top-tier amps do—the ability to summon an unguarded emotional response from even the most familiar music. This, to me, has always signaled electronics of superior low-level resolution and higher-than-average transparency.
Tonally, there was a darker tint that favored the lower midrange octaves of instruments like cello, piano, double bass, trombones, and tom-toms. This lent vitality to the mids, while bass octaves brimmed with color and musicality. In dynamics, the MKII captured the broader and medium-fine musical brushstrokes with ease. Orchestral percussion like tympani and bass drums were tuneful and conveyed sustain and decay information that struck me as authentic. The MKII really was a wizard in its resolution of macro-dynamics. Further, it was equally revealing with all styles of vocalists, capturing the aching longing that Alannah Myles expresses on “Black Velvet” or the gentle seductiveness of Norah Jones’ “The Nearness of You” or the gravelly, down-on-your-luck inflections of Tom Waits.
A word about Rotel and its power ratings. Experience has taught me that Rotel’s numbers have never been empty boasts. The MKII’s 200 watts plays like genuine, heavy-duty 200 watts. The amp delivers power on demand, with fast attack, excellent transients, and formidable grip. It has real seat-of-the-pants impact. No truer test of the Rotel’s lack of dynamic compression can be heard on the “Liberty Fanfare” from Winds of War and Peace [Wilson Audio]. For brass-band lovers this recording has a little something for everyone, but only if your loudspeakers are up for it, and you put on your seat belts first. Bass drum impacts are monumental—the stuff that snaps needles on VU meters and loosens bladders. Percussion effects crackle and snap, and that’s without considering the explosive output of the National Symphonic winds.
With the MKII, bass response was very good in pitch and extension. The hum of the synth-organ note that opens Dire Strait’s “Telegraph Road” can be difficult for some amps and speakers to grapple with, but the MKII made short work of this sustained cue. It did, however, miss some of the textural details of Edgar Meyer’s performance from tracks of Appalachian Journey (with Yo-Yo Ma, and Mark O’Connor) The lowest lines of his standup acoustic bass grew a little slack and lost some of the tension that helps drive these tracks forward.
To a modest degree, at the very lowest levels the MKII misses some of the subtleties that ultra-high-resolution amps tend to resolve—insider information like the articulation of background vocal harmonies or the individuation of singers within large choral groups. At the treble extremes there’s a slight reduction of air and harmonic bloom. A bit of congestion seeps into the soundstage and reduces the open spaces and air between images. Dimensionality, the ability to hear specific depth cues and note ambient information in the deepest recesses of a venue, is only about average.
Most of this evaluation was made using Rotel’s fine onboard DAC section, but the performance of the Rotel’s built-in moving-magnet phonostage proved to be a satisfying sonic surprise. Despite the potential for low-level noise when delicate phono circuits are in the neighborhood of amplifier power supplies, the MKII drove my Sota Cosmos Eclipse rig (outfitted with a Clearaudio Charisma moving-magnet cartridge) with assurance, exhibiting good channel separation and soundstage dimensionality. Even a sonically explosive, direct-to-disc heavyweight like For Duke was reproduced with only the most minor subtractions, somewhat cooler and leaner mids and a bit of top end dryness. But the LP’s lightening transients and demanding micro-dynamic were on vivid display—elements that even decades later keep this album spinning near the top of any state-of-the-art LP short list
In conclusion, Rotel’s MKII proved itself truthful, articulate, and musically compelling—what I’ve come to expect from a 50-year-old brand that knows the audio terrain like few competitors in this segment. The RA-1592MKII extends the already very fine performance of its predecessors to new heights of resolution and transparency. It is enthusiastically recommended.
Specs & Pricing
Power output: 200Wpc 8 ohms; 350Wpc 4 ohms
Inputs: Analog: RCA, XLR, phono mm (5.2mV, 47k ohms); digital: three Optical, three SPDIF, PC-USB
Outputs: Pre-out, RS-232
Dimensions: 17″ x 5 7/8″ x 16″
Weight: 38.87 lbs.
ROTEL USA (SUMIKO)
11763 95th Avenue North
Maple Grove, MN 55369
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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