Rotel's amazing-looking RSX-1055 A/V receiver stands out in a crowded field of me-too designs. Its satin-sliver front panel, smoothly tactile controls, and sophisticated remote bespeak upscale componentry. And yes, the sound has the refinement of high-priced separate preamp/amplifier combinations. On the downside, the $1,300 (list) 1055 costs more and offers fewer up-to-the-minute features than its more mainstream competitors. Nevertheless, this Rotel will appeal to persnickety, sound-conscious buyers. The RSX-1055's understated look stands in contrast to the glitzy, pumped-up appearance of so many mass-market brands. The extruded metal handles flanking the faceplate aren't just macho design elements, they're also practical; we put them to good use when hoisting the 37.4-pound receiver out of its shipping box. But this luxury model isn't unduly large or imposing at 17.5 by 6.25 by 15.75 inches.
The owner's manual is a bit skimpy and doesn't offer step-by-step info on various user options, but experienced home-theater buyers will have their 1055s up and running in no time.
The fully backlit, LCD remote hides lesser-used keys behind a slip-down cover. We found programming the remote for use with our DVD player and TV to be a time-consuming chore. It doesn't offer direct access to the various surround modes; instead, you have to scroll through a bunch of choices to get to the one that you want. You also have to navigate though three menu levels to access the bass and treble controls. The 1055 comes equipped with a full complement of the latest Dolby EX and DTS-ES 6.1- and 7.1-channel processing modes, but it has just five 75-watt amplifiers. Rotel's logic is that few owners will actually use the additional rear channels, so why build in the amps? In order to take advantage of the 6.1/7.1 capabilities, you'll need to add an external stereo amp. As we expected, the 1055 also offers Dolby Pro Logic II and DTS Neo:6 processing, but its High Definition Compatible Digital (HDCD) processing is a rare perk (more about that in the Performance section). Another very cool plus: You can customize subwoofer levels for each source--CDs, DVDs, and the Super Audio CD (SACD)/DVD-Audio (DVD-A) inputs.
The Rotel's connectivity complement gets everything mostly right. The 1055 offers a healthy selection of standard A/V inputs in addition to SACD/DVD-A inputs, component-video switching, five digital-audio inputs (three coaxial and two optical), and two digital outputs (one coaxial and one optical). Also in the mix: A stereo, second-room output; a 12-volt trigger to remotely turn on/off compatible components; and an RS-232 computer-control interface. Thanks to the preamp-out jacks, you can hook up a separate multichannel power amp and two subwoofers. On the other hand, this receiver lacks front-panel A/V jacks, a turntable input, and a headphone jack. The competition in the A/V-receiver market is fierce, so let's cut right to the chase: Can this 75-watt-per-channel receiver deliver the visceral mojo required for a satisfying home-theater experience? Yeah baby! The Austin Powers in Goldmember DVD's hard-hitting score and effects were impressively rendered, even when we nudged the volume to seriously loud levels. The amount of detail and dynamic punch was up there with that of the better Denon receivers that we've tested. This Rotel's performance goes to show that you can't judge the potential of a receiver by the numbers alone; we would have guessed that the 1055 had 125 to 150 watts per channel.
Unusually, the 1055 supports HDCDs, which sound slightly better than normal CDs. We checked out the HDCD version of Emmylou Harris's Wrecking Ball, and the Rotel accurately conveyed the disc's densely layered soundstage and above-average transparency through our Dynaudio Contour speakers. Best of all, the 1055's sound had the sort of intense, emotional presence that we associate with separate preamp/processors and amplifiers rather than receivers.
Regular CDs sprang to life with a warm, natural midrange and tantalizing, tactile bass--a sound that we much prefer to the brighter and more forward presence that we usually get from most lower-end receivers. And we were pleasantly surprised by the 1055's AM/FM radio; it sounded almost as good as a CD, though its ability to pull in weak signals was below par.