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Christmas Gift Guide
Audio

Rotel's sweet little amp delivers high-end sound at a modest price

Sleek and jam-packed with features, the Rotel A12 is an outstanding design.

I reviewed the new Rotel CD14 CD player a few weeks ago, and now it's time to cover its partner in crime, the matching A12 integrated stereo amplifier ($899, £799, AU$1,299). They were a nice pair, but I'm not too sure how many folks still care as much about CDs as I do.

That's why I decided to cover the Rotel A12 integrated amp separately. This sleek machine measures 17 by 3.6 by 13.5 inches (430 by 93 by 345mm), and weighs a substantial 17.6 pounds (8kg). Power is rated at 60 watts per channel, and I was happy to see that Rotel engineers designed a Class AB, not a more common Class D amplifier for the A12. Granted, I've heard very decent Class D amps, but never great ones, which are all Class AB or Class A designs. Rotel engineers exerted maximum control over the finer details of the design, including manufacturing the A12's hefty toroidal transformers in-house. There are bass, treble and tone control bypasses on the remote control. The A12 is offered in black or silver finishes.

Rotel A12 integrated amplifier

Rotel

Connectivity choices are plentiful; there's a moving-magnet phono input for turntables, a 3.5mm headphone jack, four line inputs, two coaxial, and two optical digital inputs, aptX Bluetooth and a front-panel USB input for Apple iOS devices. Another USB input resides on the A12's back for use with computers. The A12's digital converter handles up to 192 kHz/24-bit audio. The A12 also has stereo preamp output jacks, and two (A & B) stereo sets of speaker output connectors. Fans of home automation and multiroom audio can take advantage of the A12's Rotel Link, an external remote port, two 12-volt trigger outputs, and a RS232 port. Like I said, the A12 is ready to take on whatever installation or feature requirements you throw at it.

I mostly listened to the A12 with my Magnepan .7 flat-panel speakers ($1,400, £1,690, AU$2,999/pair). These speakers are rather inefficient, so I wasn't so sure the A12's 60 watts per channel would cut it, but the amp easily made the panels sing. The speakers stand nearly 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall, and the sound is a lot bigger than what you get from comparably priced tower speakers. The A12/.7 combination offers a lot for the money. Granted, the ELAC Uni-Fi UF5 towers ($1,000/pair) can rock out with greater authority and sound clear as can be, but the .7 speakers are no slouches in the clarity department, and produce closer to life-size sound.

The Peachtree Nova150 integrated amp ($1,599, £1,449, AU$2,599) is very decent, but the A12 filled out the sound a bit, vocals had more body, the bass had more oomph with the .7 speakers. Wilco's "Schmilco" album was more transparent on the A12. The Nova150 is a lot more powerful -- 150 watts per channel vs. the A12's 60 watts -- and if you need that much juice, the Nova150 is a viable option.

To finish up I partnered the A12 with the little KEF LS50 speakers, which can sound a little soft with some amps, but here with the A12 the LS50s delineated every iota of detail on Andrew Bird's spritely chamber pop album, "I Want to See Pulaski at Night."

The A12 is the sort of amp you can build a first-rate audiophile system around, and not break the bank. I used the .7 and LS50 speakers, but a Bowers & Wilkins, Dynaudio, ELAC Uni-Fi, Harbeth, Klipsch or Totem speaker would also be worth considering.

If you crave a little more power than what the A12 offers, consider stepping up to Rotel's A14 integrated amp ($1,299, £999, AU$1,699).