A force to be reckoned with: Rotel RA-1592 stereo amplifier
The Rotel has what it takes to be the centerpiece of a first-rate audio system.
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
As I was working on the review of the new Bowers & Wilkins 805 D3 monitors it became obvious I needed an amplifier that could bring out the best in these speakers, and to make a long story short I opted for the Rotel RA-1592 stereo integrated amplifier ($2,499, £1,895, AU$3,499). It's a velvet brute with 200 watts per channel of Class AB power on tap, ultra high-resolution 768 kHz/32 bit digital converters (which also handle DSD files), all packed into a handsome chassis that's available in silver or black finishes. Build quality feels positively robust, the 37-pound (16.8kg) integrated amp's insides are dominated by a massive, custom designed power transformer and finned heat sinks for the output power transistors.
Connectivity choices run the gamut: For digital audio you get one USB, three coaxial, three optical, AptX Bluetooth and a front panel USB iPod input; analog options include a moving-magnet/moving-coil input for your turntable, one set of stereo XLR balanced inputs, and three stereo RCA inputs. There's also stereo preamplifier outputs so you can hook a separate power amplifier, dual subwoofer outputs, and a 3.5mm headphone jack, and A + B speaker output binding posts. Custom-integration features include RS232 and Ethernet IP control, two trigger outputs, remote IR input and automated digital signal sense power control for integration with control systems.
The amp's clarity and freewheeling dynamics were put to good use when I played The New Jersey Percussion Ensemble's "Percussion Music" CD. The orchestra's drums, chimes, triangles, timbales, bells, claves, gongs, wood blocks, bongos, etc. made a big sound, and few contemporary recordings in standard or high resolution can touch this CD for sound quality. The RA-1592/805 D3 combination produced jaw-dropping sound, incredibly transparent, with a truly spacious soundstage.
Listening to a demo of Janis Joplin singing and playing acoustic guitar on "Me and Bobby McGee" Joplin sounded so believably realistic her music made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It was as close to a private concert with a legend as I've ever heard.
Bassist Rob Wasserman's "Solo" album supplied the sound of a beautifully recorded acoustic bass, and again the sheer clarity was breathtaking. Frank Sinatra's vocal on his "Only the Lonely" album had much the same effect on me, the man was in the room.
At this point I switched over to a set of more affordable set of speakers, namely the Pioneer Elite SP-EFS73 towers. Granted, the sound was nowhere as clear as I was getting from the roughly four times as expensive 805 D3 speakers, but the SP-EFS73s were hardly slackers with St Germain's "Tourist" acid jazz album. The funky bass lines went deep, really deep, definition never faltered, and percussion had plenty of snap. Rocking out with Keith Richards' "Main Offender" album at a "healthy" volume was truly effortless, the RA-1592 never sounded strained when I pumped the volume way up.
For comparison's sake I hooked up our NAD C356BEE integrated amp and played the tunes again. The sound mellowed and the tonal balance was richer and I liked that, but the RA-1592's transparency and detailing easily trumped the C 356BEE's.
Maybe that's why high-resolution files benefits were more clearly revealed over the RA-1592 amp, Judy Collins and Willie Nelson's duets on her "Strangers Again" album stood in bold relief against a deeper background over the RA-1592, while the C 356BEE flattened the sound. Both amps played loud, and I liked both, but the RA-1592 had more of what audiophiles seeking maximum resolution would want.
I next watched a few movies, including the "American Sniper" Blu-ray in stereo, and never really missed not having a center or surround channel speakers. The intense battle scenes still packed a mighty wallop, and the SP-EFS73 towers' low bass was deep enough I didn't miss not having a subwoofer in the system. The film's dialogue was nicely focused between the towers, and the sound quality of the dialogue was excellent.
To finish up I plugged in a set of Oppo PM-3 headphones into the RA-1592, and its uber transparency sound came across over the 'phones.
The Rotel RA-1592 is a first-rate stereo integrated amp that will bring out the best with whatever speakers you care to pair with it. Highly recommended!
If you have a state-of-the-art high-end system, or a lovable cobbled-together hi-fi, portable music player and headphones, desktop or nifty home theater system we'd love to see it. Grab a couple of shots, and I'll pick a bunch of the best ones and run them on an Audiophiliac blog in later this month.
Send JPEGs (no larger than (900 by 1,200 pixels) to Audiophiliac at GMX dot com, and list the gear in the system. Of course, anyone submitting should be comfortable with having their photos publicly posted online "forever after." Please include your name (first name and first initial of your last name).