Product: Rotel RA-1070 Integrated Amplifier
Manufacturer: Rotel Electronics
54 Concord St
North Reading MA 01864
Approx. price: $1199
Reviewer: M.L. Gneier - TNT USA
Reviewed: April, 2003
There has always been an inherent rightness about the idea of an integrated amplifier. The efficiencies are impressive, the compromises mostly imagined. With the modern additions of display and a properly implemented remote control the integrated becomes all the more appealing. Now there are integrated and then there are integrateds: The sometimes classic (Naim) and sometimes overrated (fill in the blank) British offerings are not what I have in mind. For some reason, the Brits just don't seem to get the fact that an integrated needs real world power to be of real world use. Rotel is a company that knows how build high powered amplifiers, so when I found out that their flagship RA-1070 was said to be happy driving a tough 4 ohm load, I was quick to request a sample.
The RA-1070 is the latest in a spate of offerings wherein the product's look and performance really threaten a redefining of the high end. There was a time when such a product would have cost well over $2000. While the old guard high end companies have product lines that continually reach higher and higher, the larger mid-level companies seem willing and able to supply more music for the dollar. It may be time to ask why...
This is a very attractive piece of gear. My review sample is silver and black, but the 1070 can also be had in the more traditional all black. The faceplate of the unit is cleverly designed to suggest a more hefty look through the use of substantial black aluminum handles. In fact, the silver center section of the face is quite thin (as is the top cover) yet the unit looks and feels quite solid. A large motor-driven volume pot dominates the face. When operational, there's an illuminated section that indicates its relative rotational position. In an interesting nod to the days of tone & loudness controls, there's a four position contour control which allows for accentuation and attenuation of bass and treble. I left that control in the off position for all of the evaluation period. The rear panel is well laid out with proper 5-way binding posts situated near the center of the panel making it easy to connect even the most unwieldy cables. The usual IEC 320 connector is used, but in an odd twist, this Rotel floats the ground: This is very likely of no concern in typical use, but could be an issue in systems requiring a specific grounding scheme or extensive use of truly balanced devices.
The RA-1070 uses a relay as a turn-on/off stabilization device and also as a protection device in case of overheating or shorted cables. The relay can be clearly heard when powering the unit up and down. With the exception of the speaker and contour control switches, all of the RA-1070's functions can be controlled by the superb remote. This is truly a wonderful remote...it can readily learn the remote codes for all of your other gear and allows you to use the Rotel remote to control an entire system. It is also possible to customize the unit's display to indicate associated equipment by specific name rather than type. The only negative that I should mention is that while it is possible to turn the somewhat bright display off, the unit isn't designed to remember that setting. So, the very next time the Rotel is turned on the display again needs to be turned off. This is a real shame as the display off setting is very well implemented. With the display in the off position, the display momentarily illuminates whenever a control is changed. Once the change is complete the display goes out. On a teeny-tiny but slightly tacky note: The motorized volume pot indicates that the RA-1070 is in mute by flashing its position indicator. While effective, I find this solution better suited to products of a lesser pedigree than Rotel.
The Rotel RA-1070 is a very suave sounding piece of gear. Right out of box it has a sound that is relaxed and assured. There are absolutely no hi-fi dramatics to this amp just a competent and musical presentation. The unit looks like it sounds like it functions...sensibly, controlled and without fanfare. The essential test of tone and timber that I like to use first is the Byron Janis. The piano is clear and open with a slightly soft presentation. It is less than muted but less authoritative than it should be. Overall tonality is quite good bordering on excellent. At well over 100 watts into 8 and 4 ohm loads, it sounds even more powerful in use than the ratings would indicate.
Iris DeMent's voice is possessed of its usual plaintive clarity if again just slightly softened. There was no aspect of the voice's fundamental or attack that was lacking but rather a subtle sense of shading toward the warm and dark. Now, on the period strings of the Corelli, the sound was quite open and pure with an excellent sense of space and air. The guitars of Krushevo were also recreated with an appropriate portrayal of acoustic speed and timbre.
It is sometimes possible to go too far in one direction and I felt that the Rotel RA-1070 was less prone to this softening when used with my usual digital reference rather than the also excellent RCD1070. It may be that my system's overall resolution requires just a bit more raw musical information that the Rotel combination can create. More than anything, this is likely to be a matter of personal preference and perhaps most importantly the room/system interface. In any event, I appreciate the RA-1070 more when using my reference digital rig and analog.
I will rue the day that there are no more phono stages. One of the most appealing qualities of the Rotel RA-1070 is its lovely phono stage. It is really quite excellent. The Sonny Landreth pressing quickly reveals the essence of a phono stage. First of all, it is dead silent. A noisy phono stage will overlay a hum over the blackness of the virgin vinyl. The phono stage of the 1070 is fully capable of differentiating a good pressing from one made from old combs. The Landreth LP has some wild dynamic swings from cut to cut. The Rotel really handles the range with aplomb. In contrast to the linestage's less assertive style, the phono stage of the 1070 is incisive and full of verve.
As I got the Rotel RA-1070 ready for the return trip to Rotel, I had to make my system ready for some fairly large, typically high end separates. I was miserable. Not only was I going to miss the functional simplicity of the Rotel and its remote I was already missing the elegance of having all of the voltage gain and current swing in one box. Here I was on my hands and knees looking for interconnects and power cords while trying to fit the new separates into the swollen component rack. There, on the floor, the Rotel RA-1070 was staring at me as if to say, there is an easier way!
There's just no arguing the fact that using an integrated amplifier makes for a more simple system. What the Rotel RA-1070 proves is that such convenience does not have to come with an unbearable loss of musicality. The 1070 is comfortable with tough loads and very easy to listen to and there is just no way to complain about its design and functionality. Maybe someday I will retire from reviewing. When I do, it will hopefully be an easier and simpler time...a time, I hope, of music. When that day comes it would be a pleasure to spend my time listening to the Rotel RA-1070, the bother and hassle of separate components just a distant memory. Until then, I trust that you'll get out and try to hear the 1070. You may find that the simple life of the Rotel RA-1070 is for you. Highly recommended.
© Copyright 2003 M. L. Gneier - http://www.tnt-audio.com
HTML by: Andrea De Marco
A Note From MLG: My next review will be of another integrated amp. This product has a US Retail of just about double that of the Rotel RA-1070. Be sure to visit TNT again soon so that you can read what improvements come with a more substantial investment...