Product: Rotel RA972 Stereo Integrated Amplifier
Manufacturer: Rotel - Japan
Approximate price: 650 US $ /Euro (in Italy, your mileage may vary)
Reviewer: Giorgio Pozzoli
The RA972 is the second (from above) integrated amplifier of the Rotel, one of the Japanese Hi-Fi manufacturer which have major care for the sound of their products.The 972 should be the enhanced/improved version of the 971. The remote control is one of the major changes.
The RA972 is a pleasant black box, as common well established Rotel tradition, with yellow, easy to read labels. The weight is rather high, 6,5Kg (13 lbs), especially if compared with some of its natural competitors.
My technical eye immediately looked through the cover ventilation slots, at the wide motherboard, of a beautiful green, with the power transistors (I did not open the box, so I do not know the type) mounted on the heat sinks and connected to the board with short lengths of coloured wire. On the left there is the big power supply transformer; on the rear, you can see a row of small, rectangular black components in strategical position: input selection relais, a solution normally adopted in products with a far higher cost.
Going back to more... human details, you can see on the left the power supply switch, with the headphone output socket (hardly present on integrated amps of any price, nowadays) under it, then the output selector (you can connect two loudspeakers sets), the tone controls with the switch to turn them out, then the large volume knob (motor driven, in order to be able to remote control it), the recording selector (a normal rotating selector) and finally the listening selector (an electro-optical selector driving the relays).
When the amp is on, you can see three leds on: the power supply indicating light, a led on the volume knob indicating its position and a led indicating the currently selected input.
The presence of a separate recording selector increases the system flexibility; it is also possible to connect two recorders, but dubbing can be done only from tape 1 to tape 2, and not the other way.
On the rear panel, a double row of RCA connectors: 4 line level inputs, two tape inputs and outputs and finally a preamplifier output which can be very useful for connecting an external amp, in biamping for example.
Then there you have 8 output binding posts, modified to make them compatible with CE regulation. These posts are for sure the most problematic part of the amp, because they are too near one to the other to allow the user to tighten them easily and comfortably.
In the end there is the IEC power supply socket, which is another very interesting feature for the tweaker...(read: better mains cable :-) )
A technical note: the input sensitivity is quite high (160mV), the volume control remains always at very low levels.
The power output is rated at 60W, with a very good dumping factor (150 on 8 ohm).
I have hooked up the RA972 on my refersnce system and I have left it burn in for a week before any serious listening test.
I remained rather surprised by the sound quality: this amp is extremely open, trasparent, bright, neutral, clean, precise, articulated and detailed.
Probably it is on the bright side, but it is difficult for me to understand how much, as my extremely open speaker cables and my bass-stingy loudspeakers have for sure given their contribution to the effect. Even with the highest female voices there is no hardening, any edginess, unless it is just recorded so; and even in this case the problem is not so much highlighted.
The low frequencies are really interesting: fully dumped, strong and detailed. Perhaps a little dry. But listening to them is really a pleasure.
Medium frequencies are really very good: the voices have a lot of character, are pretty defined, realistic, and always in the foreground.
Macrodynamics is really good, even though not overwhelming.
Clearly the sonic balance, favouring the high frequencies, moves the bass a little back, but it still has a lot of punch: it's all there, with a perfect articulation, detail, speed and control.
Obviously even microdynamics are excellent: not only you can follow the music as a whole, but also all the weaker and background musical messages are correctly proposed: the soundstage environment is reproduced in a very natural way.
This extreme detail notwithstanding, the amp is able to point straight to the main target, i.e. Music: while with other very detailed systems the listening experience becomes something like an hunting party for environmental noises, which prevent you from the very full immersion into the musical experience, here music remains always at the center, and detail is only a secondary item that makes reproduction more realistic.
This all causes a high degree of emotional involvement, which perhaps does not reach full "air guitar" levels, but for sure is not so far away from that.
One more important fact is that the behaviour remains the same at any volume level: you cannot perceive any hardening, any yelding even at decisely uncivil levels; even with full orchestra recordings the control remains perfect, the soundstage detailed, stable and solid, without any messing up...
The soundstage is rather wide, detailed, stable, precise; it also has a good vertical extension.
Presence and depth are notable, not only compared to the price, and even though the bright timbre helps a lot, the ambience signal treatment makes the difference.
The soundstage characteristcs does not fail even with large orchestras at high levels, where often you find problems even at low levels.
Even with organ music the "abbey" effect is returned in a very realistic and pleasant way.
The perfect amp, then? Obviously not, it has a few limits, but they are not evident at all: there is no edginess, no grain, no lack of air between one player and the other, nothing that makes you think to the usual solid state amp cliche'; nevertheless some of the magic of the great amplifiers, that "dancing" airy sound, the refinement of tubes...is lacking.
I would say that the main limit is a certain lack of refinement, which does not mean it has a rude or undetailed sound, but only that a little of the elegance of high end amps is missing.
But it must be clear: at this price tag what I am saying can not and must not be taken into account as a problem or a fault. It would be as criticizing an economy car that can run at 80 miles/hr because it does not go as fast as a Formula 1...:-)
Use it with neutral systems or where bass frequencies are above the rest of the spectrum.
It should be better to turn tone controls off; anyway, turning them on makes the sound only very sligthly worse.
The one and only serious complaint is about the output binding posts, which are too near one to the other and really uncomfortable to use. I suspect that the posts' back hole has been completely closed with a stopper because of CE norms: probably there is a very simple solution...;-)
I have already talked about flexibility, about the pleasant and accurate appearance.
Listening to the Rotel RA 972, I must sincerely say that I asked myself if it is worth spending more money than its price in order to listen to music in a better way.
Only coming back to my reference system, with a very different imprinting and cost, I was able to recognize that there are aspects of its sound that cab be "improved", and not even just a little better, but also that the achievable differences, for any listener not especially trained and careful, must appear really unimportant.
In the end, if you have listened to this amp and you found it is not enough for you, you should better face the fact that you are probably going to spend far, far more money...
Thanks to Buscemi HiFi, a well known and historical Hi-Fi center in Milan, for having lent us the amplifier under test.
© Copyright 2000 Giorgio Pozzoli http://www.tnt-audio.com
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