Rotel RA-1572 MKII Integrated Amplifier Review
RA-1572 MKII Integrated Amplifier
AUD $2,799 / NZD $3,099
The RA-1572 integrated has been a successful product for Rotel over the past four years of its life, but now it's time for a refresh. It's a subtle one, though, as you wouldn't know by looking at – at least not from the outside. It's a case of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak, whilst still adding some choice tweaks taken from the company's flagship Michi range – more of which later…
The new RA-1572 MKII offers a memorable combination of power and connectivity. The Class AB design is said to offer 2x 120W RMS per channel into 8 ohms and 200W into 4 ohms, both channels driven. It sports a moving magnet phono stage, four analogue inputs – one of which is a balanced XLR connection – plus two digital coaxial inputs, two TOSLINK optical ins and a USB socket for connecting to a PC or Mac. There's an Apple device connection on the front panel, plus wireless aptX Bluetooth connectivity. It has a 3.5mm headphone jack on the fascia, in addition to binding posts for two pairs of loudspeakers around the back.
The manufacturer says that the tweaks to the new second-generation model have trickled down from its recently introduced high-end range. “Michi was developed as a platform with the plan to extend this new acoustic engineering technology into Rotel models as space and budget allow”, a company insider told me. “The circuit topology, power supply design methods and components were selected to include in the new MKII models… While the budget, size and performance characteristics are clearly different, the sonic signature of Michi was our target.”
From the exterior, the MKII looks identical to the original, with nothing added besides the new logo, but internally the key change is the use of a Texas Instruments (Burr-Brown) digital converter chip. This is able to unfold and render MQA and MQA Studio audio files, and works at up to 32-bit, 384kHz resolution, replacing the AKM from the previous model. Rotel told me: “We found this new DAC to be exceptionally well matched to the components targeted for the MKII models; it has more expression, a larger sound stage and is more musical.”
The company has also carried out extensive tuning to the power supply and signal path, including coupling capacitors in and around the DAC stage. The circuitry uses metal film resistors and polystyrene or polypropylene capacitors in important signal paths. Even the printed circuit boards are designed with symmetrical circuit traces to maintain the signal timing. In-house manufactured toroidal transformers are used with high efficiency, low ESR slit-foil capacitors.
Ergonomically the Rotel is a no-nonsense design and nice enough to operate. Its brushed aluminium facia, dimmable two-line display and pressed steel case are quality items. However, for me, the white display wasn't quite bright enough for sunlit rooms. I found the remote control to be comprehensive but rather busy with additional functionality that only owners of full Rotel systems will benefit from.
Rotel's new RA-1572 MKII has a big, generous, musical sound. It's pretty gutsy and dynamic, but has a well-controlled bass. It times very well, giving an enjoyable listening experience – and the overall effect is very impressive considering its modest price. Perhaps its standout characteristic, though, is its balanced and refined nature – despite its obvious power, it's no headbanger.
For example, the piano is one of the most challenging instruments to reproduce accurately. Via this new Rotel, it sounded lovely and wasn't grating or annoying in any way. Piano Quartet No.1 in G Minor, K 478 by the Skride Piano Quartet was reproduced with colour and no small measure of accuracy. Violins were smooth, with no sign of grain or grit to their timbre. Everywhere by Fleetwood Mac was also reproduced with a smooth extended top end and yet had a pleasing crispness to the sound, without being overly lit.
As the latter track showed, the Rotel's bottom end has plenty of extension and power, with the ability to play rock music with a driving beat very well. It had absolutely no issues driving any of my reference loudspeakers, from my vast JBL HDI-3800s to my small, power-gobbling Acoustic Energy Aegis Ones. The bassline was tuneful and expressive, without being overblown or leaden.
Midband is decently transparent and detailed. Pat Metheny's Road to the Sun had a crisp, lithe and tactile guitar sound – indeed, you could say it was even slightly on the lean side. Still, it was expressive and well defined – something also heard on Daft Punk's Giorgio by Moroder. This is down to a combination of the amplifier's fleet-footed nature, along with a good deal of welly to back things up.
Dynamics are very well communicated on this amplifier; for example, heavy bass guitar rhythms are maintained with control without feeling the slightest amount of compression. Bobby Womack's So Many Sides of You was reproduced with its speed and the detail intact, whilst tracking the accents of the music very well for an integrated at this price. You can add soundstaging to the long list of this amplifier's talents, too. Man From Molise by Pino Palladino has an amazing amount of spatial information within the recording, and the big Rotel imparted the feeling of depth, space and reverb better than expected.
Happily, this amplifier's sound was fairly consistent across all inputs. Balanced XLR delivered some of the best sounds I got from this big Rotel, with an expansive and unstressed signature, but its unbalanced RCAs were very good too. The moving magnet input proved highly listenable, although it doesn't quite have the precision and insight of a good offboard phono stage. Via my Yamaha MusicCast VINYL 500 turntable with its Audio-technica AT-3600L moving magnet cartridge, I spun up Buddy Guy's Damn Right, I've Got The Blues, and it sounded punchy, with a driving bassline and soaring guitar riffs. Tonal balance was very even, and I loved the spacious soundstage that vinyl discs conjure up so well.
The internal DAC didn't let the side down, either. I found it to have a subtly warm tonality, but with plenty of detail and insight. Dreamers by Ambala feat. Laidback was musical enough, and the vocal was clean and nicely separated from the rest of the instruments. Watching Netflix movies connected to the TOSLINK input was wonderful, with a dynamic and full-range sound that extended well outside of the loudspeakers.
The rear panel USB input is a type B connection and required a supplied driver to be downloaded and installed on my Dell laptop before it operated in Class 2.0, which is necessary for MQA support. Macs don't need drivers, of course. Installation was straightforward, and once completed, I was greeted with smooth articulate music that was the best I'd heard from the Rotel so far. A Tidal Master quality stream of David Bowie's Cat People had thumping dynamics, great speed and a tightly organised and coherent sound. The soundstage went well outside of the speaker boundaries, and was wider than from the line inputs.
An Apple iPad connected to the front USB socket delivered pretty decent results, so was perfectly listenable – albeit thinner and slightly less enjoyable than when I used the PC to play the same tracks from the rear panel. Sadly there's no support for Android devices here. Bluetooth worked first time, every time, and was not a major sonic turn-off. I connected using the aptX codec, and it sounded smooth and tonally almost indistinguishable from the line inputs, but with the inevitable flattening of the soundstage and the dynamics.
Overall then, this is one highly able amplifier. Compared to the dearer Yamaha A-S1200 (AUD $3,499) I had to hand, the Rotel RA-1572 MKII sounds more alive and punchy, with a faster pace. It also images with more spatial information, width, depth and detail – and can play digital sources, which is lacking on the Yamaha. Conversely, the Yamaha has a smooth musical delivery and would suit listeners looking for a calmer, warmer and slightly sweeter sound. In my view, both are built incredibly well, so your preference of sound and styling will sway your prospective purchase.
Rotel's new RA-1572 MKII is a particularly able contender in a crowded market full of strong performers. Its strength is its sheer versatility in terms of connectivity, allied to a seriously strong sound and plenty of power. This is a hard combination to beat, and in my experience, I'm not sure any of its price rivals currently can. I can't think of any integrated amplifier at this price that can match its all round competence right now. An essential audition then, if you're in the market for a powerful but affordable do-it-all integrated amp.
Starting his first audio consultancy business in the early ’80s whilst also working professionally in the electronics industry, Mark now splits his time between professional reviewing and AV consultancy.