Rotel RSP-1069 Processor and RMB-1085 Amplifier Page 2

I listened to the CD layer of a Telarc hybrid CD/SACD of Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem on my Toshiba HD-XA2 HD DVD player and left it on repeat for the better part of an afternoon. Besides, a requiem is appropriate under the circumstances, don’t you think? This recording’s two-channel sound is nothing less than spectacular. Robert Spano conducts the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus to amazing heights. Even when I listened from my desk, the soundstage was as wide and deep as if I was present at the recording. Tonally, the combination sounded as natural as any I’ve used. The Rotel system revealed microdynamic details like the tremble of cello bows as their levels ebbed and flowed. On a macro level, the sheer swelling of the choir bore an inspiring majesty and totally lacked any compression artifacts. This system is meant for music lovers.

While I never heard any signs of compression or audible distortion with movies and most music, leave it to soprano Kiri Te Kanawa to change that. CBS Masterworks’ release of Kiri Te Kanawa Sings Verdi and Puccini Arias elicited clipping in the right channel during one track when the singer hit some particularly powerful notes. This CD is one of my favorites, but its level is actually very low overall. (This is common in CDs from the early days.) As a result, I unintentionally had the volume cranked to “max” at the time, although the soundstage wasn’t larger than life. Given the difficult load my speakers present, and the fact that even movies like Blood Diamond failed to ruffle the RMB-1085 in the slightest, I only mention the incident in the interest of full disclosure.

Between the first and second samples of the RMB-1085, I listened to my reference Sunfire Cinema Grand Signature. I also had to revert back to my Marantz SR8002 AVR when the RSP-1069 took that lightning strike for the team. In both cases, after I switched back to the Rotel RMB-1085, I was struck by this affordable amplifier’s dramatic sound. If you like your receiver’s functionality but not its tonality or ability to deal devastating blows, I would easily recommend the RMB-1085. This amp is powerful, capable of startling transient peaks, and provides that elusive “jump factor” that almost no manufacturer gets right. For instance, in chapter 2 of the Dolby TrueHD-encoded Blood Diamond,

a single gunshot rings out. The shot echoes in the muddy hills around the stream bed where lives are exchanged for diamonds. On most systems, the effect is disquieting enough. But with the Rotel’s superb micro- and macrodynamics, it’s chilling.

While the RSP-1069 lacks THX certification, it does include its own Cinema EQ mode. This mode was useful on Blood Diamond, where frequent scenes of high-velocity gunfire can strain your nerves during the otherwise beautifully elaborate soundtrack. But I don’t think the system is bright or sharp. I think it’s just faithful to the source. Other surround options, like Dolby Pro Logic II, worked effectively with most TV programs as well. The processor remembered and defaulted to the last mode I used.

When the replacement RSP-1069 arrived, I naturally wanted to see if my HD DVD player would pass through to my projector. At first, I still did not get picture or sound from the Toshiba HD DVD player. But as I experimented more with certain power-up sequences, I found that I could get HD DVD movies up on the big screen if the Rotel was the last device I turned on. Hooray! Still, the Rotel is a finicky cat. When I simply turned it off and back on again during a movie, I got no sound or picture. This degree of fussiness may be unique to my specific combination of equipment or to the JVC projector I’m using. [I’ve had similar issues with that same JVC projector in other setups as well. It may well be that the JVC is the finicky HDMI beast.—TJN]

With the projector now working with the Rotel, I threw on some movies. I briefly compared the Faroudja technology’s 1080i-to-1080p video processing in the Rotel with the JVC’s Gennum chipset, a well-known and excellent processor in its own right. And what better movie to judge video quality (and by better, I don’t really mean better) than 2004’s The Chronicles of Riddick? The movie stars that man of a thousand faces, Vin Diesel, and has oodles of detail and well-integrated CGI. Although I was hard-pressed to see significant differences between the processing in the Rotel and the JVC’s processing, I thought the movie looked best with the Toshiba putting out 1080p/24 and the Rotel’s video processing bypassed. But I look forward to reading Kris Deering’s findings when he runs the Rotel through its paces on the video test bench.

I’m fussy about sound, perhaps even fussier than I am about video, which seems to be constantly improving. So from an audio perspective, the combination of the two Rotel units was close to ideal. (And this is from a reviewer who has been critical of other Rotel offerings in the past.) In particular, the RMB-1085 is a great featherweight of an amp. It throws a surprising dynamic punch and does so for only $240 per channel. Tonally, the amplifier/processor combination sounds neutral. It has no hard edges and offers very good detail and resolution. On top of that, the reasonably priced RMB-1085 acquitted itself very well with my MartinLogans, electrostatic speakers known to make many amps whimper in fear.

The RSP-1069 also performs very well on its own. I’m still no fan of the remote, but I like the fact that Rotel got the sonics right. It just lacks the bells and whistles of my reference A/V receiver, the hard-to-beat Marantz SR8002. It doesn’t include room equalization, onboard decoding of Dolby TrueHD, or, significantly for me, dual HDMI outputs. But the Rotel’s minimalist take on life is one that, in the pursuit of high-end sonics, I can get heartily behind.

A few years ago, a two-piece, five-channel system priced at $3,400 would have been something to rave about. And it still is. While one-piece, do-everything receivers are quickly replacing separates, the Rotel duo is a relative bargain in its class. As for the HDMI issues I experienced with the Rotel, I’ve had similar problems in the past with other receivers. So caveat emptor in this brave new world, and save your receipts. The Rotel RSP-1069 surround processor and RMB-1085 amplifier make a fine-sounding, musical, and dynamic combination that will first and foremost impress audiophiles. Those who place as much emphasis on their music as they do their video should consider these Rotel separates. I suggest you find a dealer, sit down with some of your favorite CDs and movies, and see if you don’t walk away three grand poorer.

Musically satisfying tonality and dynamics
Much more oomph than the power ratings suggest
Unique aesthetic breaks the black-box mold

(978) 664-3820