Rotel RSX-1057 AV Receiver

To me, Rotel has always been the Everyman's answer to high-end audio. The company has always followed a "straight wire with gain" philosophy, which has earned it respect throughout the audiophile community. Like NAD, it's believed in holding to conservative power ratings, particularly compared to mass-market American and Japanese offerings. My daughter uses "40-Watt" Rotel integrated amplifier that's a decade old to drive her Magnepan MMG speakers, which are a pretty tough load, and it is more than comfortable with the task.

Being big in the Audiophile community is one thing, but that hasn't done much to help Rotel win the numbers game in this country. Take the RSX-1057 AV Receiver ($1,299), which, in typically Rotel fashion, seems to miss the mark with "only" 75 Watts of power for each of its five channels. But Rotel, true to fashion, says the receiver maintains that power rating with all channels driven simultaneously. I've used separate 125 Watt per channel home theater amplifiers that shut down from the difficult low impedance loads presented by Magnepan speakers. Likewise, my reference Martin Logan speaker system can drop to 1 ohm at higher frequencies. Would the Rotel be up to the challenge during its vacation in the US? Or would it lick its wounds all the way back across the pond?

We Say Aluminum, They Say Aluminium
Be gone the black faceplate that traditionally adorns Rotel electronics. The brushed matte silver front panel with matte black wings presents the Rotel RSX-1057 as a fine piece of audio art that belies the receiver's reasonable asking price. Controls are grouped to the left and right of the front panel's large volume control knob, with a large LED display area centered above it.

The left half of the front panel hosts preset selectors and tuning controls for the built-in AM/FM radio tuner, as well as a mono button. On the right half, users can select source components, surround modes, recording and second zone functions. One of the source buttons is designated CD, another Tape, and the remaining five are simply labeled Video 1 through Video 5. During setup, you can assign more useful, uppercase only, names to the on screen display names for these sources, such as "TIVO" or "BLURAY." And if that format fails, you can always change it to "HD DVD!"

The back panel has all the usual inputs and outputs, but before you start plugging things in, you may want to put pen to paper. The RSX-1057's system design is a cross between the hard-wired AV receivers or pre/pros of yore and more modern affairs. While some entry level receivers (and even high-end pre/pros like the now discontinued Aragon Stage One) have offered non-assignable inputs, many modern components allow assignable inputs in which any physical input (audio or video) can be tied to any logical source input.

There are two HDMI inputs (version 1.1, which means multichannel PCM from Blu-ray and HD DVD players is a go), and any HDMI sources you connect must be assigned to Video 1 and Video 2 inputs. Likewise, any component video sources (there are three component inputs) must be connected to Video inputs 1-3. So, while there are an aggregate of five HDMI and component connections in back, you can really only use a total of three HDMI/component sources. That should be plenty in most cases.

The five composite and S-Video inputs are more flexible during configuration. You can assign any of them as joined-at-the-hip pairs (the setup merely refers to them as "Video 4" or "Video 5," for example, with no differentiation or segregation of the two video protocols) to any of the five Video inputs. Likewise, the three coaxial and two optical digital audio inputs can be assigned to any of the five Video inputs.

Note that the RSX-1057 does not provide any video scaling or deinterlacing features that would convert 480i to 480p, 720p or 1080i component. Instead, the video circuitry only handles simple transcoding of analog composite and S-Video to component (not to HDMI, more on that in a bit). What transcoding does provide is limited but effective for purposes of simplifying display hookup. For example, all composite and S-Video sources are transcoded to component so you only have to run a single set of component cables to your display. While the Rotel transcodes essentially in the direction of lesser to higher quality, that doesn't mean you'll be seeing a higher quality picture when your VCR's composite output is magically sent to your plasma as a component signal. You know what they say – garbage in, garbage out.

Because transcoding to HDMI isn't provided, the cleanest way to hook up your digital and analog video sources while minimizing the amount of switching you'll have perform at the display is to confine yourself to a single HDMI and single component connection. So my one S-Video source (TiVo) was automatically converted to component and watched on my Fujitsu plasma's component input, while my high-definition set-top box and upconverting DVD player arrived there via HDMI. I had to switch inputs on the plasma and the Rotel to watch and listen to the TiVo.

The receiver's on-screen display (OSD) is only available through composite, S-Video and component outputs, so Rotel recommends at least one non-HDMI connection between the receiver and your display. OSD via the component output comes with a minor caveat, however. If the component signal passed through the RSX-1057 is anything other than straight 480 interlaced, the processor can't overlay your program with the OSD. In that case the OSD will display without the program, provided that option was selected during setup. If not, you'll get no OSD at all.

I connected my Integra Research universal player's multichannel analog outputs to the Rotel's single set of multichannel analog inputs, which offers eight channels instead of the customary six. The Rotel also has ten preamp output channels, varying from a standard 7.1-channel setup by offering a second center channel and a second sub.

If you have a good two-channel amp that you'd like to use for the front channels, you can redirect the front left and right channels of amplification in the Rotel to power the two back channels of a 7.1-channel configuration, or another set of speakers in a nearby room.

Two-channel analog sources can be hooked up to any one of the five "Video" inputs (I know, we're running out quick!), and set to "Bypass" all surround processing. That's how I hooked up my iPod (via the Belkin TuneCommand iPod Base), figuring the music had been through enough processing already.

Overall, setup is fairly easy once you figure out the hard-wired versus programmable aspects of video switching and digital and analog audio assignment. However, I did find myself referring to the manual much more frequently than normal as the beguiling simplicity of the OSD masks some of the finer points. Those details only become apparent with a thorough reading of the user manual and not without a little head scratching as well. I often found myself wondering if some of the IT documentation I generate in my day job is as Boolean infested as the Rotel manual which, while accurate, could use a few introductory paragraphs in each section explaining the big picture.