AOM Logo June 2002
 

The Rotel RX-1050 Stereo Receiver

Martin Appel


When most of us started out in audio, back in those days of yore, receivers, with a pair of affordable speakers and a turntable were generally how we began our quest for good sound. I'm talking about the early seventies for yours truly. As our budgets increased, the idea of expanding and upgrading led us to separating the receiver into its individual components. This enabled the hobbyist to upgrade the sound quality a step at a time and experiment with a myriad of combinations. This experimentation of budding audiophiles as well as the development of a fledgling industry to full maturation created more ideas and competition from which we were all able to benefit.

The Rotel RX-1050

In the last five or six years, there has been a resurgence in the audio world in the growth of integrated amplifiers. This phenomenon has become so widespread that no self-respecting manufacturer can afford not to offer at least one in their stable. This includes a full spectrum of manufacturers, including some of the most prestigious names in high-end audio. Whether this occurred for marketing reasons or economic factors, the fact this has happened is undeniable. Similarly, and concurrently, the rampaging growth of home theater has created the ubiquitous, all-in-one home theater receiver with every bell and whistle imaginable. Home theater has become so pervasive that the high-end audio dealer - at least those who wish to survive -- has to offer extensive products and services to this growing market.

This preamble, and mini-history, is my way of bringing you up to date and to bring us full circle to the one box Rotel RX-1050, 100 watt/channel, 8 ohms, two-channel receiver and why a company, in today's world, would bring a product like this to market.

First, I would like to say Rotel is a company that produces excellent gear, garnering a faithful following and receiving favorable reviews. Rotel has developed this excellence by producing quality products that perform as well, and cost far less, than many products that purport to be high end. They offer the budget-minded consumer a portal into the high-end world without breaking the bank.

Physical Layout

Rotel has manufactured a very solid, no-nonsense looking unit. It's charcoal matte black finish, in harmony with a very clear layout, makes it an attractive package -- it eschews ostentation and is intuitive to operate. The accompanying instruction manual is clear (though there is an error on pg.7, speaker diagram for second zone speaker 'B' shown as 'A') and the full function, programmable, remote control, will operate up to seven additional components besides the RX-1050.

The unit's faceplate is symmetrically arranged with diminutive function buttons for phono, CD, tuner, tape, video 1 through video 4, and zone and 'rec' on the right hand side. The left side contains power, speaker A and B buttons, a headphone jack along with various tuning buttons for band, up and down, preset, memory, and mono. Bass and treble knobs are added, too. The center is dominated by a large master volume control and an easy to read fluorescent display indicating numeric volume levels and tuning, band, preset information. The display can be turned on or off with the remote.

The rear panel has inputs for 'two zone' operation with commensurate speaker connections. Pre out/main in connections are provided should you want to have a different amplifier in which case the RX-1050 becomes a tuner/preamp control center. There are video inputs for two VCRs and two others for additional video sources, as well as a monitor out for TV. There are all the standard audio connections corresponding to the front panel functions including AM/FM antenna. Additionally there are connections for computer control (RJ-45 8 pin), external, infrared, remote, a 12-volt trigger, and two switched ac outlets. The unit comes with an AM loop antenna and FM wire antenna. The power cord is detachable for those who want to experiment with after market power cords. They've packed a hell of a lot of machine into a very compact box, about half the size of my preamplifier. There are two functions that I would like to have seen included: a balance control and a mono button. Other than that, the Rotel has enough flexibility and control to satisfy most. By the way, the instruction manual is in English and French (we are in N. America, oui?).

Listening

I disconnected my Innersound ESL amplifier and Sunfire preamp/processor and connected the Rotel with Acoustic Zen Matrix Reference interconnects (who's going to use a $500 pair of interconnects with an $800 receiver?) and the stock power cord. I decided to also try Acoustic Zen's Gargantua power cord on the Rotel at the end of my primary listening sessions. Before any serious listening began, I burned in the unit for at least a hundred hours using the tuner, and various CDs, including the XLO burn in CD.

One of my favorite reference recordings, Sinatra Sings For Only the Lonely on Capitol was the first to be played. This CD is beautifully recorded with Frank in superb form. Nelson Riddle's arrangements make for the perfect musical backdrop -- classy, flawless. Taken on its own merits, the Rotel performed admirably. The bass performance was solid with good impact and demonstrating a specific placement. Sinatra's voice was solid, detailed, and front and center in my living room. The orchestra was well laid out across the rear of the stage with good detail and location. Soloists were clear and easy to follow, and the playing hung together quite well. No embarrassment for the RX-1050, here. As I continued with my reference CDs, I became more and more familiar with the Rotel's sound. It handled everything I threw at it with a competence that was refreshing. The quality of this unit was not to be denied. During the loudest passages of Moussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition (Telarc), the 100 watt amplifier's power hit the wall and the music started to lose its articulation, becoming congested and compressed. It has been my experience that this particular torture test has overpowered some fine power amplifiers. There is no substitute for power when one wants to approach live listening levels from full orchestral crescendos. The Rotel's power is not limitless, and when tested, will bite back in a very unmusical way. At comfortable levels, the Rotel bounced right back.

Switching to records proved interesting. My ancient system, consisting of a Thorens TD 115 Mk II and a Shure V15 Type V with MR tip, has been with me for over 25 years and has undergone various belt and stylus changes, with accompanying cleanings. While nowhere near state of the art, the combination makes a very credible presentation. Too bad it was produced before the importance of detachable cables and power cords was known. The basic sound of the Thoren's is so good, I'm thinking about having it modified so I can attach some premium phono cables and an Acoustic Zen Gargantua power cord.

Associated Components

Digital: Sony DVP7000 (modified)/transport, Sunfire Theater Grand Processor II/DAC
Preamplifier: Audio Research SP9 Mk. III
Power Amplifiers: InnerSound ESL amplifier
Loudspeakers: TMS ADIABAT 8.5 speakers (modified) discontinuedCables: Acoustic Zen Cables: Silver Reference interconnects (XLR), Matrix Reference Interconnects (XLR), Krakatoa and Gargantua power cords, MC2= ZEN digital cable
Accessories: Black Diamond Racing Cones, Vibrapods, Monster HTS 2000 power strip

Associated Music

Reference Recordings RR-96CD Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances Oue/Minnesota Orchestra

Pablo OJCCD-744-2 Clark Terry/Freddie Hubbard/Dizzy Gillespie/Oscar Peterson: The Alternate Blues

Telarc CD-83373 Ray Brown: Some of My Best Friends…The Piano Players

AM Records SP 4280 Cat Stevens: Tea for the Tillerman

Pablo 2310-756 Count Basie and his orchestra: Basie Big Band

Roberta Flack's Chapter Two, on Atlantic, circa 1970, was first to spin. It sounded clean and beautiful. The voice has a mournful beauty that was displayed well by the Rotel RX-1050. Her accompanying musicians were clear and well delineated. This is a quiet phono section. I've not listened to this disc in at least 10 years and fell in love with her voice all over again. Next, I played another classic from the archives, Columbia Masterworks, circa 1960, Sibelius' Symphony No.1 in E Minor, The Philadelphia Orchestra w/Eugene Ormandy conducting. This record is simply a treasure and again the Rotel performed well in most areas -- the enjoyment of the music was not hindered at all. It is unlikely that most purchasers of this unit will ever know how good LPs can sound through this unit. Does it compare to multi-thousand dollar stand-alone units? In a word, no. Does it give clean, articulate performance that conveys to the listener an enjoyable musical experience? Yes!

Moving right along. Let's talk a little bit about the radio's performance. Both AM and FM performance were, again, very good. A good quality outdoor antenna will optimize a tuner's performance. Unfortunately, I don't have one and had to use the supplied AM and FM antennae. I can report that the FM section pulled in a few more clear stations than the FM tuning section of my reference Sunfire's FM tuner. This impressed me. I can also report that good sound, with very good stereo separation, was achieved on many of my favorite jazz and classical stations -- and I live on the second floor in a 'cavern' surrounded by twelve to twenty story apartment buildings in Manhattan! AM, which I normally don't listen to was fine and at least was equal to the Sunfire's performance.

Conclusions and Comment

Doing this review was very challenging and informative. With what do I compare it? Do I use $1,500.00 US power cords and $1,000.00 US interconnects and speaker cables for a unit costing $799.00 US? Well, I tried it both ways, with the aforementioned state of the art cables and with Radio Shack interconnects and 'speaker wire' totaling about US$30.00. My conclusions are based on an accumulation of listening at both extremes. Suffice it to say that with the Acoustic Zen cables in the system, every aspect of performance was greatly improved but the basic sonic characteristics of the Rotel were still evident. It was great fun to hear how these cables breathed more life into the listening experience. Don't let anyone tell you its only wire!

As I indicated earlier, the Rotel performs well in many areas, but it does have its shortcomings. It has very good bass along with excellent midrange timbral accuracy and instrumental focus. I can't be quite as enthusiastic about the higher frequencies. They tend toward the cooler, more 'electronic' and less natural in timbre. The Rotel reminds me of the earlier Adcom 555 amplifier (which I once owned), but with more finesse. Good company. Matching the RX-1050 with speakers that have a more forgiving high end would go a long way in helping to ameliorate this sonic characteristic. Additionally, while having a very good soundstage with excellent lateral spread and good depth, I felt it lacked some air and lost some of the three dimensionality of the performance. Similarly, images were very well defined in the soundstage, but, again, more two- dimensional than I am accustomed.

I applaud the Rotel for performing so well, especially in comparison with excellent high-end gear (costing much more); with this in mind, the RX-1050 has nothing to hang its head about. For those of you starting out in the world of high-end audio, with a limited budget and/or space restrictions, and wanting many of the attributes of far more expensive equipment, consider the Rotel RX-1050. It would make an excellent choice.

Keep listening

Rotel
54 North Reading, MA 01864-2699, USA
Tel. 1-978-664-3820 Fax 1-978-664-4109
www.rotel.com
MSRP US$799.00
Weight 10.3Kg/22.7 lb.
Dimensions (W+H+D) 432+121+359 mm 17"+4 3/4"+ 14 1/8"

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