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The Rolling Stones' soundtrack to Martin Scorsese's 2008 concert film Shine A Light is more tinny than molten lava – I mean this is the Stones sans Bill Wyman – but the performances are still spry with plenty of surprises. The cover of Muddy Waters' “Champagne & Reefer,” fronted brilliantly by guest Buddy Guy's vocal and guitar, would make the Mud-man and Chicago's South Side proud. Guy's guttural vocal is so deep and nasty that Jagger has no recourse but to try and answer, and the bluesman makes the strings scream like an alley cat whose tail is locked in a pit bull's jaw. As Jagger rightly back-announces, “Buddy 'Mother Fu....' Guy!” Yes, the RCD-06 SE does British rock and roll stadium swagger, but things get (and got) a lot ballsier north of England courtesy of Scotland's Nazareth and their classic Hair Of The Dog. The ponderous riffage of “Changin' Times” shook the senses like neat whiskey from Islay's smokey casks. Vocalist Dan McCafferty's malt-soaked lungs are in fine roar and exposed like dragon's breath through the RCD-06 SE.
Turning back southward to the post-historic T. Rex, fronted by Marc Bolan, we have The Slider. Barren of U.S. Radio hits, The Slider remains Bolan's definitive statement – a kaleidoscope of irresistible three-chord, glam-rock with a sideways complexity that imitators have yet to plumb. Bold and brash, the disc was among my faves played through the Rotel. Tracks such as “Mystic Lady,” “Ballrooms Of Mars” and the title track had huge presence – just as intended – and depending on your viewpoint, either play to the Rotel's strengths or bring out its best. I say best. Rotel CD players have been accused in the past of overt brightness and twiggy midrange; with the RCD-06 SE some of that is corrected, but there are still issues. I wouldn't say that it's “Marantz warm” or “Bryston neutral,” but somewhere in between – tending toward neutral. Think detailed but clinical, depending on the recording and setup.
I wanted to feed the player something beefier. Staying under the auspices of the Union Jack, I delved back again into the early 1970s for England's own Uriah Heep and “Sunrise.” The dramatic cut from The Magician's Birthday is a smorgasbord of harmony vocals, heavy organ and acrobatic bass. Instruments were presented in bright light, but I would prefer a dimmer switch at times to scale back the heat. Compared to Emotiva's ERC-1 ($399), the Rotel came up thin and spindly. Against Grant Fidelity's up-sampling tube CD player, CD-327A ($949), the RCD-06 SE, again, was less refined and reedy. I like a healthy dose of high-end, but on this recording (and other tunes on the disc) the Rotel seems to gorge on such a diet. Where the Emotiva and Grant were rich and velvety, the Rotel was slightly stuffy; a tail-length behind.
From the U.K., I ventured to Austria and that country's celebrated symphonist Gustav Mahler. I chose Mahler's Symphony No. 6, played by the Berliner Philharmoniker and led by Claudio Abbado. This is a brooding and deeply personal expression of Mahler's inner pathos. I was very impressed with the Rotel's transient response, giving the percussion instruments real sparkle and immediacy. The languorous second movement had a beguiling character – strings sing and the overall picture is of a perfect summer day, if one can relate that to an aural sensation. On this recording, the Rotel really shone and proved amply capable on other symphonic works, too, such as William Alwyn's Symphony No. 4. The composition is unabashedly Romantic, and the Rotel brought out the brass flourishes that color this dynamic piece.
Jazz, too, is served well by the RCD-06 SE. I played two recent releases from MoonJune Records showcasing two very different sides of jazz. Simak Dialog is an Indonesian outfit that combines the cool, late-night sound of Fender Rhodes piano with a dizzying array of percussion and exotic sounds and singing. Although Simak's Demi Masa is a studio recording, the energy makes it sound like a live performance. Instruments are reproduced with authority and weight – one instance on “Salilena Kedua” (Forever Part Two) sounded as if the cymbals might shatter my speakers.
Blues For Tony is a double-disc of live performances featuring the monstrous talents of guitarist Allan Holdsworth, bassist Jimmy Haslip, keyboardist Alan Pasqua and drummer Chad Wackerman. In a world filled with guitar imitators, Holdsworth has long stood alone. His flowing, legato lines and octopus-like stretches across the fretboard make the guitar sound like an electric violin. Holdsworth's sound is his alone, and the Rotel allowed the texture and sizzle to come through naturally.
During my comparative listening, I was struck by the RCD-06 SE's ability to tame a noisy recording. Of the three players I listened to during my review, the Rotel was often the best at presenting – and keeping - a CD in/from the quietest perspective. That is a triumph in my book. For just under $600, the RCD-06 SE is a serious contender for anyone looking to upgrade from an entry-level player without spending several hundred more to go higher up the audio ladder. Even a rung or two below, the view and sound from the Rotel is very good. Pair it rightly with an amp of similar character and it will do right by you. Don't expect Grandmotherly bed-side manner; rather, precision and reliability comin' for to carry you home. Bottom line: Rotel is no longer teasing with just a taste of the high end; rather, it's giving audiophiles a full plate – enough to satisfy all but the Kobayashi's of this world.
- Rotel RCD-06 SE CD Player
- Grant Fidelity A-348 Integrated Tube Amplifier
- Axiom Audio M22v2 Speakers
- IXOS XHS806W Speaker cable
- Ultralink MX1-M Interconnects