Rotel RA-1060 Integrated Amplifier 
Home Theater Power Amplifiers Integrated Amplifiers
Written by Brian Kahn   
Friday, 01 June 2001

Introduction
Rotel is a company long known for low frills, high quality, budget-priced audio equipment. Their new $699 RA-1060 integrated amplifier continues in this tradition. The RA-1060 is a 60-watt-per-channel stereo integrated amplifier and has all the features one needs. Upon lifting the unit out of the box, I noticed that it was a pretty hefty 17 pounds. This is fairly considerable for a low-powered, solid state integrated amplifier. Once the unit was out of the box, I could see that it was solidly built, with a thick metal front panel (with built-in handles) and a large transformer. According to Rotel, the unit utilizes a custom-designed toroidal power transformer, as well as Aerovox T-Network capacitors, for better than average sound quality. There are no other specifications given, nor is there more information on the transformer itself, but it does appear to be very generously sized for a 60-watt-per-channel amplifier.

The RA-1060 does not lack for features. In fact, it has just about every feature I could want on a line level integrated amplifier. Some of the goodies included are remote control, remote speaker jacks, six single-ended line level inputs, headphone section, pre-outs (for use with another amplifier), separate record/listen selection, contour control and lastly a 12-volt trigger.

Setup
I placed the Rotel in my two-channel system, which includes Final 0.3 speakers, a Sunfire Subwoofer Jr., a Yamaha TX-950 tuner and a Pioneer Elite PDR-19RW digital front end, all connected with Audio Analysis cabling. The Rotel took the place of Conrad Johnson components costing approximately 12 times as much. I let the Rotel break in for a few days in another room before I installed it in this system.

The Music
The Rotel sounded significantly better than I thought a full-featured integrated amplifier should at this price point. Its shortcomings were in omissions, rather than in additional artifacts interjected into the music. I find my ears are much more forgiving of omissions than sonic intrusions.

I began my listening with Nat King Cole's Love Is The Thing (EMI Capitol-DCC). By the end of the first two tracks, "When I Fall In Love" and "Stardust," I had already learned much about the Rotel's sonic character. I noted that the highs were almost entirely devoid of the brash harshness found in many solid state components, especially those sold at this price point. This came at the cost of slightly rolled-off highs, with sound somewhat lacking in the air and spaciousness.

My listening session continued with another jazz album, Bill Berry's For Duke (Real Time Records). The Rotel was much more nimble than the recently reviewed Magnum Audio integrated amplifier. The Rotel had no problems keeping the pace and rhythm on any of the tracks throughout my listening session, whereas the Magnum Audio was sometimes a bit slow and heavy. While listening to For Duke, I noted that the soundstage was much more forward than with the Magnum Audio, and much smaller than on either the Magnum Audio or Conrad Johnson units.

While listening to Holly Cole's It Happened One Night (Metro Blue), especially the "Train Song" track, I was impressed by the solidity and weight with which the Rotel was able to portray the music. (The Sunfire subwoofer was crossed over around 35 Hz, and I listened both with and without the subwoofer in the system.) The bass guitar portion of this track is very difficult to accurately portray. The Rotel was lacking in detail when compared to the Conrad Johnson combination, but was much more detailed than the Magnum Audio.

As the Rotel is similarly priced to the Magnum Audio integrated amplifier, I listened to some of the same music used in reviewing the Magnum. Robbie Robertson's epononymously titled album (Mobile Fidelity) made a return visit. The soundstage was smaller than with the Magnum Audio, but it moved the listener much closer.

The tonal balance of the Rotel was brighter and more forward than the Magnum Audio, with the upper end roll-off beginning a little bit higher. The Rotel's dynamic range was capable of handling the music on this disc, but fell shy of the sense of ease of the Conrad Johnson combination, especially at high levels.

The Rotel handled the sharp transients on Crystal Method's album Vegas (City of Angels), particularly the track "Busy Child," with ease. This album demands to be cranked up to louder-than-normal volumes. At higher volumes, I noted a compression of dynamics as the Rotel ran out of steam. The Rotel began to compress the dynamics at fairly moderate listening levels, but I must remind you that the speakers used in this review were not only very revealing, but very difficult to drive. A quick listen on my Athena Technologies S3/P3 combination confirmed that with speakers that are easier to drive, the Rotel can provide enough power for higher listening levels.

The Rotel remained fairly consistent throughout my listening sessions. The extreme upper end remained rolled off, diminishing the harshness often associated with solid state electronics. This compromise, while reducing the sense of air and spaciousness found with some audiophile components, makes the Rotel much more compatible with a wide variety of components. The Rotel is a great stepping stone into high-end audio. It sounds much better than the majority of equipment in its price range, but it will not render your other gear unlistenable.

The Rotel places the listener closer to the stage, but slightly blurs the details. This lack of detail was especially notable on the "Train Song" track. On an extremely detailed system, one can hear the individual strings and their decay quite clearly. With the Rotel, you can tell that the same chords are being played, but the inner detail is missing.

The Downside
My criticisms of this piece are fairly minor and relate to what was missing, rather than things done incorrectly. Before discussing sonics, I need to mention some ergonomic quirks having to do with the remote. The buttons are hard to discern by touch alone and difficult to read in low light. The only intrusive addition to the sound through the Rotel was a very slight bit of grain, which was not noticeable on all recordings. The most noticeable shortfall, in relation to the other components discussed above, is its smaller soundstage. The sonic image portrayed by the Rotel, while close to the listener, is somewhat reduced in size. This may be related to the reduced sense of space around the individual instruments and the roll-off at the extreme upper end. Lastly, the Rotel is, not unexpectedly, lacking in the detail found in my Bow Technologies Wazoo integrated amp ($3,500).

Conclusion
The Rotel is a very solid buy at $699. Comparing the Rotel to the Magnum Audio integrated amplifier, I would have to recommend the Magnum Audio for die-hard tube aficionados and the Rotel for the rest of us. The Rotel provides a full-featured integrated amplifier, as well as an upgrade path by way for an external amplifier, making this piece a good starting point for building a high-end system. Rotel makes it hard for anyone to justify buying mid-fi from a mass market retailer, when for the same price, one can get so much more.
Manufacturer Rotel
Model RA-1060 Integrated Amplifier
Reviewer Brian Kahn





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