Rotel RCD-06 SE CD Player Review 
Home Theater Audio Sources CD Players
Written by Todd Whitesel   
Thursday, 29 October 2009

The bug struck me late 2003. I was at a bookstore looking through magazines when a cover lured me in with its display of speakers and amps and CD players – the components of the year as judged by that audio publication. Thumbing through it, I was astonished by the number of manufacturers represented that I had never heard of. My jaw also dropped looking at the price tags of much of the featured equipment. Certainly it would be sweet to have 50K (or more) to drop on a system but my budget was more modest. I bought the mag, took it home and studied it for probably two months, getting familiar with the various players in the audiophile world. I remember among the editors' budget recommendations was a CD player from Rotel – the RCD-1072 – that was praised for offering a real taste of the high end. I wasn't sure what that even meant, but I liked the 1072's silver chassis and overall design and filed the model and maker in my memory for future exploration.

For nearly 50 years, Rotel has carved out a niche in high-end audio by giving budget-minded audiophiles great-sounding gear. That includes standalone CD players, even here in 2009. Some consumers may still believe that all CD players sound alike. Others may assert that CD players are no longer relevant, what with the plethora of DVD players and universal players on the market – many at bargain basement prices. And most DVD players perform adequately for CD playback, but most audiophiles aren't buying all that and still demand dedicated components to fuel their music jones. Entry-level audio enthusiasts take note: Rotel's RCD-06 SE was designed for you.

Rotel Front Display

The RCD-06 SE is the successor to Rotel's RCD-06 – a well-regarded single-disc player. Like the RCD-06, the SE is also a single-disc player that reads CDs, CD-Rs and CD-RWs. The RCD-06 SE sports a new Wolfson WM8740 DAC, replacing the Burr Brown unit found in the RCD-06. The WM8740 is also being used in several other Rotel products and was chosen by Robert Burn, Rotel's U.K. technical director, for its ability to reveal the emotion in the music. Rotel has also improved the circuitry and internal components, with upgraded filter and buffer stages, low-noise resistor feeds to the DAC, and selected input and output coupling capacitors.

Although the look is still Rotel industrial, the RCD-06 SE is housed in a sleek silver body, minus the black handles found on earlier Rotel models. The CD drawer is front and center, to the right of the unit's lighted display. Its faceplate features a power button on the left and six push buttons on the right, beneath the display, for all standard commands. Set up is a breeze. The RCD-06 SE sports analog RCA stereo and digital coaxial connections. A detachable power cord makes it easy to pop in another cord of your choice.

The supplied remote control has everything needed for quick action, and though it's housed in the plastic-du-jour, Rotel has color-coded commands and track numbers to make it a bit easier for thumbs and fingers to find the desired buttons.

Rotel Left Side

Smooth and quiet operation are two characteristics desired in any compact disc player, and that's what you get with the RCD-06 SE. The transport is not stone silent, but unless you're 4 inches away from the unit you'll hear nothing but music. The player's response via the remote control was immediate and never took multiple button pushing to make it fly right. Disc information loads in about 2 seconds, with the first track taking off in the same timeframe.


Right away I was struck by the player's clean and detailed sound. Given the right amplification source it's well-rounded and engaging with weighty sound-staging. Paired with my Grant Fidelity A-348 integrated tube amplifier, the RCD-06 SE was clean, punchy and quick. I wondered, though, how it would deliver matched with one of its Rotel siblings.

Nylon and Steel CD The first disc I played was Manuel Barrueco's Nylon & Steel, where the skilled classical guitarist is paired with Al Di Meola, Steve Morse and Andy Summers for a banquet of acoustic guitar duets. Little can be hidden on such a recording, and the 6-six string masters dazzle on this project. Di Meola is a musical force whom Barrueco admits was a challege to keep up with. The album is not only a technical tour de force, it has many moments where the inner definition of Barrueco's fingers plucking the strings is clearly audible. The Rotel brought out such detail and let them be part of the music, rather than something to cover up. Astonishing classical/electric guitar fretplay between Barrueco and Morse on “Wolvesville (an improvisation on Etude No. 1 by Villa-Lobos)” is heightened by Morse's tone and Barrueco's lightning-fast arpeggios. Even as the tune threatens to derail under the energy, the RCD-06 SE kept it under control with speed and focus.

Shine a Light CD 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.

The Slider CD 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.

The Magician's Birthday CD 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.

Mahler CD 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.

Demi Masa CD 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.

Rotel Right Side
Final Thoughts

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.

System Setup

  • 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

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