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Jeff Rowland Model 112 Stereo Power Amplifier Print E-mail
Friday, 01 September 2000
ImageJeff Rowland Design Group makes the sexiest audio products in the world. There is no other way to put it. Milled from a solid billet of aluminum and etched with the most stunning brushed aluminum wavy pattern directly onto the amplifier, the Jeff Rowland Model 112 makes as much of a statement about your sense of design as it does your lust for accurate reproduction of sound.

The Model 112 is a completely new look from Jeff Rowland Design Group, demonstrating increased value and a smaller physical size, as well as a departure from the battery design of some of their older products. The Model 112 features a unique two-tier design that isolates the amplifier section from the power supply. This serves to keep the sensitive amplifier circuitry shielded from the electrically noisy power supply. Unlike other "audiophile" amplifiers, the Rowland Model 112 avoids the temptation of breaking the amplifier into two (or four, for monoblocks) chassis. The Model 112 is an integrated product with a purpose.

The Jeff Rowland Model 112 is an exceedingly beautiful amp that is refreshingly diminutive in size. At 17.5 inches wide by 11.7 inches deep by 5.2 inches high, the Model 112 is a powerful amplifier that is less than half the physical size of its competitors. The Model 112 outputs 150 watts in stereo into eight ohms and 250 watts per channel into four ohms. The Model 112 prices at $4900.00 U.S.

You get an idea of the level of passion and intensity that goes into a Rowland product when you analyze some of the smaller details. I raved about the speaker connectors on the Mark Levinson No. 333. The connectors on the Rowland are better. The design works by gently hand-tightening a circular disc that hold both the positive and negative spade leads from your speaker cables. This is a simple and effective way to improve on an element of amplifier design. Another nice little touch is the high-quality balanced/unbalanced switches. It may seem like an unimportant detail, as you may only flip that switch once in your entire ownership of a Model 112 but, much as with your SRS airbags, you're glad a lot of thought went into the design even if you never use the feature.
The Jeff Rowland Model 112 may earn itself some valuable real estate on your listening room carpet when other amplifiers could end you up in divorce court. The entire look of the amp is smooth, as it comes from one solid block of aluminum. The bolts that hold the top plate on are neatly recessed into the top of the amp and only visible upon close visual inspection. The smoothest element of the Model 112’s looks is the fact that the heat sinks are built into the two handles within the amp. At 55 lbs., you’d probably never pick the amp up with these handles, but the Model 112 avoids using stereotypically jagged heat sinks, as found on Krell or Mark Levinson products, or the kind of protruding bolts of the type that accompany pricey amplifiers like Cello's Performance II ($25,000 a pair).

The Music
Enough about the way this Rowland looks. How does it sound? The first thing you notice about the Model 112 is how warm and smooth it is acoustically. This is the first product I have reviewed in the brand-new Reference Theater. The theatre is equipped with new Wilson WATT Puppy v6.0 loudspeakers, Proceed electronics and Transparent Reference cables. On Lyle Lovett’s "North Dakota" from ‘Joshua Judges Ruth’ (MCA), Lyle just jumps in front of the two-dimensional plane of the WATT Puppies and belts it out right to me. The snare drum also has excellent "pop" but, most importantly, the piano part at the end of the song sounds as rich and complex as a live piano should.

On Stevie Wonder’s "Sir Duke" from ‘The Original Musicquarium Volume II’ (Motown), the opening horn riff is very possibly the best example of the Jeff Rowland Model 112’s two best attributes. On "Sir Duke," the horns simply jump forward into space, while retaining a warmth and musicality that is found on only a rare high-performance solid state amp. The Rowland shows its ability to handle more complex arrangements, as Stevie's voice is layered neatly over the horns, bass and drums.

Another example of great reproduction of musical layering is on the Vaughn Brothers’ "Telephone Song" from the ‘Family Style’ album (Columbia Records). Without straining, you can easily hear Jimmy Vaughn’s saucy, clean rhythm chops underneath Stevie Ray’s fully loaded Strat with Wah Wah solo tone. Never does the track sound rough, bright or fatiguing, which is quite a compliment for the Model 112, considering our new reference listening room has both mirrored side walls and a glass back wall.

I used Pink Floyd’s "In The Flesh" (the first version on the record) from ‘The Wall’ (Columbia Records) to test how the Model 112 keeps up with the most demanding and powerful tracks. The Rowland sounds mild and warm, just as it does on nearly every track I used to test it, but on "In The Flesh," the Model 112 shows why it is a 150-watt, $5,000 amp and not a $10,000-plus, 300-watt amp. The snare that leads the sing-songy melody which sets off the entire record sounds muffled and too far back in the mix, as opposed to the way it sounds on my old WATT Puppy 5.1s and the Mark Levinson No. 333. Keep in mind that the No. 333, priced at $9,500 USD, showed better control of dynamics, especially on the low end, as it should for nearly double the investment. Reproducing Lyle Lovett is easy in comparison to The Wall and this is specifically why I use non-audiophile material to test high-performance audio equipment.

I tested the low-frequency performance of the Jeff Rowland Model 112 with a great import single that Peter Gabriel recorded for the soundtrack for the motion picture ‘Philadelphia’ entitled "Love Town" (Geffen). Pete’s vocals pop way out in front of the stage, but Tony Levin’s distinctive Chapman Stick bass line doesn’t quite have the punch that I yearn for. The feeling is round and pleasant, but not quite as fast as you’d find with a beefier power amp.

The Downside
The sonic characteristic of this amp is not "tube-like" – the term many use to many describe solid-state electronics – but it is warm and can be soft. These are the best characteristics of the amp, but they also mean that the Model 112 requires excellent accompanying components to make up a killer system. You'll want to have or (quickly invest in) a serious front end, as well as excellent loudspeakers, to go with your Rowland Model 112. At 150 watts, the Model 112 drove my 93 dB efficient Wilson Watt Puppy loudspeakers quite well. However, I was not able to test it with far less efficient speakers like B&Ws, Revels and Martin Logans. While the Model 112 doubles its power into lower impedances as found on the speakers I cite, I would recommend auditioning a Model 112 carefully with a low-efficiency, high-end loudspeaker before slapping down the required cash. The Model 112 is a stereo amp and can’t be doubled or bridged as an upgrade path. You may want to make the step up to a bigger Rowland amp, depending on the speakers that catch your fancy.

While the Jeff Rowland Model 112 is dead sexy, my entire new theater system is built into a custom fan-cooled, bird’s-eye maple equipment rack. The Rowland Model 112 doesn’t have provisions made for rack mounting. Even if it did, you’d need to be mindful of where you installed it, because the amp, when pushed, gets significantly hot. If you build a custom rack shelf for it, you’ll need to leave easily three to four empty rack spaces for cooling. You might even want to add additional fans to the rack specifically for the Rowland to protect the amp and other gear from overheating. When the amp is on the floor, the heat isn’t much of a concern, but in a rack you need to consider it as an issue. However, the amp doesn’t get so hot (unlike some others) that you have to worry about your pets and/or children.

At $5,000, you have to consider the Jeff Rowland Model 112 a value. $5,000 is far from inexpensive. Still, when you factor in the insanely good quality of the build, along with the fact that the Model 112 has a positive effect on the sound of nearly every CD and DVD I tested, this is an amp that is worth serious consideration. It is an excellent value when weighed against amplifiers costing at least double its price tag. Consider an upgrade to a Jeff Rowland amplifier a big move towards audio nirvana.

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