Rotel RSP-1570 Surround Processor and RMB-1575 Amplifier Page 3
Strings sounded somewhat thin and lacked luster through the DHC-9.9. But when I played the Cole stereo mix in the Rotel’s Two-Channel mode (analog passthrough for SACD or using the Rotel’s D/A converters on the CD layer), they positively bloomed. The Rotel replaced the DHC-9.9’s somewhat screechy, metallic high string tone with a sweeter, more delicate sheen. The bigger strings also sounded fuller and more infused with wood. The harp was rendered with greater textural delicacy, with a greater sense of fingers plucking the strings. The Rotel clarified both the attack and the harmonic structure of the delicate, barely audible old-school bass-line backbeat behind the prominent strings. Through the DHC-9.9, there was bass but not nearly as much attack definition or harmonic resolution.
On the CD layer decoded via the Rotel’s D/A converters, Cole’s closely miked voice was noticeably fleshed out, round, and compacted in three-dimensional space. Compared with the DACs that are built into my SACD player in analog passthrough mode, the sound was somewhat cleaner, with darker backdrops and more delicately drawn transients, although the differences weren’t major.
I went back to the same multichannel SACDs I used for the Cary 11a review (Home Theater, May 2010). These include the great Jerry Goldsmith movie and television score medleys recorded at Abbey Road by Bruce Botnick in 5.1 surround. I also used some Living Stereo threetrack SACDs and the three-track layer of Love Is the Thing. These sources demonstrated both the DHC-9.9’s musical shortcomings and the Rotel’s more nuanced harmonic, textural, and rhythmic musical abilities. The differences weren’t as profound as the comparison between the DHC-9.9 and the Cary 11a, but they were still significant.
If your home theater system doubles as your music system, the Rotel is an attractive, versatile, and reasonably priced surround processor, particularly given its customizable, mode-dependent speaker setup options.
I switched to Blu-ray video (over HDMI) and started with two useful music videos: Jeff Beck at Ronnie Scott’s and Roy Orbison: Black & White Night. Both include DTS-HD Master Audio tracks. On these, the Rotel’s sonic improvements were considerable and easy to hear. On the Orbison disc, the distinctive background singers, including k.d. lang, Jennifer Warnes, and Bonnie Raitt, are placed in the surround channels. On “Dream Baby,” Orbison duets on vocals with Bruce Springsteen, while the gals add their sha-la-las in the surrounds. Through the DHC-9.9, their distinctive vocal timbres were somewhat lost to an edgy gloss. The Rotel eliminated that gloss and made each singer’s voice easy to identify.
I could also hear the same slight metallic gloss, accompanied by a less-than-black backdrop, coloring all of the proceedings across the front soundstage via the DHC-9.9. When I switched to the Rotel, it produced blacker backgrounds that let the images pop, as well as far smoother and more nuanced vocals from Orbison and the other singers mixed to the front. The two distinct voices in the Orbison and Springsteen duet became much easier to identify and separate; you’d swear you were listening to a different mix. When engineers include listening in their design agendas, they can produce outcomes like this. They aren’t always readily measurable, but they sure are audible.
I watched a dozen or so movies during my review period. Some were action heavy. Others were mostly about the dialogue, like the fascinating, swinging ’60s period/coming-of-age flick An Education, with a terrific script by Nick Hornby. I also watched George Clooney’s great stone-faced performance (until his fall) in Up in the Air and Steven Soderbergh’s slyly hilarious The Informant!. New Englander Matt Damon’s against-type performance is unforgettable, as is his spot-on Midwestern accent. Dialogue-heavy movies mostly have overprocessed, ADR’d (looped) vocal tracks. Frankly, I don’t think the differences among good processors are earthshaking, even with lossless audio and with the music/score added in. Still, the Rotel’s blacker backdrops and greater textural and tonal qualities added a heightened sense of realism. It was easier to pick up asides and throwaway lines, particularly at lower SPLs.
Spatially, I have one curious thing to report. Despite an SPL meter’s readings to the contrary, the Rotel’s surround channels consistently sounded louder than the Integra’s. This was true on the Orbison Blu-ray and on movie scenes I played through both processors. I ended up lowering the surround channels 3 dB from where they were accurately balanced with the fronts. Otherwise, I can’t say that I noticed anything unusual or notable about the Rotel’s surround performance relative to other surround processors or AVRs I’ve reviewed.
On the video side, I ran the Blu-ray player, cable box, and D-VHS player at their native resolutions and let the video processing in either the Panasonic VIERA TC-P54G25 plasma or JVC DLA-HD750 projector handle conversion to 1080p when appropriate. I had no complaints about the Rotel’s video-switching capabilities, nor did I notice anything worth commenting on about the unit’s video performance. I wonder how much longer built-in video-processing capabilities will be considered mandatory for surround processors? Then again, given falling chip costs, why not just throw it in?