Rotel RSX-1560 A/V Receiver Page 3
Yes, Yes, Yes
Throughout my listening sessions, I wondered if Rotel had really pulled an audiophile rabbit out of the Class D hat. My movie demos suggested that the answer might be yes. But the music demos were more conclusive.
Orchestral strings are among the toughest listening tests. The violin has an inherently nasty sound—but if you put a bunch of them in a great hall, record them well, and play them back through a great system, you should be as near to heaven as human life allows. For this test I picked a vinyl edition of Bernard Herrmann conducting the National Philharmonic Orchestra in Music From Great Shakespeare Films, works written for Hamlet, Richard III, and Julius Caesar by Shostakovich, Walton, and Rózsa. Those old London Phase 4 LPs could sound fabulous. Violins: yes, with the right feel. Cellos: dark and chocolatey, another yes. Basses: surprisingly full and tuneful, another yes. This was a fully developed string sound, not a tizzy facsimile or dumbed-down fake.
Only with the most metallic instruments—some brass and a relentlessly shaken tambourine—did I detect a difference between Rotel’s Class D sound and its Class AB sound, which I know and love so well. It was a tiny difference in flavor and had nothing to do with discomfort. It was more like looking at the Mona Lisa under incandescent light and then looking at it again under a high-quality compact fluorescent with the same lumens and color temp. Same painting, same colors, slightly different light.
You’ll laugh, but let the record show that my appreciation for the RSX-1560 was considerably heightened when, while flipping the Herrmann LP, I treated myself to a Guinness. Once I stopped fretting, the Rotel sounded much better. I did all the other demos sober (my normal practice, of course), but I thought this might be worth noting. If you get all uptight about listening to anything, you listen differently, and perhaps not as well.
Richard & Linda Thompson’s Hokey Pokey is their best-recorded album. Using the Universal/Island CD re-release, I enjoyed a solid drum sound with pleasing mid-bass fullness. Linda’s emotionally potent soprano is like a canary in a coal mine. It has a strong treble content and is hardwired into my heart. This receiver didn’t make me turn her down, and I listened at a high volume level suitable for foreground listening. When I switched between the Dolby Pro Logic II Music mode and stereo, I preferred the former for the way it highlighted the layering of voices and guitars, with better separation of harmony vocals.
Dave Frishberg’s Songbook Volume 1 is yet another of my sidewalk LPs. The Rotel lovingly projected the comic jazz singer’s slightly nasal voice. His piano, which is recorded close up, sounded as if it were in the room with me. The string bass and light drums were pitch-perfect. With this highly natural recording, stereo was the only way to go—DPLII actually bent the soundstage out of shape in an obvious way, which surprised me, because that rarely happens. The difference between this pristine piece of vinyl and the CD release of Frishberg’s Classics—which contains many of the same songs—was night and day. The LP has far more vivid textures and increased spatiality. Audiophiles and people who run trade-show demos should track down this piece of wax and put it in heavy rotation. By the time I was done with it, I was convinced that I was listening to a great receiver, one that deserves a spot on our Top Picks list.
The Rotel RSX-1560 is not just a science experiment in Class D amplification. It is a fine-tuned product that maintains the manufacturer’s effortlessly musical personality while projecting it onto a new amplifier topology. If I agonized over this receiver, I can only imagine how many sleepless nights Rotel’s designers spent trying to make it sound as good as its shiny front panel looks. With Mother Nature giving us dirty looks, it’s nice to know that such a thing is possible.