Some of todays integrated
amplifiers have devolved into lightweight black boxes that look like a DVD player's cousin
from Poughkeepsie. Not Rotel's $699-USD RA-1060, which is almost nostalgic with its faux
rack-mount handles, fully vented top, and modest 60Wpc output consistent with two-channel
systems of an earlier day.
Those born after the CD might not know that an integrated
amplifier is a preamplifier and amplifier in a single chassis with no AM/FM tuner. For
today's two-channel purist constrained by space or budget considerations, the integrated
amplifier remains a top-shelf choice.
For an integrated amp to survive in today's marketplace, it
needs some modern conveniences. Let's start with the most modern device, which is a remote
control. Face it: No one wants to leave the easy chair these days for tasks as mundane as
adjusting or muting volume. If it doesn't have a remote, a lot of people won't buy it.
So we'll tell you right off that the RA-1060, in fact, has
a multitasker remote, capable of controlling Rotel CD players, DVD players, and tuners. It
handily accommodates digits of all sizes, too.
This integrated amp isn't just another tin can. Those
handles extending from either side of a substantial brushed-aluminum faceplate (available
in silver or black) give the 17"W x 5.625"H x 14"D RA-1060 an instant
industrial-strength look. An oversized volume dial with a level-indicator notch that glows
red dominates the front panel. There are also separate listen/record selectors for six
inputs, a headphone jack, a four-position speaker selector switch (the RA-1060 accepts two
sets of speakers), and a single "Contour" switch that replaces basic tone
The Contour feature offers an increase of 3dB in bass
frequencies (at 100Hz), a 3dB boost in the high frequencies (at 10kHz), or a combination
of both. Although some might prefer the more expansive adjustments of separate bass and
treble controls, the Contour approach seems a satisfying compromise between those who like
tone controls and those, like me, who seldom use them.
In standby/on mode, a remote sensor illuminates red on the
front panel. A green LED at the listening selector switch indicates the input source.
(Warning: At turn-on, the RA-1060 emits a series of loud clicks. It's only the thermal
protection circuit, not the countdown to destruction.) Next to the light show of a hulking
home-theater receiver, the understated RA-1060 soothes like a lava lamp. The RA-1060 does
have preamp outputs, so it can become part of a multichannel system. Id save those
preamp outputs for a subwoofer you may add later.
More noteworthy technologically, the RA-1060 is a
high-current design with extended frequency response (reported to be 10Hz to 100kHz),
which means its ready for the high-resolution DVD-Audio and SACD audio formats. Of
course, high-resolution playback is limited to the RA-1060's two channels. The new
formats' multichannel capability would be lost, although the RA-1060's preamp outputs
leave room for adding a signal processor or additional amplification. Rotel, alas, has
forsaken a phono stage in the RA-1060.
Much of the RA-1060's heft -- by today's standards, 17.2
pounds isn't bad -- can be traced to the Rotel-made toroidal power transformer, visible
through the grate on top of the unit. In a $699 integrated amp, a substantial transformer
is a very good sign. A toroidal transformer, shaped like a Krispy Kreme donut, determines
how much power can be delivered to your speakers. The RA-1060's power supply uses a
British-made Aerovox TNC (T-Network Capacitor) that Rotel favors in its integrateds for
On the back of RA-1060 you'll find gold-plated RCA
connectors; a detachable IEC power cord; an auxiliary power outlet (switched, which means
power is available only when the RA-1060 is turned on); and a 12V trigger connection, so a
series of Rotel amplifiers can be turned on and off with a single switch.
The RA-1060 fit nicely in a system featuring the Axiom
Audio Millennia M2i speakers and Athena Technologies SST-2234 stands, an acrylic
version of Velodyne's dynamic SPL-800 subwoofer, a Rega Planet CD player used as a
transport, and a modified ART Di/O digital-to-analog converter. PSB's Alpha B bookshelf
speakers and an EAD-modified Rotel RCD-855 CD player that is older than the hills were
Cables included Canare Star Quad interconnects -- a great
buy from Markertek (a professional audio/video supply house in upstate New York) at $12.95
per single three-foot run terminated with Neutrik RCA connectors. Also on hand were the DH
Labs D-75 digital cable, as well as Kimber Silver Streak, MIT Terminator 3, Kimber 8TC,
and Analysis Plus Oval 9 speaker cables. I used the Velodyne's line-level inputs -- the
RA-1060's preamp outputs were ready partners.
The Rotel RA-1060 does benefit from some break-in time.
Even after 50 hours of casual listening, I couldn't resist shriveling my nose at the
RA-1060's shrillness and lack of depth. However, that all changed for the better with even
more hours on the unit. Make sure your unit is warmed up and broken-in sufficiently before
critically auditioning it. The RA-1060 also has some sensitivity to cables as well. My
suggestion, though, is to stick with an inexpensive, neutral cable like the Canare/Neutrik
assembly from Markertek. Later, experiment with power cords if you like.
The RA-1060 has a nice sonic balance: an amiable but not
fully developed midrange, some sock in the lower end, and enough of the higher frequencies
to impart detail without becoming an irritant. The RA-1060's sound belies its modest power
rating, too. Those 60Wpc proved to be more than enough to drive any loudspeaker I tested
it with. Don't let the inflated ratings of 100W audio/video receivers make you power
hungry; the Rotel delivers plenty of juice for most situations.
On Teri Thornton's "Feels Good," from the 1998
Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition winner's I'll Be Easy to Find
debut [Verve 64], the higher frequencies were clean if somewhat abbreviated, but cymbals
were vibrant. There was identifiable space between vocals and instruments, and Thornton's
voice moved out into the room, well beyond the speakers.
Captain Luke's "Waiter," from his Outsider
Lounge Music album with guitarist Cool John Ferguson [Music Maker MMCD 0014], was
similarly three-dimensional. The minimalist recording captures Luke's raw baritone and
Ferguson's front-porch strumming, though the RA-1060's limited high-frequency extension
prohibited that final, elusive dose of realism.
Although you're not going to get that last ounce of detail
in a $699 integrated, what the RA-1060 does provide is clean and lifelike. More important,
the RA-1060 delivers excellent performance in the midrange -- where most of the action is
anyway. (For the money, the Axiom Audio Millennia M2i bookshelf loudspeakers can't
be beat in this region, though their design makes a subwoofer mandatory.) With a more
full-range speaker than the Axioms, the RA-1060 won't let you down in the low frequencies.
It can track the bass lines of Oliver Mtukudzi's "Pindurai Mambo" (Paivepo
[Putumayo 168]) in a way many others can't -- leaner, deeper, and with greater authority.
Confession: I love vacuum-tube equipment, so the rich mids
of the Antique Sound Lab AQ1003 DT were tough to resist. Though the 35-pound AQ1003 DT is
truly a high-end integrated at a bargain-basement price ($829), it can be argued that the
Rotel RA-1060 does more things better: a firmer grasp of the bass region, better balance
top to bottom, more consistent sound. Its also less prone to the varying sonic
performance of vacuum-tube equipment.
The RA-1060 also has that modern convenience, the remote.
The AQ1003 DT does not have remote control, and if looks matter in a solid-state
integrated, the RA-1060's brutish appearance scores big style points. Give me the
heavyweight good looks of the RA-1060 over the diminutive deck-of-cards-deep look of, say,
the Creek 4330, any day.
Rotel's RA-1060 combines old-school aesthetics -- love
those handles and the ample toroidal -- with the type of sound favored by the modern ear.
It also has that gotta-have-it accessory, the remote control. Before buying the RA-1060,
just make sure you'll remain committed long-term to two-channel sound and are not going to
a full home-theater system soon. The RA-1060, so elegant in its simplicity, makes a strong
case for keeping the integrated amplifier -- and two-channel stereo -- alive.
Price of equipment reviewed