February 1, 2009

Rotel RA-1062 Integrated Amplifier


While Americans have always preferred receivers, in Europe, integrated amplifiers command the market. And, as Rotel gear is designed in the UK, it makes sense that the company would offer a line of integrateds. In Europe, buyers have the choice of five different Rotel integrateds, ranging in power from 40 to 100Wpc.

The RA-1062 ($699 USD) is the middle model of Rotel’s line of European integrateds, and the only one offered on this side of the pond. Its output is rated at 60Wpc and 0.03% total harmonic distortion (THD) into 8 ohms. No power ratings are offered for other impedances; in fact, the owner’s manual recommends that the RA-1062 be used only with speakers whose impedance doesn’t dip below 8 ohms. Such power supplies often can’t provide the high current needed to reproduce a loud transient at a point in the speaker’s reproduction curve at which its impedance is low. (The opposite design philosophy is represented by brands such as NAD, whose amps feature high "dynamic power" into low impedances.)

The RA-1062 is similar in dimensions to its companion CD player, the RCD-1072: the same width of 17", but a bit taller at 5 5/8" (vs. 3 11/16"), and slightly deeper at 14" (vs. 13 1/4"). Like the RCD-1072, the RA-1062 has a matte-silver front panel, and a black steel cover with a stylish handle at each end.

The RA-1062’s front panel is dominated by a large, centrally mounted volume control. At the far left, above a standard 1/4" headphone jack, are the Power switch and a blue power-on light. To their right are three small knobs for: speaker selection (Off, A, B, A+B), Contour (tone), and Balance. The Contour switch has five positions: L-1, which is described in the manual as "Moderate increase in bass frequencies (typically +3dB at 100Hz)"; L-2, for "More increase in bass frequencies (typically +4dB at 100Hz)"; Off (flat); H, for "Moderate increase in high frequencies (+3dB at 10kHz)"; and LH, for a "Combination of L-2 bass and H high-frequency increases." These make small but noticeable shifts in the timbre of the sound.

To the right of the volume control are the Recording and Listening selectors, which allow one to listen to one program source while recording another. And with the RA-1062, that’s a distinct possibility -- I found the crosstalk between inputs to be nil, even between phono and a high-level source such as CD. The RA-1062 includes a built-in moving-magnet phono preamp, a feature that’s seldom standard on hi-fi gear these days. Other inputs include line-level sources labeled Tuner, CD, Aux, Tape 1, and Tape 2. There is one-way tape dubbing (Tape 1 to Tape 2).

The rear of the amplifier is taken up by the input jacks, a pair of Pre Out jacks for a subwoofer or to drive a second amplifier, a two-prong IEC power inlet (allowing you, if you’re so inclined, to try different power cords), and two sets of high-quality, heavy-duty speaker connectors. There also is a 12V Trigger output to automatically turn on another component so equipped when the RA-1062 is powered up.

The interior of the RA-1062 is, as is usual for Rotel gear, beautifully designed, with a beefy, toroidal power transformer, an equally stout heatsink for the output transistors, and a circuit board that’s the next thing to fine art. All the solder joints in my review sample were perfect; an amazing piece of work!

Accompanying the RA-1062 is a remote control that handles both its amplifier functions and those of Rotel CD players and tuners. I used this with the RA-1062 and the RCD-1072 CD player and found it worked well, even at oblique angles to the infrared sensor (which is just to the right of the Power switch). While the Power switch is of the mechanical variety, you can put the RA-1062 into standby mode from the remote.


For this review, I used only two source components: my Sony CDP-303ES CD player and my Dual CS5000 turntable with Grado Gold cartridge. When listening to CDs, I attached the Sony to an old RadioShack outboard tape switcher so that I could quickly switch the player’s output to either the Rotel or my Linn Majik-IP integrated amp. I used Dayton Audio interconnects for all three connections. Also for this review, I ran my NEAR 50Me Mk.II speakers single-wired rather than in my usual biwired setup. This allowed fairly quick changes between the Rotel and Linn for comparisons. To match levels, I ran pink noise from the CD player through each amp until their levels closely matched, as measured by my SPL meter. No, it wasn’t A/B/X testing, and no, I can’t claim that the amps’ levels were precisely matched, but it sufficed for my purposes.


As often happens in my listening sessions, the first CD out of its jewelbox was Fourplay’s first, eponymous album (Warner Bros. 26656-2). "Bali Run" features a lot of percussive bass playing, as well as some good electronic keyboard, guitar, and percussion. The Rotel RA-1062 seemed to dig slightly deeper into the bottom end than I’m used to; perhaps its extra grunt -- 60Wpc vs. the Linn’s 33Wpc when single-wired -- made the difference. However, the Rotel’s soundstage was a bit like a description of Nebraska’s Platte River in summer: a mile wide and an inch deep. Sound seemed to emanate from outside the speakers’ outer edges, but in terms of depth, the instruments sounded as if they were on top of one another.

These initial impressions carried over to "You Can Call Me Al," from Paul Simon’s Graceland (CD, Warner Bros. R2 78904). The bass and percussion were reproduced with lots of punch (or "slam," as the Brits say), and Simon’s voice had just a bit of a "honky" characteristic that I didn’t hear through the Linn Majik-IP. The Linn also continued to offer a more polite sound -- not entirely what one wants with this track.

On "Smooth," from Carlos Santana’s Supernatural (Arista 19080-2-RE-1), Santana and singer Rob Thomas attempt to occupy the same virtual space, but the rest of the instruments are reproduced across a wide, fairly deep soundstage. Santana’s solos soared more spiritedly through the Rotel than through the Linn, and the Rotel’s overall sound was, again, punchier. As noted above, this may be the result of the Rotel’s nearly 3dB power advantage over the Linn.

With the Rotel in the chain, the title track of Steve Winwood’s Roll With It (CD, Virgin V2 90946) just cooked. The soundstage was wide and deep, and Winwood’s voice emanated from the very center of it. Transients, such as from the snares, were good and crisp. With the Linn, the piano was more up-front, while the soundstage was a bit narrower. The Linn’s reproduction of the drums was good, but not quite in the same league as the Rotel’s.

Dire Straits’ "Sultans of Swing," from the soundtrack CD of Metroland (Warner Bros. 47006-2), is one of those tunes that’s hard to categorize -- unless the category is "Great Songs of All Time." The Linn gave good, solid sound: nothing flashy, but with a crisp, rather delicate sound to the cymbals and a detailed but gutsy tone to Mark Knopfler’s guitar. The Rotel provided a beefier, fuller, somewhat more forward sound. As much as I love the Linn -- my reference integrated for 12 years now -- the Rotel outperformed it here.

My home town, Cincinnati, Ohio, is blessed with one of the premier music schools in the US: the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, which has a respected jazz program. The head of that program, pianist Phil DeGreg, has made a number of solo recordings, including Down the Middle (CD, Prevenient Music PWM 103), which begins with Dizzy Gillespie’s "Con Alma." DeGreg’s trio had a very natural sound through the Linn; there’s no 7’-wide drum set, for instance. The piano is handled quite well, with no smearing of tones. Through the Rotel there was slightly more midrange presence and a broader soundstage. In all, I found the Linn’s sound more satisfying, but the Rotel put on a great show.

Another of my favorite reviewing tracks, for its wide range of voices and backing instruments, is Manhattan Transfer’s version of Weather Report’s "Birdland," from Down in Birdland: The Manhattan Transfer Anthology (CD, Rhino/Atlantic D200146). It’s a cornucopia of sounds. First, all of the instruments accompanying this vocal group are electronic, even the percussion. Second, the four fabulous voices of ManTran are placed all over the aural map. Through the Linn, the presentation was fine -- this was one time the Majik-IP got up and boogied. But "Birdland" just sounded more alive through the Rotel: the bass was punchier, the vocals more present. A definite win for the Rotel.

I then played a recording of Schubert’s "Trout" Quintet by the Cleveland Quartet, with double-bassist James Vandemark and pianist John O’Conor (CD, Telarc CD-80225). As I mentioned in my review of the Rotel RCD-1072 CD player, the piano has always sounded as if, during the recording sessions, it was in the next room -- and is if that room was quite large, with lots of echo. Somehow, the Rotel pulled the piano a bit closer to the rest of the instruments and placed it right in the middle, just behind the violin and viola. The soundstage was broader and deeper than when I played the same recording through the Majik-IP.

Finally, I just had to play with the Rotel’s phono input -- so few integrateds offer one any more. I wasn’t able to easily switch from Rotel to Linn and back, as I couldn’t use the input-switching kludge I’d used with the CD. So my comments are limited to my impressions of the Rotel.

First up was a cover of Kris Kristofferson’s "Me and Bobby McGee," from Gordon Lightfoot’s If You Could Read My Mind (LP, Reprise 6392). One thing I always look for on this cut is the knee-slaps in the second verse. This very delicate percussion isn’t the easiest sort of sound to reproduce well, but the Rotel came through with flying colors. As with other recordings, the RA-1062’s reproduction of this track was just a bit heavy in the lower midrange, making Lightfoot’s voice sound a bit hollow. But I was pleased with the overall sound.

Then came "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover," from Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years (LP, Columbia PC 33540). One small thing that immediately stood out was the tambourine’s location on the soundstage. This has been a sore point for me with many other amps, the Linn Majik-IP included, because the tambourine usually seems to be perched atop Simon’s left ear. With the Rotel, however, it was just to the left of and somewhat behind Simon’s left ear -- a much more likely real location. There was a little sibilance, but I have a hunch that’s a byproduct of my 30-year-old copy of the LP.

Finally, I pulled out an LP that challenges any high-quality sound-reproduction system: Grazin’ (RCA LSP-4149), the 1969 album by the Friends of Distinction, which features their hit, "Grazin’ in the Grass." The problem: it’s an RCA Victor Dynagroove pressing. For those of you not of a certain age, Dynagroove was an early attempt by RCA at processing an audio signal so that a pickup stylus would track the groove more precisely. According to the "Dynagroove" entry at Wikipedia.com, RCA claimed that "Dynagroove had the effect of adding brilliance and clarity, realistic presence, full-bodied tone and virtually eliminated surface noise and inner groove distortion." The general response to this by audio aficionados then and now is something akin to "poppycock": Most Dynagroove recordings have significant amounts of audible distortion, and Grazin’ is no exception. However, in my opinion, the group’s performance is so exceptional that I couldn’t resist hearing how it would sound with the Rotel.

In three words, "pretty darned good" for a 40-year-old LP that had serious problems even when new. I was impressed. The sound was lively and very up-front. The lead singer was nicely out front, the three backing singers behind and spread across the soundstage. The instruments were a bit behind, including the very strong trumpets. Given this recording’s limitations, I was happy; now I want to find it on CD.


Rotel’s RA-1062 is a brilliant piece of gear, beautifully designed and beautifully built. On a range of sound from "polite" to "party," it definitely leans toward the latter -- not always a bad thing. For instance, I’d love to hear the RA-1062’s preamp section driving the Blue Sky System One 2.1 active subwoofer/satellite system -- I think they’d love each other. Also, I believe the Rotel would be a great companion to the Elemental Designs A6-6T6 tower speaker, which I recently reviewed. In fact, I could see it in my own system, if only because of the extra bass punch it offers with my NEAR speakers.

Rotel has a hit on its hands. Should you be in the market for a moderately priced, moderately powered integrated amplifier, the RA-1062 should be at the top of your list.

. . . Thom Moon

Price of equipment reviewed