January 15, 2009

Rotel RCD-1072 CD Player

Ah, Compact Disc -- we knew ye well! Twenty-five years after the CD’s introduction and its promoters’ promise of "perfect sound forever," the little silver disc appears to be spinning out of our lives. CD sales are in a tailspin, superseded by downloads from websites such as iTunes and Rhapsody. Some people are as appalled by this situation as vinyl stalwarts were in 1983. I’m one of them.

However, for those of us who still prefer our music on media we can hold, there’s Rotel’s RCD-1072 single-disc CD player ($699 USD). Considered by many hi-fi aficionados as a leader in entry-level high-end gear, Rotel has been in the hi-fi game for over 40 years. Most of its equipment is designed in the UK and manufactured in China.

The RCD-1072 was first reviewed here by Jeff Van Dyne, in July 2004, when the player was launched. But given the longevity of the design (some subtle changes appear to have been made since then), Rotel's stalwart reputation, the fact that many audiophiles might now be looking for the last standalone CD player they'll ever buy -- and that the RCD-1072 is likely to be the last such player reviewed by GoodSound! for a long while -- we thought it worth revisiting at the beginning of 2009 to see how it's held up.


The RCD-1072’s appearance is similar to that of most Rotel equipment: a bright matte-aluminum faceplate contrasts with a cover and "wings" of mottled black. The player measures 16.85"W x 3.6"H x 13.2"D, and weighs a solid 13 pounds. Popping the top reveals a circuit layout that’s the next thing to art. The circuit board is heavy, the signal traces as short as possible, and the layout and construction are exquisite. The player has a toroidal power transformer, decoding circuits for High-Definition CD (HDCD) discs, and an "18-bit equivalent multi-level Delta-Sigma DAC with eight times oversampling digital filter." Don’t ask me what that last means -- I tried reading two different explanations of Delta-Sigma circuitry and gave up; my grasp of digital electronics theory is marginal at best.

The CD drawer is front and center, just above the large electrofluorescent display. At the very left of the faceplate are the Power pushbutton and pilot light, below them an LED that indicates when an HDCD disc is played, and below that an infrared remote sensor.

Between the power switch and disc drawer are two rows of three buttons each. In the top row, from left to right, are: Program, which allows you to program as many as 20 tracks; Review, which lets you check the order of those tracks; and Random (when this is selected, the word Random appears in the display). In the bottom row, from left to right, are: Rept, which repeats either the current track or the entire disc, depending on whether or not you step through the possibilities with repeated (sorry, couldn’t resist) presses; Scan, which plays the first ten seconds of each track on the disc, or each track programmed; and Time, which offers three choices of time display: the elapsed time of the current track, remaining playing time of current track, or remaining playing time of the entire CD or of all tracks programmed.

The RCD-1072’s basic operating controls are to the right of the display and drawer. There are three buttons in the top row: Open/Close, Search Back, and Search Forward. Below these are five more: Play, Stop, Pause, Previous Track, and Next Track.

The back of the RCD-1072 has three RCA-jack outputs: Left/Right fixed-level analog, and a single digital out (to connect to an outboard DAC). There are also two minijacks: one for a 12V trigger, to either power up the player or put it in standby, and the other to allow the RCD-1072 to be controlled by an external infrared controller. Finally, a standard IEC power connector gives you the choice of using the supplied AC cord or one from a specialty supplier.

The supplied remote control duplicates all front-panel controls, and adds a numeric keypad for the direct selection of tracks. Its appearance mimics that of the mother ship: a keypad finished in matte aluminum, the rest in black.

A word of caution: The RCD-1072’s drawer opens and closes at a supersonic speed, and with surprising strength. Never use your hand to keep it from closing.


I connected the RCD-1072 to my normal main system for all of my serious listening, and compared the Rotel with my Sony CDP-X303ES CD player. Both fed different inputs of my Linn Majik 1-P integrated amp, which powered my NEAR 50Me Mk.II speakers. For part of the time, I used the recently reviewed Elemental Design A2-300 subwoofer to augment the NEAR’s bass performance. (I’m kinda sorry to see that sub go back.) Interconnects were from Dayton Audio; the NEARs were biwired with 14-gauge AR cable.


Before I talk about its sound, allow me a slight digression into other aspects of the RCD-1072’s performance. I tested both the Rotel and Sony players with the CD-Check test disc from Nova Scotia’s Digital Recordings (www.digital-recordings.com), which measures a CD player’s error correction and tracking capabilities. Both were able to tolerate a simulated scratch of 1.125mm (Test Level 4), which Digital Recordings regards as "very good." I agree -- the Rotel produced nary a glitch from some discs that cause other players to stumble. At the same time, the Rotel is not as resistant as the Sony to external shocks and bumps.

However, when I attempted to play a "Red Book"-standard CD-R compiled by a friend, I was dismayed that neither the Rotel nor a recently acquired NAD C525BEE CD player would read it; my other players, including a 1989 Sears/Sanyo model I picked up for $18 at a thrift store, had no problems with this disc. A mystery.

How did the Rotel RCD-1072 sound? In a word, vibrant. In another, enthusiastic. Or, in two more, incredibly detailed. This player was no aural wallflower -- its sound sparkled and glimmered. With the right speakers and associated equipment, that can be a very good thing; but with the high-energy midrange of my NEAR speakers, it was sometimes too much of a good thing.

For instance, in "You Can Call Me Al," from Paul Simon’s Graceland (CD, Warner Bros./Rhino R2 78904), there was a lot more slam to the bass guitar and drums through the Rotel than through the Sony. The breadth and depth of the Rotel’s soundstaging were comparable to the Sony’s -- in short, quite good. There was a vibrancy to many of the instruments, but the sound of the cymbals was the slightest bit harsh. There was, however, a total absence of background noise. Overall, the Rotel’s sound was livelier than the Sony’s.

The voice of Matchbox 20’s Rob Thomas makes him First Runner-up in the Sounds Like He Gargles with Razor Blades competition usually won by Rod Stewart. However, Thomas’s voice on "Smooth," from Carlos Santana’s Supernatural (CD, Arista 07822-19080-2-RE-1), perfectly matches the song’s mood and Santana’s exquisite, soaring guitar. The Rotel produced less grit in Thomas’s voice than the Sony, and had exceptional depth: Thomas to the fore, just in front of Santana, and the rest of the instruments and bass/drums behind them. This was definitely one recording that I preferred to listen to through the Rotel.

I’m sure it’s not cool to enjoy ZZ Top anymore. I don’t care. Their version of Doc Pomus’s "Viva Las Vegas," from Chrome, Smoke & BBQ (CD, Warner Bros. 78176), is great fun -- they even channel The King, to their own distinctive accompaniment of chainsaw guitar. If you like throbbing guitar and pounding drums, it’s real ear candy. The Rotel, again, put the right stuff -- voice and guitars -- up front, the drums nicely behind. And, again, the Rotel’s rendition came across with a lot more raucous energy than the Sony’s. The RCD-1072 rocked.

Throttling back on the energy a bit, Fourplay’s "Bali Run," from their first, eponymous album (CD, Warner Bros. 26656-2) -- an old favorite -- was presented by the Rotel with more detail on the reasonably subtle guitar intro. This surprised me -- I’d begun to think that the RCD-1072 was all about flash and glam. But with the right material, its sound could be less frenzied. Even so, there was lots of slam when that was called for, especially in the passages for five-string bass.

Don Sebesky, one of today’s best big-band arrangers, outdid himself when he came up with the chart for Jimmy Lunceford’s "Rhythm Is Our Business," as recorded by John Pizzarelli on Our Love Is Here to Stay (CD, RCA 67501-2). Sebesky knew the band was a bunch of young Turks with great chops and a lot of energy. When the full group comes in after the solos, it’s been known to trip the protection circuit of my Linn Majik 1-P integrated. Nothing of this sort occurred with the Rotel, but the player did a great job of presenting this track’s breadth and depth. The band was right there behind Pizzarelli and pianist Ray Kennedy, without overpowering either. Great depth, great reproduction.

Then it was time to listen to some singers. I popped The Best of Peggy Lee: The Capitol Years (CD, Capitol CDP 8 21204 2) into the players one at a time to see how they did with possibly her greatest hit, 1958’s "Fever." I’ve always liked the silken sound of this through the Sony, and was anxious to hear how the Rotel would do. Once again, it excelled in soundstaging and depth. This recording has a pretty simple setup, and the Rotel re-created it perfectly: Lee’s voice front and center, then her finger snaps (the first snap just left of center, its reverberated echo just to the right), the bass a bit behind, and Shelly Manne’s drums somewhat farther back. Through the Sony this soundstage wasn’t so deep -- singer and instruments were smushed a bit closer together.

For my lone classical recording, I played the Finale of Schubert’s Piano Quintet in A Major, "The Trout," from a recording by the Cleveland Quartet with pianist John O’Conor and double-bassist James Vandemark (CD, Telarc CD-80225). This is a magnificent performance, but the piano has always sounded to me as if it’s 30’ or so away from its microphone, in the next room, and especially in the upper registers. Through the Rotel, the piano still sounded far way, but a bit closer. The quartet was always out front, surrounding the piano, while the double bass is in the center, just behind. With all the upper strings, there was a subtle but pleasing sheen that took me to the land of "glistenin’ listenin’." Very nice.

That was all with the very smooth, silky sound of the Linn Majik integrated. When I connected the Rotel RCD-1072 to its companion Rotel RA-1062 integrated amp (review upcoming), the sound changed. The RA-1062 is cut from the same sonic cloth as the RCD-1072: a bit in your face, by no means reticent. That’s good news for those of you whose speakers have subdued treble; for instance, the Rotel-Rotel combo sounded somewhat more refined with the Elemental Design A6-6T6 tower speakers I reviewed in December than with my NEARs.


If you cherish the ultimate detail available from Compact Disc, does Rotel have a CD player for you. The RCD-1072 offers the most detailed renderings of CDs that I can remember hearing. It’s far more detailed than my Sony player, and even more detailed than the NAD C525BEE. It also has as little background noise as I believe may be possible. The build quality of the $699 RCD-1072 is excellent -- as good as that of a $1500 Danish CD player I reviewed seven or eight years ago for another publication -- and its design details are as fine as the detail of its sound.

If the Compact Disc remains your choice of audio storage media, and you’re in the market for a new player, don’t pass up an opportunity to audition the RCD-1072 -- it could make your day. This single-disc CD player from Rotel is proof that the apparent last gasps of a technology can be its finest.

. . . Thom Moon

Price of equipment reviewed