The Power Station
Sound & Vision|October - November 2021
TRUE STORY. My very first hi-fi system featured a Rotel integrated amplifier—if memory serves, a model RA-20 of some 20 watts per channel.
Daniel Kumin

I bought it brand new for around $60 from K&L Sound in Watertown, Massachusetts, with money saved from my after-school job building shelves, sweeping floors, and punching holes in sheet metal panels that would become the very first ARP synthesizers. (The late Alan R. Pearlman was my next door neighbor and a lovely, kind, brilliant guy.)

With a pair of old Electrovoice speakers inherited from my employer and a Garrard turntable harvested from an abandoned console, that little Rotel served me through college and beyond. It was compact, simple, and unadorned, with screw-terminal speaker outputs and, if I remember right, four inputs, including both “Mag” and “Xtal” phono jacks—so much tech! I wish I could remember what became of it, but I like to think that somewhere it's still playing music.

Back then, Rotel was an all but unknown, mostly O.E.M. Japanese audio electronics manufacturer, relegated to the lower shelves beneath the flashier Kenwood and Sansui models. Fast-forward a few decades—okay, more than a few—to the Rotel of today, a globally established serious-audio brand, audiophile-approved for its performance-first corporate philosophy and resistance to the regular model-year changes and features-driven marketing that are as prevalent today in audio as in many other consumer products.

Rotel’s new RA-1572MKII integrated amplifier is full-sized, hefty, and elegantly finished in finely brushed aluminum (black-anodized is also available). Its input jack selection includes one balanced XLR and four stereo analog RCA, moving magnet phono, two each coaxial and optical digital, plus a USB type-B asynchronous digital-to-audio converter (DAC) port for a direct computer link and a LAN (Ethernet) port for home automation integration. There’s also a USB type-A port on the front panel for a phone or other iDevice plus a power-only one on the back.

Although the new MKII integrated is visually indistinguishable from its predecessor, the plain RA-1572, Rotel reports important design refinements and component upgrades, principally a new 32-bit/384kHz-capable DAC from Texas Instruments/Burr-Brown.

The RA-1572MKII is equipped with aptX Bluetooth for higher-quality wireless playback from a compatible smartphone or tablet, but there’s no Wi-Fi or Apple AirPlay streaming capability, something I find a bit curious in the current streaming era. I also find it somewhat unusual that Rotel’s marketing materials pointedly (if somewhat anachronistically) state “Made for iPod/iPhone.”

SETUP

Installing the very thoroughly packaged Rotel required nothing more than unboxing and then hefting it atop my rack and shifting a fistful of cables and speaker wires from my everyday pre-pro/power-amp combo. The only hiccup I encountered was that the RA-1572MKII’s Ethernet port would not talk to my router’s DHCP-server function, and thus would not join the network. Since the Rotel is not equipped to stream audio via wired Ethernet, this was relatively unimportant. However, it also meant that I had to break out a long USB cable to connect my desktop iMac (my Roon “Core”) with the RA-1572MKII’s USB type-B input for using Roon digital music management and playback software— pretty much a necessity for my critical and comparative listening sessions these days.

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