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Rotel A14MKII integrated amplifier Review

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A common comment in high-end audio is “I would like a high-end stereo system but it is just too expensive.”  While that may be true, I feel high-end audio is more about an attitude and your approach to buying audio components.  I have listened to a number of home theater setups that were very costly that sounded mediocre.  I have also both listened to and purchased some phenomenal products, some of which I have owned for well over 20 years, such as my Magnepan MMG speakers ($500) and NAD PP1 phono stage ($129), among others.

Rotel is a 60-year-old, independent, family-owned brand that is distributed through Sumiko and McIntosh Group in the US. According to the company website, the A14MKII is the flagship model in the 14 Series family of products, delivering 80 Watts of Class AB amplification into 8 ohm speakers powered by Rotel’s in-house manufactured, oversized toroidal transformer and an array of 4 high efficiency slit-foil bulk storage capacitors, delivering an effortless acoustic performance.  A fully redesigned Digital to Analog circuit topology utilizes a Texas Instruments 32-bit/384kHz DAC with exhaustive tuning and hand selection of all critical components delivering a fuller, richer and more balanced presentation of the music.  Improvements to the power supply and amplifier gain stages further refine the audio whether you are listening to a big band orchestra or a solo vocalist.  Tone controls provide treble and bass adjustments in 1dB steps up to +/- 10dB personalizing your experience for all music genres, moods and settings with a BYPASS mode eliminating unwanted noise and distortion.  The A14MKII supports your favorite sources including analog, digital, PC-USB with MQA, high-quality wireless aptX™ and AAC Bluetooth streaming and even a Moving Magnet Phono stage for vinyl fans.  The A14MKII is certified Roon Tested delivering the best experience using Roon software so you can just enjoy the music.  Control system integration is available utilizing Ethernet, RS232, 12V-Trigger and remote IR connections.  Dual 5-way speaker binding posts allow Zone 2 installations with relay-controlled selection of the A-B speaker outputs. The front panel graphic display includes a large volume indication and audio stream information.  The A14MKII is comfortable in any setting delivering countless hours of audio entertainment.

I have never used a Rotel component before.  I do know they have been around for a long time and have a very good reputation.  The Rotel A14MKII priced at $1,599 fits in the reasonably priced category and seems to be the perfect integrated amplifier to start a high-end system.  It includes both a phono stage and a high quality DAC (Digital Audio Converter).  The phono stage is compatible with either a moving magnetic or a high output moving coil phono cartridges.  The Rotel DAC sports specifications even better than the DAC section of the Wyred4Sound mINT integrated amplifier ($1,499) that I reviewed in 2019.  The Rotel A14 MKII paired with a reasonably priced pair of speakers and a decent source would give you a nice high-end system for playing music without breaking the bank.  This seems like the perfect component to introduce me to the Rotel brand.

The aforementioned features and specifications makes the Rotel A14MKII the perfect comparison to my Wyred4Sound mINT.  It has the classic look of the 1980’s audio component (NAD comes to mind) that has less of an industrial look compared to the mINT and more of a traditional look.  The back of the amplifier makes connecting your traditional components such as a turntable, CD player and tuner simple and easy.  The features mentioned above, have been updated and are more modern than a vintage 1980’s integrated amplifier.  This amplifier provides you with 80 watts per channel into 8 ohms running in class AB.  The A14MKII Class AB amplifier delivers 4 ohm performance at 140W at 0.03% distortion and 160 watts at 1.0% distortion.  The oversized in-house manufactured transformer and bank of 4 high efficiency lit Foil bulk storage caps are engineered to support heavy loading and low impedance speakers.  What really takes the Rotel to another level, is the inclusion of a very good phono stage.  This creates a special product for me, because I play a lot of records.

There are review constraints so I initially planned to use this product the way I normally listen to music, which means playing mainly records and CD’s.  There are many additional features such as a headphone amplifier and a USB interface that others may find useful.  I also tried this amplifier with several different pairs of speakers.

I decided to start this review giving this Rotel amplifier the very difficult task of driving my ESS Translinear speakers.  These may be even tougher to drive than my Magnepans.  The turntable used was the Thorens TD-147 along with Nagaoka MP-110 phono cartridge.  Since the Rotel already has a built-in phono stage, it took no time to hook up and I was all set to listen to some music. The organized rear of the unit makes hookup a breeze.

I first played various jazz albums by Hiroshima, Gerry Mulligan and Buddy Rich.  I also played various classical albums such as Borodin, Handel and Mozart.  Finally some rock albums.  The ESS speakers are a transmission line speaker that can be difficult speaker to drive and I was concerned that the 80 watts may not be enough power.  The amplifier had no trouble driving these speakers and filling up my family room with music.  Obviously this amplifier has plenty of current because according to the manufacturer it can give you up to 160 watts into 4 ohms.  The Rotel got some very deep bass out the ESS Kef B-139 woofers.  I felt the Nagaoka phono cartridge could be a little detailed and harsh when I used it with an inexpensive phono stage, however, the Rotel’s phono stage gave this cartridge a more natural sound.  It was a given that this amplifier would be superior to the home theater receiver it replaced.  I just had no idea it would be to this extent.

The Rotel A14MKII has so many features that I felt I had to be open minded and listen to music in formats that I may not normally use in order to appreciate it.  First I used the UBS port to play music from a laptop.  The enclosed cable made this connection easy.  I also used the Bluetooth features so I could listen to the wireless capabilities, although it was a little difficult to link the laptop to the amplifier every time I used it.  The problem seemed to be the laptop because an Apple iPhone had no problems.  Eventually it worked, however, it took me several attempts each time.  The resolution of both connections reminded me of the sound I would hear when these formats were used at the audio shows.  The limitations of the recordings were always the factor.  This can be a convenient way of listening to music although records are always much more satisfying to me.  I am sure the better streaming devices out there would improve the sound.  Also you could subscribe to a music service such as Roon Labs.

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