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Rotel A14MKII integrated amplifier Review

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Next, I connected the Rotel A14MKII to my main system.  My turntable setup includes the Acoustic Research “The AR Turntable” with a Sumiko Premier MMT tonearm and the Ortofon MC-1 high output moving coil phono cartridge.  This was connected directly to the Rotel phono stage.  I connected my Audio Alchemy transport directly into the Rotel using the coaxial input, which allowed me to compare the Rotel’s built-in DAC with my Audio Alchemy DAC.  The Rotel output was connected to a pair of Acarian System Alon 1 speakers.

I mentioned how my Wyred 4 Sound mINT integrated amplifier replaced four components in my stereo system.  Well the Rotel A14MKII replaced five components, namely a phono stage, a DAC, a line stage preamplifier and a pair of monoblock amplifiers.  This removed a lot of the cable clutter in back of my main system.  The Rotel had a nice relaxed sound with no signs of edginess.  I prefer this type of smooth sound as opposed to the detailed harshness some components can produce.

I played a number of records as if the Rotel A14MKII  were a part of my main system.  Wow!  The first album I played was my Los Angeles Orange County Audio Society 25th Anniversary album the Shoji Yokouchi Trio.  The refinement and clarity of my Alon’s over my 50-year-old ESS Translinears were apparent.  The natural sound seemed to exceed the sound I got using my all tube equipment due to the deeper bass.  I was able to get a nice wide soundstage and the “you are there” imaging using this amplifier.  There was plenty of power.  Playing my Miles Davis Kind of Blue record brought out the midrange’s natural sound, combined with side to side imaging and a wide soundstage, gave a realistic presentation of this classic jazz album.  The highs were on the analytical side without sounding harsh or too detailed.  The midrange had the naturalness of tubes.  The bass was fairly deep.  The gain on my Antique Sound Lab line stage is a little higher than the preamplifier portion of the Rotel, so the volume level had to be turned up a bit.  Beethoven Symphony Number 3 and Tchaikovsky Symphony Number 4 sounded spectacular.  I played a wide variety of music including some Steely Dan and no matter what genre I played, there was a natural musical sound and the Rotel held its own.

Next I moved to playing CD’s.  I played a number of the same CD’s as I did with the mINT such as the Reference Recordings RR-70CD Eiji Oue conducting the Minnesota Orchestra playing Stravinsky.  I also listened to some Bob Florence big band jazz.  The Rotel really shined.  One reason digital listening is so good is just like the Wyred 4 Sound mINT, the Rotel’s built-in DAC is so superior to my 28-year-old Audio Alchemy DAC, mainly due to the lack of noise and a cleaner sound.

There was a clear musical sound with a nice full bass.  I have mentioned in the past, that I had difficulties matching components with my Alon speakers.  By switching to tubes using my Antique Sound Lab line stage and Quicksilver power amplifiers, I was able to get a more natural sound and tame the hardness.  Now with the Rotel integrated amplifier, the sound was engaging and very satisfying with both records and CD’s without using tubes.  The added bass extension gives you another reason to base your music system around this amplifier.

I also connected my Magnepan MMG to my office system.  I wanted to see if the Rotel could drive the 86 dB Magnepans as well as the Wyred 4 Sound integrated amplifier.  This would also be a good indicator of how the Rotel would perform with the Magnepan LRS that I reviewed a couple of years ago.  No problem.  The 80 watts per channel is a little misleading because similar to the NAD amplifiers of the 1980’s, there is so much current, that you are really getting a more powerful amplifier than a home theater amplifier that can only perform with an 8 ohm load.  The Rotel had more than enough current to drive the Magnepans without showing any signs of strain.  The Magnepan’s gorgeous midrange was there along with some bass extension.  This combination  worked well in my small office and would be an alternative to a desktop speaker setup.  I am sure they would drive the LRS and any other pair of Magnepan speakers in a large room such as a living room or dining room.

The final pair of speakers used was an inexpensive pair of Paradigm home theater surround speakers.  This could work as a desktop setup in your office.  My last article pertained to making a long work day a little more bearable.  While this may work, you wouldn’t be getting anywhere close to the maximum performance out of the Rotel.  These small speakers sounded fine in a home theater set up, especially when used with a subwoofer.  Playing music was a totally different story.  This would not be a long term satisfying music system for me.  The Rotel certainly deserves a much better pair of speakers and so do you.

The only criticism I had was the VOLUME control knob had to be turned several full rotations to go from no volume to my normal listening levels.  This is a minor inconvenience, yet the knobs on my other components needs only a quarter of a turn.  I notice this feature on a number of modern components and the gradual increments is not really necessary.  I like to have the volume set to zero when I turn on my stereo so I don’t accidentally blast my household with music at 4:00AM in the morning when I sometimes listen to my stereo.  The Rotel has an adjustment that can adjust the turn on volume.  I lowered the factory set level from 45 to 16.  My normal listening level would between 50 and 70 so this is a very minor inconvenience if you keep it at the factory set 45.

While $1,600 is not expensive by high-end standards, it is still a lot of money.  Remember you are getting a phono stage, a high quality D/A converter, a preamplifier and a very powerful amplifier all in one package.  You are also getting Bluetooth connectivity.  You eliminate the need to buy several pairs of interconnects, which also makes the back of your system a lot cleaner.  The Rotel A14MKII like the mINT combined with a pair of speakers such as the Magnepan LRS and a Project X1 turntable will get you a fine sounding vinyl stereo system that may have you give up watching television or spending money for overpriced movie tickets.

I started this review as if the Rotel A14MkII integrated amplifier were centered around an affordable system, because at $1,600 it is moderately priced for a high-end product.  I feel if you wanted to build a much more esoteric high-end system, you could still start with this Rotel integrated amplifier and spend the savings on a much costly pair of speakers such as the Magnepan 3.7i or the Martin Logan 60XTi I reviewed a couple years ago.

When compared to the Wyred 4 Sound mINT, both amplifiers are outstanding, so the individual needs would dictate which is the better purchase.  Either product would be a significant step up over a comparably priced home theater receiver.  The Rotel’s wonderful phono stage may tip the balance for vinyl enthusiasts.  Whereas the lower price of the mINT and it’s very compact size and light weight may be a factor if you already have a phono stage or you don’t play records.  Both sound so wonderful that obviously you cannot go wrong with either product.  The primary reason I did not buy the Rotel A14MKII is I had already purchased the Wyred 4 Sound mINT.

Rotel is now part of Sumiko.  This Company has a wide variety of products which includes the outstanding Rotel line and the very high-end McIntosh line.  Their products are carried all over the world.  The Rotel product line includes preamplifiers with phono stages, stereo amplifiers, multichannel amplifiers, DAC’s/other digital components, music servers and other accessories.  They also distribute a wide range of analog gear such as the Pro-Ject turntable line and Sumiko phono cartridges.  These products are all available at a number of high-end shops all over the United States.  My first Sumiko product was the MMT tonearm that I purchased in 1983 and I still use extensively today.  I also use a 26-year-old retipped Sumiko Talisman A low output moving coil phono cartridge in my living room system.  These are examples of buying quality gear from the beginning and avoiding the never ending upgrade path.  The Rotel A14MKII integrated amplifier would be another fine example of purchasing a product that you will be able to enjoy for a lifetime.

Copy editor: Dan Rubin

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