Receivers

Rotel RSX-1550 7.1 A/V Receiver

ARTICLE INDEX

Introduction

Almost 50 years at Rotel has culminated in the 15 Series relatively new and was highly anticipated from 2009. The RSX-1550 showed up at my home in mid-2010. Admittedly, I'm a little behind on my review of the Rotel receiver and although this is an apology to the good people at Rotel for their patience, it speaks volumes about the product I've had in my system for many, many months. So why write about a receiver that's not quite as new as it was when I first received it? I suggest that Rotel specifically designs for the long haul, this receiver is not going away. Rotel doesn't replace components like last year's fashion.

Specifications

  • Design: 7.1 A/V Receiver
  • Codecs: All, Including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Power Output: 75 Watts RMS x 5, All Channels Driven (Side Channels Require a Separate Power Amplifier)
  • THD+N: 0.05%
  • Dimensions: 6.5" H x 17.1" W x 16.6" D
  • Weight 38 Pounds
  • MSRP $1,999 USA
  • Rotel

Design

Rotel has always impressed me with their subdued and restrained styling, more akin to traditional audio gear, Rotel's RSX-1550 surround sound receiver looks as much at home in my 2-channel "audiophile" rack as it does in my living room powering my home theater.

The 15 Series comes in either brushed silver or black. The thick faceplate is flush other than the soft radius extruded aluminum polished edges on either side. Clean and symmetrical, the large centered volume control spins silky and sturdy. We're visually spared most of the prerequisite logos with a smooth clean look. Even the soft touch buttons are labeled numerically.

A deeply etched "ROTEL" logo is centered above the main front display which is clean and informative without TMI! Light blue LED backlit reading scrolls information it receives, like the audio sampling rate, or the current processing for example. The bright blue glow from the on/off standby button can be distracting in completely dark room, and Rotel provides an optional blackout ring that reduces said brightness.

The rear has the usual plethora of connections that include 4 HDMI and 7 digital coaxial/optical inputs while a pair of digital outputs will allow external recording. A single HDMI output is provided.

What dominates however is the abundance of analog inputs, 5 generic video (and corresponding analog video inputs), along with CD and a Tape inputs. A tape output allows external recording.

Analog video include 3 component inputs, one component output and Rotel still supplies an S-video and composite output for Standard Definition.

Multi-channel inputs are for 7 channels which bypass all digital processing directly to the volume control. Ten channels of preamp outputs allow in addition to the normal 6, 2 center, 2 rear and two subwoofers. As I still listen to DVD-A and SACD for that matter, the 1550 will also automatically detect and play back the multi-channel format.

Three additional analog audio zones allow variable volume from the main receiver or fixed for a volume control down the line. Additionally, six 12-volt triggers turn on other components, or amplifiers. Four mini jacks allow the 1550 to be controlled in those other zones by a third-party IR receiver or remote. An RS-232 computer connection allows third-party control and also software updates. During my time I successfully updated the software.

Although the RSX-1550 is technically a 5-channel receiver, its processor can handle 7 channels by adding an additional 2-channel amplifier. Dedicating the 2-channel amp to the front, left /right, a redirect feature switches the output of the fronts to the rear speakers for the 7 channel setup.

Although the pricier sibling RSX-1560 receiver boasts 7 x 100wpc (8 ohms) of Class D amplification, the RSX-1550 is a traditional Class AB amplifier delivering 100wpc for two channels but only 75wpc (8 ohms) with all channels driven, conservatively speaking.

The 1550 originally offered HDMI v1.3 compatibility with Deep Color support, but if you're one of the few interested in 3D, Rotel provides a software upgrade to v1.4. However the upgrade doesn't support the return audio channel. Video processing is handled by Faroudja and provides calling for 1080p/24 Hz.

The 1550 handles all the latest digital processing from Dolby (TrueHD) and DTS (HD Master Audio) and LPCM up to 192k, in addition to the typical DSP's such as Pro Logic and Neo:6.. The digital am/fm tuner allows 30 preset stations.

Balanced Design Concept

Although not new to the 15 Series, Rotel boasts a philosophy they refer to as Balanced Design Concept, concentrating on the three important aspects: parts, circuitry, and evaluation. By testing electronic parts, hours and hours are spent critically listening to and for the best options.

Rotel then takes these parts and incorporates them into a system called "Symmetrical Single Trace" design in their circuitry ensuring that each path is identical to each other. Like any true audiophile company, Rotel does not rely exclusively on testing gear, but rather inclusion of listening sessions at every step of the design process.

Remote Control

The included remote is their model number RR-1061 with the lower flip-down panel the most its most distinguishing feature. I'm generally not a big fan of this type of remote but in this case Rotel smartly placed the controls for the CD/DVD behind it. In other words, you only "flip" when controlling those devices.

My reservation about the remote is line of sight; if it is not directly pointed to the IR input on the front of the component, it won't register easily.

Otherwise the beeping remote is quite functional and nicely arranged. A backlit panel indicates the source in use. For night time Rotel provides a side mounted light button.


Setup

The OSD for the setup menus are also refreshingly simple graphically. No 3-D speaker configuration renderings, or colorful scrolling menus, and I don't care in the least. It's the content I'm concerned about and I believe this is a position Rotel is taking with respect to their place in the audio world. Perhaps I make too much of this, but I respect Rotel for keeping the GUI basic, raw, "audiophile-like"...

Setting up the Rotel RSX-1550 is straightforward. Immediately noticeable when you review the menu options is the lack of any Room EQ function. I have mixed feelings about that. I've heard improvements both marginal and vast when it comes to automatic room equalization. And certainly the best intentions for room treatment when it comes to acoustics is never or should I say rarely accomplished. However having said that, I still feel strongly that no matter how sophisticated the software is, somehow the bumps and valleys from a frequency response are sometimes artificially corrected. It's those valleys I'm concerned about, in other words I have a problem with "filling in" those valleys by averaging.

Rotel doesn't bother, and I can't say why for sure. I return to the argument I presented with the basic GUI, that Rotel approaches audio like an audiophile would approach acoustics, with placement and room acoustics rather than automatic EQ'ing which in the two-channel audio world has always been controversial. Yet having said that, the RSX-1550 does offer some EQ which I'll talk about later.

The menus are best navigated from your remote of course. Upon entering I noticed you are first presented with a system status. Only by pressing enter will it give you the menu options, just an odd quirk. The system status tells you what source or input, audio mode, connection used, volume and speakers used. This can be done for the other zones. The system Status is also flashed for about 5 seconds when you turn the receiver on.

The Main Menu has all the common elements such as; input setup, delay, sub setup, speaker setup, HDMI and video setup and naturally, test tones. Firstly, the input menu allows you to rename the input up to 8 characters. Selection of audio and video connections, default surround audio mode, a group lip sync delay from 0-500ms and each input has its own 12v trigger option. An attenuation feature allows each input to be adjusted for louder sources from 0 to -6dB. A Cinema EQ is provided that adjusts (reduces) the high frequency to reduce sibilance and to match the sound of a large theater. I like this type of EQ, it doesn't bump or fill in those valleys, it simply filters out that shrill sometimes heard on soundtracks.

A very interesting feature is a Multi Input source, or if you decide to use the analog channel inputs. If selected, it removes all those digital options. Some still prefer their lossless audio to be heard in the analog domain without digital processing. Most object to this because it doesn't offer proper bass management. However, the RSX-1550 creates what's called an LFE REDIRECT. In a typical analog configuration there is no processing involved, and all signals are sent directly through to the preamp stage, aka, no bass management. The 1550 takes a duplicate copy of those 7 channel signals, combines them into a "summed" mono signal, and re-routes them through a "100Hz analog low-pass crossover to the subwoofer preamp output".

An advanced menu allows crossover adjustments for each speaker from 40Hz to 200Hz if you select any of the speakers as small and irrelevant if you set the any speaker as large. Along the same line, speaker size can be set for each of the processing, Dolby, DTS, Stereo and the DSP modes.

A subwoofer setup also offers crossover settings from 40Hz to 200Hz and also allows turning of the crossover to allow your subwoofer's low pass filter to operate. This selection defaults a 100Hz high-pass filter to your "SMALL" speakers.

One interesting feature is the Contour Setup or Tone Settings which can be made for each or all speakers in the system. This is basically a treble/bass tone control adjustment of either the high or low frequencies to a maximum of 6 dB. Temporary on the fly adjustments can be made with the remote.


In Use

Although I used many speakers with the Rotel 1550, including Episode in-walls, Martin Logan Source, my main listening was done with Definitive Technologies Mythos STS for fronts and DT Gems for surrounds. The OPPO SE version of their outstanding BdP-83 provided the source. Power cables from Wireworld and interconnects from Ethereal.

In spite of the lack of automatic room EQ, the sound from the Rotel is simply natural, with a wide stage and perfectly distributed acoustics. What does this mean? If you're in a good concert hall, you expect the instruments to sound authentic; you expect to hear the instruments where they are on-stage, front, back, and side to side.

What impressed me most about the 1550 is dynamics and how it keeps that civility at higher volumes. A lesser receiver will mesh all those sounds together and complain doing it with distortion and shrill. Not so with the Rotel, this is where those extra dollars count, high quality parts and design = great sound.

There is no better way to listen to a receiver's ability to play music is SACD first, then redbook CDs. Yes movies provide excellent sources for dynamics and spaciousness, which I will get to, however from my perspective, the Rotel will reveal itself when I play multi-channel audio. Unlike two-channel, the Rotel will be stressed to output all 5 channels, further putting demands on its amplifiers.

Mozart's Requiem in D minor K.626, under the leadership of Nikolaus Harnoncourt featuring the Arnold Schoenberg choir presents both orchestra and solo vocals. The 1550 presents an excellent sense of stage-depth and height. The recording itself tends to be warm and subject matter dark. I found no articulation is missing. Each singer, whether bass, tenor, alto or soprano achieves a clear rich and textured performance thanks to the Rotel.

Roxy Music's Avalon is still one of the best rock music conversions to multi-channel. This music was engineered perfectly and the placement of the just the right drum smack, or guitar lick, and even the saxophone envelops you. No track better than Avalon, floats Brian Ferry's voice among the female backup singers. The Rotel makes you forget it's there, turn up the volume, close your eyes and listen to the music.

This review coincided with my adding a projector to my listening room and I used the Rotel RSX-1550 extensively for not only movies, but my enjoyment of music on Blu-ray. Stage performances from KD Lang, the Police, Sting himself, and Chris Botti are in constant rotation with me. The Rotel simply disappears, and the stage performances in lossless audio place you squarely at center stage.

Movies include the fun and well done Toy Story 3, where the soundtrack and the voices very intelligible, the Rotel exhibited strength. Likewise on Avatar, the key ingredient added was the war-like scenes where the devastation caused by the human canons on the forest is startling rich!

I was never afraid of turning the Rotel up knowing it had plenty to give without distortion.

I am curious how this Rotel might compare to the 1560 with its class D digital amplification. Amongst the audiophile community, the knock to-date of a Class D had always been sonic performance, the way it sounded. Some called it dry, thin, lacking in full weight or dimension. Unlike bulky analog Class A, or AB amplifiers which suffer from energy loss, require larger heat sinks, and many more parts, Class D switching technology can potentially result in, smaller chassis, less parts, and more efficiency.

I did use the Rotel for normal TV watching, which is where I finally found a minor flaw; switching between Dolby and non-Dolby channels or during commercials, leaves a slight lag. It's not significant, but can be as much as a half second?! Playing music from my Apple TV is where this is most evident; a track begins without music until the Rotel locks in. Is there a firmware fix out there for this?


On The Bench

Distortion levels were very low (the following four graphs are with two channels driven).

When all five channels driven, distortion was still quite low.


Conclusions

The AVR world is saturated with fully featured receivers from a low $400 to about $1,200. But anyone who wants a bit of longevity and likes to keep components a bit longer and expects the performance to last might consider the buying in the $1,200 to $2,000 range. This is the range where receivers start to compare favorably to separates. Transformers are bigger, binding posts a bit more robust, amplifiers that produce what are published and discretely. The Rotel RSX-1550 is clearly in this group.

My only recommendation for the 1550 would be to amplify those other 2 channels. And I clearly understand Rotel's intention is for the two front main speakers to have a separate and heftier amplifier, preferably a Rotel of course. But I think that to me would justify the price a bit more.

The Rotel RSX-1550 is not for everyone; one of those $800 receivers will give you automatic room EQ, a fancy GUI and a better remote. What you can't get is Rotel's legacy, Rotel's sound and Rotel's quality. It's a keeper!