Receivers

Rotel RSX-1560 7.1 A/V Receiver

ARTICLE INDEX

Rotel RSX-1560 7.1 A/V Receiver

Introduction

The RSX-1560 is Rotel's flagship receiver in their new Series 15 audio components. The new cosmetic look of the 15 series is simply stunning and very elegant. More importantly, the 1560 posses two firsts for Rotel receivers. One is the use of Class D amplifiers, specifically Bang & Olufsen ICE power modules. Second, it decodes the latest high resolution movie codecs.

With multi-zone audio, scaling, and video conversion, the RSX-1560 is fully equipped except for Auto Room Setup (adjustment of frequency response, loudness levels, delay based on speaker distance, etc.), which is a little strange, since most receivers these days have that feature.

Specifications

  • Design: 7.1 A/V Multi-Zone Receiver
  • Codecs: Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital EX, Dolby Pro Logic IIX, DTS, DTS_ES, DTS96/24, LPCM (up to 192k), Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Power: 7x100 Watts RMS into 8 Ohms
  • DACs: 24bit/192khz
  • THD+N: <0.9% (20 Hz - 20 kHz), 8 Ohms, All Channels Driven
  • Inputs: 4 HDMI, Composite, S-Video, Component, S/PDIF, Toslink, Analog Stereo, Multi-Channel Analog
  • Outputs: 1 HDMI, Component, S-Video, Composite, Analog Stereo, Multi-Channel Analog
  • Dimensions: 6.5" H x 17.1" W x 16.6" D
  • Weight 38 Pounds
  • MSRP: $2,599 USA
  • Rotel

Design

Let's get the obvious out of the way: the RSX-1560 is gorgeous. The aluminum front fascia with the seductive curved corners and blue lit power button scream (in a polite and refined manner) sophistication. It's beautiful in a way few consumer electronics manage to be.

In terms of construction it's a very heavy unit, with exceptionally nice binding posts and gold plated connectors. There's nary a wiggle in any of the connectors, and a peek inside reveals very tidy and minimal wiring. All boards are cleanly mounted and well organized. The rather flimsy and thin top cover of the unit does not suit the rest of the casework, but thin top covers seems the norm in receivers.

Rotel RSX-1560 7.1 A/V Receiver

The back panel is very logically laid out with the rugged binding posts in a horizontal plane along the bottom of the receiver. I personally love this arrangement, as it makes it extremely easy to use spade connectors. The quality of the gold plating on the connectors is stunning, I'd bet money they are polished after plating, the surface is that smooth and reflective. RCA connecters from heavy cables illicit no movement from inputs or outputs on the Rotel. All connectors are very firmly attached to the casework which is not always the case even in other receivers at this price range or higher.

While the outer appearance of the RSX-1560 leaves many rivals in the dust, the same cannot be said of the GUI. Setup can be accomplished through the very legible dot matrix display, but it's easiest and quickest to do so via the on-screen GUI. The GUI works through all video outputs including HDMI. Unfortunately, it's a strictly white on black text affair, limited to 480p video, sort of like looking at a window of DOS commands on an old computer. It does the job, but it isn't very attractive. They could have done better at this price.

My own thoughts on high end audio gear have changed drastically in the last few years. I was of the opinion they could be forgiven ergonomic foibles, aesthetic limitations, and features if the audio performance made up for it. I've since come to feel high end products should actually excel in all areas of performance. Less Lotus Exige and more BMW M3. I truly wish the Rotel had a gorgeous and well designed GUI.

Rotel RSX-1560 7.1 A/V Receiver


Setup

The remote is functional, and well built, yet nothing about it stands out. The buttons are backlit with the exception of those under the flip down panel. In terms of use, the Device/Input buttons are my main issue. Press the CD button as you normally would, and rather than change the input to CD, it simply re-tasks the remote to control the device programmed for the CD button. To actually change the input to CD, one must hold down the CD button for 2 seconds or longer. It's non-standard compared to most other receivers, and in my opinion counter intuitive. Another small annoyance is the highly directional nature of the IR signal from the remote. You only have a few degrees of leeway in pointing the remote at the receiver. Other gear I have you can bounce the signal off a back wall and the equipment will respond. On the other hand, there are many other receiver remotes with this same problem. It's certainly not unique to Rotel. And, it is annoying enough that manufacturers should pay more attention to this problem.

Rotel RSX-1560 7.1 A/V Receiver

Configuration is very simple and highly flexible. The RSX-1560 supports up to four zones and also has extremely flexible amplifier channel routing. If you are using a 5.1 setup, the extra two channels of amplification can be assigned to an additional zone, or configured for bi-amping the front left and right channels, or just left unused. Additionally, you can direct the amplifier stereo channels of either a 5.1 or 7.1 setup to an additional zone and use an outboard power amplifier or integrated amp with an HT pass through to power your main front speakers. If you don't use the two rear channels and the two fronts you can assign those four channels to two additional zones. This channel flexibility is very welcome for whole house installations.

Analog video can be up scaled up to 1080i and output through the receiver's HDMI monitor output jack. While I tested this with some older sources, I did not use this feature on a daily basis, as all my source components are HDMI equipped. HDMI signals being passed through the receiver were untouched and did not have black levels crushed or whites clipped. What you feed this receiver via HDMI is what you get at the output and your display.

I first configured the number of speakers I have and my amp channel assignments. For this review I did not bi-amp my front speakers. Once that configuration is set you can then set delays, levels, and the rest of the audio setup parameters. Using my Radio Shack SPL meter, I balanced all channels as best I could, then set delays and crossovers to my preferred 80 Hz for all channels

There are a few issues I need to raise which may or may not be an issue for certain installations and users. Firstly, the speaker delay settings are only adjustable in one foot increments.

In my opinion if you are not able to move your speaker's position easily, a 1 foot increment is too coarse to really dial in an immersive sound field. I consider half foot increments the bare minimum, and prefer even more accurate adjustments. Next, audio levels can only be adjusted in 1 dB increments. This is not as big a deal as delay settings, but still I prefer 0.5 dB adjustments. Rotel informed me they do not have plans to add greater resolution to these parameters for the time being.

The last issue relates to the HDMI source format detection. When running digital audio signals through the Toslink or SPDIF inputs, the receiver is extremely quick to detect the incoming signal and decode it properly. Over HDMI this is a very lengthy process. On average it takes 2-3 seconds for the receiver to lock onto the signal and produce audio. It's especially annoying when surfing through channels on my Tivo Series3. It would also on occasion drop the audio signal when fast forwarding or skipping chapters on Blu-ray movies and DVDs. This is something Rotel is aware of. I find it annoying, but some users may not, and in the Rotel's defense, I have tested and used other receivers which usually have a 2-3 second delay on the video side of things.

One thing became very clear after living with the receiver for such a long time. For Dolby Digital and DTS audio, I preferred using the S/PDIF-Toslink connections rather than HDMI. The receiver was quicker to lock on to the signal; the sound itself was also more refined and detailed. As such, I had my Blu-ray player hooked up to the receiver with HDMI and a S/PDIF connection. Switching to S/PDIF when viewing a DVD or Blu-ray with a lossy audio track. I adapted to the HDMI signal locking to a certain extent, but I still feel it takes much too long for the receiver to determine what audio signal is being sent. I've had several receivers in my system which had little to no lag. One final note, this receiver runs very hot, while my own Class D NHT amp barely gets warm. This is strange given the fact that the Rotel uses Class D amp modules (one of the main advantages of Class D is less heat dissipation).


In Use

I have to admit that initially I was not very impressed by the RSX-1560. The receiver lacked imaging, warmth and smoothness I've heard in the past from Rotel gear. On a positive note the receiver had excellent dynamics. I was a bit puzzled as I somewhat foolishly expected the receiver to sound like my NHT amp. I let the receiver burn in for a few weeks and then re-visited. After a few weeks the sound did warm a bit, yet I was still not happy with the top end. It was still very bright, dry, and etched. Upper frequencies were lacking air and detail.

Nevertheless, I listened to a lot of content through the RSX-1560 for a period of three weeks in hopes of the unit burning in further and the sound evolving into something I could connect with better. I also thought at one point it might be the particular combination of my B&W 805s speakers and the RSX-1560 so I listened to the receiver with my JBL near field studio monitors and heard very similar results.

For the first three weeks, the receiver had been plugged straight into the wall with the stock power cord. My own Class D amp responded extremely well to power cord upgrades. While I hesitate to do reviews using power conditioners and cords for things like receivers, I was curious if it could have a good impact on the sound of the receiver.

I swapped out the stock cord for a homemade power cord using Oyaide cable with gold plated Furutech connectors. What a revelation! I listened for several hours to a lot of music and various passages on DVD and Blu-ray that I became even more curious to see if I could improve the sounds even further. I then plugged the receiver with the new power cord into my power conditioner. The sound improved yet again! The rest of this review is based on this configuration. I have also done some informal research on various audio forums (that correlate with what I found on my own Class D amp) that some Class D designs seem to respond extremely well to power cord and conditioning tweaking. I know that many consumers don't believe power cables can make a difference, and one of our own double blind tests resulted in no audible differences. But, that test was not with a Class D amplifier. This will not convince the cable nay sayers, but I heard what I heard, and as I said, there are discussions on forums about power cables and Class D amplification.

After living with the receiver for six weeks and massive amounts of content, I came to the following conclusions: This receiver in my system sounded its best with the mentioned power upgrades and needed to be warmed up for two hours at a minimum. This worked to really smooth the top end, calming the harsh and dry character previously exhibited. The midrange seemed largely unaffected, not that the midrange needed any improvement. From the start, the midrange was very detailed, clear, and dynamic. Bass was on the lean side, with great amounts of articulation and incredibly fast

Air surrounding the treble increased, cymbals were smoother and female vocals took on a silken feel that was missing when the RSX-1560 was using the supplied cord, plugged straight to the wall.

With straight wall power, the lean and harsh sound robbed rock and pop music of drive and energy. With the power cord and power conditioner upgrades, the sound was still on the lean side, but it was a lot more enjoyable with greater attack and vibrancy. Even before the power upgrades, Hip Hop and Electronic music sounded exceptional, drum skin tight bass, and I heard details never before perceived in my reference system. Upgrading the power cord and conditioner just intensified my impressions. While the tonal character of the receiver is very good, it still had a very digital sound when run through the S/PDIF-Toslink or HDMI inputs using CD material. The sounds possessed the glare most digital systems have. Switching to using the analog inputs and my California Audio Labs CD player revealed a much better musical presentation. There was more warmth and depth, a greater fluidity to musical timing, and I was impressed by the analog circuitry of the RSX-1560.

Movie performance was even more impressive. Dialogue clarity with my 800 series speakers was stunning. I've not heard such articulate and natural voices through my system ever. Regardless of the movie having a lossy or lossless audio track, the RSX-1560 and HTM4s sounded amazing. I've run Bryston, Parasound, and now an NHT amp with these speakers, and none gave me this level of detail and articulation from my theater speakers as did the Rotel. The level of detail in surround mixes was addictive and stunning across the entire frequency spectrum. Panning was seamless, quick, and accurate.

One thing the receiver lacks is that sense of a sound field emanating from an area beyond the speakers. Sound emerges from within the confines of the speakers rather than radiating from beyond and disappearing into the room. It's really a matter of personal taste. I used to prefer the more direct detailed approach. I prefer the bigger than life fields I get with my reference setup. This review reminded me of just how much personal taste and system matching plays into our hobby.

Actions movies had drive and dynamics, and they would get my heart racing. Scenes like the meteor impact from Monsters vs. Aliens exhibited effortless dynamics which is rare in most receivers. This is a receiver than can go from whisper quiet to full chaos with ease. At the same time, when I watched a more relaxed movie like Gattaca on Blu-ray, the RSX-1560 was able to beautifully convey the tension in the dialogue between the various characters and render the soft but highly effective musical score with warmth and detail. What more could you ask for?

Did I miss Auto Room EQ in my installation? Yes and No. I didn't miss it when it came to my five speakers. The lean tonal sound of the Rotel mated well with my overly warm room. What I did miss compared to using Audyssey was with my subwoofer. I adore the results Audyssey gets from my Rel subwoofer. I still feel that room correction is a very hit and miss affair and at this point, the lack of it would not preclude me from getting a receiver or SSP without it.


Conclusions

The RSX-1560 is a receiver a worthy contender in the boxing ring of receivers. The sonic character is on the cool side which works well in certain rooms and speakers. Detail and dynamics are exceptional at this level.

Sonically there's little to fault with the Rotel as long as you upgrade the power cord.

It's a shame most dealers don't allow home auditions of gear this expensive. In the end, the combination of gorgeous cosmetics, phenomenal build quality, and good audio performance, suggest that the Rotel RSX-1560 should be on your short list of receivers to audition at this price range.