Price: $1199 USD
Dimensions: 17.1"W x 2.75"H x 15.1"D
Weight: 11.9 pounds
Warranty: Five years parts and labor
- 100Wx5 into 8 ohms (manufacturer rated)
- Controlled oscillation modulation
- Enhanced cascade control
- 12V trigger input
- class-D operation
- Metal binding posts
Rotel has long had a reputation for building
high-quality electronics for reasonable prices. Until recently, I owned a Rotel RB-976
multichannel, multizone amplifier that I used for several years in a variety of functions
in my home audio systems. (I sold it only a few months ago, before moving halfway across
the country.) The RB-976 sounded great and was reliable, well constructed, and relatively
inexpensive. Id always thought it was underrated, and suspect that most people who
own one would agree -- you almost never see a used RB-976 for sale. I thought of all this
when I got word that Id be receiving review samples of Rotels new RB-1085
amplifier and RSP-1069 surround processor. My expectations were high.
The Rotel RB-1085 ($1199) looks anything but impressive.
Though attractive enough, its not pretty, like the more expensive Parasound amp I
unpacked a few days later. Its also small and light -- 17.1"W x 2.75"H x
15.1"D and weighing only 11.9 pounds -- which normally would make me shake my head in
wonder. But the RB-1085 is a class-D switching amp; after having reviewed last year a set
of NuForce Reference 8.5 monoblocks ($995 each), I had some idea what to expect. Switching
amps are so efficient at producing power that they dont need large, heavy power
supplies, or big cabinets full of heatsinks to dissipate all that excess electricity
wasted as heat. I was pleased that the RB-1085 and the RSP-1069 surround processor would
fit easily into the spaces in my rack that Ive found to be too cramped and poorly
ventilated for large A/V receivers. Ive often had to place such a component off to
the side of the rack when I realized that its top plate was hot enough to grill a steak
on. There would be no such problems with the Rotel combo.
On the RB-1085s case are no fewer than three clearly
visible warnings not to open it, so dont try the following at home, kids.
However, as my incredibly understanding wife will tell you, Ive never been very good
at following instructions. Lifting off the case of the RB-1085 revealed an interior very
different from the inner workings of conventional power amplifiers. Here were no big
toroidal transformers, no banks of large capacitors, and not a single heatsink. What I saw
were two large, identical circuit boards for the main left and right channels, three
somewhat smaller boards for the remaining channels, and various components along the
inside of the rear panel for handling the inputs, outputs, and AC power. The design is
simple and uncluttered, but the class-D switching technology is still over my head.
When it comes to features and setup, theres not much
to talk about. There are five gold-plated RCA input jacks and five sets of nice metal
binding posts with clear plastic jackets. Theres a standard IEC power receptacle,
and a 12V trigger input and output.
The DVD edition of Robert Zemeckiss Cast Away
is a phenomenal surround-sound demo. I expected great things from the Blu-ray version, and
I wasnt disappointed: the movie looks and sounds incredible via the high-definition
format. The sounds of thunder and of waves crashing were completely enveloping through the
Rotel, and the sounds of coconuts dropping from trees at night was delivered with pinpoint
accuracy. The level of detail was almost astonishing. The RB-1085s strength was not
huge, crushing power, though it will certainly hold its own under tough circumstances;
instead, it was at its very best when subtle nuances, such as the sounds of plants
rustling in the wind, were the order of the day. In my opinion, this is whats always
separated the great surround-sound equipment from the merely good.
I didnt expect much from the two National Treasure
films, but was pleasantly surprised to find them both highly entertaining. If you worry
that a small, lightweight, class-D amplifier might not have enough juice to run a home
theater at full throttle, you neednt be concerned. The RB-1085 was able to pump out
deafening, call-the-cops levels of sound without a hint of distortion while enjoying National
Treasure at high volumes.
I suspected that the RB-1085 might be able to hold its own
as a home-theater amp, but I wasnt so sure about music. Its only been very
recently that class-D amplifiers have begun to show promise in the full-range reproduction
of music, but listening last year to the NuForce Reference 8.5s convinced me that class-D
is where power-amp technology is headed. The Rotel RB-1085 has given me further proof of
what class-D amps are capable of, but now at a far more affordable price. There are more
powerful amps on the market, but the little Rotel was more than up to the task of handling
any dynamically challenging material I threw at it. I knew that if I pushed it any harder,
the aural theatrics would be clearly audible to my new neighbors, and rightly elicit from
them calls of complaint.
Béla Flecks Ten from Little Worlds (CD,
Columbia 90539) sounded incredibly detailed. The percussion at the beginning of the disc
swirled across the front of the soundstage in a way thats rarely been matched by the
conventional amplifiers Ive had in the house. My primary worry has always been that
a class-D amplifier would sound thin and synthetic, but that couldnt have been
further from the sound of the Rotel RB-1085; the horns and strings on this track sounded
as warm and natural as anything Ive had in-house, save, possibly, the tube amp in my
analog system. But thats an entirely different listening experience.
When I first heard Cyndi Laupers At Last (Epic
90760), I was astonished. Id never been a big fan of the singer, whom I remembered
from the heyday of MTV videos. While Laupers voice isnt always as clear as it
once was, its now lovelier than ever, and shes matured into a fine singer who
phrases lyrics with nuances of meaning that escaped her in her youth. A perfect example is
her hauntingly stirring rendition of Burt Bacharachs "Walk On By" -- the
RB-1085 provided every byte of detail, while retaining the warmth and tone that are
crucial to imparting all the meaning Lauper obviously feels when singing this song.
Switching to something a bit more lighthearted, I took out
for a spin Doug MacLeod and John "Juke" Logans Live As It
Gets (Mocombo 55003). Outside of actually hearing blues live in a club, theres
nothing like a blues album recorded in front of a live audience to raise your spirits.
(This one was recorded at B.B. Kings, at Universal CityWalk in L.A.) If you can keep
from smiling and tapping your feet while listening to "Hey Bartender," seek
help. The key to a live performance is the audience and the ambience, and the Rotel did
everything it could to place me right there. The soundstage had unbelievable depth and
width, while maintaining definition and pinpoint placement of voices and instruments. I
swear I could almost feel the audience moving to the music around me.
My main home theater was occupied with another review
component when the RB-1085 arrived, so I set up the Rotel amp and the companys
RSP-1069 surround processor in my smaller theater, replacing an Onkyo TX-SR805 A/V
receiver ($1099). Many of you will say that the Rotel combo completely outclasses the much
less expensive Onkyo, and youd be right. But remember that with the TX-SR805, Onkyo
hit one out of the park in terms of price and performance. The Onkyo meets the THX Ultra
specification, with seven channels of amplification at 140W each. If you read only the
specs, the Onkyo beats the snot out of the Rotel.
But specs never tell the whole story, and that was the case
here. The Onkyo and the Rotel were both able to rattle my windows, with enough headroom to
satisfy any sane person that cares about maintaining their hearing into old age. What
spending the extra money on the Rotel gets you is refinement. The Onkyo is a great
receiver for the money, but the Rotel RB-1085 took things to the next level, excelling at
fine detail and the precision placement of voices and instruments within the soundstage.
Where the Onkyo does a respectable job of layering the voices of a group of singers, the
Rotel presented a set of clearly defined individual voices. This is the sort of thing that
takes the listening experience to the next level.
The Rotel RB-1085 has been out for a while now, and I
dont know why there hasnt been more buzz about it. I suspect that its
unimpressive size works against it. It wont impress your friends with vast girth or
huge power supplies, but if you dont show it to them, I bet theyll be
thrilled with its sound. The fact that it uses a fraction of the electricity and
doesnt heat up my house (which is not air-conditioned), as would a large
conventional amplifier, is icing on the cake.
The bottom line is that theres little else for under
$2000 -- and nothing I know of for $1199 -- that comes close to the RB-1085s levels
of detail and refinement. If youre in the market for an amplifier in this price
range, I cant recommend this one highly enough.
|Speakers - Paradigm
Reference Studio 100 v.2 (mains), Paradigm Reference Studio CC-470 v.2 (center), Infinity
Primus 150 (surrounds)
- Anthem PVA 7
|Processor - Anthem AVM 20
- Panasonic DMP-BD30 Blu-ray player, DirecTV HR20-700 HD DVR, Slim Devices Squeezebox
|A/V receiver - Onkyo
- Analysis Plus, Monster Cable
|Display device - Panasonic
TH-50PZ77U 50" plasma HDTV