Price: $1699 USD
Dimensions: 17.125"W x 4.75"H x 13.125"D
Weight: 34 pounds
Warranty: Five years parts and labor
- Connections for up to eight sources (five video-based)
- Five assignable digital inputs
- Direct analog stereo mode bypasses all digital processing
- Video transcoding for five composite, five S-video, and
three component-video inputs
- Custom IDs can be programmed for each source input
- Decodes Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Surround EX, Dolby Pro
Logic IIx, DTS, DTS-ES, DTS 96/24, LPCM (up to 192kHz), HDCD, MP3
- Adjustable subwoofer crossover for individual channels and
- Five- and seven-channel stereo modes
- Software is upgradeable
- 12V triggers
- RS-232 interface
- Full programmable/learning universal remote control
Its tough finding a surround-sound
processor thats flexible, affordable, and sounds good. Fitting eight channels of
complicated electronics into a small chassis and making it intuitive to use takes good
design and planning. Delivering those electronics at a competitive price while retaining
high build and sound quality requires equally well-managed manufacturing procedures.
Rotel has both ends covered. By balancing company-owned
research-and-development facilities in the UK with state-of-the-art manufacturing
facilities in China, Rotel has built a reputation for offering extremely well-designed,
great-sounding products that are also affordable.
According to Rotel, their RSP-1068 ($1699 USD)
surround-sound processor contains much of the same circuit topology and parts as the
companys flagship processor, the RSP-1098 ($2999).On paper at least, that would seem
to make it one of the most inexpensive and feature-rich processors available.
A lot of buttons
The RSP-1068 is attractive and well designed. Its front
panel has a central readout, three knobs, a Power button, and 16 small buttons for such
controls as Mute, Bypass, and DSP mode, which can often be found only on a
processors remote control. Also welcome are separate buttons for individual inputs
rather than a single button to cycle through all sources. The build quality is tight, with
judicious use of high-quality parts, while Rotels black-and-silver color scheme
takes the chassis up several notches in terms of elegance of appearance.
I doubt anyone will find the RSP-1068s complement of
video and audio connections lacking. My setup requires that I make connections blindly or
with the aid of a mirror, but once Id established a point of reference, I found the
RSP-1068s well-laid-out rear panel extremely easy to navigate. The space between
connections is ample enough to accommodate beefy cables, such as my locking Analysis Plus
RCAs. However, having the preamp outputs above the inputs makes arranging cables tricky.
Accompanying the RSP-1068 is Rotels RR-1050 universal
remote control. This extremely flexible device had no problem learning the codes for all
of my ancillary components; what it lacks is consistent ergonomics and switchable
illumination. My large hands didnt care for the RR-1050s hard, rectangular
shape, and its similar-size buttons made it difficult to blindly find the right function.
Fingers need a good point of reference; using larger buttons for such primary functions as
Volume, Menu, and Navigation would be a good place to start.
Using those buttons
The RSP-1068s comprehensive menu system is well
thought out. Setup took about 15 minutes, and was intuitive enough that I didnt feel
I needed to refer to the manual. Some menus, however, could have been better arranged. For
instance, I found the Delay (aka Distance) and subwoofer adjustments in the main menu
instead of under Advanced Speaker Setup.
Each of the RSP-1068s inputs can be assigned and
given a unique name. At the touch of a button, digital and video inputs, as well as a 12V
trigger and default DSP mode, can be associated with a specific input. In addition, lip
sync (group delay) can be adjusted for each input to compensate for the slip between audio
and video caused by external video processors or DVD players.
The RSP-1068 upconverts composite and S-video signals to
component video; all youll need is a single run of component cables to a video
monitor. The RSP-1068 does not, however, convert interlaced video to progressive or
high-definition video signals. Nor can the video signals fed though component video output
be mixed -- they can be only progressive or interlaced signals. The RSP-1068 does
support high definitions bandwidth requirements, however.
Other nice features included the abilities to disable the
Rotels LCD panel (though holding the menu key down worked only intermittently) and
to adjust individual speaker gain on the fly. Rotel also supplies an RS-232 connection for
software updates made available as downloads from their website.
From fingers to ears
After Id set it up, the RSP-1068s overall
completeness of design gave me little doubt that it would succeed as a surround-sound
processor. Sure enough, it decoded Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks flawlessly and with
excellent fidelity. The sound in chapter 27 of Batman Begins, for instance, was
produced seamlessly through my very revealing Thiel loudspeakers (CS2.4 mains, MCS1
center, PowerPoint surrounds, SS2 subwoofer). The onslaught of numerous bats felt as
tangible as it sounded, each set of tiny wings flapping in the reverberant stairwell of
Arkham Asylum. The RSP-1068s separation of individual sounds in this frenzied scene
was excellent, and the seamlessness of its steering of Foley effects and ambient
soundscapes from speaker to speaker was exhilarating. Lesser surround-sound processors
Ive heard mash together the details of this scene, reducing depth and context into
unintelligible sonic chunks. The Rotel consistently delivered very clean, well-delineated
This excellent separation extended to voices as well.
Consonants and vowels kept their distance from each other so that, even in the busiest
mixes, words were clear and intelligible. Exchanges between soldiers during the intense
helicopter rescue in chapters 9 and 10 of Black Hawk Down and the beach invasion in
Saving Private Ryan remained unambiguous throughout the fury of artillery.
The RSP-1068 did a nice job of steering effects to the
appropriate loudspeakers without sounding unnatural. Atmospheric cues, such as those in
chapter 17 of Se7en, moved smoothly from location to location as detectives
Somerset and Mills enter the apartment of Sloth. And complex effects, such as the buzz of
a million bees in the "Bee Dome Sequence" (chapter 11 of The X Files),
sounded smooth, tonally accurate, and free of edginess. The scenes abundant high
frequencies did exhibit some slight rolloff, however.
Bass was produced with punch and control. Gunfire and Foley
effects, such as those in chapter 1 of National Treasure, exhibited good impact and
definition. Although bass frequencies werent as well defined or harmonically rich as
Ive heard, the RSP-1068 delivered movie soundtracks with excitement and control.
During the auditioning for my review of Rotels
RMB-1077 ICEpower multichannel power amplifier, the RSP-1068s two-channel
performance proved to be its weakest suit. However, this doesnt mean the RSP-1068
didnt do a good job with two-channel audio. All of my two-channel listening was done
with Bypass engaged, which keeps the signal as pure as possible. The deep bass and brass
in "Intersection Scene," from John Williams exciting soundtrack recording
for War of the Worlds [Decca 00456802], was reproduced with excellent definition
but slightly confined dynamics and "bite."
Audio designers have a few choices when balancing fidelity
with cost: the least-traveled path is to reproduce frequencies honestly with absolutely no
editorializing -- something you have to pay large sums of money to get, in my experience.
Augmenting particular harmonics that give the illusion of extended high and low
frequencies but actually add distortion is common in products Ive used, even though
gently rolling off the frequency extremes would be the better approach. But the latter
takes real design skill.
Rotel seems to have chosen that latter option, which also
has the benefit of taming hotly mastered soundtracks. The downside is that it subtracts
some of the bite that contributes to an emotionally charged presentation. As a result,
bombastic music, such as Tony Banks Seven [Naxos 8.557.466], sounded a bit
dry and withdrawn through the RSP-1068. Pop-music aficionados will, however, appreciate
the way the RSP-1068 handles less-than-reference-quality studio recordings, such as New
Orders Substance [Qwest 2-25621].
Ive been an advocate of multichannel preamplifiers
since they first became available. My favorite is McCormack Audios extremely
well-built MAP-1 ($2495). As long as you have a DVD player that can decode Dolby Digital
and DTS bitstreams -- say, an Integra DPS-10.5 or Esoteric DV-50S -- a multichannel
preamplifier is a great choice.
However, theres a catch. Although many inexpensive
DVD players have multichannel outputs, the cheap analog output stages in these machines
cant deliver high-quality sound over two channels, much less six. By handling audio
decoding, processors such as the Rotel RSP-1068 can transform a cheap players weak
output into something special.
During my time with the RSP-1068 I used several DVD
players: Integras DSP-10.5 universal player ($2500), a Toshiba SD-3990 ($69), and
Oppo Digitals excellent OPDV971H upconverting DVD player ($199). The Rotel made the
differences among these players analog outputs readily apparent. The Integras
muscular analog output stage decimated the Toshibas and bettered the slightly thin
Oppos. When I played films, these differences disappeared when I hooked each player
to the Rotels coaxial digital input.
Comparing the Rotel with the Oppo via a digital connection
to the McCormack and the Integra via analog cables revealed some differences with
two-channel music. The less expensive Oppo-Rotel combination sounded laid-back, with a
flatter soundstage and thinner middle frequencies, while the Integra-McCormack combo
delivered a meatier sound throughout the mids and midbass. Frequency extremes and dynamics
were better with the Integra-McCormack: High frequencies had more bite and sparkle, while
crescendos were more dramatic. The McCormack-Integra pairing was more enjoyable for music,
albeit at more than twice the price. These differences were mainly apparent in direct
comparisons; when price was taken into consideration, it was obvious that the Rotel-Oppo
duo was a great value.
The internal complexities inherent in surround-sound
processors make them especially susceptible to noise and distortion. Adding the right
shielding and better parts usually arent in the budget of an under-$2000 processor,
and you can never assume that the bean-counters havent chosen superficial features
over high-quality parts when a profit margin is at stake. To cover up the noise and
distortion, some products are designed to add coloration in the form of boosted
frequencies and nonlinear response.
In designing the RSP-1068, the Rotel engineers chose
honesty over artificial drama. You wont hear sizzling highs or bloated bass, but a
natural sound that conveys a films inherent qualities. The RSP-1068 will not expose
the slightest shortcomings of recordings or reveal their subtlest shadings, but it will
deliver a very enjoyable home-theater experience while handling the music with respect --
all for a fair price.
|Speakers - Thiel CS2.4
(mains), MCS1 (center), PowerPoint (surrounds), SS2 (subwoofer)
- Linar Model 10, Rotel RMB-1077
- Integra DPS-10.5 universal audio/video player, Oppo Digital OPDV971H upconverting DVD
player, Toshiba SD-3990 DVD player
|Cables - Analysis Plus,
- Mitsubishi WT-46809 rear-projection widescreen monitor (with Duvetyne modification and
full ISF calibration), Mitsubishi WD-52528 rear-projection LCD television
|Power Conditioner - Balanced
Power Technologies BP-10.5 Signature Plus