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October
2008

Reviewed by
Jeff Van Dyne

 


Rotel
RSP-1069
Audio/Video Processor

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: RSP-1069

Price: $2199 USD
Dimensions: 17.1"W x 4.8"H x 13.4"D
Weight: 19.8 pounds

Warranty: Five years parts and labor

Features

  • Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital EX, Dolby Pro Logic IIx, DTS, DTS-ES, DTS-ES Discrete, DTS Neo:6, HDCD

Features (cont'd)
  • 8 inputs plus 7.1-channel input
  • 7 assignable digital inputs (3 coaxial, 4 TosLink)
  • 4 HDMI v1.1 inputs with 1 output and 720p/1080p scaling
  • 3 HD component-video inputs
  • 3 independent multi-room/multi-source zones with composite video
  • 6 assignable 12V triggers
  • Bidirectional RS-232 interface
  • RR-1060 learning remote control

The Rotel RSP-1069 surround preamplifier-processor ($2199) arrived shortly after Rotel’s RMB-1085 five-channel power amplifier, so I had a pretty good idea of what it would look like. It’s a typical Rotel component in most respects, with solid build quality but nothing exotic or over the top. Rotel tends to spend money where it counts and leave the highly esoteric stuff to the other guys. If this helps keep prices down, I’m all for it. I think Rotel’s current crop of products is very attractive, with their silver faceplates and curved black "handles" near the ends.

A glance at the rear of the RSP-1069 revealed some interesting aspects of its design. Three-quarters of the rear panel is packed with every connection most people will ever need. These include plentiful digital inputs, in addition to the already generous complement of four HDMI V1.1 inputs. One of the more unusual aspects is a full range of outputs for three external zones, including inputs for remote IR targets and composite-video outputs for each zone. Also included are an incredible half-dozen 12V trigger outputs, which can be set independently, by input or zone, to control external devices. The only drawback I could see was that the video output of Zones 2 and 3 is limited to composite video, but I doubt many people would use the extra zones for high-definition video anyway.

Rotel seems to have taken the time to get the HDMI inputs right. I have a couple of Panasonic Blu-ray players and a DirecTV HD receiver that balk at almost any attempt to run them through an HDMI switcher. But they all worked flawlessly through the RSP-1069, which I found very refreshing; in the last few years I’ve spent far too much time trying to resolve HDMI connection problems. That’s no guarantee that the RSP-1069 will operate as flawlessly in your system as it did in mine, but it’s a good sign.

Removing the cover revealed a cleanly designed and assembled processor. On the left is a small, shielded toroidal power supply. At the back is a stack of three circuit boards whose functions follow the jack layout on the rear panel. The top board handles digital audio, and a series of four stereo 24-bit/192kHz DACs, all Burr-Brown DSD1791s from Texas Instruments, are easily visible. To handle digital conversion of analog inputs, there’s a matching set of PCM1804 ADCs. Also sourced from TI is an Aureus DSP processor, which handles surround-sound duties. Directly below the digital-audio board is the far simpler analog output board. At the bottom is the video input board, complete with a Genesis-Faroudja DCDi video processor.

Setup

Entering the setup menu to complete the calibration settings will probably make a number of people run for the manual. Rather than press a Setup button on the remote control, with the Rotel you press Menu/OSD, which would be fine if the setup screen were then displayed. Instead, you’re presented with a System Status screen; you then press Enter to open the Setup menus. It’s a small thing, but I find it exceptionally counterintuitive. The RSP-1069’s setup menus are not unlike those of most other products, except that there’s no automated surround-setup program to be used with a calibrating microphone, as is found in many of the newer mass-market receivers. Again, this is not really a big concern; most people will be unlikely to get into the setup menus very often. If you do, however, there are some surprises. One of my favorites is the ability to adjust the subwoofer output within a range of +/-9dB from the master level based on the processing mode. Other than a few disagreements with the menu structure, which caused me to inadvertently exit the setup menu, the setup process was relatively straightforward and painless.

The remote control is a mixed bag. It’s far from the worst I’ve ever seen, but it won’t win any awards. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: invest in a good universal remote. While it’s not completely without problems, Logitech’s Harmony One is the closest I’ve seen to a perfect, user-programmable, universal remote control.

Audio and video performance

The Rotel RSP-1069’s upconversion of standard-definition video was decent but nothing to write home about. To see how the Rotel’s internal video processor fared, I ran my Oppo OPDV971H DVD player and DirecTV HR20-700 satellite receiver at their lowest resolutions. The video seemed roughly equivalent in quality to the OPDV971H (which does an excellent job), though I could detect a few more artifacts with the Rotel doing the bulk of the scaling. The decision to use the Rotel’s video-processing capabilities will depend on the quality of the source component; I suspect that less capable DVD players will benefit from the Rotel’s internal processor.

Many will submit that the RSP-1069 is somehow deficient due to its lack of Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA processing. Sure enough, I’d like to see those formats included, and I’m sure the next generation of Rotel processors will have them. However, I maintain that the added resolution of the new surround formats is meaningless if the preamplifier output stages and power amplifiers aren’t up to snuff. A high-quality preamp will still be a useful piece of equipment years down the road, when a lesser component will be nothing more than obsolete junk. At any rate, pairing the RSP-1069 with one of the newer Blu-ray players that can decode DTS-HD MA and TrueHD soundtracks completely resolves the issue.

Few movies are as sonically rich in surround information as Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. The sound of the SD DVD was richer, fuller, more detailed, and more enveloping than I’ve ever heard with the receiver I usually use in this system. For the entire movie, the creaking and moaning of the ship’s timbers from all around had my dog searching for ghosts that weren’t there.

Reaching for something that would give me a better taste of what the Rotel was capable of, I spun the Blu-ray version of Men in Black. I’ve always loved this movie, which I think has stood up well to the tests of time. The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is not wasted on this movie, with tons of dynamic range, and terrific detail in the surround mix. Men in Black proved that, paired with a good Blu-ray player capable of decoding the latest hi-rez audio formats, the RSP-1069 was at no disadvantage.

Four80East lives somewhere in the nexus of contemporary, acid, and funk jazz. Think of it as jazz with an urban edge. The Album (CD, Higher Octave 84203) is their first and probably best release, though of their four discs, not one is a dud. Besides being worlds apart from the standard smooth-jazz fare that seems to have removed the balls from most of today’s jazz, The Album is also very nicely recorded. When listening to music, what concerns me most is that a surround processor get out of the way without adding to or subtracting from the recording in any way. But many manufacturers expend so much effort on bells and whistles that they neglect plain old CD performance. This was never an issue with the RSP-1069; the proof was in the completely enveloping three-dimensional soundstage of "Skip Tracer," where I could clearly hear the sounds of police cars echoing off my room’s rear wall.

Switching over to classical, I popped in Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, with soloist James Levine also conducting the Chicago Symphony (CD, Deutsche Grammophon 431 625-2). Many A/V processors can sound brittle and lifeless, but this wasn’t the case with the Rotel. The piano and horns were rich and full, with a sense of warmth uncommon among home-theater preamps in this price range. Further, there was clear delineation of the instruments arrayed across the soundstage before me. I couldn’t have been happier with the Rotel’s two-channel performance.

Comparison

I performed this review in the smaller of my two home-theater systems, where an Onkyo TX-SR805 receiver ($1095) normally handles all processing and amplification. The Onkyo, probably one of the most capable receivers in its price class, comes with every bell and whistle you’re likely to need, including internal processing for all of the new hi-rez audio formats as well as Audyssey MultEQ processing. In recent months I’ve become a big fan of the Audyssey system and find it particularly useful in rooms, such as my small theater, that aren’t acoustically treated. I would love to see Rotel and other manufacturers add it to their processors. However, I find Audyssey less useful in rooms that have already been properly treated; your mileage will vary.

The Onkyo’s bells and whistles aside, the Rotel RSP-1069 really shone. The Onkyo simply couldn’t match the Rotel’s smoothness and freedom from grain. The RSP-1069 clearly outgunned the TX-SR805 when it came to two-channel sound. This was even more apparent when I paired them with more detailed and revealing speakers. As with most things audio, while hooking up higher-end speakers to the Onkyo began to reveal its flaws, it only underlined the Rotel’s strengths. In this respect the Rotel was much closer in quality to the Anthem AVM 20 processor ($3399 when available) I use in my larger home theater. For people who spend more time listening to music than watching movies, this may be a much more important factor.

Conclusion

I fear that many people will dismiss the Rotel RSP-1069 out of hand because it can’t decode TrueHD or DTS-HD MA soundtracks. That would be a shame, because the lack is easily addressed by buying a Blu-ray player that does decode those formats -- and such players are readily available. However, if you already have a Blu-ray player and it can’t process the advanced audio codecs, there are other processors in this price range that do, and include Audyssey and higher-end video processing as well.

The Rotel RSP-1069 is a fine processor that performs its basic audio functions particularly well. If you have better-than-average speakers or listen to music a great deal of the time, it should be on your list.

Review System
Speakers - Paradigm Reference Studio 100 v.2 (mains), Paradigm Reference Studio CC-470 v.2 (center), Infinity Primus 150 (surrounds)
Amplifiers - Anthem PVA 7, Rotel RMB-1085
Receiver - Onkyo TX-SR805
Sources - Panasonic DMP-BD30 Blu-ray player, DirecTV HR20-700 HD DVR, Logitech/Slim Devices Squeezebox Classic, Oppo OPDV971H DVD player
Cables - Analysis Plus, Monster Cable
Display device - Panasonic TH-50PZ77U 50" plasma HDTV
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Rotel of America
54 Concord St.
North Reading, MA 01864-2699
Phone: (978) 664-3820
Fax: (978) 664-4109

Website: www.rotel.com


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