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Rotel RSX-1065

Rotel Receiver Rocks

by Jim Bray

The Rotel Corporation has come up with a good compromise between high end separates and mainstream receivers.

Its new RSX-1065 multi-channel receiver is, indeed, a home theater receiver with most of the compromises inherent in stuffing three separate components (amp, preamp/surround processor/tuner) into a single box. But despite those compromises it's a fine unit that offers excellent sound quality and extreme flexibility in a comparatively modest price.

But first a confession in the interests of fairness and balance: I'm a long time Rotel fan and Rotel supplied the components that power TechnoFILE's reference HDTV home theater and secondary home theater.

So it was with eagerness and gusto that I unpacked the new RSX-1065 to see if it upped the ante on its little, older brother the RSX-972. Could this receiver do justice to the high end speakers and the awe-inspiring widescreen TV that populate our reference home theater? Could it even hold a candle to the separates, the 200 watt x 5 THX Ultra RMB-1095 amp and matching processor?

The answer is: yes, and no.

Yes, the RSX-1065 is a fine sounding receiver and I liked it better than the RSX-972. It also does justice to our big speakers - so much so that if we hadn't been used to the separates we usually use (and which for obvious reasons we still prefer) we'd be quite happy living with the RSX-1065 in our Big Theater.

And yes, since it's newer than our reference RSP 985 preamp/processor it's more flexible and offers more surround choices - for a price comparable to what the RSP-985 sold for by itself when it was in Rotel's product lineup.

But no, its amp can't hold a candle to the RMB-1095, which boasts twice the power and costs as much on its own as this entire receiver does. Nor should it; that's an apples-to-oranges comparison that isn't fair to either component. But judged on its own merits, and against comparable equipment, the receiver acquits itself most admirably.

The RSX-1065 is a handsome black box whose design brings to mind Rotel's power amplifiers with their ribbed front panel "heat sink" look. It features 100w x 5 of power, enough inputs and outputs to keep interconnect retailers happy for years, and audio processing for up to 7.1 audio channels.

Audio modes include 2 channel stereo (no surprise here!), 3 channel stereo, Dolby Pro Logic II, DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 channel surround, and the more rare (so far) Dolby Digital EX DTS "ES" 6.1 and Rotel Xpanded Surround 7.1.

The latter Dolby and DTS surround settings offer you a choice of one or two center surround speakers and aren't in wide use yet. It does indicate the flexibility and "anti-planned obsolescence" design of this Rotel, however, and that's a good thing.

But since the RSX-1075 only offers five audio channels of amplification, you'll need a separate amplifier to drive the extra rear channels.

This is a bit of a pain, and reminds me of the early Dolby Pro Logic equipment that required a separate amp for the front center speaker, but the advantage is that it allows Rotel to put out a fine piece of equipment now and let you enjoy it while the 6.1/7/1 market catches up, if it ever does.

Our reference theater is set up for 5.1 and so we had to bring in a separate amplifier and speakers, none of which were well matched to the rest of the setup. Despite this it worked well, though we're still unconvinced about the benefits of 6.1/7.1 (oh sure, they sound nifty, but geez!) and wonder if this channel proliferation will continue until one has to put an entire ring of speakers around the room.

According to Rotel, "the RSX-1065 is designed and engineered to deliver outstanding sound quality, under the most difficult circumstances. Even discerning audio enthusiasts will be impressed at this multi-channel receiver's ability to drive 'amplification hungry' loudspeakers, which generally require higher levels of electrical current for optimum performance." And in Rotel tradition, the RSX-1065 is rated conservatively at 100 watts per channel all channels driven. That might not sound like a lot, but note the word "conservatively;" this receiver puts out like a guy's fantasy date.

Anyway, the receiver's power supply has at its heart Rotel's toroidal transformer technology, which the company says ensures that everything from delicate classical music to dynamic home theater torture tests, shine. And they do. During our listening and watching tests in our big home theater we found the receiver to be equally at home with classical music as rock 'n roll, and it did an excellent job on multiple track DVD Audio and DVD video titles.

In fact, this new receiver offers true DVD Audio playback via six analog RCA input jacks on the rear panel that accept the corresponding channels from a DVD Audio player (another reason cable manufacturers and sellers will love it!).

I have a few discs I use regularly to test the mettle of audio equipment, and the RSX-1065 did a wonderful job with all of them. I love using the "Amazing Journey/Sparks" and "Magic Bus" tracks from the remastered "The Who Live at Leeds" to see what a system's made of and the Rotel made for pleasurable listening. It was loud and dynamic - so much so that I was prompted to try the DVD "The Who and Special Guests Live at the Royal Albert Hall" which, with the refurbished "Leeds" is the only Who recording that comes close to doing justice to the band's high decibel music. The DVD also has the advantage of showcasing the performance in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 surround.

How did the Rotel do? Well, not only did it sound great, reproducing each instrument beautifully and clearly, I had to turn the receiver down a few notches from where I usually ran it with DVD's in order to prevent my ears from clamping shut.

This is probably the highest compliment a Who fan could pay to any audio component…

I also like using a CD version of Opus 3's "Test Record 3, Dynamics," which features a wide range of vocal and instrumental cuts gloriously recorded in analog. One cut is of a church organ that starts off quietly and ends up with all stops pulled out, bleating in all its pipe-fitted glory. The RSX-1065 reproduced it with a wide open stage that almost made it seem you were in a pew a few rows from the back of the church. The dynamics were definitely there, but so was an openness that really made it sound live.

The bottom line with these tests of dynamic range (the difference between loud and soft passages), is that this Rotel is more than up to the task.

But there's more to audio than dynamic range. For instance there's detail and soundstage, another two areas where this Rotel does a very nice job. On audio and video discs it was easy to differentiate between speakers/singers/instruments and as mentioned above the soundstage was always well defined and stretched far beyond the confines of the speakers.

Our reference speakers aren't power hogs, though they love to wallow in plenty of well-placed watts, so I can't really address the Rotel's performance as relating to that, but there was enough ooomph left by the time our speakers had things rattling on the walls that I have no doubt it'll perform as advertised.

On movies, the dialogue was clear and sharp and never overpowered by the sound effects or music unless that was the director's intent. This applies to sounds from every channel. For example Star Wars Episode One, the DVD of which needs a shot of adrenalin but which otherwise sounds terrific, featured wonderful sonic balance whether it was scenes of quiet dialog or interstellar mayhem. And A.I. Artificial Intelligence, with its domestic scenes counterpointed by the raucous Flesh Fair and backed by a subtle John Williams score, sounded very real.

We also use the DVD Audio version of Emerson Lake and Palmer's Brain Salad Surgery to see what makes a system tick, and the Rotel handled all six of its audio tracks without breaking a sweat. Sounded great, too, and the quadraphonic mix zipped around the room with wild abandon, handing off from channel to channel like an Olympic relay racer.

Speaking of multi-channel sound, this Rotel does a nice job of directing sounds to the different speakers; it even includes a few music effects settings (concert hall, stadium, etc.) that, while I don't care for them, work as advertised and can bring new enjoyment to music and video - especially concerts and sports events - if you're into that sort of thing.

As is common today, the RSX-1065 offers multi-zone and multi-source capabilities, which means someone can be watching movies in the home theater while someone else listens to a different source (CD, tuner, tape deck, etc.), in another room.

Another nice wrinkle is Rotel's inclusion of two component video inputs and one output. This is perfect for TV sets like our reference HDTV-ready rear projector, which only has one set of HD/480p component video inputs. Thanks to this feature, you can hook an HDTV tuner/satellite receiver and a progressive scan DVD player into the Rotel, using its output to feed the TV's lone input. This saves buying a separate switcher box.

And to exploit the increasing number of digital audio sources, the RSX-1065 boasts three coaxial and two optical digital inputs, all of which are user assignable so you can match them to your particular components. There's also a coaxial and an optical digital output.

If you're looking to integrate the receiver with an automated control system, it comes with an RS-232C serial port as well as discrete on/off remote control command coding. The port can also be used to download software upgrades.

A backlit universal remote control with LCD display and learning capabilities is standard and though it's a tad intimidating at first, it works pretty well.

An interesting feature of the RSX-1065 is "Custom ID," which lets you program the input source selector to read out on the front panel display exactly which component is being used. This means you can make "Video 1" read out as "DVD," or whatever. The display can also be dimmed or turned right off, which is nice.

My only real complaint about this receiver is its interface, especially in the way you operate its test tones for setting your speakers' balance. For some reason, the interface doesn't let you access the test tones - or even the associated menu items - unless you're feeding an appropriate signal to it. So if you want to balance the speakers for 5.1 use, you have to stick a DVD into your player and fire it up before you can access the Rotel's test tone generator. Likewise, if you're setting up for 6.1 or 7.1, you can't do it unless you have a compatible disc feeding the receiver.

If it wasn't operator error on my part, it seems a tad silly to operate that way, though in the grand scheme of things it isn't a big deal - especially since once you've set the balance you shouldn't have to do it again often.

I also noticed that in order to play at the rather excessive volumes I generally prefer I had to turn the receiver up to the 50-65 range on the volume control, which seemed quite high (the display goes up to 90). But the sound quality was just fine, thank you, so I was happy to crank to my heart's content and the Rotel seemed happy to be cranked.

The volume wouldn't have needed to be as high in our smaller home theater, however, a room which is probably more comparable to where most people would install this receiver.

Bottom line? Rotel's RSX-1065 receiver is a fitting addition to the company's line and another reason for me to be a Rotel fan. While separates are still the best way to go, they're also overkill for many consumers for whom a good receiver will be more than adequate.

And if you fall into that category - a consumer looking for a quality receiver that does virtually everything, is forward compatible, and performs like a thoroughbred - you could do a lot worse than with this Rotel.

Manufacturer's Info

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.


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