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Rotel RSP-1066

Rotel Processor a Sweet Sounding Value

By Jim Bray


Want to “obsolescence-proof” your home theater's audio system?

Well, it’s impossible to be completely impervious to technological change; that’s the nature of technology - and the free market. But one way to make your home theater updateable is to buy separate components rather than the all-in-one solution offered by a receiver. This way, you can at least update the most important - and often-changing - technology as necessary: the preamp/surround processor.

Separates is the best way to go anyway, but the rapid rate of technological change these days makes them an even more intelligent decision unless you want the world of home theater to pass you by, or feel comfortable tossing away your expensive electronics every couple of years.

Which brings me to Rotel’s $1499US RSP-1066 home theater surround processor.

This beauty not only offers just about everything state-of-the-art you could want in a home theater surround sound processor/preamp today, but it and its software are upgradeable to make it last even longer.

In fact, though this processor/preamp has been around for a while now, the unit I received was one of the first to ship with the newly upgraded software and newly upgraded remote control. The changes include such features as Dolby Digital EX decoding (which is controlled by the DVD disc itself), improved sound quality in the various DSP modes (Rotel did this by adjusting the sound balance and bass management levels), a changed front panel display and a mute feature that shuts off if you adjust the volume. A list of the other new features is at the end of this review.

I didn’t get a chance to try the “older” version, which to be fair isn’t really that old, so can’t comment on how the new one compares with it. As is typical with Rotel, however, the “new” RSP-1066 is a marvelously flexible piece of equipment that sounds spectacular. And while the enhancements may be relatively minor individually, they show that the unit really can be upgraded as improvements warrant. They also show that the basic design is still sound.

The RSP-1066 is a handsome piece of electronics, too. Rotel sent us the silver-fronted version (you can also choose black) and it’s one of the most handsome units we’ve seen in a while.

Okay, looks shouldn’t matter - and in the grand scheme of things they don’t - but you certainly can’t object when a unit looks as good as it performs. And this Rotel excels in both ways.

I’ve been a fan of Rotel products for years and, in fact, TechnoFILE’s reference home theaters are powered and controlled by Rotel equipment. So it was with glee that I unpacked the RSP-1066 and hooked into our big 16x9 reference HDTV home theater where the older and more expensive RSP-985 had satisfied us for the past few years. As with the RSP-985, the 1066 was connected to our reference Rotel RMB-1095 five channel power amplifier (reviewed glowingly here) that has also been pleasing us for a few years.

And there’s the proof of the wisdom of separate components: the amp is still current (no electrical pun intended) and still excellent, so why change it? Meanwhile, the older preamp has been superceded by new technology, so why not change it?

We expected a difference in sound quality between the 985 and 1066; after all, a couple of years is an eternity, technologically speaking, but we didn’t expect as much difference as we actually heard - especially since the 1066 is about $500US less expensive and, unlike the 985, isn’t THX-certified. Of course, it almost seems as if THX certification is being given away on cereal boxes these days, so one can’t blame Rotel for wanting to save some money in licensing fees - especially since, according to Rotel, they’ve been meeting and exceeding THX standards for years anyway.

The RSP-1066 is a fully featured 7.1 channel processor that automatically detects Dolby Digital EX, dts ES, dts ES discrete and Dolby Pro-Logic II (with cinema and music modes). That ought to satisfy anyone with a home theater, at least until the industry inflicts another couple of channels on an unsuspecting public.

But it’s only the beginning. The RSP-1066 also offers an entire shebang’s worth of audio settings, from two, three, five, and seven channel “stereo” (the latter two of which “digitally fudge” surround information) through four “Music” settings that simulate progressively larger sonic environments (such as concert halls) and right up to dts NEO:6, which generates 5.1 or 6.1 channels from stereo sources.


Yet that still isn’t all. The processor also processes 96/24 DVD Audio and/or SACD signals via its "multi" analog inputs, as well as HDCD’s and MP3’s coming through a CD/DVD player’s coaxial digital output. How’s that for flexibility?

To be honest, it’s probably more flexibility than the average person will need, but there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t use the ABS in my Q45, either, having learned threshold braking, but it might come in handy some day.

About the only thing you don’t get is a tuner (though an external one can be added) and the capability for playing a turntable (though Rotel offers the RQ-970 outboard phono preamp/equalizer for anyone who still uses vinyl). Those are things I can easily live without and I daresay I’m not alone; I don’t care if there’s a radio in my home theater and if I wanted to play a record album I’d have to dig around in my basement to find where I put them away so many years ago…

Besides, I figure that most people interested in using a turntable in this day and age (other than to merely burn the contents of their vinyl discs onto CD) are probably more interested in an “ultra pure” stereo amplifier and not one of those darn home theater interlopers.

So, practically speaking, this Rotel doesn’t short you on anything meaningful.

And talk about input flexibility! The RSP-1066 can handle eight sources, five of which can be video-based. You also get five digital audio inputs (3 coaxial and 2 optical that you can assign to any particular input source), and the aforementioned “Multi” input that not only works for today’s DVD-Audio and SACD formats but which helps keep the RSP-1066 forward compatible.

Then there’s the 1066’s video connection and switching capability. It handles composite, S-video, and component video sources - though the component video sources bypass the unit’s on screen display capabilities, which means you can’t use the component output to set up the system or view the menus. (rear panel illustration)

The component video switching on the upgraded 1066 can handle progressive scan DVD and high definition television signals and this also makes it ideal for those with “early generation” HDTV-ready televisions that only come with one digital input. That’s the way our reference Sony 57 incher works and it has always been a shortcoming - though not enough to make us want a new unit since it still offers a stunning picture.

Anyway, the 1066 also includes a custom ID capability that lets you program the front panel display to give the proper name of the A/V component you’re playing, and the overall setup routine is the best I’ve seen on a Rotel since the RSP-985. The only thing I didn’t like about it is that you have to feed it a DVD’s audio signal to tweak the speakers’ balance. I don’t now why you can’t just call up the test tone at will, but you can't.

Still, this isn’t a big deal - and on the other hand you can control which speaker plays a tone (and when) manually, rather than having the tones go around the room in their own sweet time instead of yours.

The list of features isn’t over yet! An adjustable subwoofer crossover (which includes Off and 20 Hz increments between 40 and 120 Hz) lets you fine tune the RSP-1066 to your speakers, and you can adjust the center, surround and subwoofer levels on the fly.

And to keep the RSP-1066 from becoming obsolete, it has two extra preamplifier outputs to feed the extra (one or two) rear speakers required for 6.1 and 7.1 audio. You activate or deactivate the center rear speakers from the onscreen display.

You can also assign a surround mode to a particular input. This means, for example, that you can have the unit default to two channel sound when using the “CD” input, or Dolby Digital as the default for DVD’s. This is nice, though I noticed it sometimes seemed to forget the default I’d set. Changing these modes is only a remote control button away.

The RSP-1066 is designed to fit into custom-designed systems as well. It has an RS-232 computer interface and discrete on/off remote control command codes. Its multi-source/multi-zone operation lets you adjust the remote zone’s volume from the front panel.

So how does it all work?


I tested all the different audio settings except for the 6.1 and 7.1 ones (the RMB-1095 being a five channel amp and the extra rear channels not interesting me particularly anyway) and they all worked as advertised. The “digital fudging” settings really did impart a nice surround image where it didn’t exist before, so people who like simulating surround should be very pleased.

Despite that, I found myself preferring the original signals unmodified, especially two channel stereo ones. Part of the reason for this is the outstanding soundstage the Rotel pulls from stereo recordings; keeping “garbage in, garbage out” in mind, a well recorded and mixed CD fills the room beautifully when running through this Rotel.

Take the remastered version of Pink Floyd’s analog-recorded “Wish You Were Here” as an example. When I first played it through the 1066, in 2 channel stereo mode, the sound was so full and the center of the soundstage so vivid that on the title song I actually got up to check whether or not the center front speaker was on. It wasn’t, and I felt silly and awed at the same time.

Dire Straits’ “On Any Street” also sounds terrific in stereo (and with fudged surround), as did the rest of the stereo CD’s I tried that were up to snuff recording-wise. An all-digital Boston Pops disc featuring John Williams’ “Parade of the Ewoks” was so realistic in its reproduction of the various percussion instruments that it took my breath away. And a relatively poorly-recorded "Barber of Seville" overture kept my attention so well that I forgot to laugh until it reached the "Wait'll I get that wabbit" part.

My favorite discs for testing a system’s dynamics, the remastered “The Who Live at Leeds” and Opus 3’s “Test Record 3 - Dynamics” knocked my socks off. The Who’s live power was captured really well with this disc and the Rotel (aided, of course, by the RMB-1095) helped make it sound as if you were there - and you could even make out the late John Entwistle’s bass licks, which is rare in a Who recording. I love the church organ and jazz band tracks on the Opus 3 disc (note that both of the discs mentioned here are analog recordings!), and they swept me away even more than they had before, thanks to the 1066.

I also tried the unit with a selection of DVD-Audio discs, using both stereo and 5.1 surround mixes played through the 1066’s multi-analog inputs, and the combination of high resolution audio source played through the Rotel (and, to be fair, our reference Definitive Technology speakers and M&K subwoofer that are no slouches, either) was breathtaking. Not only was the sound dynamic, full, clean, and lifelike (even on “classic rock” albums that were recorded thirty years ago or more), but the placement of instruments around the room was clear and, unless sounds were being deliberately panned between channels, rock steady. Vocals and percussion benefited particularly from the DVD-Audio treatment a la Rotel, though everything sounded terrific.

Suffice it to say that this is a marvelous performer when you want to play fine music (or whatever music you may like!). The sound is open, clean, full, dynamic, wonderful. It almost made it sound as if we’d gotten new reference speakers or a new amp. I kid you not.

Likewise, watching movies piped through the RSP-1066 can be positively breathtaking. Many of today’s movie soundtracks make really good tests for your system, whether using 5.1, 6.1, or 7.1, and the Rotel soaked them up and spat them out with gusto.

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, for example, features outstanding sound, though it’s also bass heavy in places, and movies like Spiderman - and even a variety of movie and concert DVD’s - offer excellent tests for a home theater. Rather than turn this review into a retelling of all the movies we piped through it (and we piped through a lot!), let me just say that I was thrilled with the openness, cleanliness, directionality, and overall “oomph” the 1066 brought to DVD soundtracks. It envelops you in the sonic experience, which is as it should be, and at times when ammo is flying around the room you almost want to duck.

And dialog, arguably the most important part of a movie soundtrack, is never muffled unless that was the director’s intention.

With movies and with music, it was almost as if the system was daring me to bring on something it couldn’t handle - and I did my best to do just that. But I failed: the RSP-1066 took everything I threw at it and never missed a beat.

So is this the perfect home theater component? Well, considering its reasonable price of $1499US and the way it bristles with features, I’d have to say - it's close. It isn’t absolutely perfect, but I quickly fell under its spell and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone looking for a quality preamp/processor.

Flaws? I had problems with the component video switching when I first took the 1066 out of the box. With HD broadcasts and progressive scan DVD’s, there’d be a pinkish distortion on the TV screen, but Rotel quickly sent us a new component video switching module which I easily installed in about five minutes (this would be covered by warranty and could be performed by your dealer). And considering that practically everything I touch blows up, much to the chagrin of carmakers and electronics manufacturers worldwide (I have a little black cloud that follows me around!), I wasn’t surprised it happened - and Rotel’s service ensured that it wasn’t a big deal.

The new component video unit has worked well, although at times (usually during a scene or programming change), the picture cuts out for an instant and then comes back in. It’s so fast we wouldn’t even notice it except that the TV’s source signal display gives it away. I have no idea what would cause this, and it doesn’t bother me enough to do anything about it. Probably that little black cloud again…

Besides, I’ve decided that I prefer to use a separate switcher to handle my component video sources. Nothing against the Rotel (or any other preamp/processor or receiver that offers such switching capability), but I don’t like having to turn the preamp/processor on to watch TV unless it’s a program whose audio quality is important - and those, alas, are few and far between, even with HDTV.

In the end, my decision stems from pure laziness: why turn on two components and then mess with the audio system’s volume when I can just fire up the TV by itself? If I do run across a program I want to hear through the “big system,” I can use the HDTV satellite receiver’s optical output (which feeds into the RSP-1066), to have the best of all worlds.

It’s easier for my wife that way, too, and that’s an important consideration in a household where not everyone is a technofreak. And it probably saves a little bit of electricity, for eco-minded people.

Now, if someone would allow the active component signal to merely pass through the switcher, like a VCR does with RF signals, I’d be a happy camper.

As for the new remote, it does work better than Rotel’s older RR 969 learning remote. The RR 1050 streamlines and improves the older remote’s features and incorporates additional IR codes. It operates up to nine components and you can teach it new IR codes and macros as well.

The new remote still isn’t my favorite, but it is definitely an improvement. The buttons, including the input selectors, have been arranged more logically and it’s more intuitive than before. This is a good thing.

Still, I’d love to see Rotel (and others) go back to square one with their remotes and rethink them from the beginning to come up with a controller that’s worthy of the component it controls. The remote is the RSP-1066’s weakest link - as it is with many other components from many other manufacturers. I don’t know what it is about remotes, but they seem really hard to do well. Or maybe I'm just a picky curmudgeon.

In the grand scheme of things, however, it’s easy enough to use and to live with, especially since you’re getting such a terrific piece of equipment for it to control.

And that's the bottom line: the Rotel RSP-1066 is a marvelous performer, a treat for the ears, and that's a big deal.

Here’s a list of the other new features added in the current software upgrade for the RSP-1066, (courtesy of Rotel):
• Added several new IR codes for discrete access to several surround modes such as PLII Music and Cinema, Stereo, 5Ch and 7Ch Stereo.
• Added a new IR code for Zone 2 control from the main zone remote.
• Changed the front display to replace the record source on the right side with volume.
• Changed the volume display on the OSD from bars to a numerical display.
• Mute will automatically unmute when volume is adjusted.
• Subwoofer output can now be enabled or disabled for different surround modes using the sub setup menu (adjusting the level to minimum changes it to OFF).
• Bass redirection only applies to small speakers unless the subwoofer setting is set to MAX (Previously the Yes/Max sub setting only applied to Dolby Digital/dts, now it applies to all sound modes).

Manufacturer's Specifications:


Audio -
IM Distortion (60 Hz:7 kHz) <0.05%
Freq. Response (front) 10 Hz - 95 kHz, ± 1 dB (line level)
  10 Hz - 20 kHz, ± 0.3 dB (digital level)
THD <0.05%
S/N Ratio IHF A (stereo) 95 dB (stereo) analog
  92 dB (Dolby Digital, dts) 0dBFs
Input Sensitivity/Impedance Line level, 200 mV/47 kohms
Tone Controls (Bass/Treble) ±8 dB at 00 kHz/10 kHz
Preamp output level 1.2V (200 mV Input)
Freq. Response 3 Hz - 10 MHz, ± 3dB
S/N Ratio 45 dB
Input Impedance 75 ohms
Output level 1 volt
Power Consumption 40 watts
Power Requirements (AC)

115 volts, 60 Hz (USA version)

  230 volts, 50 Hz, (CE version)
Weight 7.6 Kg / 16.7 lb.
Dimensions (W x H x D): 432 x 122 x 341 mm
17" x 4 7/8" x 13 1/2"
Front Panel Height (feet removed/for rack mount) 109 mm / 45/16"

Manufacturer’s info:


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