Rotel home theater preamp/processor a nice upgrade
By Jim Bray
Rotel's latest 15 series home theater surround sound processor offers excellent performance, video processing, and even wireless connectivity.
The $2199 RSP-1572 is a definite improvement over the previous model, the RSP-1570, though perhaps not enough to warrant an upgrade from the earlier model if you have one already. If you have an older head unit, however, this one might just turn your crank nicely.
Rotel made its name by building audio products that blow the doors off the big box store stuff, but aren't priced so ridiculously into the stratosphere that you can buy a car cheaper.
I don't mean to demean either the big box store stuff or the really esoteric equipment, mind you; I've had very rewarding listening experiences at both ends of the price spectrum. But, like many self-styled audiophiles, I prefer equipment that's appreciably better than the mainstream "equipment in a box" stuff, though not so highfalutin' that it forces me to squander my children's inheritance (I have a car for that!).
This predilection means that products like those from Rotel are right up my alley. In fact, the company's equipment has populated my audio racks for many years, where I not only enjoy them hugely but use them as reference equipment as well – a job Rotel fills very nicely, with a "just right" blend of quality, performance and price that would even please Goldilocks.
Rotel may not stuff as many features into its equipment as some of the competition – there's no "Audyssey-like" automatic speaker setup capability here, for example – but what you do get offers pretty well everything you really need, including test tones you can use to balance the system yourself, which only takes a few minutes and is actually kind of fun (you'll need a sound pressure level meter, though).
Since the RSP-1572 is just a pre/pro "head unit," you'll need an amplifier as well, to power your speakers. I used a couple of configurations with the 1572, including Rotel's lovely RMB-1575 five channel Class D amplifier (reviewed, with the RSP-1572's predecessor, here), an amp that knocks out a healthy 250 watts per channel. Mostly, however, I used my older Rotel Class D amps (two RB-1092 stereo amps and the mono RB-1091, which not only boast 500 watts per channel but which also have the audacity to back it up.
You'll have to figure the cost of your amp(s) into your budget, of course, in which case you're obviously looking at an investment of a few grand, not including speakers and "source" (BD, cable box, etc.), but if you can afford and justify that expenditure, it's money spent well.
It's been nearly four years since I reviewed the RSP-1572's predecessor, an eternity in the technology biz, so I was quite interested to see what Rotel has done to stay competitive. And since I liked the "old" RSP-1570 a lot, the new kid had a big footprint to fill in the audio stack.
Fortunately, Rotel took a kind of Porsche-like approach to the new model, meaning that, like the new 911, the RSP-1572 is an evolutionary step forward that doesn't throw out the old baby just to add new bath water.
The preamp handles the full 7.1 channels of audio, though I only run 5.1 in my configurations. Feed it a bitstream signal from your media player and it'll decode Dolby TrueHD, DTS HD Master Audio and all the rest of those formats – lossless and lossy – including DVD-Audio. Its dual 32 bit DSP's and 24Bit/192k digital-to-analog converters are indeed up to the task at hand, though if you want to play SACD's in their high resolution glory you'll have to decode the signal in the player before sending the audio to the Rotel – which is no big deal.
The new, front-mounted USB input lets you plug your music player into the machine directly, and that means you can use the Rotel's formidable decoding and processing prowess with the tunes stored on your device.
It works well, but I prefer the Bluetooth approach, which is accomplished by plugging the wireless dongle (which is included) into the USB slot. Firing up the Bluetooth doesn't fire up my music player automatically, like it does with my Bose SoundDock, but once the tunes are playing you can control the playback from the Rotel's remote. It's a great feature, wonderfully convenient, and my phone's music library sounded great through the Rotel system.
The RSP-1572 also sports advanced bass management and a new, 10 band parametric equalizer that I used to help tweak the sound better to the room conditions (and to good effect, too). The EQ is operated via the on-screen menu system, and you might want to read the manual before messing with it.
Despite the Rotel's formidable processing abilities, I generally feed the audio directly to its analog inputs in everyday use, a move that basically bypasses all the digital magic and instead sends the raw signal directly from the back panel to the volume control (where it belongs!) and from there to the amplifier outputs. This can also be used as a nice bit of anti-obsolescence, in that if some new 7.1 audio standard comes along a couple of years down the road (like the lossless formats did when Blu-ray was introduced), the Rotel will still play it as long as you can decode the new format at the source (the player or whatever) and output the audio to the Rotel via the analog connections.
This isn't a new feature, mind you, but it sure could be a handy one.
Rotel has embraced the HDMI 1.4 standard for the RSP-1572, so it now passes 3D signals through to your screen. You can pass six of them through thanks to that number of HDMI inputs on the back panel. There are two outputs as well, one of which can handle the audio return channel. There are analog video outputs, too, but I daresay most people will use HDMI.
You don't have to use the Rotel's video processing, but if you do you'll be using technology from Faroudja, which is an excellent place to start. It works well if you have a less than perfect video signal you want to improve without hamstringing the overall image quality. I prefer sending the raw video right through unprocessed, but to each his own.
The front panel display shows stuff like the source you're using, volume, DSP mode, etc. The on-screen display, which is easy to understand and use, also comes on when you adjust the volume, which rubbed me the wrong way, though it's hardly a deal breaker.
I don't really care for the new remote, however. The old one wasn't anything special, but it worked well and I was used to it. The new one also works well, but they've changed the button arrangement too much and the volume control – which is what I use most often on the remote – is small and hard to find in the dark even though it does glow in the dark a bit.
The RSP-1572 can also send signals to three other zones in the house, if you choose to.
Right now, the RSP-1572 is the best multi-channel preamp/processor Rotel offers and it's definitely a fine one. It could be argued that it may be a tad Spartan compared with some units out there, but it has plenty of capabilities anyway, all of the important stuff you really need. It's also built very well and performs beautifully.
I've had some severe handshaking problems while using its HDMI inputs and outputs, but they aren't the Rotel's fault (and they occur even when I take the Rotel out of the loop). Nope, handshaking hassles are a bonus we consumers get to live with every day thanks to Hollywood insisting on an intrusive anti-piracy system that, judging by what I've been told is available on torrent download sites, does nothing except annoy and insult the consumers who pay the bill legitimately.
But I digress.
The RSP-1572 is an excellent product. As much as I like it, however – and I like it very much – I remember a Rotel pre/pro from a few years ago that I liked even better (except that HD has rendered it mostly out of date). It was called the RSP-1098, and was a "whole nuther level" of performance and quality above the RSP-1572 – and priced like it, too! It was truly a glorious piece of equipment and I hope Rotel sees fit to make an updated and upgraded version available in North America sometime soon. That would really be something!
But they should keep the RSP-1572 on the market as well. It's a fine unit that fits the bill nicely for those who can't or won't make that next step up the high end audio/video ladder.
Copyright 2013 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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