Rotel RCX1500 Music Server Review

$2499

4.5 stars

Rotel provides the bang for buck surprise of the year with its all-singing and dancing RCX-1500 music streamer/CD player/amplifier.

I have genuine admiration for Rotel, having owned their products and really enjoyed them for their sound quality and considerable bang for buck.

I owned a quartet of RB970BXmk2’s and the then top of the line RC990 preamplifier, and together with a pair of Castle Harlech S1’s/Micromega T-Drive & T-Dac and my gone but not forgotten Pink Triangle PT-Too turntable, it formed the basis of a pretty formidable system.

The amplifiers were totally reliable and had good power and control, and it was this system that convinced me that mere ‘budget’ components could really do the business and create high-end sound quality when given high quality sources.

Rotel still make similar amp/preamp combinations of course, but since those days this ‘boutique’ company amongst the Japanese majors has gone on to produce much greater achievements.

They were among the first to adopt class-d amplification with the implementation of B&O’s Icepower modules within their amplifiers, while the elegant styling of their products has also differentiated them from the black box brigade.

Utilising the experience gained from their use of class-d amplification, Rotel has once again stolen a march on their opposition by introducing the RCX-1500. It’s a stereo amplifier, Internet tuner, CD player and network music device in one box, and marks the first foray by Rotel into the new frontier of computer based audio.

The beefy 100wpc RCX-1500 uses the aforementioned class-d amp modules, although there is no mention of Icepower in the literature (I resisted the temptation and didn’t take the lid off). It’s a stereo device so don’t expect any HDMI or associated HT rubbish on board; this is all about the music. It’ll stream files (commonly known among audiophiles as ‘music’) from either a PC or Mac via UPnP media server software (it has been optimised for Windows Media Player 11 and 12), and it happily played via a couple of downloaded freebies for my Mac Mini (try www.tvmobili.com or http://majesticdotapp.com).

FLAC, MP3, WAV, OGG and AIFF are supported along with AAC and RealAudio, but alas there is no support for Apple Lossless – although it will play ALAC files via the front UCB port. Still, that’s nothing that a file conversion program can’t handle I thought, so I hastily converted a dozen of my fave albums into AIFF for the listening tests using XLD on the Mini.

A good slot-loading CD mech provides silver disc compatibility, and this operated flawlessly – it’s pretty much lifted straight from the acclaimed RCD-1520 (review also on its way), and as if to underline the value of the RCX-1520 it contains a $1500 CD player. The vfm equation was starting to look very good at this point.

Of course the 1500 supports Internet radio, and for those old timers amongst us a plain vanilla FM tuner is also on hand for those of a technophobic nature. Not that I had any worries on that score; once I’d ‘pointed’ my music library to both the media servers and configured the Rotel with my wireless password, I was up and running. The supplied remote is nothing special with small buttons and no backlighting (music in the dark? ewww!), but Rotel is busy working on an iPhone/iPod/iPad app which will make life much easier – it’s a tiny fascia LCD screen from three metres let alone five.

Close up view of the RCX-1500's screen

Now here’s the clicker for me. When I unpacked the RCX-1500 I was confronted by a wireless USB dongle and no Ethernet input. This worked fine for me but some may have trickier WiFi strength. Rotel is now shipping Ethernet to USB dongles with every 1500, so those lucky peeps with copper Ethernet need not worry about microwave ovens or cordless telephones.

Using my lovely little Castle Durham 3’s the RCX-1500 sounded unforced and natural: basslines were nimble, articulate and well extended, while the height of the image was more than acceptable at the price point. An open midband and extended treble added to the fun factor, and I was starting to invent reasons why I should give it back. Streaming lossless FLAC files such as the Brian Eno/Jah Wobble collaboration Spinner proved extremely enjoyable, the deep dub-bass and ambient sounds combining with some amazing panning effects to make an involving listening session. Nine Inch Nails’ important debut album Pretty Hate Machine showed to great effect the dynamic punch and rhythmic abilities of the talented Rotel, and at higher volumes it still retained its composure. An all-rounder, the RCX-1500 should be fine for all types of music: those into Rap, Speedmetal, Country and Western and Gregorian Chant should rejoice – I have found your next hi-fi component!

Rotel have produced an extremely good offering with the RCX-1500, and it provided very good sound quality: probably the equivalent of mating a decent $1200 – 1500 CD player and an equivalently priced amplifier.

Now factor in the included music streaming/internet radio facilities and the bang for buck just about reaches epic proportions. Also remember there is no need for expensive cables, everything you need is all contained within one chunky yet tastefully designed rectangular box.

The only disappointment for me was the lack of support for Apple Lossless. I had convinced myself the vast majority of Mac and PC users had decided on iTunes as a music player, but the reality is probably quite different.

Nonetheless, Rotel have delivered the goods with the RCX-1500 – its excellent feature set, rugged build and styling combines with above average sound quality to produce a bit of a bargain. It earns a solid Witchdoctor recommendation. GARY PEARCE

(Gary Pearce’s video walk through of the RCX-1500 can be found here)

www.internationaldynamics.co.nz

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