Rotel has just renewed its 11, 12 and 14 ranges of consumer electronics. Offering superior performance and more functions, the new Rotel A-12 hi-fi amplifier and Rotel T-14 network player propose a wide range of options, in line with the requirements of dematerialized music. High-definition audio, online streaming, DTS Play-Fi multiroom, a customized control app, Internet radio, FM and DAB transmission, not a single function is missing.
The Rotel A-12 integrated amplifier is equipped with electronic components which have been carefully selected for their musical qualities. The Japanese brand, faithful to its traditions, also manufactures some of the components, most notably the amplifier?s power transformer and condensers, all of which are important for efficient sound processing. The benefit of this approach is a power supply capacity which is perfectly tailored to the needs of the power stage. Although the Rotel A-12?s power rating is only 2×60 Watts into 8 Ohms, this value covers the full sound spectrum, from the lowest to the highest frequencies, with a distortion rate three times lower (0.03%) than that of its main competitors. A power rating of 2×60 Watts is enough to drive a wide array of compact and floorstanding speakers. As always, Rotel has opted for class AB amplification, thereby favoring a warm and balanced sound.
A wide array of digital inputs
The Rotel A-12 is equipped with a large selection of inputs, including analog inputs to connect a tuner, network player or record player – an MM preamplifier is integrated – as well as digital inputs. A Wolfson digital-to-analog converter (DAC) capable of decoding 24 bit/192 kHz PCM digital audio files is also included. This tried-and-true Wolfson microchip stands out for its neutrality, which favors a highly nuanced sound delivery. It is connected to several inputs, most notably four coaxial and optical S/PDIF connectors which come in handy when extracting sound from an HDTV or Blu-ray player.
On a side note, the Rotel A-12 can power itself on automatically if a signal is sent to one of its digital inputs. This function can be activated for any chosen input.
The Rotel A-12 is equipped with two USB ports. The port on the front panel is a type A USB connector which lets you connect an iPhone or iPad to listen to music or simply charge these devices. This USB port can continue to provide power when the amplifier is off, provided that this function has been previously activated. A type B USB port allows the Rotel A-12 to be used as an external sound card with any computer. In order to optimize hardware compatibility, this USB port can work in either USB Audio Class 1.0 or 2.0. This setting can be adjusted by accessing the amplifier?s menu via the LCD display on the amplifier?s front panel.
Note: class 1 mode limits digital compatibility to 24 bit/96 kHz stream, while class 2 mode can handle 32 bit/384 kHz files. For the latter, it is necessary to install a Windows driver.
Lastly, the DAC can decode audio files transferred via a Bluetooth wireless receiver, as long as it is compatible with the apt-X high-quality transmission mode. A simple smartphone is therefore all you need to listen to music stored on the device or accessed via streaming services, provided that the source is within 10 meters of the Rotel A-12.
A/B speakers and hi-fi headphones
The Rotel A-12 amplifier features two sets of terminals which are compatible with banana plugs and can drive as many pairs of speakers. You can therefore use two pairs of speakers with the A-12, either separately or simultaneously. Nevertheless, the amplifier offers the best results with one pair of speakers, since using four speakers at the same time requires a lot more power. Moreover, Rotel added a headphone amplifier which has no effect on the amplification of speakers. It is thus possible to diffuse audio via a second set of speakers in a different room when the headphone output is used. Balance adjustment, tonal correction and direct source mode can be applied to both the headphone and speaker outputs.
The network tuner reinvented
Famous for its FM tuners, the Japanese brand has revolutionized the market with the new Rotel T-14. In addition to being a FM and DAB+ tuner, the T-14 is also an extremely accomplished network streamer. Thanks to its WiFi and Ethernet network interfaces, the Rotel T-14 can read audio files shared on the local network (computer, NAS, smartphone, etc.) and access many streaming services, such as Spotify, Tidal or Deezer, with the added possibility of listening to online radio stations. This device is ideal when paired with a Rotel A-12 amplifier and provides an excellent solution for listening to dematerialized music.
Rotel decided to use a Texas Instrument DAC instead of a Wolfson model for this network tuner. The DAC used for the T-14 can handle PCM audio stream up to 32 bits/384 kHz, which means it is more efficient than the DAC used for the Rotel A-12 while offering a more analytical sound signature. The S/PDIF output also presents the possibility of letting the Rotel A-12 amplifier?s DAC decode the audio signal.
Digital and analog radio
Considering that its competitors have widely abandoned radio reception to focus exclusively on streaming possibilities, Rotel’s approach is remarkably different. An analog FM tuner (antenna included) and a DAB+ digital receiver are both integrated into the A-12 amplifier. In order to tune in to digital radio stations, it is necessary to reside in an area covered by the digital radio network. The DAB+ protocol uses the AAC format which, with its high bit rate, is superior to the one used for Internet radio. In a nutshell, the Rotel T-14 offers all the best in terms of radio reception.
Rotel decided to incorporate DTS Play-Fi multiroom streaming technology, which allows the user to control the T-14 tuner via the DTS Play-Fi mobile app available for iOS and Android. This is a really good idea since DTS has already demonstrated its commitment to keeping its app updated.
Even better, DTS Play-Fi can control one or more Rotel T-14 tuners, and even any DTS Play-Fi device, speaker or amplifier, regardless of the brand.
The same track can therefore be streamed by several devices simultaneously. Most of all, DTS Play-Fi grants access to Tidal, Spotify and thousands of Internet radio stations. With a smartphone or a tablet in hand, the user can also access audio files shared on the local network, by a NAS for example. Adding another strong point, streaming with DTS Play-Fi is lossless and compatible with 32 bit/384 kHz audio stream.
Operation and design
We listened to the Rotel A-12 amplifier and the Rotel T-14 network tuner with a pair of Focal Aria 906 speakers and a set of Meze 99 Classics headphones. Both devices feature plenty of control buttons and can be used without a remote control, although Rotel has included one.
We used the DTS Play-Fi app to configure the Rotel T-14 and connect it to the network. The application guided us through the various steps.
Operating these devices is far from being complicated. The app detected the Rotel T-14 automatically and all we had to do was type the WiFi password. For those not using a smartphone, the WPS connection button makes it possible to connect the T-14 in just a few seconds. We listened to a few FLAC files stored on a smartphone, files shared on a local DLNA server and music streamed from Deezer and Spotify. The Rotel T-14 network tuner is compatible with Spotify Connect: just install the official Spotify app and choose the T-14 as a receiver. A very convenient feature.
A lot of accuracy and order from the Rotel A-12 amplifier, with completely balanced sound from one end of the spectrum to the other and especially heavenly highs. This overall neutrality logically favors sound layering for a precise and pleasing result. The A-12 distributes its energy cautiously and judiciously while allowing unexpected details to pop out of the music, which is both surprising and reassuring, since it gives the impression that the amplifier really delivers the music exactly the way it was played. The electronics do not lack power and do not shy away at high volumes, even with demanding sources: recordings of symphonic orchestras and Blu-ray film soundtracks, for example. The compact Focal Aria 906 are driven with a lot of subtlety and a real sense of timing. As for the headphones, the spacious sound which characterizes both the amplifier and the tuner is still present: once again, neutrality reigns from one end of the audio spectrum to the other.
The Rotel T-14 network tuner is no different and offers a warm sound signature, whether you are listening to the radio or streaming 24 bit/192 kHz HD files. The Rotel T-14 tuner is extremely enjoyable and suffers no latency in network mode. Easy to use, a pleasure to listen to, that?s a wrap.