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Test Stereo Amplifiers - Driving Your Tunes Forward (Part 3) : Rotel RA-10

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Rotel RA-10: $788

Quite simply put, this Rotel stereo amplifier is superb. The RA-10 makes its mark among formidable competition by turning out a spellbinding performance that’s well beyond its asking price.

Spin the record of Dusty Springfield’s Spooky again, and you’ll be engulfed in the melodic glow of this classic tune, with Dusty’s soulful intonations relayed with a remarkable level of subtlety.

The bags of detail on offer are propelled by the Rotel’s quietly confident but staggeringly light-footed sense of timing. Like the Marantz, there’s no hurry with the Rotel amp: it takes all the grace and care needed to deliver a song exactly as it’s meant to. It’s this insight into the emotional content of the message that firmly sets this Rotel apart from the Denon and Onkyo amplifiers in this test.

Rotel RA-10

Rotel RA-10

Some may prefer the smoother approach of its closest rival the PM6004, but the Rotel manages to inject a game-changing dose of space, transparency and just an ounce more of subtle detail – enough to win it the 2012 Product of the Year Award.

Switch to some Metallica or A Perfect Circle and the Rotel shows it’s just as capable of delivering thrashing guitar riffs and growling vocals with plenty of muscle and aggression.

It’s this insight into the emotional content of the message that firmly sets the Rotel apart from the Denon and Onkyo amps

Hans Zimmer’s Inception soundtrack can fell even the most adept of amplifiers, but the Rotel pulls off the deep and mournful progression of Time, building up to its striking crescendo. Instruments are well-placed in a wide sound field, and the soaring orchestra is handled as assuredly as the piano notes.

Transparent and enticing

The gradual shifts of dynamics are conveyed with ease, and this Rotel is the most open and transparent-sounding amplifier in this group as well. Whether paired with speakers such as budget Q Acoustics or the more expensive KEF LS50s, the RA-10 deftly fills the room with revealing and enticing sound.

It’s a good-looking amplifier as well: available in both black and silver finishes, the slim and sleek build of the Rotel sits elegantly on the shelf. It’s well specified, with analogue inputs coming hand-in-hand with a 3.5mm jack for portable media players, a headphone output and two sets of speaker terminals. What’s more? The on-board moving-magnet Phono stage is the best in this group – We’d recommend taking full advantage of it if you’re into vinyl.

It’s well specified, with analogue inputs coming hand-in-hand with a 3.5mm jack for portable media players, a headphone output and two sets of speaker terminals

It’s well specified, with analogue inputs coming hand-in-hand with a 3.5mm jack for portable media players, a headphone output and two sets of speaker terminals

Plus you know you’re on to something special when the only criticism you can think of is that it doesn’t come with a remote control. And really, there’s little to find fault with here.

Rotel has a fine history of turning out decent budget amplifiers, but it’s been overshadowed in recent years by other well-established manufacturers such as Yamaha and Marantz. With the RA-10, however, Rotel holds our full attention – it’s a talented performer that delivers a captivating and simply lovely sound.

Phono stage

If we had to choose just one source for this Rotel it would be a turntable – the RA-10’s phono stage really is wonderful, especially at such a budget price. It means that you can easily pair it up with the likes of the Rega RP1 or the Project Debut Carbon turntables – each superstar in their own right and get truly excellent results.

Rating: 5/5

For: Superb level of subtlety across detail and dynamics; agile, precise timing; wide and open sound field; elegant built; good specs

Against: No remote

Verdict: This is a stunner – a lovely sound that will keep you enthralled for hours

The winner is Rotel RA-10: $788; Ratings: 5/5

We often say that a stereo amplifier is the heart of a hi-fi system, and this test was a reminder of that very notion. Whether you’re looking to revamp your existing system or starting your hi-fi experience from scratch, a good amplifier is critical.

You don’t need to splash out a ridiculous amount of cash, though – the four stereo amplifiers we’ve tested here are proof that you can get good-to-excellent sound on an affordable budget.

Standards are high for both sound and build quality, and all the amps here keep to those standards firmly. There are a few other options in this price range which we haven’t put to test, but the amps here don’t fail at this hurdle.

The winner is Rotel RA-10

The winner is Rotel RA-10

The Onkyo and Denon are solidly built machines that look and feel the part. They perform well, too, but the Onkyo would be so much more enjoyable with a dash of the Denon’s strong-willed authority, while the Denon could pick the Onkyo’s brains when it comes to a gentler touch with dynamics and detail.

Which leaves us, inevitably, with the Marantz PM6004 and the Rotel RA-10? You could see this stand-off coming a mile away, what with the Rotel bumping the Marantz off its Product of the Year throne at our 2012 Awards. A slightly over-smooth sound is the Marantz’s only hindrance, but its deft handling of detail and its sophistication complement a full-bodied and engaging performance.

In the end, it’s the Rotel RA-10 that steals it. We could wax lyrical about its scale, insight and rhythmic precision, but to cut to the chase – it’s simply lovely to listen to. If you want a stereo amplifier to deliver effortlessly all the emotional content and pure enjoyment of any song, this is the one to go for.

Specifications

Denon PMA-720AE

·         Power per channel: 50W

·         Inputs 4 x analogue, MM Phono

·         Outputs: 2 x speakers, headphone, preamp

·         Remote: Yes

·         Dimensions (H x W x D): 12 x 43 x 31cm

·         Weight: 7kg

Marantz PM6004

·         Power per channel: 45W

·         Inputs: 5 x analogue, MM phono

·         Outputs: 2 x speakers, headphone

·         Remote control: Yes

·         Dimensions (H x W x D): 11 x 44 x 37cm

·         Weight: 7.5kg

Onkyo A-9050

·         Power: 75W

·         Inputs: 2 x coaxial, 5 x analogue, MM phono, digital optical

·         Outputs: 2 x speakers, preamp, headphone

·         Remote: Yes

·         Dimensions (H x W x D): 14 x 44 x 33cm

·         Weight: 8kg

Rotel RA-10

·         Power per channel: 40W

·         Inputs: 4 x analogue, MM phono

·         Outputs: 2 x speakers, headphone, preamp

·         Remote: No

·         Dimensions (H x W x D): 7 x 43 x 34cm

·         Weight: 6kg

 

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