Music in the Round #53
When I attended the 2011 CEDIA Expo last September, one thing I was looking for was a rumored top-of-the-line preamplifier-processor from Rotel with all the bells and whistles and a large TFT display. It was nowhere to be seen or even rumored, but the Rotel folks did introduce me to a less exalted pre-pro, their RSP-1572 ($2199). I've always liked Rotel's styling; I guess you could say that the pretty RSP-1572 caught me on the rebound (footnote 1).
Of course, that doesn't mean that the RSP-1572 is not replete with all the features expected in a modern pre-pro, including multiple HDMI v1.4 inputs, the latest-generation Faroudja Torino FLI30336 video processor, and multi-zone support. On the other hand, while its set of audio features is equally complete, no single one stands up and waves at the audiophile. So what? It looks good, and the only thing missing is automatic room equalization. Rotel and Classé share an apparent disdain for automatic room EQ; like Classé's SSP-800click here for my report on the very similar CT-SSPthe RSP-1572 handles things its own way.
The Rotel RSP-1572 arrived in a small, lightweight cartonrefreshing in these days of behemoth pre-pros that require double-height shelves and weigh over 30 lbs. Unpacking and setting up the 21-lb RSP-1572 are easily one-man jobs. The front panel was as clean and unencumbered as I had recalled from CEDIA. Across the top is a large, bright display that can easily be read from my listening-viewing position more than 12' away. To its left are a blue-rimmed On/Standby button, and below that a USB port. Under the display is a large, central volume knob, and to the right of that are 16 identical pushbuttons in two rows, for selecting inputs, audio mode, zone functions, and mute. To the left of the volume knob are two buttons, one above the other, that control the RSP-1572's parametric EQ. This seems to me to be the only aesthetic stumble. These useful controls, whose operations are displayed on the front panel and the OSD, are pushed to be activated, then turned to vary the parametersbut methinks these buttons doth protrude too much! I would much rather have had them elevated as subtly as the input selector buttons, and pop up only when pressed. I raise this entirely cosmetic issue only because the RSP-1572's appearance is otherwise impeccable.
On the rear panel, inputs and outputs are logically grouped and neatly organized: six HDMI, two component, and two composite video inputs; two HDMI, one component, and four composite video outputs; four optical and three coaxial digital audio inputs; eight (count 'em!) stereo analog inputs; one 7.1-channel analog input; and one USB input. Audio outputs include one optical, one coax digital, two stereo analog, and one analog 7.1-channel preamp output with dual jacks for two center and two subwoofer outputs. There are also six RS-232 12V triggers and 10 IR in/out connectors, along with the IEC power input and power switch.
The Rotel RSP-1572 comes with a slim, simple remote control. I found its range of operations and controls fully satisfying; it even let me make temporary tweaks to the parametric EQ without having to enter the hierarchy of menus. Repeatedly hitting Display brings up sequential OSD overlays that are detailed and explicit. However, the remote is not backlit. I find this unforgivable in a home-theater component, which is apt to be used in low ambient room light. I can foresee outrage when, in the midst of a movie, someone attempts to adjust the volume and instead hitsas I didthe nearby M button, which shuts out all other controls on the remote and front panel until the RSP-1572 is rebooted. (The M button is supposedly non-functional. Also, the Menu button, according to the manual, requires dealer programming for use with the RDP-1572)
By now, you might be thinking that I'm going to continue to pick away at the Rotel RSP-1572 as I describe its setup and sound. Nopefrom here on out, all was smooth sailing. I connected my cable box, Oppo BDP-83SE universal Blu-ray player, and Yamaha BD-A1000 Blu-ray player to HDMI inputs 13, and routed six analog cables between the Oppo and the Rotel's multichannel analog inputs. The Rotel's outputs went to my Bryston 9B-SST power amplifier via RCA interconnects, and I used both of the RSP-1572's subwoofer outputs to connect my Paradigm Sub15 and Servo15 subwoofers. I turned everything on. Everything worked.
The Rotel's menus were easy to navigate, and its bass-management options were excellent. Although the Large/Small and Crossover Frequency settings were global or by speaker pair, the Advanced menu offers individual size settings for special audio modes, including Dolby, dts, stereo, and DSP. Thus, one could have large speakers and use them full-range for stereo, but bass-managed for other modes. Similarly, the subwoofer menu permits individual level settings for a range of format options. Since the RSP-1572 lacks auto-setup and room EQ, I used a tape measure to set speaker distances, and my Gold-Line TEF-25 kit to set speaker levels (a RadioShack sound-level meter also would have done the job). Distances can be entered in the Rotel's menus in increments of 6", levels in increments of 1dB, and crossover frequencies in increments of 10Hz, with a range of 40200Hz. A different default processing format, input trim, and display label can be set for each input.
To get a handle on the Rotel RSP-1572's general performance, I used it in my system for two or three weeks before attempting to implement its 10-band parametric EQ. All went swimmingly. The sound was well balanced from the HDMI sources and from the multichannel analog input, even though the latter operates as a complete bypass of all DSP and, therefore, requiring bass management by the attached players. (I'd matched the levels of the two subs before connecting them to the Rotel.) The midrange and treble were clean and transparent and the bass was full, the subs providing ample weight. During this period none of my guests commented positively or negatively on the sound, and I had no trouble immersing myself in and enjoying my favorite music. There was, however, an unfamiliar richness throughout the bass that I at first found impressively satisfying. As the hours passed, however, it became clear that, especially with music, this richness was not associated with the individual recordings, but was the pervasive contribution of my room's acoustic. It was not greatly annoying, and I've heard a similar effect in many rooms and systems. Nonetheless, I've benefited from a number of room-EQ products and systems, and have grown used to the absence of the major low-frequency effects of my room, which is basically a half-cube. There's no going back for me.
Almost all the makers of pre-pros (and, presumably, A/V receivers) that include various types of automatic and manual EQ options refer to them as "room EQ," but these vary considerably in what they can actually do. I've spilled a lot of ink on the ones that have sophisticated but user-friendly systems such as Audyssey MultEQ, Anthem Room Correction, RoomPerfect, and Trinnov, but not every otherwise high-quality product is so endowed. Some, like Cary Audio's Cinema 11, 11a, and 12, have a useless auto EQ and an almost equally useless manual EQ that is the equivalent of an old-fashioned graphic EQ with fixed frequency and Q, permitting only boost and cut adjustments, and filters in the critical room-mode range at only 80 and 160Hz. Totally inadequate.
Footnote 1: The Rotel RSP-1572 costs $2199. Rotel of America, 54 Concord Street, North Reading, MA 01864-2699. Tel: (978) 664-3820. Fax: (978) 664-4109. Web: www.rotel.com/NA/.