Rotel Michi M8 monoblock power amplifier Page 2

The Michi amps cost about 1/10th what the darTZeels cost. How can that be a fair comparison? I was determined not to make one. I was hoping to avoid a "for the price" review where you write about the degradation followed by the "but for the price" fluff up. It was easy to avoid writing that review, because that's not what happened.

The M8 sounds like it looks inside and out: It is so sonically together that I feel certain that it was tuned at least as much by ear as it was measured by test gear. Yet, I expect it to measure well, at least into a 4 ohm minimum load, the specified minimum. Having that written on the back panel is a leading indicator.

As far as I know, you can't yet measure an amp's "confidence" or whether its performance makes the listener feel confident, but you can feel confidence in the M8's simultaneously relaxed presentation and nimble, rhythmic swagger. Its transient character is similarly in balance: neither etched nor softened but perfectly complementary to the rhythmic presentation. The M8 doesn't sacrifice transparency or well-articulated transients to achieve a sweet disposition.

Monty Alexander's Love You Madly: Live at Bubba's (Resonance RLP 9047)—which I also discuss in Analog Corner elsewhere in the magazine—put Alexander's right-hand fingerings center stage forward while the left hand's bass lines appeared stage left (right channel). Not a tinkly piano but a properly wooden one.


The drum kit arrayed well behind, with cymbals that were brightly lit but finely delivered, splayed across the soundstage, helped deliver the restaurant acoustics behind. Percussionist Robert Thomas Jr.'s close-miked, juicy-textured, fiery congas popped effortlessly midway center/stage left. The in-the-room applause startled. The picture hung effortlessly and believably in a generously sized 3D space. I was having a sonic high that affected both body and brain—a fun listen. The music bounced like a quarter does on a well-made bed with hospital corners.

On "Tumbling Dice," from an original Exile on Main Street mastered by Artisan Sound Recorders (COC 2-2900), the M8s helped deliver musical surprises when I didn't think the record had any left to give, starting with the power and texture of Charlie Watts's crackling snare drum and Nicky Hopkins's piano part, which is usually buried in the midrange mush but here was easily unraveled and delivered. Same with Bobby Keys's sax accents and Jim Price's brass blasts, which were distinct without being unnaturally spotlit. It's not that the darTZeels don't reveal these things through the XVX—they do. It's that the M8s do, too, without twisting the spectral or transient balances and without producing even a hint of etch or upper midrange glare. At less than a tenth the price.

Even more ear-opening was the timbre, texture, and dynamic slam of Charlie's syncopated drum breaks on "Loving Cup": "Gimme a little BAM BAM BE-BAM drink from your loving cup!" During the final refrain and fadeout, Nicky alone in bold, natural relief.

I've reviewed my share of "meh"-sounding amplifiers that sound and feel as if nothing's happening but that measure perfectly well. There's no guarantee of fireworks from an amplifier, and so when one delivers sparks and excites your listening passion, it's a major, welcome event.

I couldn't get a solid grip on the M8's timbral balance until I played the 24/192 MQA version (on Tidal) of Antonio Carlos Jobim's sensual, 35-minute, one-finger-piano-and-guitar make-out session masterpiece, The Composer of Desafinado, Plays (Verve V6-8543). It's a lush, atmospheric, too-short (35 minute) Phil Ramone–engineered-and-mixed extravaganza released in 1963, on which the late Brazilian composer/reluctant singer is backed by Claus Ogerman's lush string arrangements, accented by Leo Wright's flute or sax and on four tracks by Jimmy Cleveland's trombone.

This was Jobim's American debut album, and every tune became a classic. It set the template for an orgy of luxurious, Ogerman-orchestrated, string-drenched, Creed Taylor–produced albums. It was also a luxury that a 16-year-old boy could close his eyes and indulge himself in. k.d. lang famously said about the album, "If you play this on a date and can't get laid, there's something wrong with you," or words to that effect. I brought the record with me to college, and in my freshman year something was obviously wrong with me. Fortunately for my ego, the lang quote didn't arrive until many years later.

When I first discovered the MQA stream and played this album, which is deeply embedded in my sonic subconscious, I found the presentation through the sumptuous-sounding darTZeel amps—particularly the luxurious strings and the flute—searingly thin and somewhat edgy. The viola Jobim plays on "Agua de Beber" seemed almost omitted.


Through the M8, the stream's sound was lush, full-bodied, and timbrally and texturally close to ideal, with just a touch of "leading edge." As on the Alexander LP set, Jobim's piano sported wood. With the darTZeels again in the system, the picture detail improved, the stage size increased, Wright's flute and Cleveland's trombone were drawn in higher definition with more air around each and placed farther back on the stage, and the strings again had that searingly thin and almost edgy quality, which I've never heard on the original record. (I have more minty copies too, so it wasn't record wear.) Without hearing an all-analog vinyl reissue, it's difficult to know if the streamed string sound is closer to the tape, but for whatever reason, the M8's presentation was more enjoyable overall, even if less detailed and lacking in the darTZeel's ultrarefined transparency. Perhaps for similar reasons, some vinyl fans prefer conical styli to more modern profiles that reveal more detail.

I bet the measurements will produce flat frequency response, not an elevated midrange "shelf," but looking back at all of the records and streams I played while the M8s were in the system, it's clear that the voicing or tuning produces just a kiss of midband lush, so subtle it takes detective work to discover. It's what helped produce the "crack" in Charlie Watts's drum kit and what made all of the classical recordings I listened to sound enticing. Yet, when I went back to my original vinyl pressing of The Composer of Desafinado, Plays (still fine at nearly 60 years old), it too sounds timbrally and texturally correct (though the digital stream had the channels reversed—or is this a case of correction as on Getz/Gilberto, which is also out of Ramone's studio, where the original pressing's channels were reversed?).

In 2018, Pro-Ject reissued a 1971 DG recording of Beethoven's 6th Symphony plus the Egmont Overture with Karl Böhm conducting The Vienna Philharmonic (Project Audio Systems PR-LP001). The all-analog 2-LP set was limited to 2000 copies and has no catalog number. The Pallas pressing is quiet, and the orchestral sound is lush and inviting as only AAA can deliver. DG engineer Wolfgang Werner delivers a wide, fifth-row-center stereo image with the hall acoustic intact. The string/brass/woodwind balance is masterful, but even better is the warmth, fullness, and sweep of the massed strings. Böhm manages to separate and reveal the instrumental strands while at the same time holding together the whole orchestral cloth. If the reissue is sold out, you can find originals on Discogs in NM condition for under $10.00.

The M8 delivers the Vienna-Phil goods timbrally, texturally, and especially spatially, floating the orchestra three-dimensionally in the hall space, simultaneously delivering the space and warmth and instrumental textures gracefully, delicately, and powerfully. No wet-blanket warmth here.

As I write this easy-to-write conclusion, I'm listening to an original pressing of Joni Mitchell's Clouds (RS 6341). It's not as murky-sounding as her David Crosby– produced debut, Song to a Seagull, which Mitchell recently remixed for the new 4-LP Reprise-era box set, but it still puts her in a warm environment in one channel with her equally warm guitar in the other. As my system improved, the sound of this album worsened, but more recently, as the system continued to improve, the album's sonics have come out on the other side of murky to pleasingly well-detailed, warm, and cozy. The M8 delivers all the subtle sonic and musical goods this album can give.

Having the M8s in-house was a pleasant surprise and one of the most enjoyable visits made by any piece of audio gear that's been here over the past 21 years—and for a change, it's affordable, at least by my usual standards. Mikey didn't like it: Mikey loved it.

The Rotel Co. Ltd.
US distributor: Sumiko
6655 Wedgwood Rd. N, Suite 115
Maple Grove, MN 55311-2814
(510) 843-4500

Anton's picture

It seems they punch above their weight, so to speak!

Not in my budget, but if they were, I'd be racing out the hear them.

They seem like a cool benchmark product, did they go back or are they sticking around for more comparisons?

Really, a pretty exciting product.

Added: JA1's measurement section was also pretty darned interesting. Just don't let Golden Sound get hold of these. ;-D

Ortofan's picture

... the measured output power at clipping was 1322W @ 8Ω and 2250W @ 4Ω.
They also made instantaneous peak power measurements which resulted in outputs of 1640W @ 8Ω, 3130W @ 4Ω, 1790W @ 2Ω, 960W @ 1Ω.

They also tested the S5 two-channel version ($7K) and the measured output power at clipping was 670W @ 8Ω and 1170W @ 4Ω.
Instantaneous peak power measurements were 691W @ 8Ω, 1390W @ 4Ω, 1780W @ 2Ω, 902W @ 1Ω.

georgehifi's picture

"Also on the back panel is this warning:" "Speaker impedance 4 ohm minimum." Uh oh: According to John Atkinson's measurements, the Wilson XVX "remains between 2 and 4 ohms for almost the entire audioband," with a minimum value of 1.5 ohms between 310Hz and 340Hz. He concludes, "The Chronosonic XVX should be used with amplifiers ... that don't have problems driving loads of 2 ohms and lower."

Doesn't mean they will sound crap, just won't get the "very best" out of them at those impedances, like say a Gryphone Antillion will. Which supposedly doubles down to 1ohm.

Cheers George