Rotel Michi P5 preamplifier Page 2

Sliding the P5 into my Salamander rack was challenging. The 50.5lb weight was manageable, but at a full 19", it barely squeezed between the rack's four pillars.

Break-in was required before I could judge the P5's sonic merits, but there was a small glitch in the process. Typically, I set Tidal to shuffle and go away, but when I did this with the P5, I returned home to a silent hi-fi. Orth directed me to the "power-off time" in the "system" menu, accessible via the "setup" function on the remote control. I disabled it.

The P5 ran just slightly warm to the touch.

I was psyched that the P5 included an MC phono stage that suited my EMT MC cartridge, so I dipped into my jazz vinyl stash, dropping Sonny Rollins's Tenor Madness (1964 mono LP, Prestige PR 7047) onto my Kuzma time machine.

Out of the gate, paired with my Shindo Haut-Brion, the P5 sounded very good, delivering the tenor saxophonist's mighty message with good tone and quick, realistic dynamics. Apparent already was a trait that held throughout my auditioning: the P5's excellent spatial rendering. Through the P5, every instrument was portrayed as a clear, distinct, meaty line, with solid (if not quite Shindo-tubeworthy) tone and precise, stable placement within the soundstage. On record after record, regardless of genre or format, every musical line was clear, illuminated, and precisely located. The P5 didn't endow the music with as much natural tone, drive, and texture as my twice-as-expensive Shindo Laboratory Allegro dual mono preamp(s)—presumably the designers held no such aspirations—but the P5 consistently (re)created a spacious stage populated by rock-solid images.


Ornette Coleman's This Is Our Music (1961 LP, Atlantic SD-1353) features the explosively dynamic acoustic bass work of Charlie Haden. In "Blues Connotation," he executes a furious, fast walking line. I heard that Herculean bass with precise leading edges; this paired well with Ed Blackwell's more washy-sounding ride cymbal and his atmospheric drumming message. The P5 placed Haden's bass well in front of Blackwell's drums. Coleman's alto and Don Cherry's trumpet sounded full and fleshy.

When I spun Ella Fitzgerald's Ella Swings Lightly (1958 LP, Verve Records MG VS-64021), Marty Paich's band was precisely placed around Ella in the soundstage. Her delicate vocals sounded a touch lean in the highs compared to what I'm used to, her esses approaching, but never quite reaching, sibilance. The P5 created a good soundstage with excellent depth and width. The slightly lean top-end didn't serve her vocals perfectly, but there was enough body there to balance the sound (footnote 2).

Alto saxophonist Steve Coleman's Triplicate (1988 LP, ECM Records ECM 1373), with bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette, is the best recording I know for hearing the master drummer's multidirectional style (footnote 3); the P5 rendered the recording with one of the largest, most encompassing soundstages I've heard. Definition was pinpoint on cymbals, and Jack's tom work packed a wallop. A delight.

I also tried the P5 with the Mytek Brooklyn AMP+, with success. The soundstage was larger than with the Haut Brion, the images more forward. Tone and texture were good. The P5/Mytek combination created flowing, dynamic music that engaged me on every recording I played, digital or analog.

"Well sorted," "spatial," and "clear" are comments that consistently popped up in my listening notes, along with the occasional thinness in the P5's upper registers on records that were already thin in that region.

I briefly tried the P5's DAC, which is able to unfold MQA. I took the opportunity to have my first meaningful encounter with MQA via Tidal's collection of MQA titles, streaming from my computer via the P5's USB input.


Art Blakey's "Hipsippy Blues" (Just Coolin', Blue Note B003164201JK02, 24/384 Tidal MQA stream) lacks studio atmosphere—that's the recording, I think—but the instrument sounds were clear and intimate. GoGo Penguin's eponymous 2020 release (Blue Note, 24/384 Tidal MQA stream) had a processed sheen but also sounded visceral, the signals slapping my eardrums. Pat Metheny's From This Place (Nonesuch 075597924374, 24/384 Tidal MQA stream) suffered from peculiarly truncated, stuffy notes, while Peter Gabriel's So (Virgin 0777 7 86366 2 5, 24/384 Tidal MQA stream) pierced my room with razor-sharp ribbons of sound and throbbing electric bass notes. Too hot.

The MQA files of the Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed (ABKCO 018771857815, 24/384 Tidal MQA stream) revealed to me, for the first time on this recording, the particular sound of Charlie Watts's bass drum. This DAC and MQA were sending me musical information I'd never heard before.

Beck's Sea Change MQA (Geffen Records 0694935372, 24/384 Tidal MQA stream) rendering via the P5 was an unalloyed delight, each instrument full of tone and super-intimate, his voice dead center and massive in an upfront but rather flat soundstage. Morning Phase (Capitol Records XUNI30711F96, 24/384 Tidal MQA stream) was the best-sounding file of the MQA bunch that I played through the P5, a vast improvement over the 16/44.1 file in depth, impact, clarity, density, and aliveness. The sound was beautiful but also eerie in a way I couldn't put my finger on.

My conclusion: MQA via the P5's DAC is allowing me to hear deeper into these recordings for what they actually sound like. Each MQA file sounded very different. Some sounded incredible, some ordinary, a few hard to listen to. The Beck files were incredible on every level.

Overall, MQA files played through the P5 had superior resolution, clarity, weight, intimacy, saturated tones, and a seemingly bottomless noise floor, while also sounding somewhat "treated" and otherworldly.


When a preamplifier includes every possible option, one hopes the basics aren't shortchanged. In the Michi P5, they weren't. It acquitted itself well on all fronts—or all the fronts I tried. Its MC phono stage sounded very good, and its rendering of MQA files was unlike any digital playback I've experienced, a delightful audio event.

Paired with the right power amp, the P5 created a deep soundstage with excellent spatial qualities. It performed with great clarity, good tone and dynamics, and always left me satisfied and wanting to hear more.

Which preamp to choose is a big decision, and it should reflect your sonic taste and practical values. If you're seeking a feature-rich preamp in this price range, the P5 deserves investigation.

Footnote 2: I don't own the original LP, but when I listened to a couple of versions of this recording on my own system, digital and vinyl, I heard what Ken is describing on some tracks—not sibilant but leaning that way. I think it's on the record. Maybe Ken's very musical Shindo separates make the near-sibilance less apparent.—Jim Austin

Footnote 3: While editing this review, I asked Ken to expound on "multidirectional style." I found his answer insightful. "Unlike Elvin Jones or Philly Joe Jones or even Roy Haynes, DeJohnette's rhythmic sense and representation, at its best, moves in multiple directions at once, simultaneously crashing and riding (timekeeping), his cymbals, toms, and bass drum equally adept at propulsion and coloration; his time feels elastic and multilayered, yet pointed, while his consistent, slapping snare drum punctuations can accent a loose, even free feel while his two-and-four slam is simply primeval, an utterly recognizable drum tattoo as powerful as that of any rock drummer yet far more clever and ingenious."—Jim Austin

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

MFK's picture

Thank you for a thorough review of the preamp's technology and performance. For the money, this looks like a winner. It's beautiful to look at and sounds very good. I'm shocked, shocked (!) that the China bashing hasn't begun. Tony, where are you? :)

tonykaz's picture

I don't bash China, I'm disappointed with Domestic Manufacturers abandoning their labor base, I abandon them for it.

I was a Rotel Dealer in the 1980s when the gear was made in Japan, it was competitive but nothing special. ( or so we thought ).

I'm impressed that Mr. Micallef felt the device comparable with his Haut Brion gear, was it good enough to keep close to hand ? was it a keeper ? Reviewers keep great gear ( or should I say borrow on a long term loan basis ) to help frame other reviewed gear.

Reading this review has me starting a hunt for a Haut Brion piece for my personal evaluation.

Overall, this was a strong Haut Brion endorsement on the small shoulders of a glossy do-it-all Rotel.

Mr.Micallef is a gifted writer, he reads like he's speaking directly to me. phew, he's talented.

I know what I want out of life and I know what I want out of a Pre-amp: I want a phenomenal singing voice. ( which comes from carefully selected Russian Tubes in a simple electrical circuit )!

It just seems that the P5 is a Glossy piece of China made to catch eyes while sitting idle on a Dealer Shelf. It might do everything well or it might not.


If I wanted or craved glossy Chinese I'd certainly have the pure Chinese Woo Firefly sitting on my shelf. Made in Long Island, NY 11101. ph.917-773-8645 ( for 1/4 the price of the Best Buy Rotel piece )

Tony in Venice

ps. proud to be the sole Chinesium basher of these pages.

PipHelix's picture

Made in Long Island City, NY to be fair, part of the borough of Queens and thus part of NYC, not the suburban wasteland east of the city. Not to be a hater, but I escaped those suburbs a few decades ago.

But thanks for saying this! I had no idea there was serious audio equipment being made within a 20 minute walk of where I live now!

tonykaz's picture

don-cha think ?

I wonder which of the Bouroughs have the highest density of Audiophiles. ( maybe Brooklyn ? )

Tony in Venice

JaimeB's picture
James K Byrnes's picture

I am finally in the market for some hi-fi gear. I did an audition of the Michi X5 and was blown away, but I can't help but wonder if the P5/S5 might sound even better. Any input would be greatly appreciated.