Rotel RB 1080 power amplifier Page 2

But I'd be misleading you if I gave the impression that one would ultimately want to get by by using the Rotel RB 1080 to drive the Revels, or even the B&Ws. The 1080 was not the last word in soundstage openness or grain-free treble, and always retained a slightly withdrawn mid- to upper treble. Switching swiftly between power amps in less than a minute, it became apparent that amps such as the Simaudio W-5, the Bel Canto eVo, and the Sonic Frontiers Power-3 did not suffer from the 1080's minor foibles in low-level microdynamics and treble reserve. Furthermore, those other amps ably demonstrated that the Revel and the B&W are capable of truly transparent treble, detailed and finely drawn, which the RB 1080 merely outlined. On Cyndee Peters' "House of the Rising Sun" (Test CD 4, Opus3 CD 19420), the ultimate delicacy of the triangle and brushed cymbals eluded the Rotel but not the other three amps.

But the votes did not go all one way. Sheer power was not a limitation for any of the amps, the 1080 included. Moreover, at the bass end of Béla Fleck's infamous "Cosmic Hippo" (Flight of the Cosmic Hippo, Warner Bros. 26562-2), the Rotel was simply world-class, nearly approaching the Simaudio, and making the otherwise super Bel Canto sound just a bit overripe and less controlled in comparison. (Could this be related to the RB 1080's damping factor of 1000 vs the eVo's 100?) And while I can't seriously suggest the permanent use of the $1k Rotel with the B&Ws, I know I can sucker-bet discerning listeners with this combination...because I have.

Pick on someone your own size...
When I ran the RB 1080 via its unbalanced inputs with more compatibly priced speakers, such as the Paradigm Reference Studio/20 or Studio/60, I had no complaint. The Rotel provided all the power the Paradigms could handle, and I heard no low-level limpness. The Paradigms' tweeters are a bit bright; the slightly reserved Rotel 1080 complemented them very well, and greatly tamed the Studio/20's slightly emphasized bass. That this was increased control and not premature rolloff was confirmed by the RB 1080's extended bass performance with the Studio/60, not to mention with the Revel Studio and the B&W 800. The Rotel 1080 and the Studio/60 made for the most complementary combination: the Rotel soothed the slightly extraverted Studio/60 at both ends of the spectrum, produced extended and convincing bass, and seemed to have infinite reserves of power for micro- and macrodynamics.

I ran through the varied and fascinating selections on Opus3's Test CD 4 and found the distinctions between the CD and SACD layers as readily apparent through this modestly priced combo as through the big system. If I had room for a two-channel amp in this usually multichannel system, the Rotel RB 1080 would be a permanent fixture.

In pure engineering terms, it would seem that it should be easy to make a good power amp at nearly any price. With the big budget of a high-priced amp, the designer-manufacturer can attend to all the fine details and still provide substantial output power. As the budget decreases, compromises must be made, and the usual one is in power output. Unfortunately, compromises in tonal balance and subtlety are sometimes encumbered as well, and the resulting tonal inaccuracies are often flaunted as a distinctive "character." Even some pricey power amps are guilty of this.

No such compromise was evident in the Rotel RB 1080. Sure, it was less than an ideal match for speakers costing 10 times its price, but it did better than I would have guessed. With everything I matched it with—whether fairly or unfairly—the Rotel did adequately to superbly.

The Rotel RB 1080 is as powerful an amp as almost anyone needs, and did not suffer from significant coloration or tonal imbalance. Only the nth degrees of treble grain and reticence separate it from the very best power amplifiers. I can't think of an amp for even twice its price that I'd prefer.

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