Rotel RC-850 preamplifier Postlude

Sidebar 4: Postlude

Do I still think that the preamplifier is the sonic heart of a system? 'Fraid so. Nothing that I heard while conducting these budget-priced preamplifier reviews caused me to shift from my position (stated in the November 1987 "As We See It") that when it comes to acting as a wide-open window to the music, every facility and function added to a basic preamplifier detracts, even if slightly, from the ultimate sound quality. If I had no money limitations, I would be forced to choose something like the Mark Levinson No.26 to get the best sound from LP (that is, if I ever finally tire of my Audio Research SP10 II).

However, many of us do have to live on a budget, and one of the five preamplifiers listened to during the course of this review would be a good buy. What I'll do, therefore, is just informally rank the five in all the basic areas I feel to be important to music reproduction, the best being listed first, passing the buck to you for making the final purchase decision: Increasing order of price:

  • Rotel RC850, Parasound P/FET 900, NAD 1300, AVA Super PAS, PS Audio 4.6.
  • Useful facilities offered: NAD, Parasound, Rotel, PS Audio, AVA.
  • Ease of ownership:(footnote 1) Rotel, NAD, Parasound, PS Audio, AVA.
  • Line stage tonal neutrality: PS Audio (footnote 2), Rotel, Parasound, NAD, AVA.
  • Line stage transparency: PS Audio (footnote 2), AVA, Parasound, NAD, Rotel.
  • Line stage retrieval of detail: PS Audio (footnote 2), NAD, AVA, Parasound, Rotel.
  • Line stage soundstaging: PS Audio (footnote 2), AVA, Parasound, NAD, Rotel.
  • Phono stage tonal neutrality: PS Audio, Rotel, Parasound, NAD, AVA.
  • Phono stage transparency: PS Audio, NAD, Parasound, AVA, Rotel.
  • Phono stage retrieval of detail: PS Audio, AVA, NAD, Parasound, Rotel.
  • Phono stage soundstaging: PS Audio, AVA, Parasound, NAD, Rotel.
  • Overall sense of dynamics: NAD, Parasound, AVA, PS Audio, Rotel.
  • Sound quality for money: NAD, AVA, Parasound, PS Audio, Rotel.
  • Character best suited for rock: NAD, Rotel, PS Audio, Parasound, Rotel.
  • Character best suited for classical: PS Audio, AVA, Rotel, Parasound, NAD.
  • Overall musicality (CD playback, footnote 3): PS Audio (footnote 5), Parasound, AVA, NAD, Rotel.
  • Overall musicality (LP playback): NAD, AVA, PS Audio (footnote 4), Parasound, Rotel.

Happy listening. And don't forget to listen to the Adcom GFP-555 and B&K PRO-10MC, or to the Superphon CD-MAXX for CD-only playback.—John Atkinson

Footnote 1: More subjective than any of the other categories, this includes apparent quality of construction, estimated reliability, availability, ease of system matching, and other such gray areas.

Footnote 2: When used in its "Straightwire" mode.

Footnote 3: I know, I know. Even more subjective. Maybe I should be writing for The Hi-Fi Heretic.

Footnote 4: Ultimately, I preferred the sound of the basic 4.6 from LP with the Black Head transformer providing the MC gain (although this may be related to the fact that only after all the auditioning was finished did I find that the MC input shunt resistance was set to 100k ohms). I'll report in a future issue how I reacted to the change provided by the PS M-500 upgrade power supply.

The Rotel Co. Ltd
Distributor: Rotel of America
PO Box 653
Buffalo, NY 14240
(416) 751-4525