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Rotel A12 Stereo Integrated Amplifier (TheaterByte Gear Review)

The Performance
Design/Ergonomics
Value

I have enjoyed a continuing love affair with Rotel gear, being the fortunate reviewer who gets to sample their new products throughout the year, the last being the superb RA-1592 integrated amplifier, a 200 watts per channel powerhouse built like the proverbial tank. Not content to rest on their company’s laurels, Rotel’s design team took dead aim at a younger listening audience (read: millennials) who likes more compact and space-friendly devices that do not stint on features or performance, hence the new 14-series integrated amplifiers.

A New Beginning for an Old Brand

Rotel products have readily recognizable features beginning with the silver or black front panels. The A12 could not have a user-friendlier plug and play design. On the left side there is a power button and indicator light, a headphone jack, a USB port for i-devices, and buttons for selecting one or two sets of loudspeakers. On the right side, are menu buttons and a volume control.

The bottom left of the rear panel has a MM cartridge phono input (not tested), four analog inputs (labeled “CD,” “Tuner,” “Aux1,” and Aux2) and pre-amp outputs. Moving toward bottom center there are two SPDIF and two optical digital inputs, terminals for two sets of speakers and a two-pronged receptacle for the supplied power cord. A Bluetooth antenna provides an APTX connection for CD-quality streaming from devices like i-Pads and iPhones. Rotel Link input and output will connect other Rotel devices (tuners and CD players) and can be controlled by a Rotel app¹. By the way, after downloading the Rotel link app, I got the CD14 player to respond unflinchingly to my commands. Further top right are two 12Volt trigger receptacles, an RS-232 port, and a USB power port (only for powering USB devices). The PC-USB connector accepts up to 192kHz/24-bit PCM high-resolution formats. The manual as currently printed lists all resolutions from from 44.1kHz/16-bit to 384kHz/32-bit as being supported on the PC-USB connection, which is incorrect.² while the coaxial/optical inputs will play back sources from 44.1kHz/16-bit to 192kHz/24-bit.

¹Editor’s Note: As per a note sent to us directly from Rotel use of the Rotel app requires a network-capable Rotel device as part of the Rotel Link system such as the A14 integrated amp (or the T14 tuner for markets outside of North America)  in order for the iPhone/iPad  to communicate with the system through the network connection.
²Editor’s Note: We were informed by Rotel  That the  PC-USB connection on the A12 maxes out at 192kHz/24-bit. Only the A14 model supports 384kHz/32-bit. There is an error in the owner’s manual specifications listing the A12 accepted resolutions as higher and will be corrected in the next manual revision. The Rotel website and brochure  reflect the correct specifications.

The RR-AX1400 remote control unit is a scaled down version of the one used for the RA-1592. From top down, there are separate on/off buttons, speaker selection buttons, and tone control bypass, bass, treble, and balance buttons. In the center are the menu control buttons and a dimmer button, preset selector buttons, volume and muting controls, CD and tuner function buttons. At the bottom are the various source selector buttons including the Bluetooth button, balled “BT” on the bottom left of the remote. Each of the sources can be configured for variable or fixed volume so that all the output levels can be matched.

Good Things Come in Small Packages

Because the rated output of the A12 is 60 watts per channel, I auditioned it with my relatively inefficient reference Totem Mani-2 Signatures (sensitivity: 85 dB @ 1m) and the smaller, more sensitive Silverline Minuet Supremes (sensitivity: 88 dB @ 1m). Sources included an Oppo BDP-105 universal player connected to the RCA inputs and ported into the coaxial inputs for comparison with the Rotel’s on-board Wolfson premium 24-bit/192kHz DAC and the Rotel C14 CD player (reviewed separately). Other digital music sources included my iPhone6 (via Bluetooth), and iPod Nano (via the front panel USB port). High-resolution files were played from my MacBook Air, connected to the rear panel PC-USB port.

Listening Sessions

Having recently seen Esperanza Spalding’s “ Emily’s Evolution” live in concert, I started with a hi-res (96kHz/24-bit) FLAC download of my favorite cut, “Unconditional Love,” from her studio album, followed in short order by Paul Simon’s 25th Anniversary Graceland (96kHz/24-bit FLAC) with its catchy “Diamonds On The Soles of Her Shoes.” In both instances, the reproduction of voice, my ultimate criteria for success, was excellent. I pitched the A12 a selection from Diana Krall’s signature album, Love Scenes (96kHz/24-bit), “Peel Me a Grape.” Again, the seductive voice and piano were right there in my room. The download sessions also included Eiji Oue and his Minnesota Orchestra’s rendition of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances (176.4kHz/24-bit WAV) that opens with a tremendous thwack of low bass material. Throughout, there was plenty of headroom for the Mani-2 Sigs and even though 100 watts per side are recommended for the Minuets, I did not feel that they were being shortchanged with any of the cuts that they received.

Red Book CDs played directly through the Oppo player’s ESS SABRE32 DAC were A/B compared with the same selections played through the Rotel’s Wolfson Premium DAC. One of my guilty pleasures is Sweden’s (there is more there than ABBA and Volvos) Lise & Gertrud’s vocal duo/cello live rendition of “Eleanor Rigby.” While the Oppo’s DAC did a better job of getting out the vocal overtones and cello bowing, the Rotel’s onboard DAC was never embarrassed and without the side by side comparisons would have provided a very enjoyable listening experience in its own right. Similar observations came from the other CDs used in the evaluation session.

Bluetooth streaming has come a long way in the past few years. The addition of the APTX codec has been a game-changer, allowing CD-quality sound to stream from portable sources to real high-fidelity systems. Mating my iPhone 6 with the Bluetooth antenna was a breeze and I ported numerous tunes with no problems. Finally, I took a trip down mp3 lane and plugged my iPod Nano into the front panel. Okay, may be not the last word in hi-fi, there was something about the late Robert Palmer’s “Simply Irresistible” that was, well, irresistible.

The Final Assessment

When deciding to buy an integrated amplifier, two of the most important factors are (1) how many devices need to be connected, and (2) how much power will your speakers need. It is hard to imagine that young audio junkies will ever fill up all of the digital and analog inputs or that their trendy mini-monitor loudspeakers will ever exhaust the ample power that this unit delivers (unless, of course, they listen at levels that will cause eventual deafness). The A12 goes one step further as it tosses in a phono circuit for moving magnet cartridges and an excellent internal DAC that will do justice to digital sources up to 192kHz/24-bit resolutions. At half of the price of the deluxe RA-1592, the A12 integrated will get you more than halfway up the stairway to audio heaven.

Specifications:

  • Continuous power (both driven)
    • 60 watts/ch (20-20kHz, <0.03% THD, 8 Ohms)
  • Total Harmonic Distortion
    • <0.03% at rated power
  • Intermodulation Distortion (60 hz: 7kHz)
    • <0.03% at rated power
  • Frequency Response
    • Phono Input
      • 20Hz-15kHz +/-0.5dB
    • Line Level Inputs
      • 10Hz-100kHz +/-0.5dB
  • Damping Factor (20Hz-20kHz, 8 Ohms)
    • 220
  • Input Sensitivity/Impedance
    • Phono Input (MM)
      • 3 mV/47k Ohms
    • Line Level Input (RCA)
      • 200 mV/24k Ohms
  • Input Overload
    • Phono Input
      • 50 mV
    • Line Level Inputs (RCA)
      • 4 V
  • Preamp Output Level/Output Impedance
    • 1 V/ 470 Ohms
  • S/N Ratio (IHF “A” weighted)
    • Phono Input (MM)
      • 90 dB
    • Line Level Inputs
      • 100 dB
  • Digital Section
    • Frequency Response
      • 10Hz-80kHz +/-3dB, Max
    • S/N Ratio (IHF “A” weighted)
      • 103dB
    • Input Sensitivity/Impedance
      • 0 dBfs/ 75 Ohms
    • Coaxial/Optical Digital Signals
      • SPDIF LPCM (up to 192kHz/24-bit)
      • PC-USB
        • USB 1.0 (up to 96kHz/24-bit)
        • USB 2.0 (up to up to 192kHz/24-bit)
  • General
    • Power Consumption
      • 230 watts (<0.5 watts, standby)
    • Power Requirements
      • 120 volts, 60Hz (USA version)
      • 230 volts, 50Hz (EC version)
    • Weight
      • 8 kg (17.6 lbs)
    • Dimensions (W x H x D)
      • 430 x 93 x 345 mm
      • 17 x 3.625 x 13.5 in

Rotel A12 Stereo Integrated Amplifier (TheaterByte Gear Review)
4.5 / 5 Reviewer
{{ reviewsOverall }} / 5 Users (0 votes)
RotelBrand
www.rotel.comWebsite
$899MSRP
Pros
  • Flawless operation
  • High build quality
  • Sufficient analog and digital inputs
  • Compatible with Rotel link sources
  • Outstanding USB audio performance
  • Smooth Bluetooth audio operation
  • Defeatable tone controls
  • Legible display panel
  • Excellent and lucid owner’s manual
  • Cons
  • Moving magnet cartridges only
  • Requires careful loudspeaker matching
  • No Ethernet connectivity
  • Summary
    A small package that delivers large performance from all of the sources that are likely to be connected.
    The Performance
    Design/Ergonomics
    Value
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    2 COMMENTS

      • Like most solid state components, I gave the Rotel A12 a 100-hour break-in period although even out of the box it did sound very good. During the review, the sound continued to improve and reached its peak within two weeks.

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