It’s kind of ridiculous that it took so long for the integrated amplifier to catch up to the 21st Century — ridiculous, but not all that surprising. The integrated amp took a back seat to the A/V receiver a long, long time ago, when consumers looking to build home-theater systems began obsessing over surround sound. Relegated to the darker corners of high-fi shops, the integrated amp, which eschews video processing, radio tuners and other frills in favor of a more refined design centered around upscale music playback, remained the darling of only the most hard-core of purists. As such, it has resisted transitioning from an analog world to a digital one.
Fortunately, manufacturers are coming around, and we’re now seeing integrated amps that are built to serve up digital music libraries with as much attention to resolution and precision as they’ve been giving analog sources for the past few decades. One glorious example of this is the Rotel RA-1570, a 120-watt-per-channel integrated amplifier that caters to all music listeners, whether their collections are primarily digital, analog, or a blend of both. Priced at around $1,600, the RA-1570 requires a little bit of investment, but delivers an incredible return, blending a rich set of features with a clean, powerful amplifier, all delivered in a strikingly handsome package.
Hands on video
Out of the box
We hadn’t had the chance to give the RA-1570 a good look online before we received it at our offices in Portland. With few preconceived notions, we grabbed the box to haul it back to our testing labs and were immediately struck by its heft. On its own, the RA-1570 weighs a very respectable 29 pounds, and that weight is spread out over a gorgeous 17 x 5.8 x 13.75-inch frame. A quick peek beyond the ventilation grills in the amp’s cover reveals the source of that weight: A hearty power supply, the likes of which is usually reserved for high-performance Class A/B devices. The RA-1570 certainly qualifies on that front.
If the RA-1570 doesn’t make your friends jealous, you might want to reevaluate your friendship.
After peering deep into the RA-1570’s soul for a look at its premium innards, we took a step back and took delight in the component’s dashing good looks from the outside. Frankly, if the RA-1570 doesn’t make your friends jealous, you might want to reevaluate your friendship.
Rotel didn’t make any efforts to hide the unit’s various input and control buttons, and we’re glad they didn’t. The buttons are small and placed in just the right way so that they gently complement the amp’s fascia without busying it up. Our review sample arrived in silver, and we think we prefer it to the black – our testing area is filled with so many black boxes that the RA-1570 came as a refreshing change of pace.
In the box with the RA-1570 we found a USB driver installation CD (also available online) a small Bluetooth dongle, a remote control with batteries, a stout detachable AC power cable, and a USB audio cable.
Features and design
The RA-1570 comes with a total of 12 inputs, six of them analog and six digital. On the analog side, you get four RCA inputs for just about any device you like (one is marked for CD, one for tuner, the other two Aux 1 and 2), but one is reserved for a turntable, with a ground lug located nearby. The final analog input is for balanced XLR connections, which is great for those with premium sources such as the Oppo BDP-95 Blu-ray player and Oppo HA-1 pre-amp we had on hand.
On the digital end, the amp is outfitted with two each optical and coaxial digital connections, and an asynchronous USB input, all situated at the back. On the front of amp is another USB input, this one meant for use with smartphone, tablet, or the included Bluetooth dongle.
The RA-1570 also comes with a handy array of outputs too, including dedicated pre-amp outputs which can be used with a subwoofer, and a second set of pre-outs which are bridged to the amplifier section with gold-plated U joints. That second set would come in useful for those wishing to use the RA-1570 with an outboard amplifier.
The RA-1570’s inclusion of a 3.5mm headphone jack rather than the much more common ¼-inch TRS variety is curious. The kind of headphones most are likely to use with a component like the RA-1570 usually come with the larger jack attached. Sure, adapters aren’t hard to come by, but we can’t help but wonder what Rotel was getting at here.
The RA-1570 does a stellar job of integrating digital music sources without cluttering up its interface.
You may have noticed we didn’t mention any network capabilities, and, honestly, we’re glad we don’t have to. As it stands, the RA-1570 does a stellar job of integrating digital music sources without cluttering up its interface. It doesn’t matter what device you connect, it remains the brains of the operation. So, if you connect your computer, the computer drives the playback. If you connect your smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth, you’ll want to use that device anyway. The only real exception is when connecting a mobile device via USB; in this case you can execute basic commands with Rotel’s remote such as play/pause, and track advance/reverse, though you’ll not be able to scrub through a track with the remote.
The RA-1570 will play tracks directly off a USB flash drive when it is inserted into the front USB port, but it doesn’t offer a very engaging interface. If you do want to play this way, best to create a specific playlist and let it roll. The RA-1570’s limited LCD display makes navigating folders and tracks a real chore. Also, note that this interface supports only MP3, WMA, WAV, OGG Vorbis, M4A/AAC at 16-bit/48kHz maximim.
Finally, the RA-1570 sports two pair of stereo outputs, A and B, all of which are accessed via robust, gold-plated, five-way binding posts.
Fortunately, there’s not a whole lot involved in setting up the RA-1570, unless you own a PC and intend to use it to play back files high-resolution audio files; especially those higher than 24-bit/96kHz resolution. If connected to a PC without doing anything in advance, Windows 8.1 will detect the amp and immediately recognize it as a USB SPDIF device. However, 24-bit/96kHz playback is not possible until you adjust the parameters of the playback device in Windows’ audio device manager.
If you want to play back 24-bit.192kHz files, you’ll need to use either the provided USB driver installation CD, or download the driver online and install. We had trouble getting this USB driver installed because we had already connected the RA-1570 to our computer previously and the stock driver was loaded. After much hassle, we managed to disable and uninstall one driver, and replace it with another.
Naturally, none of this is a concern for Mac users, which can expect a purely plug-and-play experience.
For this review, associated equipment included the Oppo BDP-95 Universal Blu-ray player, Oppo HA-1 preamp/headphone amplifier, Peachtree Audio Nova 220SE, an Asus Zenbook Prime loaded with high-resolution audio tracks, CD-quality tracks and Spotify (320 kbps MP3), an iPhone 4S via Bluetooth and hardwire connection, and a Pioneer PL-61 turntable with Ortofon OM-5E cartridge, Bowers & Wilkins CM8 floorstanding speakers, and Aperion Verus Forte speakers.
It took all of about 90 seconds for us to fall in love with the RA-1570. It may not be a perfect integrated amplifier, but it sure gets close, and in all but the most demanding listening situations, it is bound to thrill.
Perhaps the RA-1570’s best quality is that it stays out of the music’s way. We never once felt like we could “hear” the amplifier. By that we mean, the amp doesn’t have any distinguishing characteristics to its sound quality. It is neither “warm” nor “sterile,” it is simply neutral. This lack of coloration allows the speakers connected to it to shine, and in cases where the speakers are meant to disappear, they do, leaving only the character of the recording to come through.
The RA-1570 loves a good musical challenge. It begs to be pushed, and never disappoints.
Don’t let this lack of identifiable character come off as off-putting, because it is anything but. We had an absolute riot of a time rifling through our deep bench of recordings, grinning the entire time as the Rotel took whatever source it was given, and made it sound its best.
Music streamed via Bluetooth sounded as good as any Bluetooth audio ever has. Even the lossy Spotify tracks we played wirelessly were played back with a verve we rarely enjoy with other wireless audio systems. But when we made a hard digital connection, the RA-1570’s excellent Wolfson DAC worked its magic, making even compressed digital music sound better.
With high-resolution digital audio files, Rotel’s integrated amp did very well. Here, we wished for a slightly warmer, organic sound. But that want didn’t last long, because when we switched to analog music sources, we immediately returned to appreciating the RA-1570’s transparency. The unit’s phono pre-amp isn’t the phoned –in sort so commonly found in A/V receivers. It matched up nicely with the one found in Anthem’s Integrated 225, which we’ve always found to be a solid phono stage in its own right.
If we must level some criticism at the RA-1570, we’d ask for just a little more dynamic punch, and we do wonder if the amp has the current necessary to drive low-impedance speakers (we didn’t have any on hand to find out for ourselves). But don’t mistake these comments to mean the RA-1570 lacks power – it has plenty, and it has enough headroom to fill all but the most cavernous rooms with sweet sound. The RA-1570 loves a good musical challenge. It begs to be pushed, and never disappoints.
Rotel’s reputation for delivering high-end audio at a reasonable price is safe, thanks to the RA-1570. What’s more, this is an integrated amplifier that meets the needs of the modern listener, and does it with impeccable style. In a world that is rushing to return to two-channel audio, the RA-1570 is an extremely enticing choice.
- Excellent musicality
- Dashing good looks
- Digital and analog inputs, including phono
- Defeatable tone controls
- Pre-outs for subwoofer or external amp
- Finicky remote control of mobile devices
- USB driver install required for 24/192 (PC)
- Sluggish remote control response