When doing an audio product review, I make an effort to learn some history about the manufacturer, and I was surprised by what I discovered about Rotel. Based in Zhuhai, China, Rotel has a 50-year history of making high-end audio equipment and is a family business, which has been in a lasting partnership with B&W for product distribution. Years later, their relationship would extend to a factory-sharing agreement. Yes, Rotel has a factory, since the company actually manufactures its products, as well as many of the parts that go into its products. While this may not sound astonishing, you may be surprised to know how many companies use a third-party vendor to manufacture their product designs. Now, I have no problem with that business model. I get it. Remember, Foxconn manufactures the iPhone for Apple, so we know it can work. Some of my favorite audio equipment is third-party produced; still, when I hear that a company does the design and manufacturing, I can't help but be impressed. Manufacturing your own products does not guarantee superiority, but let's see how it affects two of the newest products from Rotel.
The Rotel RC-1590 stereo preamplifier and RB-1590 two-channel amplifier are optimally designed to function together as a high-end two-channel audio system (although you could certainly use them separately with other components, too). Keeping the preamplifier and amplifier sections separate is considered superior for decreased noise and better channel separation, with the benefit of independent power supplies. Each unit has an extruded and anodized aluminum faceplate. The combination can be purchased n black (like my review samples) or silver. A blue LED ring surrounds the power button on both units, which glows when they are powered on.
Rotel's philosophy, which is referred to as the Balanced Design Concept, is to combine component selection, circuitry design, and final listening evaluation in balance to achieve an outcome that is greater than any one of these criteria could achieve individually. In those instances where Rotel does not manufacture the component itself, the parts are sourced from all over the world, including Germany, Britain, Japan, and the United States. Like many Rotel products, a high-performing power supply is center stage in these two products. Twin homemade toroidal transformers are part of the power supply design, for both the preamplifier and amplifier.
The RC-1590 is a modern-day preamplifier, meaning it possesses all the digital and wireless inputs you would imagine. A PC-USB input feeds the AKM premium 32-bit/786-kHz DAC, where DSD (PC-Windows) and DoP (DSD over PCM for MAC computers) are also supported. A Bluetooth input, along with the required antennae, benefits from aptX. An emphasis on keeping noise out of the system is accomplished by isolating the digital inputs and by using low noise circuitry for the analog inputs. As I previously mentioned, the power supply is paramount, and it is made with slit foil capacitors for their fast charge and discharge capabilities. A front-panel USB input for iOS devices makes this preamplifier compatible with an iPhone or iPad.
You also get three optical and three coaxial digital inputs, as well as one optical and one coaxial digital output. The RC-1590 has four traditional RCA line-level inputs, including a moving magnet phono stage input, and one balanced input. Two sets of balanced outputs, two sets of line-level outputs, and two RCA subwoofer outputs, plus an additional fixed-level RCA output, keep your connection options open. RS-232 and IP control allow for system integration, while an external remote input allows for a wired infrared receiver. Two 12-volt triggers control other components to simultaneously power on and off the amplifiers or other components. A Texas Instruments integrated circuit allows for precise volume control, and a front-panel headphone output is located on the lower left of the faceplate. Worth mentioning is the input selection, which is possible via direct access by individual buttons located front and center on the faceplate, a nice feature in a jog-wheel world.
The RC-1590's Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) is at less than 0.0002 percent, and the signal-to-noise ratio is 112 dB on the line-level side and 108 dB on the digital side. The RC-1590's dimensions are 17 inches wide, 5.7 inches high, and 13.9 inches deep, with its weight at an even 20 pounds. All of this technology will set you back $1,749.
The RB-1590, meanwhile, is a two-channel Class AB amplifier boasting 350 watts of continuous power per channel at eight ohms, with both channels driven, in a dual mono design--basically, that means the RB-1590 is two mono-block amplifiers sharing the same case. Again, Rotel paid special attention to the power supply, with homemade toroidal transformers. The capacitors are custom, of high quality, and sourced in Britain. Both line-level RCA and balanced inputs are provided, along with dual right and left speaker outputs for easy biwiring. Total harmonic distortion (THD) is less than 0.03 percent (20 Hz to 20 kHz). Frequency response is 10 Hz to 100 kHz, and the signal-to-noise ratio is 120 dB. The RB-1590's dimensions are 17 inches wide, 9.75 inches high, and 19.9 inches deep, with a weight of 84 pounds. The heat sinks are internal to the main case. My first impression was that this is a lot of hardware for $2,999.
I connected the RC-1590 preamplifier to the RB-1590 amplifier using balanced interconnects. For speakers, I used B&W CM10 towers. For sources, I used a Lyngdorf CD-2 drive connected by a coaxial digital cable, and I played files from my MacBook Pro using both USB 2.0 and Bluetooth.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...