A few things stand out about the Rotel RAP-1580 pretty much immediately. First, the richness and warmth of its sound. I've been on a particularly voracious Star Wars kick as of late (even more than usual for me, meaning I've burnt through both trilogies and The Force Awakens three times now since "Auld Lang Syne" was last sung), and the installation of the RAP-1580 just happened to coincide with a burning desire to start over again with The Phantom Menace on Blu-ray.
Even from the first notes of John Williams's score, I was a smitten kitten, drawn in by the nuance and detail of the midrange, especially in the horns and strings. But the moment that really bowled me over was the first appearance of "Anakin's Theme" in chapter 14, "Watto's Shop." It's one of my favorite movements in all of Williams' oeuvre on CD, although I have to admit that it normally only touches my subconscious when watching the film. It's hard to ignore as rendered by the RAP-1580, though, due to the sweetness of its delivery and the subtle expansiveness of its soundstage. Even the little details in the music that normally take a backseat to the dialogue ring through, despite the music's relatively low volume in the mix.
This brings up another of the RAP-1580's strengths: it sounds wonderful even at really low listening levels, losing none of its richness or nuance when turned down as much as 20 dB from reference level. The flipside to that coin is that it's also nicely dynamic, which is something Rotel gear isn't traditionally known for. Skipping forward to chapter 39, "Duel of the Fates," I found theRAP-1580's handling of the score's crescendos to be quite above reproach, and again I just wanted to pour its midrange out on the floor and wallow in it.
The other thing that stood out about its sound is that the uppermost frequencies are not recessed or otherwise diminished in the mix, but they are certainly laid-back in a very British way. "Polite" is the word that comes to mind. This doesn't rob the soundtrack of detail or sizzle, but I did notice that Pernilla August's voice was a bit less sibilant than I'm used to hearing it.
And that was with the volume knob pegged to its clockwise extent, which was what it took to drive my speakers to reference level in my larger main media room. Although the RAP-1580 never really sounded to be outside of its comfort zone at such levels, it definitely pushed me way outside of mine, which prompted the move to my smaller (13 by 15 feet) bedroom home theater system, where I could leave the unit with a little extra headroom.
Not that I took it easy on the Rotel, mind you. The first disc I threw at it in its new home was the Fury Road Black & Chrome disc from the Mad Max High Octane Collection Blu-ray (Warner Brothers). Things started off quite promisingly. The RAP-1580 handled the film's gritty, grumbly, raspy dialogue with aplomb (at least the part of the dialogue that's intended to be intelligible, that is), and it even seemed to crank out its high-energy actions scenes with ease and beg for more. But then, during the chase sequence in chapter three, it went into protection mode and shut down, even with the volume knob set to 15 clicks or so below maximum. So, needless to say, I turned it down a bit more after powering the unit back on. Much to my surprise, even 6 dB below reference listening level, I found the film's explosive soundtrack to be more than satisfying.
Moving to two-channel music, via both the BDP-103 and the RAP-1580's front-panel USB input fed by my iPhone 6S+, I found my observations with movies held true, especially in terms of the unit's rich and nuanced midrange delivery and its forgiving high-frequency performance.
With "Leroy and Lanisha" from Kamasi Washington's The Epic (Brainfeeder), I found myself instantly grooving to the crisp delivery of the percussion, but absolutely captivated by the tone and timbre of the piano and horns. In terms of soundstage, I noticed that the RAP-1580 didn't give me quite as much depth from this song as I'm used to hearing from other favorite receivers, but it excelled in the width department, stretching the music out from wall to wall and giving every element of the densely layered mix room to breathe--with no obscuring, smearing, or overemphasis on any particular aspect of the music.
I mentioned some setup quirks above, but in truth we're talking about more than mere quirks here. The first thing you'll notice after firing up the RAP-1580 for the first time is that the apparent output resolution of its setup menus is something along the lines of 400 by 240. That's not a problem in and of itself, except that it points to a sort of late-90s approach to receiver setup that could limit the RAP-1580, depending on how you want to use it. It's also worth noting that my review unit would only output its onscreen menus in 4K (and hence could not be viewed on a 1080p display), but that quirk has since been fixed by Rotel.
One example of the UI and configuration limitations I mentioned above: there's virtually no reconfiguration to be done with its seven amplified channels and how they're used. You can select from a few predefined speaker layouts (7.1.4, 7.1.2, 5.1, 5.1.4, etc.)--some of which require the addition of an external amp, of course. As for how you use the internal amps? You don't have much choice. The receiver itself can only power two overhead speakers, and top middle ones at that. It would be nice to be able to power, say, four ceiling speakers and the surrounds with the internal amps and add a more robust external amp to power the fronts, but that's just not possible. Rotel says that they're working on an update for the RAP-1580 that allows for more flexibility in channel configuration, but no timeline for the fix has been given.
As I said above, the RAP-1580 also features no form of room correction. Furthermore, it gives you no way of bringing your own frequency sweeps to the table on an individual-channel basis. Really, the only way to adjust the unit's 10 bands of parametric EQ per channel is with a system like the XTZ Room Analyzer 2 Pro or some similar setup, or to hire a custom installer to measure your room for you. A better bet would simply be to combine the RAP-1580 with subs that include built-in room correction and leave the rest of the audible spectrum alone.
Comparison & Competition
The RAP-1580's closest competitor that I have any in-depth experience with is Anthem's MRX 1120, which sells for about $400 less and offers eleven channels of amplification (albeit with six of them being Class D and 60 watts apiece, the other five measuring in at 140 watts each). The 1120 also offers HDCP 2.2 compliance on all of its HDMI inputs, and it features one of the best room correction systems money can buy. There's no denying, though, that the RAP-1580 is a much more robustly built piece of gear, with more solid and refined construction, classier connectivity, and simpler operation. The two units also sound quite different, which is probably the deciding factor for most people. Both are incredibly high-performance, though, so in that department it's mostly a matter of taste.
For a whole lot less money, you could also opt for the Marantz SR7011 ($2,199), which won't give you that Rotel sound but does give you nine channels of amplification and an Auro3D upgrade path. It also features Audyssey MultEQ XT32 room correction for easier setup and built-in HEOS multiroom audio capabilities.
A good bit more money ($6,000, to be precise) would get you into the Arcam AVR-850, which gets you seven channels of Class G amplification, Dirac Live room correction (which is tied for first place with Anthem Room Correction in my heart of hearts), and much more in terms of configuration capabilities.
There's no denying that Rotel's RAP-1580 is a bit of an anachronism, but it's a charming one, for sure. Its 1990s-era setup menus (and configuration capabilities) are sure to be infuriating to some and welcome to others, as is the lack of room correction capabilities or any other form of auto calibration. More troubling are the limitations in terms of amp distribution. I can imagine there are a number of people for whom this would be their ideal receiver (or surround amplified processor, if you will) if only it could be tweaked to allow for onboard powering of all four overhead channels and the use of external amps for the fronts. But for now, if you use the built-in amplification for overhead speakers, you're limited to two channels only, not four. It's heartening, though, that Rotel is working to address this limitation.
In the end, I feel like the Rotel RAP-1580 is somewhat overpriced for what it delivers, at least in terms of functionality. Not in terms of performance, though--in that arena, it's pretty much right on the mark.
• Visit the Rotel website for more product information.
• Check out our AV Receivers category page to read similar reviews.
• Rotel Introduces Multichannel RAP-1580 "Amplifier Processor" at HomeTheaterReview.com.