Rotel introduced its first CD player in 1989. In the interim, little has changed about what makes for a great machine: A sturdy, purpose-built device engineered to make the most out of the deliberate experience of listening to and appreciating an album. It is not a machine for background music—streaming takes care of that easily. The RCD-1572MKII ($1099.99) is a machine for deep listeners whose interest in music naturally draws them to full albums, in whatever format they may be found. For fans of music released in the 1990s and early 2000s, the heyday of CD, the selection of music available on used CD is breathtakingly huge.
This player is an update to the RCD-1572, and on the outside, the MKII looks identical to its immediate predecessor. But it's a CD player, which means that when it comes to performance, it's what's inside that counts. In this case, the MKII designation heralds a whole new DAC with greater capability, a smooth CD loading mechanism, and a design that delivers 3dB better stereo separation (per Rotel specs).
Rotel ensures the RCD-1572MKII delivers on the full promise of the CD format by offering dynamic range and low distortion that are way below the threshold of human perception. The design goal for any audio source component is (or at least should be) transparency. Meanwhile, the enemies of transparency are noise and distortion.
With dynamic range rated at greater than 99 dB, distortion kept under 0.0035% at 1 kHz, a frequency response of 20 Hz to 20 kHz +/-0.5 dB, and a signal-to-noise ratio (A-weighted) of >118 dB and over 99 dB of dynamic range, these, the 90 dB or so of dynamic range delivered by CD comes through in pristine clarity.
Creating a clean analog signal from a digital file is one trick; it's the task of the DAC. The RCD-1572MKII leverages a 32-bit Texas Instruments DAC to achieve the translation. Now, you could, for example, use this player as a CD transport and attach an outboard DAC with the coaxial digital connector. But, translating a CD to pristine, musical analog output—without the need for a DAC—is the point of a premium CD player. Moreover, it would be best to get that signal to a preamp or integrated amp with the absolute least amount of degradation, and that's where the balanced XLR outputs on this player enter the picture.
XLR is the standard connector type that you find in professional audio, beginning with every microphone that captures just about every sound that gets put into a recording and through the entire signal chain of the music creation process. Suffice to say, if balanced XLR connections are good enough for the studios that create the music, they will do the job in your home system. Of course, it also offers standard single-ended (unbalanced) RCA connectors.
This premium player offers programmability and integration with home automation systems utilizing an RS-232 port. There is a 12 V trigger for power on and a 3.5 mm input for IR repeaters.
Rotel includes a full-sized remote that replicates the functionality of the buttons on the front panel and also adds a menu function. In the menu, you can adjust various settings including this key feature: You can dim both the blue power indicator and the information display, and do so independently. In addition to the standard playback controls, the player offers the classic "random" and "repeat" functions.
The player itself is quite substantial; the build quality is a world apart from the flimsy Blu-ray players sold as universal disc players these days. It weighs 16.18 pounds (even heavier than an Oppo) and measures 17" × 4" × 12.6". It'll fit in a 2RU space. Why the heft? Inside you'll find a toroidal transformer manufactured by Rotel to deliver consistent power with ultra-low noise.
Rotel packs this player in a double box that keeps it safe and sound during transport. Here I unpack the review unit and power it up, plus load a disc. Everything in the video is in real-time, so in the latter portion of the unboxing video, you Rotel packs this player in a double box that keeps it safe and sound during transport. Here I unpack the review unit, power it up, and load a disc.
Everything in the video is in real-time, so you can judge start-up and load speed in the latter portion of the unboxing by simply watching. Everything about this player, from the moment you take it out the box onward, speaks to the kid in me who heard a CD for the first time playing on at his best friends' house: It was the intro to "Red Rain" on Peter Gabriel's "So" from when it was a brand new release, back in 1986.
It's refreshing to see a physical device as simple as this CD player. You don't need a manual to operate it; all the self-explanatory functions all functions are self-explanatory. I would even argue that it is the purest expression of a dedicated device catering to an album-centric approach to the hobby for a music lover. It invites a thorough, end-to-end listening of a complete work, without the mid-album interruption intrinsic to LP records, and with the option to pause and or skip, but not making it too easy, like with streaming or even playing back files from a disc.
I used to own a lot of CDs, enough that I went from CD towers to books full of them. Then I had the brilliant idea of ripping all my CDs and disposing of the actual discs, figuring for some weird reason that they take up too much space. But what I've learned over time is that some albums are not always available to stream and that files on hard drives can sometimes be lost.
This has led to a situation where I have purchased CDs on the used market, through eBay or Amazon, to access certain albums or certain versions of certain albums, such as the British release instead of the US release. In the example mentioned above of Peter Gabriel and So, the artist intended to have the album end with "In Your Eyes," but the limitations of vinyl meant that the bass-heavy track was a poor fit for the last track a record. Instead, it led the b-side. But on CD it's right there at the end, where it belongs.
Of course, I do love streaming music; it offers a means of music discovery that is sufficient beyond what could ever be achieved through radio or trial and error record store shopping. The point is I don't get my music from one place. I stream. I buy tracks on Bandcamp. And I play CDs. I even own a small stack of vinyl LP records (one milk crate’s worth), but maintaining a record player and keeping the music flowing on one of those is beyond the threshold of what I am willing to do for the sake of relaxation (and I did try). CD is my "Goldilocks" standalone format.
Ultimately, it comes to this: With many modern connected devices, a section called "uses" could go on nearly forever. Not so this CD player, and it's better off for it. It has one use, which is playing CDs as faithfully as possible. The main choices you have regarding the process amount to deciding what to play and how to control it. But, there is no need to check for firmware updates, no need to enter passwords, and no subscriptions. It's the very definition of plug-and-play. Plug it in, load a disc, press play & you are done.
Please note that I did not explore the home automation/programmability aspect of this player, but that is part of the feature set.
I wanted to ensure that the system I used to audition this Rotel is up to the task of delivering the full performance of the player. A Classé Delta Stereo amp paired with a Motu M4 audio interface served as an ultra-basic, minimalist preamp—but crucially one with balanced connections that have proven to measure well on a test bench. The idea was to have as little as possible in terms of electronics and cables between the CD player and the amplifier. Once digital music is rendered into the analog realm, my goal—and presumably the goal of anyone seeking true high fidelity sound—is to avoid placing anything unnecessary in the signal path.
First, the visceral reaction. Wow, I almost forgot how incredible a "proper" two-channel system sounds when you strip away everything but the core, essential ingredients and ensure that they are as good as possible. Yes, it's practically cliché, but the qualities that entranced me when listening to well-produced tracks include the deeper, wider, more three-dimensional soundstage, the overall tightness of the audio reproduction that hints at full attention being paid to micro-dynamics (what the high-end folks would refer to as "resolving enough").
With this system and a well-engineered recording, the listening experience is fully enveloping. Still, the surround-sound folks would call it "immersive" given its ability to place a sound just about anywhere, not just left and right but also forward and back. This is a key attribute if you want, for example, a singer to sound like they are standing in front of the band instead of behind it.
For more than 25 years, I have known which track to play to test how a system handles three-dimensional imaging: "Outlands" from The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld. There is this swishing, swirling sound about 1 1/2 minutes into the track. Through headphones, it just sounds like it's panning left and right.
Through a surround sound system, upmixing stereo to multichannel, the sound can make essentially perfect circles around your head! But what impresses me is when a two-channel speaker system manages to create a soundstage wherein the same noise appears to do circles around your head. It may be a sound engineer's parlor trick, messing with phase in such a manner, but it has a way of revealing whether a system is up to snuff and can deliver the full measure of what is included in a particular mix.
My subjective (but empirical) observation is that any noise present within the totality of this system is banished to the inaudible realm. The reason is pretty self-explanatory, the amplifier offers a 118 dB signal-to-noise ratio, the Motu's input is rated at 115 dB dynamic range and the output is rated at 120 DB dynamic range. This Rotel's signal-to-noise ratio of 118 dB is a perfect match for the overall system and is way above the dynamic range of the CD format.
To fully appreciate the fidelity of any system I audition, I try to get the noise floor of my room as low as possible. By shutting off HVAC and air cleaners I can get it down to about 35 dB (A-weighted). The speakers in this system are Focal Aria K2 936 towers, which are a great match for the amplifier in terms of power handling and performance: The 92 dB sensitivity and 300 W peak power should result in peak output levels around 115 dB (at 1 meter).
Because I live in an apartment and I'm not interested in being evicted, or having to ride the elevator with angry neighbors, I use that amount of dynamic headroom judiciously. Blasting music for extended periods, at rock concert/nightclub levels, is not my daily routine, although during the middle of the day I can certainly get away with it (for testing purposes, of course) since my neighbors are at work. But that's the beauty of high-performance gear, you don't always have to be pushing the limits. Just as you can enjoy driving a high-performance sports car even when obeying speed limits, the fidelity of this system—which starts with source—lets you viscerally experience music, even when you're not turning it up to "11".
My critical listening sessions involved the following albums on CD: Adventure's Beyond the Ultraworld and Auntie Aubery's Excursions Beyond the Ultraworld Part II, both by The Orb. Of course, a copy of So by Peter Gabriel. Also, the Ambient Collection by The Art of Noise, Stolen and Contaminated Songs by Coil, Bush by Snoop Dogg, Daft Punk's Tron: Legacy soundtrack, Altered Beats: Assassin Knowledges Of The Remanipulated by Bill Laswell, and Thievery Corporation's The Temple of I & I. Based on what I heard, it's reasonable to conclude that the RCD-1572MKII extracted every last drop of information found on those CDs.
So, first up, "Red Rain" from So. I mean, why not. The first sounds I ever heard on CD still make my spine tingle as the intro builds until Peter Gabriel jumps in, and at that moment, the grandiosity of the whole production becomes crystal clear—this is true 1980s progressive art-rock pop, with all the flourishes that come with the genre. And it's not like track 2 gives you even a moment to breathe, "Sledgehammer" comes on strong, horns and all.
I literally could not control my emotions when Kate Bush joins Peter Gabriel of "Don't give Up" there's just something about her voice in this track that is heart-rending and brings a tear to my eye, but in my humble opinion, the emotional impact would be lessened if the actual recording was not so viscerally real as if Kate was standing right there, appealing to me to stay positive.
Auntie Aubery's Excursions Beyond the Ultraworld Part II is a real trip to listen to, The Orb likes to do clever things in the studio, creating sound fields that rely on a deeply textured layering of samples; the resulting intricate mixes envelop the listener in a kaleidoscope of sounds. This is one of those albums that I cannot find on any streaming service, so I felt obligated to buy it. What I find interesting is having the CD player reminds me to play this album, while having it ripped to a hard drive has the opposite effect, I wind up forgetting to include it in my daily listening.
One of my favorite albums that's not available to stream is The Ambient Collection by the Art of Noise. It's the perfect album for a rainy day, it takes the edge off of the typically more up-tempo and brash Art of Noise sound. One of those listening experiences makes you realize how much you generally are missing when listening through mediocre equipment. Some albums sound just about the same on an affordable mainstream stereo system and a super high-end system. At the same time, other albums have so much attention to detail put into the mix that it is impossible to appreciate the artistry without a sufficiently good playback system. The Ambient Collection is squarely in the latter category; it rewards great systems and deep listeners with its depth, and that all starts with the source.
Stolen and Contaminated Songs is a Coil album I bought on its release in 1992, it was one of my first CDs. Track 12, titled " Her Friends the Wolves" doesn't follow any of the ordinary rules for how you mix a song; it's huge, it's delicate, it's guttural, it's ethereal, and it has this bassline with an almost infrasonic undertone that has a very particular texture to it. That's 30 years I've been listening to systems critically utilizing this track, and when a system nails it, I still get goosebumps, as I did with this Rotel handling the playback.
Bush is a big funky album by Snoop Dogg that features some serious A-list guest stars: Kendrick Lamar, Stevie Wonder, Charlie Wilson, Gwen Stefani, T.I. and Rick Ross. It's a slick, well-produced album that washes right over you as soon as you press play. It's the most recent release that I have on CD, and it certainly shows that CD sound is more than up to the task of handling a modern studio production and all the synthesized and compressed sounds that go into it. But not everything is artificial, Stevie wonder's voice, for example, on the introductory track "California Roll"... smooth as ever.
A lot of the attraction of this album centers around the variety of singing voices, even Snoop plays the part of the crooner most of the time, not the rapper. All the tracks are rendered holographically, in a truly enveloping soundfield. For what it's worth, I also have this album on vinyl and have streamed it many times, the CD version played through the Rotel is as good as I've heard the album sound. Bonus points for how the system handled the plentiful bass, staying away from any looseness or bloat. Of course, the speakers and amplifier can take a lot of credit for maintaining that control, but it's still up to the source to give those components something to work with.
I've made a bit of a tradition of using the track "Disc Wars" From Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy soundtrack. This is an incredible recording, it combines the London Symphony Orchestra with Daft Punk’s synthesizer work, all in the service of a top-tier production Disney film, so seemingly no expense was spared and the result is this masterwork of analog and electronic sound combined with the depth and thickness and all-encompassing grandeur that poses a stiff challenge to any stereo system. The key is that if a system is insufficiently transparent, it’ll sound congested. But if a system is sufficiently capable, the sound expands, and the majesty of the orchestral element becomes apparent. The entire album is a brilliant production worth repeat listens; it stands up on its own as a significant work of art.
I could go on, but the theme here is simple: The Rotel does its job exactly right, taking those bits on that shiny disc and translating them into sweet, sweet music. It does so rapidly, reliably, and in a manner so simple that once you are used to the mechanics of the player and the location of the buttons, you could do it with your eyes closed. The read mechanism seems rather robust, not once did I encounter any issue with skipping or glitching—even with used CDs that look like they spent time outside of their cases, in stacks, collecting fingerprints and scratches.
The Rotel RCD-1572MKII is, as anticipated, a rock-solid CD player with speedy loading, reliable playback, and exceptional sound quality. It offers the exact features that you would expect to find on a classic CD player. Ease of operation is a big attraction here because I'm not sure in what state of mind you like to enjoy music, but for me, the ease of use of a CD player, as anachronistic as it may seem to pull out a disc and put it in the drawer, is more than just an exercise in nostalgia. It is a way to honor the artistry found within the album format, a format around which the CD was intentionally designed.
If you have a CD collection or are interested in beginning a CD collection because you are curious about the music selection that's available—and the pleasures of owning physical copies of your music—you will surely enjoy the dividends of investing in a dedicated CD player of this quality. This is especially true if the rest of your system is up to the task of properly reproducing the exquisite sound it is able to deliver. This updated Rotel flagship is a Home Theater Review Editors' Choice and it'll surely serve a music lover well for years to come.