Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.
Rotel was founded in 1957 as an original-equipment manufacturer (OEM) of audio components, but has been making high-value audio gear under its own brand since 1961. Other than NAD and Cambridge Audio, I can’t think of another company with a similarly long history or reputation, or as wide a range of entry-level and mid-priced models. So this longtime admirer of Rotel’s excellent budget gear was thrilled when a review sample of their RA-1572MKII integrated amplifier-DAC recently appeared at my door.
The RA-1572MKII is Rotel’s second-most-expensive integrated amplifier, if you don’t count their recently reintroduced high-end Michi line of products. It replaces the RA-1572, introduced in 2017, and the price has only increased $100: to a still affordable $2099 (all prices USD). I’ve reviewed many fantastic integrateds in the past few years, all of which cost more—but I looked forward more to reviewing the RA-1572MKII because of Rotel’s long reputation for providing high-value products.
The road from Michi
While Rotel has continually improved the appearance of their components over the years, with such subtle changes as rounding off their edges and offering silver finishes in addition to the usual black, they still look fairly utilitarian. And they’re still robustly built—for a $2099 integrated, the RA-1572MKII is big and heavy at 17″W x 5.7″H x 14.1″D and 30.05 pounds. Centered high on the front panel is a dot-matrix screen that displays word length, sampling frequency, MQA decoding status, and levels for bass, treble, and overall volume. However, its small characters are difficult to read from across the room.
Below the display, two rows of six buttons each provide direct access to the inputs: Phono, CD, XLR, Tuner, Aux, USB, Coax 1 and 2, Optical 1 and 2, PC USB, and Bluetooth. To the left of the display are the Power button and remote sensor, and in the lower-left corner are a 3.5mm headphone jack and a USB-A port for an iOS playback device; next to these are buttons to select the A and/or B sets of speakers. In the upper-right-hand corner is a large, nicely rounded volume knob with a relatively light, smooth feel, and below it a row of four buttons for controlling the menu system. The menu, also controllable via the included remote handset, gives access to the tone and display-dimmer controls, auto-off settings, and the ability to set any of the digital or line-level Aux inputs to a fixed amount of gain. Once the RA-1572MKII has been turned on using the front-panel Power button, the remote can be used to put it into or out of standby.
While not fancy, the front panel has an attractive brushed-aluminum finish with rounded, chrome inserts on either side, and blue LEDs: one that encircles the Power button, and tiny ones above the Speakers A and B buttons. The plastic remote control is large, with many similar looking, non-backlit buttons that control not only the RA-1572MKII, but other Rotel components; it’s serviceable without being particularly noteworthy.
On the rear panel is a wide array of input options that fulfill the promise of all those buttons on the front: two each of digital coaxial (RCA) and optical (TosLink), in addition to PC USB-B and Ethernet for IP control and software updates. There are three sets of line-level inputs (RCA), a phono input (RCA) for a moving-magnet cartridge, a ground post for a turntable, and one pair of balanced (XLR) inputs. The outputs comprise the switchable A and B speaker terminals, all on high-quality binding posts that are a little closer together than I’d have liked, two mono subwoofer outputs (RCA), and a stereo pair of preamp outputs (RCA). There are also an RS-232 port, a USB-A jack for powering USB devices, two 12V trigger outputs, a jack for an external remote sensor, and a Rotel Link input and output, though the manual states that this last “is not used for the RA-1572MKII.” A standard two-prong IEC inlet is provided for the included power cord, and a removable Bluetooth module is installed.
When I asked Daren Orth, Rotel’s CTO, what changes had been made for the MKII version of the RA-1572, he said that the new Michi models had been designed more as scalable platforms than as discrete models, to make it easier to trickle down improvements to other Rotel products. Therefore, it’s not only the RA-1572MKII that has benefited from developments made for the Michis—so have the MKII versions of the RA-1592 ($3199) and A14 ($1599) integrated-DACs. Orth said that 33 critical components in the RA-1572MKII’s signal path—e.g., coupling capacitors and power-supply filter capacitors—have been upgraded to improve its sound quality.
There’s also a new, 32-bit/384kHz DAC from Texas Instruments that, Orth says, they found sounded better than the previous AKM DAC with the MKII’s upgraded analog circuitry. This new TI DAC also adds support for full unfolding of MQA and MQA Studio signals, though it doesn’t support DSD. The two RCA and TosLink digital inputs support resolutions up to 24/192, and, with installation of the USB driver for Windows computers, the USB-B input supports up to 32/384. The Bluetooth input supports the aptX and AAC codecs. The digital section’s specified frequency response is 10Hz-90kHz, ±2dB.
Like most Rotel products, the RA-1572MKII has a large, Rotel-built toroidal transformer. The volume is controlled by TI’s well-regarded PGA2311 volume-control IC, which Rotel and other manufacturers use in many high-quality audio components. The RA-1572MKII’s specifications include: continuous power output of 120Wpc into 8 ohms, or up to 200Wpc into 4 ohms; total harmonic distortion of <0.018%; intermodulation distortion of <0.03%; a damping factor of 300 (20Hz-20kHz, 8 ohms); line-level frequency response of 10Hz-100kHz, ±0.5dB; phono-input frequency response of 20Hz-20kHz (±0.5dB); and signal/noise ratios of 100dB (line-level and digital sections) and 80dB (phono). The RA-1572MKII is warranted for five years, parts and labor—generous for a moderately priced model.
The RA-1572MKII spent time in both of my systems: my main rig, with MartinLogan Masterpiece Classic ESL 9 hybrid electrostatic speakers; and a smaller, family-room array, with PSB Alpha T20 speakers and the primary sources being a MacBook Pro or Intel NUC computer running Roon, Qobuz, Tidal, or foobar2000. Other sources included a Pro-Ject X1 turntable with Ortofon Pick it S2 cartridge, and Oppo Digital UDP-205 4K Ultra HD and BDP-105 universal BD players. Interconnects, speaker cables, and power products were various models from Analysis Plus, AudioQuest, Blue Circle Audio, Clarus Cable, ESP, and Zero Surge.
Unlike some integrated amplifiers I’ve recently reviewed, the RA-1572MKII offers no room correction or bass management, or configuration via a web interface. A smartphone remote app is available for iOS only; I installed this on my iPhone 6s, but with it you can control only Volume and Mute, or select the input, and it requires that the RA-1572MKII be connected to the same network via Ethernet. I found it easier to use the physical remote control.
After some futzing to install the USB driver on my Intel NUC computer, which for some reason I had to do twice to get the highest-resolution playback in USB Audio Class 2.0 mode, Roon, foobar2000, and Qobuz all recognized the RA-1572MKII. I had no 32-bit files to try, but I successfully played some MQA Studio streams from Tidal via Roon, which the Rotel fully unfolded to 24/352.8.
Balanced design = balanced sound
As has lately become my standard review practice, the Rotel RA-1572MKII first spent some time in my smaller system, driving the PSB Alpha T20s to great effect as I casually listened to music, movies, and TV. The Rotel’s 120Wpc had no trouble driving the small and relatively efficient PSB floorstanders, so after only a few days I moved it into my main system with the MartinLogan Masterpiece Classic ESL 9 electrostatics.
At first, I thought the sound was a bit soft and indistinct with the MLs, but I hadn’t driven the Rotel all that hard in my smaller system. Now I drove it a bit harder for a few days, with some dynamic music, and left it on at all times during that period. Following that, the sound was a little tighter and more focused, with better-defined bass and more precise imaging, especially to the sides. Though it wasn’t a huge change in sound, the RA-1572MKII definitely benefited from the additional break-in.
With the Rotel driving the ML ESL 9s, Lana Del Rey’s voice in “Let Me Love You Like a Woman,” from her Chemtrails Over the Country Club (24-bit/48kHz MQA FLAC, Interscope/Polydor/Tidal), floated around the soundstage as it changed pitch and character between verses and her many overdubs in this atmospheric, densely layered and textured recording. The midrange and even the highs were always smooth, sweet, and dreamy. The same went for “Satin Summer Nights,” from Paul Simon’s Songs from The Capeman (24/96 FLAC, Warner Bros./Qobuz). Whether it was the voice of Simon, Marc Anthony, or one of the many backing singers, there was an easygoing fluidity to their harmonizing. And while the sound was always silky smooth, each voice was precisely placed on the soundstage with excellent presence and realism.
To evaluate headphones, SoundStage! Network reviewer Brent Butterworth often uses the recording of Berlioz’s Harold in Italy with Yoav Talmi conducting the San Diego Symphony, with violin soloist Igor Gruppman and viola soloist Rivka Golani (16/44.1 FLAC, Naxos/Qobuz). He says it has great sound, and I agree: it sounds fantastic. The orchestra had a convincing sense of scale through the RA-1572MKII: the cello and double-bass sections sounded weighty, while the violins and violas were sharper but not overwhelmingly so. I would have liked a bit more slam to the percussion, but otherwise the Rotel did a wonderful job of reproducing complex orchestral passages through my MartinLogans. In fact, the RA-1572MKII is by far the least-expensive integrated I’ve heard that’s been able to drive the Classic ESL 9s to sufficient levels while conveying the complexities and subtleties of every type of music I played.
Listening to vinyl through the Rotel, I got a feeling of spaciousness with the percussion in the title track of Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love (LP, Columbia 88985460131)—it was spread out evenly between the speakers, and slightly forward. But while there was excellent imaging on this track, there was also some sibilance that I don’t usually hear. When Springsteen sings, “feel the ssssoft ssssilk of your blousssse,” the accentuated hiss of his sibilants distracted me from the otherwise clear sound and well-defined image of his voice. There was still some extra sibilance on the warmer-sounding “One Step Up,” from the same album, but the electric and acoustic guitars sounded richer and more melodic, as did Patty Scialfa’s voice.
With another mellow and well-recorded album, Willie Nelson’s God’s Problem Child (LP, Sony Legacy 88985415741), the RA-1572MKII’s ability to deftly place Nelson’s grizzled, emotive voice clearly among the harmonica and multiple guitars was superb—and surprisingly natural-sounding, given that I was listening through this budget amp’s built-in phono stage.
I listened to the RA-1572MKII through its balanced inputs, using the Oppo UDP-205 BD player, and found that it didn’t alter the Oppo’s fundamentally neutral sound other than to ever-so-slightly shrink the soundstage compared to when I used the Oppo’s own internal DAC. For example, the crowd noise in “Love Shack,” from the B-52s’ Cosmic Thing (16/44.1 FLAC, Reprise/Qobuz), was a little less distinct and concentrated more between the speakers, and Fred Schneider’s voice wasn’t as far in front of Kate Pierson’s and Cindy Wilson’s.
The RA-1572MKII’s headphone amp easily drove my Sennheiser HD 580 and PSB M4U 1 cans with a detailed sound that had enough weight to give dynamic music real punch. One of my go-to tracks for assessing transparency, “Desert Rose,” from Sting’s My Songs: Deluxe (24/44.1 FLAC, A&M/Qobuz), sounded very good. The swirling vocals were well delineated from the densely layered arrangement, and though the bass could have been a little tighter, it was deep and satisfying.
Lyngdorf Audio’s similarly priced TDAI-1120 integrated ($2199, review coming soon) has many more features, including streaming, bass management, and room correction—but it couldn’t drive my MartinLogan electrostats to the room-filling levels I could get with the Rotel RA-1572MKII. However, for driving smaller, more efficient speakers—e.g., the PSB Alpha T20s—in a smaller room, and/or for integrating a subwoofer(s) and using room correction, the Lyngdorf is an excellent choice at this price. But when used as a straight stereo integrated driving nearly full-range speakers, the Lyngdorf couldn’t compete with the Rotel.
In terms of general design and sound, a much closer match for the Rotel RA-1572MKII was Hegel Music Systems’ H120 ($3000). Both are class-AB designs, though the H120 features Hegel’s feed-forward technology. And while the H120, too, has a very good built-in DAC, its resolution maxes out at 24/96 for its USB input, while accepting signals of up to 24/192 for its S/PDIF inputs and supporting UPnP and Apple AirPlay.
The Hegel is specified to put out 75Wpc into 8 ohms, but its ample headroom results in dynamic sound. In direct comparisons with the Rotel at high volume levels it suffered only slightly: complex music could sound a bit indistinct and less controlled. At more moderate listening levels, Del Rey’s voice in “Let Me Love You Like a Woman” was more neutral and clear through the Hegel, but had slightly less body. The Rotel always maintained a principally neutral character overall, but added a touch of warmth through the midrange and highs to provide a smooth, pleasing sound. Some might prefer the Hegel’s marginally more transparent sound; others might be drawn to the Rotel’s greater weight and more relaxed quality. And while the overall sound qualities of these two amps are quite similar, there’s no denying the value of the Rotel’s lower price and higher output.
Still providing excellent value after all these years
When I was a budding audiophile, Rotel was one of the first brands I became aware of. The fun I had using their RA-1572MKII integrated-DAC reminded me of why I got into audio all those years ago. It provides a huge amount of sound quality at a price within reach of the serious but budget-conscious enthusiast. It lacks the streaming and/or DSP and/or room correction of some of the costlier integrateds I’ve recently reviewed, but at this price you have to make some choices. What it offers is excellent sound, a high-resolution DAC that supports MQA, a good MM phono input, and a good headphone amp—all features that many audiophiles will appreciate. For only $2099, the high-powered Rotel RA-1572MKII offers one of today’s best combinations of price and performance in an integrated amplifier-DAC.
. . . Roger Kanno
Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.
- Speakers: MartinLogan Masterpiece Classic ESL 9, PSB Alpha T20
- Headphones: PSB M4U 1, Sennheiser HD 580
- Integrated amplifiers: Hegel Music Systems H120, Lyngdorf Audio TDAI-1120
- Digital sources: MacBook Pro or Intel NUC computer running Windows 10, Roon, Qobuz, Tidal, foobar2000; AudioQuest JitterBug jitter reducer; Oppo Digital UDP-205 4K Ultra HD and BDP-105 universal BD players
- Turntable: Pro-Ject Audio Systems X1 with Ortofon Pick it S2 cartridge
- USB link: AudioQuest Carbon
- Speaker cables: Analysis Plus Blue Oval, Clarus Aqua Mark II
- Interconnects: Clarus Aqua Mark II
- Power cords: Clarus Aqua, Essential Sound Products MusicCord-Pro ES
- Power conditioners: Blue Circle Audio PLC Thingee FX-2 with X0e low-frequency filter module, Zero Surge 1MOD15WI
Rotel RA-1572MKII Integrated Amplifier-DAC
Price: $2099 USD.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
6655 Wedgwood Road N., Suite 115
Maple Grove, MN 55311
Phone: (510) 843-4500