Recommended Reference ComponentIn 1993, Rotel released a series of flagship products under the sub-brand Michi: the RHB-10 power amplifier, RHC-10 passive preamplifier, and RHQ-10 equalizer. Although the Michi components were well received, Rotel did not pursue further developments for the Michi line and let it go dormant. Unexpectedly, in 2019, the company revived Michi with a new series of integrated amplifiers, power amplifiers, and preamplifiers. In 2023, three decades after the original Michi launch, Rotel upgraded the Michi line to Series 2 status.

The Rotel Michi X5 Series 2 integrated amplifier was reviewed on this site in November 2023 by Philip Beaudette. It is the largest, heaviest, best built, most powerful integrated amplifier in Rotel’s product catalog—more so, in fact, than most integrated amps on the market. It measures 7.6″H × 19″W × 17.8″D, weighs 93 pounds, and is rated to output 350Wpc into 8 ohms or 600Wpc into 4 ohms. These ratings aren’t empty claims: the X5 S2 blew past those output figures when measured in our electronics test lab. It also proved stable down to 2 ohms. This powerhouse should be able to handle almost any speaker. A headphone output is also available.

Rotel Michi X5 S2

The X5 S2 includes a phono stage that is compatible with moving-magnet and moving-coil cartridges, and it has a digital-to-analog-converter section that can be fed practically every audio data format of relevance through an array of digital inputs. A remote control is included too, of course. The X5 S2 has Bluetooth connectivity, but it doesn’t have full-fledged streaming capabilities. Of course, it would be a cinch to connect a streaming device to one of the Michi’s digital inputs. And the X5 S2 has received Roon Tested certification. Five line-level analog inputs are available: four single-ended (RCA) pairs and one balanced (XLR) pair.

As Philip details in his review, the X5 S2’s functionality is highly customizable: inputs can be renamed, unused inputs can be disabled, input levels can be fixed independently, and tone controls can be bypassed. Volume level can be limited to a predetermined maximum, and the desired level at powerup can also be set. An optional Signal Sense mode monitors the digital inputs for an audio signal. After a period of inactivity, the unit enters a power-saving mode but comes back online as soon as a digital signal is detected. The front-panel display can be set to show a stereo VU meter or a spectrum analyzer. Nifty. The display’s brightness is adjustable, and it can be turned off.

Rotel Michi X5 S2

Just as impressed as he was with the size, weight, features, styling, and build of the X5 S2, Philip was impressed with its sound. To assess the X5 S2’s performance as purely an integrated amplifier, he connected to one of its line-level inputs his Bryston BDA-2 DAC. Among the first CDs Philip played was Tori Amos’s Boys for Pele. A tuneful piano gives this recording its depth, Philip writes, which in the opening track, “Horses,” the X5 S2 conveyed with a strong sense of spaciousness. On another track from the same album, “Professional Widow,” the X5 S2’s presentation had an “immediacy,” he writes, that made his reference integrated amplifier, a Bryston B135 SST2, seem “laid back.” On “Father Lucifer,” Philip heard crystal clear multi-tracked vocals that were “highly articulate and sharply outlined across the front of the room, extending from speaker to speaker,” a deep soundstage, and well-delineated instruments.

Continuing with another of his standard audition recordings, Philip then played Belkis, Queen of Sheba from an album of Ottorino Respighi’s orchestral music by the Minnesota Orchestra. The X5 S2 delivered the powerful “War Dance” with ease, he found, “imbuing the piece with unsettling urgency.” A wide, deep soundstage made him feel he was right there, Philip writes, “sitting a few rows back from center stage at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, where it was recorded.” Listening next to a recording of Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem, with the Corydon Singers and the English Chamber Orchestra, he was most impressed by the X5 S2’s neutrality and low noise. “[It] stepped out of the way and allowed me to experience this performance fully, as recorded.”

In the next phase of his audition, Philip tested the X5 S2’s onboard DAC against his Bryston DAC, still playing recordings he often uses and knows well. Beginning with “Your Rocky Spine,” from a CD of Great Lake Swimmers’ Ongiara, he writes that “musicians’ images were unambiguous with both DACs” and that “instruments’ tonalities were indistinguishable between them.” The acoustic space, however, was more perceptible with the Michi’s DAC, he observed. He then listened to The Tallis Scholars Sing Josquin and to Tom Waits’s Mule Variations (on CDs) and found that the two DACs, once again, sounded almost exactly the same, but on the latter recording, he felt he had a greater perception of space with the Michi’s DAC than with the Bryston DAC. He concludes this comparison stating: “If I were to choose one over the other, I’d opt for the Michi, but frankly, I’d be happy with either. Put another way, if I owned the X5 S2, I’d sell my BDA-2.”

Rotel Michi X5 S2

Last, Philip compared the Michi’s built-in phono preamp with Pro-Ject Audio Systems’ DS3 B phono stage and its companion Power Box S3 Phono power supply. He recounts that when he switched from the Pro-Ject phono stage to the Michi’s, the increase in gain was such that he had to dial back the volume. He then played “Better Things” from Massive Attack’s Protection and immediately noticed the “meaty bass.” He also found Tracey Thorn’s voice, on the left channel, to be remarkably clear: “the softest of sibilants were easily heard.” He writes, “Like the Pro-Ject phono stage, the Michi’s delivered strong, warm bass and lucid vocals that seemed to pop out from the mix. Its vinyl presentation had the same kind of immediacy I heard listening to CDs. The Pro-Ject phono stage had a cooler demeanor. Thorn’s voice on ‘Protection’ was farther back on the soundstage, and the whole presentation sounded a bit more laid back.” And in summary, “both phono stages sounded clean, and unless you prefer lusher sound, each has its appeal.”

When Philip played the Prelude to act 1 from a recording of Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen, however, he found that “the X5 S2’s presentation with the Pro-Ject DS3 B was sharper than with its own phono stage. The RCA Victor Orchestra was laid out more distinctly on the soundstage, better outlined, its strings section more focused. With the built-in phono stage, images were a touch rounder, a tad fuzzier.” Although here the Pro-Ject came out on top, Philip sums up this comparison with favorable words for the Michi: “Still, vinyl playback on the Michi using its onboard phono stage was thoroughly enjoyable—more so than I had expected. If I were buying the X5 S2, I’d feel no rush to add an outboard phono stage.”

Rotel Michi X5 S2

With a strong overall positive impression of the X5 S2, Philip writes in conclusion, “As someone who has heard his share of integrated amplifiers . . . I can say unequivocally that Michi’s X5 S2 offers a lot for the money. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had been told that it cost $15K.” To those in the market for “a high-powered integrated amplifier with a top-notch DAC and phono stage that rival standalone separates,” he gives this assurance: “the Michi X5 S2 is peerless.”

The praise the Michi X5 S2 received in Philip’s review led to its earning a Reviewers’ Choice award, our first formal recognition of excellence. It then easily won the 2023 Product of the Year award in the Outstanding Performance category, and this month it completes the trifecta by winning our Recommended Reference Component award.

Manufacturer contact information:

Tachikawa Building 1F
2-11-4, Nakane, Meguro-ku
Tokyo, Japan 152-0031