I purchased the Rotel RC-995 used just over a year ago ($350 from Audiogon), replacing a Crown Straight-Line Two preamp. During this past year, I have tried to upgrade the Rotel preamp with more updated preamps and pre-pros, but alas, it still occupies the main stereo only listening room shelf. Here is what I have found in my home preamp comparisons.
My other components include:
Anthem P2 amplifier,
Denon DVD-3910 (used as an analogue CD player),
Martin Logan Vantage ESL speakers,
Hsu Research VTF-3 MK 2 Subwoofer (Audioquest sub interconnects)
Audioquest CV-4 speaker cables, two pairs each channel in bi-wire configuration,
Room dimension 20x16x10, with wall treatments and bass traps installed
CDs used in comparison include Vivaldi-Four Season, Pat Metheny-Secret Story, Chris Botti-A Thousand Kisses Deep, Pink Floyd-Dark Side of the Moon, Nora Jones, and Steely Dan-Aja
1. Crown Straight Line Two:
Both preamps are based on their simplicity in circuitry with little frills, except the Rotel has a remote for the volume and component switching, which the Crown did not. Both preamps are very transparent with more pinpoint soundstage going to the Rotel. The Rotel consistently had tighter mid-range and undistorted highs, the lower bass got muddy when too there were multiple and simultaneous low bass signals/music. Although the Crown did well, the highs were a bit distorted, but at the upper most skewed high end, which would include only a few music passages). The Crown did very well in the mid-range area and was a bit flat below 200 Hz. Overall, the Rotel sounded a lot better, with a wider and deeper soundstage and a bit warmer than the Crown.
2. Anthem Pre 2L (hybrid tube/solid-state preamp):
Another no frills simple circuitry preamp. The Anthem (Sonic Frontiers built) remote has minimal functions, only a volume control. The soundstage is also very wide and deep, much warmer than the Rotel and I am not sure if I like it as much. Sometimes the vocalist appear to be sitting a couple of feet away, too close for my liking, but my wife preferred it to the Rotel which was just a little forward from neutral. The Anthem, once warmed up, showed off its main characteristic, a great punchy bass, and clear mid-range. However, it did not compare to the Rotel in the high range of music, sometimes missing the more subtle cymbals in jazz music (Chris Botti) and in classical pieces (Vivaldi). Overall: Although the Anthem was breathtaking with its mid-range and bass reproduction, it did not seem to transmit the full spectrum of music like the Rotel.
3. McIntosh C-45 (6-channel preamp, current 2009 model):
Once set properly the McIntosh was very impressive, transparent with a wide and deep soundstage, again a bit on the warm (forward) side, but similar to the Rotel. The vocals (mid-range) were crisper than the Rotel (Nora Jones' vocals almost seemed "live"), and the bass a bit more defined and unmuddy during complex bass passages. The highs were also well defined and undistorted, better than the Rotel, but not by much. The benefits of the McIntosh are that you could have multiple channel output, more balance connections, updated codec, etc... Overall: the McIntosh C45 handled better in the bass and mid-range department without a doubt, and it had slightly more pinpoint sound staging than the Rotel. However, keep in mind that the McIntosh is a $3000+ unit, and the key differences were not ten times that great, not even doubled the difference. I was impressed that the Rotel compared well here.
4. Rotel 1098 Preamp HT Processor:
Again, after the proper stereo settings were selected through the 1098 many menu selection via its very nice visual active matrix screen, a great feature that every complicated prepro should have. As would be expected from the flagship Rotel preamp, the sound was very well defined and very similar to the 995. Except the 1098 had a slight harshness in the high range, it was not distorted, but after a while at high volume music listening, it was fatiguing. Something that I have not experienced with the Martin Logans before. Otherwise, the 1098 was so similar to the 995 that I put the 1098 back into my home theater for movies and not stereo music. Overall- I favored the RC-995 for its full spectrum of sound reproduction and non-fatiguing sonic transparency.
5. Outlaw 990 Preamp HT Processor:
The Outlaw replaced the Rotel 1098 late last year for my Home Theater room because I thought it did a much better job of convening large headroom and better highs that are more coherent. The problem with the Outlaw in stereo music was in the bass management especially below 40-50 Hz. It seemed to limit some of the lowest bass notes, with somewhat flat electric bass and drum notes. However, it did everything else very well, clear mid-range and high-range. Clear crisp vocals and accurate sound staging. The Rotel in comparison did just as well, but better in the lower bass (but not as good as the Anthem Pre 2L). Of course, you could select from many surround modes just like with the Rotel-1098, but I still prefer the stereo only or bypass mode. Overall: the Outlaw had slightly less low bass reproduction, but compared well to the Rotel.
Here is the order of my preamp listening comparison preferences:
1. McIntosh C45 (best overall, excellent)
2. Rotel RC-995
3. Anthem Pre 2L
4. Outlaw 990
5. Rotel 1098 (still a very good preamp)
I bought my RC 995 off Ebay since I needed a good preamp to go with my new RB 1070 amp I bought. I used to own a RC 980 pre and that was a good unit in its day. I new this 995 would be a step up. My listenning room I have the system in now is not a good room for a stereo, nor is the speaker placement. But I can get an idea of what the 995 and 1070 combo is like. The 995 gives a clean output that is not as edgy as some other preamps. I can't comment on soundstage due to the poor room and speaker placement. I'll do another review down the road when I move this system to another place. I got a good price on this preamp due to 2 channel units not selling as well these days. It still ended up being closer to $500 when it crossed the border with taxes. My unit had its feet removed, so I had to get them replaced which Rotel service in Europe was very kind to give me a set for no cost at all. Thanks Rotel! I use the phono stage as well and it seems ok. I cant comment how it rates with my old 980 pre, since I sold that unit off years ago. I do like the 995s switching ability with the remote. The remote works the volume and source switching, plus power. The power, volume, and source controls are lit up. This is a good preamp to get on a budget. Its similar to the old 990 preamp.
From the first few bars of music I knew this was a special product. The soundstage is enormous. It's super transparent. The tonal balance is smooth but not at the expense of detail. Bass is fast and tight. Once you've picked your jaw up off the floor you notice so many things you've never heard before in tracks you've listened to a zillion times. All you want to do is keep on listening. This kind of musical, non-fatiguing and coherent performance is what you pay big bucks for so to find it at this price point is a small miracle. The phono stage is passable for budget vinyl but not really a strong suit. Balanced outs superior to unbalanced, careful setup (cones) and good cables essential. Try and get a listen to one of these before laying out BIG money on some pretty piece of esoterica that probably isn't as good!
It's all about music. Either it's present or it is not. With RC 995 I finally extracted music from my system:
-Rotel RB 991
-Rotel RDD 980 transport
-MSB P1000 power supply
-Paradigm Monitor 9
-Rochlin Digital IC
-custom silver ICs
-DIY CAT5 speaker cables
Rotel RC995 takes place among preamps like BMW among sport cars. There are products many times more expensive, there are products with luxury allure, but it does not make Rotel RC995 less competent. The guitar of Eliades Ochoa, the female vocals (Ella, Holly Cole, Patricai Barber)chamber music on period instruments, Buena Vista Social Club,everything sounded like MUSIC.
My search for a preamp is finally over. There is no better match for Rotel RB 991 for reasonable price. I suggest to all Rotel RB 991/1080 owners who currently use RC 1070 to buy RC995 one and give it a try and finally hear what their power amps are capable of.
When new, it sold for $900. For that money, perhaps one could buy a better preamp. Today, at around $450-500 it is no brainer. If you are shopping for a preamp, give it a try. And use the money you saved to buy more CDs.
Terrific! Purchased to replace a solid- state prototype Theta balanced line stage as I was connecting a turntable to the system. Used with a Meridian 506/20 cd, DIY turntable/modded rb300/denon dl 160 to a Proton AA460 dual mono pro amp & DIY Vifa mtm speakers. Interconnects are VDH hybrid between the t/t & ME Phono stage (that I prefer to use with my current high output dl 160 cart), silver spiral from the phono stage to the RC995.
VDH The First between the Meridian & RC995.
MIT Terminator Proline balanced XLR from the RC995 to the Proton & Kimber to the speakers.
The next upgrade will be a pair of 6c33c monoblocks but have no intention of parting with the RC995.
I am happy to ethusiasticly reccommend it to anyone!!