Reviewed by: Joe (AudioPhile)
Review Date September 22, 2009
Overall Rating 5 of 5
Value Rating 5 of 5
Used product for More than 1 year
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.
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