Rotel RCD-951 CD Player

      Date posted: October 31, 2000

Rotel RCD-951

Sugg Retail $600 (CAN)

Let’s start at the source. Once piece of gear which has significantly contributed to the great sound I’ve been getting in the new room is Rotel’s RCD-951 CD player. Smack in the middle of Rotel’s digital lineup the 951 falls below the much pricier RCD-991 ($1,800) and RCD-971 ($900) in terms of model hierarchy but, according to Rotel, uses circuit configurations originally designed for its more expensive brothers. An 18 bit machine, the 951 uses a Burr-Brown PCM-69 DAC, and, unlike most similarly priced players, features HDCD compatibility via Pacific Microsonics’ PMD digital filter/decoder.

Enclosed in a thin and fairly non-descript box with a centrally mounted transport, the RCD-951 also features a coaxial digital out and a simple, full-function remote. Like most other Rotel products the look is basic black, plain and simple, and the build quality is decent but by no means extravagant.

My listening notes are peppered with words like “liquid,” “silky,” “lush,” and “smooth,” which pretty much tells the tale. The 951 is a wonderfully musical player which conveys a lot more resolution than its 18 bit, 44.1 KHz architecture would suggest. Definition was excellent with gobs of high frequency and low level detail on offer. The Rotel could really “see” into dark corners, recovering low level ambient information with a dexterity few, if any, players in this price bracket could muster. This quality not only allows the player to produce a more realistic and enveloping sense of the recording’s original acoustic, it’s a major factor in distinguishing adequate digital sound from excellent digital sound. With HDCD encoded discs the Rotel was even better in this regard, edging a little closer to the resolution offered by 24/96 discs and sounding a more natural overall with better microdynamics.

The 951 was no slouch when it came to imaging or soundstaging either. Its knack for low level detail made for a convincingly deep soundstage which refused to collapse at low volumes. Imaging precision was also exemplary, orchestra members being clearly defined within the soundstage on good symphonic recordings. Performance at the frequency extremes didn’t disappoint either, the Rotel possessing a smooth and airy treble and, especially paired with the mighty Anthem Amp 2, superbly well articulated and tightly controlled bottom end.

Was there anything wrong with the sound? Well, I wouldn’t go as far as to say no, but there was certainly nothing that jumped out and screamed “FLAW!”. In addition to all the above the crucial area of midrange performance was not neglected, the 951 painting vocals with admirable neutrality and body, and generally sounding as transparent in the midband as any other similarly priced (or not so similarly priced — see below) competitor. No, it doesn’t offer the transparency or musicality of the best digital gear, and it’s not likely to make even a modest vinyl front end like mine jealous, but for the money, it comes spectacularly close.

Comparisons with my Panasonic DVD-A310 confirmed all this and more. I was surprised to find that the Panasonic sounded a little harsh and congested in comparison to the Rotel. It also couldn’t match the Rotel’s soundstaging prowess, sounding spatially compressed by comparison. The surprise came from the fact that the A310, with its 24 bit, 96 Khz DACs, also plays well above it’s league, boasting an impressive level of resolution at the price ($899). After going head to head with a number of players passing through my system in the past year (including the Myryad, the 3D Lab CD 400, and, most notably, the Rega Planet) the A310 has fared remarkably well, keeping pace with all but the much more expensive 3D Lab ($2295). All this would suggest that the Rotel is an even more formidable dark horse, capable of embarrassing players at twice the price. Either way, a telling fact about my time with the 951 is that I quickly lost interest in making comparisons and just wanted to listen to music through it.

If you’re shopping for a CD player in the under $1500 range the 951 should be at the top of your audition list. Although I have no personal experience with the 991, the performance of the 951 suggests that Rotel’s top of the line digital machine could give a few audiophile favorites in the $2000+ range a serious run for their money.

Aaron Marshall

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