Sugg. Retail: $3000 (CAN)
Distributor: Equity International
54 Concord St.
North Reading MA
Ph. (978) 664 2870
Fx. (978) 664 4109
(Reprinted from the Summer/Fall 00 Audio Ideas Guide)
Let’s be frank. Rotel isn’t really known for their power amps. Not as this price anyway. “Sure great mid market CD players, but amps? Maybe for the home theater but not for my audio
system” is a common refrain. I’m sure some of you are turning up your noses at the very thought of a Rotel power amp feeding your speakers.
The RB 1090 represents Rotel’s all out assault on exactly this kind of thinking, combining their trademark of high value with serious audiophile credentials. The 1090 is definitely a serious amp. It even looks serious, standing 9.5″ tall and wearing all that intimidating heat sinking right on its big, black face. Pick it up (if you can) and you’ll know it means business, tipping the scales at just under 85 lbs. How many amps have you encountered that include wheels? No joke, tilt er’ back a few degrees and this Rotel rolls on a pair of wheels tucked discretely under the back of the chassis. Considering the weight, it’s a very clever design feature.
Responsible for all that mass is an electrical engine capable of producing 380 watts of juice into 8 ohms. Apparently stable down to 2 ohms the 1090 pumps out over 1000 watts when confronted with that load. Essentially two separate power amps sharing the same box and (detachable) cord, the 1090 also has two totally independent power supplies fed by “two 1.25 kVA toroidal transformers and four 22,000 uf Slit Foil storage capacitors. This enormous potential feeds an output stage with four pair (sic) of power transistors, each rated at over 200 watts with more than 17 amps current capability.” Should you grow tired of the sound of the 1090 it’s comforting to know that you can at least use it to power your arc welder.
Controls and connections are simple but allow considerable flexibility. Included are balanced and single ended ins (I used the SE inputs exclusively), two sets of binding posts for each channel (well separated, but not of outstanding quality), and a front mounted power toggle flanked by a clipping indicator for each channel. Build quality is very good, on par with that of the 991 CD player, but the amp isn’t an exotic hand-built and doesn’t look or feel it. Despite the manual’s claim that the 1090 consumes 800 watts, it turns on gently and runs very cool with zero noise, electrical or physical. This leads me to suspect that this rating is based on the amp running at full capacity, which, unless you’re the owner of Apogee Synchillas and have a penchant for metal (a pretty unlikely combination in itself!), is something you’d be hard pressed to make it do for long. A class A/B design, the 1090 is (thankfully) not drawing that kind of power all the time.
Don’t let its big size and big numbers give you the wrong idea. It will be easy for many to write off the 1090 as a simple brute, another megawatt amp with all the poise and finesse of a diesel locomotive,
but anyone who spends some time with it will quickly realize that this beast wears velvet gloves and moves most gracefully indeed. In terms of watts the 1090 is certainly overkill for most systems, including mine, but I think it’s important not to fixate on its power rating, just as single ended triode freaks don’t kvetch about underpowering their speakers. 8 watts? So what? It’s beside the point. Forget the numbers, how does it sound?
It would be a shame to see an amp this good going only into the systems of people with “difficult” loudspeakers, because it sounds so damn good with easy loads like my Energy Veritas 1.8’s (6 ohm nominal impedance
and 87 dB sensitivity). I expected it to be effortless in the macrodynamic sense and to be possessed of powerful and well controlled bass, and it was. But I wasn’t expecting the smoothness, the subtlety, the liquidity, the vast and enveloping soundstage or the sheer musicality that emerged from the 1090. The impressive level of transparency and resolution was also an unexpected bonus, the Rotel painting an extremely neutral and balanced sonic picture with what seemed like as much detail as the source could provide.
I listened to all the components reviewed in my Summer/Fall 2000 Column through the 1090, which not only helped me get a
firm handle on their respective sonic signatures in comparisons, but also helped them sound their best. As a result the comments made about the Rotel RCD-991, Anthem Pre 1P, and Rotel RQ 970BX can be applied to the 1090, which faithfully communicated all that musical information to the speakers. Like many excellent solid state amps, the Rotel has almost no sonic signature of its own, it just gets out of the way and does as it is told. Tonal and timbral colours emerged vivid and detailed, soundstages appropriately huge and deep when called for, highs detailed, smooth and never fatiguing or etched, and bass deep, tight, and effortlessly powerful.
One of the things that has re-energised my listening at home is the way my system has been able to communicate what is perhaps best described as the “ebb and flow” of music, the subtle cues that make it breathe, the tiny changes in scale and intensity that make it sound real, and therefore satisfying and involving. No small amount of credit
goes to this amplifier. I’ve never before had the sense that the system was tracking the waveform with such scrutiny and agility, responding
to every peak and valley in that wave instantly, as it if were anticipating it, no matter if it was a mighty broadband transient burst or the most delicate solo pizzacato. Maybe it’s all that available current, or a divinely synergistic match with the 1.8’s, but this amp sounds not only fast, but like it’s reading a page ahead, knows what’s coming and has long figured out exactly how best to deliver it. Combine that
with the dynamic omnipotence of 380 watts and you’ve got a sledgehammer you can tune your watch with, a top fuel funny car that can rip it up at the N�rnbergring, brute force and supple grace artfully fused. I’ve heard amps with more satisfying bass (the Anthem Amp-2 I reviewed last time out comes to mind), silkier highs,
more transparent mids, but none that make music as convincingly as this one.
Like the 991 CD player the 1090 sounded its best with a little help in the AC department. In this case the Foundation Research LC 1 dedicated power conditioner played an important part in coaxing the best possible sound from the 1090. Without it some of the subtle effortlessness evaporated, and the amp went from sounding magical to just plain excellent. If you’re willing to spend $3K on this amp then spend the extra few hundred bucks to get the most out of it.
In the case of the 1090 it improved the sound enough to more than justify its $695 price tag. Even if you were to consider it part of the 1090’s price, this amp would still be a steal. Combine the breathtaking sound with the fact that it can drive almost any speaker on the planet, and it becomes a major heavyweight (literally!) at its price point and well beyond. If I hadn’t spent some time with it my prejudices might vary well have kept me from considering this amp a serious contender. If you’re shopping, don’t make this mistake.