Rotel RSP-985 Surround Processor/Preamp and RMB-1095 Power
Rotel's Dynamic Duo
Company offers powerful incentive for home theater purists to head in its
living with the dynamic duo RSP-985 surround sound
processor/preamplifier and the RMB-1095 power amplifier, and I'm extremely
This pair of
luxury components is ample evidence of why people go high end in the first
place. Whether it be a Lexus automobile, a Runco TV or audio equipment like
these Rotels, people buy high end because it offers a lot more than just
status. Top of the line components are designed and built with care and
generally use better quality components and fewer compromises. This not only
gives you high end performance but it generally gives you performance
I came into
this review somewhat familiar with Rotel. I used a Rotel amplifier as a
reference unit about twelve years ago, and loved it. It was a plain, virtually
faceless box that only pumped out about 65 watts per channel, but it provided
beautiful sound and drove my reference system of the time extremely well.
That was then
and this is now. Technology has marched along a good distance in the past
decade, as have the needs of TechnoFILEs reference system, and this new
pair from Rotel reflects that technological change while sticking firmly to the
Each piece of
this beautifully matched set will set you back $1995US, but when all is said
and done you'll have such silly grin on your face your spouse (or, for the
politically correct crowd, significant other) may wonder what
you've been up to. That was certainly what happened to me, and Rotel must
shoulder the full blame for my wifes suspicions.
Rotels use of quality parts and workmanship (as you'd expect from any
product in this price range) definitely shows. It's heavy duty equipment,
indeed, and it performs as well as one would expect from this segment of the
Both of these
components are THX Ultra certified. Thats a George
Lucas-driven standard originally created as a studio reference monitoring tool
and it's meant to ensure that what you hear in your home theater is as close as
possible to what the filmmakers originally produced on the dubbing stage.
Naturally, this depends on other things, like your speakers, your room, and
even on the source material being played, but on the whole it's a wonderful
quality assurance tool.
head unit features Dolby Digital and DTS decoding. It has six
audio/video inputs and six digital inputs: four coaxial and two optical. Each
of the video inputs also supports S-Connectors. The audio inputs
are labeled CD and Tuner, but each also has its own RCA
and S-Video inputs, so you can really hook whatever you want into
them, which is great.
I used the CD
inputs for my DVD player, patching the digital audio stream into the
Rotels coaxial digital input; the video went directly to the
component video jacks on the TV, so in the end it didn't really
matter what video inputs the Rotel had because I bypassed them anyway
but it's nice to see them giving you such great flexibility.
also a set of tape monitor jacks and a DB25 5.1 channel input
connector that makes the system upgradable to other digital audio standards
that may come along. This anti-obsolescence feature is extremely
welcome, especially in a unit that costs a relative arm and leg.
You also get a
As if that
isn't enough, the RSP-985 is also multi-zone, multi-source capable,
so you can watch a movie in the home theater while someone else listens to
music in another room.
The unit offers
a lot of other flexibility, too, including four music effects
settings like hall and club. I don't really care
about such gimmicks, but they're there if you want them, and they work as
You can also
set it to mono, sending all channels to the front center speaker. This is nice
when you're watching a DVD in Dolby 2 channel mono, because it puts
the sound at the screen, where it belongs, instead of leaving it at the two
main speakers, which can lead to a ghost image of the audio that
may or may not (depending upon where you sit) seem like it's coming from the
Rotel says the
RSP-985 uses 24-bit D/A converters, two Crystal and three Motorola chips in its
The RSP-985 has
a multitude of other parameters you can adjust via menus on your TV screen,
too. These include speaker and subwoofer level, balance and setup, signal
source selection, default processor settings, and much more.
This is fine as
long as you're running your video components through the Rotel. If on the other
hand you're running, for example, component video directly from a DVD player to
a TV monitor, the only way you can adjust the Rotel and see what you're doing
is to pause the DVD, switch the TVs input to the one to which the Rotel
is connected, adjust the parameters, and then go back to the disc. This is a
bit more tedious than I liked, but theres no way around it and to
be fair, the process would be the same for any other audio component connected
in this way if, like the Rotel, it doesn't have a front panel readout.
If you run all
the video sources through the Rotel, however, this problem doesn't exist and
the onscreen menu appears fairly unobtrusively over whatever source you're
I think the
only way around this potential conundrum would be to put component video inputs
and outputs on the RSP-985, and maybe future models will include this. This
would also mean you'd need an extra three patch cords for the extra circuit,
but thats not a big deal.
Besides, it's a
pretty minor point in the grand scheme of things. Most of the time I spent
watching DVDs I used the Rotels THX setting, which takes all the
thought processes out of it anyway.
scientific reasons, I spent quite a bit of time messing with the Rotels
settings, tweaking speaker balances, subwoofer volume, default settings and the
like. It's a wide range of parameters, and will help you tailor the equipment
to your particular room, but once I found the settings I liked the best it was
basically set and forget
The final piece
of the puzzle is an illuminated universal remote with which you can do all the
aforementioned tweaking, as well as control many other components from various
brands. I noticed that it would sometimes take a couple of times pressing on
the remotes volume controls for them to work, but this could have been
due to something as simple the batteries needing replacing and to be
honest it worried me so little that I couldn't even be bothered checking the
The remote, and
the parameter fine-tuning process that uses it, are probably the
weakest links in the unit, especially to a high end audio neophyte,
but thats pretty nitpicky. The manual does a fairly good job of
explaining the terms and the choices you have, though its language at times
bordered on being a little highfalutin for ordinary consumers.
One other small
criticism is Rotels use of single LEDs to indicate multiple
functions, which forces you to use the onscreen menu to learn the units
status. The above caveats apply here, however: if everythings patched
through the Rotel it doesn't matter, otherwise it may.
thats all I can find about which to whine, then life with Rotel must be
RSP-985 isn't the most user-friendly component I've used, on the whole Rotel
has done a pretty good balancing act between features, quality, and ergonomics;
I ended up liking the unit so much I'd have crawled over broken glass to learn
its many ins and outs, and as mentioned earlier once you tweak the thing to
your favorite settings, you can pretty well forget it from then on.
So consider the
learning curve a grand adventure!
The other half
of the Rotel equation is the RMB-1095 power amplifier, a particularly juicy
item and a wonderful companion to the a Rotel preamp/processor.
hunk of equipment pumps out 200 watts into each of the five channels (8 ohms,
20 Hz - 20 kHz, less than 0.03% Total Harmonic Distortion), and thats
It seems almost
silly to talk about an amplifier being handsome, since most of them are
basically plain boxes with heat sinks on them to dissipate energy, but in the
case of the RMB-1095 it's appropriate. This is, indeed a big black box with
heat sinks (you can also get a version with a silver face plate), but Rotel has
still managed to make it an attractive big black box.
Not that it
really matters, but it's a little thing that shows Rotels attention to
detail and you can use it to impress your friends if you're into such
Rotel says the
amps power supply is built around two 1.2 kVA toroid transformers; its
publicity material also claims that eight x 22,000 uf British-made BHC slit
foil capacitors (for storage capacity) and 30 x 150 watt/15 amp
output devices combine to give uncompressed reproduction of
the most dynamic source material.
Now, I don't
really understand all that technical stuff as much as I should, but I can
attest to the amps performance. I have a favorite compact disc that I use
to test a systems mettle (the remastered The Who Live at
Leeds an incredible audio tour de force that captures this loud
band at its loud peak, and the remastered versions sounds as if it were
recorded yesterday). With the RMB-1095 you could hear every nuance of the
performance in all its dynamic glory.
It was heaven.
And with the
superb audio on DVD Audio discs it's even better!
theres more to an amp than balls, and the RMB-1095 provided
lovely and lively sound from low volumes to ear bleeding but
if it's audio testosterone that interests you, the Rotel will eliminate the
need for Viagra for the foreseeable future.
About all you
have to do with an amp is plug it in, patch in the preamp and press the power
button, so ergonomics aren't a big deal.
has been tweaked since its introduction, to add 12 volt trigger connectors so
you can turn it on remotely (we leave it on all the time, though), and they've
tweaked the speaker connectors have been changed to clear WBT binding posts.
Some invisible electronic tweaks have also been done inside to help make this
lovely amp even lovelier.
power button gives you a pretty display of red LEDs as the system looks
itself over, checking each channel, and fires itself up. Then the five extra
LEDs go out and the only indicator that the amps working is a
single LED and a whole lot of sound!
aside is that, at least in our home theater (the building which houses it seems
to have been thrown up in about a day and a half in 1980 and the
attention to detail shows) turning on the amp initially (once it's
on you leave it on) would cause the lights in the next room to dim. They'd come
right back up again, but it was kind of cool to see the that current this baby
draws is nothing if not substantial.
My cats also
like the amp. They can sense the heat it's dissipating and lay down on the
floor in front of it, basking almost as if they were next to the fireplace.
points to the RMB-1095 include the conventional unbalanced RCA
jacks, gold plated balanced XLR jacks and a DB25 digital input
similar to that found on the RSP-985. The latter allows for direct digital
connection from a preamp.
is really meant to provide quick one point connection for people
who use the amp in a professional environment, such as DJs.
connection points are the upgraded speaker terminals.
tribute to its high end heritage, and to Rotels thoughtful design, I must
mention a couple of touches that really blew me away and which I never
would have noticed if they hadn't been there.
First, to help
you unpack this 88 pound block, Rotel has the amp sitting on a cardboard sleeve
inside the box. The sleeve has handles cut into it to help you lift the amp out
of the box.
done that and wrestled it over to its stand, you notice another really
thoughtful touch: a small set of casters recessed into the amps bottom
that make sliding it into place on your stand incredibly easy and which
won't scratch your furniture!
indeed, but wonderful attention to detail and customer satisfaction.
prattle about specifications (which are impressive and which are
reproduced below), suffice it to say that this amplifier really delivers,
whether it be on the subtle nuances of a chamber quartet or the thundering
overkill of an exploding spaceship.
A couple of
specs particularly worth mentioning are the 116 dB signal to noise ratio, the
0.03% Total Harmonic Distortion, and the 15 Hz - 100 kHz (±1dB)
frequency response range. These are outstanding.
Movie dialogue is
never muddy, the high frequencies are silky smooth, and the bass is never boomy
unless the source material so deems it to be in which case you certainly
can't blame the amp.
relatively high price tag of these components compared with the more
"mainstream" components you find in electronics stores (though you can spend a
lot more than these Rotels cost, too, if you so choose!), they're obviously not
for everyone. If you have the budget, however, these fine Rotels should serve
you faithfully for many happy years.
RSP-985 SURROUND SOUND PROCESSOR
Dolby Digital, THX, DTS
Freq. Response (front):
5-20k Hz (±0.5dB)
THD (front, 1kHz): 0.03%,
Distortion: 0.03%, max
S/N Ratio IHF A (stereo):
Impedance: 47 kohms
Output Impedance: <500
Voltage Maximum: >6 volts
Dolby, 300 mV in 0.9 volts
THX, 200 mV in
Frequency Response: 3Hz-10mHz (-3dB)
S/N Ratio: 70 dB
Impedance: 75 ohms
Output Voltage (75 ohm): 1V
Consumption: 35 watts
Dimensions (W x H x D): 440
x 121 x 316 mm
17 3/8 x 4 3/4 x 12 1/2"
Weight (net): 8kg / 17.6 lbs
Power Output: 5x200 watts/ch / 8 ohms (20-20 kHz, <0.03%)
DIN Power Output (1 kHz,
1%): 5x330 watts /ch / 4 ohms
Total Harmonic Distortion
(20 Hz - 20 kHz, 8 ohms): <0.03%
(60 Hz: 7 kHz, 4:1): <0.03%
Frequency Response: 15 Hz -
100 kHz (±1dB)
Damping Factor (20 - 20,000
Hz, 8 ohms): 400
Speaker Impedance: 4 ohms minimum
Signal to Noise
Ratio (IHF A network): 116 dB
33 k Ohms/1.5 volt (unbalanced), 33 k Ohms/±1.5 volt (balanced)
Requirements:, 115 volts, 60 Hz (U.S. version), 230 Volts, 50 Hz (European
Consumption: 1100 Watts
Dimensions (W x H x D): 440
x 240 x 398 mm
17 ³/8 x 9 ¹/2 x 15 ³/4 in
Weight (net): 34
kg, 88 lbs.
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.
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