Rotel Processor a Sweet Sounding Value
By Jim Bray
Want to obsolescence-proof your home theater's audio system?
Well, its impossible to be completely impervious to technological change;
thats the nature of technology - and the free market. But one way to make
your home theater updateable is to buy separate components rather than the all-in-one
solution offered by a receiver. This way, you can at least update the most important
- and often-changing - technology as necessary: the preamp/surround processor.
Separates is the best way to go anyway, but the rapid rate of technological
change these days makes them an even more intelligent decision unless you want
the world of home theater to pass you by, or feel comfortable tossing away your
expensive electronics every couple of years.
Which brings me to Rotels $1499US RSP-1066 home theater surround processor.
This beauty not only offers just about everything state-of-the-art you could
want in a home theater surround sound processor/preamp today, but it and its
software are upgradeable to make it last even longer.
In fact, though this processor/preamp has been around for a while now, the
unit I received was one of the first to ship with the newly upgraded software
and newly upgraded remote control. The changes include such features as Dolby
Digital EX decoding (which is controlled by the DVD disc itself), improved sound
quality in the various DSP modes (Rotel did this by adjusting the sound balance
and bass management levels), a changed front panel display and a mute feature
that shuts off if you adjust the volume. A list of the other new features is
at the end of this review.
I didnt get a chance to try the older version, which to be
fair isnt really that old, so cant comment on how the new one compares
with it. As is typical with Rotel, however, the new RSP-1066 is
a marvelously flexible piece of equipment that sounds spectacular. And while
the enhancements may be relatively minor individually, they show that the unit
really can be upgraded as improvements warrant. They also show that the basic
design is still sound.
The RSP-1066 is a handsome piece of electronics, too. Rotel sent us the silver-fronted
version (you can also choose black) and its one of the most handsome units
weve seen in a while.
Okay, looks shouldnt matter - and in the grand scheme of things they
dont - but you certainly cant object when a unit looks as good as
it performs. And this Rotel excels in both ways.
Ive been a fan of Rotel products for years and, in fact, TechnoFILEs
reference home theaters are powered and controlled by Rotel equipment. So it
was with glee that I unpacked the RSP-1066 and hooked into our big 16x9 reference
HDTV home theater where the older and more expensive RSP-985
had satisfied us for the past few years. As with the RSP-985, the 1066 was connected
to our reference Rotel RMB-1095 five channel power amplifier (reviewed glowingly
here) that has also been pleasing
us for a few years.
And theres the proof of the wisdom of separate components: the amp is
still current (no electrical pun intended) and still excellent, so why change
it? Meanwhile, the older preamp has been superceded by new technology, so why
not change it?
We expected a difference in sound quality between the 985 and 1066; after all,
a couple of years is an eternity, technologically speaking, but we didnt
expect as much difference as we actually heard - especially since the 1066 is
about $500US less expensive and, unlike the 985, isnt THX-certified. Of
course, it almost seems as if THX certification is being given away on cereal
boxes these days, so one cant blame Rotel for wanting to save some money
in licensing fees - especially since, according to Rotel, theyve been
meeting and exceeding THX standards for years anyway.
The RSP-1066 is a fully featured 7.1 channel processor that automatically detects
Dolby Digital EX, dts ES, dts ES discrete and Dolby Pro-Logic II (with cinema
and music modes). That ought to satisfy anyone with a home theater, at least
until the industry inflicts another couple of channels on an unsuspecting public.
But its only the beginning. The RSP-1066 also offers an entire shebangs
worth of audio settings, from two, three, five, and seven channel stereo
(the latter two of which digitally fudge surround information) through
four Music settings that simulate progressively larger sonic environments
(such as concert halls) and right up to dts NEO:6, which generates 5.1 or 6.1
channels from stereo sources.
Yet that still isnt all. The processor also processes 96/24 DVD Audio
and/or SACD signals via its "multi" analog inputs, as well as HDCDs and
MP3s coming through a CD/DVD players coaxial digital output. Hows
that for flexibility?
To be honest, its probably more flexibility than the average person will
need, but theres nothing wrong with that. I dont use the ABS in
my Q45, either, having learned threshold braking, but it might come in handy
About the only thing you dont get is a tuner (though an external one
can be added) and the capability for playing a turntable (though Rotel offers
the RQ-970 outboard phono preamp/equalizer for anyone who still uses vinyl).
Those are things I can easily live without and I daresay Im not alone;
I dont care if theres a radio in my home theater and if I wanted
to play a record album Id have to dig around in my basement to find where
I put them away so many years ago
Besides, I figure that most people interested in using a turntable in this
day and age (other than to merely burn the contents of their vinyl discs onto
CD) are probably more interested in an ultra pure stereo amplifier
and not one of those darn home theater interlopers.
So, practically speaking, this Rotel doesnt short you on anything meaningful.
And talk about input flexibility! The RSP-1066 can handle eight sources, five
of which can be video-based. You also get five digital audio inputs (3 coaxial
and 2 optical that you can assign to any particular input source), and the aforementioned
Multi input that not only works for todays DVD-Audio and SACD
formats but which helps keep the RSP-1066 forward compatible.
Then theres the 1066s video connection and switching capability.
It handles composite, S-video, and component video sources - though the component
video sources bypass the units on screen display capabilities, which means
you cant use the component output to set up the system or view the menus.
(rear panel illustration)
The component video switching on the upgraded 1066 can handle progressive
scan DVD and high definition television signals and this also makes it ideal
for those with early generation HDTV-ready televisions that only
come with one digital input. Thats the way our reference Sony 57 incher
works and it has always been a shortcoming - though not enough to make us want
a new unit since it still offers a stunning picture.
Anyway, the 1066 also includes a custom ID capability that lets you program
the front panel display to give the proper name of the A/V component youre
playing, and the overall setup routine is the best Ive seen on a Rotel
since the RSP-985. The only thing I didnt like about it is that you have
to feed it a DVDs audio signal to tweak the speakers balance. I
dont now why you cant just call up the test tone at will, but you
Still, this isnt a big deal - and on the other hand you can control which
speaker plays a tone (and when) manually, rather than having the tones go around
the room in their own sweet time instead of yours.
The list of features isnt over yet! An adjustable subwoofer crossover
(which includes Off and 20 Hz increments between 40 and 120 Hz) lets you fine
tune the RSP-1066 to your speakers, and you can adjust the center, surround
and subwoofer levels on the fly.
And to keep the RSP-1066 from becoming obsolete, it has two extra preamplifier
outputs to feed the extra (one or two) rear speakers required for 6.1 and 7.1
audio. You activate or deactivate the center rear speakers from the onscreen
You can also assign a surround mode to a particular input. This means, for
example, that you can have the unit default to two channel sound when using
the CD input, or Dolby Digital as the default for DVDs. This
is nice, though I noticed it sometimes seemed to forget the default Id
set. Changing these modes is only a remote control button away.
The RSP-1066 is designed to fit into custom-designed systems as well. It has
an RS-232 computer interface and discrete on/off remote control command codes.
Its multi-source/multi-zone operation lets you adjust the remote zones
volume from the front panel.
So how does it all work?
I tested all the different audio settings except for the 6.1 and 7.1 ones (the
RMB-1095 being a five channel amp and the extra rear channels not interesting
me particularly anyway) and they all worked as advertised. The digital
fudging settings really did impart a nice surround image where it didnt
exist before, so people who like simulating surround should be very pleased.
Despite that, I found myself preferring the original signals unmodified, especially
two channel stereo ones. Part of the reason for this is the outstanding soundstage
the Rotel pulls from stereo recordings; keeping garbage in, garbage out
in mind, a well recorded and mixed CD fills the room beautifully when running
through this Rotel.
Take the remastered version of Pink Floyds analog-recorded Wish
You Were Here as an example. When I first played it through the 1066,
in 2 channel stereo mode, the sound was so full and the center of the soundstage
so vivid that on the title song I actually got up to check whether or not the
center front speaker was on. It wasnt, and I felt silly and awed at the
Dire Straits On Any Street also sounds terrific in stereo
(and with fudged surround), as did the rest of the stereo CDs I tried
that were up to snuff recording-wise. An all-digital Boston Pops disc featuring
John Williams Parade of the Ewoks was so realistic in its
reproduction of the various percussion instruments that it took my breath away.
And a relatively poorly-recorded "Barber of Seville" overture kept my attention
so well that I forgot to laugh until it reached the "Wait'll I get that wabbit"
My favorite discs for testing a systems dynamics, the remastered The
Who Live at Leeds and Opus 3s Test Record 3 - Dynamics
knocked my socks off. The Whos live power was captured really well with
this disc and the Rotel (aided, of course, by the RMB-1095) helped make it sound
as if you were there - and you could even make out the late John Entwistles
bass licks, which is rare in a Who recording. I love the church organ and jazz
band tracks on the Opus 3 disc (note that both of the discs mentioned here are
analog recordings!), and they swept me away even more than they had before,
thanks to the 1066.
I also tried the unit with a selection of DVD-Audio discs, using both stereo
and 5.1 surround mixes played through the 1066s multi-analog inputs, and
the combination of high resolution audio source played through the Rotel (and,
to be fair, our reference Definitive Technology speakers and M&K subwoofer
that are no slouches, either) was breathtaking. Not only was the sound dynamic,
full, clean, and lifelike (even on classic rock albums that were
recorded thirty years ago or more), but the placement of instruments around
the room was clear and, unless sounds were being deliberately panned between
channels, rock steady. Vocals and percussion benefited particularly from the
DVD-Audio treatment a la Rotel, though everything sounded terrific.
Suffice it to say that this is a marvelous performer when you want to play
fine music (or whatever music you may like!). The sound is open, clean, full,
dynamic, wonderful. It almost made it sound as if wed gotten new reference
speakers or a new amp. I kid you not.
Likewise, watching movies piped through the RSP-1066 can be positively breathtaking.
Many of todays movie soundtracks make really good tests for your system,
whether using 5.1, 6.1, or 7.1, and the Rotel soaked them up and spat them out
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones,
for example, features outstanding sound, though its also bass heavy in
places, and movies like Spiderman - and even a variety of movie and concert
DVDs - offer excellent tests for a home theater. Rather than turn this
review into a retelling of all the movies we piped through it (and we piped
through a lot!), let me just say that I was thrilled with the openness, cleanliness,
directionality, and overall oomph the 1066 brought to DVD soundtracks.
It envelops you in the sonic experience, which is as it should be, and at times
when ammo is flying around the room you almost want to duck.
And dialog, arguably the most important part of a movie soundtrack, is never
muffled unless that was the directors intention.
With movies and with music, it was almost as if the system was daring me to
bring on something it couldnt handle - and I did my best to do just that.
But I failed: the RSP-1066 took everything I threw at it and never missed a
So is this the perfect home theater component? Well, considering its reasonable
price of $1499US and the way it bristles with features, Id have to say
- it's close. It isnt absolutely perfect, but I quickly fell under its
spell and wouldnt hesitate to recommend it to anyone looking for a quality
Flaws? I had problems with the component video switching when I first took
the 1066 out of the box. With HD broadcasts and progressive scan DVDs,
thered be a pinkish distortion on the TV screen, but Rotel quickly sent
us a new component video switching module which I easily installed in about
five minutes (this would be covered by warranty and could be performed by your
dealer). And considering that practically everything I touch blows up, much
to the chagrin of carmakers and electronics manufacturers worldwide (I have
a little black cloud that follows me around!), I wasnt surprised it happened
- and Rotels service ensured that it wasnt a big deal.
The new component video unit has worked well, although at times (usually during
a scene or programming change), the picture cuts out for an instant and then
comes back in. Its so fast we wouldnt even notice it except that
the TVs source signal display gives it away. I have no idea what would
cause this, and it doesnt bother me enough to do anything about it. Probably
that little black cloud again
Besides, Ive decided that I prefer to use a separate switcher to handle
my component video sources. Nothing against the Rotel (or any other preamp/processor
or receiver that offers such switching capability), but I dont like having
to turn the preamp/processor on to watch TV unless its a program whose
audio quality is important - and those, alas, are few and far between, even
In the end, my decision stems from pure laziness: why turn on two components
and then mess with the audio systems volume when I can just fire up the
TV by itself? If I do run across a program I want to hear through the big
system, I can use the HDTV satellite receivers optical output (which
feeds into the RSP-1066), to have the best of all worlds.
Its easier for my wife that way, too, and thats an important consideration
in a household where not everyone is a technofreak. And it probably saves a
little bit of electricity, for eco-minded people.
Now, if someone would allow the active component signal to merely pass through
the switcher, like a VCR does with RF signals, Id be a happy camper.
As for the new remote, it does work better than Rotels older RR 969 learning
remote. The RR 1050 streamlines and improves the older remotes features
and incorporates additional IR codes. It operates up to nine components and
you can teach it new IR codes and macros as well.
The new remote still isnt my favorite, but it is definitely an improvement.
The buttons, including the input selectors, have been arranged more logically
and its more intuitive than before. This is a good thing.
Still, Id love to see Rotel (and others) go back to square one with their
remotes and rethink them from the beginning to come up with a controller thats
worthy of the component it controls. The remote is the RSP-1066s weakest
link - as it is with many other components from many other manufacturers. I
dont know what it is about remotes, but they seem really hard to do well.
Or maybe I'm just a picky curmudgeon.
In the grand scheme of things, however, its easy enough to use and to
live with, especially since youre getting such a terrific piece of equipment
for it to control.
And that's the bottom line: the Rotel RSP-1066 is a marvelous performer, a
treat for the ears, and that's a big deal.
Heres a list of the other new features added in the current software
upgrade for the RSP-1066, (courtesy of Rotel):
Added several new IR codes for discrete access to several surround modes
such as PLII Music and Cinema, Stereo, 5Ch and 7Ch Stereo.
Added a new IR code for Zone 2 control from the main zone remote.
Changed the front display to replace the record source on the right side
Changed the volume display on the OSD from bars to a numerical display.
Mute will automatically unmute when volume is adjusted.
Subwoofer output can now be enabled or disabled for different surround
modes using the sub setup menu (adjusting the level to minimum changes it to
Bass redirection only applies to small speakers unless the subwoofer
setting is set to MAX (Previously the Yes/Max sub setting only applied to Dolby
Digital/dts, now it applies to all sound modes).
|IM Distortion (60 Hz:7 kHz)
|Freq. Response (front)
||10 Hz - 95 kHz, ± 1 dB (line level)
||10 Hz - 20 kHz, ± 0.3 dB (digital
|S/N Ratio IHF A (stereo)
||95 dB (stereo) analog
||92 dB (Dolby Digital, dts) 0dBFs
||Line level, 200 mV/47 kohms
|Tone Controls (Bass/Treble)
||±8 dB at 00 kHz/10 kHz
|Preamp output level
||1.2V (200 mV Input)
||3 Hz - 10 MHz, ± 3dB
| Power Requirements (AC)
115 volts, 60 Hz (USA version)
||230 volts, 50 Hz, (CE version)
||7.6 Kg / 16.7 lb.
|Dimensions (W x H x D):
||432 x 122 x 341 mm
17" x 4 7/8" x 13 1/2"
|Front Panel Height (feet removed/for
||109 mm / 45/16"
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