Rotel A12MKII Integrated Amplifier Review: The Night the Lights Went Out in Long Branch
Have you ever been listening to your system and the lights go out? It’s not a good feeling because there is always the risk that when the power comes back on that something will be amiss. I’ve used power line conditioners for almost 20 years but our experience with Hurricane Sandy here on the Shore was not a good one.
My parents think that I missed my calling as a Weather Channel talking head because I’d scare the living crap out of everyone with my forecasts, but I had a bad feeling about Sandy with our home only blocks from the ocean and so many trees surrounding our property.
Sandy roared through our area and I was very fortunate to not lose anything of value (including our family) minus $30,000 worth of roofing, siding, fencing, a few windows, and 90% of the trees on our property.
We lost power for over 10 days and I was very nervous about plugging things back in because every cable that connects us to the outside world had to be replaced and local infrastructure was a mess.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago and I lost power twice in the span of one week at night for 2-3 hours each time. Not great timing in the middle of summer but JCP&L was a nightmare during COVID; did they just stop making repairs?
One of those disruptions occurred during a listening session with the Rotel A12MKII and a pair of Q Acoustics 3050i loudspeakers in our dining room system which gets a lot of use during the course of a normal week.
I was definitely nervous when the power came back on. All good but it’s become a regular thing on the Shore.
The Rotel replaced my NAD C 316BEE V2 Integrated Amplifier and a few things stood out with each recording; more presence, detail, and a firmer grasp on the bottom end.
The Rotel is twice the price of the NAD and also includes a rather good DAC so I expected there to be differences in the sound quality.
Both phono stages work really well with MM cartridges and I don’t think there is that much daylight between them in that regard.
I recently reviewed the Pro-Ject Debut Pro Turntable which blew my socks off at its price point; Ken Kessler of Hi-Fi News and SoundStage! has a another terrific review of the Debut PRO that I think is really worth reading and we’ve communicated about our experiences with it.
He’s 100% correct about adding a record clamp and the difference that it makes. I’m not sure one needs a $500 isolation platform underneath it; I’ve had good results with IKEA bamboo cutting boards and the IsoAcoustics ZaZen platform which is definitely not $500.
The Rotel/Pro-Ject combination is around $2,000 and definitely a system that I could live as my only system.
But how does the Rotel A12MKII compare to other integrated amplifiers that I own and how does it compare to the Rotel A14MKII that I reviewed last year.
The tonal balance is definitely similar (using the Q Acoustics 3050i, 3030i, PSB Alpha P5s, and Wharfedale Diamond 10.1s) but the A14MKII had a firmer bottom end and I recall being able to crank it a lot harder with Metallica, Aphex Twin, and the Beastie Boys.
My Croft Phono Integrated is the polar opposite of the A12MKII when it comes to features; the Croft doesn’t really have any and minus the dual volume controls — it is as basic as they come.
The Rotel has a very clean presentation with just enough warmth to work well with a wide variety of speakers; it’s a much better option with the PSB Alpha P5s than the Croft.
There is some daylight, however, when it comes to the phono section and the “gestalt” of the two amplifiers.
The Croft is almost $800 more with none of the features of the Rotel (remote, DAC, headphone amplifier) so the A12MKII gets my nod from that perspective.
Where the Croft is different (and this applies to many of the integrated amplifiers below $2,000) is how it strips away the barrier between you and the music and everything is just more alive in the space.
It’s like looking at my snow covered backyard during sunrise through our kitchen bay window versus walking outside in the cold and feeling it on your face and realizing just how much else is going on.
The phono section on the Croft is just crazy good with a decent MM cartridge; better pacing, clarity, and presence. On the downside — it’s a tad noisy versus the Rotel which presents music with very black backgrounds and more than enough detail to make every recording interesting.
I can hear it now.
“Why are you only comparing it against $1,500 or $1,700 integrated amplifiers?”
The Rega io is $650 and really good for the money, but it’s not as authoritative as the A12MKII; it runs out of juice much sooner and it doesn’t offer a DAC or the build quality of the Rotel. The A12MKII can drive much more difficult loudspeakers and just sounds more effortless at higher listening levels.
The Rega Brio, however, is a very worthy competitor for a few reasons; excellent phono section, solid build quality, and a very engaging listen on the aforementioned loudspeakers.
The Rotel has more sparkle in the top end and it’s a cleaner sounding amplifier; the Rega has more midrange warmth and I’d call it a toss-up on the pacing front.
Listening to electronic music through the A12MKII and the Rega Brio was a lot of fun and both integrated amplifiers bested the Croft in the bass department; better control, more texture, and definitely more impact with Tool, Aphex Twin, Tangerine Dream, and Boards of Canada.
The Rotel A12MKII sits at a very interesting price point with a lot of competition above and below it; two of its biggest competitors are its own siblings which is kinda rare.
Would I spend the extra money on the A14MKII or use some of the savings on a better pair of speakers?
I’m so bloody impressed with the Pro-Ject Debut PRO at this point, that I would say buy the A12MKII and that turntable and build out from there. The combination is so good below $2,100 that you might have a lot of fun finding the best pair of loudspeakers to go with it and not break the bank.
Tempting beyond to be quite honest.
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