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Jewish World Review June 14, 2000 / 11 Sivan, 5760

Jim Bray's TechnoFILE

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Consumer Reports


For home-theater purists

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- HOME-THEATER purists looking for a fine audio experience may want to look in Rotel's direction.

I've been living with the "dynamic duo" RSP-985 surround-sound processor/preamplifier and the RMB-1095 power amplifier, and I'm hooked.

Each of these items will set you back $1,995, but you'll have such a silly grin on your face, your spouse may wonder what you've been up to.

Both of them are also certified to the "THX Ultra" standard, a George Lucas-driven benchmark originally created as a studio-reference monitoring tool. It's meant to ensure that what you hear in your home theater is as close as possible to what the filmmakers produced on the dubbing stage.

Naturally, this depends on other things, like your speakers and your room, but on the whole, it's a wonderful quality-assurance tool.

The RSP-985 "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. I used the CD inputs for my DVD player, patching the digital audio stream into the Rotel's 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 -- but it's nice to see them giving you such flexibility.

You also get a "tape monitor I/O," three sets of RCA outputs, a subwoofer port, RCA/S-Video monitor outputs, and four extra "S-Video outs."

A "5.1 channel input" connector makes the system upgradeable to other digital audio standards that may come along, an extremely welcome "anti-obsolescence" feature.

And as if that weren'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." 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.

The RSP-985 has an illuminated universal remote with which, via menus on your TV screen, you can set the unit's multitude of parameters. The remote, and this tweaking process, are probably the weakest links in the chain, but that's pretty nitpicky. One other small criticism is Rotel's use of single LEDs to indicate multiple functions, which forces you to use the onscreen menu to learn the unit's status.

The RSP-985 isn't the most user-friendly component I've used, but it didn't really matter; after living with it for a while, I liked it so much I'd have crawled over broken glass to learn it.

Which brings me to the RMB-1095 amp, a particularly juicy item and a wonderful companion to the RSP-985.

This handsome hunk of equipment pumps out 200 watts into each of the five channels (8 ohms, 20 Hz-20 kHz, less than 0.03 percent Total Harmonic Distortion), and that's puh-lenty.

Connectors include conventional "unbalanced" RCA, gold-plated "balanced XLR" jacks and a DB25 digital input. Speaker terminals are of the big "binding post" variety.

Here's a really thoughtful touch: a set of casters helps you slide the 75-pound amp into place on your stand!

Rather than prattle on about the rather impressive specifications (which are available at www.rotel.com (http://www.rotel.com/)), 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. The sound quality is superb; it's clean, dynamic, supremely musical, and gutsy. Patch the RSP-985 to it, and you have all the home-theater audio you're likely to need.

I also patched the amp into the preamps from a couple of "mainstream" A/V receivers, and it became obvious why many people opt for separate components rather than an "all-in-one" receiver.

With the reasonably high price tag of these components (though you can spend a lot more, too!), they're not for everyone. If you have the budget, however, these fine Rotels should serve your ears faithfully for many happy years.


JWR contributor Jim Bray publishes TechnoFILE magazine, "the consumer's non-technical guide to today's technology." You may comment by clicking here.

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© 2000 Jim Bray.