Rotel A10 Integrated Amplifier Review
This little amplifier may have diminutive dimensions, but its sound quality didn't get the memo – says Mark Gusew ...
A10 Integrated Amplifier
AUD $719 RRP
Rotel spent most of the nineteen seventies making large, brash, gadget-festooned integrated amplifiers that were totally in keeping with the spirit of the age. But then, in the early eighties, it surprised the hi-fi world by launching the neat, slimline RA 820. This was a stripped-down, no-frills entry-level product that proved a great success, even up against the class-of-the-field NAD 3020. Its mid-eighties successor, the RA 820BX, took the formula further still – with fewer facilities and specially selected components. The company hasn't looked back since.
The (AUD) $719 Rotel A10 you see here embodies this very tradition – a simple, slimline Class AB integrated putting out a claimed 40W RMS per channel into 8 ohms, with just enough facilities to get the job done. With no gimmicks, fripperies, DACs or streaming functionality, the emphasis is very much on offering the highest sound-per-dollar ratio, so says the company…
That's not to say it's poorly presented. Indeed it appears very well screwed together and has a lovely finish at the price – which comes in a choice of silver or black. Whereas that old RA 820 had just a few inputs, this has seven – as befitting our brave new world of multiple sources. There's even a moving magnet phono stage (2.5mV sensitivity), which is a handy thing to have these days, plus a 3.5mm line input that suits many mobile devices. Thankfully this is located on the front fascia, where it's nice and easy to access.
The lack of digital inputs is quite deliberate. Rotel's Chief Technology Officer Daren Orth told me that, “processing audio is entirely in the analogue domain” for maximum performance at its price point. Also, in keeping with the back-to-basics theme is the lack of a remote control. He explains that operating the A10 is, “a tactile experience, like using a turntable.” In other words, the goal was to keep the amplifier simple and easy to use – and of course should the customer require digital connectivity and/or remote control, Rotel has other models it can sell you.
The company is keen to emphasise its work done on the amplifier's circuit design; signal path aside, shortcuts have not been taken! Indeed, Daren says that the power supply, heatsink and circuit board are all over-specified for a product of this price, beginning with a custom, in-house made low noise toroidal power transformer. The main circuit board is full width and is symmetrical between left and right, with physical isolation, through-hole component layout, copper bus-bars, relays on the speaker switches and plenty more. The circuits have benefited from extensive listening tests to determine the best-sounding components to use, Daren says. Such clever tweakery, “is what the Rotel brand stands for”, he exclaims.
The designers have not gone full hair-shirt though – this is still a product designed for real-world use, possibly in unforgiving circumstances. To this end, the A10 has thermal, short and over-current protection circuitry; this is said to be independent of the audio signal path, so won't affect the sound. Should the protection circuitry be triggered, the usual blue power indicator will turn to red, indicating a problem.
At the rear of the unit, there's provision for two sets of loudspeakers via suitable multi-way binding posts. The first set can be either 4 or 8 ohms, but if two pairs are connected simultaneously, then both should have 8 ohms nominal impedance. There is provision for a tape recorder in and out, and a handy pre-out for connection to an external power amplifier – something that expands the system's abilities at a later time. Both of these features aren't usually included with entry-level amplifiers, but are nice to have. Two trigger out sockets completes the rear panel.
The classy brushed aluminium front fascia controls are logically laid out using rotary knobs, which is my strong preference when working without a remote control. The 3.5mm headphone socket does not automatically mute the loudspeakers; there's a separate speaker switch for this. Separate treble and bass controls are fitted, complete with a defeat switch, plus balance, tape and source controls. The pressed steel casing is decently finished and has plenty of ventilation holes, giving a good look at the internals. Vital statistics are 430x72x342mm (WxHxD) and 5.9kg.
Driving a pair of Focal Electra 1008 BE bookshelf loudspeakers, with an EAT Prelude turntable (tracking an Ortofon 2M Red cartridge) and a Bluesound Node digital source, the Rotel A10 proved surprisingly competent at the price. Indeed it's a polished performer with a fine tonal balance and enough power to turn your lounge room into a small party zone. It also has enough detail and definition to keep rewarding its owner, as he or she works their way up the upgrade ladder. Far better sounding than you have a right to expect at this price, it avoids many of the problems that many rivals can't.
The combination of an even tonal balance and a decent amount of power makes it a great general-purpose performer. It is, for example, very well suited to listening to streamed music via Spotify or Tidal, without the amplifier favouring or precluding the use of particular musical genres. I found it was smooth enough – yet sufficiently rhythmically engaging and dynamically expressive – to make listening to all sorts of pop, jazz, classical or rock music an enjoyable yet stress-free experience.
For example, Kate Bush's piano work on Snowflake was presented full range without emphasis in any particular area. One phrase in this song has a drum beaten in time, which sounded satisfyingly deep and defined. Further up the scale, her ethereal vocal was handled smoothly with no discernible grit or grain. Treble was nicely integrated with the lower octaves, being smooth and spacious. Indeed I was also surprised by the expansive soundstage emanating from the Rotel; it may not quite have the stage depth of more expensive amplifiers, but it placed images accurately within.
I loved the amount of detail that the A10 was able to convey on Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major. Each inflection and phrase was handled very well, with no blurring or haziness. Every note was heard separate to the others, with nice sustain and decay. Violins could at times sound quite lively, yet stayed smooth and pleasant on the ear. Only a touch of sheen and texture missing reminded me that I was listening to a budget amplifier.
This integrated punched louder than its 40W RMS per channel power rating suggests. Shut Up by the Black Eyed Peas has a great solid foundation of bass and kick drum work, plus snares with huge attack and speed. The A10 didn't shy away, so I enjoyed really pushing the volume control north. Of course, it's not a titanic sounding super-amp, yet the little Rotel showed far greater grace under pressure than I had expected at this price.
I was pleasantly surprised by the phono input, too. Never Tear Us Apart by INXS was room-filling, extending beyond the loudspeakers with good centre fill. Bass sounded impactful, drums had a meaty punch, and the synth work was vivid, well defined and carried with presence aplenty. Timing proved spot on, giving the music a lovely, rhythmically cohesive feel. I can only conclude that the designers took time to do the built-in phono stage right, rather than dropping it in as an afterthought.
An impressive little bit of kit, Rotel's A10 integrated is more competent than one might imagine given its size and price. Indeed, I was in no rush to swap it out – and found myself forgetting the amplifier's price tag as soon as I cued up the music. That's honestly not something you can say about most (AUD) sub-$1,000 designs.
It's not just its fine sound quality that pleases, though. Rotel has fitted all the facilities you really need to this amplifier – providing you do your digital-to-analogue conversion and streaming elsewhere. In other words, it's a handy little 'one-stop-shop', an excellent package that removes the need for adding lots of extra boxes. I also liked its healthy power output, which was just enough to get the joint jumping with most modern loudspeakers. Indeed, I can see this little amplifier either at the heart of a great starter system with a turntable attached, or doing the heavy lifting in a second system in the home or office. Either way, as the central hub of a quality sound system, Rotel's A10 certainly doesn't disappoint.
For more information or to find your nearest retailer, visit Rotel.
Starting his first audio consultancy business in the early ’80s whilst also working professionally in the electronics industry, Mark now splits his time between professional reviewing and AV consultancy.