The world of modern-day A/V receivers sometimes seems to be driven by the headlong pursuit of elaborate technical gongs and whistles, plus the burning desire to quote impressive—though sometimes implausible—power specifications. Deliberately bucking these trends, however, Rotel has always chosen to march to the beat of a different drummer. While competitors have added more buttons and flashing lights, Rotel has consistently taken a simpler, “less is more” approach. And while others have chosen to inflate their product power output claims, Rotel has taken exactly the opposite tack, quoting conservatively rated power figures that may not look very impressive at first glance, but that honestly reflect Rotel’s uncompromising standards. In short, Rotel has never built AVRs to impress the “wowee-zowee” crowd; instead, it makes receivers for A/V purists, and especially for those who appreciate the finer points of sound quality.
Admittedly, this product philosophy has meant that Rotel has sometimes moved slowly to adopt new standards or technologies that, in the end, turn out to have tangible benefits. Two examples would be the now nearly ubiquitous HDMI 1.3 interface standards or the latest high resolution Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio codecs, both of which were omitted in past Rotel AVRs. But with its new “15-series” A/V receivers Rotel has gotten fully caught up on those technologies while still hewing to its traditional “simpler is better” roots.
Our review subject this month is the Rotel RSX-1550 ($1999), which is a no-nonsense 5.1-channel receiver that puts out a very conservatively rated 5 x 75 Wpc (Rotel also offers a slightly higher-powered, 7.1-channel model, called the RSX-1560, whose MSRP is $2599). However, we deliberately chose the RSX-1550 because it caters to the needs of those enthusiasts who prefer (as we do) the sonic benefits and simplicity of 5.1-channel surround systems. Let’s check it out.
Consider this AVR if: you believe, as many audiophiles do, that a simple, “less is more” approach often leads to superior sound quality. When matched with the right speakers, the RSX-1550 can deliver a pleasingly articulate and lucid sound. Also consider this Rotel if you appreciate products that are well made; the closer you look, the more quality-minded details you’ll notice. The remote is clean and simple to use, too.
Look elsewhere if: you need or want a receiver with built-in speaker setup/room EQ features; the Rotel offers neither of these. Also look elsewhere if you need a powerful receiver suitable for driving power-hungry speakers; the RSX-1550 is not the last word in sheer dynamic clout compared to other AVRs in its price class. Finally, be aware that, while build quality is very high, so is the price.
Ratings (compared to other sub-$2K AVRs)