Rotel’s provides one of the clearest and best-organized user interface/menu structures we’ve encountered. We especially liked the fact that the RSX-1550 manual provides an “aerial view” that shows essentially all of the set-up/control options available, all neatly presented on one page (this is something we wish all manufacturers would do). I have only two criticisms, both relatively minor ones.
First, unlike some AVRs, the RSX-1550 is designed so that playback must stop before the menu can be brought up onscreen (this, in contrast to receivers that overlay menus on top of playback screens, and that allow playback to continue while menu adjustments are being made). Second, when modifying surround mode settings from the user menu, mode changes do not take place in real-time. Instead, they take place only after the associated input has been de-selected and then re-selected.
Rotel’s backlit remote control is—as AVR remotes go—blessedly simple and straightforward to use. A particular strength is that the Rotel remote makes it very easy to apply channel-level trim adjustments on the fly. I do, however, have two minor quibbles with the remote. First, it does not provide direct any means for on-the-fly switching between surround sound modes (although buttons that provide a limited range of surround mode switching are hidden behind a flip-open hatch). This won’t be a drawback you’re the sort of individual who likes to pick a favorite mode and stick with it, but if you like to experiment with—and do back-and-forth comparisons between—various surround modes, the remote (and the menu structure) will definitely slow you down. Second, the remote is set up so that certain buttons vary their functions depending on whether you give them a “short” or “long” push. This can be a bit confusing until you’ve mastered the “short vs. long” learning curve.
I evaluated the performance of the Rotel’s built-in line-double/scaler using the Silicon Optix HQV Benchmark DVD, and found the RSX-1550 performed extremely well—especially so on the HQV disc’s challenging jaggies tests. The Rotel stumbled in just two areas, exhibiting a few flickering moiré patterns on the familiar racecar-passing-the-grandstands scene from the “Film Detail” test, and showing a very slight lack of smoothness on the disc’s notoriously tricky “Film Cadence” test/
The Rotel proved capable of switching/passing through very high-resolution Blu-ray images without adding any visible noise or other artifacts.
Many of the Rotel components I’ve experienced in the past, have had an airy and transparent, but also somewhat lightly balanced character, but it seems to me that the RSX-1550 breaks new ground, introducing a sound that is somewhat warmer, a bit darker, and—for want of a better term—more “organic” in nature. In practice, this means the RSX-1550 shifts the focus of the listener’s attention more toward bass and midrange frequencies, rather than emphasizing mids and highs.
Bass is taut, emphatic, and—if your main speakers and/or subwoofer are up to the task—very finely textured (you can hear details such as the deep, resonant, woody “growl” of acoustic basses or the skin-sounds of bass drums being struck). Middle frequencies, in turn, are quite seductive, in part because the Rotel offers enough resolution for you to hear extremely subtle inflections in actors’ voices, or small performance details (plucking noises or the almost inaudible creak of a piano pedal being pressed down, for example) that add richness and realism.
The RSX-1550 sounds quite good up high, too, though it emphasizes treble smoothness at the expense of a very slightly soft-sounding presentation of high-frequency harmonic information or of the treble “air” surrounding instruments and voices. But please don’t misunderstand me: the RSX-1550 certainly does not sound “opaque.” It’s just that it misses, by a very small margin, that sense of wide-open treble transparency that some of Rotel’s best components offer in spades.