But perhaps the music that really got me was Louis Armstrong’s Satch Plays Fats [Sony SACD]. Armstrong’s work after his legendary performances with the Hot 5 and Hot 7 is, at best, uneven, but this 1955 tribute to Fats Waller ranks among his greatest. On “Blue Turning Grey Over You,” Armstrong almost literally overpowers the trumpet with his force of imagination and physical power, conveying a tremendous sense of melancholy. I was left awestruck listening to it. How much of this was the amps and how much Armstrong’s astonishing performance, I’m not prepared to say. But the amps captured everything from Armstrong’s gravelly voice to the unexpected twists and turns of his trumpet solo.
To be honest, the Rotels didn’t really call all that much attention to themselves. They sounded very smooth, period. I never really heard any part of the frequency spectrum dominate another. What stuck out was that the Rotels possess a transparent, almost silvery sound. In contrast to the Parasound JC-1 monoblocks, which were also powering the Magnepan 1.6, the Rotels sounded faster but lacked some heft. They also didn’t have quite as large a soundstage as the Parasounds, but were more precise. Tradeoffs: You like this kind of sound or you don’t. Some audiophiles will find it too clean and perhaps lacking some body on the notes. I’m starting to think that this may be an inherent part of switching amplifiers. Is it possible that Class D amps are eliminating a coloration that more conventional amplifiers share? Will Class D amplifiers, in turn, push designers to eliminate colorations that hadn’t seemed intrusive until now?
I don’t know the answer to those questions. But it’s a little unnerving to think that Rotel is offering performance that would have cost a bundle a decade ago, and that, in some ways, might not even have been achievable. To be sure, as I suggested at the outset, the Rotels will not match up to megabuck systems, and aren’t really intended to. Money makes a difference. The more you spend intelligently, the better your system will sound. But how far do you really want to go in chasing audiophile rainbows? Throwing dollars at your system can sometimes produce as much frustration as satisfaction. The Rotels are neutral and nimble amplifiers that will power most loudspeakers, providing sound that is very hard to reproach. If you’re looking for an amp that provides more than an entry into the high-end for a reasonable price, the Rotels are well worth considering. TAS