Despite its de cided ly affordable price, the RC-1082 is a full-featured preamp sporting switch-selectable tone controls, a balance control, a headphone amplifier, and a broad range of inputs— including a built-in phonostage with switch-selectable gain settings for movingmagnet and moving-coil cartridges. Impressive though the RC-1082’s menu of features may be, audiophiles will want to know whether the preamp does justice to the music, and I think the answer is that it does and in ways that redefine Rotel’s traditional “house sound” for the better.
Over the years I’ve sampled a number of Rotel source and amplification components, and I would say that many of them exhibited a house sound characterized by a transparent midrange and light, airy highs, coupled with taut but perhaps slightly lean-sounding bass. In practice, this meant Rotel components typically did a good job of conveying clarity and openness, but did not always express the fullest measures of warmth and heartiness that make live music so appealing. However, the sound of the RC-1082 breaks new ground in that it combines traditional Rotel sonic virtues with a broader performance envelope that introduces heightened levels of three-dimensionality, a vibrant touch of almost tube-like harmonic richness, and powerful subterranean bass. The resulting presentation is as clear if not clearer than anything I’ve heard from Rotel in the past, yet adds a soulful, dramatic quality that makes music appealing not just on a cerebral but also on a visceral level.
I began my listening tests by connecting the RC-1082 to a pair of Kharma MP150 monoblocks and playing Steve Strauss’ Just Like Love [Stockfisch, SACD]—a gorgeous folk/jazz recording that’s been in heavy rotation in my system of late. Less than a minute into the album’s title track, I found myself fully engaged by the amber tones and at times gravelly textures of Strauss’ voice, the liquid delicacy of the acoustic guitar lines, and the deep, lion-like growl of Hans-Jörg Maucksch’s fretless electric bass. All these elements fell into place within a huge, three-dimensional soundstage. Together, the Rotel and the Kharma monoblocks forged a sound so rich, vibrant, and full of spatial and textural details that I suddenly blurted out the word “Wow!”—to no one in particular. In short, the Rotel’s sound was much better than that of typical “budget” preamps.
One reason why the RC-1082 sounds so good is that it resolves fine levels of detail without sounding clinical. For example, I enjoyed spectacularly focused yet by no means sterile sound when I played jazz pianist Fred Hersch’s Personal Favorites [Chesky SACD] through the Rotel and a pair of NuForce Reference 9 SE monoblocks. The Rotel/NuForce combo proved highly effective at reproducing the percussive attack and full-bodied sustain of Hersch’s piano, while simultaneously (and believably) nailing the sharp metallic “ping” and shimmer of percussionist Tom Rainey’s cymbals. Better than many affordable preamps, the RC-1082 faithfully follows the dynamic envelopes of individual notes from beginning to end—never rounding off leading-edge transients or truncating the slow-tapering decay of notes.
Two more reasons why the Rotel succeeds are that it offers vivid tonal colors and terrific soundstaging. I tried the Rotel with Vincent’s SP-331 hybrid tube/solid-state power amplifier and the result was an evocative, energetic sound that let me hear musical performances within the contexts of the original recording venues. On the Grateful Dead’s “Till the Morning Comes” from American Beauty [Warner Bros. LP], the Rotel captured Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir’s achingly beautiful vocal harmonies soaring high above the band’s rhythm section, and let me hear and feel how the syncopated pulse of Phil Lesh’s butterscotch-toned bass lines drove the song forward. But what really carried the day was the way the Rotel defined a huge, dark, resonant acoustic space against which the Dead’s intricate vocal and instrumental lines could unfold.
I would observe that the Rotel’s phonostage, though good, is not quite on a par with the rest of the preamplifier. Don’t get me wrong; the phonostage is reasonably clear and quiet, and offers good accurate tonal balance. It’s just that it does not offer the transparency of phonostages such as the Musical Surroundings Phonomena nor the profound background silence and spectacular three-dimensionality of phonostages such as the Sutherland Ph3D.
I must also mention that our RC-1082 exhibited one small glitch—namely, a tendency to emit audible “pops” when switching between inputs. Since every other Rotel component I’ve heard has exhibited noise-free switching, I suspect this anomaly is unique to our review sample, though it may be a point for prospective owners to bear in mind.