The Rotel A12 MKII integrated amplifier is reviewed and assessed by Douglas Moore
There are certain names that when you hear them will automatically bring good thoughts about your past and your time learning your craft. Among the brand names that cause me to reminisce would be Rotel.
Years ago, I would read magazines like Stereo Review and the reviews for brands Like Adcom, McIntosh, and Rotel wishing I could sit in those rooms and listen with them to get a grip on what they were hearing not just reading about it. While I knew people with “better” high-end systems, I got acquainted with a lot of these products by visiting the audio stores in my area. I would travel up to several hours from home just to stop in these shops and listen to all I could.
In the early 90s, I got my first audio job working at the now unknown Video Concepts. It was my first job in audio and while they sold mid-fi I was just happy to be there. Nevertheless, I would talk to the customers about brands like Mark Levinson, Conrad Johnson among others that I had heard or read about in the audiophile publications. Later on, a friend Mike and myself started up the retail store, Audio Concepts. Mike had already set up several brand names like Adcom, Mirage, Harmon Kardon, and Yamaha since home theater was getting going at the time. I already knew most of these brands and what I didn’t know I learned quickly. We did dabble in even higher-end brand names like Acurus from time to time but the mid-sized town we lived in generally would not support those elite-priced brands.
Adcom was our bread-and-butter line at the time being that they were good but still affordable. I spent a lot of time learning about their direct competition since the best dealers for a brand know as much about the competition as they do their brand. Well, Rotel was one of their main competitors as they were both affordable higher-end, and offered similar specs and models. So, I learned a lot about Rotel and while being a fan of the home brand was paramount, I also gained a lot of respect for Rotel.
Rotel is a very interesting company. The company was started by a Taiwan gentleman named Mr. Tomoki “Tac” Tachikawa. He studied in Japan and decided to stay there to start up Rotel as a mid-priced high-fidelity parts company. This company started with the distribution of American-made Sylvania television sets. They would get them in and swap out the components to allow them to work with the voltage in Japan.
With engineering being their focal point, they learned a lot about electronics. Rotel was then restructured in 1961 and decided to drop the TV business and go into OEM production, all while increasing efforts on products with their own brand name on them.
Although many products made throughout the 60’s and 70’s strived for added features and the latest fancy lights to set them apart from the competition, Rotel decided to take a different approach. They concentrated on build quality, accuracy, and affordability and never looked back. And while they are designed in Japan, they have employed A British Lab in the past to choose the right parts to make their products sound the way they do. Since that time, Rotel has won many awards in the British hi-fi community because of this influence.
The Rotel A12 MkII is the product is the smallest integrated amp in the company’s lineup. When I received the unit, I brought it into the house and the first thing I noticed when opening the box was that it was packed quite nicely and safely. Unboxing was simple and the unit looked good out of the box. There was a good number of instructions and literature to get you going without there overwhelming. The unit I received was in black and the color looked like it was painted and anodized well. The A12 MkII has a very appealing simplicity that does not draw too much attention to itself.
The build quality at this price level is top-notch, with button placement being simple and effective. The feel was good and the volume control felt very pliable (you would have to spend much more to get a better feel). Turning the unit on with the high-quality feeling power button gives you a front display that is both easy to read, as well as simple to change brightness to your liking using the remote. Speaking about the remote, it is fully optioned out and while it is plastic it still has a high-quality feel to it. I do like the fact that they include more on the remote than a lot of companies do. They put all the normal functions like volume, and input select. But they include things like A, B speaker switching and bass and treble controls– (nice!).
The customer service is top-notch as well. Julia my contact for Rotel made sure I got the device and that it was good to go. When I sent a request for further information on the unit I was greeted by an email that included Ricky from Rotel who was able to answer all the questions that I had. That was great news as I am pretty technical with anything I am reviewing. I just like to know what went into the design and why.
The the A12 MKII contains a plethora of fine features. It has a Moving Magnet phono input, Wireless Aptx Bluetooth, is Roon tested and has a Texas Instruments PCM5242 Dac chip in its digital section. Ricky from Rotel says they chose this chip for its performance with the A12 MKII’s power supply and output filters which are taken from the Michi and Tribute models in Rotel’s lineup.
The A12 MKII is virtually capable of handling almost anything in today’s world as far as analog or digital music is concerned. Being Roon ready basically means it has been tested with roon software to be compatible (I don’t use Roon so I could not verify this). I tried all the different options and they all worked perfectly as described (I will talk about how they sounded below). Inputs on the unit are as follows. There is one Phono input, CD, Tuner, Aux 1 and 2, USB, two Coax digital, 2 Toslink digital, as well as Rotel Link ports for use with other Rotel products. Also included are 12-volt trigger outputs for the auto turn-on feature, an external remote port, and an RS232 port.
The Rotel also has a pre-out jack for use with a separate power amplifier should you ever feel that more power is needed. The headphone jack on the front panel is a 1/8” jack and while not the most powerful headphone amp I have heard it sounded good particularly when powered to my go-to Grado headphones easily. In fact, all but the most die-hard high impedance headphone lovers should be satisfied here. While the sound did not compare as well to a dedicated headphone amp it will be fine for most users.
One of the coolest features is the ability to select the gain on the auxiliary and digital inputs. You can select VARIABLE, FIXED MIN, FIXED 01-95, FIXED MAX. This allows you to use one of the inputs on the A12 for a home theater bypass or if need be, set a certain gain if you use a variable output DAC on one of the inputs and want it to control volume. While I don’t see a lot of uses for this with most people, having this as an option is really nice. Signal Sense is another feature not seen in a lot of more expensive units. If you set the A12 on a certain input and it does not sense a music signal in 10 minutes it will put the unit into standby until you start to play music and will automatically turn itself on. This feature can be turned off if one is not interested in it. While most people probably won’t use it, its great to know it’s there!
Now we get to talk about the most important aspect of an audio product, how it makes Music. The Rotel A12 MKII is a class A/B design. This means Rotel has gone back to its roots with this product. There are no switching power supplies, no Ice Modules, and no special “gimmicks” used for marketing purposes. It is a classically well-designed amplifier using a toroidal power transformer, transistors, and capacitors of the highest quality. To put it bluntly, some of the A12 MKII’s basic parts will walk all over most A/V receivers using lesser components that are rated at a higher power.
Some people do not understand how amplifiers work when it comes to RMS power and Peak power. How some lesser built 100-watt rated receivers fall on their face is when the music calls for dynamics. To not get overly technical, RMS or Rate Mean Square power ratings mean power that is delivered continuously and represents an average maximum output of the amplifier over time. This is only part of the story though and this is where lesser quality components ultimately fail.
Peak power or more importantly, dynamic headroom refers to how much more power than RMS can be delivered if the music has a very loud or dynamically high passage. Lesser quality amplifiers can sometimes only put out a small amount of power above RMS power on short bursts and that is why they fall on their face when the music gets dynamic. The A12 MKII has a larger toroidal transformer and stiffening capacitors that allow it to handle these musical peaks.
Even though this unit is rated at 60 watts RMS it has a huge amount of dynamic headroom thereby putting out more power when the music calls for it. This was very apparent in my system where I drove my speakers up to my maximum listening levels of around 85 DB – the Rotel never felt like it was ever straining itself whatsoever. I even had very short listening session above this level to try to get clipping or distortion only to hear this amp do its stuff with ease. This shows a quality amplifier at this level and I was immensely impressed!
I let the A 12MKII break in for a few days to make sure everything was working properly as designed before starting my evaluation. What my wife said was pretty telling one night while we were music listening at the time. She was floored by the fact that this amp being as small as it is was driving my speakers as well as it did; while seeing the large Pass Labs amplifier she is accustomed to seeing sitting below it. She commented that for a lower-priced unit it was doing a terrific job!
Using my reference Denafrips Venus II DAC as the source, I started some serious listening with one of my favorite reference tracks that I use quite often to test audio equipment. Oscar Peterson We Get Requests .The Verve Reissue in 24/96Khz is a great jazz album that was recorded well and can show the ability or deficiencies of a system quite well.
My favorite track off of this album is You Look Good To Me. I love the opening to this song because while Oscar is playing the piano Ray Brown uses a bow on his bass and it can test an amplifier’s ability at keeping composure through this more dynamic passage. The way the bow is used on the strings of the bass energizes the speaker drivers and can make lesser amplifier clip out or show some distortion due to the running out of headroom. I played this track several times at different volumes to test this and the amp just plain performed its duties every time. My Spatial Audio M3 Turbo S speakers while having a 93 to 95 DB efficieny also have two 15” drivers in each speaker and this can present issues with lower quality amplifiers to get these drivers moving. Being one of the smallest amplifiers in Rotel’s lineup I did not know what to expect with this track but ultimately, I was quite pleasantly surprised!! Great job Rotel!!
The next album I played was Daniel Karlsson Trio’s 2019 album Fuse Number Eleven. This album can test a system’s ability to handle multiple dynamic situations as well as show the ability to put instruments in their place within the soundstage. The title song Fuse Number Eleven has some beautiful piano work and can test the image and soundstage ability of a system. With the A12 MKII, the piano was set back into the mix where it physically should be on this track. While not equaling my reference Pass Labs in this regard the A12 does an admiral job for its size and price. The Song Liberty has some excellent drum brushwork while offering instrument goodness throughout the track and the A12 MKII did a great job showing this detail while keeping my mind wrapped around the fact of this unit’s power and cost. In fact, for a lover of jazz, the A12 shows this genre very well.
To test the Rotel with some driving rock music I decided to use one of my favorite reference albums of this genre. Sound City Real to Reel is a great album that was recorded on a Neve 8028 console that Dave Grohl purchased from the now-closed Sound City studios. This console has a legendary status of producing some of the best sounding records. The songs on the album exploit this and is a great source to test equipment. the A12 MKII was able to keep up the pace at all logical volume levels and allowed me to see that this beauty delve into the music with a punch way above its level in bass depth and dynamics. The cymbal hits and punchy tom-toms were reproduced in all their glory. Bass and guitars sat in the mix where they were supposed to be on the soundstage while intricate detail retrieval was good. While this album does sound better on my reference amplifier, my reference costs 5 ½ times more and is 5 times more powerful.
When testing the phono stage within the A12MKII I used my vintage Hitachi 6500 turntable and played a track from John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. This album is a staple of jazz music and has a good analog sound. The internal phono stage did a great job of showing off the album and stood up well to my dedicated phono preamp. While it did not have quite the resolve of my IFI Zen Phono preamp it certainly did a great job for people looking for an integrated amplifier in this price range.
The A12MKII contains its own onboard DAC so I decided to reevaluate the same music from above to see how it stacked up. I use galvanic isolation coming from my audiophile computer system that allows me to see what each DAC I am testing is capable of. While listening to every track from the above evaluation I found that while the DAC in the A12MKII performed well, the soundstage was smaller, the imaging was not quite as strong, and detail suffered compared to my reference Denafrips Venus II. The overall sound was a little warmer and seemed to concentrate on the smoothness and not as much detail.
I was not surprised by this seeing that my Venus II is over 3k new. Knowing that Rotel has to design this unit with certain budget constraints they have to make certain choices with the components. For the budding audiophile wanting to start their journey in this hobby, the inboard DAC will do a great job getting you started. The appreciable thing is that the A12 MKII has a strong enough amplifier section that if you decide to up the game to a dedicated outboard DAC you will be able to hear the difference with the A12. This scalability gives you some sizable options for the future!
While I have not heard about all the integrated amplifiers in this price class I do know there is a lot of good competition. The Audiolab 6000A comes to mind as a direct competitor. The Audiolab is less expensive and has an inboard DAC and phono stage. I have not reviewed the Audiolab nor had one on-site to directly compare the two so I cannot say how they both sound in comparison. All I can say is that the A12MkII is a very capable little amplifier in its own right and while I had it in my hands it performed at or above my expectations for this price and power level.
Going back to my reference Hegel P20 preamp and Pass labs power amp gave me much more power, finesse, detail, and effortless dynamics. While this is undoubtedly true you have to understand the cost difference.
A person looking at the A12 MKII is not going to be shopping for the highest-priced components, but rather, outstanding value for money. Here is where the A12 MKII offers one a simple to use, feature-rich, great-sounding integrated amplifier for an office system, second system, or who may be just starting their journey into this substantial hobby of ours. Here, enthusiasts should give the Rotel A12MKII a strong listen. The fact that this amplifier is coming from a reputable company that has been building good-sounding affordable gear for decades is simply icing on the cake!!! RECOMMENDED!!
Review System: Speakers: Spatial Audio M3 Turbo S open baffle. REL T9/x subwoofer. Digital: Denafrips Venus II, Modified PC-based Music server/streamer. Amplification: Hegel P20 preamp. Pass Labs X150.5 power amp. Conditioner: PS Audio Quintet. Cables: All custom-made speaker and power cables using top-shelf cables and connections.
Price ~~ $1,099.00
Specifications: Continuous Power Output 60 watts/ch, 8 Ohms
Maximum Power Output 120 watts/ch, 4 Ohms Phono Input 90 dB
Line Level Inputs 100 dB
Frequency Response 10 Hz – 90k Hz (0 ± 2 dB, MAX)
Signal to Noise Ratio (A weighting) 103 dB
Input Sensitivity/Impedance 0 dBfs/75 ohms
Preamplifier Output Level 1.4 V (at – 20dB)
Digital Inputs SPDIF LPCM PC-USB USB Audio Class 1.0
(up to 192k Hz 24 bit) USB Audio Class 2.0
(up to 384kHz 32bit)*
Driver installation required Roon Tested Continuous Power Output 60 watts/ch, 8 Ohms
Total Harmonic Distortion < 0.018% Intermodulation Distortion (60 Hz : 7k Hz, 4:1) < 0.03%
Phono Input 20 Hz – 20k Hz, 0 ± 0.5 dB
Line Level Inputs 10 Hz – 100k Hz, 0 ± 0.5 dB
Damping Factor (20 – 20,000 Hz, 8 ohms) 220
Input Sensitivity / Impedance
Phono Input (MM) 3.4 mV / 47k Ohms
Line Level Inputs (RCA) 230 mV / 24k Ohms
Phono Input 50 mV
Line Level Inputs 4 V
Preamp Output / Impedance 1.2 V / 470 Ohms
Tone Controls – Bass / Treble ± 10 dB at 100 Hz / 10k Hz
Signal to Noise Ratio (A weighting)
SUMIKO PHONE +1 510 843-4500
ADDRESS 11763 95th Ave N
Maple Grove MN 55369
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