ROTEL MICHI X3 INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER – review!

Exploring the Rotel Michi X3 integrated amplifier, you will be hard-pressed to find a better, more musical amplifier anywhere for the money!

Rotel was best recognized in the early 1990s for making high-quality, reasonably priced hi-fi. And with good reason, its inexpensive amplifiers, CD players, and yes, even turntables, were frequently regarded as leaders in the hi-fi world.

Given the superb build quality and outstanding sonic abilities of that original line, the debut of the high-end Michi sub-brand at that time came as a bit of a surprise—but a supremely pleasant one at that. Unusually, despite the fine reviews and the emergence of a hi-fi icon, those superb first products didn’t become a Rotel mainstay range as would be expected.

Many of the engineering principles from the Michi gadgets were quickly adopted into Rotel’s more well-known products. Rotel, the parent firm of Michi, has good experience in this area. Having said that, the Rotel Michi X3 (a higher-powered X5 is also available with a built-in mc phono stage) is simply a fantastic integrated amplifier! It worked so brilliantly once it was in my system that I was quite amazed—mainly because it immediately got right to work and played music—all kinds of music—from all kinds of sources in such a beautifully satisfying way that initially, any type criticism kind of went out the window.

The Michi x3 hits all the right spots for aesthetics, ergonomics, and most of all a truly “great “sound quality. Having reviewed many of the finest integrated amplifiers over the last few years at varying price points, it’s safe to say that the Michi X3 can compare remarkably with its exquisite reproduction to units costing close to double its price. Indeed, it is hard not to love this amplifier!

THE X3 DETAILS

The Michi seems rather basic from the outside, but it is constructed like a tank. Its wider-than-average size gives it an impressive yet plain-looking exterior.

It is driven by a powerful internal amplifier that produces 200 watts (350 watts in 4 ohms) while weighing in at about 60 pounds on the bathroom scale. Unlike a few of its competitors, it “radiates” quality in its construction.

Inside Rotel Michi X3 integrated amplifier

The current X3 features four sets of line inputs, one of which is on balanced XLRs, a respectable MM phono stage, and a wide array of digital inputs to feed its built-in 768kHz/32-bit AKM DAC which can also handle sophisticated multi-source systems if necessary. Its custom components are used in all crucial circuits, building on more than years of audio design expertise.

Along with aptX Bluetooth and a USB-B port that allows the X3 to receive audio from a computer, there are three optical and three coaxial digital ins. In this way, the X3 effortlessly achieves the promise of accurate musical expression unique to the Michi brand thanks to countless hours of listening sessions and rigorous bench testing.

Rotel Michi X3 integrated amplifier back view

The X3’s primary display is uncomplicated yet huge and visible having a sizable rotary control on either side. Depending on the configuration, the switch on the left-hand side cycles through the inputs or menu options. Of course, you could do this using the finely crafted remote instead.

The Michi X3’s volume may be fixed so that it can be used as a pass-through when combined with other preamps or home theater components. All inputs have the possibility of being fixed or variable for unparalleled versatility.

It is apparent that this amp’s developers placed a strong focus on sound quality, but it is also obvious that they paid careful attention to every aspect of its usability. Having said that, it’s undeniably fine audio reproduction that is Michi’s claim to fame!

AND THE SOUND?

Many reviewers adhere to the format of comparing new components to what they call their “reference systems”. Having many new components enter my listening room, quite naturally, the above mention of “reference systems” can at times be a transitory state.

However, there are certain stalwart components that I have been using that I consider my system “backbones” which currently occupy the top spots in my reviewing comparisons, most of which I own—but some of which I do not.

Nonetheless, The Michi X3 integrated amplifier was compared to the recently reviewed Gryphon Diablo 300, the Naim Supernait3, the Avid Canor as well as the Simaudio 700i V2 powerhouse. Of course, in the final analysis, the Michi had to be weighed up against the Pass Labs XP-12 and XA 30.8 pre and power amplifiers for some ultimate comparisons.

Digital mainstays were the Audio Note CD3.1x/2 player, BorderPatrol SE-1, Denefrips Pontus, and the recently received Mojo Audio Mystique X DAC. Loudspeakers were the Harbeth C7 ES-3 XD mostly; along with my Quad ESL 63’s and Spendor BC1s as backups. Some vinyl backup was also employed with the Audio Technica LP7 attached to the YZ bloom moving coil pickup cartridge.

If there is one overriding trademark to describe the Michi X3 it would have to be “smooth” and openly silky and spacious sounding. Besides this, the amplifier displays a huge amount of depth and a surprisingly wide soundstage, protruding way past the speaker boundaries. All this is combined with a display of fine transparency and detail while keeping transients held clean although somewhat at bay; comparatively speaking.

The X3 will cover up bad recordings to a considerable degree which makes it all the more enviable and lush sounding. The ambiance it displayed was truly excellent and airy on high frequencies while its midrange was supremely lustrous and open sounding. Sometimes, transients were a tiny bit subdued compared to some references, but all the while it made listening to all kinds of music so easy and beautiful that you kept yearning to listen to more and more music.

The Michi mid-treble balance was a true surprise. It had the slightest resemblance to a tubed amplifier yet never displayed any signs of being as such (for those that are inspired by this.) In other words, the amplifier reproduced music with the ease of some tube amplifiers yet remained constantly intact to fine detail, a delicate yet naunced transparancy along with the definition of a firm solid state blueprint status. I would argue that the designers kept this in mind when designing the X3.

Whatever sorcery the engineers at Rotel use on the Michi line, appears to be working remarkably well. The amplifier exposed all of the inner detail and much lucidity of the program sources including a very deep and powerful bass response. Quite excellently, the tonal balance and clarity of all instruments were truly effortless and remarkably neutral.

Adding to all of the above, the smoothness of the sound immediately drew me into its essence due to this integrated amplifiers seductive quality thereby never allowing me to stray towards another amplifier that may have been sitting at bay.

The Michi X3 is one of the best-integrated amplifiers I’ve ever heard at simply making you forget what you’re doing and luring you into the music for some sublime and prolonged listening sessions.

Rotel Michi X3 integrated amplifier

DETAILED “INTEGRATED” COMPARISONS

Audible comparisons will be acknowledged here and described accordingly. The only integrated amplifier not included here is the “King of Kings” darTZeel CT -8550 MK 2. As its price point is just about 5 times that of the Michi x3.

Notwithstanding this, when compared to the imminent sound of the much more expensive Gryphon Diablo, while lacking a trifle in the latter’s detail, the X3 was not too far off the mark. It compared favorably to the Gryphon concerning its ease of reproduction, soundstage imaging, and overall musicality. You keep wanting to listen to this amplifier despite any ‘slight bit‘ of lack of “ultimate” transparancy. One could argue, quite simply, that its musical landscape overshadowed any tiny bit of detail that the Gryphon displayed.

Moving on to the Naim Supernait 3, the Michi was fuller and more prolific in its midrange response while bringing forth a less “lean” sound that is inherent in the Naim. Side to side, a slight win for the Michi X3.

The class D Aavik 250 was much leaner and a bit brighter in the mid-high frequencies than the X3 and as such was much more fulfilling in its overall sound quality.

The illustriously grand and expensive Simaudio 700i v2 would appear to be no match for the X3 but surprisingly, this was not the case. The former was once again a bit more transparent but appropriately brighter and more constricted throughout its whole frequency spectrum which made the much less expensive Michi appear as David compared to Goliath. This infinitely tells you once again how fine an amplifier the Michi X3 has turned out to be.

Finally, the English-built Avid Canor AI 2.10 Hybrid tube Integrated Amplifier was considered to be a handsome sounding unit that was priced a little higher than the Supernait, with a propensity to being a bit more forward in its sound stage including a softer, yet slightly brash overall tonality. In this instance, the Supernait 3 won the day. Also, Canor’s overall impact and the full sound disposition were slightly subdued and seemed to leave a bit to be desired, particularly at its rather high price point. Needless to say, the Michi X3 was infinitely more desirable to listen to at all volume levels and with all program sources than the Avid.

THE PASS XA30.8 POWER AMPLIFIER

I’ve included the Pass Labs here as one of my references and it makes good sense to include the contrasting attributes here to the Michi X3’s power amplifier for several reasons. One of which is that at its price point, the XA 30.8 Class A power amp is arguably the most beautiful sounding amplifier available at this time. Yes, you may find other power amps with more bulk, bass solidity, and real power output, but practically nothing can compare with its overall mid/treble response. It’s a design that must be reckoned with.

However, the Michi X3 can compare in many ways quite favorably to this amplifier. I had to go back and forth many times and with a few of my best program sources to hear some differences. The main difference is that the Pass Labs has a touch better “precision” and transient attack than the Michi. On the contrary, the Michi is just so satisfyingly musical that it might just make the 30.8 blush a tiny bit. The bass of the Michi is on par with the Pass Labs while its overall tonality is quite similar— except for that slight reticulation and the smallest bit of soundstage “fogginess” that the former lacks.

Stereo imaging is rock solid and quite equal to the Pass Labs. All this points again to how far along the Michi was designed to exhibit its terrific sound reproduction qualities in the audiophile picture.

CONCLUSIONS

It would appear to be quite obvious that I loved this integrated amplifier. The Michi X3 carries its tremendous power lightly, which gives it all the more feeling of musical satisfaction. It combines a  ‘drive anything’ confidence with speed, smooth warmth, airiness, and spectacular sound standard with the flexibility to transform and deliver all genres of music  to an iridescent touch when required.

Furthermore, you have an amplifier capable of taking on the swelling ranks of the finest integrated amplifiers available while at the same time displaying the bulk of them to be most envious of the Michi, with respect to its sumptuous combination of agility, build quality, and sheer style.

The Michi X3 is an amplifier that most audiophiles, even those bent on preferring separate components, must not ignore in their search for realistic neutral, and a most accurate demonstration of sound quality. Do not miss it!

The System:  Loudspeakers: Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 XD loudspeaker ~ Quad ESL-63, Spendor BC1, ~ Digital: Border Patrol DAC SE-I ~ Innuos Zenith Mk.3 server/streamer ~MoJo Audio ‘Mystique’ X DAC, Denafrips Pontus DAC, Audio Note (UK) CD3.1x/2  Analog: Audio Technica LP-7/ZYX Bloom 3 mc cartridge  Amplification: ~ Pass Lab XP- 12 preamp ~ Pass Labs XA30.8 power amp ~PS Audio M1200/ ~ Cambridge Duo MC/MM ~ Cables/ Conditioners: Inakustik AC-3500p power station & LS-4004 speaker cables, AC-2404 reference Air Power Cord ~ Audience Studio 1 interconnects, speaker cables, Clarus “Crimson” 75-ohm digital spdif / Audio Art 1 e” AC Power

Maximum Power Output

350W/Ch (4Ω)

Continuous Power Output

200W/Ch (8Ω)

Total Harmonic Distortion (THD)

<0.008%

Frequency Response

Line Level Inputs: 10Hz – 100kHz (+0dB, -0.4dB)

Digital Inputs: 20Hz – 20kHz (0 ± 0.4dB)

sound advocate ed choice
MSRP: $ 5,299.00
Website: ROTEL www.rotel.com/en-apac/michi
US distributor Fine Sounds Americas E: rotelsupport@sumikoaudio.net
11763 95th Ave North
Maple Grove, MN 55369
(510) 843-4500

WHERE the MUSIC BEAT meets the AUDIOPHILE ELITE !

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