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Rotel A12MKII Integrated Amplifier Review: The Night the Lights Went Out in Long Branch

Is the Rotel A12MKII the ideal amplifier to build a $3,000 stereo system around with 2 great sources? I would say you’re foolish not to try it.

Rotel A12MKII Integrated Amplifier

Have you ever been listening to your system and the lights go out? It’s not a good feeling because there is always the risk that when the power comes back on that something will be amiss. I’ve used power line conditioners for almost 20 years but our experience with Hurricane Sandy here on the Shore was not a good one.

My parents think that I missed my calling as a Weather Channel talking head because I’d scare the living crap out of everyone with my forecasts, but I had a bad feeling about Sandy with our home only blocks from the ocean and so many trees surrounding our property.

Sandy roared through our area and I was very fortunate to not lose anything of value (including our family) minus $30,000 worth of roofing, siding, fencing, a few windows, and 90% of the trees on our property.

We lost power for over 10 days and I was very nervous about plugging things back in because every cable that connects us to the outside world had to be replaced and local infrastructure was a mess.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago and I lost power twice in the span of one week at night for 2-3 hours each time. Not great timing in the middle of summer but JCP&L was a nightmare during COVID; did they just stop making repairs?

Rotel A12MKII Integrated Amplifier Angle

One of those disruptions occurred during a listening session with the Rotel A12MKII and a pair of Q Acoustics 3050i loudspeakers in our dining room system which gets a lot of use during the course of a normal week.

I was definitely nervous when the power came back on. All good but it’s become a regular thing on the Shore.

The Rotel replaced my NAD C 316BEE V2 Integrated Amplifier and a few things stood out with each recording; more presence, detail, and a firmer grasp on the bottom end.

The Rotel is twice the price of the NAD and also includes a rather good DAC so I expected there to be differences in the sound quality.

Both phono stages work really well with MM cartridges and I don’t think there is that much daylight between them in that regard.

Pro-ject Debut Pro Turntable Front
Pro-ject Debut Pro Turntable

I recently reviewed the Pro-Ject Debut Pro Turntable which blew my socks off at its price point; Ken Kessler of Hi-Fi News and SoundStage! has a another terrific review of the Debut PRO that I think is really worth reading and we’ve communicated about our experiences with it.

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He’s 100% correct about adding a record clamp and the difference that it makes. I’m not sure one needs a $500 isolation platform underneath it; I’ve had good results with IKEA bamboo cutting boards and the IsoAcoustics ZaZen platform which is definitely not $500.

The Rotel/Pro-Ject combination is around $2,000 and definitely a system that I could live as my only system.

Rotel A12MKII Integrated Amplifier Back
Rotel A12MKII
Rotel A12MKII Integrated Amplifier Silver Front
Rotel A12MKII
Rotel A14MKII Integrated Amplifier Front Silver
Rotel A14MKII

But how does the Rotel A12MKII compare to other integrated amplifiers that I own and how does it compare to the Rotel A14MKII that I reviewed last year.

The tonal balance is definitely similar (using the Q Acoustics 3050i, 3030i, PSB Alpha P5s, and Wharfedale Diamond 10.1s) but the A14MKII had a firmer bottom end and I recall being able to crank it a lot harder with Metallica, Aphex Twin, and the Beastie Boys.

Beastie Boys, “Sabotage”

My Croft Phono Integrated is the polar opposite of the A12MKII when it comes to features; the Croft doesn’t really have any and minus the dual volume controls — it is as basic as they come.

The Rotel has a very clean presentation with just enough warmth to work well with a wide variety of speakers; it’s a much better option with the PSB Alpha P5s than the Croft.

There is some daylight, however, when it comes to the phono section and the “gestalt” of the two amplifiers.

The Croft is almost $800 more with none of the features of the Rotel (remote, DAC, headphone amplifier) so the A12MKII gets my nod from that perspective.

Where the Croft is different (and this applies to many of the integrated amplifiers below $2,000) is how it strips away the barrier between you and the music and everything is just more alive in the space.

It’s like looking at my snow covered backyard during sunrise through our kitchen bay window versus walking outside in the cold and feeling it on your face and realizing just how much else is going on.

The phono section on the Croft is just crazy good with a decent MM cartridge; better pacing, clarity, and presence. On the downside — it’s a tad noisy versus the Rotel which presents music with very black backgrounds and more than enough detail to make every recording interesting.

I can hear it now.

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“Why are you only comparing it against $1,500 or $1,700 integrated amplifiers?”

Fair enough.

The Rega io is $650 and really good for the money, but it’s not as authoritative as the A12MKII; it runs out of juice much sooner and it doesn’t offer a DAC or the build quality of the Rotel. The A12MKII can drive much more difficult loudspeakers and just sounds more effortless at higher listening levels.

The Rega Brio, however, is a very worthy competitor for a few reasons; excellent phono section, solid build quality, and a very engaging listen on the aforementioned loudspeakers.

The Rotel has more sparkle in the top end and it’s a cleaner sounding amplifier; the Rega has more midrange warmth and I’d call it a toss-up on the pacing front.

Listening to electronic music through the A12MKII and the Rega Brio was a lot of fun and both integrated amplifiers bested the Croft in the bass department; better control, more texture, and definitely more impact with Tool, Aphex Twin, Tangerine Dream, and Boards of Canada.

Rotel A12MKII Integrated Amplifier with CD14MKII CD Player
Rotel A12MKII Integrated Amplifier with CD14MKII CD Player

Conclusion

The Rotel A12MKII sits at a very interesting price point with a lot of competition above and below it; two of its biggest competitors are its own siblings which is kinda rare.

Would I spend the extra money on the A14MKII or use some of the savings on a better pair of speakers?

I’m so bloody impressed with the Pro-Ject Debut PRO at this point, that I would say buy the A12MKII and that turntable and build out from there. The combination is so good below $2,100 that you might have a lot of fun finding the best pair of loudspeakers to go with it and not break the bank.

Tempting beyond to be quite honest.

Where to buy: $1,099 at Crutchfield | Audio Advice

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. henry rabin

    February 4, 2022 at 8:02 pm

    As a Toronto reader I thought you meant the real Long Branch.

    • Ian White

      February 4, 2022 at 10:02 pm

      My Long Branch (I know the Toronto one) is a tad nicer. Ocean view.

      And I can get kosher food which is nice for a good Jewish kid from Bathurst and Eglinton.

      Ian

  2. Steven O'Farrell

    February 5, 2022 at 3:03 am

    I’ve always liked Rotel; the brand gets swept under the rug by a lot if reviewers…. maybe not flashy enough or too inexpensive? The Rotel with the Pro-Ject turntable that you are obviously enamored with sounds like a bargain bonanza if I ever heard one!

    • Ian White

      February 5, 2022 at 2:15 pm

      Steven,

      It’s quality stuff that works. The A14MKII is a better amplifier but the A12MKII is no slouch.

      The Debut PRO can be tweaked to sound pretty incredible; switch out the cartridge, add the clamp, and isolate it better.

      Pro-Ject did its homework on this one.

      Ian White

      • ORT

        February 6, 2022 at 3:49 pm

        An integrated amp makes the most sense for a great many people and has for a few years now. I have no need for a receiver as I do not listen to terrestrial radio any longer. Integrated amps allow us to choose what we want to add on or leave out.

        I use equipment that fits my budget and fills needs rather than those that drain my coffers and feed my ego. This is for any one. We all choose according to our abilities and needs. It is fine to feed one’s ego so long as it does not make us full of ourselves. 😉

        Thanks for an excellent review!

        ORT

        • Ian White

          February 6, 2022 at 4:03 pm

          ORT,

          Smart manufacturers saw the writing on the wall years ago and realized that consumers want fewer boxes — not more!

          I’m a huge fan of integrated amplifiers and can’t envision owning separate power amplifiers or preamps (minus phono) ever again.

          Is anyone really surprised that NAD, Naim, and Cambridge Audio have pushed so hard in the network amplifier space?

          Naim has sold a crazy number of Uniti Atom amplifiers and for good reason — excellent product, interface, and it works with everything.

          Enjoy your Sunday.

          Ian White

  3. ORT

    March 28, 2022 at 1:21 am

    Ian, pardon my asking here but will any of you guys be at T.H.E. this year? I ask because I read that Ecoustics is sponsoring a “Headphonium”. I used to attend the show and might this year.

    As you have my email, you could just let me know via that method if you wish. Either way, thank you.

    ORT

    • Brian Mitchell

      March 28, 2022 at 5:18 am

      Expect many, if not all of us, to be in Long Beach, CA June 10-12, 2022 for T.H.E. Show & Headphonium. Looking forward to meeting you in person there.

  4. ORT

    March 28, 2022 at 9:00 pm

    Thank you, sir.

    ORT

  5. David

    September 20, 2022 at 4:48 pm

    Ian, I always enjoy your reviews. How do you rate the importance of room correction when choosing a new amplifier? It seem that AVRs and integrateds such as the Lyngdorf TDAI-1120 have it all over integrateds such as the Rotel as well as the Rega and Croft mentioned in your review. Room correction seems to me to be a greater factor in resulting in better sound in any room.

    David

    p.s. Why do I see comments dated from many months earlier in the year on this newly released article?

    • Ian White

      September 20, 2022 at 5:08 pm

      David,

      Products like DIRAC are gaining a lot of traction and I suspect it will become a standard feature (at a cost) in most AVRs, integrated amplifiers, and network amplifiers going forward. I do wish they would skip the “Lite” version and not play games with consumers for an extra $99. I’ve only had a chance to use it in 3-4 products so far and it does make a difference. Possibly even enough to preclude spending more on the next amplifier or loudspeaker in the range.

      The Rotel review has a few minor revisions from its publication earlier in the year and the current traffic has moved it up the “trending” ladder and I wanted to give it more exposure.

      Best,

      Ian White

      • David

        September 20, 2022 at 6:47 pm

        Thank you for the clarification. By the way, I enjoy your collaborations with Tarun, A British Audiophile, and I look forward to seeing more of the two of you together.

        Keep up the good work!

        David

        • Ian White

          September 20, 2022 at 6:49 pm

          David,

          Thank you for your kind words.

          I love doing the videos with my mate. He’s a good one. We’re going to tackle floor standing loudspeakers next. Magnepan, Q Acoustics, and Wharfedale from me.

          Best,

          Ian White

          • Sorrel

            September 21, 2022 at 2:03 am

            I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts about Magnepan, Q Acoustics, and Wharfedale floorstanders, Ian, especially Magnepan loudspeakers. (According to Rotel’s A12MKII Owner’s Manual: “In practice, very few loudspeakers will present any problems for the unit.”)

            I hope you will also continue to test loudspeakers with the Rega io and NAD C BEE316. Curious, do you have access to a Sc**** Vidar ($799 USD)? Thanks.

  6. Sorrel

    September 21, 2022 at 11:45 pm

    Whoops! I just discovered your great article published on January 26, 2022, no worries.

    Thanks. Sorrel

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