When you can stream millions of songs in hi-res digital audio to a mobile device and wear planar magnetic loudspeaker technology on your head – you’re light years ahead of everyone who came before you. When you can purchase a product like the Rotel A14MKII Integrated Amplifier for $1,595 – you’re just plain spoiled at this point in the game.
There has never been a better time to build a stereo system around affordable high-end audio components. Certainly not in the 5 decades that I’ve been alive on this meshuganah planet.
Vintage Audio has never been more popular, record pressing plants can’t keep up with the demand, and you can purchase a 24-bit/92kHz Dongle DAC for $99. We’re living in the golden age of hi-fi for the simple reason that better sound quality has never been as accessible as it exists today.
High-end audio is a lifestyle choice. It’s not about spending $10,000 on a pair of loudspeakers. It’s about the priority that you place on enjoying music, which is one of the few things we’ve not yet succeeded in ruining.
Music is art.
Some of us prefer literature or movies over photography or paintings. It’s how much importance you place on something and how much joy, grief, ecstasy, or pain it causes you.
There is no wrong way to enjoy music. But there certainly is a better way.
The Rotel A14MKII is certainly a better way to enjoy your music collection.
In the Pines
Lead Belly’s “In the Pines” is a deeply harrowing and unsettling piece of music that has rattled around inside my head for many decades; the song has been covered by everyone from Nirvana, Dolly Parton, Tracy Bonham, Bill Monroe, and found its way into television programs like The Walking Dead.
When you listen to it on a pair of average sounding speakers with a subpar amplifier; it doesn’t have the same chilling effect. The lyrics still resonate but the music doesn’t penetrate or stimulate the darker angels of our nature in the same way.
You know an amplifier is really good when you need a stiff drink after listening to this track.
Way to keep me up late at night Rotel.
The A14MkII is an updated version of Rotel’s best-selling A14 integrated amplifier that has a lot of power under the hood. The chassis doesn’t give way just how much grunt there is under the ventilated top cover but it’s there.
Utilizing circuit design technology from Rotel’s Michi Series and hand-selected critical components supported by countless hours of acoustic tuning and bench testing, the A14MKII Integrated Amplifier is a significant upgrade over the previous generation.
80 watts/channel (8 ohms) of power makes this rather slim amplifier surprisingly powerful with bookshelf loudspeakers. It’s not going to drive 85 dB (4 ohms) loudspeakers into oblivion but the Rotel amplifier is not afraid to be driven hard. My experience with 4 pairs of loudspeakers did not require raising the volume that high to achieve very satisfactory listening levels.
The internal MM phono stage is decent; it’s not going to replace a $500+ dedicated phono preamp but it certainly works better than most I’ve tried in a lot of AVRs or integrated amplifiers below $800.
The A14MKII really shines with digital audio and supports MQA and MQA Studio unfolding and rendering utilizing a new Texas Instruments 32-bit/384kHz Digital to Analog Converter (DAC). The PC-USB connection supports MQA up to 24-bit/384kHz audio and PCM audio playback up to 32-bit/384kHz.
The supplied remote controls everything (don’t lose it) and the overall build quality is quite solid for the money. It’s not a hard amplifier to use and while I’m not a fan of functions buried behind sub-menus on the front panel — it’s part of the deal. Once I made a few minor adjustments to the digital inputs, I rarely had to touch anything again.
The PC-USB input saw the most use during the review process and I never had one issue with the HiFi Rose RS201e network player or my MacBook Pro.
When the Rotel A14MKII arrived, I had just taken delivery of two excellent bookshelf loudspeakers that ended up being ideal matches for the Rotel amplifier. The Wharfedale Diamond 12.1’s and Q Acoustics 3030i both retail for less than $400 and neither one are out of place in a system with the Rotel A14MKII as the primary hub.
The Q Acoustics 3030i can deliver rather robust bass response and require an amplifier that can deliver both the grip and power to let it unfold. As much as I love the NAD C 316BEE V2 Integrated Amplifier, it has to exist within certain power limitations.
In a smaller room, the NAD/Q Acoustics combination works well, but the Rotel A14MKII delivered a much more authoritative presentation in my den (16’ x 13’ x 9’) and living room (20’ x 16’ x 9’), greater sense of scale, wider and deeper soundstage, and far more control across the entire bottom end.
Both loudspeakers have excellent midrange resolution and vocals did not disappoint; both Ella Fitzgerald and Natalie Merchant were thrust by the Rotel into the room and carved firmly in space. Ella’s scat singing had tempo, body, and the requisite energy to get me deeply involved in the performance.
Merchant’s sultry and voluptuous tenor had me yearning for her; the former lead singer of 10,000 Maniacs performed for me years ago (not alone…not that I would have minded) in a Church in New York and I’ve been slightly obsessed with her ever since.
The Rotel A14MKII gets that right 99.9% of the time. Nick Cave had all of the growl and power he requires.
Bruce Hornsby gets a lot of play in our home; the Grammy-Award winner was one of my favorite rock/pop pianists from the 1980s and I never miss an opportunity to listen to him perform when he’s within 100 miles of the Jersey Shore. His piano playing and vocals command the room when he’s in top form.
A lot of loudspeakers fall flat on their faces trying to reproduce the tonal variations and texture of piano notes.
The Rotel A14MKII made sure that never happened with either loudspeaker; although one really gets a sense for the differences between most affordable integrated amplifiers and the Rotel Michi X3 with jazz piano, classical, and pop recordings.
A piano is a large instrument and it’s not that easy to recreate in the space that exists in most listening environments.
The Rotel A14MKII doesn’t deliver the same power and sense of scale as the Michi X3, but it’s pretty impressive at its price point and with smaller 2-way bookshelf loudspeakers.
I’m not sure I would describe the A14MKII as neutral sounding, but it’s not too far from the center either with most recordings.
Does it deliver music with the same degree or transparency as the Cambridge Audio Edge A or Rotel Michi X3? Not even close but we’re talking about amplifiers that are 3-4 times the asking price and capable of driving very large and demanding floorstanding speakers over $10,000.
Not exactly a fair fight.
The Rotel A14MKII would do great with the Wharfedale Linton Series, or Diamond 12.3’s or even something like the Q Acoustics 3050i loudspeakers. The Sonus Faber Lumina I would make sense with this amplifier.
The internal phono stage is good but not as good as something like the Pro-Ject Tube Box DS2 or Moon by SimAudio LP110 V2 phono preamps. Paired with the Pro-Ject Debut EVO turntable – you won’t feel that you’re missing anything with your records.
Run something more substantial like my Thorens TD-160 Super with an Ortofon 2M Black MM cartridge and you’ll want a high-end external phono preamp for the Rotel to benefit from the amplifier’s excellent performance.
Rotel have done something very special with the A14MKII Integrated Amplifier; they have engineered a platform with trickle down technology from its award-winning Michi lineup and made it affordable.
Having spent months with both the Rotel Michi X3 and A14MKII, I find myself drawn to the more affordable Rotel amplifier for a myriad of reasons. What it lacks in power reserves in comparison to its more expensive sibling, it makes up for with its sense of swagger, wide range of features, support for hi-res digital audio, and beautiful command of each evolving note.
The Michi X3 (review forthcoming in May) is a statement level component that has driven every loudspeaker at my disposal with intensity, layers of texture, finesse, and a degree of transparency that is very special. Each listen is that much more emotional when you realize just how much music you are experiencing.
The more affordable A14MKII does more than just deliver a sliver of that; it’s clearly one of the best and most capable integrated amplifiers below $2,000 on the market. The review sample is headed back to Japan, but I’ll be ordering one for myself in the very near future. Absolutely too good to not have in my home with both the Q Acoustics 3030i and Wharfedale Diamond 12.1’s in my office system.
For more information: Rotel A14MKII (rotel.com)
Have a bigger budget? Learn about the just announced Rotel RA-1572MKII and RA-1592MKII Integrated Amplifiers.