What makes a component truly great? One would hope that a very high level of circuit design plays a big part in the overall result but that often gets confused with industrial design and features; as we’ve learned from the home theater category that is rife with components that offer features that consumers never use, and high-end audio components with 3-inch-thick faceplates for no apparent reason.
If you think adding over 100 pounds of metal to a component makes it sonically worthwhile and justifies some exorbitant price tag – you’ve drank one too many glasses of the Kool-Aid. The Rotel Michi X3 Integrated Amplifier (see our video commentary) proves that one can build a superior sounding component that pushes the envelope without bordering on design overkill or price stupidity.
One of my favorite audio components is the Croft Acoustics Phono Integrated. It is the antithesis of the Rotel Michi X3 from a design perspective, but they share something rather important in common.
Both components understand their role in the context of your stereo system which is to not overcomplicate things.
There is no bottleneck in your system with either one of them. The Croft ($1,595) is a very basic 45 watts/channel integrated amplifier that doesn’t measure that well, yet gets more playing time in my home than any other component.
You’re probably asking yourself why I would do that when I own 5 other integrated amplifiers ranging from $495 to $6,000 that are technically better.
Music just flows differently through it. It’s engaging in a way that makes me pay closer attention to the music; especially vinyl which benefits enormously from Glenn Croft’s superb phono stages. The man just knows what he’s doing without the need for bullet-proof casework and fancy faceplates. Utterly unnecessary to be quite blunt.
The Rotel Michi X3 is a more modern take on the Croft from that perspective as well. It’s definitely bullet-proof but nothing compared to some of the other products currently available.
Very much like the Croft, it lets the music flow through. With almost endless reserves of power behind it. The Croft is far more limited in that regard and I use it with loudspeakers that are easier to drive.
That was one of the most obvious things about the Michi X3; it flipped off every loudspeaker I placed in its path as if they were a mere nuisance.
I have no doubt that the Rotel Michi X3 measures well on the bench. When you skim through its marketing materials; and every brand is guilty of using an almost hysterical level of hyperbole, you realize rather quickly that the circuit design is both substantial and well thought out.
It’s more the language that they don’t use that made me sit-up and actually read more to understand the design features of the entire Michi Series. Everything from the massive output transformers, parts selection, and uncomplicated usability should tick off all of the right boxes.
Having reviewed the stellar Rotel A14MKII Integrated Amplifier earlier this year, I know from my conversations with its design team that Rotel designs its components to deliver a lot of power when required, and without placing items in the signal path that will overcomplicate its operation and take away from the musical experience.
Don’t get me wrong. The Rotel Michi X3 Integrated Amplifier is substantial. The photography does not convey how inert the entire package is or its incredibly high build quality.
Rotel has created a rather stealthy looking tank; do not be confused by the industrial design because the amplifier can destroy your back if try to casually lift it. The amplifier and bullet-proof packaging led to a rather rude conversation between myself and my usual UPS delivery guy who berated me in the driveway over the weight of the shipment.
I’ve had far heavier items shipped to me over the years, but the Rotel Michi X3 Integrated Amplifier ticked him off.
Before you scroll back up to the beginning and point to my opening remarks about “overkill” – understand that the Michi X3 Integrated Amplifier suffers from not one ounce of it.
This $5,299 component delivers genuine value in a segment that is filled with some substantial competitors from Naim Audio, Cambridge Audio, Hegel, Moon by SimAudio, McIntosh, Pass Labs, and Audio Research.
If the Rotel Michi X3 Integrated Amplifier included a network streamer it would be ballgame over for the competition. Done. Kaput. Gamoor (Hebrew for finished).
Little Boxes Made of Ticky Tacky
The Rotel Michi X3 Integrated Amplifier delivers rather uncompromised audio performance with a full complement of source inputs including Analog, Digital, PC-USB, XLR, apt-X Bluetooth and a Moving Magnet Phono Stage.
The X3 is conveniently packaged in an elegant industrial design delivering 350 Watts of Class AB power into 4 ohm speakers while maintaining musical accuracy with exceptional acoustic detail.
The Coaxial and Toslink Optical digital inputs can support 24-bit/192kHz PCM while the USB digital input can support 24-bit/384kHz PCM and DSD 128. The AKM 32-bit/784kHz DAC can handle anything any streaming service could possibly throw at it in 2021.
The rear panel is definitely busy but Rotel designed the Michi X3 to be the ultimate hub; the Ethernet and USB-A ports, however, are there for firmware updates and IP control of the amplifier. You will have to supply your own network streamer or laptop.
There are outputs provided for two sets of speakers and headphones, and there are also two mono subwoofer outs, and a pair of pre-outs.
You can use the pre-outs to connect to a pair of Michi S5 Power Amplifiers but understand that there is no way to disable the power amplifier section of the X3 if you do that. My advice would be to use the Michi X3 as intended. You don’t need the extra power.
The supplied remote control is a custom job with substantial weight behind it and it works as intended. The front panel display is rather understated and I rather liked the simplicity of the design. It tells you everything you need to know and I applaud Rotel for not taking the popular route at the moment and turning the Michi X3’s front panel into Times Square.
Oh, I Asked Her for Water, Oh, She Brought Me Gasoline…
After 23 years, I’ll confess to being rather jaded. 23 years of writing about high-end audio/video has made me a cynic.
Audiophiles like to complain about everything; a significant portion care more about gear than music, and don’t like being told that their dogmatic view of the world and how people should be allowed to enjoy music is wrong.
How do people exist like this? How do they dump on vintage audio, affordable audio, or other people who can only afford to spend so much on a system.
Being inexpensive doesn’t make a component good in the same way being extremely expensive doesn’t either. I’ve heard plenty of high-end products over $10,000 that I thought were terrible. Zero connection to the music.
None of that happened with the Michi X3.
The Rotel Michi X3 is for people who care passionately about music playback but also want to have fun. It doesn’t gloss over bad recordings and make them sound like sonic masterpieces.
Great music can still be recorded poorly. I would rather listen to Sarah Vaughan singing on a street corner in Newark with average fidelity than Ariana Grande recorded in the best studio in the world in DSD 128.
The Michi X3 is most certainly one of the most transparent and crisp sounding integrated amplifiers I’ve listened to in a very long time; and that includes the wonderful Cambridge Audio Edge A that I own for $1,000 more.
The tonal balance, however, is anything but cool and I found with time that it leaned more to the warmer side of the spectrum.
Vocals are certainly on the warmer side, but that never comes at the expense of detail, clarity, or depth. The Rotel Michi X3 made Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone, Tori Amos, P.J. Harvey, Precious Bryant, Natalie Merchant, and Florence + the Machine emerge from each loudspeaker with a true sense of palpability that made me listen well past my bedtime most nights.
It’s not just the tonal balance and clarity that were impressive, but the effortless nature of the delivery.
Effortless. I think that sums up the Michi X3 in a very good way.
Music — regardless of its simplicity or complexity, emerges from your speaker as if the Michi X3 is a great conductor with endless power at its disposal.
It treats folk, blues, jazz, and simple chamber music with the same degree of respect as highly complex symphonic works; it’s almost as if it knows when to deliver just enough power to highlight what makes each piece of music unique.
I’ve definitely not experienced that with too many components over the years.
Bass response is deep, impactful, and very articulate if the music requires it. I’ve certainly listened to amplifiers with a tighter grip on the bottom octaves, but the Michi X3 ticked off every box listening to Tool, Black Sabbath, Tangerine Dream, Led Zeppelin, and EDM.
The phono stage is very good, but you will require an external one if you prefer MCs over MMs.
I definitely prefer the sound quality of my Croft Phono RIAA unit with a SUT (Step-up transformer) with the Denon D-A110 Anniversary MC, but the Ortofon 2M Black and Bronze sounded rather exceptional through the Michi X3’s internal phono stage.
Soundstage depth is excellent. I’ve heard wider and deeper but for $4999 — the Rotel Michi X3 delivers a masterclass in sound quality that left me quite energized most nights.
I started this review by posing a question. What makes a component truly great and at what point does a component pass from being great into “overkill” for the sake of charging a lot more money?
High-end audio components don’t require 3-inch-thick faceplates and any attempt by a reviewer to convince you that they improve the sound quality of a component and justify charging you the price of a decent car – should be met with a healthy dose of derision. After mocking said person for taking you for a fool, your first reaction should be to turn on your system and enjoy listening to music. That’s what your stereo is there for.
The Rotel Michi X3 Integrated Amplifier is a rare component; even in 2021 with so many excellent high-end components available for sale. Not only was it designed to offer the highest levels of musical playback in a package that is not overkill, but it’s surprisingly affordable when one compares its performance to other high-end components that sell for substantially more.
If you ever doubted that Rotel could design components that compete with the top 1% in the world – erase all of those doubts.
The Rotel Michi X3 cuts through the hype and delivers an orgiastic feast of musical pleasure that is more than anyone could ever need; both in terms of power, features, and the ability to elevate musical expression to another level.
$5,000 is an enormous amount of money to spend on a component; it’s rare that I would ever call such a thing a “bargain” – but the Michi X3 is just that in an industry filled with overpriced schlock.
An audio classic in the making. Both now and in the distant future when it will be considered among the best of its kind.
For more information: rotel.com/product/x3