Rotel Michi P5 Preamplifier and S5 Stereo Amplifier Review
David Price goes on a voyage of musical discovery with Rotel's new flagship dynamic duo…
Michi P5 Preamplifier / S5 Stereo Amplifier
AUD $5,999 RRP / $10,399 RRP respectively
It's never easy when a company touts its new product(s) as “best in class”. Suddenly the poor thing has to carry a heavy weight on its proverbial shoulders, with cynical and jaded hi-fi hacks sniggering and smirking at the back of the press conference. Such is the fate that has befallen Rotel's new Michi series P5 preamplifier ($5,999), S5 stereo power amplifier ($10,399) and M8 monoblocks ($10,399 each) – and what could possibly go wrong?
Actually, there's method behind the madness – in today's clickbait world, if you don't stand up to be counted, you won't even be noticed. And having spent some time with the P5/S5 preamp/stereo power amp combo, I'd say that these would be criminal to overlook. Although not cost-no-object super-fi, the original 1991 Michi products were excellent value for money – and soon put the Rotel brand back on the map. I reckon this new dynamic duo is good enough to do precisely the same again.
These products fit into an interesting market sector – what I call “affordable high end”. Make no mistake, they're nowhere near as good as some ultra-expensive stuff that comes out of the United States and Switzerland, yet they're a fraction of the price, and attempt to give at least a taste of what's possible from true high end. They're of a quality that's sufficiently high to be wasted if your loudspeakers aren't top tier; put simply, a pair of mid-price floorstanders simply won't get anywhere near showing these separates' true ability.
The company says it has harnessed its fifty-five years of design and manufacturing experience “to create our best ever products”; the genesis of these high end separates has taken three years, and a lot of listening has gone into them, apparently. Rotel has employed a host of bespoke components including oversized toroidal transformers mounted in dedicated, epoxy filled enclosures to guarantee minimal noise and vibration across all models. Specially patented slit foil, bulk storage capacitors are fitted too. Outside, the casework is of excellent quality and superbly finished. The design philosophy is such that there's a reasonably comprehensive feature count without it ruining the ergonomics.
The P5 Michi Control Amplifier is a very handsome thing that is large and soberly styled but understated all the same. Measuring 485x150x452mm (WxHxD) and weighing in at 22.9kg, you need a serious equipment rack to put it on. The good news is that you don't need to add a separate network box or phono stage, because these come as standard. It streams music, plays Bluetooth, works as a DAC or an analogue line preamp, and also sports moving magnet and moving coil phono cartridge connectivity. The latter is fixed at 2.5mV and 250mV sensitivity respectively, with input impedance of 47k ohms and 100 ohms respectively – which is standard stuff.
Rotel has specified dual AKM 32-bit DACs for the number-crunching duties. You get the usual 24-bit, 192kHz decoding via the coaxial and optical digital inputs, plus up to 24/96 via the USB Audio Class 1 input and up to 32/384 via the USB 2 in. DSD and DoP is supported, plus MQA which is another feather to its bow. The Class A preamp section uses an array of seventeen voltage regulators fed from twin custom toroidal transformers, with four low ESR smoothing capacitors to minimise ripples in the power supply. The internal layout is very neat, with a largely dual mono orientation.
Round the back there's a plethora of socketry. The two pairs of balanced XLR inputs sit beside phono, CD and tuner RCA ins, plus two aux inputs. There are twin RCA pre outputs, plus twin XLRs, plus an RCA line out and twin sub outs. Six digital inputs, half and half optical and electrical, complete the headlines – plus the aforementioned USB inputs, Ethernet and a Bluetooth antenna module and socket, right at the rearmost part of the case. I found that the two simple source and volume controls on the front – plus a good slimline remote control – made the P5 a breeze to use.
There's no other way of putting it – the S5 is an old school battleship of a stereo power amplifier that contains no gimmickry or especially 'high tech' features. One look under the lid and you can understand why the manufacturer can claim 500W RMS per channel into 8 ohms (rising to 800W into 4 ohms) of Class AB power. A little larger in height and depth than its P5 sibling, it retains the same width fascia as you'd expect – and the result is a 485x238x465mm behemoth that weighs an osteopath-friendly 59.9kg.
That weight isn't all accounted for by the not inconsiderable amounts of heatsinking; it's got twin 2,200VA toroidal transformers in individual epoxy filled enclosures, and four bulk storage capacitors totalling 188,000uF which really pile on the calories. These supply the juice to no less than thirty-two output transistors, which can deliver flare-flapping levels of power. All this is topped off by snazzy five-way Rhodium-plated loudspeaker binding posts.
Once installed this behemoth of a power amp forms a neat visual complement to the P5 pre, and sports a classy fine-pitch colour display on the front panel. I really liked the fact that this shows the running temperature; I never managed to get it past 39 degrees centigrade, despite my best attempts to destroy the foundations of the building I was in. Power meter enthusiasts will love the configurable display which produces all sorts of pretty patterns (should you so wish) to distract you from the music you're supposed to be listening to!
Overall, the new Rotel Michi P5/S5 pre-power proved a very nice thing to use; there are no odd operational foibles, sharp edges or any other such caveats. It was designed to confer the sense of an exclusive and exotic thing, as befits its AUD $16,398 RRP price tag – and it completely succeeds in this. During my audition period, I used a pair of B&W 802D3 floorstanding speakers, alongside 805D3 standmounters.
With super-swish looking products such as this new Michi combo, the worry is always that your money is going on fripperies and fancy finishes, rather than full-on audiophile engineering. This proved far from the case here, with the P5/S5 turning out to be a redoubtable sounding pre/power combination, one that has great detail, clarity and insight – as well as a seemingly unending amount of power. It doesn't just go loud, it does so with grace and composure and exudes an air of confidence and calm.
Regardless of loudspeaker type, listening level or programme material, this new Rotel Michi combo never gets flustered. Indeed the P5/S5's sheer unassailability will delight many – but I would suggest – disappoint others. In the high-end realm, some seek amplifiers of obvious character or attitude, but this combo doesn't really have one. For example, Talking Heads' This Must be the Place is one of those recordings that just keeps getting better as you play it on ever more capable hi-fi systems. It sounds pretty good on a cheap system, but on something serious, you're greeted with a huge vista of a soundstage, inside which some intricate yet very physical percussion is meted out with gusto. The Michi duo showed all this clearly, and in no uncertain terms.
By way of context, the already highly capable Yamaha A-S3200 monster integrated that I recently reviewed simply wasn't able to pull this trick off. Although the Rotel Michi combo is $6,400 or so more expensive, the step-change up in detail resolution, clarity and depth perspective seemed wider still. To me, it proved that this pre/power is in another league, truly in the upper echelons of what's possible from amplification. Forget about having a distinctive character, the essence of its sound is cleanliness and evenness buttressed by massive power and punch – all of which is delivered in a hugely controlled and careful way. In one sense it actually sounds quite polite, especially via less revealing loudspeakers, and it's only when you go up to the level of the aforementioned 802D3s (or similar) that you really get to appreciate just what this pre/power combo is capable of.
This combo has enormous insight, which in the case of the Talking Heads track meant a hypnotic rendition of the guitar line and the way it played off the percussion, alongside the phrasing of David Byrne's characteristically slightly nasal and anaemic voice. These Rotels captured all this brilliantly, brushing aside the opaque, soft-focus grain and mush that often sullies even high-end solid-state amplification. And at the same time, whenever that bass drum struck the listener was reminded of this combo's enormous thump – an iron fist inside a velvet glove, if you like. It's interesting to point out that I simply didn't notice this via the B&W 805D3 standmounters. It wasn't just down to them having less bass than the 802D3s, they have far less resolution and were unable to signpost the huge insight into the recording that the Michi combo was serving up.
Essentially then, the P5/S5 is hugely capable yet seriously subtle with it. This is down in good measure to its tonality, which is highly neutral – if just a touch on the dry side. It's certainly not a big, beguiling sort of character that injects artificial bass bloom or midband pizazz into a recording. From top to bottom, it's measured and even, leaving recordings nowhere to hide. I was struck by this on Billy Joel's Just The Way You Are; it's a forty year old analogue master but done to a very high standard and the Michi pre/power resolved it brilliantly. You could really 'hear in' right to the back of the mix, and I found myself taken by the purity of the vocals and even little percussive touches like the gently struck triangles. Both had a crystalline purity, with just the teensiest hint of added brightness in the upper mid.
This evenness goes down to the bass, too. Again it's really skilled in this department, but I wonder how many speakers will ever let you know? Madonna's Frozen has a wonderfully subterranean bassline that the P5/S5 carried brilliantly. As fans of this track will know, it's quite an epic production, and it was quite a thing to hear the bass sequence playing all the way through the track with great power and expression, totally unmoved by what else was happening in the mix. The result was a super-clean, almost translucent sound that is the hallmark of a truly top-flight pre/power.
At the same time, despite all the sonic fireworks, the Michi combo does very well in general musical terms. I'll not say it's the most beguiling and entrancing thing I've ever heard, but at the price it is excellent and certainly able to carry the music's rhythmic essence. Michael Jackson's classic Off The Wall showed its super fast and sinewy sound; instruments started and stopped with great speed, and the overall feel was one of a dizzyingly quick dance track, packed with frenetic activity and energy. In the great scheme of things though, it can't quite knit all this action together in a completely seamless way; spend a good deal more on – for example – a Constellation Taurus and you'll see what I mean. Yet at its price, the Michi combo is hard to beat – music comes over both as a visceral experience and an emotional sensation too.
Overall then, in terms of sound quality, it is really hard to criticise at this price. There will be some who would say it's just not 'fun' enough, but that's only true in the sense that it doesn't add artifice to falsely heighten the listening experience. It doesn't quite have the rhythmic swing of some, but considering how well it does so many other things at the price, that's being churlish. Indeed, many people will simply install this system into their homes and never think about it again; it's a highly effective means to a musical end, rather than being the end itself.
It's always good when we get capable new contenders arriving at the mid-to-upper end of the hi-fi market – so Rotel's new Michi P5/S5 can be given a most enthusiastic recommendation. It's a sort of anti-hero in a way, choosing to play music with tremendous accuracy and strength, without itself doing any showing off. Factor in all that power and speaker load driving ability, and I'm sure it will gain an enthusiastic following. Yet this pre/power does it all with so little fuss; there's no histrionics or messing around. An excellent new design, anyone considering buying some high-end amplification simply must hear this.
For more information, visit Rotel.
David started his career in 1993 writing for Hi-Fi World and went on to edit the magazine for nearly a decade. He was then made Editor of Hi-Fi Choice and continued to freelance for it and Hi-Fi News until becoming StereoNET’s Editor-in-Chief.