January 20, 2010
| by Arlen Schweiger
It seems the last thing people want is the components of their home theater system to be in plain sight. Rotel isn’t so sure of that. The company’s RSX-1560 surround-sound receiver makes a bold statement—and not just in performance.
The brushed silver finish, along with understated and symmetrical hard buttons, blue backlighting and slim on-screen display make for a striking package. Unlike traditional black-box electronics, this is a receiver to show off. Just leave enough room—at 7 inches high it’s bolder than most receivers in that respect, too.
Don’t worry about breaking your back lifting the RSX-1560, though. Thanks to energy-efficient Class D amplification, the receiver weighs just 38 pounds while packing 100 watts into seven channels (at 8 ohms). I found that it also compared very favorably to others in heat generation, staying pretty cool even while powered on.
Almost every inch of the RSX-1560’s rear panel is occupied. Foremost, you get four HDMI inputs and one HDMI output, along with component, composite and S-video ports, so you can gather HD sources and send just one cable to a TV or projector. This is also convenient because the RSX-1560 upscales video to 1080p via HDMI.
Versatility also shines in the outputs. If you prefer “separates,” you can hook into an amplifier with the pre outs. And if you want to serve more than the main room, the multizone outs cover three extra zones—the drawback being that video is limited to composite or S-video and audio to analog stereo.
One benefit I really liked with the rear panel was the ease at which I could thread all of my speaker wire into the individual terminals. They were not only easy to screw and unscrew for simple connection, but there was plenty of breathing room between each terminal so it wasn’t like playing Operation as wires were added.
System and remote control setup of the RSX-1560 can get tricky. The default source inputs are indicated in the owner’s manual, but if you’re connecting a slew of digital sources you may have trouble keeping track of where to press—for instance, the first coaxial input is Video 5, while the second is CD; and though there are four digital optical inputs, only the first two are assigned (to Video 3 and 4).
The remote has a nice display, but IR learning and macro setup can be cumbersome because you have to go back and forth to buttons under the flip-down area. If you’re savvy, it works as a robust universal remote—I was pleasantly surprised that it learned a Toshiba code to command my HD DVD player with no fuss.
Performance was first-rate, generated through a Paradigm 5.1 speaker system that includes front Monitor 11 towers. The RSX-1560 emphasizes clarity, transparency and depth. To my ears, two-channel listening felt just as immersive, if not more so, than the surround tracks, and I was impressed by how the combination of Rotel and Paradigm towers seemed to place each instrument in its right spot while vocals almost always drew from the center of the soundstage.
Standard CDs like The Rite of Strings by Al DiMeola, Stanley Clarke and Jean-Luc Ponty felt like the jazz cats were performing in my room. My Classic Yes CD was revealed to have more hiss than I recalled; but the richly layered music also came forth in a more enveloping soundstage, with instruments pinpointed where they would be onstage anchored by the backdrop of Bill Bruford’s drums. And on the Allman Brothers’ Jessica, I caught background acoustic guitar details I wasn’t used to hearing despite listening to the tune hundreds of times.
Movie soundtracks were equally engaging. Dolby TrueHD lossless audio encoding came through in full force on 300, as did samples of DTS-HD Master Audio from its demo disc. Immersive action from Black Hawk Down felt properly reproduced through the speakers as gunfire, running and dialogue occurred on and off the screen. And demo’ing an Oscar-winning soundtrack just felt right on this audiophile-quality receiver.
Arlen writes about home technology installations and product news and reviews for electronichouse.com
and Electronic House magazine.