Review: We really like the Rotel A11 Tribute amplifier and the CD11 Tribute CD player. Both components offer a wealth of details and a lively dynamic.
Mercedes has AMG, BMW Alpina, Opel Irmscher. What is common with cars is the exception with HiFi, but there is also a tuning scene here. One of the best-known names in audio tuning is Ken Ishiwata, who unfortunately passed away at the end of 2019, to whom Rotel dedicated the Rotel A11 Tribute amplifier (price: 599 euros) and the CD11 Tribute CD player (price: 449 euros)..
I primarily associate the name Ken Ishiwata with the Marantz brand. Again and again, Ishiwata has taken on individual components – especially amplifiers and CD players – from the traditional brand in order to tease out the sound even more. These were rarely the top models, but often well-made “bread and butter” devices that were then offered in an “AI” version. Ishiwata was also active outside of Marantz as a developer and consultant and so shortly before his death he worked on the sound optimization of the Rotel A11 integrated amplifier and CD11 CD player. The result is the subject of this test.
Equipment & Concept
A look at the equipment list of the Rotel A11 Tribute makes it clear that it is an integrated amplifier that can almost be called classic. With 2 x 50 watts into eight ohms, it is neither a performance monster nor weak-chested, and as it should be for an integrated amplifier, it offers many connection options. In addition to three line inputs and a connection for a turntable (Phono-MM), this also includes Bluetooth connectivity. My attitude towards Bluetooth and HiFi is quite ambivalent. On the one hand, I see that it is very practical if you can just send your favorite music or the soundtrack of a YouTube video from your smartphone to the system. On the other hand, the data transfer rate via Bluetooth is not that high despite the sound-enhancing aptX codec that the Rotel A11 Tribute can handle – which of course limits the sound quality.
The Rotel A11 has a pre-amplifier output to which an external power amplifier, active loudspeaker or an active subwoofer can be connected, as well as connections for two pairs of stereo loudspeakers. The whole thing is operated via buttons and the volume control in conjunction with a display. Alternatively, there is also a remote control with significantly more buttons than there are on the front of the Rotel. One of the reasons for this is that some functions, such as the tone control, can only be operated via the control.
The interior of the Rotel A11 Tribute is also classic. SMD components can only be found on the small control board, which also houses the Bluetooth circuits. The actual amplifier circuit is built on a large circuit board with conventionally soldered components. It is a common class A / B circuit , the power supply is provided by a toroidal transformer . Power supply, heat sink, yes, the whole circuit doesn’t seem oversized, but solid.
The second Ishiwata homage is the Rotel CD11 Tribute CD player. Yes, it is actually a pure CD player. Digital inputs that make the built-in D / A converter accessible to data sources other than the silver disk are not available. At least the CD11 can read MP3s from data CDs and there is an S / PDIF output (Cinch). The Rotel CD11 Tribute is also a traditional device and is aimed primarily at people who listen to and maintain their CD collection. The digital / analog conversion is carried out by a Texas Instruments DAC of type PCM5102A. This is a very modern chip that can process 32 bits and a sampling frequency of up to 384 kHz – which is of course not absolutely necessary for a pure CD player.
Both devices apparently comply with the latest energy guidelines. If you have nothing to do for a while – the amplifier does not receive a signal or the CD playback has stopped or there is no CD in the drawer – you switch to standby automatically and must, if you want to listen to music again, be awakened from it. If that is too annoying for you, you can switch it off using the remote control in the Settings menu or change the periods until auto standby.
Hearing test and comparisons
I currently have two speakers, namely the S901 from Sehring Audio (around 8,000 euros) and the FP12 from Horns (around 7,000 euros). For this test, I used both to track down the sound of the Rotel components. The loudspeakers are quite oversized, so they will probably never be combined in real life, I know – but it has the advantage that, as “acoustic magnifying glasses”, they can clearly reveal the peculiarities of the upstream electronics.
In addition, there are very different speaker concepts on which the Rotel amp has to prove itself: The Sehring are three-way speakers whose 20 cm woofers with aluminum membrane play in my closed mode. The Berliners achieve an efficiency of just over 80 decibels. The horns, on the other hand, are powerful two-way systems with a mid-high range horn and a 30 cm driver with a paper membrane that works on a large bass reflex cabinet . Their efficiency is well over 90 decibels. As a reminder: between 80 and 90 dB is only 10 decibels which the ear perceives as a doubling of the volume. As far as the physical sound power is concerned, 10 decibels even correspond to a tenfold increase. In order for the Sehring to play as loudly as the Horns, the amplifier has to provide ten times the power. With impedances of around 8 ohms, both loudspeaker models are comparatively uncritical loads for an amplifier.
Rotel A11 Tribute – sound impression
It starts with the Rotel A11 Tribute on the Sehring loudspeakers. My North Star Design Supremo DAC serves as the music source.
The whole thing sounds very decent: the amplifier is tonally balanced, although it does not illuminate the frequency response at the ends until the end of the day. In the depths, he exercises a discreet restraint. So I’ve heard the bass line of “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Stones more emphatically. And Lianne La Havas , whose “Unstoppable” on the album Blood , whose bass is a bit poorly produced) For me, a good benchmark is always whether the bass reproduction in my listening room sounds “stoppable”, i.e. still controlled, and makes no move to drone up the room. The Sehring doesn’t play that deep when closed, but with more powerful amps they certainly manage to go down one floor. I am already curious how the Rotel will behave on the Horns, because that would be an indication that in connection with the Sehring it is already being challenged in terms of performance. But first it goes on with the S901. And the longer I listen to the Rotel, the more I like the way it handles low notes. The album Leucocyte of ESTis anything but light fare. The complex mixture of acoustic and electronic tones requires tonal balance so that the whole thing works. Via the Rotel, the electric bass and drums are the perfect counterpart to the piano and the electronic sounds, it clicks into place, pulls you along – I experience the album as intensely and excitingly as I don’t experience with some of the more expensive components.
This is mainly due to the midrange reproduction, which is the chocolate side of the Rotel amplifier. The A11 offers a wealth of information and details. In keeping with the time of year, let’s take Amy Antin’s album Already Spring from the Kitchen Recording Series by Meyer Records. The album, recorded with economical means directly in the kitchen of the former Cologne branch of Meyer Records, thrives on the intimate recording situation. That is not always 100% perfect, but enormously authentic and atmospherically dense, precisely because every detail has been captured on the soundtrack. The Rotel A11 Tribute conveys this very credibly. Small uncertainties in the articulation, which would have been replaced in a “large” production with a perfect passage from another take, are audible, tiny background noises are part of it, but remain background noises and contribute to the mood rather than disturbing them.
When it comes to dynamics, too, the Rotel doesn’t miss a thing. A device with a similar concept is perhaps the Phonosophy tuned Pioneer A-30, which, however, costs a lot more at around 1,000 euros. The Pioneer focuses more on dynamic accentuation of the action and sounds a nuance more jagged, but resolves a little less finely. The situation is similar with the Exposure S2010, which I used as a “second amplifier” for a long time. It cost about twice as much as the Rotel A11 Tribute and also offered a highly dynamic sound, but I would still say that the Rotel is cleaner in the midrange. A big compliment for the Ishiwata tuning.
The Rotel A11 Tribute is a bit more subtle in the treble. Just enough that he never runs the risk of being annoying. On the one hand, this costs him a touch of airiness with a few shots and, on the other hand, earns him sympathy with many others because of the long-term suitability required. One of my most recent discoveries is Vinnie Colaiuta’s new EP Descent Into Madness . In addition to crisp drums, there is also a lot of “brass”. Colaiuta maltreats the bronze of his drums – and that comes across clearly and cleanly. My pre-end combination, which is many times more expensive, makes the whole thing shine even more intensely, doesn’t mince words and occasionally approaches my pain threshold in terms of treble. Naturally, the Rotel cannot dissolve so finely – but it is more tolerable. What I want to be understood as a compliment. In addition, the successful overall balance is convincing. Let’s take Leucocyte from EST again. The electronic effects, which are reminiscent of feedback, can and should go to the pain threshold here. They do that with the Rotel amp, but they do not exceed it.
The Rotel A11 Tribute succeeds in depicting the room perfectly, and the exact depiction and the staggering in width and depth are particularly convincing. As far as the overall size of the room is concerned, he shows a little composure. Others would say: He’s not exaggerating. Sympathy for the Devil usually sounds very broad to me, yes, almost excessive. The Rotel A11 Tribute is not quite that unrestrained, but still sets up a broad, but manageable stage and offers very good orientation.
After a little renovation in my listening room, the Rotel A11 Tribute on the Horns FP12 can show what it can do. And I’m surprised how clearly you can hear the amplifier despite the very different speakers. The bass also shows a bit of understatement on the horns, so this does not seem to be a sign of low power reserves, but rather belongs to the vote. In the mids, the Rotel on the Horns also puts the emphasis on clean resolution, although it is less granular, but sounds a bit more dynamic. I attribute these differences to the loudspeakers, not to the amplifier – and the reason for the now somewhat larger and closer illustration I would rather look for the horns. Whereby the thing is still more subtle than about my pre-end combination,
Rotel CD11 Tribute – sound impression
In combination with the Rotel CD11 Tribute, little changes in the sound impression. The basses don’t come to the fore, the mids continue to score with high resolution and the highs, like the lows, are more of a nuance of genteel restraint than intrusive. The duo plays like a piece. Why this is so becomes clear when the Rotel CD11 Tribute acts as a player on my large amplifier combination – on its own it offers the same sound signature as the amplifier.
The sound impression produced by the A11 Tribute is reinforced a little with the CD11 Tribute. The focus is clearly on the excellent center image, which has audiophile qualities and does not need to shy away from comparison with significantly more expensive components. The downside of the coin is that CD11 Tribute and A11 Tribute also agree on bass and treble and play a nuance more defensive together. Which sounds very pleasant overall – as long as you basically like a slightly center-centered sound. So both devices have the same handwriting, which I think is consistent and commendable. As the legendary loudspeaker developer Paul W. Klipsch said: the mids are where we live.
I really like the Rotel A11 Tribute amplifier and the CD11 Tribute CD player. The tonal balance with the somewhat more subtle bass and treble allows the extraordinarily well-resolved mids to come into their own.
Both components offer a wealth of details and a lively dynamic – and the musical events tend to be a bit more compact, but the clear and concise presentation of space also fits well into the overall picture. The result is a seriously audiophile CD player / amplifier combination that promises intense music enjoyment at an almost outrageously low price.
Rotel A11 Tribute and Rotel CD11 Tribute …
- are characterized by a balanced and coherent overall tonality, which is a bit more defensive at the frequency response ends.
- offer a bass that puts the emphasis on control and is slightly restrained in favor of midrange reproduction.
- convince with a great resolution and clarity in the middle area, in which they act very detailed. They are dynamic, precise and lively, without being excessive.
- keep just the right amount in the heights, on the one hand to sound balanced and on the other hand to ensure long-term listening capability.
- present a neatly staggered, somewhat more compactly depicted space that impresses with its high definition of the individual actors on the stage.
- can satisfy audiophile demands and offer cultivated listening pleasure.
Rotel A11 Tribute
- Concept: Integrated amplifier with Bluetooth receiver
- Price: 599 euros
- Dimensions & weight: 430ｘ345ｘ93 mm (WxDxH), 6.9 kg
- Colors: silver, black
- Inputs: digital: Bluetooth with aptX | analog: 3 x line level, 1 x Phono-MM (Cinch)
- Outputs: 2 pairs of speakers, 1 x preamp-out
- Output power: 2 x 50 watts at 8 ohms
- Other: system remote control, auto-off, tone control via remote control
- Guarantee: 5 years
Rotel CD11 Tribute
- Concept: CD player
- Price: 449 euros
- Dimensions & weight: 430 x 315 x 98 mm (WxDxH), 5.8kg
- Colors: silver, black
- Outputs: digital: 1 x coaxial S / PDIF | analog: 1 x high level (cinch)
- Compatibility: CD, data CD with MP3
- Other: system remote control, auto-off
- Guarantee: 2 years