Rotel A12MKII Stereo Integrated Amplifier & CD14MKII CD Player Review

Company & Product Overview

Rotel has been in the performance audio business for over 60 years. For the most part, they have specialized in two-channel products that offer very good value for the money. They have won hundreds of awards and earned a very loyal following. The original A12 and CD14 were introduced a few years back and were highly regarded for their value and feature sets. The new MKII versions — the A12MKII and CD14MKII, along with an upgraded RCD1572MKII CD player, were launched to celebrate their 60th year in the HiFi business. 

  1. Rotel CD14MKII CD Player, Silver, front view Rotel CD14MKII CD Player
    $899.99

  1. Rotel A12 MKII Integrated Amplifier, Silver, front view Rotel A12MKII Stereo Integrated Amplifier
    $1,099.99

Being a big Rotel dealer allowed us to get our hands on the first production run of these before they were announced to the public to put them through their paces. We decided to test and talk about them as a matched stack although many people will certainly be interested in just the amp or CD player.

Rotel A12MKII and CD14MKII stacked

Design & Build Quality

As with all Rotel products, these are designed to be all about sound with nothing really special about their appearance. We have to say, these were packed extremely well and should survive anything a shipper could throw at them. 

Both of these units are pretty much identical in size and are fairly compact in size with a depth of only 12” for the main chassis, 17” wide, and just over 3 ½” tall. If you are going to stack them, which looks good, you should be sure and put the CD player on the bottom to give the amp ample room to breathe. Each has an LCD display in the center which is very functional and easy to read but with no special glitz to add a cool factor. Of course, doing that would just not be in Rotel’s DNA! You can dim the display through the menu.

Rotel A12MKII
Rotel CD14MKII

The fit and finish on these is excellent. All of the front panel buttons have a solid feel. The CD drawer also seems well put together. The rear panels of both units use the typical circuit mount input and output connectors you see on gear like this. You’ll get very nice solid binding posts on the A12MKII amp and even a pair of them for A & B speakers. We would have like to have seen some nice chassis mount RCA connectors for the phono and or CD input on the amp, but for its price, this is what you normally see.

Features and Technology

Rotel has been very busy recently with new models. They introduced the Tribute series along with a very high-end Michi series of separate components. In developing both of these new lines, the Rotel engineers spent many hours evaluating components to find the very best sounding ones available. Much of what they learned was applied to the new MKII CD14 and A12. 

But before we get into the sonic improvements, we would be remiss if we did not go over all of the great features the A12MKII integrated amp includes.

Rotel A12MKII Stereo Integrated Amplifier

For the 21st-century music lover, you will find just about everything you could think of input-wise on the A12MKII. You get a moving magnet phono input, 3 more analog inputs, 2 coax digital inputs, 2 Toslink digital inputs, a rear USB computer audio input, and a front USB “made for Apple” USB input. There is also a Bluetooth receiver included and preamp-outs should you want to add more power later.

Rotel A12MKII

You may say, ok, that’s a lot but what’s so special about those? Well, it’s all about how you can take the next step and customize them to fit your system needs! Many may want to use the A12MKII in a situation where they want to be able to control the volume of the source from the source, rather than at the Rotel. Examples of this may be someone using the Toslink out of a TV to augment their TV sound where it would be a better user experience to use the TV remote control. Or, you may use a computer for streaming and prefer to use the volume control on the streaming app. Another big one is Bluetooth, where it would be much handier to control volume from the smartphone you are choosing your music from. Well, guess what? For every input except phono and CD, you have three settings for the input. Variable, which is how inputs normally work, fixed, which means you would use the volume control on the source unit, or even neater is the fact you can set a different fixed level to match components if you are using multiple components with their volume control! In addition, for home theater enthusiasts who may be using the Rotel with a home theater receiver, there is a home theater bypass mode.

Rotel A12MKII

For the rear USB computer audio input, Rotel gives you the ability to set it up for USB 1.0 or USB 2.0. For files that are 24bit 96K or less, you can get by with the 1.0 and do not have to do anything else. However, since this input can handle up to 384K, you will download the included software on a USB stick they send with the unit and set it up for USB 2.0. The RA12MKII is also compatible with Roon, and as of this writing, includes a free short-term Roon subscription. If you use Roon, you can simply hook a laptop up to the USB DAC in the Rotel and control it with the Roon app on your phone or tablet.

Rotel A12MKII back

We like that they saved paper (the manual is 83 pages) and put it on the USB drive they send anyway for the software. 

Couple all this with balance and tone controls with bypass, the green ability to set it to shut down after any different number of time frames, and a max turn on volume setting, and you have one heck of a well-thought-out feature set on the A12MKII.

Rotel CD14MKII CD Player

The CD14MKII, being a CD player, is pretty basic and simple in its functionality with easy-to-read front panel controls and a Coax digital out for someone who may have a better DAC and want to use it as a CD transport.

A12MKII Stereo Integrated Amplifier & CD14MKII CD Player Updates

Diving into the tech improvements on the sound we have to say the original units already sounded pretty good, so we were interested to learn what Rotel came up with to improve them.

First, they both got an improved TI 32 Bit DAC capable of handling 384K. The A12 already had a very beefy toroidal transformer which looks to be the same in the new model, but Rotel did improve other aspects of the power supply and coupling capacitors. They also took some things they learned in Michi to redesign the circuit board layout for an even lower noise floor and a bit less distortion. These exact same updates and learnings were also applied to the CD14MKII along with an updated transport and new controller.

Rotel A12MKII internal

A12MKII Internals

Rotel CD

CD14MKII Internals

And, in something Rotel has been doing for decades, the engineers spent hundreds of hours evaluating the sound of key components to find the best ones for each application. 

Power on the Rotel amp is very conservatively rated at 60 watts per channel and as a perfect amp, it doubles into a 4-ohm load to 120 watts per channel.

Performance

We completed our testing of the Rotel stack with a pair of JBL 4367 speakers. These are very easy to drive but do require an amp that has great bass control to keep the woofers from getting a bit sloppy. We connected the CD player to the amp with both a Transparent analog cable and digital cable in the same series to compare how things sounded using the CD player’s analog outs to the DAC inside the A12MKII. We also connected up a laptop and used Roon to test out the USB DAC. For our speaker wire, we used the Transparent Audio Plus series.

We played a variety of CDs to get a feel for its sound. It did a fantastic job of controlling the bass on the JBL’s and produced a very dynamic sound with pinpoint imaging. The A12MKII certainly sounds much beefier than the A11 Tribute amp and has incredible bass punch and accuracy. 

Rotel A12MKII stacked on top of CD14MKII on table

When we compared using the internal DAC in the amp to the CD player, we felt there was a more effortless sound using the CD player. We could also hear more subtle changes in harmonics and volume with the CD player compared to the internal DAC. The same thing happened using Roon, but to an even bigger degree when we compared the disc to the same song using Roon.

We concluded, and don’t get us wrong here with this statement as it sounds far better than any home theater receiver anywhere near this price, but it did not pull us into the music quite like some of the other British amps we have heard.

The Rotel CD14MKII is exceptional and we wound up connecting it to our reference gear and it got even better. The CD14MKII is one heck of a great CD player for its cost and has a very solid transport to boot.

Overall Recommendation

Rotel should have another pair of very popular units with the A12MKII and CD14MKII. They are built well and in the case of the amp, just full of great features. If you need a reasonably priced integrated amp to handle a turntable, some analog inputs, digital inputs, and computer audio, with Bluetooth thrown in as well, we can not think of anything with all of its connectivity that would sound as good for the same price. Plus it has all those cool setup features we talked about earlier. 

However, if you are looking for just a pure analog integrated amp with no modern features, you can probably do better for the same cost or slightly less. And that is what you would hope since nothing would be spent on a cool set of digital inputs with great features. For the CD14MKII, you will be hard-pressed to find anything better sounding close to its price, it’s a win all the way!

  1. Rotel CD14MKII CD Player, Silver, front view Rotel CD14MKII CD Player
    $899.99

  1. Rotel A12 MKII Integrated Amplifier, Silver, front view Rotel A12MKII Stereo Integrated Amplifier
    $1,099.99

  1. Rotel RCD-1572 MKII CD Player, Silver, front view Rotel RCD-1572 MKII CD Player
    $1,099.99

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