Audio manufacturer Rotel has about sixty years of experience in building amplifiers and sources. An amplifier is usually the heart and central control center of an audio set, regardless of price. Rotel pays a lot of attention to the power supply of its amplifiers, regardless of the price. In our test room is the A11 Tribute, an affordable integrated class AB amplifier with analog inputs and Bluetooth connectivity. The A11 Tribute will be joined by Rotel's CD player CD11 Tribute. Both devices have been modified according to the insights of the legendary Ken Ishiwata. How many features and music fun do these affordable components of Rotel give?
Rotel A11 and CD11: Rotel's loafers
The Japanese audio company Rotel has been around for about sixty years. Amplifiers have always been at the heart of the company's portfolio. These were initially stereo amplifiers, but later multichannel amplifiers were added. About a year ago, Rotel released a set of flagship amplifiers called P5 and M8 under the Michi sub-brand (also read our review of the Rotel Michi P5 and M8). The P5 and M8 perform very well, but they are big, heavy and not very cheap (Nb: the M8 is a mono power amplifier, so two of them are needed).
The Michi product line is therefore located at the top of Rotel's portfolio. Until recently, the integrated amplifier A10 was at the bottom of the portfolio. One step higher we found the A11, but it too has been phased out and now followed by the A11 Tribute, our test copy and now the rotel entry level. It's nice to know, of course, that large and heavy flagships perform well, but not everyone has the space and budget left for flagships. The A11 (Tribute) is liftable and affordable and also promises the necessary music pleasure.
Every manufacturer has its spearheads when it comes to the construction of hi-fi devices. One of Rotel's spearheads is the linear power supply throughout the portfolio of amplifiers. Rotel makes its own ring core transformers and performs strict checks on the parts of the ring core transformers. For example, the copper wire made by suppliers and the iron core must meet Rotel's high standards. Also the basis of the power supply of the A11 (Tribute) is a rotel self-made ring core transformer (even ex-entry-level A10 was equipped with a ring core transformer). Ring core transformers are relatively expensive components and switching power supplies are much cheaper to build, but Rotel swears by linear power supplies with a ring core transformer as its heart.
Rotel also builds CD players. The CD11 was the cheapest model of the Japanese company and has now been followed by the CD11 Tribute. Despite the rise of streaming and network players, CD players still have a right to exist. After all, pressed CDs are practically indestructible and there are hundreds of millions of CDs in the world. Both the A11 and the CD11 are cost-efficient but deliver uncompromising quality, according to Rotel. The same goes for the Tribute versions and more on that now.
Rotel A11 Tribute and CD11 Tribute: modified by Ken Ishiwata
The original A11 and CD11 were announced at the ISE in February 2019. Rotel launched a Tribute version of both devices about a year and a half later. The A11 Tribute and CD11 Tribute have been modified by none other than Ken Ishiwata, the famous top engineer who switched the temporary with the eternal at the end of 2019.
Ishiwata-san was widely admired in the hi-fi industry for its unique ability to identify perfect products for modification and take their performance to a new level, often with only modest price increases. That was exactly the goal of Ishiwata, who together with the Technical Team of Rotel offered an initial assessment for the new specification of the A11 and CD11. From there, preliminary prototypes were produced before the final specifications were approved by Rotel. Unfortunately, Ishiwata died in November 2019 after the modifications of the first prototypes were approved. It was then the job of Karl-Heinz Fink to implement the original vision.
Thus the A11 Tribute and the CD11 Tribute of Rotel were born.
Rotel A11 Tribute: integrated amplifier with analog inputs and Bluetooth
The Rotel A11 Tribute has a sleek and more or less classic shape. The dimensions are 430 x 93 x 345 millimeters (B x H x D). The volume button is on the far right and the power button is mounted on the far left of the front panel. Source choice buttons are placed under the central display. Rotel has not applied any decorations. The appearance of the A11 Tribute exudes a certain calm.
The A11 Tribute comes with a fully functional IR remote control of the type RR-AX1401, which is made of plastic. The remote control is comfortable in the hand. The volume control can be found on the touch.
The user can control more than the front plate suggests at first glance. The A11 (Tribute) is equipped with a tone and balance sheet arrangement. The switch-on volume can also be recorded and it is even possible to record the volume per input separately. The user can automatically turn off the A11 with the "Off Timer" feature after a certain time of inactivity to be chosen. The A11 can also be put in "Signal Sense" mode to automatically switch on/off depending on whether the music signal is delivered to one of the inputs. This also offers the possibility to put the A11 in a cabinet and have it switched on/off with, for example, a television. All these functions can be arranged by diving into the menu with the buttons to the right of the display. The lighting of the display and the brightness of the indication leds can also be controlled. If desired, a repeater for the IR remote control can be connected, so that the A11 can be put behind a cabinet door. Although the A11 doesn't get really hot in normal use, it should be considered for a while to have sufficient ventilation space.
The user has access to four analogue cinch line inputs with a sensitivity of 180 mVolt and an impedance of 47 kOhm. Then there is a turntable input for mm elements with a sensitivity of 2.3 mVolt, which also has an impedance of 47 kOhm. The A11 (Tribute) does not have digital inputs but does have Bluetooth connectivity (with support from aptX and AAC). The digital signal is handled by a Texas Instruments 24-bit/192 kHz DAC. The A11 is also equipped with a preamp output so that a power amplifier or subwoofer could possibly be connected.
The user can connect two pairs of speakers and turn each pair on or off separately with the buttons on the front. The speaker outputs are relay-controlled and can also be switched on/off with the IR remote control. A 3.5 millimetre jack plug headphone jack is placed on the front. When headphones are connected, it does not automatically turn off the power to the speakers. The user must do this himself with the buttons on the front or on the included IR remote.
Rotel A11 Tribute: differences with the non-Tribute version
The Tribute version can and does exactly the same as his little brother, who has since been retired. There is no other user manual for the Tribute version. Rotel's A11 Tribute is no different from the "regular" A11 with its appearance and features, except that the Tribute version has a badge taped to the right of the display. The badge says "Tribute" and next to it is a Japanese character who stands for as much as "respect". On the outside there is therefore hardly any difference between the devices. The differences are on the inside.
In the amp stage of the A11 Tribute, all ten capacitors, as well as two resistors in the signal path, have been modified. In addition, half a dozen capacitors have been replaced in the preamp. These changes cover more than fifty percent of the components in the signal path. Furthermore, all six capacitors in the volume phase were also replaced by better ones. Finally, custom damping materials were added to the A11 Tribute's housing to further isolate and dampen any vibrations in the device.
Rotel A11 Tribute: technical specifications
The A11 (Tribute) works in class AB. Rotel gives maximum power of 50 Watts per channel to eight Ohm over a bandwidth of 20 Hz to 20 kHz. The distortion remains below 0.03 percent.
The frequency range of the A11 (Tribute) is 20 Hz to 20 kHz (± 0.5 dB) on the phono input. The line inputs have a frequency range of 10 Hz to 100 kHz (± 0.5 dB) The S/R ratio is 85 dB on the phono input and 100 dB on the line inputs, according to the manufacturer's statement. The damping factor has a decent value of 140. These are all neat figures for a device in this price range.
The A11 (Tribute) and the included IR remote control make a subdued and solid impression. We're going to check out the CD11 Tribute.
Rotel CD11 Tribute: CD player with analog and digital output
The CD11 is a CD player that fits perfectly with the A11 with its appearance and performance. Like the front plate of the A11, the cd11's front plate is a paragon of calm, simplicity and modesty. The basic front controls are of course sufficient for basic operation, but the included plastic IR remote control (type RR-D99) offers even more features, such as assembling and playing a selection of songs from the placed CD.
Rotel's CD11 (Tribute) also features the balanced design topology of the company's digital and analog circuits. Rotel's Balanced Design Concept should not be confused with a balanced design expressed by the placement of XLR connections. Rotel's Balanced Design Concept is Rotel's designation of a choice of better components at locations in the circuits that can have a positive impact on sound quality. The A11 and CD11 (Tribute) have no XLR connections.
The CD tray and the running work of the CD11 are placed in the middle of the front plate. Above that is the display placed, on the right the basic control buttons. The CD11 is equipped with an analog cinch output. In addition, a Rotel has installed a digital cinch output so that an external DA converter can be used if necessary. The inbound and outgoing movement of the CD tray makes little noise and the running is not audible on the listening position. The DAC chip is from Texas Instruments.
Rotel specifies a frequency range of 20 Hz to 20 kHz, a common value for CD players. The distortion is 0.005 percent (at 1 kHz). The specified channel separation is greater than 115 dB (at 10 kHz) and the A-weighted S/R ratio is greater than 125 dB. The bottom line is that distortion and noise are at a negligible level.
Rotel CD11 Tribute: difference from the non-Tribute version
The appearance, functionality and manual of rotel's CD11 Tribute does not differ from the regular version of the CD11 (which has now been phased out), apart from the Tribute picture to the right of the central display. The changes are located under the hood.
The Tribute version of the CD11 includes eight capacitor changes compared to Rotel's original CD11 and one resistance change in the DAC stage which also includes a Texas Instruments 24-bit/192 kHz DA convertor. All nine capacitors of the power supply have been swapped by improved ones. Also, the damping of internal vibrations was addressed with modified damping material that was added to the top of the housing. At the same time, further changes were made to the mechanical and electrical grounding of the CD player.
The sleepover of the Rotel A11 Tribute and the CD11 Tribute was pleasant. Rotel has made two solid and good-sounding appliances at an acceptable price. The sound is neutral and rich in detail. The display of all tonal areas is above expectations, with the good display of low tones noticeable. Both devices seem to be made for a long life.
Solid construction, understated design
Logical and pleasant operation
Neutral, detailed and room-wide sound
Good layer view
Amplifier can be placed out of sight