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Amplifier Rotel RA-960BX review

The RA-960BX is essentially a re-laid and re-packaged version of the old RA-840BX4. Sounds simple enough, only there’s rather more to this box of tricks than a simple juggling of components.

Sure enough the alloy fascia is a clear enough departure from the 840BX4, while the centralised volume control, limited-action tone controls and separate rec-out/in-put selectors are all part-and-parcel of 900-series practice. The phono input still accommodates both MM and MC cartridges, but in common with the RA-940BX, Rotel’s traditional shunt-feedback RIAA circuit has been replaced by one culled from its Michi preamplifier. The huge toroidal mains transformer and slit-foil electrolytics are a further departure from the 840BX4. And what has happened to those ‘tweaky’ Apycap coupling capacitors we heard so much about two years ago? The line stage is now based on op-amps from Analogue Devices rather than Signetics — a change from both the 840BX4 and 940BX. In fact the only real link between the RA-960BX and its predecessors would appear to be the Sanyo B817/D1047 power transistors used in its output stage!

Sound quality

This is a well-behaved little number, an amplifier that lacks the exuberance of, say, the HK6250 or Denon PMA-450 but which trades this for a little extra body, weight and finesse. Some of our most up-beat discs, and the Marty Paich jazz CD in particular, sounded slightly restrained on this occasion, with measured rather than liberal dynamics.

This feeling of restraint, this lack of colour and character prompted two distinct trains of thought. One group of listeners clearly valued a neutrality which, they suggested, did not stand in the way of the music’s emotive impact. Others thought differently, claiming the amp lacked a degree of commitment, sounding slightly bleached or bland. They even uttered that damning phrase ‘competent’.

Frankly the RA-960BX is not a particularly forceful amplifier. The music ticks-over with a certain security, giving the feeling of latent rather than overt power. ‘In control but wearing slightly over-heavy running shoes’, they concluded.

Conclusion

Not the last word in edge-of-the-seat entertainment, the Rotel RA-960BX is a very polished and likeable sound nonetheless: a safe and capable amplifier, functionally styled and endowed with sufficient power to manhandle the most awkward of speakers. Its music, however, has strayed from the signature of old and now borders on pipe-and-slippers territory. Nevertheless two out of three panellists said their ears preferred it.

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