The Rotel Michi X5 integrated amplifier had a little trouble in getting to my front door in a timely manner—evidently FedEx and UPS and USPS have all become highly vulnerable to a variety of mishaps in this swiftly evolving (or devolving) world. I had to get involved with the shipment on a minor level, something about a wrong address, and I wound up seeing a copy of the bill of lading. Something stood out, a single number that seemed highly suspect: 140.
This shipment weighs 140 pounds? Something seems wrong here. I’m just getting a Rotel integrated amplifier, not another massive amplifier like the McIntosh MC2152 I reviewed a couple of years ago. That one weighed 134 pounds, and it took me most of a day to unpack and slide into position. The Rotel Michi X5 integrated amplifier couldn’t be heavier than that, could it?
Then I wondered if Rotel had swapped shipping labels somewhere–you do you, UPS–since Graig Neville would be receiving the Michi separates at the same time. That’s it, I thought. They’re sending him the integrated amplifier and me the big iron, so to speak. They probably weigh 140 lbs together, right? And if it’s palletized, that’s 20 or 30 extra pounds, right?
But no. The Rotel Michi X5 integrated amplifier weighs close to 100 pounds on its own. It’s a solid and formidable beast, larger than you think it will be once you get it unpacked. When I tried to slide the X5 into place in front of the Fern & Roby equipment stand, on the floor—no way I’m getting the Rotel on a shelf by myself—I realized the feet on this heavy metal box are rubber and each time I tried to push it along the floor I only succeeded in pushing me, a rug and a coffee table away from the Michi.
And why is it so heavy? Because it’s 600 watts per channel, that’s why. It’s also an integrated instead of just a power amp like that big Mac, so it’s got the preamp parts all floating around in that monstrous chassis. Plus it has two “monstrous, over-sized” toroidal transformers inside. It has a built-in MM/MC phono stage as well as a DAC, Bluetooth capabilities, and even a headphone amp. That 96.56 lb weight is starting to sound a little more reasonable, but this thing is still huge. It’s a huge Rotel integrated amplifier, and it looks the business.
A Quick Sidebar on POWER.
Okay, it’s only 350wpc into 8 ohms, but it is 600wpc into 4 ohms, and the Sonus faber Maxima Amators are 4-ohm speakers. Those are the loudspeakers that were in the system when the Rotel Michi X5 first arrived, and since Rotel and Sonus faber are both distributed by The McIntosh Group‘s Sumiko business in the US, I thought it would be nice for the stablemates to spend some quality time with each other before the Maximas were reluctantly sent away.
Still, that 600wpc is just a bit scary for someone like me, a person who has spent way too many years with flea-powered SETs and modest little Brit-fi integrated amps. The Bryston power amplifiers I just reviewed had 350wpc, and the Jeff Rowland Design Group Continuum S2 integrated had 400wpc, and I didn’t level my neighborhood with a solid and razor-edged tsunami of steel, blood and electric guitars. 600, however, seems quite serious. I’m not sure about this current road on which I am traveling, but at least I can tell my “power is your friend” audiophile buddies that my amp is now bigger than theirs.
Inside the Rotel Michi X5
The first question I had about the Rotel Michi X5 was, what is this Michi? The website talks about this family-owned business and its 55 years in the industry, and how Michi is a summary of the knowledge they gained along the way. There’s an underlying motivation, I think, that suggests their long-term goals and visions.
You can read my review of the Rotel A14 integrated, where I describe my long and complex relationship with this brand. I don’t believe in so-called “giant killers,” but if anyone came close to making them it was Rotel. Those CD players in the early ‘90s, and the integrated amplifiers that were inexpensive but reliable—all were blessed with decent sound. My last cassette deck was a Rotel, and I liked it more than the Nakamichi it replaced.
I think the Michi line is Rotel’s way of saying they can make both giant killers and giants.
The entire Michi line-up consists of the X5 and its smaller brother, the $4999 X3, plus the P5 preamplifier and S5 power amplifier (currently being reviewed by Graig Neville), and the big M8 monoblocks that supply 1080wpc into 8 ohms and 1800wpc into 4—all for a relatively reasonable $14K per pair.
The X3 is very similar to the X5 outside of less power (350 into 4 ohms, 200 into 8) and one less oversized toroidal transformer. (The X5 has a pair, as I mentioned, which explains some of the heft.) But with the X5, Rotel tried to keep the design as close to the P5/S5 combination as possible. I’ll be curious to see how Graig’s comments compare to mine.
Outside of trying to slide this amp around my listening room floor six inches at a time, it’s easy to get the Rotel Michi X5 integrated amplifier up and playing music. The rear panel is slightly unorthodox in its layout—it’s not quirky as much as it just looks different from most, especially in the way the jacks are laid out in neat horizontal lines.
Between RCA, XLR, the multiple digital connections to use the 768kHZ/DSD256-capable AKM DAC, the MM/MC phono board…well, there’s 14 inputs on the Rotel Michi X5. (I’ve never used more than three until I started messing around with these danged DACs and streamers.)
I had a couple of glitches along the way. First, there are four pairs of speaker binding posts and they’re not clearly labeled. I know what some of you are thinking—bi-wiring, duh. I know what others of you are thinking—4 and 8 ohm taps, hurr. That’s the point—I’ve used amps with both. Don’t make me look at the owners’ manual! (It’s the former.)
Second, one of the binding posts was tightened a little too tight by a Rotel employee and/or robot who had perhaps one too many Red Bulls and/or WD-40 shooters that day. Unfortunately, it was a binding post that I needed for a connection. I went to a couple of hardware stores and was surprised there was no dedicated wrench for this with soft rubber thingies on the end to prevent scratching the post, pun not intended. Perseverance finally paid off, thanks to my time at the gym that week. These were two obviously minor issues. Other than that, the Rotel Michi X5 was intuitive and easy to use.
The system that I used to evaluate the Rotel Michi X5 was very similar to the one I used to review the AVM Ovation 6.2 ME integrated, which sets me up for a quick discussion of comparisons and why I don’t like to do them. For the last few weeks I’ve had the AVM and the Michi side by side, taking turns in the system. I even took plenty of photos of the twosome, as if they were about to square off in Thunderdome.
So I have two big black integrated amplifiers in house, each one with plenty of power and MSRPs within $1500. You get more features and power with the more affordable Rotel Michi with the built-in DAC and MM/MC phono stage and the headphone jack. The AVM had a killer pure Class A headphone amp, though, and a sound quality that was more focused and detailed in some ways. That’s all I’m going to say for now.
The Rotel Michi X5 Sound
When I first plugged the Rotel Michi X5 into my system, I had to tell myself to not think about the 600 watts per channel. It’s not that important. Whenever I listen to the big iron, I instantly detect a sound that’s big and authoritative and reaches really deep into the bass, and for once I’d like to mention that a big amp still needs to sound delicate when it needs to.
Remember those speakers from Dunlavy Audio a couple of decades ago? I was a fan, but I remember hearing a pair of the coffin-sized SC-VIs at a dealer once and he had an interesting approach to his demo—he played a lot of small-scale recordings, even solo albums of just a piano or an acoustic guitar. His point was to show that a giant pair of loudspeakers shouldn’t make everything sound giant. A single voice, a single note, all of it sounded right in scale, right there. Nothing sounded larger than it did in real life, no exaggerated heights due to these speakers nearly scraping the showroom ceiling, no ten-foot-tall singers. I still remember that demo clearly.
In fact, I was reminded those massive speakers from the moment the Rotel Michi X5 was plugged in. I could feel huge, empty spaces, room boundaries of the original recording venue, but individual instruments and other voices were delivered with, dare I say it, intimacy. I stopped worrying about all that power as soon as I started to seriously audition the Michi—all those wonderful recordings I’ve been receiving from pianist Satoko Fujii were so delicate, so full of simple yet remarkable details about the size and position of her piano.
Big, authoritative and deep turned out to my second impression, however. I played Lyle Workman’s Uncommon Measures, and that’s a big and cinematic work, a concerto for orchestra and electric guitar that has its share of exciting crescendos and deep rhythms. The Rotel Michi X5 did not club me over the head with all that anthemic, large-scale energy. Instead, the full orchestra was relayed in a relaxed and laid-back manner that gave me the space to adopt my perspective however I chose. It was incredibly easy to focus on meaningful touches in the music without being distracted by big mega bass and SPLs that’ll send you to the doctor with complaints that you don’t feel so well when you rock out to your favorite music.
Here’s where I started to notice the benefits of the power. First of all, I felt that Rotel Michi X5 sounded big, but that detail was preserved inside a larger structure than most other integrated amplifiers I’ve tested. As a result, the Rotel could be genuinely engaging and fun at lower listening levels. That projection of size and space was always there, acting as a gentle cue that if you changed your mind you could simply turn up the volume and dance to the music. But those low-level listening sessions late at night were unusually rewarding with the Rotel Michi X5.
Rotel Michi X5 Conclusion
Power is your friend. The Rotel Michi X5 integrated amplifier made that obvious.
I’ve been talking to another manufacturer about reviewing one of his power amplifiers in the near future. I did a little research, and it’s slightly more powerful at TWO THOUSAND WATTS PER CHANNEL. Hey, I agree with you that no one needs that much power in an average, ordinary listening room like mine. That’s nutty.
But those types of amplifiers no longer concern me after the Rotel Michi X5 integrated amplifier. After it settled in, I no longer thought about all that power. It could have had 200 watts per channel. It could’ve had fifty. I’m not sure how it would have changed my opinion of the overall sound, the rendering of those tremendous silences and the voids between the notes utterly relevant. I’m also confident that all that power also gave the Michi the ability to conjure up some of the deepest low frequencies I’ve heard in a while, even with loudspeakers that aren’t supposed to go that deep.
This does beg the question of why you would need such a huge machine plugged in somewhere in your humble abode. I’ve also gotten by with just a little power all these years, so I may not be the targeted consumer here. But I’ll tell you a little secret. You know those McIntosh integrated amplifiers, the really huge ones? I’ve always considered them a viable option because they have EVERYTHING YOU COULD POSSIBLY WANT, all in one big box. Because of that, it’s an intriguing proposition.
That’s also the appeal of the Rotel Michi X5. It sounds great, and it has almost every feature you could possibly want outside of a BSR record changer bolted to the top plate. And if you need more, just wait for Graig Neville and his review of those Michi separates, which are even bigger and more powerful if you can believe it.
Best of all, the $6995 price seems incredibly low for what you’re getting. Based on the weight alone, it should cost considerably more due to those insane international shipping rates. That’s the Rotel of yore stepping in, giving you that trademark value and surprisingly big league sound. I’m glad Rotel’s back, with a vengeance.