Fortunately, streaming your favourite music is not just reserved for Bluetooth. Which is convenient enough when you’re on the move, but at home you want better sound than you get from wireless earbuds.
Wireless streaming over the Wi-Fi network provides by far the best sound quality, and now more products are emerging with inbuilt streaming over Wi-Fi.
All you need is a mobile phone and a streaming subscription, then simply connect to the system via the network. As simple and convenient as Bluetooth, with full control of the music from your mobile phone. More and more integrated amplifiers – and receivers – have streaming built in. Either via Ethernet as on the Hegel H190, or completely wireless with small Wi-Fi antennas on the back.
The new Rotel S14 has both Ethernet and Wi-Fi antennas. It also has Bluetooth, but since this test is about sound quality, we’ll just concentrate on Wi-Fi here.
The integrated S14 is a full-fledged power amplifier. With everything built in, the only thing you need in addition is a pair of good speakers.
With streaming from Spotify Connect, Tidal and Qobuz, the Rotel amplifier also supports streaming with AirPlay 2 and Google Chromecast. It is also Roon Ready and has a 32-bit digital converter from ESS, which supports up to 24-bit/384 kHz audio files including MQA files.
The analogue section is built up as a pure class AB amplifier, and Rotel says the S14 delivers 80 W of power into 8 Ohm, or as much as 150 W into 4 Ohm. That’s more than enough to drive small low-sensitivity bookshelf speakers or larger floorstanding speakers.
In terms of price, it is in the same class as the Marantz Model 40n and Roksan Attessa Streaming Amplifier. Both of which are integrated streaming amplifiers.
The Rotel amplifier has a few fewer inputs. Those who can get by with an analogue input and a couple of digital inputs will not miss more inputs. After all, it has a 24-bit USB input for PCs and a USB input for high-resolution music on memory sticks.
But it lacks a turntable input, nor does it have an HDMI connector for TV audio, which the Marantz Model 40n is equipped with. Incidentally, the Model 40n also has a turntable input for MM pickups.
The Rotel amplifier has an output for a separate amplifier, and it can output sound to a subwoofer via an RCA output on the back.
Colour screen and app control
There is, of course, an app for the Rotel amplifier. Which also comes with a proper aluminium remote control. Which only reinforces the impression of a well-thought-out and solid construction, where Rotel’s in-house manufactured transformer accounts for most of the total weight of the amplifier.
Ease of use is impeccable. The black or silver-grey front is a model of clarity. Sound sources are selected on the left, where there is also a 3.5 mm headphone output. Menu settings and volume are located on the right, and in the centre is a colour screen showing the selected album, artist and the song being played.
The first time you set it up, you download the Google Home app and the Rotel app. Then the setup is super smooth and you have connected the amplifier to the network in minutes.
The app gives you access to the streaming services you’ve subscribed to, including online radio, and you can also select your audio source in the app. You can also adjust the bass and treble if you want to compensate for the tonal balance of the sound.
The slim Rotel amplifier sounds anything but slim. The soundstage is big and rich, with an infectiously warm tonal balance that gives the music a solid timbre, where the foundation of the instruments comes out better in the cityscape than from a Roksan Attessa, for example.
There is not as much focus on details and tonal nuances as in a Marantz Model 40n, because the sound of the Rotel amplifier focuses more on rhythm, dynamics and control. Three disciplines where it is at its best.
On a pair of Dynaudio Special Forty, Mathias Eick’s album Midwest is reproduced with a punch reminiscent of the even more powerful Hegel H190, and the sound of the trumpet is pleasantly warm, yet sharp when needed. The Rotel amplifier has excellent bass control.
The bass rhythm on Miley Cyrus Flowers is gut-wrenching, and the amplifier has steel control of the low end even when I’m playing loud. There’s more sparkle here than from the Roksan amp, and it handles the bass drive on PNAU and Khalid’s The Hard Way with ease. It doesn’t seem to be significantly affected when asked to play loud.
The warm tonal balance suits the Keith Jarrett trio like sunglasses on a hot summer’s day. The piano sound on the live recordings on Somewhere may lack some of the sharp focus you can get with a Yamaha R-N2000A, but the piano’s bottom end comes through magnificently in the soundstage. You feel welcome at a concert, and the live feeling only gets stronger when you turn up the volume even more.
Compared to Roksan and Marantz, the Rotel amplifier may not be a better buy for those who need multiple inputs to their sound sources. Those looking for a streaming amplifier with a turntable input may find themselves skipping the S14. It also doesn’t have HDMI, which both Marantz and the more expensive Cambridge EVO 150 have, but on the other hand, the ease of use and not least the sound quality are at the very top of the range for power amplifiers in this class.
Anyone who focuses on sound quality and streaming over their home network should definitely add the Rotel S14 to their shopping list. It’s neither the best equipped nor the most powerful in its class, and its few inputs might make some people turn their backs on the competition. However, there’s nothing wrong with the sound quality. The dynamic and warm sound will make dull speakers come to life and the listener smile with delight. As far as integrated power amplifiers go, the Rotel S14 is, to our ears, one of the best-sounding in its price range and, in our experience with the legendary Rotel quality, an amplifier that can be enjoyed for many years.