Back in 2008, I reviewed Rotel’s RCD-1072 CD player for GoodSound!, the predecessor to SoundStage! Access. At that time, I wrote: “Twenty-five years after the CD’s introduction and its promoters’ promise of ‘perfect sound forever,’ the little silver disc appears to be spinning out of our lives. CD sales are in a tailspin, superseded by downloads from websites such as iTunes and Rhapsody. Some people are as appalled by this situation as vinyl stalwarts were in 1983. I’m one of them.”
Today, CD sales have actually ticked up a bit. A revival? Perhaps. But some companies are more prepared than others.
In 2008, I noted that many manufacturers were moving away from single-disc players and only producing multidisc units. But, as I stated in my review of the RCD-1072, Rotel was not one of them. Fast forward to 2022. Multidisc players are rare but Rotel still makes single-disc CD players (four different models in fact), which I think is a smart move. There must be billions of CDs out there, and there’s a good chance that the machines they’re played on were bought during the CD’s heyday and are ready to be retired. If that’s the case, the Rotel CD14MKII ($899.99, all prices in USD) stands at the ready.
Rotel’s gear has always had a clean and modern look, and the CD14MKII is no exception. My silver review sample featured a stylish, brushed-aluminum faceplate, beveled at the top and bottom; the player is also available in black. The unit’s dimensions are 17″W × 4″H × 12″D, with the actual faceplate just over 3″ high. On a personal note, I’m pleased to see a bright, silvery front panel after four or five decades of nothing but unending black.
The front panel is straightforward. To the left is a rather large power button, which is accompanied by an LED that offers clues as to the player’s operating status: no light means power off; red is standby mode; blue is ready to go. The CD tray is dead center, just beneath a 3″-wide LCD (black on white) display that offers a lot of info: the track playing; the track’s elapsed time; number of tracks on the disc; and a multifunction time display which normally shows the disc elapsed time, but, via the remote, can be made to show time remaining on the current track or time remaining on the disc.
On the right side of the front panel are the main control buttons: tray open/close, play, stop, pause, and track forward and back. During play, a single press on the forward button takes you to the beginning of the next track. A single press on the back button returns you to the start of the current track, but two presses in quick succession takes you to the beginning of the previous track.
The remote is a longish but handsome plastic unit made expressly for Rotel CD players. It duplicates all the basic front-panel controls, along with a numeric keypad that you can use to choose a specific track, plus buttons that allow the user to skip ahead or back within the current track. Finally, there are what Rotel calls Advanced Buttons. One lets you call up a menu to change the brightness of the display on startup, one changes the brightness of the power LED (advisable, as the factory setting can almost light a room), one that instructs the player to report the current version of the unit’s software, and lastly, an Auto Power Off button that configures the player to shut off if it’s unused for a specified period. By default, the unit goes into standby after 20 minutes, but this can be set to 30, 60, or 90 minutes, or disabled entirely. There’s also a Dim button to change the brightness of the display during the current session only. The only problem with the remote is that its tiny buttons are tightly spaced; it helps to have slim fingers.
The back of the CD14MKII is well organized. On the left is a pair of RCA jacks for the analog audio output. They are spaced unusually far apart, making connections easy. Next, again well-spaced, are a coaxial digital output (RCA) and an RS-232 port for software updates and the like. Alongside the latter is a jack marked Rotel Link, which, according to the owner’s manual, is not used on the player. Next is the 12V trigger jack for linking the CD14MKII to another piece of Rotel equipment. And finally, there’s a two-prong IEC power inlet.
Speaking of the owner’s manual, this is the first one I’ve received on a thumb drive. It loads a PDF of the complete owner’s manual onto your computer. From there, should you wish, it can be printed. Within the box are the usual safety instructions and a card describing Rotel’s two-year (North American) warranty for parts and labor.
Rotel CD players differ from many others on the market by their complex, dual power supplies: one for the audio circuits and one for the motor controls. The engineers at Rotel noted: “There are 7 individual supply currents with separate analog digital rectifiers and 5 independent voltage regulators.” Their reasoning is that the separate power supplies keep the sound purer by reducing noise. The CD14MKII is equipped with a Texas Instruments 32-bit/384kHz DAC chip; however, given the lack of a digital input, it will only ever process 16/44.1 data.
When unpacking the unit, the first thing the user sees is a Quick Installation Guide, the full width and depth of the box. It shows everything that’s in the box: the player, the thumb drive holding the owner’s manual, the power cord, the 12V trigger cable, and the RCA interconnects. Diagrams illustrate the connection of the analog output to an amplifier, and how to connect the digital out should you want to use an external DAC. Finally, there’s a diagram showing the connection of the 12V trigger to another Rotel component. All very neat and tidy.
The interconnects are a step up from the cheapest you’d buy on Amazon or a place such as Parts Express, but not by much. Yes, the contacts are gold-plated, but the wires are small in diameter. So I used a pair of Straight Wire Chorus interconnects that until recently connected my preamplifier to my power amp. I figured it’s only fair to Rotel to use better interconnects than those supplied, as my reference Cambridge Audio Azur 650C CD player is linked to my APT Holman preamp with Linn Silver cables.
After delving into the user’s manual (about ten pages in large type with lots of diagrams; easy peasy), I set about dimming both the display and the power LED. And then, I dove into the music.
Operation and listening
The operation was seamless. The buttons on the front panel and on the remote worked perfectly, with minimal pressure. The CD drawer, it must be said, takes its time to open, close, and load a disc. If you leave the drawer open for more than a minute, it closes by itself—a nice touch and, as noted above, the machine puts itself into standby mode after 20 minutes of inactivity.
First up was Mitsuko Uchida performing Mozart’s Sonata in D, KV 311 (Three Piano Sonatas, Philips 412 741-2). Uchida has a real feel for Mozart’s piano works, and that comes through clearly on this recording. The CD14MKII really shone here, perfectly reproducing the rapid staccato notes in the third movement. Also, although she mostly plays with great delicacy, Uchida shows some real power in spots where it’s called for, and the CD14MKII handled it all with aplomb. I ended up listening to the entire disc and was greatly pleased with the way it sounded.
Bill Charlap’s Somewhere: The Songs of Leonard Bernstein (Blue Note Records 7243 5 94807 2 5) features the pianist and his trio performing Bernstein songs. The first cut, “Cool,” from West Side Story, is a rhythmic jewel. Over the Rotel, Charlap’s piano sounded rich and full, and the bass had appropriate slam. The arrangement of the instruments is unusual: piano out front; then right behind is the bass, which is in front of the drums. The arrangement images with the players lined up straight back and to the right. The CD14MKII put everyone where they belonged. The recording itself is masterful and the Rotel reproduced it all brilliantly.
Aaron Copland’s Rodeo is one of my favorite pieces of American “serious” music, and one of the best recordings of the “cowboy ballet” is on a collection of Copland’s works (Argo 440 639-2) by the Baltimore Symphony. “Buckaroo Holiday,” Rodeo’s first sequence, is a big, brassy adaptation of the folk song “Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie,” with lots of dynamic range. When I was attending performances in the ’80s and ’90s, the brass section of the BSO was not known for its precision, but it rose to the occasion here. The staccato trumpet and trombone bursts came through crisply over the Rotel. The strings were incredibly beautiful as well—as silken-sounding as possible. I was almost transported back to Charm City’s Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall with this listen.
I’m a longtime fan of guitarist/vocalist John Pizzarelli. He’s recorded a lot of great CDs, but my favorite is Our Love Is Here to Stay (RCA 07863 67501-2)—especially its title song. If you’re not familiar with the cut, it’s a very clever arrangement that has Pizzarelli singing the George Gershwin song while the Don Sebesky band is playing Count Basie’s “Lil’ Darlin’.” The two tunes fit together perfectly. How’s the sound, you ask? It’s a marvelously recorded disc, and over the Rotel, Pizzarelli was well out in front with the band arrayed behind him. The soundstage was broad and fairly deep. I could easily pick out single instruments and concentrate on them, or just let the sound wash over me. Either way, this cut sounded fantastic on the CD14MKII.
Fourplay’s self-titled album (Warner Bros. Records 9 26656-2) from the early days of smooth jazz has one exceptional cut, “Bali Run.” I like to use this song in reviews for several reasons. Nathan East’s bass digs deeply and solidly, Lee Ritenour’s guitar parts are precise, and Bob James’s keyboards seem to pull it all together. The array of the instruments is unusual. With the Rotel spinning the disc, the bass was always strong, placed ahead of the keyboards, the guitars, and the drums, except during solos. There are times in the song when the guitar or keyboards are backing up solos on other instruments, and, when called for, the Rotel imaged their sounds off to the side a bit. And the synthesized strings sounded as if they were surrounding the players over the CD14MKII. The overall sound was pristine, with plenty of drive.
Alison Krauss has one of the most lovely and distinctive voices ever. Her version of the Foundations’ “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You” from the album Now That I’ve Found You: A Collection (Rounder Records CD 0325) is wonderful. Krauss and her bandmates slow it down from the original 1967 hit and turn it into one of the most yearning songs of lost love of all time. It doesn’t hurt that her voice is so ethereal. It also doesn’t hurt that the backing instruments, including her violin and viola, capture the intensity of the feeling. The Rotel’s sound was just fantastic. Her voice was right in the middle, with the bass behind, the guitar below, and her violin accompaniment spread across the stage. This song is so simple, but gorgeous, and has always moved me; but its reproduction over the Rotel actually brought me to tears. And if you don’t already own the album, I recommend it highly.
After achieving commercial success in the ’70s and ’80s, Santana returned to the studio in 1999 for Supernatural (Arista Records 07822-19080-2), which featured a rather big hit for the band: “Smooth.” The vocals are by Rob Thomas, lead singer for the rock band Matchbox Twenty. Whoever mixed the album must have had fun. Thomas’s vocals are in the middle and out front, with Carlos Santana’s guitar a bit behind and below. When Santana’s guitar is wailing, it’s up front, with the vocals down and behind. The soundstage captured on the recording is outstanding, evoking Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, with, from left to right, percussion, the vocals and guitar, the drums, and the bass. The trumpet blasts came from right over the drummer’s shoulder. At the very end, Thomas’s filtered voice moves back and forth—a neat trick that was reproduced perfectly by the Rotel. This is a great recording and the CD14MKII reproduced it with wicked slam, a solid midrange, and excellent highs. Depth was exceptionally good. One thing the Rotel exhibited with all these pieces was a dead-black background, totally devoid of sound between tracks.
I put the Rotel up against my Cambridge Audio Azur 650C player (around $400, over ten years ago). The 650C was lauded in its day for its dual Wolfson DACs, which some said aided its great pace and lively sound. The tune I used was “April in Paris,” performed by the Count Basie Orchestra on Long Live the Chief (Denon 33CY-1018), recorded in 1986 at New York City’s Power Station studios. It features the famous Wild Bill Davis arrangement that was a hit on its original release in 1957. If you’ve seen Blazing Saddles, Sheriff Bart and the Waco Kid encounter Basie’s entire band playing “April” in the middle of the desert.
On the 650C, the sound was highly coherent, but a bit dry. There was not a lot of bass—this CD is bass-shy—until I turned up the volume. I’m big on soundstage, and the 650C gave the tune a fabulous ’stage with the band nicely spread and soloists appearing as they would if the band were on a bandstand. It was impossible not to tap my feet and snap my fingers as the song played. The only downside was the merest hint of distortion on some of the highest notes—barely perceptible, but I listened to the cut several times to confirm it was there.
The CD14MKII, on the other hand, turned up the highs ever so slightly, which made the bass shyness on this cut even more noticeable. The trumpet solo was right up front while the band performed seamlessly in the background. The minimalist, Basie-style piano was displayed slightly more prominently than on the 650C. The little high-frequency graininess that I noticed on the 650C was nowhere to be heard with the Rotel. By the slightest margin, the CD14MKII was even more of a star than the 650C and came out on top, mostly because of its high-frequency superiority.
A lot of hi-fi addicts opine that equipment that comes out just before a medium or component becomes obsolete are the ultimate examples of the breed. With the CD falling out of favor with many audiophiles, it may seem odd that Rotel would bring out such an exemplary CD player. Or maybe Rotel is primed for the format’s comeback?
Regardless, the aspect of the CD14MKII’s sound that kept impressing me was the blackness of the backgrounds. I bought my first decent CD player in 1987, and ever since, I hadn’t given the lack of noise from the format much thought. But hearing Rotel’s CD14MKII CD player brought back the amazement I felt back then for the first time in decades.
Rotel has done a marvelous job with the CD14MKII. I really love my Cambridge CD player but I’m tempted to throw it out for the Rotel.
. . . Thom Moon
- CD player: Cambridge Audio Azur 650C.
- Preamplifier: APT Corporation Holman.
- Power amplifier: NAD C 275BEE.
- Speakers: Acoustic Energy Radiance 3; Advent ASW1200 subwoofer.
- Interconnects: Linn Silver, Straight Wire Chorus, Wireworld Luna 8.
- Speaker cables: Acoustic Research 14-gauge, terminated in banana plugs.
Rotel CD14MKII CD Player
Warranty: Two-year limited warranty, parts and labor, if unit is registered online within 30 days of purchase.
6655 Wedgwood Road North, Suite 115
Maple Grove, Minnesota 55311
Phone: (510) 843-4500