Rotel Michi M8 monoblock power amplifier
In an April 2020 press release, the McIntosh Group announced that its subsidiary brand Sumiko, which was cofounded by the late Dave Fletcher and distributes Sonus Faber and Pro-Ject among other high-performance brands, had secured distribution rights for Rotel Electronics in the US and Latin America. That press release prompted memories of a Rotel RP-3000 direct drive turntable I once owned, fitted with a Lustre GST arm. On that ‘table, Rotel put a massive AC direct-drive motornot quartz-lockedfitted with a lightweight, not-particularly-well-damped platter mounted to a rudimentary wood plinth and sold it for a very affordable price. It was an atypical Japanese product that could be heavily modified and improved, which many buyers did.
I filed away the Rotel news until recently when a press release announced the American rollout of the stylish, powerful Michi M8 monoblock amplifier. With the M8, Rotel resurrects the “upscale” Michi subbrand first introduced in the 1990s. According to Rotel, the design directive was to push the tech envelope with no budget or time restrictions.
Once I got the go-ahead from Editor Jim Austin, Sumiko dispatched a pair of what I expected to be modestly sized, modestly heavy amplifiers. As happens with online dating (not that I’ve used it, but I’ve heard stories), the amps that showed up at my door were considerably larger and heavier than expected.
The Michi M8 monos weigh 130.3lb. Each. I should have known that a class-AB amplifier said to deliver 1080W into 8 ohms and 1800W into 4 ohms would be heavy. Working alone, I managed to unbox one and cajole it safely onto a flat rolling dolly. To plop them on the Stillpoints amp stands, I got help from a neighbor’s kid who’s 50 years my junior; he texted me later that night asking how they were sounding. So many kids are getting into this hobby.
These are handsome amplifiers, in an under-stated way, with internally mounted heatsinks maintaining the clean looks. I wasn’t surprised to see that each monoblock had dual, rear-panelmounted cooling fans. If they came on during my auditions for this review, I didn’t hear them.
The supplied remote control powers up both amplifiers and allows you to go through the setup menu that includes adjusting LED brightness, selecting various VU-metering options, and setting, or not, an auto shutoff.
The cleanly laid-out rear panel features two pairs of custom binding posts that can accommodate banana plugs, spades, and bare wires; single-ended (RCA) and balanced (XLR) inputs and a switch to choose between them; an Ethernet port (for firmware upgrades); an RS232 port (for custom integration); 12V trigger inputs and outputs (for remote on/off control); a 15A IEC connector; and a power on/off switch.
Also on the back panel is this warning: “Speaker impedance 4 ohm minimum.” Uh oh: According to John Atkinson’s measurements, the Wilson XVX “remains between 2 and 4 ohms for almost the entire audioband,” with a minimum value of 1.5 ohms between 310Hz and 340Hz. He concludes, “The Chronosonic XVX should be used with amplifiers … that don’t have problems driving loads of 2 ohms and lower.”
Well, I’m still here, and whatever JA’s measurements show about low load impedances, I had a rocking good time with these amplifiers! I suspect the amp has more than enough clean power even into low impedance loads to easily drive the XVX, especially in a modest-sized room.
Neat and superclean inside
It was fascinating to learn that Rotel outsourced the amplifier’s mechanical design and final “acoustical tuning” to UK-based teams. How many Japanese/UK audio design partnerships can you name? That’s atypical too, like that old turntable.
Michi (and Rotel) products are built at Rotel’s manufacturing facility in China, where the company says it carefully oversees “vendor qualification and incoming and outgoing QC.” The Michi manufacturing line is a “factory within a factory” where approximately a dozen dedicated, certified Michi technicians assemble, test, burn in, inspect, and package the line’s products. Boards are “stuffed” in-house.
Inside the chassis is an uncommonly tidy layout dominated by a pair of Rotel-wound, high-current, toroidal transformers shielded within rectangular housings, behind which are four patented slit-foil, low-ESR British-made storage capacitors and two fan-capped banks of 16 high-current output transistors. Outside is a chassis of 4mm-thick smooth-looking-and-feeling anodized aluminum with a 2mm-thick tempered-glass front panel. The look is not flashy, but it is elegant.
The M8 is not an ugly tangle of wires and circuit boards stuffed into an eye-catching chassis. Its design is coherent, inside and out. It holds together and gives the impression, true or not, that the M8 resulted from an individual’s (not a committee’s) particular vision. Even the shipping packaging is attractive and smartly designed. If you are sensing a prelistening love fest, you’re not wrong. Looks aren’t everything but try averting your eyes from the superattractive price: $13,998/pair.
Too much fun!
The more time I spent listening to these ultra-quiet amps (running them in balanced mode), the more fun I had. I enjoyed every musical genre I threw at them. The more fun I had, the more I kept thinking that instead of picking over the sound, I should be working to answer the most important question: “Am I having fun?” “Is the listening exciting?” “Does it tickle your senses?” Yes, yes, and yes.
This is not some hair-suit haberdashery; it’s supposed to be fun. If, for you, it’s a from-the-neck-up exercise, something’s wrong! It’s a feeling that has nothing to do with price: I had as much fun with Spica TC-50s and Hafler electronics (and the Rotel turntable) as I’m having nowhonestthough the scale has certainly changed.
The XVXes driven by the darTZeel NHB-468s ($170,000/pair) are fun, toobelieve me. It’s an exciting new experience, every play. I don’t for a second regret those bank-accountdraining speaker and amplifier purchases.
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The Rotel Co. Ltd.
US distributor: Sumiko
6655 Wedgwood Rd. N, Suite 115
Maple Grove, MN 55311-2814
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