Rotel Michi X5 Integrated Amplifier Page 2

In the event, not only did the X5 show itself to be different, it proved unlike the X3 to a surprising degree. The big, bold, and yet sprightly and wide-open sound of the 'lower-powered' amp was replaced by a softer, slightly darker presentation here. Furthermore, while the bigger Michi X5 undoubtedly has a superb ability to go loud while maintaining full control of the speakers, and with typically startling dynamic ability, both on the micro and macro scales, its sound didn't move this listener as did that of the X3. This is a highly impressive amplifier, without doubt, but a spine-tingler? Not quite…

821rotel.remPlaying the Jerry Junkin/Dallas Winds recording of the march from Steven Spielberg's 1941 [At The Movies; Reference Recordings RR-142], an exuberant piece of scoring by John Williams, with massive dynamics across and within the track, the X5 displays that darker, 'of a piece' sound, with diminished instrumental detail and texture and greater emphasis on the scale of the massed forces as the track builds.

Playing Ball
With more Williams, in the form of the very 'hot' recording of David Helbock's solo piano on the 'Duel Of The Fates' [Playing John Williams; ACT 9764-2], the X5, driving B&W 800 D3 loudspeakers [HFN Oct '16], manages to sound rather distant with this close-up production. The presentation is certainly fast and hard-hitting, but at the same time lacking some ambience.

A recording like Till Brönner's The Good Life [Masterworks 88875187202] is, my listening notes say, 'slap bang in the middle of the X5's aspirational ballpark', going on to mention 'the muted trumpet all breathy and gorgeous centre stage, with the simple bass/drums/piano backing ranged behind it. Drums patter and swish back there, and the bass has fine definition and resonance'. Those same notes sum up that this album is 'hardly demanding, but it sounds magnificent here'.

Big On Bite
For all that, the X5 seems rather more programme-dependent than the X3, even if it's hard to pinpoint exactly why. With the Jared Sacks recording of the Oyster Duo's Stolen Pearls recital [Channel Classics CCS 43121] there's the odd effect of Nicky Schwartz's double-bass dominating the piano of his wife, Anna Fedorova. I've commented in other reviews on what I call the 'playing in an underpass' effect, and for all the weight and resonance of the double-bass here, the two sound like they're playing some way away with the surrounding acoustic tending to swallow them up.

Of course, sometimes this slight lack of ambience can help – or at least change – the sound of a recording. For example, John Challenger's beautiful Salisbury Meditation recital [AJM001, 96kHz/24-bit] is curated from 270 hours of live recordings made while the newly-restored organ was played in Salisbury Cathedral during the on-site Covid-19 vaccinations – the ambience of the instrument including the hushed bustle going on down in the cathedral's nave. Via the X5 there's still a fine sense of the instrument in the lofty space, but that rustle of atmosphere is somewhat diminished, which is a good thing for focus on the playing, but it may rob the recordings of a little of their magic.


Dual-mono PSU with two screened transformers and slit-foil reservoir caps [centre], support left/right bipolar power amps [far left/right]. Phono stage, line pre and AK4495-based DAC stages are on three stacked PCBs [top]

The rendition of The Waterboys' 'This Is The Sea' on Tom Jones's Surrounded By Time [EMI EMCD 202116] shows much of the dichotomy of the sound here, for the track still sounds big and bold even if the octogenarian singer should be delivered with more deep-chested power. The track has good dynamics, and a decent swagger, but it needs more guts, and only really focuses when the mix drops down to the more restrained final section.

Other distinctive voices were also rendered differently: Iggy Pop's guest vocal on 'Why Can't We Live Together?', from Dr Lonnie Smith's Breathe album [Blue Note 3546174] is understated, agreed, but here it's arguably a little too, well, submerged. By contrast, Smith's Hammond is rendered magnificently, and with so much detail that you can almost hear the tonewheel 'biting' with the magnets to switch on each note – that element of the track, at least, is spellbinding.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
While impressive enough in its own right, the Michi X5 lacks a little of the sparkle and surprise of its junior stablemate, the X3. And that, in essence, is this amplifier's headache: fine though the X5 is, the Michi X3 delivers a magical performance for a healthy £2000 less, offers almost all the bigger amp's flexibility and is also less space-hungry. That makes the more affordable model in Rotel's Michi range its star buy.

The Rotel Co. Ltd
Tokyo, Japan
Supplied by: Rotel Europe, Worthing, UK
01903 221 710