In 2019, the audio industry lost a true legend. Ken Ishiwata was an audio expert in possession of a pair of gold ears. Ishiwata was the mastermind behind many classic audio systems that he tuned and developed during his long career working with Marantz and Rotel. Ishiwata’s passing was keenly felt in the industry at a time when the fundamentals of the audio market were moving dynamically towards streaming and multi-room systems, away from the separations that were the foundation of Ishiwata’s career.
To celebrate the life of Ken Ishiwata, Rotel has decided to launch two special editions of the company’s very popular A11 integrated amplifier and CD11 CD player models, each named as a Tribute version marking the successful partnership between Rotel and Ken. Ishiwata.
Ishiwata was widely admired in the hi-fi industry for his unique ability to identify audio products that were worth changing. He set the musical benchmarks and suggested component modifications to engineers that would take a product’s performance to a new level, sometimes with a simple price increase. He was the ultimate audio alchemist.
To create a tribute worthy of Ishiwata, it was decided to focus on the A11 and CD11, two products that Ishiwata was already familiar with and which had already won multiple awards, including the A11 which was voted Best Amplifier. of the year 2019 -20 to the prestigious EISA awards.
The team behind the Rotel Tribute project believed that the 50W per channel and Class AB circuitry of the A11, along with the corresponding CD11 CD player, was the ideal starting point for a posthumous Ishiwata treatment. Before his death, Ishiwata had already done an initial assessment and agreed to a modified specification with Rotel’s engineering team. Some prototypes were then created and a final specification was agreed with the Rotel team.
To give the A11 amplifier its elevation, specially selected and improved components have been selected for superior performance throughout the signal path. In the amplification stage, all capacitors and resistors in the signal path have been changed. For the preamp, six capacitors have been upgraded, which is a 50% change from all of the components used in the signal path. The six volume stage capacitors have also been upgraded to premium specifications. Custom damping materials have also been added to the mechanical chassis of the A11 to reduce ringing as well as to isolate and dampen vibrations in the case.
For the upgrade of the CD11 CD player, eight capacitors were upgraded along with a resistor in the DAC stage, while the nine capacitors in the power supply were replaced with upgraded components. Much thought has gone into dampening internal vibrations with custom damping materials added to the top cowl to eliminate vibrations and hums; other changes have been made to the mechanical and electrical grounding of the CD player.
After accepting the changes and overseeing the creation of the prototypes, Ishiwata sadly passed away in November 2019, before the project could be approved. However, some of Ishiwata’s longtime colleagues and partners in the industry – including his personal friend Karl-Heinz Fink – stepped in to continue working with the Rotel team to bring the project to fruition and realize the original vision. of the great man.
The Rotel Tribute components are largely from an analog era, but with Bluetooth input backed up by a Texas Instruments 24-bit 192kHz DAC with support for aptX and AAC Bluetooth streaming. The case is simple but incredibly sturdy and feels very well made. The displays on the front of the amplifier and CD player are basic backlit mono LCD panels with no flashing lights or unnecessary gimmicks. There are no digital inputs on the A11 other than the Bluetooth function, but all of the traditional analog inputs are there, including four RCA analog inputs, a moving magnet phono stage, as well as two sets of RCA outputs. loudspeakers with five-way link terminals. A small silver badge on the front of each unit bears the words “Tribute” as a permanent reminder to the genius of Ken Ishiwata.
The Rotel CD11 player is a perfect match for the A11 amplifier. It has an extremely quiet and vibration-free tray loading mechanism. The Texas Instruments 24-bit 192kHz DAC has clearly received Ishiwata’s approval and there is a stereo pair of RCA analog outputs for connection to the A11 amplifier. Rotel also included a coaxial digital output, allowing the CD11 to be connected to an external DAC to improve sound, if needed in the future.
Both units are remarkably easy to install as there is no need to connect to a WiFi network or any other network infrastructure. This is an old-fashioned hi-fi system where most of the budget was spent on upgraded capacitors and vibration damping. It was weird plugging in a CD player in these days of digital streaming, but there’s something quite satisfying about selecting a favorite CD and loading the smooth sliding tray and hitting play. It’s almost as nostalgic as lowering a stylus on vinyl.
There is not much to complain about the CD11. It is a proficient CD player with clear, open sound and a very quiet mechanism. There is no optical output provided but the coaxial output has a higher bit rate than an optical connection. There is also no headphone jack on the CD player for nighttime listening, but there is a headphone output on the A11 amplifier. All push button controls are on the front panel of the CD11 and the LCD display is clear but a bit basic. The remote control supplied with the CD is limited to the operation of the player, while the remote control supplied with the A11 can also be used to control the CD11.
The A11 amplifier is as well made as the CD player and feels so solid. Both units have insulating feet to ensure that there is no feedback transmitted to the components by vibrations. The front panel of the A11 has the same size and style of LCD screen as the CD11 and it displays the selected input, the volume level set and whether tone bypass is invoked. In addition to being able to completely disable tone circuits, the remote control’s bypass button cycles through several levels of tone enhancement.
The A11 has a 3.5mm stereo jack for plugging in a pair of headphones. I wish audio designers would stick with the 6.35mm jack, as high end headphones always use the larger jack size and using a step down to 3.5mm adapter feels awkward. Having said that, I’m sure there are a lot of people who would disagree with my point of view. Finally, there are two speaker selection buttons for switching between the two pairs of speaker outputs.
The sound of the Rotel A11 is delightfully warm with a muscular presentation and a vibrant rhythmic nature that is a pleasure to listen to. The amplifier needs to be carefully paired with the speakers to get the most out of it, otherwise it can sound a bit loud. Something like a pair of B&W bookshelf speakers or even a pair of floor columns from Q Acoustics would be a good choice. The secret here is to audition the Tribute amplifier and CD player with multiple speaker pairs to get the most out of the A11’s assertive tone.
Verdict: There is not much to criticize about the Rotel Tribute coupling of the A11 and CD11 components. They are both strong performers and do a great job playing CDs with style and commitment. I thought the remote was a bit light compared to Cambridge Audio’s offerings in this area, for example, but I guess most of the budget was spent on the upgraded components specified by Ishiwata. Another thing that intrigued me was the inclusion of a Bluetooth streaming module which is a technology that works the same as CD. However, I guess some users will be happy to have a convenient way to stream music, but it’s not the highest fidelity. On the positive side, the simplicity and honesty of the Rotel Tribute project have perfectly honored the legacy of the great man. The A11 and CD11 bypass streaming for solid analog performance without unnecessary bells and whistles. The Tribute is a product we likely won’t see again as pairing a Class AB integrated amplifier with a CD player is a shrinking market now that audiophiles are turning to advanced streaming systems that can take full advantage of media. in a post-age CD. Regardless, the Rotel A11 and CD11 are a fitting tribute to the great Ken Ishiwata and celebrate his unique talent for tweaking audio products to do more than the sum of their parts. I doubt we’ll see many products like this in the future, but we’re unlikely to see someone as gifted and celebrated as Ken Ishiwata again.
Price and availability: The Rotel A11 Tribute stereo integrated amplifier is available now and priced at $ 799 / € 599 / £ 499. The CD11 Tribute CD player has a suggested retail price of $ 599 / € 449 / £ 399.
More information: www.rotel.com
Tribute to the Rotel A11:
- Dimensions (W × H × D): 430 × 93 × 345mm / 17 “× 3.6” × 13.5 “
- Front panel height: 80mm (3.15 “)
- Power consumption: 160W
- Standby power consumption:
- Weight: 6.85 kg (15 lbs)
- Continuous output power: 50W / channel (all channels driven, 8)
- Total Harmonic Distortion (THD): (20Hz – 20kHz)
- Frequency response: line level – 10 Hz – 100 kHz, ± 0.5 dB
- Phono input: 20 Hz – 20 kHz, ± 0.5 dB
- Finish: Black or Silver
Tribute to the Rotel CD11:
- Dimensions (W × H × D): 430 × 93 × 314mm / 17 “× 3.6” × 12.4 “
- Front panel height: 80mm (3.15 “)
- Power Consumption: 15W
- Standby power consumption:
- Weight: 5.8 kg (12.7 lbs)
- Total harmonic distortion (THD):
- Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz, ± 0.5 dB
- Dynamic range:> 99 dB
- DAC: Texas Instruments 192 kHz 24 bit
- Channel balance: ± 0.5 dB
- Channel separation:> 115 dB at 10 kHz
- Finish: Black or Silver