Rotel Michi M8 monoblock energy amplifier
In a press release from April 2020, the McIntosh Group announced that its subsidiary brand Sumiko, which was co-founded by the late Dave Fletcher and sells Sonus Faber and Pro-Ject among others, has secured the distribution rights for Rotel Electronics in the USA and Latin America. This press release brings back memories of a Rotel RP-3000 direct drive turntable I once owned that was equipped with a Luster GST arm. On this “table” Rotel placed a massive AC direct drive motor, which was not fused with quartz, equipped with a light, not particularly well damped platter, which was mounted on a rudimentary wooden base, and sold it at a very affordable price. It was an atypical Japanese product that could be modified and improved a lot, which many buyers did.
I put the Rotel news on hold until recently when a press release announced the American launch of the stylish, high-performance Michi M8 monoblock amplifier. With the M8, Rotel is reviving the “upscale” Michi sub-brand, which was first introduced in the 1990s. According to Rotel, the design guideline was to expand the technical framework without budget or time constraints.
After getting the go-ahead from editor Jim Austin, Sumiko sent two modest, modestly heavy amplifiers according to my expectations. As with online dating (not that I used it, but I heard stories), the amplifiers that showed up outside my door were considerably larger and heavier than expected.
The Michi M8 Monos weigh 130.3lb. Everyone. I should have known that a class AB amplifier designed to deliver 1080W into 8 ohms and 1800W into 4 ohms would be heavy. Working alone, I managed to unpack one and toss it safely onto a flat trolley. To put them on the Stillpoints amplifier stands, I got help from a child in the neighborhood who is 50 years younger than me; He texted me later that night and asked how they sounded. So many children start out with this hobby.
These are neat amps, in a subtle way with internally mounted heat sinks that keep the clean look. I wasn’t surprised to see that each monoblock had two rear-mounted cooling fans. If they showed up during my audition for this review, I didn’t hear them.
The included remote control turns on both amplifiers and allows you to step through the setup menu, which includes setting the LED brightness, selecting various VU metering options, and setting an automatic shutdown.
The neatly designed back panel has two pairs of custom binding posts that can accept banana plugs, spades, and bare wires; Single-ended (RCA) and balanced (XLR) inputs and a switch to choose from; an ethernet port (for firmware upgrades); one RS232 port (for custom integration); 12V trigger inputs and outputs (for remote on / off control); one 15 A IEC connector; and an on / off switch.
There is also this warning on the back: “Loudspeaker impedance 4 ohms minimum.” Uh oh: According to the measurements by John Atkinson, the Wilson XVX “stays between 2 and 4 ohms for almost the entire audio band”, with a minimum value of 1.5 ohms between 310Hz and 340Hz. He concludes, “The Chronosonic XVX should be used with amplifiers … that have no problem 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 blast with these amps! I suspect that even in low impedance loads, the amplifier has more than enough clean power to run the XVX without any problems, especially in a modest room.
Inside neat and super clean
It was fascinating to learn that Rotel had outsourced the mechanical design of the amplifier and the final “acoustic tuning” to British teams. How many Japanese / UK audio design partnerships can you name? This is also atypical, like this old record player.
Michi’s (and Rotel’s) products are manufactured in Rotel’s production facility in China, where the company says it carefully monitors “supplier qualification and incoming and outgoing QC”. The Michi production line is a “factory within the factory” in which around a dozen dedicated, certified Michi technicians assemble, test, burn-in, inspect and package the products on the line. Boards are “stuffed” in-house.
Inside the case is an unusually tidy layout dominated by a pair of Rotel-wound, high-current toroidal transformers shielded in rectangular enclosures, behind which are four UK patented low ESR slotted film storage capacitors and two fan caps and banks of 16 high current output transistors. On the outside there is a housing made of 4 mm thick, smooth-looking, anodized aluminum with a 2 mm thick front plate made of hardened glass. The look is not flashy, but elegant.
The M8 isn’t an ugly tangle of wires and circuit boards crammed into an eye-catching chassis. Its design is consistent inside and out. It holds together and gives the impression, whether true or not, that the M8 was born out of the special vision of an individual (not a committee). The shipping packaging is also attractive and stylish. If you feel a love feast before listening, you are not wrong. Looks aren’t everything, but try to take your eyes off the super-attractive 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 genre of music I threw to them. The more fun I had, the more I thought that instead of hacking around the sound, I should work on answering the most important question, “Am I having fun?” “Is it exciting to listen?” “Are your senses tingling?” Yes, yes, and yes.
This is not a hair suit haberdashery; it’s supposed to be fun. If it’s a neck-up exercise for you, something is wrong! It’s a feeling that has nothing to do with the price: I had just as much fun with the Spica TC-50s and Hafler electronics (and the Rotel turntable) as I do now – honestly – although the scale has certainly changed.
The XVXes, powered by the darTZeel NHB-468s ($ 170,000 / pair), are fun too, believe me. It’s an exciting new experience every game. I don’t regret for a second these bank account-charging purchases of speakers and amplifiers.