Works of art and masterpieces …part two
About a year ago, I described a Rotel – P5 and M5 set, that is to say a preamplifier and a power amplifier, which had strongly impressed me by its construction quality and, of course, by its really extraordinary musical level. I had thus elevated this set to the rank of exceptional products and greeted the pleasure of a listening experience using real audio material. It is from these two devices that I told myself that high fidelity could come from important companies and propose, still today, products that have a beautiful artisanal signature, in the noblest sense of the term. Here I am again to describe you, this time, an integrated amplifier from the same MICHI series by Rotel, named X3.
It is a truly imposing integrated amplifier by its stature, despite an aesthetic of which the discretion has dominated its general design. We notice immediately the total absence of screws, as much on the front face as on the whole casing except on its back part from where the eventual dismantling will be done. If the will to hide the transducers’ fastening screws, on certain speakers, always seemed curious to me – and even more curious if what hides the screws is in fact a plastic crown holding through simple pressure. Here, I have to salute Rotel‘s performance who managed to achieve an exceptional mechanical bearing of its chassis while hiding its method from us.
Despite its generous size, the X3 integrated amplifier seriously plays on discretion, thanks to its shape with rounded corners, its anthracite colour (neither black nor gray) and also to its lateral heat sinks which are uncommon, as they are well incorporated into the cabinet and form heat evacuation chimneys. The front part is flanked by two large rotary knobs (volume control and input selector), a headphone jack and a power switch. A large window (display) will appear only when the power is turned on, indicating many choices.
The rear part has multiple connection possibilities which are well identified. In the upper section are placed the line inputs, one of which is in balanced XLR mode, the Phono input and its ground terminal, and the Bluetooth antenna. Below, a second row offers the digital coaxial, optical, network, USB inputs, and the main switch, and finally the third row responsible for the outputs to the loudspeakers. Note that these are doubled, in order to allow an easy bi-wiring, and that they are of a remarkable quality. At the end of this third row is the power socket for the power cable. The Michi X3 integrated amplifier is a class A/B amplifier that offers 200 W per channel at 8 Ω loudspeaker impedance and 350 W per channel at 4 Ω. So this is not a puny integrated amplifier, but rather a powerful product with sought-after features and a really comprehensive connectivity option. And if the connectivity is exhaustive, so are adjustment possibilities — bass, treble, input names, power visualization and control, balance, various programs, etc. The beautiful, solid aluminum remote control that accompanies the X3 is noteworthy, sleek, ergonomic and modern at the same time, with a cachet that suits the Michi series well.
Prior to Listening
I did not refrain from using the X3‘s integrated converter, not to compare it with the one my own record player is equipped with, but rather to benefit from an updated listening experience in terms of digital performance thanks to the 32 bits / 768 kHz AKM 4490 Premium installed in this integrated amplifier. The interconnections were made with the unbalanced mode and the loudspeaker connections in mono-cabling. Although the power available is considerable with the Michi X3 integrated amplifier, I used non-energy consuming loudspeakers including a pair with a sensitivity of 95 dB/W. However, for the description of the listening part, I will use a pair of loudspeakers that is more in line with the current market, i.e. 90 dB. I invite all readers to reread the article dedicated to the Michi P5 preamp and Michi M5 amp set published in Ted Magazine (Vol 27, no 03/March – April 2020). You can easily find the hyperlink to this issue on the magazine’s website (www.tedpublications.comp/en). This is an important point for comparison purposes, because most of the technologies used in these devices are, of course, found in the integrated one described here. This is proof that Rotel does not diminish the design or chosen components quality for its integrated devices. The Michi X3 and its big brother the X5 are really devices derived from the separate elements described in the P-5 and M-5 test bench.
After configuring the Michi X3 with a TV link for movies and music content on the Internet, the great adventure began, and the listening impressions description follows as well. It is easy after a few visual sessions, to know the dynamic character and the realism of a film soundtrack, but one must allow oneself to listen to selected pieces, without being disturbed by images. And the images create themselves, as with my first approach, the meeting of the Chemirani Trio – Michi X3 integrated amplifier. This album, called Invite, allows you to change the instrument according to the invited musician, without changing the compact disc. Omer Sosa‘s piano, Renaud Garcia Fons‘s double bass or Titi Robin‘s oud are sometimes mixed in. There is nothing like a selection of world music for immediate pleasure, or not.
The Michi X3 has the natural signature of its brethren in separate elements, which is a very serious dynamic and a detailed and precise side. It is immediate and unequivocal, the X3 integrated amplifier is not an atrophied version. There is also a certain delicacy of the sounds which allows me to say that the auditory fatigue will not be present, even after several hours of listening. And if the recording touches perfection in this first album, the retransmission is of a very high level, as testifies Azadeh where one guesses at a marvellous positioning of the protagonists.
Then I move on to Kari Bremnes and her album Ka dromte du om Anna (Did you dream about Anna?). A beautiful voice and a refined accompaniment for this choice with, of course, a high level of sound recording. And it’s great to spoil the X3 musically, because it spoils us in return. A lot of warmth, a lot of richness, clear and rare as a transmitter of emotions, here is what comes to my mind and that I share with you.
Beautiful moments are too short says Francis Cabrel in the first text of his last album À l’aube revenant. Male voices and choirs in the background, enough to confuse a device that would not have the ability to transcribe the distances between the musicians on the soundstage, this primordial area, which will make you feel like you are present at the time of the recording, and which is well highlighted here. In Les bougies fondues, we perfectly recognize the author’s artistic touch and the rendering is extremely pleasant. The Rotel Michi X3 integrated amplifier adapts to all music, all genres, a very important versatility for me.
But in classical music, you may ask? Well, there, I did not go the easy route, since neither the compositions nor the interpretations are common! The album’s title is Deux (Patricia Kopatchinskaja, violinist and Polina Leschenko, pianist are the Two). Two virtuose who will transport you with Ravel, Poulenc or Bartók, thanks to the integrated Michi X3 of course. It is a question of prowess realized, also on behalf of an audio device, to be able, with so much of accuracy, to hook you and to keep you listening to unusual music. The performances are truly breathtaking and so is the staging of the X3 integrated amplifier.
The conclusion may seem long, because there is so much to say! The aim is to speak, to begin with, about this available power that some will find exaggerated. In fact, for a car or an amp, we are talking about power that will allow, in the case of the motor vehicle, to make very fast overruns and, in the case of the audio device, to also ensure fast changes in sound levels—that is, sound overruns. Future buyers can also choose loudspeaker models with a generous temperament (over 90 dB) to ensure a substantial reserve of watts. Since the Michi X3 operates in Class A/B, the first few watts will be in Class A, resulting in exceptional definition at low volumes and breathtaking transitions at higher volumes.
Now let’s talk about the case of sound staging, which is what so many audio devices lack. The music can be heard, but its position in space is often quite a problem. And this is perhaps one of the reasons why we are weary of certain products despite them being described as effective. Our brain makes such an effort of musical reconstruction, such an effort of position recognition that we get tired of listening. With the X3, you don’t have to make any effort, everything is limpid and, above all, in its proper place. As the serious dynamics increase the music’s intensity, we follow, captivated, as we would a thriller. The Michi X3, all lights off, (meaning, the display gone), makes us live very intense moments. And its musical versatility comforts me, because the only thing left for future buyers to consider is the choice of loudspeakers. Around 90 dB, the choice is rather large, and it is the type of sound which will prevail amongst the available models. You will tell me, with good reason, that the choice of integrated devices, in the price range of the Michi X3, is quite important. That is true. But if we add the manufacturing quality, Rotel’s legendary reliability, the outstanding finish, the device’s possibilities complete proposal, and we mix it all with the extraordinary musical performances, we can easily declare the X3 as a noble winner in the forest of integrated devices. Coupled with high-level sources and connected to dynamic, true-to-life loudspeakers, Rotel‘s Michi X3 is on its way to making history.
Price: 6,299 $
Warranty: 5 years, parts and labour
Distributor: Kevro Internationnal Inc.
Phone. : 905.428.2800
Trio Chemirani, Invite, Accords Croisés, AC143
Kari Bremnes, Svarta Bjorn / Les ours noirs, FXCD, 200
Francis Cabrel, À l’aube revenant, Sony Music, 19439809282
P. Kopatchinskajia/P. Leschenko, Deux, Alpha Classic, AC387