For over six decades Rotel has been engineering and manufacturing audio products built to the highest of quality standards delivering extraordinary performance with exceptional value. This now iconic Japanese brand remains a fully family-owned and family-operated business. Rotel continues to leverage the tradition and heritage of its 60-Year heritage with the ongoing commitment of their founder Tomoki “Tac” Tachikawa that “Quality could not be inspected into a product but rather quality must be engineered and manufactured into a product”.
In the late 1950’s, Tac’s company Roland Electronics was an importer of US made Sylvania branded television sets to the Japanese market. It was during this time that so much was learned about power supply design including high current, low noise isolation techniques, shielding methods and precision of electronic design as every imported television needed to have the power supply modified before it could be sold in Japan.
By the late 1950’s Roland began manufacturing audio products as an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) for several audio brands in their Tokyo, Japan factory where critical design and assembly techniques became a mainstay.
In 1961 the family exited the TV distribution business to form Rotel as you know it today with the brand beginning its journey as a world renown builder of quality audio components. The Rotel brand quickly became recognised as a leader in the global market with model after model and series after series innovating and improving from its predecessor.
A notable example of Rotel’s acclaim came in 1973 when Consumer Reports graced the RX-402 receiver with its coveted “Best Buy” rating. This exceptional compliment and testament of Rotel’s electronic design expertise was further evidenced knowing that the two runners-up that year also came from the same Rotel factory, even though they were sold under different brand names!
Towards the end of the 1970’s many manufacturers had moved to a trend of producing products that were marketed on features rather than sound quality or actual performance. Many manufacturers sold products based on such things as unquantified measurements of power output or the newest fluorescent bar-graph display. Rotel however chose to follow a path designing products based on performance, ease of use, simple elegance of the mechanical designs all with uncompromised manufacturing standards and the brand has never looked back.
By 1979, Rotel had fully solidified its mission leveraging the heritage and tradition of its roots. Rather than endlessly chasing “features”, they continued to focus on designing audio components that emphasised musical accuracy, superb build quality, and affordability. This product strategy was easily evidenced by Rotel’s success producing quality audio components reliably and efficiently in their own dedicated factories through Asia. As a testament to this approach is the fact that many of these now 40-plus year-old models are still in service today to countless audiophiles and music lovers!
The 1980’s, considered by some to be the golden decade for HiFi, saw the introduction of the Rotel RA-820B (later becoming the RA-820BX) which quickly became the go to amplifier of a generation and was the first in a long line of products that cemented Rotel’s reputation for superb musical performance, winning the company’s first Product of the Year award from What Hi-Fi? magazine and receiving many other accolades from the HiFi press. 1985 also saw the introduction of Rotel’s first Compact Disc player, as Rotel joined the digital age.
In the late 1980’s Tomoki Tachikawa’s son, Bob Tachikawa, joined Rotel and was instrumental to the company during the next phase of growth as the second generation of the family management.
Bob quickly became the “face” of the Rotel brand and was recognised as the driving force behind the brand.
1990 saw the introduction of the 900 Series which continued to build upon the success of the 800 series models further highlighting Rotel’s ability to bring products to market that delivered extraordinary performance and exceptional value. It’s fair to say that up until this time Rotel had focused on the mid-level of the market but this was all about to change in 1993 with the introduction of the Michi Series.
Designed initially for Rotel’s home market of Japan, Michi represented the accumulation of everything Rotel had learned during its first thirty+ years. Michi was a range of no compromise components taking Rotel’s Balanced Design Concept engineering methods to a new level to deliver the best sound quality possible. Michi very quickly received critical acclaim amongst audiophiles in Japan, and this admiration soon spread around the globe.
In 1996, Peter Kao, Bob’s nephew, joined the team in the Tokyo office to support the growing business. In 1999, Peter established Rotel’s Hong Kong office and in 2005 he opened Rotel’s purpose-built 200,000 sq. ft. (20,000 sq. metre) state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Zhuhai, China. Rotel’s factory operations are unique in that although the factory is physically located in China it operates using the proven, proprietary manufacturing processes of Rotel’s original Tokyo Japan factory delivering product quality that is synonymous with the Rotel brand.
A new millennium
Never a company to rest on their laurels, Rotel continued to innovate and improve with new products including the 10 Series launched in 2000. This was followed in 2009 by the 15 series and then the launch of the 14 series in 2016.
In 2014 Rotel embarked on a very special project, that would once again see them return to their roots and which focussed on the original Michi Series concept. Peter Kao, as Rotel’s General Manager, challenged Rotel’s team of engineers to research the product archives and take the very best of Rotel technologies partnered with the latest innovations and by selecting the best components and circuit designs to deliver a new standard in audio performance.
This wasn’t about just buying the most expensive components, the challenge was to take Rotel’s proven Balanced Design Concept to the next level through component selection, circuit topology and critical evaluation to achieve performance that was much more than the sum of the individual parts. The engineers were challenged to really deliver and on several occasions circled back again and again to re-engineer the designs and further refine the product performance.
This project took five years to complete and a new flagship series of Michi products engineered with the history and heritage of Rotel was re-born in 2019.
The first models launched were the P5 Preamplifier supported with the S5 Stereo Amplifier and M8 Mono Amplifier. These separates components were later joined by the X3 and X5 Integrated Amplifiers. This new Michi series very quickly received global critical acclaim, multiple awards and continues be recognised for setting a new standard of audio performance. You can read the AVForums review of the Rotel Michi X3 here.
Rotel however was not content having the best high end technology exclusively in the new Michi series. In 2019 Rotel teamed up with audio engineering legend Ken Ishiwata with a view of creating improved editions of Rotel’s 14 and 15 Series models.
Daren Orth, Rotel’s Chief Technology Officer, recalls that during his initial discussions with Ken it was decided that to add true value the first models to receive an update would be the Rotel A11 Integrated Amplifier and CD11 CD player as these were already affordable and highly regarded having won multiple industry awards.
Ken’s interests and desire was to take affordable audio components and achieve the very best performance with minimal impact to the retail price. His strategy was perfectly aligned with Rotel’s legacy of delivering extraordinary performance and exceptional value. Work began, with several months of component selection trials, and supported with critical listening sessions until the upgraded models were nearly ready for production. However, Ken sadly passed away on 25 November 2019, so the project looked as if may not come to fruition. Rotel and Ken’s son and daughter mutually agreed the project must be finished as a tribute to Ken and his contributions and legacy to the audio industry thus; the Rotel Tribute models were launched in early 2020 as a token of gratitude and as a tribute to Ken Ishiwata. You can watch the full story behind these now iconic Tribute Models here. Or read the AVForums review here.
2021 Celebrating 60 Years
Even with supply chain and global market challenges of 2020 and 2021 Rotel was determined to celebrate their 60th anniversary. This celebration started with the launch of 5 new models leveraging Rotel’s flagship Michi Series technologies as well as innovations from the Tribute models in new MKII versions including the A14MKII (read the AVForums review here), RA-1572MKII and RA-1592MKII Integrated Amplifiers and RC-1572MKII and RC-1590MKII Preampfliers. The updated models launched with accolades from the media and press noting the larger, deeper, fuller sound stage, more defined imaging, and exceptional control of the rich bass energy.
However, Rotel didn’t stop there recently announcing three additional MKII models in 2022 including the A12MKII Integrated Amplifier and CD14MKII and RCD-1572MKII CD players.
Quality, Performance, Value. The DNA of the brand with ongoing investments and commitments continue building the momentum on Rotel’s 60-year history with promises of additional celebrations models in 2022 and beyond.
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