ConclusionIt is difficult to be the entry-level model in a series of top models. Is it worth saving up and choosing the model that is more expensive but also clearly better? The answer lies in the match with the speaker. There will certainly be speakers on the market that provide a good 'fit' with this Rotel Michi X3. Because it is a beautiful and powerful integrated amplifier, especially the analogue part. We are less impressed with the DAC, which, in contrast to the X5 and P5, is single-ended. There is a competitor and it is very solid, namely the NAD M33. And yes: that one does have a streamer.
In this price and quality class, the golden combination is a matter of trying and listening. And isn't that part of the music hobby?
We connect the Rotel Michi X3 to the Focal Sopra 1 monitors. Immediately one notices how unsparing this amplifier is. What goes in, comes out and how. It is powerful, precise, surgically precise. And actually a tad too much for the Sopra’s beryllium tweeters. The mid-high and high come unmercifully to our ears and that’s not always pleasant. So: this is not really a happy mariage. That happens…
We swap these orange, French lady’s for a couple of British B&W 705 S2, equipped with the famous Nautilus tweeters. Bowers matches the Michi much better. The X3 keeps the speaker neatly under control and seems to get everything out of it. We hear the music come to us in detail.
Everything is there: soundstage, tonal balance, transparency. Streaming from the Metrum Ambre, we play a whole arsenal of music. The familiar Alpha test tracks you’ve come to expect from the livestreams (Fire & Rain by James Taylor, Jacques Loussier’s arrangement of the Little Fugue in G, Steven Wilson). And a few new ones, like trumpeter and composer Ibrahim Maalouf’s Harlem.
We hear, as mentioned, everything. But we’re not really drawn into the music. Where the Rotel Michi P5 and S5 preamplifier/endamplifier combination convince us immediately, it’s different with the Rotel Michi X3. There is certainly power and control but no silver lining in our opinion. There is detail richness and soundstage but just not of the quality we expected.
This is especially noticeable when we send digital information (via USB and coaxial) to the Michi. The signal is well clocked (via the Mutec MC3+) and the Metrum Acoustics Ambre is a fine streaming bridge. What is it than? Could it be the fact that the Michi X3 has a single DAC chip and the P5 has a dual layout with better power supplies? Could that make the difference?
They are identical AKM DAC chips. It has been our experience before that the DAC chip in itself does not say much but the implementation makes the difference. If the DAC has to take on fewer tasks, it affects the sound. That is why a mono-setup (one DAC chip per channel) works better. And it explains why music applications such as ROON can make an improvement in sound because they prepare the signal in such a way that the streamer has to calculate less. A stable, clean and constant power supply and a good clock do the rest.
In short: Calmness, cleanliness and continuity are also beneficial for DACs and streamers
We switch to another Japanese colleague as a source and that is the Denon DCD A110. Those who read our reviews more often, know the qualities of this device. We dare to say that this CD player is the digital version of the “speaker-killer”. What this Denon manages to get out of a CD is exceptional. And also connected to the Michi (just single ended) we hear what this amplifier is capable of.
In Loussier we hear the reverb that was added during mastering, we hear the ghost notes from the drummer more clearly than ever. And there is “that piece of emotion” coming out of the speakers that we want to hear so badly! Stevens Wilson’s album Hand.Cannot.Erase was still in the player when we plugged this in. Once put on, we can’t turn off the CD. We want to hear more. And that, dear reader, is what good audio equipment is all about. Getting carried away in the music, being surprised about the things you suddenly hear in a piece of music you thought you knew inside and out.
No measurement is equal to that, it is also not objective except that the R factor of such a device is, without exception, higher than 1.
But we were talking about the Michi X3. The analog inputs are more than capable. They are lovely. The controls are also pleasant. The remote control is clear and fine; funny are the volume control and the source selector that makes the values spin up and down like a slot machine.
With the X3, it will be a matter of getting the right match. In this class, all components are critical. We saw that with the Focal Sopra 1. Unfortunately, for this review we were unable to test a speaker with a ribbon or AMT tweeter or find out what a classic dome tweeter sounds like on the X3. In any case, it is not the case that a speaker that sounds good on higher priced units in the Michiline (such as the S5), also sounds good on the X3.