Rotel RA-04 review

Last year's Award-winner still has what it takes, delivering an expansive, convivial sound and a solid spec Tested at £250.00

What Hi-Fi? Verdict

The lack of a remote remains a minor annoyance but sonically we can have nothing but praise for this budget stalwart


  • +

    Solid, cohesive sound

  • +

    superb organisation

  • +

    articulate bass notes


  • -

    No remote control

  • -

    average build

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While other products across the consumer electronics industry are struggling to keep their prices down in the current climate, Rotel has managed to maintain a fiercely competitive price for its RA-04 amplifier.

Perhaps this low price comes from not supplying a remote control?

Way back in 2007 when we first reviewed the RA-04, we raised eyebrows at the lack of a remote. Indeed, it remains a curiosity and a slight irritation.

But when we heard the more expensive RA-05 (yours with remote for £100 extra) we started to see Rotel's point: it was, somewhat surprisingly, a noticeably poorer sonic performer.

Better sound or a remote control? We know which we'd choose...

Aside from the lack of remote, our stereo amplifier checklist gets a thorough ticking. You'll find two sets of speaker output terminals, a moving magnet phono stage, five stereo inputs, a tape out and a pre out.

If you feel like overruling the world's most eminent sound engineers then you can, thanks to the tone controls, though we'd suggest the tone off button might be of more use.There's also a media player input.

The RA-04 is the slightest machine here, cutting a low, unassuming profile, and build quality is fine if not flawless.

We spy the odd hard edge, especially to the overhanging faceplate, but on a machine of this price we can forgive these minor inadequacies.

Firm grip of noisy tracks
The overall assurance of the RA-04 is indeed one of its strongest sonic characteristics.

Listening to the incredibly noisy title track from The Prodigy's new Invaders Must Die album, the Rotel keeps a firm hold on the action, delivering an even-handed sound despite the thundering synth bass riffs and effects-laden vocals.

It's right on-point with bass notes, too, providing a tight, expertly articulate bottom end that's as good as any amp in this price range.

Adele's Hometown Glory requires a subtler, more delicate touch, and the Rotel proves equally adept.

Vocals have the necessary texture and bed effortlessly into the rest of the track, though its grasp of subtle sonic details can be bettered elsewhere.

Articulating the necessary stops and starts isn't a problem, however, and the Rotel offers more than sufficient precision and impressive dynamic sweep.

It was pipped at the post by the Marantz in last year's Awards and naturally looks set to play second fiddle once more, but the Rotel remains a true five-star product.

Though not the best of the best, it's still a contender and if a cohesive, solid sound with articulate bass is up your street, this could yet be the amplifier for you


What Hi-Fi?

What Hi-Fi?, founded in 1976, is the world's leading independent guide to buying and owning hi-fi and home entertainment products. Our comprehensive tests help you buy the very best for your money, with our advice sections giving you step-by-step information on how to get even more from your music and movies. Everything is tested by our dedicated team of in-house reviewers in our custom-built test rooms in London, Reading and Bath. Our coveted five-star rating and Awards are recognised all over the world as the ultimate seal of approval, so you can buy with absolute confidence.

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