THE START OF THE ROTEL TRADITION
The origins of Rotel (originally called Roland) date back to a contract to distribute U.S.-made Sylvania television sets throughout Japan. This was in the early 1950s, before the growth of Japanese-manufactured sets by Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba and other brands. Distribution in those days involved servicing and, because Japan uses a different AC voltage than the U.S., distribution rights also required modifying Sylvania’s products to meet local requirements. Engineering thus became an early focal point of our efforts.
We began our journey to world renown as a builder of quality audio components when we reorganised in 1961 and exited the TV distribution business. During the 1960s, audio product OEM (original equipment manufacturing) design and assembly became our mainstay. However, increased efforts were devoted to designing and marketing products under our own brand name. A notable example of the company’s acclaim came in 1973 when Consumer Reports graced the RX-402 receiver with its coveted “Best Buy” rating. What CR didn’t know—and apparently never learned—was that the two runners-up also came from the same Rotel factory, even though they were sold under different brand names!
Many forces shaped our strategic direction during this time, most significantly the hyper-competition in the late 1970’s stereo marketplace that led to a pronounced trend toward products that were marketed on features rather than sound quality. Rather quickly, this evolved into a marketing war based on suspect attributes. Instead of real performance improvements audible in comparative listening, manufacturers sold products based on such things as power ratings inflated by questionable measurements or the newest fluorescent bar-graph display. We chose to follow a contrary path...and never looked back. By 1979, we had carefully defined our mission by going back to our roots. Rather than endlessly chasing “features”, we focused on designing no-frills audio components that emphasised musical accuracy, superb build quality, and affordability. This back-to-basics product plan was realised by our extensive experience in producing quality audio components reliably and efficiently in the Far East. Many of these now 30-plus year old components are still in service today!
Although our basic engineering work was performed in Japan, an all-important lab facility in England was entrusted with critical sonic parts selection and final tuning. In late 1982, the RA-820B was launched from this engineering partnership and quickly became the most successful Rotel integrated amplifier to that time. It was the first in a long line of products that established our reputation for superb sonic value, winning the company’s first Product of the Year award from What Hi-Fi? magazine and receiving many other accolades from the notoriously finicky British domestic press. In the years that have followed, numerous audio publications around the world have given Rotel components a breath-taking number of awards covering every product category.