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Michi X3 Series 2

Almost three decades after Rotel launched its flagship Michi products, all high-end audio engineering and traditional craftsmanship, the brand was revived with a new line-up that broke cover at an off-site event during 2019’s Munich High End Show. The new Michi models – think Rotel’s equivalent of Toyota’s Lexus brand – were quite a departure from the brushed metalwork, slender dimensions, and vibrant red wooden side panels of the originals. The new arrivals looked purposeful, minimalist and rather cool in their mixture of gloss and matt black - and, on listening, proved just as revelatory in their performance.

Having heard all those newcomers – two integrated amps, a preamp, and both mono and stereo power amps – I quickly formed the opinion that the star of the show was the more affordable of the integrated amps: the X3. Here was an amp with everything most of us could ever want: plentiful inputs, both digital and analogue, and what the Rolls-Royce engineers used to describe as ‘more than adequate power’ – in fact, this not exactly huge amplifier was rated at 340W per channel into four ohms, but exceeded this output by a very comfortable margin, making it capable of driving just about any speakers you threw at it.

Now the X3 is back in Series 2 form, along with revised versions of the more powerful X5, good for 600W (and then some) into four ohms and the P5 preamplifier. The price of the X3 has increased (what hasn’t?) but outwardly little has changed, apart from a slight lift in quoted power to 350W a side and a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ Series 2 on the display when you fire the amp up. There’s also a tiny S2 logo on the rear panel, but all the big work has gone on within.

The DAC, previously an AKM AK4490EQ, is now an eight-channel ESS Sabre ES9028PRO, while the digital input switching and master clock circuits have been revised, the Bluetooth section now has aptX HD compatibility and the USB ‘computer audio’ input now handles DSD audio up to DSD256/11.2MHz. Furthermore, there have been 96 component changes within the analogue circuits - Michi asserts ‘power supplies and audio circuitry have been re-engineered to render music with increased precision and detail with an even more immersive soundstage’.

Mind you, even a look under the hefty lid reveals that not much seems to have changed inside the immaculately-finished casework. There’s still that large, heavily-shielded custom transformer, and you’d need a watchmaker’s eye and the attention to detail of a classic car nut to spot the component changes, while the rear-panel connections remain the same. The digital section is fed by three coaxial inputs and three optical, plus that ‘computer music’ USB-B, while there's also a moving magnet phono input, four sets of analogue inputs (three on RCAs, one on balanced XLRs), preamp outputs and a pair of mono subwoofer outputs. There are still dual sets of speaker outputs, again custom-made for Michi, but they’re now platinum-plated, whereas the original X3 used rhodium-plating. See what I mean about needing a good eye to spot the changes?

The spec’s completed by Ethernet and USB-A ports (for control and firmware updates respectively, and nothing to do with music), while the front panel has a full-size headphone socket. Keeping the fascia clean is the relegation to a menu system of input naming, tone controls (with an option to have them in use or bypassed for each source), and home theatre bypass for when using the amp with a surround processor. There’s also the choice of a simple display of selected source and volume, or swing-needle or bar-graph displays of the input signal. You can also dim the display or turn it off.

Oh, and there’s one other change: after what seems like a lifetime association between Michi parent Rotel and speaker company Bowers & Wilkins, a worldwide restructuring of distribution means Michi and Rotel are now distributed in the UK by London-based Cadence Distribution, where they’ve joined the likes of Nagra and Plinius.

Sound quality

I think it’s fair to say that I bored friends and audio acquaintances at some length with my enthusiasm for the original Michi X3 – but also that most agreed, having taken a listen, that for once I was talking sense. 

The Series 2 builds on that amplifier’s weight, scale, focus and seemingly unburstable dynamic ability with… well, with more of all those qualities, but again they are delivered without any sense of flash or bravado. Instead, this is an amplifier with a presentation as understated as its styling: it’s big without being brutish, refined and extremely stylish – whatever type of music you choose to play.

That means the sound is always tightly controlled but without any sign of being held in check, especially when it comes to the deep, extended yet hard-hitting bass. At the same time the X3 S2 can open a mix wide, allowing the listener to hear every detail – but in the context of the music being played, not as a tiresome sonic firework display.

That delivery makes this amplifier a hugely rewarding listen, and one that’s not going to be outclassed by very high-end source components – I did much of my listening with the Naim ND 555 and a brace of 555 PS power supplies in harness – nor falter when asked to drive speakers you’d normally associate with a requirement for hulking great mono power amps, either due to their size or the electrical load they present to the amplification. Whether you’re an absolute headbanger living in a detached house with barren moorland for miles around, or just like your orchestral music with realistic dynamics, this amplifier’s going to deliver. 

Even more to the point, it maintains that sense of superior disdain for the demands of the music when cruising through a wide range of styles and genres. It just gets on with the job of delivering the music to a very high standard and delighting the listener with the supreme level of involvement it brings. The levels of detail on offer here soon get taken for granted, in my case because I was so busy loading up track after track, and then album after album, and simply enjoying just how entertaining this latest Michi offering made everything I asked of it.

Living with

The beauty of this amplifier is that it delivers true high-end sound from one (comparatively) compact unit, without all that clutter of preamps, power amps and extra cables. No larger than a mid-market AV receiver, it’ll drive a huge range of speakers, from top-notch mini-monitors to massive floorstanders, and do so with complete control and conviction. And it looks pretty good too, in an understatedly classy way.


Yes, the elephant in the room is that the X3 Series 2 is considerably more expensive than the model it replaces, thanks in no small part to increased component and materials prices. But even so, it remains a true high-end bargain, able to show a clean pair of heels to many much pricier audiophile amplification solutions. It might just be all the amplifier you’ll ever need…

Listening notes

Pet Shop Boys Loneliness

The opening track sets out the stall for the latest album, Nonetheless, and 15 releases in they’re still on top form, with original ideas, lush arrangements, and a great fat bassline on which the Michi can work its magic

Eric Clapton Give Me Love

Clapton’s To Save a Child charity release is hardly revelatory, but the live sound has both fine ambience and intimacy, as on this track where he’s joined by George Harrison’s son Dhani

Trio Sōra Brahms Piano Trio No.1

It’s not just with big, bombastic tracks that the Michi shows just what can it do: with this crisply recording of the Op. 8 & 87 trios, the focused energy and interplay of the performers is revealed spectacularly, and in a persuasive acoustic

What the press say

Why you should buy it

This is real high-end hi-fi made user-friendly - it’s no trickier to set up than any average mass-market integrated amplifier, and is entirely faff-free and self-explanatory in operation. It’s just with all that ease of use it also delivers a stunning sound, with fabulous insight and involvement, and all the power you’ll ever need. If you ever even approach its limits, you’ll be both very brave and lucky enough to live a long way from any neighbours!

Video review

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