Vocals vs. Instrumental. Cheap Rotel vs. Aragon???

I have recently been doing a lot of AB'ing with my friend.
He is newly into quality sound.

Music used for comparison was Natalie Cole - "Unforgettable"

The mix of pertinent gear includes:

B&W 802 Series 80 Floorstanders
Aragon 8008ST 200W power amp
Monarchy 18b DAC/Preamp
Home depot speaker cable

I have:

B&W P4 Floorstanders
Aragon 2004 MKII 100W power amp
Rotel RC-995 Preamp (upgraded PC)
Rotel RCD-971 (upgraded PC)
Rotel RB-981 130W power amp (just arrived today)

IC's used with both systems:

Ecosse Conductor
Signal Cable Analog2

Other cables used:
Homemade CAT5 biwire speaker cable (the winner by a long way)
Biwire - not mentioning the name (no good in my setup)

Various very high end cables used at friends house.
Also auditioned a Pass Lab Aleph 5 at friends with 802's

What sounded best I hear you ask?

Well the Pass sounded best at friends, but my Aragon 2004 sounded much better than his setup (same source RC-995/RCD-971 used throughout)

Tha absolute winner IMO was the rotel RB-981!

My system (B&W P4's/RB-981) sounded better compared to ALL the other amps/speakers combos, how can this be?

My speaker cables make a big difference I know, but how can an Rotel RB-981 beat out an Aragon 2004 MKII + 8008ST and the PASS class A????

I think I know the answer, the little Rotel favors vocals over instrumental and seems a little warmer IMO

The Aragon does seem to have more finesse but just does not sound as "musical" and definitely not as foot tapping.

Aragon: Instrumental seems too forward in relation to vocals, the little Rotel (130W) whipps the ass of the Aragon 8008ST/2004 MKII in my system.

And my cheap sytem sounds better in any configuration than my friends 802's/8008/Pass Labs!

Can this just be speaker cables or is there more to this such as room synergy?

Anyhow the Rotel sounds amazing perhaps a little grainier than the Aragon but 100x more enjoyable...

What's going on??


What's goin on?

I have no idea but I used Rotel some moons ago and found it to be very good for the $$$ too in a completely different set up.

I remain,
IMHO it does not take much to get warmer than the Aragon. I have tried Aragon amps in the past and in general found them very dry and cold. If you are looking for an amp that maybe a bit better than your Rotel, I would look at Monarchy monoblocs (SE100 or SE100 Deluxes). They are some of my favorite amps used for $1k or so.

Aragons like a tubed pre. Replace the ss rotel pre with a tubed pre such as AI,CJ or AR. Then compare the rotel to the aragons and you might find what all the fuss has been about.
Just my 2 cents.
Thx for the ideas, I think I will suggest my friend tries out the Monarchy mono's. I being on a somewhat more limited budget will happily stick to the little Rotel for the time being...

I also have a Musical Fidelity X-Pre which sounds nice with Aragon power but is not very revealing...Perhaps a tube upgrade will help it?

Upgrade fever continues...
(This might be the male version of girls shopping for clothes/shoes etc!?)
One of the reasons your Rotel system sounded better than your friend's Aragon system is because the Monarchy 18B is being used as preamp. It works just fine as a DAC but things will change considerably with a real preamp. I use the volume control on my 18B simply to match the signal level to be the same as my tuner so that I don't have to EQ it everytime I switch sources. Check out this thread which is just as current as yours:
http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr.pl aamps&1047624625&read&3&4&
Today I took the Rotel RB-981 to my friends and hooked it up to the 802's using the Monarchy 18b as a preamp.

Previous listenning had been done with the RC-995/RCD-971 on both systems.

Well the 981 sounded worse on his system! None of the warmth or forward vocals.
I presume that the reason is the easy to drive P4's vs. the hard to drive 802's (85db sensitivity).

The 802's definitely need Aragon power.
Alot can be contributed to cabling used also.

I just went through it with my system where some cables made the back to forward presentation,vocals,soundstaging and air around instraments different.

OTOH I auditioned the top Rotel reciever,Rotel CDP,B&W CDM1NTs with Transparent cables which cost more than all the components combined and there was still a masking of the vocals which to me I cannot live with.

I use a Modified B&K ST-202,FT Audio Passive Pre,Phillips CD-80\smART DIO and Modified NEAR's and my system still out did that setup.It's very particular to what I insert into the line.Cables are a real pain to get correct in a setup to make it bloom the way it should.

I guess it's just system matching, but somehow I just prefer the little rotel's warmer less clinical sound???