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POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 4
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rogue audio

66 Magnum preamplifier

as reviewed by Francisco Duran, Ed Morawski, and Danny Kaey

 

 

 

 

FRANCISCO DURAN'S SYSTEM

LOUDSPEAKERS
ProAc Response 2 with Osiris 24" stands.

ELECTRONICS
Monarchy SM-70 (ran as monoblocks), Antique Sound Labs MG-SPM25DT monoblocks, Canary CA-301Mk-II amplifier, and Reference Line Preeminence lA passive and Canary CA-601Mk-II preamplifiers.

SOURCE
NAD T531 and Antique Electronic Supply CD-1 (temporary) CD players, and a Taddeo Digital Antidote Two.

CABLES
Superconductor+ and FX interconnects, a double run of JPS Ultraconductor speaker cables, and Monarchy and various DIY AC cords.

ACCESSORIES
Balanced Power Technologies BPT 4SE, Brick Wall Series Mode Surge Suppressor, Audio Prism Quiet Lines and Noise Sniffer, Vibrapods, Black Diamond Racing Boards and cones, Final Labs Daruma-3II Isolation Bearings, various ferrite rings, Target rack, Yamaha KX-380 cassette deck, custom made wooden cable lifters by Mr. Clark senior, and all the NOS tubes I can afford!

 

one.jpg (6551 bytes) When we card-carrying audiophiles hear the word "accurate," how often do we think that it applies to solid state equipment? Almost always, right? That really snows me. As the word is often used, it means "clean," "transparent," and "tight," but not "textured" or "having tonal color, timbre, and body," terms that connote accuracy to me. I recently heard a symphony orchestra playing without a PA system. Things like pinpoint imaging or soundstage never entered my mind. The violin section sounded sweet and naturally extended. At times, it also sounded slightly piercing, but it never had pinpoint imaging. Did the bass section sound tight? With five or six bass players plucking and sawing away, I was too busy concentrating on how they came together. What about the pace, rhythm, and timing that is precious to so many audiophiles? I haven't heard an audio system at any price that does it better than a live orchestra. Finally, while I was listening to that orchestra, I did a little hearing test—I closed my eyes and said to myself, "How does this relate to reproduced sound?" There was a grainless and dimensional warmth to the sound of that orchestra that I just do not hear with most solid state equipment. So, what is accuracy? I guess it depends on what you are looking for, but please don't tell me that it is the exclusive domain of solid state equipment.

All this was brought to mind by the Rogue Audio 66 Magnum tube preamplifier. A few years back, the original Rogue 66 hit the systems of a few of us at audioMUSINGS, but unfortunately mine was not one of them. This time, though, I got to have a listen. It looks like Mark O' Brian and crew have been steadily tinkering with their designs, the results of which are "Magnum" versions of all of their products. You can buy the regular version or the upgraded, Magnum version, which makes for a more flexible way of buying audio gear. The Magnum 66 sports a larger power supply, extensively modded with high-quality coupling and output capacitors, along with Dale-Vishay resistors. Gold tube sockets were also installed, along with—this is my favorite part—NOS tubes. The Rogue website claims that the Magnum upgrades improve performance in a number of ways, including increased transparency, greater dynamics, and improved bass and high frequency response.

The Rogue 66 Magnum served up music very well in my system. Whether I played John Scofield or Bruckner, the Magnum 66 showed its worth. A quick switch back to my Canary preamp showed that it is a little constrained in comparison, though I noticed that the 66 tended to be a little brighter in the top end. The Canary also sounded ever so slightly crisper in its handling of sibilants. With the Rogue, the lower midrange was detailed, full, and dimensional, though the upper mids did not follow suit. Horns sounded slightly thinner than what I usually hear through my preamp. The top end of the Magnum 66 is extended enough to bring out minute details in the music. Transients sound quick and clean, and the timbres of percussion instruments sound natural, more so than through the other preamps that I have heard. The Magnum also has excellent bass extension. Bass is nimble and appropriately quick and articulate. Instruments in this range don't sound too "tight," but have correct weight and heft.

The Magnum 66 is not stingy. It spreads music around the room like a brand new lottery winner spends his or her money. Instrumental lines do not trip over each other. "Bloom" is a word that might be inserted here. You can add air and space, too, but not too much. The 66 doesn’t go too far in any direction. Its shortcomings are never obvious. Music is very dimensional and balanced.

The Magnum 66 plays music in an open, smooth, and dynamic way. It is pretty neat all-around performer for a very reasonable price. It definitely sounds like a tube preamp with its slight warmth and dimensionality, but it doesn't shy away from detail and dynamic extension. Nevertheless, the Canary has a solidity and coherency that made it squeak past the Rogue for me. It is also noticeably more robustly built than the Rogue, though the Magnum is no slouch in this regard. If you are in the market for a preamp, the Magnum version of the Rogue 66 might be a great place to start. Francisco Duran

 

 

 

ED MORAWSKI'S SYSTEM:

LOUDSPEAKERS
Alon Capri.

ELECTRONICS
Plinius CD-LAD preamplifier and SA-102 amplifier.

SOURCE
Resolution Audio Opus 21 CD player.

CABLES
Synergistic Research Kaleidoscope interconnects, AudioQuest Slate speaker cables, and DIY power cords.

 

two.jpg (6646 bytes)For many years I have been somewhat in awe of those audiophiles who love tubes. I have had little experience with tube equipment, and that experience has not been earth shattering. However, the Rogue 66 tube preamp has gotten nothing but raves, and my expectations were high. The Rogue is attractive: black and silver, with a nicely curved front and three silver knobs. I am puzzled as to why the input selector is the biggest knob, rather than the volume control, but that's okay. It does stand out.

Listening to the 66 was more work than I imagined. It seemed as though everything conspired to prevent it. First, it is yet another odd-sized component. (What is it, these days?) The Rogue is only 14" wide but 5 1/4" high, and that quarter inch made it too high to fit in my rack. Then there is the separate power supply, which didn't fit anywhere, except on the floor. Luckily they provide a long cable. Okay, so I reconfigured my rack once again, powered up the 66, and let it warm up for the day. After connecting my Resolution Audio Opus 21 CD player via some Empirical Audio RCA interconnects—the Rogue has no provisions for balanced connections–I thought I was ready to enjoy music. I started a CD and... nothing! No sound!

After checking all the connections and consulting the manual, I still could not get any sound. Just for grins, I turned the volume control to maximum, and at the very end of its travel I heard faint music. Was the Opus 21's 2.5-volt output not enough to drive the Rogue? With no other choice, I unpacked the Cary 306/200 I was selling and installed it, using the same cables. This time I was rewarded with sound, so I sat back in my sofa and picked up the Rogue’s chunky but well-made aluminum remote, which only has two buttons, volume up and volume down. I pressed the volume up button, and bam! The Cary switched inputs! After digging out the Cary's remote and resetting it, I tried again. Same thing! Believe it or not, the Rogue's remote has the same code as the Cary's input selector! What are the odds? It is a conspiracy to keep me from listening! Needless to say, the rest of my audition was completed without the benefit of a remote control.

I was glad I was finally able to listen to the Rogue. First, it is extremely quiet, and contributes no noise or hum of any kind to the system. Second, it sounds very smooth. I was expecting to hear tube distortion, lack of deep bass, and rolled-off highs—characteristics I thought typical of tube equipment—but the Rogue 66 was not like that at all. Bass was deep and plentiful, perhaps not quite as tight as that of my Plinius CD-LAD, but definitely better than okay. I heard no distortion either. Vocals were a pleasure to experience. Listening to Diana Krall's Look of Love was a joy. Krall is cool, so cool she can come across as emotionless, but the Rogue put some warmth into her singing. The highs sounded better than I expected as well. Brass, cymbals, and chimes sounded smooth, yet detailed. The resolution was not the of last word, but very respectable. If the Rogue 66 lacked anything, it was soundstage. I noticed a definite collapse, to the width of the speakers and no more. The cause of this is a mystery, but it was clearly evident.

A few more voice-oriented CDs confirmed the Rogue's smoothness, so I tried some classical music. Burmester's CD-03 has some great cuts. Track 7—"Allegro Molte" from Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade–is a good test of dynamics. I noticed a tiny lack of speed, and there was also that smaller soundstage. Perhaps tubes are just not fast enough? My favorite rock music remains Fleetwood Mac and Madonna's early albums. I tried both, and the Rogue 66 left me with no complaints.

After several weeks of listening, I was hard pressed to tell that the Rogue was a tube preamp. I have worked long and hard making my system sound good. Many complain about solid state's harshness, grit, and grain. My system exhibits none of these, at least to my ears. The point is that I could see the Rogue curing these ills, if I had them. Since I don't, the 66 simply sounds like a good preamp. Mated with a harsh or bright solid state amp, it might be the perfect companion. Ed Morawski

 

 

 

DANNY KAEY'S SYSTEM

LOUDSPEAKERS
Reimer McCullough GS.

ELECTRONICS
Marsh P2000T preamplifier and A200S amplifier.

SOURCE
Audio Note CD2.1x CD player.

CABLES
Analysis Plus Oval One interconnects and Oval Nine speaker cables.

 

three.jpg (8484 bytes)My first review for this publication was of a complete system, consisting of Reimer speakers, an Audio Note CD player, and a Marsh Sound Design amp/preamp combination (www.positive-feedback.com/Issue2/kaeysystem.htm). Months later, I still enjoy listening to this setup. If anything, I am drawn closer to the musical performance than ever before. This is truly a nice setup, able to deliver performance far beyond its price. When Dave Clark approached me to review a preamp at a price not too far from that of the Marsh P2000T, I couldn’t resist the temptation. I thought, since the Marsh preamp is so good, how would a comparably priced product fare? It didn’t take long for me to find out.

A few days later, I was presented with the Rogue 66 Magnum tube preamp. There are two versions of the 66 available from Rogue: the "regular" model and the 66 "Magnum. I was immediately reminded of Inspector Harry Callahan, aka Dirty Harry, and his Magnum, "the world’s most powerful handgun." Rogue’s Magnum series is a heavily modified version of the regular series, with larger power supplies, Harmonic Technologies silver wiring, gold tube sockets, upgraded tubes, etc. The construction and appearance remain virtually the same, except for a blue LED instead of the more subdued red one on the standard 66. The blue light is way cool! (I admit to having a fetish for "blue" diodes.)

What struck me first about the Magnum was the build quality, not just its internal parts, but its touch and feel. You have to check this thing out to believe it! I am all for build quality, and in fact believe it to be as important as sound quality. This "little" preamp definitely caught my eye. The front panel is machined out of a solid piece of aluminum, as are the knobs, and it's quite hefty. The remote control is also machined out of a solid piece of aluminum, and has a very sleek, minimalist design, featuring only two buttons: volume up and volume down. It feels very nice in your hand, and has its place as a beautiful piece of "art" on my coffee table. I would have liked a mute button, but since the volume is attenuated at a fairly brisk pace, you really won’t miss it. I didn’t. For a product to feature such build quality at such a price is truly outstanding, and should be considered a testament to the Rogue company's philosophy. A first rate job. The power supply has been moved outside of the unit into a brick-sized black box, which is attached to the preamp via a proprietary cable. The reason for this is the adverse affect a power supply can have on sensitive gear such as tubes. The power supply is encased in a relatively inexpensive-looking black aluminum box, which I guess isn't that big of a deal since it can be tucked out of the way. I guess the Rogue engineers had to cut costs somewhere.

With the preamp checked out and hooked up to my system, I proceeded to listen. Having grown accustomed to the sound of the all-Marsh/Audio Note/Reimer setup, my first impression was that the sound was a bit closed in, and not quite as charming and sweet as before. It wasn't bad—far from it. The sound was textured and had nice body, but I felt it was a bit muffled. I figured that before I continued the review, I should offer the preamp a good burn-in and let it run for several days. Alas, the "behind the curtain" sound never quite disappeared—better, but still there. During my time with the Rogue I continued to feel that the system was being prevented from delivering its full potential. The sound was extended on both ends, with the bass having nice drive, and I was impressed with the evenness the Rogue was capable of, especially at the price. However, the sound was not only more laid back, but not quite as revealing as I was accustomed to. But then again, I recalled that this was a characteristic strength of the Marsh gear—it is as revealing as all get out!.

So to remind myself of what my reference sounded like, I substituted the Marsh for the Rogue and was almost instantly transported to a higher level of audio heaven. Gone was the grain that was hanging over the expression and tonality of Elvis Presley's voice. His performance was so well captured by Steve Hoffmann's re-mastering skills that I really had the feeling of Elvis being there. Just to make sure I wasn't deluded, I put the Rogue back in the chain and the sense of immediacy disappeared. The warmth was there, the texture was there, but then again, I was not quite there. It was almost like looking at the most beautifully designed automobile captured by the most skilled photographer versus actually being in front of it. Sure, a picture says a thousand words, but it doesn’t quite live up to the real thing.

Rogue has delivered a very good product nonetheless. Perhaps with more forward or upfront speakers, music through the Rogue would come across as being more open, though I didn’t have a chance to test this hypothesis. Good preamps are hard to find; even better ones can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand. Much of what is available in the audio world can be thought of as being in one of three categories: junk components, good affordable stuff, and Uber Gear. It’s pretty easy to see what goes where, though that will have to be a discussion for another day. I'd put the Rogue 66 Magnum in the second, "good stuff" class. It s built like a tank and I have no doubt that it will stand the test of time. (What's the shelf life of aluminum, anyway?) I am happy that manufacturers such as Rogue exist, which make an honest effort at producing components for the discerning audiophile who doesn't want to (or simply can't) spend an exorbitant amount of money. The Magnum is esthetically very pleasing. Sound wise, at least in my setup, I felt as though information was lost in the translation. Perhaps the missing link was one of Rogue's tube amplifiers, as it is possible the Rogue preamp and Marsh amp didn't see quite eye-to-eye. I encourage you to give this product a fair chance. You might like it. Danny Kaey

 

 

 

66 Magnum preamplifier
Retail $1495

Rogue Audio
web address:www.rogueaudio.com
email address: info@rogueaudio.com
TEL: 570. 992. 9901

 

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