as reviewed by Dave Clark, Carol Clark, Sherman Hong, and Larry Cox
To digress for a moment, let me extol the virtues of the Reference Line, which after all is my reference. The Reference Line, a passive line stage, is about as clean and neutral as one can get, adding very little, I mean very little, to the signal. So, what you hear is really just your source and cables. Specifically, the sound of your source, your cables, and a custom-built stepped attenuator, two esoteric resistors, and several inches of silver wire with a few RCA connections. My source is an EAD 1000 series II DAC. The EAD is helped out by the Audit and Tactic from Audient Technologies and the TLC from Theta. I hear fairly well-defined images cut from a black background, with a smooth and warm tonal presentation. Not quite three-dimensional, but not entirely two-dimensional either. More like watching a beautifully filmed movie than seeing a play. And while details are plentiful, they are never thrown in your face. You have to listen into the music to appreciate their subtlety and refinement. The overall presentation tends to fall behind the plane of the speakers, as opposed to being out in the room where you're sitting. Bass quality and quantity are all I can ask for, considering the price and the rest of the system. I can rattle the windows, and sense the woodiness of a standup bass, with in the limitations of the planars, which don't push a lot of air. Dynamics are more than acceptable, though not as much for macro- as compared to microdynamics. The high end could be more extended and airy. Any added grain comes from the source and/or amplifiers.
The Rogue, on the other hand, creates a layered soundstage with images that are about as three dimensional as one can get without having the guys over to play a few bars. Definitely more like going to a play. Images are out in the room, as well as being behind, next to, and, well, everywhere but in the speakers. The Rogue is forward in a way that is quite enticing and exciting, but never intimidating or tiring. Did I say layered? Yeah, like from here to the county line, which for us is twenty miles off the coast of California. And while I know a lot of this is due to the two 12AU7's in the line stage, the Rogue is not your typical tube product.
Why? Because it has bass and dynamics. Yeah, the bass is a touch softer and looser than the Reference Lines, but the Rogue also adds much more texture and life to these wavelengths. I mean, the Rogue can really kick it when called upon. Listening to Morcheeba's debut release, Bill Laswell's APC Volumes I and II, or any early Scorn release (how about Gyral for a perfect example) will tell you all you need to know about how deep and rhythmic your system is in terms of bass reproduction. Bring on the dub. Speaking of rhythm, try New Wet Kojak's wild sexual jazz from hell, to get an idea of pace and movement while not walking. The Rogue reproduces this recording with all the required timing and then some. The Reference Line is fun and satisfying, but the Rogue is a whole 'nother story.
The Rogue's high end offers a fairly grain-free texture that exceeds that of the Reference Line. The Rogue was never bright and edgy, just natural, as is the Reference Line, but the Rogue offered the same images with greater air and dimension. I still prefer the Reference Line in some respects. In one case, a specific track featuring a famous Hawaiian singer, the Rogue added a degree of glassy smear to the vocals, while the Reference Line was just cleaner and more natural. But that was the only time the Rogue truly struck out, and since I don't own the CD, what do I care? That was the only time the dreaded tube glare stuck its ugly glowing head out. Tube dampers would probably mitigate this problem, but I prefer to listen to review pieces without tweaks to see how they perform au natural. If I decide to purchase the unit under review watch out, here comes the tweak-man.
Oh yeah, the Rogue has a phono-section, too. Its phono-section is designed for both medium to high output moving coil and moving magnet cartridges. In my case, it's a Linn Axis turntable with a K9 moving magnet cartridge. Well, compared to my E.A.R. 834P, the Rogue was a close second. The E.A.R. is still the champ. The Rogue's character was consistent switching from line to phono, but I found the phono-section to be a little too noisy when compared to the dead-quiet E.A.R. And while the two units are quite similar sonically, I felt that the E.A.R. was ultimately more refined in its overall presentation and performance. But heck, the E.A.R. is a dedicated phono-section, designed to stand alone (no line stage needed with the E.A.R., it is one), and costs almost the same as the full-function Rogue. (The E.A.R., by the way, will accommodate low-output cartridges.)
In the end, going back to the Reference Line was not quite the let down you might assume from having read the above. The Reference Line simply offers a different perspective, which in some ways is just as satisfying. Yeah, it's a lot less dimensional and alive sounding, but its also quieter and cleaner. Is the Reference Line too sterile? Maybe, but clean can be a good thing. If I could just combine the virtues of the two units I would be a very happy camper. Hey Mark, Ralph, how about collaboration?
Rogue never failed to impress on any of the tracks I listened to, rock, jazz, or whatever.
It is highly recommended to anyone with a strong desire for musical nirvana, regardless of
your tax status!
When new components come through the Clark household, both Dave and I listen to them, and he will often mention my input in his reviews. Rather than bore you with a rehash of what he says, I will choose the one or two components each issue that really make a big impression on me. Of course, that means sometimes you won't hear from me at all. Conversely, sometimes, I might like every component we hear! I decided to pick out a stack of CDs, and listen to the same set, in the same order, with each component we received this time. I chose the tracks based on music I like, and also tracks I thought would showcase different aspects of music. Here is the track listing:
Orphan, Humroot, "Muddied Up"
Shelleyan Orphan is an old standby song, I've used it hundreds of times. The Cranes and Blur are both "big" songs. Nine Inch Nails always provokes an emotional response in me, so use it to measure how intense my response is. I'm a Cure fan, and Other Voices is my main test song, I always use it. The track from Wish is a quiet song with strings, the closest I would ever get to using classical to test equipment.
The Rogue 66 Preamplifier made my blood pressure go up, and I mean that in the most positive way. We have a passive preamplifier in our system, the Reference Line 3000 II updated to Preeminence III. It is a sound that Dave really likes, and I live with it. I don't listen to music as critically as he does, so the passive is usually fine with me. After hearing this active tube preamplifier, I couldn't believe the difference. I literally felt transported to another plane listening to these songs. There was so much detail and nuance, making everything sound so natural and "real." I also liked the fact that the soundstage was right in my face. With our usual system, the soundstage is usually right at the rear wall (sometimes even behind it). Not so with the Rogue. I felt like I could reach out and touch the bands. I usually listen with my eyes closed, and all these bands kept appearing at the end of the living room. The Cranes song is so big that it overwhelmed everything else I listened to, but the Rogue handled it easily. Allison Shaw's voice took on a more normal quality, compared to the high pitched nasally quality it usually has. I really did feel like I was floating in mid air. Blur also sounded just right. Previous go-rounds at testing this song just didn't do it justice.
As I stated earlier, I'm a Cure fan. Make that a major Cure fan. When testing equipment, I always use "Other Voices" from the Cure's third release, Faith. As I mentioned in by bio, I use the "smell the sweat test," especially with this song. There was no question with this preamplifier, I could definitely smell it. The other song I regularly use to test components is Shelleyan Orphan, "Muddied Up." This song is rich in bass and drums. Caroline Crawley's voice sounded rich and textured, better than it had in a long time. The Nine Inch Nails song gave me the same response it always doesI felt freezing cold, even though it was a hundred degrees the night I listened to the Rogue. Trent Reznor sounded so perfectly cold, and calculating. When a component reproduces that the way the Rogue did, it sends shivers up my spine. I was feeling so transported, I had to throw on an extra disc. In fact, I wanted to goon listening all night. The extra disc I listened to was by a band called Forest For The Trees. It is a richly layered recording, with lots of samples and found sounds. I listened to a song called "Dream." It was during this song that my blood pressure went through the roof. The music was surrounding me, and I could hear each layer in detail.
I really did like this preamplifier a lot. I was also very impressed with the Nordost SPM Reference cables. Yes, you can hear a difference between cables, and in the case of these cables, a big difference. Everything seemed smoothed out, all the annoying sharpness removed. The demonstration that Dave mentions in his review was really an eye-opener. It did occur to me that these differences might be hard to detect in normal listeningpeople don't usually jump up and change cables between each song. The overall sound that these cables produce, however, makes everyday listening better.
These cables also look really cool! I like to use all my senses when listening to equipment (that's why I like to smell sweat when a component is really good!). These cables are flat and purple in color. The speaker cables really look neat. It's a shame to hide the interconnects behind the rack. I'm really serious, the sight of these cables enhanced the listening for me. Carol J. Clark
Let's see$1195 for a full-featured tube preamplifier, with a separate power supply. When I first heard that we had a Rogue Audio 66 preamplifier for review, and that it had these features at that price, my guess was that it would be poorly made, and would sound like crap. Well, I was wrong.
The Rogue is a well laid out, even handsome preamplifier. In pictures it looks nice matched with Rogue's amplifier. Aesthetics generally aren't a big deal to me, but the Rogue is substantially taller than the rest of my gear, and quite bright in its silver finish next to my all-black components. To me and Betty Crocker the look doesn't match, but that is just my eye, gear is for your ear, right? Because of the external power supply, the preamplifier is quite lighttubes and a pcb board aren't heavy. The inside of the box is not filled with lots of stuff, but is economically and thoughtfully arranged so that traces and wires run indirect pathways, without being cramped.
Right out of the box, the Rogue sounded good. At first I thought it sounded fairly similar to my Audible Illusions Modulus 2D, at least as far as the overall tonal balance. Many fellow audio nudnicks have told me that I need to get rid of the A1, but I have liked the sound of this preamplifier for quite some time. Moreover, I borrowed a Modulus 3 about a year back and thought the newer unit sounded a lot more like a solid state preamplifier, with the usual (though not necessarily) attendant coolness. Although the Modulus 3 was definitely more resolving and articulate, the reduction in warmth was not a positive for me. Thus, my initial impression of the Rogue was good.
After listening to the unit for a few days, I worried that I'd have nothing to say except "It sounded a lot like my A1." However, after going back and forth with the two units, I found the A1 a bit brighter at about 6kHz than the Rogue. The Rogue went at least as deep, and the highs seemed pretty extended in comparison.
There didn't seem to be any obvious bumps in the frequency response, though in fairness neither my Spendors nor the ATC SCM 10's on loan from Sound Asylum in Venice, California (thanks, James) go much below 50Hz. Accordingly, I cannot really comment about deep bass. Typically, though not necessarily, tubes seem a bit fat in the bottom end. The bass in my system, however, was solid, tight, and not fat. The Rogue's bottom end on deep-bass monster tracks like "Oh! Yeah" from Yello and Bela Fleck's "Flight of the Cosmic Hippo" seemed more realistic to me. The LP soundtrack from The Mission had a real sense of solidity and tightness. I'm not sure that the bottom end of the Rogue was any deeper, but on LP it was a bit tighter than my A1.
The highs were another matter. I thought they sounded extended though not hard or etched, but the music I normally listen to doesn't have a lot of high frequency information. I'm not sure why this is, I have just noticed it. To check the highs, I pulled out Sheffield Records' LP of Lincoln Mayorga and Amanda McBrooms called Growing up in Hollywood Town. (Please don't flog me, I went through a stage where I bought music just because it was well recorded, however emotionally empty it might be.) This LP is really well recorded, perhaps the most "natural" sounding LP or CD I have, especially the drums. It is testimony to the Rogue's reproduction of timbre that although I pulled out the LP to listen to the triangle on one track, the naturalness of the drum timbre struck me first, sidetracking me into listening to the record again.
Back to the highs.... There is a track on this LP with a ringing triangle. On the A1 it is pretty amazing, with a crystalline clarity that makes my fillings ring. With the Audible Illusions, the triangle is distinctly placed about a foot above the left tweeter and the same distance to the right, quite clearly untethered from the speaker. The Rogue dropped the ball on this one. The triangle was anchored to the speaker and disconnected from the music. Moreover, the sound broke up as though there was a ton of distortion. I cannot say if this is a general frequency response problem or an aberration with this recording, as I did not hear it on any other music, LP or CD. Reinserting the A1 to listen to this track again, the triangle sounded just as recalled. In fairness, the Rogue was not designed for moving coil cartridges, and the problem may stem from asking the Rogue to drive too small a signal. If you listen to music consisting of 101 Dalmatian triangle ringers, you may not like the Rogue. However, if you listen to other things, I doubt you will have problems with its high frequencies.
The midrange of the Rogue did not have the 6kHz peak that the A1 has. This means that in my system the frequencies below 6kHz, down into the male vocal range, sound a bit warmer through the Rogue. It didn't make all vocals sound warmer, just deeper, richer, and more human. The A1s brightness obscures the tonal balance in that range. Given a broad brush, I'd paint the Rogue as better balanced across the frequency band. The A1 made the Rogue seem not quite as highly resolving or "clear," but I posit that if the A1 were more resolving than the Rogue, then the latter ought to have increased graininess, which it didn't. At other times, with other gear, lower resolution sounds like grain, but the Rogue was less grainy than the Audible Illusions.
The Rogue's soundstage was only pretty good for a tube preamplifier. There was a definite presence of images that tubes do WAY better than solid state. Compared to solid state, the Rogue is a soundstaging monster. Compared to the A1, it is only good.
I could easily
live with the Rogue. It is tonally more evenly balanced than the A1, does the bottom more
enjoyably, and, except for the triangle, sounded at least the equal of the A1 at the top
end. Moreover, it only has one volume pot, which makes it simpler to use than the A1,
which has two. I think that the Rogue is a "better" preamplifier than my A1. If
you are ready for the next step beyond mid-fi amp/preamplifier combinations, the Rogue is
a worthy contender. If you are an LP and CD collector, with the money you save by buying
the Rogue instead of a Modulus 3A, you can collect thousands more used LPs and spend a lot
more time listening to music. The Rogue is certainly worthy of an audition.
I may not be the best person to evaluate the Rogue 66 preamplifier, as my system has no preamplifier! My Accuphase DP-75 CD player with digital volume control directly drives my Accuphase P-550 amplifier. With one less component and interconnect, the sound is superior. However, I do have a lot of experience with tube preamplifiers, including AirTight, Audible Illusions, Audio Research, Jadis, and Sonic Frontier, and have owned a Valve Amplification Company CPA-1 Mk II. At $1195, the Rogue Audio preamplifier is less expensive than my speaker cables. Nevertheless, I will offer my comments within the context of Rogue Audio's price and competition. I will also limit my critique to the line stage only, as I am, at present, without a turntable.
The Rogue 66 is built like a tank. It's a two-box affairthe main chassis plus a huge power supply. The power supply contains two transformers. A flexible umbilical cord connects to the control box. Opening the lid of the main chassis reveals a small PC board with cleanly laid out parts and routed wires. Ceramic tube sockets are an admirable touch at this price point. This is a well thought out and well built product.
The sonics of the Rogue proved to be typical of tube preamplifiers. The sound was warm and full-bodied. The warm and rich tint added to all the music was like changing from black coffee to coffee regular. The treble was silky smooth, although not as extended as my reference setups.
However, with the extra interconnect and preamplifier in place, the presentation was less transparent. The sound stage shrank in both depth and width. Images were less focused. Instruments moved closer, although they had more meat, while the bass and midrange were more rich and full. Although attack was slightly slower, this did not intrude on the pace of most music. Overall, the Rogue was less intrusive than I had expected.
On Holly Cole's new album, the vocal was more up front, rich, and full-bodied, although the upper midrange was slightly congested. The delineation between images was individualized and clearnot smeared. On track 11, the banjo moved closer to Cole's voice. The strings rattled smoothly without being etched or sibilant. The body of the banjo sounded thicker, more boxy. The bass was full and weighty, even though not as extended or precise as usual. The rhythmic pace came through with ease, if not as quickly as my usual reference. Again, this did not get in the way of the music. The Rogue presented a more intimate sound stage, and I really felt transported to the performance. However, everything sounded less open.
The Rogue really glowed on the soundtrack to Mo' Better Blues. On track4, the trumpet and soprano saxophone appeared more than life-sized and moved closer by about a foot or so. Both instruments sounded glorious and three-dimensional. The rush of air going through the brass was scalp-tingling. Wow! Piano keys and cymbals stroked smoothly through the air. Decay of both instruments was natural and real. No doubt about it tubes in the house! Bass strings were dimensional and full of weight, though less focused or controlled than usual. The bass extended down to about 40hz. Strings were not as distinguishable between notes. Some details were less noticeable. The space around each instrument was audible, but smaller, possibly because the images were bigger. Once again, the soundstage was less expansivedepth, width, and height were slightly reduced. The Rogue presented an intimate portrait of a cabaret, as opposed to a concert-like experience.
On the whole, I found the Rogue extremely musical and competent. All types of music played through it with ease. I preferred classical, jazz, and music with simple arrangements. The midrange is key with the 66this is where the warmth and dimensionality of tubes particularly shined. The extreme octaves were good, but not exceptional. The Rogue's performance was reminiscent of Sonic Frontiers SFL-1 Signature preamplifier. Both have similar strengths and weaknesses. Among the latter, on both preamplifiers I encountered an annoying intermittent hum problem.
The Rogue 66
has a built-in phono stage and an outboard power supply. For $1195, it brings you a touch
of tube heaven, and a phono stage to boot. What more can one ask for? This product is what
being an "audiophile" is all about. However, for more money, the Sonic Frontier
SFL-1 does have better bass and, if memory serves, is more dynamic, though more grainy.
The Rogue has more presence, bloom, and focus. Only the Audible Illusions Modulus 3A and
the Melos headphone preamplifier compete sonically with the Rogue, but both of those units
are considerably more expensive.
Rogue Audio 66 preamplifier