I’ve heard many audiophiles complain that there are not enough affordable, excellent sounding and well made components manufactuered in the United States anymore. Yes, it is true that many European and American designers have been contracting out their manufacturing to Asia to cut costs and keep prices within reach of ordinary hifi nuts. And, yes, there are some American based manufacturers who make very fine gear, but priced for the Maserati crowd. Yet, to make a blanket statement concerning the demise of fairly priced American products is unfounded, in my opinion.
Rogue Audio is one such company that has been making very fairly priced, wonderfully built and well reviewed components since 1996. They specialize in tubed preamplifiers and amplifiers. Rogue products range in price from $995 for the Metis preamplifier to $9995 for the powerhouse Apollo mono block amplifiers. It is not uncommon today to see new companies come to market with products starting at ten or fifteen grand. So for any of those readers that may have the wrong impression, with the Rogue Metis preamp and the Atlas power amplifier, one can assemble tube separates for around $2500. In my book that is beyond affordable. The Metis and Atlas are from Rogue’s entry level Titan series, which also includes the Cronus integrated tube amp. And by entry level, I don’t mean chintzy. The Metis and Atlas are built like tanks and have been very positively reviewed, domestically and internationally. Rogue also offers “Magnum” upgrades to the Titan series, and under review here is the Atlas Magnum, which retails for $1895, a $400 premium over the standard Atlas.
According to Rogue, the Magnum upgrades include:
•Larger power supply
•Power supply mods
•Polypropylene bypass capacitors
•Precision Dale-Vishay resistors in critical spots
•Upgraded binding posts
•Gold tube sockets
•Upgraded small signal tubes
•KT90 output tubes
•Magnum logo on faceplate
The standard Atlas is rated at 55 wpc, and uses EL-34 tubes. The Magnum upgraded Atlas is rated at 90 wpc and currently uses KT90 power tubes. The build quality on the Atlas Magnum is off the charts impressive. I just don’t see any corner cutting here. It is a very user friendly amp with tube biasing being fool proof as Rogue includes an old fashioned voltage meter built into the top of the chassis. If a tube needs adjustment, there is easy access, and a tool included, clamped to the back of the top cover; a nice touch. The only inconvenience built in, that may be a function of keeping the price low, is the need to open the chassis and manually change the output tap to an 8 ohm or 4 ohm setting; more about that later.
When I first powered up the Atlas Magnum, gave it a bit of a warm up and played some music, I immediately noticed clear differences between the Rogue and my twice as expensive Audio Research VS55 50 WPC amp, which uses 6550 output tubes. First, the bass was heavier, more controlled, and more articulate. It was not even close, much to my surprise. Secondly, the overall presentation was more dynamic, in that images were larger and more lifelike. I don’t know if it was the extra power, the KT90 tubes, or the circuit topology of the Rogue, but it was clearly more extended and a bit more transparent than the VS55, especially in the lower mids on down. The VS55 seems to spotlight the midrange, and what a glorious midrange it is. ARC gear seduces listeners by playing to its strengths, those holographic mids. Only by comparison does reality hit home and the Audio Research devotee realize that they might be giving up a tiny bit at the frequency extremes. The Atlas Magnum is one of those comparative components. It seems more evenly balanced across the spectrum. But don’t get me wrong, both amps offer world class sound, but the Rogue offers more weight and overall bigger sound.
With my Harbeth Compact 7 monitors, the Rogue found a very symbiotic partner. Even though it is classified as a monitor, the Compact 7 is on the large side of that category. It was able to handle the life size images and superb bass performance offered up by the Atlas Magnum. It kind of worked both ways. The Rogue showed me what a truly great speaker the Harbeth is, and the Harbeth was an excellent showcase for the Rogue. I could easily live with this combination for the rest of my days.
I experienced something interesting with the Atlas Magnum. I have always heard that more powerful amplifiers are desirable even at lower listening levels and even in smaller rooms. I had never really understood that from my own experience until now. For the first time, a more powerful amp sounded more relaxed and effortless even at moderate levels. I have had powerful solid state and tube amplifiers in my system, but never really heard the benefit in my small listening room. The Rogue was kind of an eye opener in that regard. I also have no doubt the Rogue will have no trouble in bigger rooms and with more demanding speakers, within reason of course.
I had a stack of new discs I had just received from Amazon and was eager to put the Rogue through its paces. First up was the new album from Shelby Lynne, Tears, Lies, and Alibis. Lynne’s voice is a thing of beauty, and through the Rogue her delivery was presented in a lifelike, three dimensional space. She tends to favor classic recording gear, and close miking which only heightens the illusion. The spare, tasteful arrangements were also wonderfully rendered, with acoustic guitar and other instruments having tons of texture. The Steve Miller Band’s super classic Fly Like an Eagle, 30th Anniversary Edition sounded huge and rocking through the Rogue. I was even able to compare the mid 90′s Steve Hoffman mastered Gold Disc version, and easily heard the differences. The recent remaster is a bit louder and slightly more detailed, yet the Gold Disc was a bit more analog. It definitely held its own.
Another reworked oldie I picked up was the SACD hybrid of Elton John’s Madman Across the Water, an all time favorite of mine. Unfortunately, I no longer have an SACD player on hand, so I was not able to hear the high resolution layer, but none the less, the Redbook layer sounded excellent. This was one disc that really showcased the Rogue’s huge soundstaging. Vocals, string arrangements, drums, piano, and guitars all occupied rock solid positions in the mix. And the quieter passages and piano interludes flowed with delicacy and with realistic dynamics. Quite stunning, actually. This is why we love tubes.
While evaluating the Rogue, I received a pair of Thiel CS2.4 floor standing loudspeakers for review, (forthcoming). These are quite different than my Harbeths, offering a 4 ohm load (but with similar sensitivity), bass response down to 33hz, and metal dome tweeter. I did manually change to the 4 ohm tap in the procedure I described earlier. It was actually a snap, by the way. If you know how to use a screwdriver and a wrench, it is a seven minute procedure. The Thiel offers very high resolution, tremendous bass weight, and it showed me the Atlas Magnum can play with the big boys .If anything, the Thiel’s power demands were easily handled by the Rogue, showing me I had previous barely scratched the surface of its reserves.
I also decided to install the Rogue in my bedroom system, driving my Spendor S5e floor standers. I thought it was a perfect match. I had never heard my beloved Spendors come alive like that. They have plenty of dynamic range but can sound polite with tamer solid state amps. I spend quite a bit of time listening to my music server with the Rogue and really enjoyed every minute. I really was not looking forward to the day when the Atlas Magnum had to go back! My FLAC files sounded awesome, and many evenings were spent bouncing between the server, listening to discs, and my Revox A77 reel to reel tape machine to boot.
I would say I enjoyed the Rogue’s overall performance across multiple systems more than any other amplifier that I have had in my home. I think this is important in that I am sure it will mate well in many users systems. Rogue as a legitimate, extended dealer network, and an audition will allow you to see if it works with your speakers and set up.
The Rogue Atlas Magnum, an upgraded, turbo version of the Atlas power amplifier, was one of the best values I have come across as a reviewer. I’m still not sure how Rogue offers such a well built, wonderful sounding amplifier for $1895, and manages to hand build it at their facility in Pennsylvania. There are a number of manufacturers offering similar products, with manufacturing outsourced to China, at even higher price points. My personal preference is that when there is a similar product available and it is made domestically, it is usually gets preference. Geo political ramblings aside, the audio product in question must sound great, and give me confidence that will work for a significant number of years. The Atlas Magnum fits that bill. I used it with several speakers, preamplifiers, and cables, and its versatility is impressive. The most striking thing, as mentioned above, was the huge soundstage, along with superb bass weight and articulation, and control. It is not finicky with set up, and worked without a hitch. It does produce some heat off those KT90 tubes, so ventilation is recommended. I must all add that not once did the KT90 tubes drift from the specified bias setting, always a sign of a good circuit.
Above all, the amp was very fun to have around, much like the Manley Labs Mahi™ mono blocks I had in house last year. As a bonus it looks cool, and will fit into any décor. Now, I have not heard the standard Atlas, but it seems to me that for a very reasonable premium, you get a tremendous upgrade. Clearly, the parts quality is higher, including the binding posts etc. Of course, you may prefer El34 tubes and not need the extra power, but that is up to you to decide. The Atlas Magnum also leaves me wondering what the Rogue stuff higher in the line can do. A tip of my hat to Rogue Audio.