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Equipment Review, Amplifier, Tubed Integrated, Rogue CronusPublished 2015-11-12
A few months ago Mark, Wayne and myself took a trip to the Rogue Audio manufacturing facility in Broadheadsville Pa, we had a wonderful time visiting with the owner and chief designer of Rogue Audio, Mark O’Brien. We met him and his dedicated employees and toured his manufacturing facility. We left with a couple pieces of gear to test audition and review, my task was the Cronus Magnum Integrated amplifier with remote, after what was an appropriate break in period (approx. 50 hours) I began serious listening evaluation.
I'm going to side step here for a moment to tell you a bit about my Hi-Fi history, and my gear, to put all in proper context. I am 57 and my history with high end audio dates to the late 70's and early 80's. I got my practical industry experience hands on at two different audio dealerships. One was “The Audio Den” which was a complete audio store “within a record store” called, The Record Barn the other, and where I considered it to be my more “educational journey” came later at a more serious dedicated High End store called “House of HiFi”. It was at the House of Hi-Fi that I considered myself on the path to enlightenment.
The Record Barn carried such brands as Pioneer, Technics, Kenwood, BIC, Sherwood, Empire, Shure, Grado, EPI, Avid and Audio Technica. Most of this gear would be considered mid-fi not Hi-Fi in audiophile snob terms, not great to be sure, but not awful either. So in a nut shell, the Audio Den gave me some great experience with real world priced entry level Hi-Fi gear, and quite frankly, the level of gear often found as still part of many peoples “higher-end” systems, perhaps as somewhat of a weak link, but still providing respectable performance. It wasn’t until later when I moved on to work at the House of HiFi, which I was able to grow in appreciation of the difference in what’s considered “Hi-Fi” (High Fidelity). It was here that I became acquainted with some of the finer brands at that time, which were Harman Kardon, Toshiba, Sony, Polk Audio, DCM, Kef, Grafyx, Audio Technica Signet, GAS, Hafler, Audionics, APT, Hegeman, Nakamichi, AKG, Conrad Johnson, Aiwa, and ESS. The owner of House of Hi-fi was a former Harvey Radio salesman, and an accomplished horn player. He helped me get my introduction to high end home audio. Back then, in part due to my inundation in the mid-fi gear, I was one of those spec geeks. Paying more attention to a couple of points negative or positive and believing that would equate to an “audible” difference. However, after getting my feet wet there, I quickly learned the error of my ways.
It took several A/B listening tests and an open mind set, but I came to appreciate that specs only give you an “idea of how” something “might” sound, not a cut and dry appraisal of how it “actually sounds”. Though I have always maintained a great interest in the technical aspect of this industry, I’ve found which specs are truly meaningful and meaningless.
And now to my personal set, I presently am using a H/K receiver (modern), a Sony PS-X55S turntable (80's), an Audio Technica Signet TK5E cartridge (80's), a pair of Grafyx SP-10’s (80's). One of the things I learned way back then, and still love today, is how much of the overall integrity of a great sound system, can depend on a well-designed “efficient” pair of loud speakers, like my Grafyx SP-10’s (the company’s flagship model). So although my speakers never required a super high integrity amp to get top performance out of them, I immediately noticed after inserting the Cronus into this system, an impressive improvement in high end extension, “even on TV audio” I used for the initial break-in period. This difference was at once (both pleasing and surprising) considering the general nature of “typical” tube gear). After about a week of this I started listening to music (NOTE: after one or two days the bias on the tubes became VERY stable and required little further adjusting). (NOTE2: This is a very simple procedure on this very user friendly/obviously well thought out design). It was here that I discovered just what a delightfully open and musical piece that this amplifier is, totally fatigueless and so musical that I quickly stopped listening to the recording and was listening to the performance instead (very rare for me the “tech-spec” guy). Higher praise I cannot give as this is the essence of why we peruse this hobby. It had a very open sound with wonderful depth and focus of the image, with excellent bass and treble extension, and a sound stage full of instruments which just seemed to hang there in midair. One could almost identify the brand of cymbal by its timber, and really take notice of the definitive sound of “plastic drumstick tips” on the cymbals. Having previously only experienced this level of performance with much more costly designs, this amp was giving me a rare window into the depth of the music. A real treat at this price point.
I close with only one niggle, one night I wanted to listen in the dark and just enjoy the music and the wonderful warm glow of the tubes, but the BRIGHT blue power indicator lamp interfered with this.
On another note this unit comes with a remote the only function of which is to change volume, it appeared to be machined out of billet aluminum, felt great and worked beautifully, one word Mark, the addition of a mute button would be nice.
Thanks again to Mark O’Brien and Rogue Audio for the tour and the awesome product, great job indeed.
--Quack (Tim O’Hare)
The new version of this amplifier, (version II) is equiped with a more functional remote control. Unfortunetly however, if you find yourself often listening in pitch black to enjoy the warm glow of the tubes you may want to place a small piece of black electrical tape as a “flap” to lock down that intrusive blue becon.