Rogue Audio M-180 monoblock power amplifier Page 3
Because I still on hand had the similarly priced Pass Labs XA30.5, I thought it would be fun to stage a shoot-out between it and the Rogues. The XA30.5 presented a slightly more forward mid-treble and a fuller midbass, and its midrange and midbass had a lit-from-within quality that I find addictive with vocal music. The Rogue M-180s had a slightly drier tonal balance, especially in the midbass, but seemed a bit more neutral through the lower treble. The biggest difference was in the amps' control of the low bass, especially in rock and pop. The Rogue M-180's control of low-bass notes was exemplary, with great speed and heft, and the Pass XA30.5 simply could not complete in this regard. Through the Pass, the leading edges of bass notes were rounded, each note hanging over a bit too long.
There was also a fundamental difference in perspective and feel between the amps. The Pass XA30.5 seems to transport me to the musical venue, whereas the Rogues brought the venue to my room. It's not as if either perspective was a distortion of a given recording, but each amp brought its own flavor and perspective to the music making. The other big difference was in power output. The Rogues could play to much higher levels than the Pass, with greater ease and less deterioration of the musical signal.
The fun thing about hearing these two amps side by side was that if I'd done it blind, I would have sworn that the Pass amp was the tube model and the Rogue the solid-state. The Pass's character was rounder, richer, less controlled but more sumptuous. The Rogues excelled at presenting a clear window on the music while driving the speakers to do their will. Pass's design philosophy seems to be to give the best of solid-state design a tube feel, while Rogue's tube design gives solid-state amps a run for their money.
Therefore, some counterintuitive advice: If you like the sound of tubes, buy the solid-state Pass. If you like the control of solid-state, buy the tubed Rogues. Both are fine amps, but I felt that, at the end of the day, the Rogues gave me more of what I currently desire from an amp, especially in regard to macrodynamics, bass control, and stereo imaging.
The end of my beginning
The Rogue Audio M-180s gave me almost all that I expect from and desire in a power amplifier, and at a price I could conceivably afford. I also feel that the $1000 upgrade from the M-150 is worth every penny. The M-180s offer higher resolution, better bass, and a more defined stereo image than the M-150s.
The Rogue M-180 deserves to be at the top of every audiophile's list of amps that deliver high performance in almost every aspect of playbacksomething I'd say even if they cost $10,000/pair. Maybe it shouldn't be so amazing that the Rogue M-180, built and designed in the US, retails for only $5495/pair.
Is my first full Stereophile review a rave? As we say here in Minnesota, you betcha. I rave about the Rogue M-180s because they do so much so right in so many ways for a price that is so good. I realize that, with my very first review, I've also become yet another audio reviewer who says the product du jour is the best thing since sliced bread. But I've been waiting a long time to write a review for Stereophile, and even longer to hear an amp of this quality that I might actually be able to afford. My wait is over.