Rogue Audio Magnum Ninety-Nine preamplifier Page 2
A Smooth Operator
With its richly articulated yet firmly delineated presentation, the Magnum Ninety-Nine proved a most ingratiating and involving performer. Smooth and quiet, dynamic and linear, warm and clear, the Ninety-Nine offered a nice balance between tubed liquidity and solid-state precision—an accurate, musical sound, with the supple breath of life that tubes convey so well. The Ninety-Nine's bass was tight and full right through the lower midrange, with a sweet, airy, natural depiction of midrange details and a relaxed style of top-end extension and detailing. Where the Sixty-Six had a decidedly tubey character, the Magnum Ninety-Nine's presentation was drier and more distinct—and while its mids were sweetly layered and textured, I wouldn't characterize them as particularly round or euphonic.
The Magnum Ninety-Nine offered a much more sophisticated portrayal of midrange resolution, with greater bass control and considerably more top-end extension than the Sixty-Six—not especially bright, but deliriously detailed. As such, it was far more revealing than its more euphonic, forgiving sibling, and offered superb illumination of low-level information. Nevertheless, when paired with such a relatively brash dynamic performer as my Mesa Baron, the Magnum Ninety-Nine accurately conveyed its rich, punchy dynamics, even as it gently smoothed out the rough edges without smoothing anything over, or with any appreciable loss of detail. If my goal were to rein in the Baron, the Sixty-Six would prove a better match.
Still, in one crucial area, the child was clearly father to the man. At its price, the true glory of the Sixty-Six was its soundstaging, which, in the context of my original review, proved more than equal to that of the Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista line stage, itself no slacker in dimensionality. The soundstaging of the Magnum Ninety-Nine was far more open and transparent, with remarkably holographic depth and light-years more resolution. When I listened to the Magnum strut its stuff on the delicate vocal and instrumental strains of La Rondinella's Sephardic Journey: Spain and the Spanish Jews (CD, Dorian DOR-93171), its depiction of acoustic space was simply luminous, each instrumental image seemingly framed in a glowing little pool of fluid.
On "Una noche al bodre de la mar," the Ninety-Nine maintained a firm yet supple hold on Tina Chancey's springy bass-viol underpinning, while eliciting all sorts of crisp, delicate details from a raspy, shaken percussion instrument. This last was perfectly rendered in the micro- and macrodynamic senses, both as an assemblage of individual beads and as the totality of their sound—not as some grainy, sibilant suggestion of white noise. Better yet was the Magnum's depiction of vocalist Alice Kosloski's plumlike alto, a fulsome integration of her warmly inflected lower register, dulcet midrange, and gracefully soaring top end. Particularly striking was the way the Ninety-Nine tracked her upper-register harmonics and let them bloom without italicizing the top end, even as it illuminated the reverb trails from her voice, portraying them as spectral neon descents into an inky blackness of silence well behind the speakers.
In competition against the Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista and VTL 5.5 preamps, the Rogue Magnum Ninety-Nine proved smooth, nimble, and muscular. The hybrid Nu-Vista (on MF's Nu-Vista 300 power amp) offered a cooler, more laid-back presentation, with exceptional lateral imaging and a brilliant, extended top end. The Rogue's soundstage extended farther behind the speakers, and, due to its wealth of midrange detail, seemed to project farther into the room as well, giving the music a palpably live, forward presence. While the Rogue wasn't as breathtakingly transparent as the Nu-Vista, it was still quite clear and open. Nor did the Ninety-Nine evince the sort of excessive bloom that makes for the softened, diffuse presentation or laggard rhythm and pacing of some tubed line stages; tight, quick, and snappy, it offered a more focused brand of midrange presence—blossom without bloat.