Rogue Audio Magnum Ninety-Nine preamplifier Page 3
To double-check, I listened to pianist Bill Cunliffe's Live at Bernie's (LP, Groove Note GRV1009-1DD), a superb direct-to-disc, 45rpm trio recording engineered by legendary mastering engineer Bernie Grundman. Darek Oleszkiewicz's acoustic bass was rendered in a decidedly dry, purely acoustic manner as often felt as heard. With the Nu-Vista, the bass tended to melt into the piano, whereas the Rogue locked on to it like a rabid Gila monster and wouldn't let go. Not only could I clearly make out the woody decay and soft leading edges of the bass's transients, but I felt as if I could see the bass and Joe LaBarbara's drum set in realistically delineated, three-dimensional images. These suggested precisely how a drum set actually looks to a listener in the audience—every bit as much as it sounds to a set of microphones.
The differences between the Rogue Magnum Ninety-Nine and the VTL 5.5 proved far more subtle. Both displayed superb soundstaging depth and imaging, with excellent resolution of low-level detail, pinpoint resolution of recorded detail, and natural midrange layering. I found myself returning again and again in my notes to a favorite metaphor: that of the dry, tangy white wine vs a more robust, aromatic red. The white wine-inflected Rogue was not only quicker, but its midrange liquidity never translated into overripe colorations. And while I'd hardly characterize it as analytical, its linearity and taut control suggested solid-state antecedents as well as tubes—surely a less romantic depiction of la triode de amore than that of the 5.5.
The Magnum maintained a firmer grip on the music from top to bottom, particularly in the bass. While the 5.5 was no slouch in this regard, there was a velvety aura to its midrange, and a brilliant sheen to its top end, that suggested a more traditional tube sound—a red-wine signature, if you like. In the end, I found the Rogue to be more forward and dynamic, the VTL more luxuriant and laid-back.
With its smooth, clean, dry musicality, the Rogue Audio Magnum Ninety-Nine preamplifier delivered a wealth of realistic detail and splendid harmonic control without calling undue attention to its tube pedigree—though there was a magic to its midrange that was pure triode. It offered honest presentations of my records' unalloyed musical truth.
This Rogue is ballsy yet refined—a no-BS, emotionally engaging preamp you can build a true high-end system around, confident that it will prove an accommodating, revealing performer regardless of the amp or speakers you pair it with. I can't imagine any preamp at this price whose performance even vaguely approaches that of Rogue's Magnum Ninety-Nine.