Going Rogue: An American Amp

We can’t let Sarah Palin have all the fun.

In an upcoming review, new contributor Erick Lichte talks about the inherent coolness of tubes and the “transitive property of coolness,” by which owning tubes makes you cool, and it got me thinking:

What the hell am I waiting for? I’m always waiting around for something that never comes. Why don’t I just go out and grab it?

All of my cool friends have tubes in their systems. And don’t I want to be cool like them? Why, yes! Yes, I do want to be cool like them.

I have had some experience with tubes. I enjoyed my time with the awesome Moscode 401HR, until it went silent. Moscode’s George Kaye was deeply sorry, and has offered to loan me his new 402Au, which Wes Phillips liked so much. But, really, a $6500 power amplifier has no business spending time in my little Jersey City one-bedroom apartment. The old wood floor might cave in. While I know that it could be a good learning experience, and while I know that it would be a lot of fun, I just don’t want to take on a product that I can’t conceivably afford. Nor do I have the time to properly evaluate any major new piece of gear. Which is partly why I’ve been concentrating so heavily on simply sharing the experience of listening to new music upon my rad hi-fi.

And how do I know my hi-fi is rad? Because I can’t stop listening to new records. Because if there’s one thing a hi-fi component should do, it should inspire the discovery and enjoyment of new music. My hi-fi excels in this respect. You might argue that this is not a characteristic of my hi-fi, but a characteristic of me, the golden listener. You would be wrong and right, because I am one with my glorious hi-fi, bitches.

But I digress. The Golden Listener gets antsy. Sometimes a pony gets depressed. Sometimes a man just needs a breather. While I love my Exposure 2010S, I’m starting to think that it’s missing something. And that something would be a sweet, glowing tube, or two or three. With the New Year approaching, I’m getting a view for the future, and tubes, I’ve got my eyes on you.

But I have a couple of requirements: 1., I want to be able to afford this thing, whatever it might be, because I’m more interested in gear that I can afford than in gear that pisses me off, and 2., I want it to be an integrated amplifier because I appreciate the simplicity and elegance of integrated designs.

So, let’s talk price. The retail price of my Exposure 2010S (which I purchased, surprisingly, almost exactly one year ago!), is right around $1500, with its plug-in phono card. Which is just a little more than what I pay for one month’s rent, including utilities. I think that’s fair. Utilities are like plug-in phono cards. You have to have them. Some people would think this is crazy. I know, dudes: The cost of rent in this part of the country is crazy. Oh, you were talking about the amp?

Yeah. Finally, I would love it if the amp could be American-made. Because, like tubes, Made in America is still inherently cool. Which brings me to the Rogue Cronus integrated amplifier, designed by Mark O'Brien. Along with the Atlas power amp and Metis preamp, the Cronus is part of Rogue’s Titan Series of products, aimed at the younger, or “entry-level,” hi-fi and music enthusiast. What the heck is a Cronus? I asked Wikipedia:

Cronus was the leader and the youngest of the first generation of Titans, divine descendants of Gaia, the earth, and Uranus, the sky. He overthrew his father and ruled during the mythological Golden Age, until he was overthrown by his own sons, Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon, and imprisoned in Tartarus.

Sounds right up my alley. This 55Wpc integrated uses four EL-34 tubes, three 12AU7 tubes, and two 12AX7 tubes. I don’t know anything about these tubes and tubes and tubes. The Cronus also includes phono and headphone sections. Whee! It costs $1795, and is made in the USA. Pretty cool, I’d say.

I wonder how it sounds.


Related: If you notice something unusual about my tone (ha, I said “tone”), it’s only because I’ve recently discovered the work of the late Dr./Ms. Harvey “Gizmo” Rosenberg, Mdh., a lover of life and a lover of tubes. I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on. You should, too. Rosenberg was the Fashion & Beauty Editor of Art Dudley's Listener magazine. The good Dr.'s columns runneth over with musical consciousness.

Incidentally, the “HR” in Moscode’s 401HR stands for Harvey Rosenberg. Both the 401HR and the 402Au are dedicated to his memory. So, we come full circle, tubular.

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Vladimir's picture

Just to mention Jolida, 1983 Maryland founded company and Tube ONLY audio oriented manufacturer. All is hand made and attention is payed to each unit produced. Its a symbol for budget entry level in the world of warm, jazzy, tuby amps where I come from :D Btw tubes will make you cool, but always have a good transistor amp stored under your bed for emergency parties hehe.Regards from Macedonia

rob skuras's picture

check out the audio research VSi55 - i have owned a ton of tubed integrated amps, and this little gem tops them all.

Bill Leebens's picture

Nice piece as always, Stephen.If you've just discovered Harvey, you may find this piece about Harvey and other Futtermaniacs of interest:http://cgi.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/gallery.pl?blog&1257861840Cheers, Bill

Eric Shook's picture

You should toss a Grant Fidelity B-283 into the system, and see what happens.

DImasLopez's picture

I have enjoyed my Cronus for almost four years now. It is a great sounding piece of audio gear and very good looking too. I got hooked with the sounds from tubes and will never go back to the "analytical" and "honest" sound of hard clipping transistors. Tubes highlight the musicality, the melody...it is very easy to get the feel and ambiance. I may say, tubes make the music sound the way it needs to sound, rather than the way it must sound. I had the opportunity to compare it to similarly priced solid state units from Naim, NAD, Musical Fidelity and Rotel and higher priced tube units from Audio Research, and they compared extremely well. I hear that the closest comparison is the Luna ProLogue series, but I have not had the chance, however something tells me that you (Frank), being a from the Stereophile elite, may have easier access to compare. Mark O'Brien is a true gentleman, responsive and honest, which to me is another element of great American quality.

DimasLopez's picture

Frank, as a next step in "simplification" you could avoid a redundant pre-amp topology by sourcing from a Benchmark's DAC Pre (providing you a DAC, volume (analog) controlled line stage and two headphone ports. Then for the amp you could go with a Atlas, Manley or "my dream" McIntosh 275. I already own a Benchmark DAC so I'm looking to trade mine for a McIntosh...let's see.

Stephen Mejias's picture

There's been an overwhelmingly positive response to the Rogue Cronus, making me even more anxious to hear it. Thanks!Vladimir: I was impressed by the Jolida JD10 when I heard it at RMAF a couple of years back. Seemed to be very good value for the money. (http://blog.stereophile.com/rmaf2008/jolida_jd10/)Rob: The Audio Reseach is a sweet-looking amp, but at $3500, a bit out of my price range.Thanks for the link, Bill. I'll definitely check it out.Eric: The Grant Fidelity is an interesting little piece. I wonder what it actually does. Hmm...Dimas: I agree: Mark O'Brian seems like a very cool, stand-up person, which, again, makes me more attracted to the Rogue brand.

Oscar's picture

Hi Stephen: Here my take on the whole matter, as someone whom owns a pair of DeVore Gibbons 3's being driven by a Sonneteer Campion which is a little known British Integrated Amp that puts both the Naim Nait 5i-2 as well as the Exposure's to shame. Yet I'm also seriously looking at the Cronus as a replacement for it as well, as to my ears for the last 19 years....., the overall Sound and Beauty of Tubes simply can't be matched, I was merely kidding myself into falling into that BS about better grip on bass....., well Music isn't solely about how something causes a false sense of insight into our Records - It should be based upon Musical Truth - and Tubes have that in spades. Listen with both your ears and Heart, you'll find what's the best answer is for yourself. Trust on what it is that moves your very Soul. I shall be a Cronus Magnum owner by the end of January. Join me.Regards,Oscar

Don's picture

I bought the Rogue Cronus Magnum around Thanksgiving of '09. After 30 years of solid state, I'm never turning back. This amp is just amazing as far as I'm concerned. If you're still thinking about one of these, you have my vote. The Magnum is the upgraded version, which you may or may not want. You're better off getting it upfront for $400, as opposed to doing it after which runs $600. I bought some spare tubes from Mark O'Brien (I don;t trust anyone else). He's a great guy and you can call him and speak directly with him. What other company does that? Plus, if you ever need it serviced, you can bring it straight to them. I'm in Rochester NY which is 4 hours and 20 minutes from Rogue. If I ever have a problem with this, I'm drivning it down myself as opposed to shipping the 50lb beast!!!!

George's picture

Does anyone have experience with both Rogue Atlas Magnum edition and Music reference RM 10MkII?

stuart Robertson's picture

Our systems and tastes seem to be aligned.I had the 2010s for about a year before getting a cronus magnum.I love them both so I kept the 2010s and I now have 2 modest systems that I can trade back and forth. 3 months with the cronus and magnepan speakers and then 3 months with the exposure and neat speakers. it's been great!Here's my complete system on Agon (sans maggies)http://cgim.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/vs_user.pl?vbudg&1245618031&viewmine&publ

Anthony's picture

I'm also looking for the Magnum Cronus - but need to match them to a good set of speakers around 2000.00 - can anyone suggets a paire that I can put close to a wall (I can spare around 15" max) - my room is an open concept - Living room (12' X 12') /dining room 12'x20'

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