Rogue Sphinx V3 integrated amplifier

I am proud of the fact that my first review for Stereophile was of a modestly priced integrated amplifier called the Rogue Audio Sphinx. Specified at 100Wpc into 8 ohms, 200Wpc into 4 ohms (footnote 1), it played the KEF LS50s like it was made for them. It was simple and handsome and cost only $1295, phono stage included.

I chose the Sphinx because it was a hybrid tube–class-D design that, to my ears, blended French-wine tube flavor with the grip and authority of class-D solid-stateness. The Sphinx was proletariat, not patrician, but it still showed me the merry music of Paris during La Belle Époque. With the LS50s, a VPI Traveler turntable, Ortofon 2M Red phono cartridge, Oppo CD player, and some AudioQuest wire, the entire analog and digital system cost less than $5k but delivered pleasure like a good five-figure hi-fi.

The latest version of the Rogue Sphinx is called the "V3," and it looks exactly the same as the original (hallelujah!), but it costs $300 more ($1595) and includes a cool-cat clear-plastic "skeleton" remote with only three buttons: up and down volume, plus mute.

The Sphinx V3 is an old-school, 25lb, made-in-America integrated amplifier with three line-level inputs, an RIAA phono stage (with adjustable loading and selectable 44/60dB of gain), a balance control (!!), and a 12AU7-based mu-follower preamplifier stage driving a 100Wpc (into 8 ohm), class-D, solid-state power amplifier with what sounds to me like a substantial linear power supply.

I asked Rogue Audio's chief-of-everything Mark O'Brien to explain all the changes since I reviewed the original Sphinx in 2014. "The V2 saw an updated phono section, new amplifiers in the headphone circuit, circuit layout improvements that lowered the noise floor, and a DC offset filter . . . added to the AC power supply," he replied by email.

"The V3 got a completely new MM/MC phono section that is a somewhat scaled down version of what goes into our Triton II standalone phono. FYI, I think I must have tried twenty versions of this circuit before I got it to work the way I wanted it to. The V3 also got a completely new headphone circuit that is based on discrete MOSFET devices as opposed to the chip amps in the earlier version. We also upgraded some of the components and improved the power supply sections feeding the output modules."

La morte della ragione (24/176.4 FLAC Alpha/Qobuz) is my kind of music. I love the sensuality and mind-body connectedness of these early instrumental compositions by the likes of Josquin Des Prés, John Dunstable, and my favorite composer of all time, Anonymous. Using the HoloAudio May DAC, I streamed this recording through both the old and new Sphinx. The original Sphinx played these songs enjoyably but with an almost imperceptible slipping-clutch effect: Some of the bite of the flute's top octave disappeared, and the midrange blurred just slightly. In contrast, the improved Sphinx V3 is equipped with a no-slip competition clutch: It delivered a good amount of leading-edge bite and trailing-edge flow. Bass felt quicker and more articulate. The V3 displayed a fun, taut energy the original did not have.


The Ortofon 2M Red phono cartridge that I used in my original Sphinx report did not wear well with me—it played a little hard and generalized—but folks, when I installed the Ortofon 2M Black moving-magnet phono cartridge and played it through the V3's phono input, it was one of those "Wow dang! No way . . . this is not possible" moments.

That wow-dang moment was almost an accident. I woke up one plague-silenced morning in May and said, "Okay, today I listen to the Sphinx phono stage." I wanted to use a popular moving-magnet cartridge that most people know and that many Sphinx V3 owners might aspire to for their own systems. I chose the venerable, $755 Ortofon 2M Black. While fastening the Black to the Jelco TK-850M tonearm on the J.Sikora Initial turntable (see Gramophone Dreams, June 2020), I wondered, will this combo show a budding phonophile the true virtues of analog? I hope so. I knew of course that the 2M Black's Shibata stylus would excavate a tsunami of detail. I just needed the phono stage to deliver that tsunami without loss. The speakers were Harbeth M30.2s.

I wanted to try a record everybody knew, so I put on Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab's reissue of Miles Davis's In a Silent Way (MFSL1 – 377), which I think sounds more sparkly, spirited, and spatially coherent than the original. Before I could even sit down, the newly installed 2M Black was making Miles sound like he did on the horns in the Salt Cellar System: Think dense, vibrating air with a radiant energy—highly tactile and substantially present in my room. Images of performers had dense bodies. I never expected, nor had I experienced, this kind of horn-like vividosity from the normally staid, monitor-like Harbeth M30.2s—or from a $1595 integrated amplifier (including phono stage) and a $755 MM cartridge.

Then I asked myself, what moving-coil cartridges would the average Rogue Sphinx customer probably choose? The first one to jump into my head was the Hana EL. This overachieving, $475, low-output (0.5mV/1kHz) moving coil features alnico magnets and an aluminum cantilever with an elliptical stylus profile. It tracks at 2gm and has a 30 ohm impedance and a suggested load of " >400 ohms."

Changing the cartridge load and phono-stage gain settings is easy, but you must remove the amp cover to do it. Then, simply move the easy-to-spot slide switches from 44dB gain (for MM) to 60dB (for MC)—and then choose the load. The Hana EL specifies a load of greater than 400 ohms, but the two closest choices were 300 ohms and 1k ohm. I experimented with both and preferred the lower, heavier load: 300 ohms.

Footnote 1: Although JA's measurements found that it clipped at 155W into 4 ohms.—Editor
Rogue Audio Inc.
PO Box 1076
Brodheadsville, PA 18322
(570) 992-9901

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Next HR is gonna review PS Audio Stellar Strata ($3,000) and NAD M33 ($5,000) integrated amps :-) ......

John Atkinson's picture
Bogolu Haranath wrote:
Next HR is gonna review PS Audio Stellar Strata ($3,000) and NAD M33 ($5,000) integrated amps

Kal Rubinson reviews the NAD M33 in the October Stereophile. Don't know what the plans are for a review of the PS Audio Stellar amplifier.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Bogolu Haranath's picture

PS Audio Stellar Strata offers 3 user selectable digital reconstruction filters in the built-in DAC ..... It also offers headphone output ..... NAD M10 doesn't offer those :-) ......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Great .... I know KR is gonna do a great job reviewing the NAD M33 ..... Hope he tries the Dirac Live ...... Dirac Live is available for full audio frequency in M33, unlike the M10, where it is only available up to 500 Hz ...... Looking forward to reading KR's review .......

You (JA1) could review the Stellar Strata and compare it to NAD M10 :-) .....

helomech's picture

The Sphinx still has abominable bass rolloff and doesn't meet claimed power specs. Why this amp continues being lauded throughout the audio press is a mystery.

Shahram's picture

I think that statement is a bit extreme. 1dB down at 20hz is likely to not be noticeable in a regular listening room.

helomech's picture

I owned the V2 and the lack of extension is quite obvious with any full-range speaker. $300 integrateds can do much better. It didn't sound anything like a tube amp either. It's not the value proposition that reviewers allege. The Yamaha A-S801 is far and away a better amp and priced lower. I dare Stereophile to put a Yamaha on their test bench. The results will embarrass many of the four-figure amps that have graced these webpages.

Shahram's picture

I'm as curious as you are why Yamaha amps are not reviewed in Stereophile. While I have never owned the Sphinx I still don't think 1dB is a big deal. What speakers were you powering?

John Atkinson's picture
Shahram wrote:
I'm as curious as you are why Yamaha amps are not reviewed in Stereophile.

Jason Victor Serinus reviews the Yamaha A-S3200 integrated amplifier in the September issue.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Bogolu Haranath's picture

If I had a choice, I would spend $1k more and buy a Mark Levinson 5805 (reviewed by Stereophile) instead :-) ......

Long-time listener's picture

... I'd spend 1K less and buy the Yamaha: It has tone and balance controls, which Mark Levinson could easily do, but won't because they just aren't cool enough for the stuffy purists who like to spend that much money, and who have made it politically incorrect to expect them

That review will be something to look forward to.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

If I had more money, I probably would buy the Yamaha NS-5000 speakers ...... NS-5000 had received many favorable reviews :-) ......

JRT's picture

...and the Dutch & Dutch 8C will exhibit better control over directivity, will exhibit a more smooth horizontal polar response, with radiation toward latteral first reflection regions being more similar to direct response, taking advantage of the psychoacoustics, physical psychology of human hearing perception in helping human listeners ignore those latteral first reflections regardless that the reflections exist within the sound field at the listening position.

Also, the D&D 8c is designed to be placed in close proximity to the room boundary behind the loudspeaker, allowing easier placement in modest sized listening rooms.

The ~$2.5k difference is more than enough to pay for a $2.2k PSI Audio AVAA C20 to place on the floor in a corner in the room.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

If I want to use my beloved 300B single ended, class-A, triode tube amp, I can use it with the Yamaha speakers ...... I can't do that with D&D 8c ...... Just kidding ....... I don't own a beloved triode tube amp :-) .......

Shahram's picture

Great to hear. Thanks for the update.

er1c's picture

I guess it'd be the sound, the feature set (or delightful lack thereof) the build quality and made in PA, USA by a small passionate team that you can actually communicate with and stellar customer service. Yup, that'd 'bout cover my reasons.

Ortofan's picture

... $1,599 Denon PMA-1600NE.

Long-time listener's picture

I've had to expand the sources of information I rely on. It's unfortunate that Audio Excellence Canada, What Hi-fi, Audio Bacon, and others don't have measurements, but that's the way it goes. No, you won't be seeing that review here.

Ortofan's picture

... can be found elsewhere:

Long-time listener's picture

Audio Science Review is also a good source for measurements of miscellaneous gear submitted by readers.

Distortion on the Denon looks a little too high for my tastes. Although that doesn't always tell you everything.

Glotz's picture

Their recent 'review' of the AQ Victoria cables were rife with bias and prejudice. Negativity abounded before he even tested.

Moreover, he physically broke into the product and tried to make some silly generalizations, which I found offensive and presumptuous. In fact, all of the posters in the site come off like flat-earthers and sycophants and only further the agenda of their lead tester.

It would also appear that they never listen to their products under review- only test. This is a huge disservice and dishonest to respective buyers of gear under test. They create implications that 4-figure gear is on par with sub-$200 gear sound-wise, when the only data they have are measurements and no listening experiences to support or refute that data.

Long-time listener's picture

... the measurements are still good. Compare the Zero Fidelity rave review of the Iota VX amplifier with the ASR measurements. Very useful. Granted, the reviewer has biases. Who doesn't?

As for AUdioquest, I'm biased against them myself, and will never buy another one of their products -- because of my experience with them. They make claims about "high purity" metals, but, unlike other companies, won't say what degree of purity they use -- and they make many other similar, unsubstantiated claims. They further try to get potential buyers to think that each step up their chain represents an increase in quality or sound. B______t. I bought a $1000+ Diamond coaxial cable, and later found that both DH Labs and Blue Jeans, at 1/10 the price, sounded better. The Audioquest, even after a period of use, overemphasized the upper treble frequencies and sounded harsh. The other two sounded smoother and more realistic while still having just as much detail. So I'm all in with anyone who is biased against Audioquest. I'm sure they make SOME good products. I still have their Volcano speaker cable from maybe 20 years ago, and might still use it sometime. But their prices and their BS are too much for me these days.

Glotz's picture

and one would deduce that from a measurements-only site, they have an agenda they are trying to push. That's not transparent, and not even close to what Stereophile does adhere. It's worse than disbelieving subjective review sites- Way worse to make judgments that they don't have the power or the insight to infer! It's the inverse of the same BS propaganda you claim Audioquest is guilty.

Are you sure your system doesn't have already way too much treble content that all-silver Diamonds would exacerbate? Perhaps that's why copper and silver-plating sound better in your system? Keep the conspiracy theories to politics.

I've owned DH Labs cabling as well- their silver cartridge leads are almost as good as Oyaide's and almost as expensive(!). I'm sure they're both solid companies. i've also built my own Belden cable that sounded really bright.

Of course people that can't afford AQ will gravitate to a home-spun company charging a fraction of the cost and claim it's better. They also don't provide measurements to back up their claims! Their website reflects their low-margin aspirations. Making cables in your basement doesn't cost much indeed.

I'm gonna guess you feel DBS is BS, but Shunyata owns very similar, more elegant tech (Zitron) that is also patented and very expensive, and has seen a large upward 'model-shift'. (Their Cobra cabling used to possess Zitron, and now it is pushed one level above and much more expensive (speaker cables only- the newer Delta interconnects may support Zitron.) Even Shunyata's lowest Venom line has now seen a huge increase in pricing due to cyro technology making it to the line. I love the Venom speaker cables, hate the interconnects and want the cyro tech for my cables... after the fact. I can't without re-buying. (I won't.)

Those companies both know what those technologies wrought to the dielectric in cabling and taken their IP at a higher priced level to reflect that. There always will be high margins to pay for popular cabling people want, especially with technologies that only a scant few companies possess. Consumers are willing to pay more for those new and critical technologies. You're not. That's okay. It's not BS.

There is no way any one of us will ever have the privilege to discuss the protected intellectual property that Audioquest or Shunyata possesses. Despite Shunyata proving many of their technologies through measurements in the medical and audio field (certainly much more than Blue Jeans on every level), many feel they are dishonest or unproven. Sad.

Long-time listener's picture

Let's see: First, you IMAGINE what I might think about DBS, then argue against that; then you IMAGINE what my system might sound like, and argue against that. If you'd like to talk about the legitimate points I actually made, I could be willing to have that conversation. Otherwise ease off the substances a bit my friend.

As for Audio Science Review, whatever "agenda" they may have, they publish OBJECTIVE measurements. Those are a useful counterweight to listening-only reviews, as I mentioned vis-a-vis the IOTA VX review. So it's a perfectly useful site.

Best regards, LTL

Glotz's picture

No need for ad hominem attacks- I did not attack you.

No, but you gave nothing but other than stated that they were 'harsh' and spoke nothing of your 'experiences'. No legitimate points at all. If so, where??

And yeah, you said you were 'all for their biases' which includes DBS. I didn't IMAGINE anything. They speak directly to DBS, and I made reference in the 'review' BEFORE you responded to me in the first place.

No one saying that the ASR site isn't 'useful', but publishing OBJECTIVE measurements and then making jackass conclusions about it, doesn't help anyone.. it hurts them.

reponkic's picture

How much science have you studied? Really wish to know.

Glotz's picture

... longer than you've been a troll. Lol.

Were you actually contributing something substantive to the topic of this article?

No? Your attack also shows you to be disingenuous as well.

Ortofan's picture

... not atypical compared to many other amps tested by the site. According to their tests, if you want an amp with significantly lower distortion, either a Hegel or one of the NAD amps that use Hypex modules would meet that requirement.

In a Hi-Fi Choice group test, the Denon was preferred in the blind listening comparisons over a Hegel and an NAD (as well as amps from Yamaha, Technics and Arcam). The Denon and the NAD were both given a five star rating for sound quality, while the Hegel was close behind with 4 and a half stars. However, the NAD and the Hegel amps were judged to have poorer build quality relative to the Denon, Technics and Yamaha units.

Long-time listener's picture

"The Sphinx V3 is an old-school ... integrated amplifier with ... balance control (!!), ..."

The inclusion of a balance control doesn't deserve exclamation points. It should of course be there. Tone controls don't deserve them either.

The Parasound New Classic 200 integrated, at around this same price, has them all. Regardless of this rave review, I'd be more likely to buy the Parasound.

er1c's picture

"run, away... ! "

Long-time listener's picture

Thanks for your example of incorrect punctuation. Is there some point you're trying to make?

er1c's picture

Telling Herb what does or doesn't "deserve" an exclamation point is hilarious!

Maybe Herb was having a bit of spirited fun as he wrote. I know, I am as out of control as him but I like a little wild use of punctuation from time to time. (see how I controlled my initial desire to punctuate that last sentence with an exclamation point? That was out of respect for you. I hope you appreciate that!

As I am trying to think of how (or why, even) to explain myself, it seems maybe you are correct after all.

He better get back in his seat and settle down or we're going to have a situation here.

And finally, I never use the balance control on my Sphinx and until V3 never had a remote. My dealer suggested that most folks like remotes so the amp will have higher resale if I ever choose to sell. But I guess it's nice for everyone who needs it. Still no tone controls for me, not even that Schiity thing.

MFK's picture

Wonderful writing as always.
One of the best Debussy recordings I've heard is Children's Corner, Debussy Orchestrations by Orchestre Symphonique De Quebec (ATMA Classique). It ticks all the boxes: material, performance and recording quality. Absolutely gorgeous in all respects.

Miikee's picture

Recently replaced my 80s Levinson (ML-11/ML-10a) with a Sphinx V3. I also swapped the stock JJ's with Brimar cv4003's from Upscale Audio (more low end). It's absolutely amazing and I'm going to enjoy this for years (assuming it holds up). This is a perfect workhorse amp for intermediate audiophiles and/or someone that wants to dip their toes into tubes. I don't know why people keep saying a $1600 amp is entry level or affordable, but this is neither of those. This is a serious, thoughtful, piece of equipment and you can tell right out of the box (The Brimars take it to the special level IMO).

chalkpie's picture

Right on man!

er1c's picture

I'm biased, like my V3 a lot, a little tube rolling for fun.

I like the sound, the feature set the appearance, the build quality and it's made in PA, USA by a small passionate team that you can actually communicate with and stellar customer service. Great service really.

Tonight I am listening to 50th anniversary Workingman's Dead, 2-21-71 live show. Whew, that there's some beautiful sound and vibe!!!

PS - Keep using exclamation points they illustrate your enthusiasm! In fact, use extra!!! You are hereby granted unlimited punctuation use by the Noth Jersey division of The Art Police.

a.wayne's picture


No old school squarewave responses John ...! :)

John Atkinson's picture
a.wayne wrote:
No old school squarewave responses John ...! :)

They're the same as shown in figs.2 and 3 at

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Long-time listener's picture

That phrase puzzles me.

But I'm even more puzzled by something else. In his review of the original Sphinx, and in this review, the treble is never mentioned. Lots of nice adjectives describing the bass, a few for the midrange, but for the highs, only a cautious "didn't call attention to themselves." So: Great bass, OK mids, not such great highs. This sounds very much like Class D territory. Is that the case?

Herb Reichert's picture

is one I 'imagine' a wage-earner with a 9-5 could aspire to owning.

"didn't call attention ro themselves" I choose my words carefully.

thanks for reading my prattles - I am honored


Long-time listener's picture

I wasn't sure if "working person's" amp was saying something about its sound quality, or something else. Appreciate your reviews.

chalkpie's picture

Great review Herb. I just bought this amp in June to replace an old Rotel and I love this thing! I am grinning with every listen both on CD and LP, so I couldn't be happier. The internal phono stage is also fantastic...I am running a low-output MC Quintet Red and it sounds beautiful. I don't have thousands $$$ to blow on ultra pricey equipment and at $1600, frankly I don't need to. I went a bit over my budget and am so glad I did. I think this amp sounded better after about 7-10 days or so - it seemed to open up and have more air. This amp will keep my happy for many years to come. A+ 10/10.

ken10254's picture

I second the great review. I just had a HK990 go on the fritz and was looking around for a replacement. I read this review and thought the Sphinx would be a good choice and a lot less complex than the HK 990. I discovered that parts for the HK are non-existent, so repair was impossible. A very heavy paperweight! The Sphinx has exceeded my expectations in every way. Thanks Herb for the insightful review.