Rogue Audio 66LSR preamplifier Page 2

Before I took the Rogue through its final evaluation, I returned to my Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista pre/power reference combo, along with the Joseph Audio RM7si speakers and the Soliloquy S10 powered subwoofer, to refresh my aural palate. I narrowed my selection of recordings to a few discs listened to repeatedly over the course of a couple of days, particularly those that illustrated extreme frequency extension, where I anticipated the Nu-Vista combo would excel. Then I switched to the Rogue preamp, mated primarily with the Nu-Vista 300 power amp: once with the 200W, dual-mono, solid-state Musical Fidelity A3CR, and subsequently with the Baron.

The DMP Does DSD SACD sampler (DMP SACD-2) features 10 Direct Stream Digital tracks superbly recorded live to two-track and ranging from Latin, big-band jazz, and choral music to duo and trio jazz performances. On the chanted "Beati Quarium," by Gaudeamus, the Rogue portrayed the choral group with good resolution, but with a creamier midrange blend than did the more expensive Nu-Vista. The distinctions in range, the locality of images of each section, were not as finely etched as with the Nu-Vista, which made certain soprano sections seem to leap out in front of the ensemble.

Listening to drummer Steve Davis' trio performance of "I Thought About You" (DMP Does DSD) and Tony Williams' playing on Miles Davis' quintet performance of "Circles" (Miles Smiles, Columbia/Legacy CS 65682, SACD), it was interesting to hear how the two preamps rendered brushed snares. The Rogue conveyed the sweep, sweetness, and air of the brush work with real authority, but the Nu-Vista conveyed more of the crisp, scratchy percussive snap.

For top-end frequency extension and air, the Nu-Vista is really special. Not surprisingly, the Rogue's portrayal of the top end sounded a touch laid-back, though less rolled-off than smooth and sweet. Likewise, the Nu-Vista offered a bit more focus through the midbass frequencies, but the Rogue's low-end focus was quite good; in fact, in the upper-bass/lower-midrange I thought it conveyed more character and, for want of a better term, juiciness. In my experience, the manner in which tube gear fleshes out and articulates midrange details is its strong suit, and this was particularly apparent during Wayne Shorter's tenor sax solo on "Circles." It was far more immediate and compelling through the Rogue, with simply more gravy to the sound—more oomph, more body, more presence. By comparison, the Nu-Vista's midrange was a little cool and distant.

Switching over to the Davis quintet's more driving performance of "Gingerbread Boy," the Rogue's portrayal of rhythm and pacing was quick and solid, though the snare drums and cymbals sounded a tad muted in comparison to the Nu-Vista, if nicely balanced in proportion to the rest of the music. But on "Opus Pocus," from Jaco Pastorius (Epic/Legacy EK 64977), there was ample sparkle and transient snap in the hard-left/hard-right pan of dual steel drums, and the realistic tracking of the bell-like harmonics on Pastorius' solo rendition of "Song for Tracy." Though the Nu-Vista might have rendered the respective images in sharper relief, what really caught my attention on these three tracks—and on "Yesterdays," from Patricia Barber's newest release, Nightclub (Premonition/Blue Note 5 27920 9)—as the quality of the Rogue's soundstaging. The Nu-Vista was no slacker in this department, but the Rogue was im-mense!

The Rogue's presentation may not have been as see-through as the Nu-Vista's, but it was more layered. On "Gingerbread Boy," the Rogue conveyed Davis' trumpet as a more forward, centered presence, with more spittle apparent, while Williams' drums seemed to recede somewhat behind the speakers in relation to the front-line instruments and the bass.

Certainly, the Synergistic Research Active Control Center, which applies a DC bias voltage to the cable shields, played a big role in the sheer dimensionality of the soundstaging (footnote 1). When I removed it from the circuit, I pined for it immediately—the entire aural holograph seemed significantly diminished in scale, layering, and image illumination.

The Rogue's overall presentation was a touch opaque compared to the epic transparency of the Nu-Vista. It wasn't colored or indistinct, but warm, clear, and engaging. And the top end, though laid-back in the single-ended sense, was not rolled-off but smooth and airy. This became more evident when I paired the Rogue with the Baron putting out 90W in 2/3-triode, 1/3-pentode.

It seems to me that some people are partial to the sound of a tube amp pushed hard. Sure, those second-order harmonics are all chewy and pleasing, but who wants to listen to an amp strain? In polishing the Baron's biting top end to a rounded sheen, the Rogue optimized the power amp's slam and sweetness in a manner quite pleasing—even if it didn't quite equal the silky grace and elemental smoothness of the Blue Circle Galatea that I reviewed in August.

Footnote 1: While such biasing can provide sonic benefits, not all preamps and power amps can cope with it, particularly if they are direct-coupled. Check with your dealer or the manufacturers of your components if you are unsure.—JA
Rogue Audio
2827 Avery Road
Slatington, PA 18080
(570) 992-9901