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.

King's picture

PrimaLuna Prologue One is also a sweet sounding unit. I previously owned the Exposure 2010S as well, and while I loved the sound, I'd never go back to solid state now. And with the soft warm glow of those tubes at night, well...

Stephen Mejias's picture

Thanks for the recommendation, King. I've been curious about the ProLogue One ever since Art Dudley reviewed it in our February 2005 issue. (http://www.stereophile.com/integratedamps/205prima/)I can remember John Atkinson bringing it into the office, and thinking how pretty it was. I'll definitely consider it. I'm open to suggestions, so keep them coming. Thanks.

Marshall's picture

What about a nice little cute Synthesis Nimis? 12 Italian watts. Burnished red wooden surrounds and the genuine warm Beatles sound of 4 El84 tubes.Mine's being going strong now for 5 years. Luv 'er.

jay bass's picture

how about a Manley Stingray?Certainly a used one is in your budget, and it doesn't get much cooler or more american

Max's picture

Stephen,John Potis (RIP) reviewed the Atlas and Metis for Positive Feedback Online and was very favourably impressed. I would venture to guess that ROgue has done its damndest to ensure that the Cronus packs most of the goodness of the separates into its single chassis.All the best in your tubular quest.

Max's picture

Um, forgot to mention the review was in the Sept-Oct. 2008 issue of PFO, http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue39/rogue_audio.htm.

Stephen Mejias's picture

Marshall: Great recommendation on the Nimis. It's one of the coolest-looking new tube amps I've seen. Jay Bass: The Stingray is definitely cool, but it's too busy-looking for my taste. Something about it reminds me of Simon, the electronic game. Simon is a computer, Simon has a brain, do what Simon says, or you go down the drain.Max: I've also just read my friend, Michael Lavorgna's, review of the Cronus (http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews/rogue5/cronus.html), which makes me want it even more.

oliver's picture

stephen, i have the rogue atlas next to a yamamoto 45 amp and i wouldn´t want to miss the rogue. it is fun, got flesh on the bone and boogies, very sexy sound. the atlas amp reacts audibly to tube rolling, you might want to experiment.

Ivan's picture

I heard cronus on couple of occasions and its a great,maybe even huge value for money. Every music I played on it, acoustic or electronic, sounded nothing short of fabulous. The only thing that was bothering me was the low level buzz generated from the amp itself, tube maybe? - But everything else,superb. Get one if you can. Oh,and it looked great bytheway.

Juan's picture

Just like Sarah, beautiful, well built and made in the best country in the world!!! How can you go wrong? Let's give american made products, labor and manufacturers, specially the dying audio breed a chance to survive and prosper. We make it better. Why send your dollars to a communist country? Our country needs us.

Erick Lichte's picture

Stephen, if you like the hands-on aspects of vinyl you are going to LOVE the fun and futsy world of tube rolling. I already know its going to be your new "next thing." GET ON THE TRAIN, DUDE!

Al Marcy's picture

CAUTION: Going Rouge (color of glowing filaments) may expose you to the honest truth about ancient audio circuits. They are easy peasy. I build them just for fun. I was a Humanities major, OK? Each tube has two wires for the filament; one wire for ground (may be same as one of the filament wires); one wire for the >little< input signal; and one wire for the output signal. End Of Story :) Yes, there are High Voltages. Yes, soldering irons burn stuff when you space out.Yes, there are parts in between the tubes, but, they have only two wires, in and out. This ain't Computer Architecture ;) If you dare pull your head out of your uptight retail consumer butt, you may learn something Wonderful. www.tubecad.com is the closest rabbit hole. Harvey is alive, out here 8*D Many old transformers sound better, for cheap, than the new ones, they are all just wire wrapped around a bobbin. If you insist, there are Brand Names and stuff, but, the tubes don't care, why do you? This is your final WARNING!

Cato's picture

Stephen - more $$$ I know but you should seriously consider borrowing a Leben CS300 from your friends at In Living Stereo. That little quartet of glowing EL84s will mess with your mind and in a small city appartment will likely provide you with all the volume you could concievably want (and get away with). Seem to recall you have Totem Arros ($) - a number of Asian 'philes use the Leben/Arro combo to great effect in their normally modest sized rooms. I've been through more high-end valve amps than I care to remember and the Leben is, in my experience, unique in making music truly engaging on all levels. Give it a go !

Tom Collins's picture

i want to hear your new amp with your new Finns.

Davip's picture

Easy with the comments there Juan; the US$ debt is what has brought much of the world economy to its knees, and communism ain't the problemVery American sounding name, btw :-)

Hans Andersen's picture

Stephen - As sexy as tubes are, and as glowing as all the reviews were, you really need to listen to it before getting too hyped up. I borrowed a fully-broken-in sample from a dealer, gave it a serious critical listen. I didn't hear any of the buzzing or noise that some have mentioned, which was good - but it didn't take long to conclude that my trusty Musical Fidelity A3.5 was far superior in my system - better frequency extension both top and bottom, and an overall clearer and more dynamic presentation. I know you have some familiarity with the A3.5 from the early days of your blog, so I thought I'd make the comparison.Then again, if I primarily listened to guitar-distortion-heavy Metal - which sounded heavenly through the Cronus - I might be raving about the unit.

Juan's picture

Free speech is what my country is all about David,and our biggest debt is with China, a communist country! Maybe you should find out what is like over there vs. here and that even this medium of the web is not open to them. Or better yet try North Korea, Cuba, etc.. there they judge people by their names too. You must be a native american and if so, from which tribe of indians? Remember St. Augustine, Florida was founded long before the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth rock. And since we are dealing with names, then California, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Florida, Texas and many others should be renamed as to conform to your miniscule brain.

john a's picture

stephen, you wrote in your blog about wrote about the "inherent coolness of tubes... by which owning tubes makes you cool...".and a new reviewer's statement re the “transitive property of coolness,” a thought for you: objects are not cool; they are merely 'things', lifeless inanimate objects. people are cool, for all sorts of reasons. the search for becoming cool,is, at its core, uncool. cool describes a way of being in the world. owning a tubed piece of equipment is hardly transformative, except insofar as it may enhance your relationship with the music; and that is a fine thing.do you think that bill evans, chet baker, lou reed (you supply your own examples) could possibly be defined as 'cool' other than through some essential, core quality? enjoy your music, the equipment is irrelevantp.s. what in god's name is the "transitive property of coolness"? perhaps you can clarify this phrase.

Stephen Mejias's picture

I was just kidding around, john a. As we learn in the great novel, High Fidelity, it's not what you like, but what you are like, that really matters.But, still, I do think tubes are cool.

Davip's picture

Aw, I didn't mean to bruise your republican god-fearing sensibilities Juan. Still, you shouldn't be blowing-off here -- not when you still have piles of leaves to blow off of the lawns where you work. Fool

Juan's picture

Comrade david, your true colors are out; a good for nothing communist, unpatriotic bigot ashamed of being an American. Noticed the lowercased d.Your kind is right up there with Stalin, Castro, Chavez, Pot Pol, and Mao. We Americans are the scourge of the Earth according to your kind, and we will pay dearly for attitudes like yours. I wonder how many leaf blowing hispanics died and continue to die for this country serving the military, so that JACK ASSES like you can vegetate. Notice all caps! I apologize to the Native Americans. STEPHEN, GO ROUGE, BUY THE AMERICAN AMP!!!

Al Marcy's picture

I apologize for getting rude about me being a DIY geek, and thus superior to all mortals. It has been wonderful, to me. I am not wonderful as a result. I am still me. Harvey was a bit more entertaining. Please forgive my rudeness. Keep up the fine work. I enjoy reading your stuff. I just really don't enjoy reading mine, occasionally. Recorded music is one of the finest things in my life. My personality is not. At least I notice, sometimes. There may yet be hope. It seems my worst trait is becoming more common. The humiliation gets worse and worse. Almost like old age, but, I keep hoping for a happier ending. Audio keeps getting better. I have my moments. My post was not one of them.

yerfdoggy's picture

Al Marcy.An elegant and meaningful apology...and I didn't think your post was particularly offensive or anywhere near as stupid as some that precede it. Anyway, you sound like an interesting person. Cheers.

Stephen Mejias's picture

Al: No need to apologize about your post. I think it's one of the coolest comments you've ever left here. Thanks.Juan: Your posts put a smile on my face. Well done. Thanks.Cato: Good call on the Leben. That's a beauty. I do have Totem Arros at home, but I've been listening to a pair of DeVore Gibbon 3s with gorgeous bamboo cabinets. I'm sure they'd love tubes, too.Hans: Interesting comparison with the MF A3.5, a very fun amp. I'll keep your advice in mind. Thanks.And thanks to everyone else for the encouragement, and for sharing your experiences with tubes and Rogue amps. I'm even more excited about trying it out.

Christian's picture

I second the Nimis. I have one (there is even a photo of it on the photo gallery) I love mine and just mated it with some PSB Synchrony One B's and it drives them beautifully. I was a bit worried at first because of the lower sensitivityand being 4 ohm I thought they might be tought to drive butthe combo is sounding amazing. I will have to post more photosfor you.

Larry(Poor Audiophile)'s picture

I have no experience with tubes, but this does look cool! I'd love to get a tube amp, but this is a bit out of reach for me(price wise).Hey Juan, I'm with you!!

Juan's picture

Thanks Larry, going rouge (red, as in red, white and blue) is not cheap, if you want to buy American. Rogue Audio is an unbelievable value, so is Cary's Audio Electronic Supply. Van Alstine products are excellent. My suggestion is to ease into it by purchasing a used preamp with one or two tubes and use that with your existing system and see how you like it. You can experiment with different tubes and the likes of 6922's are cheap. Music Reference RM-5 mark III from Rodger Modjeski comes to mind and it is very reliable. Integrated amps or pre-power combinations have too many tubes and re-tubing can be expensive, you will spend more re-tubing than what you paid for the used unit. Biasing and tube matching is always an issue, better try simple and if you can handle the idiosyncrasies of tube gear, move on to better things. Audiogon.com is a source for used gear but "Caveat Emptor". Check for dealers in your area that sell trade-ins or local classifieds, try it before buying. May the g

Juan's picture

Sorry Larry, as I was saying try it out before buying. Listen for noise without a source (most tube gear makes low level noise if you get close to the speaker, anything louder or fluctuating noise may indicate a bad tube or tubes.) Try the volume pot for scratchy sounds, source selector, etc. servicing these could be cheap if only cleaning or $$$ if need to replace. Be brave. Good luck and may the glow be with you!

Juan's picture

Larry check out avahifi.com the website for Audio by Van Alstine, look in the used section. New products are very reasonable too. This is an excellent source and their reputation is tops.

Robert's picture

I got the rogue cronus few months ago, replacing not one exposure 2010s but two of them in biamplification. It's my first experience with tubes and i am delighted, i don't care about measurements, every day i experience emotion of music and my next move will be with Rogue audio. As a canadian, buying a north american product is also very important. I emailed a couple of time with Mark O'Brien of Rogue Audio and this guy answer you almost the same day as if you are Obama or some vip of this universe. Bravo

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'