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There are two parts to the definition of the word Juju. From the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary - 1: a fetish, charm or amulet of West African peoples; 2: the magic attributed to or associated with jujus. And this duality -- the object and the magic it makes -- is a nice intro to any piece of hi-fi gear. After all, that's about all there is to talk about. How much of your music's magic does your hi-fi make?
Rogue Audio developed the Titan Series "to create truly high end products at entry level prices" according to their website. The Titan Series includes the Atlas power amplifier ($1395), Metis preamplifier ($995) and today's focus, the Cronus 55-watt EL34-powered integrated amplifier. It comes with a total of 4 inputs including phono stage, 2 outputs, remote volume control , headphone socket and built-in bias meter. Rogue even includes a bias blade strapped to the amp's top plate. Bandwidth is stated as 20Hz-30kHz and the Cronus measures in at 18" W x 17.5" D x 5.5" H, weighs a whopping 50 pounds and comes with a 3-year limited warranty (6 months on tubes). There's an optional tube cage for $100 which I've seen in pictures but I much prefer the nudie look.
Here's Paul Candy on the Titan Series from his HE2005 Show Report: "The build quality and appearance was stunning for the price. To top it off, the Titan series are completely home-grown USDA beef! How Rogue can build here and keep the price so low is beyond me." I couldn't have said it any better. It's beyond me too. Looking beyond the 3/8" anodized aluminum faceplate and knobs (available in natural silver or black), the Cronus uses a quad of Svetlana current-production EL-34s run in push-pull pairs, a duo of Electro-Harmonix 12AU7 driver tubes, a pair of Sovtek 12AX7 input tubes and a single EH 12AU7 for the preamp's gain stage.
Tube rolling is okay by Rogue's chief designer Mark O'Brien. "You can definitely do some tube rolling with the Cronus and we don't discourage it. I believe that we use the best tubes currently manufactured, but the ability to tailor the sound by changing tubes is certainly part of the fun of owning tube equipment."
Up front, from left to right there is a power button, a blue led power indicator, the receiving eye for the remote, the headphone jack, source selector, balance control, and lastly a volume pot. For headphone use, plugging in your cans automatically mutes your speakers. Around back are a pair of five-way binding posts, 3 RCA line level inputs and 1 phono input (35dB gain before preamp section), 2 outputs (1 variable and 1 fixed) and a ground post for the phono stage. Lastly there's a mains fuse and the IEC power inlet.
Rogue fully tests, burns in and auditions every piece of gear that leaves their shop according to their website. Part of this process weans out the best tubes for their new home. In the Cronus, Rogue looks for the lowest noise for that single 12AU7 in the preamp stage. Hooking everything up was standard stuff, made even easier since Rogue marks every tube box with its corresponding position in the amp. The top plate is also screened with tube type markers so short of coming over and doing it themselves, I'd say Rogue has you covered from to back. The manual is concise yet very thorough and explains everything you may need to do to your Cronus in easy-to-understand everyman language.
There are two aspects of the Cronus setup worth noting. The first is that the power tube bias is set manually. That means you. This procedure is detailed in the manual but in case the thought of manual bias sounds like a hassle (it's not), I'd thought I'd give you a dry run. After you've run the amp for at least 30 minutes, turn the volume all the way down.
Unscrew the two captive screws (captive so you don't drop 'em into the amp - a thoughtful touch) that hold down the hatch plate. Remove the plate. Pop off that handily placed bias tool, pick a tube and turn the switch next to it to set. Then dial the associated screw till the built-in meter pegs at 35 milliamps (mA). Flip the switch back to run and move on to the next tube (repeat 3 times). Easy, fast and because it's just so well executed - fun. I set the bias once, checked it twice and never had to set it again over the three months I lived with the Rogue.
Number two is that the amp comes factory set with the 8-ohm speaker impedance tap connected. If you need to switch to the 4-ohm option, you'll need to open up the amp (14 screws) and physically disconnect the 8-ohm tap and connect the 4-ohm wires to the binding posts. That requires a #2 Phillips screwdriver and a 5/16" wrench. Again, the manual has you covered so don't dare sweat this either.
Operationally, the Rogue runs warm to hot to the touch so allow for some breathing room. Also plan on getting a very sturdy rack or whatever you decide to park the Cronus on. Its 50lbs will strain anything lithe. I'd recommend top-shelf placement due to the wonderful light show emanating from the tubes when playing in the dark. This also allows for easy access when checking and setting bias. Besides, the Cronus is an understated looker. It kinda reminds me of my neighbor who parks his Harley in his library.
The one operational nit I won't pick but simply point out is a small amount of bleed-through on the phono input if you leave your CD playing and switch over to phono and have the volume pot cranked past 2:00 (which I never did during actual listening sessions as this was simply too loud). My $4k+ preamp has a similar issue so I am in the habit of just running one source at a time. I also put this to Mark O'Brien and "...we have addressed this by moving some of the phono traces in the phono circuit further away from the line level inputs." I'd like to point out that all communications with Rogue Audio were timely, professional, courteous and refreshingly bereft of fluff. No-nonsense.
Many moons ago, I wandered into an audio salon with my dad to hear the YBA CD player with the blue laser (the specific model escapes me). Upon hearing my request, the affable owner said "just sit down and listen to this". And he proceeded to fire up a tube power amp sitting on the floor between a pair of Vandersteen 3s.
The amp was a substantial yet simple-looking affair with a black raven perched (menacingly?) over the company's name on the hefty silver faceplate. I can remember lots of tube-defying, gut-pounding sound accompanied by the salon keeper's very wide grin as we enjoyed his music much more than he seemed to care about selling me a CD player with a blue laser. I remember talking with my dad as we drove home (without a blue laser CD player) about how much drive, volume and truly enjoyable music was coming out of this relatively inexpensive package.
With my very faulty memory aided by some Internet assistance, I can tell you that we were listening to the first Rogue amplifier, the Model 88. The year was 1996. Fast forward 10 years and I got to hear the current top-of-the-line Rogue amp, the Zeus amplifier ($7,495) driving some Tannoy wide-band Churchills while on RoadTour. I'd sum up that system's sound as balls-to-the-wall (of sound). Kinda like how I remember that Rogue 88.
I found it interesting and as good a time as any to share that while perusing the Rogue Audio website, I came across the Rogue Motorsports page. Turns out that Rogue sponsors a rider in the WERA road-racing championships - and that rider is chief Rogue Mark O'Brien. [Of further roguish anecdotes, Mark is also rumored to have been Leon Spinks' sparring partner at one time - Ed.]
Like son like father
According to Greek mythology, Zeus is the son of Cronus and the only child he didn't swallow whole. I was curious to hear if the father in this case takes after the son. Archie Schepp's The Magic of Ju-Ju is an enthralling disk. Free Jazz with more attitude than you can shake a shtick at, Schepp pulls out some rhythm logs and talking drums to add African-influenced spice to the Jazz ensemble. And the title track is as fresh as the day it was minted forty years ago. A slow burner at first, but when Norman Conner finally joins in on drums and then Reggie Workman on bass, it's all mayhem and funk. And the Cronus unravels the maelstrom deftly. There is nothing soft, flabby or fussy about the music the Cronus makes. Yet it catches the subtlest tones bouncing off those rhythm logs and delivers the quieter moments equally nimbly.
I gave the Cronus the full tour of my speaker collection including the Abbys, Horns and DeVore Gibbon Super 8s. And I'd give the nod to the DeVores as the better match for the Cronus. Those 55 watts provide a solid grip on the DeVores' bottom end, delivering some slamability and if you're so inclined, copious amounts of volume. I gave the Cronus' phono stage and those copious amounts of volume a fitful spin with Led Zeppelin (III) and the Rolling Stones (Exile on Mainstreet) among others. With the Rega P3, Denon 103 and Auditorium 23 step up feeding the Rogue in turn feeding the DeVores, it was all smiles and heart-poundingly good sound. There's nothing to distract you from just how good some Blues-inspired Rock'n'Roll can be. John Bonham on "Since I've Been Lovin You" gets the sense-o-round treatment making it impossible to resist following his flourishes. Yes, air drums in full swing. Jimi Page's solo bites hard and Robert Plant's vocals hang out to dry. Dynamics and speed are strong points of the Rogue but one truly standout feature is the huge stage it throws where warranted. Coupled with that big-ass bass control, auditorium-sized stage and the ability to play very loud, all that's missing is a few thousand people and you'd have yourself a concert.
And this spatial expansiveness is not some hi-fi trickery. I'm talking about allowing the recording to fill up your space with the place of the recording and the voice of the instrument. Something like solo piano on the Cronus illustrates this point nicely. Try out some Monk or Mitsuko Uchida playing Mozart and when those notes decay into silence into your space, it allows for a deeper reading into style. On intimate music, like Lou Harrison's Double Concerto for Violin and Cello with Japanese Gamelan or Skip James or Nick Drake, the Rogue gets surprisingly delicate and conveys warmth, tone and tempo even at modest volumes. It picks up on all the subtleties of the varying voices on the Harrison piece, Skip James' amazing open-tuned finger style and Nick Drake's haunting calm. Even at lower volumes, the Cronus is even-handed.
With the DeVores and some late-night listening, I found myself turning out the lights, shutting off the monitor and just enjoying my music. Completely. And when things are sounding this good, I find myself digging through my music for stuff that matches my mood. In other words, the way it should be all the time. This is directly opposed to mining for recordings that play into a system's sweet spot. In other words, the way it should never be. And when I switched back to my SET stable, there was no sense of relief or "boy I missed this or that". The Cronus' extra power nets some real sonic gains on the DeVores in fact. It's all pluses. My small single-driver speaker stable less so but the Horns did appreciate that extra grunt on more grunty music at louder volumes.
Back on the quieter side, how about that headphone socket? I own a pair of Audio Technica ATH-W1000s and this combo is another winning aspect of the Rogue's character. I have to admit that I'm not a huge headphone fan and have little experience with dedicated headphone amps but I ran through a bunch of disks, LPs and even some late-night radio listening (a favorite) and it was thoroughly engrossing. I also checked that bleed-through issue with the headphones and could hear a faint murmur of the Sonny Rollins' Freedom Suite CD in between tracks on Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' Let Love In on the turntable. The solution was simply enough. I gave "Someday I'll Find You" a rest while Nick Cave's devil knocked outside my door on "Loverman". Again, I'm a one-source-at-a-time kinda listener so I could live with this on an operational level - plus Rogue has apparently addressed this already by rejigging the circuit board layout in newer models.
Do you like surprises? I do. When I unpacked the Cronus on the day it arrived straining my back on its 50 hulking pounds, I thought I had it pretty well figured. A quad of ultralinear P/P EL34s and some nice iron would most certainly add up to some balls-to-the-wall (of sound). I mean, these Rogue guys know what they're doing. They've been doing it for 10 years. I heard the Stereo 88 and the Zeus and they rocked. My guess was the guys at Rogue had taken all that knowledge and experience and stuffed it into an affordably burly integrated package. This thing's going to rock, too. The surprise was it sounded better than ballsy. It was delicate. It was delightful.
Hold on. Are you saying the Cronus is better than SETs & separates? Did that Rogue cast some sort of spell? Hell, it's not even triode-based and there's got to be global feedback at work. It uses -- gulp -- circuit boards and I didn't even roll in any NOS tubes. It's a bloody integrated amp! Have you gone mad?
Of course I'm making fun of myself and the tendency in this wonderful hobby to overthink. To sweat over everything except what matters most; how much we enjoy our music through our gear. Instead of listening for something, how about we just listen to something? And the Rogue Audio Cronus makes music that's worth listening to - big, brash and loud when called for while giving you enough sparkle, air and delicacy to relax. Of course I'm also talking about speaker matching; having 55 push-pulling watts of power pumping through my DeVore Gibbon Super 8s equaled control. And that man-handling of the speakers netted some big dynamic swings and a huge, solid musical stage. Add in that hefty remote, headphone feature, a damn good phono stage, solid build and roguishly reasonable price and in today's environment, I suppose I should double-check for that "Made in the USA" appellation.
If you talk about a well-made affordable piece of tubed audio gear, you have to go up against the Great Wall. Don't you? Well, I don't have one of the dozens of China-made tubed integrated amps here to do head-to-head combat with but I have to admit that when given the opportunity, I look beyond the faceplate and price tag when pulling out my wallet. The idea of buying something from a company whose basic model is built on leveraging global labor market inequities just leaves me flat. Besides, I like story. Especially history where available. The fact that I can think back ten years to personal Rogue Audio experiences means something to me. Surviving that long in this business should mean something to you.
And while I'm all for value, I think in some ways the "affordable" and "value" tags so often applied to Rogue gear can cover up a more important fact. These things make some great music. No, not "for the money" or "given the price". The Rogue Cronus doesn't need any qualifiers. It's simply damn good.
Do you ever get tired of all the fuss? Delicately balancing your components' voices and wondering if that new cable with the hemoglobin-packed sheathing is just the thing your system needs to pump some life-blood back into your musical enjoyment? Did you ever want to simplify? Clean house? When that feeling moves you, there's no better salve for weary audiophile bones than an integrated amp. And the Rogue Audio Cronus offers a feature-filled 55 watts of solidly engineered and solidly built, value-packed juju. But don't let all that practicality and value fool you - the Rogue Audio Cronus has balls-to-the-wall (of sound) coupled with the delicacy and detail to transform your tunes from stored media to musical juju on tap.