Steven R. Rochlin
High-end audio's Poster Child for being an overachiever.
While Apple computer programmers loved the pirate aspect to what they were doing, there are times when rogues can take the glory. Rogue Audio's Cronus Magnum II integrated amplifier, is perhaps an alternate to being a pirate as there are many romantic story of rogues freeing people from the constraints of, well, you know. Case in point is where evolution refines society. And so we embark on Rogue Audio's outstanding craft in vacuum tube audio.
Within their own site they say "fierce competition in this market and we will only survive by delivering a superior product and superior service -- we have the engineering and managerial talent to do so". Sure that sounds just like rogues, yet if you got it flaunt it I say! There is no doubt this multi-award winning company has earned their reputation for successfully delivering a remarkable design at down to Earth pricing. For a quite reasonable high-end audio price of $2495 you get 100 watts of vacuum tube produced power per channel stereo via high quality parts all within this over 50 pound package.
Furthermore, Rogue Audio's philosophy states that they build designs they'd purchase themselves. They seek to employ the finest in highly-refined tube circuit topology and combine it with a nearly fanatic sense of engineering. During my review, not once did the Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum II integrated amplifier hum, buzz or do anything other than play music. Put simply, it worked 100% of the time without flaw. The owner's manual is simple, yet informative and concise. Upon opening the shipping box I was impressed with not just the foam padding, Rogue Audio already has the smaller tubes in their place and the four KT120 output tubes' boxes are all labeled so you know which socket they belong.
Since bias is set manually, after about 30 minutes of operation it was time for a preliminary check. All good there. After my normal 50 hours of playing over about a week I checked again and made a small adjustment via the included tool that stores neatly on the rear left of the top chassis. I could go on about how to set the bias, yet Rogue Audio provides an excellent video that walks you through this rarely needed, and very easy task. Bravo!
Let's Take A Peek Under The Hood
The first thing I noticed is the very clean layout of the parts with a nearly dual-mono design sharing a hefty power transformer. Roger Audio smarty has fuses within key parts of the circuitry, as it is far better to simply blow a fuse than 'smoke up' an entire circuit. There are polypropylene bypass capacitors plus excellent quality Dale-Vishay resistors in critical spots. Must admit a smile gleaned on my face as dad once worked for Vishay years ago, but that's a story for another day.
Rogue Audio's Cronus Magnum II features improvements over the original, and might I add award-winning, design. There are upgraded binding posts, upgraded small signal tubes and a few tweaks here and there. Tube sockets are gold plated to ensure a long-lasting, and reliable, electrical connection. Ultra-high tolerance components throughout are mounted to two-ounce copper circuit boards. Switches are silver plated, and as we know silver is perhaps the very best metal for signal connection. Everything looks very neat and tidy plus Rogue Audio has over-designed things to ensure long-lasting operation and reliability. As I said earlier, the Cronus Magnum II operated perfectly during the entire duration of this review. The outer chassis is highly resistant to scratches and corrosion. Available in silver or black, the machined aluminum faceplate is anodized to protect its appearance. The main chassis and transformer bits are flat black.
Signal tubes such as the two 12AX7 and three 12AU7 are by JJ Electronic, while the four hefty KT120 output tubes are by Tung-Sol. You get a generous three year warranty on electronics and six months on vacuum tubes. On the rear of the unit are four stereo inputs via gold-plated RCA jacks. Loudspeaker binding posts are very hefty and gold plated as well. The MM phono stage has a 44dB gain plus there is a 1 Watt headphone amplifier too! There's a preamplifier output for use with bi-amplification, adding a powered subwoofer, home theater, etc. The power cord is an industry standard detachable IEC type. So for $2495 you have everything you need within the Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum II stereo integrated amplifier, just add source plus speakers / headphones and you're all set.
For those eagle-eyed types curious of the difference between the original and the latest version, the Cronus Magnum II adds 6dB of gain to the MM phono section and they added a stage of power regulation to achieve refinements within the sound quality. Variable outputs are now buffered "for better subwoofer performance" and the headphone amplifier has also been improved. Rogue Audio also reduced the noise floor "significantly" so there is less noise and more music. As for the remote control, Rogue Audio added a mute function.
Bargain Price, Premium Sound
Like all great tube amplifiers, you press the power button and that begins a slow-start turn on sequence. This is to protect the tubes during the crucial heating up phase. It ensures good tube life while generally avoiding turn on thumps and buzzes. After a brief period, the Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum II stereo integrated amplifier comes to life and is all set and ready for your fave music. During break-in not only did I listen to some tunes, my wife's 15 year old daughter had at it with her Microsoft Xbox One and Netflix. It's also good to know her impressions on the changes in sound as her hearing is incredible! As for speakers, we started out with my world premiere review of the GoldenEar Technology Triton Three+ floorstanders, and then went to my longtime fave Audio Note AN-J/SPx, then finally the big guns 6' high tweaked Dunlavy SC-IV Signatures.
Setting audiophile music aside at first, on went Rage Against The Machine, Pendulum, Beastie Boys and Epica (to name a few). Considering that 100 watts per channel cranks out some serious volume.... Boom! No, not the amp, my heart as track after track was resolved with prestigious power and strength. Rogue Audio's Cronus Magnum II is no lightweight in producing sound, nor is it inappropriately bass heavy either. If you're a car guy like me, think of it as having twice the torque as compared to horsepower. Not once did I get the feeling that the Cronus Magnum II was anywhere near running out of power reserves during 'rogue' music.
Furthermore, tunes that are inherently bass heavy never seemed to completely sap the power away from the midrange or highs. This impression, by the way, pertains not just to the GoldenEar Technology Triton Three+ floorstanders that have a built-in self-powered bass/subwoofer; it includes the massive 6' high Dunlavy speakers with their five drivers per side including a pair of 10" woofers per cabinet. The Audio Note AN-J/SPx are a high-sensitivity design so a 30 Wpc amp works fine. The Dunlavy monsters, on the other hand, simply live, love 'n' thrive with firm power. Phew! With a fun late night session of musical fun, a relaxing night's sleep was welcome.
I love watching the sun rise, just wish it happened at a more appropriate time in the morning. How about we agree on 10am, as that seems a bit more polite a time than 6:30am. There's work to do and e-mails to answer.... Queuing up Billie Holiday, Rebecca Pidgeon, Patricia Barber, Norah Jones and Adele was this morning's speed while enjoying a thick glass of cappuccino. So relaxing, so sweet, and so much great sound to love here. Images floated in 3D space as female vocals caressed my soul. Time and again I was swooned by the uncanny ability of the Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum II to gracefully deliver the smoother side of music. From piano and acoustic bass to shimmering cymbals, all I could do was smile. Dare I say my personal cliché, to "enjoy the music." If the song called for a deeply solid soundscape, this hefty KT120-based integrated tube amp served it up on a silver platter. As the daze, I mean days, went on and with a variety of speakers, it was obvious the engineers at Rogue Audio genuinely love music.
From opera and jazz to death metal, experimental to today's pop, our family put the Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum II through its paces. My notes keep going on and on about a beauty in tone, timber, harmonics and robustness in sound delivery. Hmmm, all this for only $2495? And before I forget, it drove the very demanding Audeze LCD-3 Steampunks headphones fine, with the highly sensitive Noble Kaiser 10 (K10) custom in-ear monitors showing there was a teeny bit of very low-level hiss within the headphone amp stage, yet it never got in the way of the music.
There is so much to love that, especially at this price level, I sincerely feel bad giving it critiques. Yet so is the 'job' of a reviewer. The most subtle of microdynamics might not be fully rendered, and OK it might not deliver the widest of soundscapes that expands far outside the boundaries of the speakers, yet between and behind the speakers she was quite impressive. Perhaps some tube rolling with exotic new old stock jobbies would bring things into perspective? One of the many joys with the Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum II is that you can easily tube roll as finances permit. Have you seen the prices of NOS tubes? Wow! Given the very high quality of this integrated amplifier, if you want to go ahead and invest in tube rolling to discover that special something you love about music I say go for it.
Budget Price, Premium Sound
My love for food and cigars, and yes cars, is longstanding. Rogue Audio's Cronus Magnum II vacuum tube integrated stereo amplifier is akin to the finest craft beer. Sure it is a bit more expensive than mass-produced-in-a-can, yet one taste and you know where that bit of extra money went to. Perhaps we're in the budget-beating champagne territory here? There are many fine wines for reasonable money, if you take the time to explore the possibilities. The Cronus Magnum II is for those who have a taste for the finer things in life, have taken the time to find that rare overachieving jewel, yet want to stay on budget.
I genuinely feel the Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum II is far more than simply entry-level high-end audio. For $2495 it is far more capable than expected and can easily drive virtually any speaker and headphone, plus it has a great MM phonostage too! Am still shaking my head in disbelief at how well this glowing tube amplifier performed. Music sounded very natural and authentic to the recording. There is an openness backed by an abundance of drive, if the recording calls for it naturally. The guys at Rogue Audio most definitely tuned this hefty jewel by ear, versus just choosing this or that part off the shelf.
This is my first Rogue Audio product within our home, and without a doubt it is obvious why they have earned many awards. I attribute the Cronus Magnum II's rock solid quality and reliability due to a massively overbuilt design. Sound quality carefully designed in by ear, not by measurements alone. Considering the wide variety of speakers it had to drive during this review, Rogue Audio's Cronus Magnum II proved to be extremely versatile too! Dare I say it is so flawless in ease of operation that a 15 year old girl can do it?
Hmmm, how shall I put the final wrappings on this review? Obviously it is a must-audition and highly recommended, yet that leaves me feeling like something is still being left out? With an impressive wealth in versatility and exceptional sound quality for $2495, the Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum II could be high-end audio's Poster Child for high achiever. Call it the 'renaissance man' of integrated amplifiers.