It has a vil­lain­ous name, but per­forms like a hero

FOR Ro­bust and re­fined sound; good de­tail; fine dy­nam­ics AGAINST Head­phone out­put isn’t great; re­mote feels cheap

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Contents -

We’re dis­ap­pointed. A name such as Cronus Mag­num II should be at­tached to some de­mented su­per-vil­lain in the Marvel uni­verse rather than an am­pli­fier. But get past the grand moniker and you’ll find there’s a lot to like about this gen­er­ously spec­i­fied valve amp.

Rogue Au­dio is based in Penn­syl­va­nia, USA, and all its prod­ucts are built on-site rather than sub-con­tracted out to a Far Eastern OEM man­u­fac­turer. That’s un­usual in to­day’s mar­ket, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to the more af­ford­able end of the valve-am­pli­fier mar­ket. And yes, £2500 is en­try-level for an am­pli­fier that de­liv­ers what is (in valve terms) a gen­er­ous 100 watts-per-chan­nel out­put.

Evo­lu­tion and up­grades

The de­sign of this amp has care­fully evolved over the past decade or so. The power out­put has al­most dou­bled over that time thanks to a change of out­put valves and up­grades to the power sup­ply. The au­dio cir­cuit has de­vel­oped too, with re­vised com­po­nents and cir­cuit re­fine­ments to im­prove trans­parency and de­tail.

Take the Cronus Mag­num II out of its box – care­ful now, it weighs a hefty 25kg thanks to the com­bi­na­tion of a weighty mains trans­former and the pair of out­put trans­form­ers – and it’s like step­ping back 30 years. This amp’s ap­pear­ance is as tra­di­tional as they come, with func­tional cas­ing crowned with an ar­ray of ex­posed valves. An op­tional cover is avail­able for those with safety con­cerns.

The four out­put valves – the large ones at the back – are the cur­rently fash­ion­able KT120S rather than the EL34S of the orig­i­nal de­sign, and they need to be in­stalled. Don’t worry – it’s a sim­ple process and each valve is clearly marked. Just make sure they’re seated prop­erly be­fore you power up the amp, though. The smaller, preamp valves are pre-fit­ted so take care of them­selves.

Our Cronus Mag­num II has a nicely fin­ished sil­ver front fas­cia, but black is also avail­able. The rest of its chas­sis is cov­ered in a crack­led black paint more usu­ally seen on ded­i­cated pro-ori­en­tated kit. In the pro world, aes­thetic con­sid­er­a­tions tend to take a back seat to func­tion­al­ity. You’d have to go back to the 1980s to find a time when such a fin­ish was com­mon on do­mes­tic gear.

Con­ces­sions to moder­nity

We’re a lit­tle sur­prised to find a re­mote con­trol – it seems even the most tra­di­tional of prod­ucts can’t ignore this mod­ern con­ve­nience. We like the handset’s sim­plic­ity: there are just three but­tons – two for vol­ume and the third for mute – but the handset’s cheap, pla­s­ticky feel would em­bar­rass a pair of bud­get wire­less speak­ers, let alone a se­ri­ous hi-fi prod­uct of this type.

Put the cheapo re­mote and the choice of paint fin­ish aside, and the Rogue is a well-made unit. Its chas­sis feels re­as­sur­ingly solid, and it’s neatly put to­gether. This feels like a prod­uct built to last decades, with chunky con­trol di­als that work with pre­ci­sion along­side sat­is­fy­ingly solid but­tons.

This is a well spec­i­fied unit. There are three line-level in­puts, a mov­ing­mag­net phono stage and even a head­phone out­put – the last not be­ing com­mon on valve am­pli­fiers. It also has preamp out­puts in case you want to add a power amp or con­nect a sub­woofer.

See that me­ter on the top panel? It’s there to help set the bias cur­rents for the quar­tet of out­put valves. Bias is the kind

”The Rogue de­liv­ers a mus­cu­lar sound with wide-rang­ing dy­nam­ics and plenty of punch. It’s not afraid of the seis­mic crescen­dos”

of thing we’d check on ini­tial in­stal­la­tion (af­ter wait­ing about 30 min­utes for the cir­cuit to fully sta­bilise) and then ev­ery cou­ple of months af­ter. Rogue has made the process easy.

Re­move the small panel at the top and you’ll find the ad­juster screws for each valve next to the tog­gles that switch them into the cir­cuit. The com­pany even pro­vides a screw­driver for the job and has made a spe­cific place on the amp to store it. Thought­ful.

Once it’s up and run­ning, we think the Cronus Mag­num II is a ter­rific unit. We use our usual com­bi­na­tion of Naim NDS/ 555PS mu­sic streamer and Clea­r­au­dio In­no­va­tion Wood record player. Speak­ers, usu­ally some­thing that have to be cho­sen with care with tra­di­tional valve de­signs, prove no prob­lem, the Rogue sound­ing al­most as at home with our ref­er­ence ATC SCM50S as it does with a pair of highly ef­fi­cient Au­dio Note AN-JS.

Big, au­thor­i­ta­tive sound

Re­gard­less of part­ner­ing kit this amp sounds big and pow­er­ful in a way that’s alien to most sim­i­larly priced valve amps. There’s plenty of author­ity, and that works well with large-scale dy­namic pieces of mu­sic such as Holst’s Mars. Here the Rogue de­liv­ers a mus­cu­lar sound with wide-rang­ing dy­nam­ics and plenty of punch. It’s not afraid of the seis­mic crescen­dos in this piece, and ren­ders them with so­lid­ity and com­po­sure. It goes loud too. Lis­ten to it in full flow and that claimed 100W-per­chan­nel fig­ure is en­tirely be­liev­able.

Stereo imag­ing is good. While not de­liv­er­ing the most ex­pan­sive or pre­cise sound­stage we’ve heard, the Rogue lay­ers the pre­sen­ta­tion well, and re­mains sta­ble even when pushed. Many al­ter­na­tives lose this abil­ity to or­gan­ise when things be­come de­mand­ing.

Those ex­pect­ing the stereo­typ­i­cal soft and warm valve amp pre­sen­ta­tion aren’t go­ing to be to­tally happy though. While pleas­ingly sub­tle, and ca­pa­ble of good in­sight, the Rogue sounds nice only when the mu­sic de­mands. It doesn’t overtly sani­tise the mu­sic – and for us that’s a good thing.

The Rogue’s tonal­ity is nicely judged. It’s full-bod­ied, re­fined at the top end and de­cently weighty in the bass. There’s a pleas­ing amount of grip at low fre­quen­cies and the kind of def­i­ni­tion that ri­vals some of the best tran­sis­tor­based al­ter­na­tives.

It’s at home with Ken­drick La­mar’s King Kunta, pound­ing out the bass with con­vic­tion. There’s plenty of at­tack and drive, even if rhyth­mi­cally it sounds more sure­footed than en­thu­si­as­tic. The im­por­tant thing is that the ‘feel’ of the mu­sic comes through in­tact.

Ar­tic­u­lated vo­cals

La­mar’s at­ti­tude-packed de­liv­ery is clear and won­der­fully ar­tic­u­late. There’s an im­pres­sive de­gree of sub­tlety through the midrange, par­tic­u­larly in the way low-level dy­nam­ics are por­trayed. This is a qual­ity that works equally well with the folk-tinged out­put of The Un­thanks as it does with La­mar’s hip-hop.

The built-in phono stage is pretty good too. It’s got a gain of 44db, which is enough for most mov­ing-mag­net car­tridges and high-out­put mov­ing-coil de­signs. We’re pleased with the low level of noise and hiss, and it re­tains much of the ro­bust but re­fined bal­ance of the line stages. Some of the trans­parency and res­o­lu­tion is re­duced though, so, if vinyl per­for­mance is a pri­or­ity, a ded­i­cated out­board unit would serve you bet­ter.

Canny com­par­i­son

We’re less taken with the head­phone out­put. There’s plenty of power on tap, but, com­pared with the nat­u­ral warmth and body of the speaker out­puts, it lacks a lit­tle ex­pres­sion and doesn’t draw us into the mu­sic as well. We don’t think that’s enough to dent the Rogue’s case though – most ri­vals don’t even of­fer a head­phone out­put. The Cronus Mag­num II is more than just a good, sen­si­bly priced valve am­pli­fier. We think it’s a great amp for the money re­gard­less of the tech­nol­ogy used, and a vi­able ri­val for es­tab­lished class lead­ers such as Naim’s Su­per­nait 2. That makes it a fine buy in­deed.

Connections in­clude three line-level outs, a phono stage and a head­phone out­put

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