World Premiere Review!
Rogue Audio's RP-9 is the latest flagship preamplifier from the ingenious designs of the American manufacturing workshop of Mark O'Brien. Having an interest in doing this review of the new RP-9 was a simple decision as a long-time user of the Rogue RP-7. I have been using the remarkable powerhouse Rogue Apollo Dark Amps for several years as both a sonic and output upgrade to my previously owned Rogue 180 Amplifiers that were used to run Magnepan 3.6 speakers. I replaced the Maggie 3.6 speakers with their 20.7 models several years ago and needed more powerful amps. I wondered if the increased musical experience of moving further up in the Rogue Amplifier line was going to be repeated with their new preamplifier by going from the RP-7 to the RP-9 model. However, before proceeding and hearing the RP-9, I wondered what was going on since the RP-7 has received numerous accolades, recognition, and rewards. Could designer Mark O'Brien improve upon the noteworthy RP-7 that I have been enjoying?
I immediately shook my head in a positive way when I switched on the RP-9. I was amazed that the sound could be that much better than my RP-7, which I felt was wonderful. How is it possible that the sound of the RP-7 was improved across the board in every area? The RP-9 has a quieter and more silent background that was deeper in the projection of space. There were layers of sound magically appearing from further reaches and areas behind the speakers. The music floated in the room with a sense of being at a concert hall. Notes were spinning everywhere with the sound connected in time yet there was space and separation. Rogue Audio's RP-9 stereo preamplifier creates a natural breath with the playing of winds, a cutting edge to the brass, a glimmer to the percussion, and jump to the beat of the sticks impacting the drumheads. The bass seemed to go lower by an octave because what was previously heard now had better definition and authority. The textures and tapestry of the music took on further levels of saturation and colors. It was a mesmerizing improvement of the musical presentation and listening experiences across all the areas audiophiles hear and discuss such as depth, width, and height of the front sound stage or the speed, resolution, attack, and delay of the music presentation.
Meet The Designer
I decided to go with a silver finish for the RP-9 instead of the black casework of my RP-7 to aesthetically match other new components of the stereo. The metal housing is well made and finished with a heavy front faceplate, large knobs, and easy-to-set buttons for the inputs. The top hatch easily unscrewed for a peek inside to see what was going on. There sure were a lot of power supplies, parts from Vishay, and Mundorf silver/gold oil caps. My Dad was an electronics technician back in the golden era of all-tube equipment and TVs. I miss not being able to show him all the tube gear I use. I think he would be impressed with our new modern-era tube equipment that has much more reliability and accurate sound.
Of course, the debate rages on about the odd or even order harmonic sounds and reliability of tubes versus solid-state designs or the basic musical sounds from rolling NOS vintage tubes and newly manufactured tubes from various sources. I have had experiences with some of the finest equipment in professional recording studios. I enjoyed great sound for many years when I owned three different Krell preamps along with three of their big amps all through the 1990's and into 2010. I also got to use and hear the excellent preamp and 911 amp from Burmester when reviewing Genesis speakers.
Eventually, tube amps showed up with other review equipment projects. There was a remarkable sweet integrated 300B design from Allnic and the gutsy and punchy Bob Carver 180. This led me to Rogue and hearing their lineup of the tube and hybrid equipment. I found Rogue products to be very value-based performers relative to other company price points for equipment.
Building On Experience
The Rogue equipment has the clarity, power, and speed to make electronica, trance, rock, and pop music all pleasing and involving too. The Rogue does not have a traditional warm tube sound from my Dad's listening days and thankfully does not have any solid-state glare from the early days of transistors that my Dad also experienced and did not like. Rogue offers a wonderful integrated and complex sound that is very engaging and accurate too.
Another beneficial design Rogue offers owners is a process and plans for equipment upgrades for many of their current models for customers that wish to update their earlier purchases. These can easily be viewed on their website. The company history and design approach are explained in greater detail too along with the manuals for their products. Their Ares phono stage which I also own is an excellent performer and value at $1,995 yet they offer the nicely upgraded Magnum model at $2,795 that has a significant list of premium parts for a person that would like to further enhance the sound.
A similar path of parts refinements is offered with the Rogue 180 and Apollo amps that have the basic or dark versions. The production labor costs are similar, but people can decide for themselves if the distinct parts and results are worth buying. Rogue does not appear to overly markup their premium product lines. It is mostly about the parts upgrades. In a way, I think the Rogue Audio RP-9 vacuum tube stereo preamplifier is a similar performance upgrade path that leads to a greater sound than the excellent RP-7. The appearance, features, and setup are identical with both preamps. The circuit design of the RP-9 is similar too with mainly topology mods for the tubes and other power supply parts while including a beautiful new metal housing remote.
Why Vacuum Tubes Are Important
Rogue Audio's RP-9 exudes a beautiful and wonderful balance, presentation, and delivery of sound. Average recordings sounded better and were now more musically engaging and listenable with greater emotional involvement. Great recordings became excellent and had a new, higher level of realism. The best of the best excellent recordings transcended their already superb sound and became realistic sounding as if I were at a live concert.
Putting It In Perspective
I relate to the finest musical presentation by audio equipment from this type of perspective. A big, loud, and thumpy system with stridency is quite the opposite of what I enjoy. When I speak of a stereo having a musical sound it is because I am experiencing and hearing a realistic portrayal of timbre, balance, and textures of instruments and voices. Then along with the transparency and layers of sound with quick and variable dynamics, speedy and clear articulations of initiations of notes, it should also have an appropriate amount of resonance and decay with a full frequency range for all the instruments and voices.
I was at a Deutsch Gramophone Philadelphia Orchestra recording session for the Shostakovich Symphony Number 4 back in the 1990s with Myung-Whun Chung guest conducting. This is a very demanding orchestra recording to play and makes a great demo at home. I put on a Japanese CD version and checked the sound level to be loud in the mid 80s decibel range yet not realistic to the live orchestra in the studio sound. I slowly turned up the numbers using the new beautifully styled and crafted metal remote of the RP-9. The RP-9 level numbers on the OLED screen can easily be seen from my listening chair. That is another nice feature about this preamp.
The new remote is a pleasure to hold and use. The settings can be seen from across the room although the screen can also be turned off if a person does not want to see any lights. I got the sound past 90 dB and even had peaks during the tympani and bass drum transients to momentarily break 100dB. Now this was the intensity and sound level I hear live when I am on stage with the Orchestra. The RP-9 was brilliant in simply dialing up to louder levels of playing without any sensations of distortion or compression creeping into the path. I did not want to stay at this volume for long, yet it was pleasing and rewarding to know the system could do this.
The sound and challenge of properly portraying the complexities, colorful instruments and multiple voices of Renaissance music is another favorite demo and musical test of any great system. I have many wonderful French and German Harmonia Mundi records. Two of my favorites are La Fete De Lane with the Rene Clemencic Consort and La Folia with Gregorio Panaigua. These are beautiful, humorous, and creative performances that I have enjoyed for over thirty years with the use of many systems.
Rogue Audio's RP-9 relayed and portrayed all the noisy gags of La Folia including buzz saws, car horns, squawking balloons, engine exhausts along with the cadre of plucked and blown period Renaissance instruments. I have a couple of versions of the Feast of Fools that I always play to celebrate the holiday festivities around New Years. Along with the bawdy and sometimes sarcastic singing commentary of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, the Fools old traditional play and presentation also took great liberties with a skewed comedic and irreverent presentation. Rene Clemencic has taken great liberties and creative license in recreating this montage of dancing and singing merriment. My stereo has never been as enjoyable as hearing it with the combination of the RP-9 and Apollo Amps.
A God Of Music
Two Steps Closer To Heaven?
Mark O'Brien of Rogue Audio and his listening friends got it right! The 6H30P tubes have a fascinating and clear singing sound. Mark has made the music sound Sweet. The topology and parts revisions have contributed to creating an impressive preamplifier that takes the Rogue sound another step forward of leading the heart, mind, and soul to the happiness of musical involvement. I have a greater sense of music enjoyment relative to putting up a larger expense to buy the RP-9. My verdict is a definite positive endorsement. Bravo to Mark and his accomplished crew!