The Sphinx integrated amplifier has certainly raised a few east coast eyebrows. An audiophile friend of mine pointed it out to me at the Stereo Exchange in New York City. I jumped on an opportunity offered by my editor to audition the cause of this controversy. Subsequently Mark O'Brien, the Head Rogue guy kindly sent me a sample of the Sphinx to evaluate. The current Sphinx amplifier buzz is a basic no brainer. It is not very often you get a 100 wpc high-end, high fidelity integrated amplifier on the cheap. Rogue Audio company's top component line includes the Apollo dual mono tube amplifiers, with the unit having an MSRP of $10,995 for the pair. On the other hand, the Sphinx integrated amplifier will set you back a miserly $1295. If you add the $100 optional remote control the cost would rise to only $1395. This price is definably a bargain in the land of high-end, high fidelity two-channel audio. Additionally the Sphinx comes from a company with a reputation well known to most Audiophile types. The Rogue Audio people currently make nineteen separate kinds of tube and hybrid audio components. These components are designed and hand built in Brodheadsville, Pennsylvania U.S.A.
speakers drive power is referred to by Rogue Audio as a: "Massive high storage
linear supply". It is specified at 100 watts per channel into 8 Ohms. The Sphinx
amplifiers physical dimensions are 15.5" wide by 17" front to back depth and it
is 5" high. The unboxed amplifier weights 25 pounds. The top of the amplifier
cover has openings on the right side to vent heat from the two JJ/12AU6 triodes.
The front panel is a 0.25-inch thick-brushed aluminum rectangle also available
in anodized black. Starting from left to right the front panel contains the
following. A circular opening for the remote control receiver, next to
that is the power On/Off button. On either side of the power button, there are
two LED's. On the left side, a Blue LED indicates power is on. Exactly opposite
on the right is a yellow colored LED indicating the amplifier is in stand by
mode. Just to the right of that is a socket for a 1/4" headphone jack.
At the rear panel, there is a rocker switch that applies mains/wall power to the amplifier. With the rear mains switch actuated the yellow "Standby" LED to the right side of the power button lights up. The headphone connection on the front panel is active even though the amplifier is in standby. Rogue Audio suggests that the Sphinx should be in the "Standby" state even with the audio system powered down. O.K. let us turn on the amplifier, after a short "soft start" interval the left side Blue LED comes on, then depress the power button and you're ready to listen.
front panel sports three control knobs. First is the source select with the
following four positions: Phono, Line 1, Line 2, and Line 3. Next is a kinda
retro channel balance knob (I like them)
and lastly there is the high quality Alps motor driven volume control knob.
Moving around back to the rear panel. We take a look the business end of things;
of course this is the component interface. There are six pairs of RCA plugs,
with two pairs used as output connections. There are two pairs of plastic left
and right channel five way speaker-binding posts. Next there is a round Phillips
head screw labeled Phono Ground. In addition, there is the main power off/on
switch and the IEC line cord socket. On the left are the five pairs of RCA
receptacles that represent the source/input connections.
Moving from the left the first RCA pair is the left and right channel phono cartridge inputs. The next three pairs of RCA inputs are labeled, Line 1, 2, 3. Farther to the right side of the back panel are two additional pairs of RCA connectors, these provide a fixed output and a second set with a variable output. The variable output can be used for a second amplifier, possibly for a subwoofer. The fixed output connections can be used for a recording device, A/D processor, et al.
The Sound Of CD
You could gloss over the sonic side of the voicing and keep mumbling the word, neutral. The word neutral will work if every body had the exact same concept of what was considered neutral. Unfortunately, reviewers don't get off that easily. However, if a grizzly bear chased me up a tree and I had to make a quick decision I would say the sound was a bit, dry No not transistor dry, and no not cool sounding. This is one way of saying the Sphinx exhibits the very same broad spectrum frequency response. Along with that it implies that the Sphinx has the same intonation and timbral structure over the reproduced music range. At the same time there is only a vanishing digital grain riding on the musical fundamentals. The tube section seems to remove a lot of the digital rough edges. This is made all the more obvious because everything is overlaid on an extremely quiet noise floor. Understand you won't hear a little extra twinkle when brushed cymbals sing out, or a little extra bass fiddle woodiness coloring the sound.
The Sphinx presentation doesn't add any information, it starts and stops very quickly and there is no hint of overhang. Imbued with speed, a low noise floor and even frequency response this is what I call a "dry neutrality". Back in November of 2010 I reviewed the Virtue Audio Sensation M451, another hybrid tube integrated amplifier for Enjoy the Music.com. That amplifier company as an afterthought installed a Dodd Audio 12AX7 tube in the M451 as a buffer stage. This was an addition made only after the Virtue completed its first production run. The tube buffer circuit was available as a $300 optional retrofit for the original units. The Buffer was configured so that it could be quickly switched in and out of the amplifiers circuit. The knowledge I gained in the process was invaluable. At one point I swapped out the stock buffer tube with many others ending up with a very old Mullard 12AU7. That tube successfully tamed most of the digital artifacts.
Understand I do like the trembling resonant sound a bow makes as it is drawn across strings. And there could be just a little added touch of Tinker Bell style treble glissandi thrown in; it wouldn't bother me at all.
thousands of cartridge variants available what Phono Cartridge would make a
meaningful reference source?
I chose the Shure
V15 V-MR Cartridge, of the seven cartridges I own this is easily the most
ubiquitous. Additionally the Shure is a moving magnet (MM) design that will
interface perfectly with the 47 kOhm resistive load built into the Sphinx phono
section. The first vinyl recording I cued up, had to turn up the gain past the
one o'clock position on the dial. In a phone conversation the head Rogue. Mark O'Brien
informed me that approximately two units went out with the wrong value of
padding resistors connected to the volume control. My sample was not one of
Not by accident, I
have the Basia Trzetrzelewska album Time And
Tide on [CD EK40767] and on Vinyl [Epic, FE 40767-1]. The contrast in
the sound reproduction when switching between these different formats perfectly
describes the differences between the Sphinx Phono section and the line stage
amplifier. The phono cartridge voicing of the first track "Promises",
elicits far more subtle details than the same track contained on the CD copy.
And in addition there is an overall warmer quality to the vinyl performance
along with an expanded sound stage. What is made clear is that you can hear back
to the cartridge and the contribution that it makes, and that is a good thing.
On the other hand the CD performance is far more dynamic.
The speed of the hi-level line amplifier section offers a contrasting shift of
sound levels which injects a greater sense of excitement. By comparison to the
line source a common thread of the vinyl presentation is that seems to
exhibit some dynamic compression especially at the frequency extremes.
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