While it continues to drag on in all but name only, our Great Recession has a good many of us either putting off new audio purchases altogether or setting our upgrade sights at significantly less lofty heights—say from the Big Dipper to the nearest vacant lot?
Kidding (only semi) aside, as components such as the Clearaudio Concept turntable, Peachtree’s Nova, and Magnepan’s MG 1.7 so sweetly demonstrate, today’s value-oriented options can—and do—deliver deeply satisfying musical pleasures at a combined price that might otherwise purchase, say, a single phono cartridge or pair of interconnect cables.
Rogue Audio is another company known for producing high-value gear, and in this regard the Cronus integrated amplifier is a magnificent success.
The standard Cronus ($1795), which has garnered much praise from consumers as well as critics, is a 55Wpc model based on the EL34 output tube. The $2195 Cronus Magnum reviewed here features a quartet of Electro Harmonix KT90 output tubes and generates a significantly beefier 90Wpc.
The “Magnum” tag applies to a few other products in Rogue’s Titan gallery, and reflects a set of upgrades designed to increase transparency, improve dynamics and frequency extension, and provide for a smoother overall presentation. In the Cronus integrated these tweaks include a larger and more sophisticated power supply, the addition of polypropylene bypass capacitors, as well as precision Dale-Vishay resistors “in critical spots,” gold-plated tube sockets, upgraded input signal tubes, the KT90s mentioned above, as well as superior binding posts for more solid speaker cable connections.
Regarding the latter, though I well realize that adding a third post for a 4-ohm load would add a bit to the unit’s cost, be prepared—should your speakers be rated at that load, as are my Magnepan 1.7s—to roll up your sleeves for a bit of minor mechanical work. For most us, even those who may not rank among the mechanically inclined, removing the amplifier’s outer case and loosening a nut in order to switch out a few wires is no big deal. But here I must criticize the owner’s manual, which calls for the use of a 5/16” open-ended wrench for the job (adjustable “crescent” wrenches are too thick for the operation). Not having one in my kit, I drove to the local hardware store (thankfully only a few miles away) to purchase one. Arriving home, guess what? It didn’t fit the nut. Adjusting my crescent wrench as best I could in an attempt to “gauge” the proper size, I returned to the hardware store. Aha, 7/16 should do the trick. Wrong again. Doing my best to keep cool I returned a third time, and, taking no chances, purchased both 3/8 and 12mm, wrenches, which seemed to exhaust my options in the general size range. The 12mm model did the trick. Although I’d wasted a solid hour, felt my blood pressure rise, and spent more money than I should have, I am at least consoled by the newly increased flexibility of my toolkit.
I was also consoled by the sonic results. The Cronus Magnum is not only a terrific sounding piece, but also one that pairs beautifully with the magnificent Magnepans.
As I would hear on a wide range of music, the Cronus strikes a beautiful balance between elegance and power. Its dynamic scaling is very fine—lilting with chamber music, muscular with rock and orchestra. Yet that muscle is sinewy and well defined, bringing a great sense of tunefulness and detail to low-frequency instruments. For instance, on Rhino’s outstanding release of the Grateful Dead’s The Warner Brothers Studio Albums (reviewed in this issue), the Cronus Magnum brought great clarity, instrumental texture, and tonal richness to Phil Lesh’s one-of-a-kind bass lines. Although the Magnum may not carry the sledgehammer-like weight of a hefty solid-state design—a quality that has its own rewards—I rather like its more elegantly musical low-frequency delivery.
This musicality extends across the spectrum, as was nicely demonstrated with Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major—Argerich/Abbado/Berlin Philharmonic [DG Originals CD]. The balance between soloist and orchestra was spot-on, with a lovely lightness and transparency, lively dynamics, swift transients, and a recreation of a soundstage that was a pretty convincing facsimile of, say, orchestra center.
The Magnum is also remarkably transparent to the source, allowing listeners to “peer” into a recorded performance in a way that is highly unusual in this price class. Turning to the playful brilliance of H.K. Gruber’s superbly recorded Frankenstein!! was akin to pulling back the curtain on the session. If you don’t have this Chandos CD, which was listed by Jonathan Valin in last issue’s “Guide To Audiophile Demo Discs,” you really should. It has it all. As channeled through this Rogue integrated this delightful cabaret-style piece of mad fun revealed not only the Cronus Magnum’s transparency, but also its excellent sense of focus, recreation of the air surrounding instruments, as well as Gruber’s own singspiel vocal delivery, dramatic dynamic swings, snap of the percussion, and a soundstage that at times extends well beyond the speakers’ boundaries, with nicely layered depth.
Along with lacking the ultimate bottom-end heft, the Cronus Magnum can also sound a tad grainy, as you’ll hear with something like Johnny Hartman’s I Just Dropped In To Say Hello [ORG/Impulse 45rpm LP]. That said, the Rogue also brings out the dark-hued, smoky beauty of Hartman’s voice, the throaty brass of Illinois Jacquet’s tenor saxophone, the lilt of Hank Jones’ piano, and the creamy tones of Kenny Burrell’s and Jim Hall’s guitars that draw you so deeply into this terrific recording.
At 90Wpc the Cronus Magnum’s medium-power held up notably well with something much heavier, such as Jeff Beck’s “Brush With The Blues,” from the CD Who Else! [Epic]. One of my “go to” discs, this live track has the sort of punch-in-the gut bass and drums sound one hears over most P.A. systems, which also typically lack much detail or subtlety. The Rogue’s balance flipped things a bit, emphasizing whatever intricacies the recording allowed. And the amp maintained an impressive composure during the climatic stretch in which Beck lays waste to his Stratocaster, while the rhythm section urges him on like a two-man lynch mob.
The Cronus Magnum also requires its owner to set and (occasionally) re-set output tube bias. Thankfully, the unit comes supplied with the appropriate screwdriver, which even has its own little nesting spot atop the chassis, and setting bias is the proverbial piece-of-cake.
I have nothing to add in my praise for this outstanding effort. The high end and music lovers alike can only benefit from such a satisfying design. So satisfying, that when the economy does rebound Cronus Magnum owners may not be tempted to upgrade at all, but simply sit back and enjoy the music through this terrific product.
SPECS & PRICING
Power output: 90Wpc
Tube complement: 3 x 12AU7, 2 x 12AX7, 4 x KT90
Inputs: Phono, CD, Aux 1, Aux 2
Outputs: Fixed and Variable
Dimensions: 14.5” x 7” x 19”
Weight: 50 lbs.
ROUGUE AUDIO INC.
3 Marian Lane
Brodheadville, PA 18322
TW-Acustic Raven One turntable; Tri-Planar Ultimate VII arm; Benz Gullwing and Transfiguration Phoenix moving-coil cartridges; Simaudio CD-1 compact disc player; Artemis Labs PL-1 phonostage; Magnepan MG 1.7 and Electrocompaniet PSB 1 loudspeakers; Tara Labs Zero interconnects, Omega speaker cables, The One power cords, and BP-10B Power Screen; Finite Elemente Spider equipment racks