Turning to sonic performance, the RP-5 did not immediately strike me as a tube preamp in any Old World sense. To begin with it was very quiet—solid-state quiet. No valve whoosh, chug, or hiss. Even as it idled and I applied increasing amounts of gain, the sonic result was the same silent, inky-black background. Tonally, the RP-5 was predominantly neutral with just a very subtle hint of a rose-blush complexion to warm the mids. The treble was nicely extended, quick, detailed, and replete with harmonic information. Bass performance was authoritative, very nicely controlled and musical, yet also adding small amounts of bloom to bass violin, timpani, and cello. Transient behavior was quick off the mark but naturally so—firmly struck notes from a piano, a flatpick, a rimshot, a trumpet presented a complete picture of the initial transient, the sustain of the note, and its trailing decay.
The RP-5 especially brings its magic to bear in the areas of color saturation and tonal liquidity. A prime example would be how vividly the RP-5 reproduced the contrasts in the intricate vocal harmonies and acoustic arrangements of neo-bluegrass band Nickel Creek [This Side]. The RP-5 had the ability to balance the competing images in much the way we experience them in life—individual and apart in space, yet at the same time locked together in performance. In the instance of Nickel Creek, mandolin, acoustic flattop, and vocals resided unwaveringly in their own pockets of ambient air—utterly stable, with no smearing. And they did so effortlessly, without sounding clinical or over-articulated. The RP-5 simply presented a natural acoustic clarity that rang truthful. The preamp had an inner resolving power that established a sense of dimension and space so specific to each image that I was almost able to isolate each player visually, as if I were attending a live concert.
Since Rogue outfitted the RP-5 with a phonostage as standard equipment, I wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass me by to put my Sota Cosmos/SME V rig through its paces. Optimizing the phonostage for the Sumiko Palo Santos Celebration was an easy task. It required removing ten cover screws, and lifting away the aluminum top plate. Once inside there was easy access to a pair of red slide switches for capacitance, plus DIP switches for eight settings of resistive loading and four gain settings between 40 and 60dB. Total work time was about five minutes, and I was being very careful. I can understand those who consider the effort an imposition, but consider the fact that, one, it’s not something you do every day, and two, in contrast with the convenience of front-panel phono adjustments, placing the phono switching so close to the phono circuitry reduces the distance that the signal has to travel and thus potentially reduces noise. As an aside, opening the cover made it easy to appreciate how neatly laid out the RP-5 interior was, including the expensive Mundorf caps, and the relative isolation of the sensitive phonostage nestled in a corner well away from the rest of the circuitry.
Turning to the phonostage performance, overall imaging was stable and transients retained their spontaneity. There was solid underlying continuousness across the soundstage, as well. However, I heard a lighter energy and cooler cast in familiar recordings. The sound wasn’t quite as richly varnished compared with other sources I’d input through the RP-5. One instance would be the new Impex LP remastering of Jennifer Warnes’ Famous Blue Raincoat. During “Song For Bernadette,” Warnes’ vocals seemed a little less rich and colorful, and the airy buoyancy of her head-tone was a dash drier. I have to confess the phonostage was a little bit disappointing given the overwhelmingly positive nature of the experience up until that point. However, to be fair, I was running the phono at maximum gain for the benefit of the Palo Santos Celebration moving coil (0.5mV), and though it was reasonably quiet for this class the RP-5 phono section couldn’t match the seriously quiet Parasound JC3+, proving once again that I’m spoiled, and that it’s hard to beat a premium outboard phonostage for isolation. For a built-in phono with this level of optimization, it still represents good value.
Rogue Audio is an instance of an American high-end company whose name may not instantly ring bells of recognition, at least compared with the zoom factor of more costly headliners like ARC, VAC, CJ, or Pass Labs. Nonetheless, a reasonably priced, high-performance preamp like the RP-5 is a prime example of what the high end is all about—music reproduced accurately and beautifully. With a nod to the past and footers firmly planted in the now, the RP-5 is a component that should tempt a lot of people to go Rogue.
SPECS & PRICING
Inputs: Four RCA, one phono
Outputs: Two variable RCA, one fixed
Dimensions: 18.5" x 4.5 " x 14.5"
Weight: 30 lbs.
ROGUE AUDIO, INC.
PO Box 1076
Brodheadsville, PA 18322