The phono preamp is not the sexiest component in the system, at least as far I’m concerned. A little bit of a front-end component, kind of a middle of the pack component, it suffers from a touch of an identity crisis. But make no mistake about it – a miss matched or an inferior component at this stage can take the level of performance of a high-end system down into the drink.
Sexiness aside, I have grown to appreciate the task of amplifying the minute signal passed along by the cartridge and arm. Like carrying a thousand tiny wine glasses on platter balanced on your head up a flight of stairs, the delicacy and intricacy of the analog signal is seriously extreme.
Another person who feels much the same and then some about the analog sciences is Roger Gibboni, an ex aerospace engineer (You know, rocket science!). Roger Started to build Amplifiers in 2009. The current Rogers High Fidelity lineup includes the PA-1A phono preamp, two integrated amplifiers, and a high quality replacement AC cord, as well as a variety of replacement tubes. The Rogers High Fidelity website has his complete bio, well worth a read through.
While many designers are moving towards a smaller chassis for phono preamp design, Roger favors a full size approach. Generous in proportion, this true dual mono class A design employs three tubes per channel: a 6GH8, a 12AX7, and for the first gain stage either a 12AU7 or a 12 AX7. I had zero issue with insufficient gain. I could play as loud as I wanted with no running out of gas. The front panel knobs allow for cartridge loading, MC or MM select and a mute switch. My cartridge has a 0.3mV output.The voltage meters are retro cool and allow for simple diagnostics. I like the looks of the Rogers PA-1A though it will not win many beauty contests. But that is one man’s opinion. It’s overall appearance is inspired by vintage Amateur radios of which Roger is major enthusiast .
When my Behold phono preamp decides to operate, it can be satisfying. Clean and neutral enough with an upbeat dynamic, I have enjoyed this unit for some time despite its issue with reliability. (An article on the dependability of high-end audio is in the works.)
To dig a little deeper into what I look for in a phono preamp or any component for that matter, I’ll kick it off with dynamics. For starters, I like my steak tar-tar, my bourbon neat and my dynamics un-squelched. Here the PA-1A will shock your socks off. Listening to Stanley Clark’s “I Want To Play For You” From If This Bass Could Only Talk, a track I have been listening to digitally for years, sprang to life with real verve. The feeling of all the instruments pushing the tempo forward was evident right away, no straining to hear or feel the pulse of the music, the PA-1A simply sweeps you down the sonic river. The following tracks from If This Bass Could Only talk all followed suit. The system with the Rogers PA-1A in the chain is just brimming with life. Even the lively Behold sounds a tad bit flat by comparison.
To hear the PA-1A is to want one. This thing is so consonant with the music, all kinds of music. Every recording I pushed into service benefited from its presence. Must be a tube thing. I listen to far more mediocre recordings than reference show boaters. I have a slew of great rock recordings from the 70’s and early 80’s such as Deep Purples Machine Head. This album is full of great blues inspired music featuring Ritchie Blackmore at his blusiest . On the track “Maybe I’m a Leo” the PA-1A proves to be a component of such obvious neutrality, the information on the wax is presented unscathed yet imbued with a natural touch. These impressions are no doubt related to the PA-1A’s performance but there is also a real synergy with the Triangle Art turntable arm and My ridge as well.
“Haitian Divorce” from steely Dan Aja has real impact backing up a breezy Caribbean influenced groove helped along fluidly. “Do it again” from Steely Dan greatest Hits sounds simply awesome, at least as awesome as it has ever sounded. Though not exactly demo quality, I really enjoy digging as deeply into the grooves as possible from all my records, the good, bad or just plain ugly. What the Rogers brings on both tracks is a musical flow, a continuum uninterrupted by any form of grain, tonal anomalies, frequency deviations or any other audiophile approved criticisms one makes on such things.
The bass is extremely low in distortion if there is any distortion at all. I have a low tolerance for low-end anomalies, be it boomie-ness or on the other hand, a lack of weight and texture or a muddled mid bass transition to the mid-band. The Rogers just kills it within these parameters. Transient attack, hearty sustain and pitch perfect rendition of both tone and color are the real deal here. To reinforce this point, I inserted the Sunny Cable HSW-15 speakers into the mix. These 600 lb. a side speakers have a horn loaded mid band coupled to a 15 ” bass driver that operates up to 500 Hz. The big Sunny speaker devours any other speaker I have heard dynamically and are super transparent in the mid bass and low bass as well. With the Rogers in the soup the hyper revealing bass and transition into the mid band of the Sunny is put to a very challenging test. The Sunnys prevailed and unraveled the ball of tangled information with a deft touch. The shear amount of information passed on through from the Rogers made for some of the most compelling listening sessions I have had in a very long time. The 15” paper cone driver delivers prodigious yet extremely clean and effortless bass extension well into the 20Hz range. The Rogers PA1-A really allowed these qualities to shine.
The one area the Lansche 4.1 is preferred is in its ability to merge all the drivers into a seamless coherent whole. With the sunny I am at times reminded of its horn DNA with sounds occasionally localizing within the drivers and a little shouty-ness in the upper mid band. This is another area were the Rogers shines in the right circumstances. It’s ability to make instruments whole, with both tonal density and imaging specificity within the soundstage is beyond reproach. Transient speed, harmonic bloom, sustain and decay come together in perfect alignment and with great clarity striking a power full illusion of real instrument in real space.
The treble is a perfect amalgam of effortless resolution and sweet dewy liquidity. Vocals sounded more whole, more completely rendered thanks to the hyper resolution along with the liquidity of the upper treble harmonics. Listening to “Autumn Leaves” from Duke Ellington’s Indigos the violin is presented with greater texture with a sweeter tone. Sweeter than usual that’s for sure. I would hold off on calling it lush necessarily. The PA-1A can be rich on some recordings, though put on a disc with a lean tonal balance such as Pete Townsends Empty glass and one will find there is no added padding to smooth over the rough edges. This is all chalked up to a very low noise floor, stellar levels of uncolored resolution and a great dynamic range.
Compared to my Behold phono preamp, it is not much of a fight. The Behold sounds leaner, noisier, cooler in tone and edgier by comparison. The Rogers is also more coherent. I can follow lyrics with greater ease and complexity of densely orchestrated performances. All musical threads are easier to track for that matter. There is far less upper-mid band glare making cranking the system a stone cold gas. It is going to be a HUGE drag to give the PA-1A back.
I also ran the PA-1A in to my modest yet outstanding Melody MI-80 integrated amplifier (retail at the time of availability was $3500). The all tube rig won over all who heard it. Very liquid, great bass control and dynamics and a lively mid band had me re-evaluating investing 10 times as much on an amp! That said, the Pass Labs XA200.5 mono blocks really prove themselves as rock solid and crazy dynamic reminding me where all that extra cash went.
Is there any downside to the PA-1A, you may ask? The only thing I can think of is price, but even that is not fair as there are a bunch of 10K-50K priced phono preamps on the market these days. I have not heard most of them but It’s hard to believe the Rogers would be anything but a bargain at $7500 by comparison.
Despite a very short time with the PA-1A, I quickly went from having a crush, a syndrome I am susceptible to when getting new gear, to falling in love in a very short three weeks. Stellar sound, great build quality and user flexibility? It doesn’t get much better. Without hesitation, I would purchase the Rogers and never ever look back. The PA-1A is without question a huge success and should find wide reaching audience-A new reference
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