Rogue Audio is out to slay a few dragons, or at least a Medusa. Seems they’re taking a “no holds barred” approach to making components which go toe-to-toe with all comers. Does the Perseus have a “take no prisoners” sound, or will it expire on the battlefield? Will this preamp become worthy of attaining mythic proportions, or will it be a tragedy?
With names like Titan and Perseus, it’s no secret that Rogue has elected to name their components after the Greek and Roman deities. Mark O’Brien, one of the founders of Rogue Audio along with Mark Walker, explained that these mythological figures combined some of the ideals which the ancients held in high esteem; using anthropomorphism allows Rogue to convey some of the same attributes by the naming of their products. For instance, the Zeus amp is, according to O’Brien, “brutally powerful.” Perseus, on the other hand, was known for renowned bravery and intellect. So, it sounds as if the Perseus preamp should be a winner.
Playing the Medusa, I stood ready to give the preamp a stony reception if deserved. Would the Perseus survive the rigors of Doug the Reviewer?
Recently I saw the movie 300, which is about the battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. between the Southern Greek city states and King Xerxes, in which the vastly outnumbered Spartans at “The Hot Gates,” or “Gates of Fire,” held off the collected armies of the Persian empire. With deadly ferocity, they stood their ground against all comers. Similarly, I see the Perseus as a component with clear intent to confront all contenders with the honed sound of a seasoned preamp.
The Perseus contains an arsenal of features including a four-tube “mu-follower” line stage, and a high-gain phono section with user adjustable cartridge loading. Other features include a SUBWOOFER OUTPUT, and a HOME THEATER BYPASS, which makes it very amenable to home theater use. Its bold and chiseled appearance belies the TLC inside; “cost no object” resistors, capacitors and tube sockets, and silver solder points.
However, the Perseus, like all Rogue products, is not overly-wrought. Rogue has taken the road less traveled in its minimalist design. Hoards of competitive preamps and integrateds stuff every conceivable switch and doodad on their equipment. While this can result in enjoyable experience, such as I had with the Eastern Electric M520 integrated, there is a sense of purpose and focus in the Rogue equipment. The feel is, “Let’s cut the crap and get down to the music!”
Appearance-wise, the Perseus is not just rugged, but ruggedly good looking. Large, aesthetically pleasing push-buttons adorn the slab-like brushed aluminum face plate. The hefty function selector knob is joined by the mute button, balance control and HT bypass buttons. The arcing tube cage suggests a pavilion shading the contingent of 4 tube-warriors ready to wage acoustic battle.
Mark describes the Perseus as, “what many audiophiles are looking for in a contemporary preamplifier design,” incorporating superb sound and flexible functionality, allowing it to integrate with home theater applications. I add affordability to the list. To that end, the company founders both named Mark, Mr. Walker, with an M.S. in mechanical engineering, and Mr. O’Brien, with an engineering physics degree from Bell Labs, utilized the “mu-follower” design. With excellent power supply noise rejection, low distortion, low output impedance and clean sonics, it is potent, yet cost effective. As Mark O. stated, “By paralleling the two halves of the dual triodes (4 tubes rather than two) you get an even lower output impedance and better overall performance.”
There are two features of the Perseus which may not appeal to all audiophiles. The unit has both a balance control as well as a single function remote control. The one seems superfluous, the other austere. A balance control is not an absolutely necessary function, and to many an acute listener spells compromise. However, in the real world many listening environments can benefit from it; it’s a lot easier to jog the balance control knob than rearrange one’s furniture or determine how to acoustically treat a room! Rogue seems to have anticipated this as Mark stated that it, “…lowers the input impedance slightly but this can be accounted for in the design…the convenience of a balance control is something many people look for.”
I myself in years past would have welcomed a balance control on a tube preamp. In my previous listening environment, I had an open doorway on one side and a long wall on the other. No matter which amp or speakers I used, I heard an emphasis on the walled side. Some preamps I used did not offer balance control, but the ones which did I always used to compensate for the room’s anomalies. There can be very good justification for the balance control in less than ideal rooms.
What initially seems a bit contradictory is the single function remote on a unit that can integrate with HT. It means that forever the rugged solid metal Rogue remote must be at the ready, but one will still have to jump up to select a different source. How much more convenient it would be to have at least source and mute buttons available. However, this decision to limit functionality of the remote was not born of ergonomics, economics or aesthetics, but rather a desire to avoid microprocessors. While microprocessors make a remote the diadem of the HT owner, Rogue audio has determined, “that it results in a performance penalty that is unacceptable. We stick to a strictly analogue audio signal that doesn’t go through any silicon.” No sand in the gears is Rogue’s philosophy!
The 12AU7, the tube of choice for the Perseus, is a godsend to the audiophile on a budget since it’s readily available through many manufacturers. Tube rolling becomes a worthwhile objective, though the unit ships with – it figures – respectable sounding stock military tubes. This is not the only unit pressing military tubes into action; the Monarchy M24 uses a quad of JAN (stands for Joint Army Navy) 6DJ8 tubes, so it made for a ready comparison.
Comparing the sound of the Monarchy to the Perseus, I would give the edge to the M24 in terms of size and depth of soundstage, which is so large it borders on cavernous sounding. But therein lies an issue; the M24 also sounds almost like its being processed through a circuit to expand the sound. Not so the Perseus, which while it’s not as grandiose in scale of image presented, is clean. It comes somewhere between the warmth of the Pathos Classic Ones in bridged mode and the thinner, crystalline presentation of the SET Audion Silver Night 300B MkII.
I have an affinity for the economical yet solid-sounding Monarchy SM-70 Pro solid-state monoblocks amps. Similar to the M24, they yield a wide spatial sound which mated well with the Perseus’ tight reign on the music. It was quite a lovely pairing, and although the Monarchy monos are only 70Wpc, the Perseus made them seem like beefier amplifiers. I could see why Rogue Audio’s mission statement pronounces that Rogue’s management would not produce any product that they would not purchase themselves. According to Rogue, their products are designed to work well with any other well designed piece of hi-fi equipment. So, logically, if you put a Rogue product into your rig, and things don’t sound right, it’s not the Rogue’s fault! While that logic cannot be universally upheld, the performance of the lower-end Perseus in my system supported the contention that if there is a “weak link” you might want to start by looking elsewhere for the problem.
There are certain components which get most things right and are completely inoffensive. Vandersteen speakers often are categorized thus, and I would place the Perseus in the same category. I found it interesting that I had made this observation in my listening notes prior to my discussion with Mark, during which he revealed that Rogue partners with Vandersteen at various trade shows, “We chose to show with these companies because I believe they offer excellent performance and value.” Clean, clear, inviting, inoffensive – that’s what Rogue’s after. And they are hitting their mark.
Despite its hard exterior appearance, it is a very cuddly sounding preamp which wears well on the ears over the hours of listening. Lesser components show their weaknesses with older or poorer quality recordings. To see what mettle the Perseus had I enlisted some of my older pop jazz favorites such as David Sanborn and David Benoit. Saxophone and piano are two of my favorite instruments, so I was curious to see how the Rogue would handle them.
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