(Reprinted from issue 58 of UHF Magazine. To purchase the issue, click here. Or click here to subscribe to UHF)

The Rogue Eighty-Eight

The search for affordable tube electronics continues. It doesn’t need to sound like grit, and it does not need to come from places where people line up for food coupons.

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How many audio companies (or companies...period) have started up with the determination to swim against the tide, to smash the old paradigms. To be rogues in a world of conformists? We have admiration for those who hang out the pirate flag. That same concept was at the origin of UHF, some 18 years ago.
     And at the origin of Rogue Audio as you can imagine. Their purpose (or their "mission statement" in current Newspeak): to bring superior tube electronics to music lovers at a price that the dedicated music lover can afford without stooping to insider trading. Well, we're paraphrasing.
     If you've been reading this issue linearly, front to back (which isn't precisely in line with the pirate flag tradition), you'll already be aware that the Chinese have the inside track for this. Indeed, China has long been a major source of tubes for high end audio, and its labor costs are among the world's lowest. Its tubes are used by designers all over the world, however, including a great number in the US.
     The Rogue Eight-Eight (the company prefers the full spelling) is a large amplifier, and it is especially deep, possibly deeper than some consumers can find room for. Remove the cover, and you may wonder why this is so. There's a lot of space around the four 6550 output tubes, and around the transformers. Of course, more space means less heat buildup and therefore longer life for the components, but even so Rogue has added a small fan to move the air around. The fan is quiet -- quieter than our belt-driven CD transport in fact -- but it could be obtrusive if you sit close to the amplifier in a very quiet room.
     The chassis itself is U-shaped, and of fairly thin metal for such a big structure. To support the weight of the transformers, a heavy metal plate has been bolted to one side of the chassis, with the transformers mounted on that.
     The 6550 tube is a common power pentode, related to the seldom-used 6L6, but not many designers use it as a pentode. Either they tie the plate and the screen grid together, to make it into a triode (for better linearity, though less power), or else they use the "Ultralinear" principle: the screens are connected to special taps on the output transformer, thus operating midway between triode and pentode mode. Rogue has elected to let you make the decision: a set of switches can be thrown in order to choose the operating mode. The 88 is rated at 60 watts in Ultralinear operation, but drops to 30 watts in triode mode.
     You won't be switching after every record, though, because this is not a front panel operation. There are in fact four tiny switches right on the circuit board. You take off the cover, you shut off the power, and you put your hand into the large chassis, being careful to avoid a tube burn or worse, and you flip all four switches. Those switches are, by the way, the only adjustment provided. There are no bias controls to reset when you change tubes, because the system used (known as cathode bias) is self-adjusting.
     Oh...actually there is one adjustment, and it's not external either. It is common on tube amplifiers to offer two "hot" output terminals, one for 8 ohm speakers and the other for 4 ohm speakers. Binding posts cost money, however, and this amplifier is supposed to be an economy model. The 88 is shipped adjusted for 4 ohm speakers. If you have 4 ohm speakers, you open the case, unscrew the nuts from the rear of each red binding post, connect up the appropriate wire, and then drop a sleeve over the wires you've disconnected to keep them from shorting out. It's easier to do than to describe, fortunately, and the box leaves plenty of room to work in. There's no label saying "No user-serviceable parts," because that would be way wrong.
     We ran several days of break-in time on our Rogue, and pulled out our set of test discs, the same ones we had used for the other amplifiers.
     (See the print issue for the details on this listening test)

PARTIAL TEXT: The Microgroove Laundry, Antique Sound Lab AQ1003, Passion I-11, Rogue 88, Jadis Orchestra Reference, Linar 250, Four Headphone Amps, Filters and Cables
FULL TEXT: Watching DVD on a Computer, Passion Kit I-10 Amplifier, State of the Art