Page 2 of 3
Now for the particulars. The Hydra offers up 100 wpc into 8 ohms, and 200 wpc into 4 ohms. It retails for $2995. For comparisons sake, the Medusa doubles the power and retails for $3995. The amp features two 12AU7 tubes, high quality binding posts, XLR and RCA input jacks, and a custom machined silver faceplate that is classic Rogue. The build quality is typical Rogue too. That is, if anything, it is overbuilt!
Set Up & Listening:
Setting up the Hydra was a breeze. I used a Transparent AC Cord and drove it with my Audio Research SP16 tubed preamp, connected my Transparent speaker cable, and then let the soft circuit startup do its thing. When stabilized, which takes about thirty seconds, the LED on the front panel goes from amber to blue. Speakers were my reference Thiel CS2.4’s. I let the Hydra burn in for about five days before doing any critical listening.
To cut to the chase, this is a superb amplifier. The key words that came to mind were transparent, dynamic, controlled, and effortless. All the virtues of a really good solid-state amp, and none of the drawbacks. The Hydra was extremely transparent to sources, but served the music first. Forget all your preconceived notions, if you have any, about Class D amplifiers. Rogue has found a way to make it work. Having tubes in the signal path is just a brilliant idea, and obviously contributes much of the pristine qualities I heard.
I called upon a wide variety of music that I have been recently using to evaluate gear to put the Hydra through its paces. First up was Home Again, the debut from British neo folk/soul singer songwriter Michael Kiwanuka. He reminds me greatly of a modern Richie Havens, Van Morrison, or Tim Hardin. His album even has a vintage feel, with tape saturation and classic reverb splashes. The album features Kiwanuka’s acoustic guitar, flute, some orchestration, and his soulful voice. The lead-off track, “Tell Me A Tale”, has a great live ensemble feel, very much like Morrison’s Astral Weeks album. Through the Hydra I was able to “see” deep into the room and hear the space, fabricated or not, around all the instruments. There was a great sense of rhythm and drive.
My pick for one of the very best albums of last year is Ray Lamontagne's sublime God Willin & The Creek Don’t Rise. Not only is the music of the highest artistic order, but it is superbly recorded as well. It is rare to hear a batch of such incredible songs on one record these days, but Lamontagne pulls it off. The title track, “Beg, Steal, or Borrow", “This Love Is Over”, and “New York City Is Killing Me” are ones for the ages. The Hydra was able to connect to the music, provide superb texture and imaging to the sublime arrangements, and beautifully frame Lamontagne's otherworldly voice.
Little Broken Hearts, the devastating new album by Norah Jones, is also well recorded and, interestingly, produced by Danger Mouse. The opening track, “Good Morning”, is a densely layered lullaby that builds and swirls around Jones’s voice. The Hydra untangled all the complex layering easily. The second track, “Say Goodbye”, features a persistent, catchy bass line, multi-tracked vocals and, again, the Hydra provided all the drive and nuance needed to embed this song in my head for weeks on end.