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Rogue Audio Ares Vacuum Tube Phono Preamplifier Review Print E-mail
Monday, 13 December 2010
Article Index
Rogue Audio Ares Vacuum Tube Phono Preamplifier Review
Listening and Conclusion

On Journey's mega power ballad, “Faithfully,” vocalist Steve Perry sang about coming home from the road and reconnecting with the one he loves, “I get the joy of rediscovering you...” On a less teary note, that's what happens with every new review I undertake – I rediscover some album that I've long neglected. This time around it was Starcastle's 1977 release, Fountains Of Light. Starcastle was one of many prog-rock acts of the 1970s that couldn't quite shake comparisons to past masters. The band had a definite Yes influence in the melodies and vocals, but there's still plenty here to enjoy. Starcastle frontman, and original REO Speedwagon vocalist, Terry Luttrell has a clear – almost “friendly”- style that echoes Yes' Jon Anderson, while keyboardist Herb Schildt provides a shimmering array of tone colors that don't dazzle with their virtuosity, but rather engage with their luminance. While getting to know the music again, I felt like I was hearing much of it for the first time as the Ares pumped new blood into this recording. On the track “Portraits,” the imaging was particularly good. Guitars electric and acoustic swirl through the arrangement, couched by Schildt's shimmering keys. There's a lot going on and I sensed the Ares picking up all the pieces and bringing them together to present the complete musical picture.

Staying in the middle of the 1970s, one platter that kept me coming back for more was Deep Purple's Come Taste The Band. The record represents something of a one-off; the only studio effort with guitarist Tommy Bolin on board. It's an often overlooked entry in the Purple catalog but one that gets better with each listen. I particularly Side 2 and the last three songs that close the platter. Whether it's Glenn Hughes meteoric vocals on “This Time Around,” Bolin's soaring guitar lines on the instrumental “Owed To G” or David Coverdale's blues-y pleas on “You Keep Moving,” the Taste has never been sweeter than through the Ares. One of the differences between a mediocre vinyl rig and a very good one is how the music can bloom with the latter. Vinyl can retain all its ballyhooed “warmth” yet sound oddly flat when the information in the grooves rushes to the surface all at once, with no degree of depth or separation of instruments and vocals. Where the Ares succeeds beyond its inherently powerful presentation is in its ability to present an arrangement with the components in proportion; subtleties are not lost nor are passages loud and heavy. The music loses no power yet sounds more relaxed because the presentation is delivered without strain. It's sort of like an Olympic weightlifter who trains for years and can dead-lift several hundred pains without screaming or straining, while the weekend warrior may do the same but at the expense of subtlety and all art. And again I was taken by the realism of the bass guitar; particularly the final notes from Roger Glover's Rickenbacker as the notes tumbled forth and disappeared at the conclusion of “You Keep Moving.”

Power supply

Rhino Records 180-gram vinyl reissue of Ornette Coleman's landmark 1959 recording, The Shape Of Jazz To Come, really sang with the Ares. The sharp harmonies, dizzying runs and accents from Coleman's saxophone and Don Cherry's cornet rang with energy and sheer exuberance. As these two brilliant horn players unfurl cascades of notes, drummer Billy Higgins plays it so cool that it's easy to take his bedrock rhythms for granted. He swings, he glides, he lays back, all while keeping time in these challenging compositions. But the revelation here was hearing Charlie Haden's remarkable bass playing, which at times sounded like the plucked strings were vibrating around my body as I listened. It's one thing to “hear” an acoustic bass, quite another to “feel” it. That's something for live gigs in intimate jazz clubs, but now the weighty notes were reverberating with an eerie but delightful presence.  It was one of the most electrifying vinyl moments I can recall.

Final Thoughts

“Let the tubes do their thing,” that phrase stayed in my mind as I rolled with the Ares this autumn and heard it do nothing but that and renew my love of analog. Compared to my budget-priced Zphono, the Ares brought out more of everything in the music – more air, more detail, more presence, more weight, yet it never sounded “boomy.” The Ares is not for the casual analog kid – its $1,995 price tag ensures that – but if you're looking for a phono preamplifier that can bring out the best in your current system with the flexibility to grow and change with your needs, the Ares is easy to recommend. It's built to last in many more ways than one.

System Setup

  • Rogue Audio Ares vacuum tube phono preamplifier
  • Pro-Ject RPM 5.1 turntable
  • Sumiko Blue Point No. 2 moving coil phono cartridge
  • Grant Fidelity A-348 integrated tube amplifier
  • Parasound Zphono Preamplifier
  • RS Audio Cables Kevlar Starchord Power Cable 
  • RS Audio Cables Illume Silver Interconnects 
  • RS Audio Cables Illume Silver Loudspeaker Cables 
  • PENAUDIO Rebel 3 loudspeakers
  • Snell Acoustics Type K loudspeakers

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