Rogue Audio Ninety Nine Preamplifier Review 
Home Theater Preamplifiers Stereo Preamps
Written by Andre Marc   
Tuesday, 12 February 2013

I’ve enjoyed reviewing several Rogue products over the last few years. The Brodheadsville, PA based company makes beautifully built, excellent sounding tube preamps, power amps, and integrated amps. They have products that fit the budget of every audiophile, and have a reputation as a customer oriented company. I also especially like the fact that they market their products based on solid engineering, without any false bravado.

In for review is the Rogue Ninety Nine tube preamplifier. The Ninety Nine has been in the lineup for a few years now, but I felt it maybe had not gotten as much exposure as some other recent Rogue products. This is the second Rogue preamp I have gotten in for review. Previously, I wrote very positively about the Rogue Audio Perseus Magnum. The Ninety Nine retails for $2595, with a $600 optional phono stage. There is also a Super Magnum upgrade available, which brings the price to $2995.

The Ninety Nine uses four 6NS7 tubes, comes equipped with an outboard power supply, a motorized volume control knob, five RCA inputs, a Mono switch, and a Record output. There is also a five-position selectable gain knob for amplifier and source matching. The chassis is superbly built, with a retro cool appearance. The unit weighs a whopping 27 Lbs, and the overall feel of the knobs and connectors is top notch. According to Rogue, additional features of the Ninety Nine include:
  • All tube mu-follower circuit topology
  • Metal remote volume control
  • Massive fully regulated high voltage supply
  • Mono, mute, and record functions
  • Slow-start automated logical turn-on
  • Ultra heavy-duty gold RCA inputs
  • Heavy (2 ounce) copper circuit board
  • Toroidal high voltage supply
  • Headphone jack
  • Entirely designed and built in the U.S.A.
  • 3 year limited warranty (6 months on tubes)
 
Set Up & Listening:

Setting up the Ninety Nine was straightforward but required a bit of planning, as the external power supply is connected to the preamp via two high quality umbilical cords. The power supply itself is about the size of a cigar box, with an IEC inlet to plug your AC cable into. It just so happens I took delivery of a brand new Sanus rack that offers more shelf space than my previous rack, and situating the power supply a good distance from the preamp, as Rogue suggests, was easy. Other than that, since the tubes come preinstalled, it is just a matter of connecting your sources. My sources were the Bryston BDA-1 DAC and the brand new Marantz SA-11S3 SACD player/DAC (review forthcoming).

The Ninety Nine comes with a chunky, impressive remote that has two buttons, volume up and volume down. All other preamp functions are done manually. The five inputs, volume, and gain setting are selectable by solid precision-machined knobs. The mono, record, and mute functions are activated by metal push buttons.

I let the Ninety Nine burn in for about a week before I did anything more than casual listening. When I did sit down for a serious listening session, I came with away with some specific impressions that did not change at all during my time with the preamp. The attributes I initially assigned to the unit, in my mind, proved to be spot on. I heard organic, natural tone colors, a wide soundstage, precise imaging, and extremely quiet operation.

Natural timbres and a holographic sense of space are the hallmarks of great tube preamps, and the Ninety Nine had all of this in spades. Compared to my Audio Research SP16L, $2995 when last available, bass was better controlled, and there was a bit more transparency in the upper midrange. Ergonomically, there were many volume steps available on the Rogue with its motorized volume knob. The Rogue was also a bit quieter than the SP16L.

I used the Ninety Nine on two separate power amplifiers. First my usual Audio Research VS55 50 wpc reference, with KT120 tubes, and then with the new Bob Carver Black Magic 20 wpc amp with EL84M tubes. Both worked beautifully with the Rogue, and I had a hard time picking a favorite. Both combinations breathed life into every piece of music I cued up, and the sense of refinement was clear.

The gain setting on the Ninety Nine came in very handy on a number of selections. For instance, the SACD of Shelby Lynne’s sublime Just A Little Lovin’ is extremely quiet, one of the quietest digital releases I can remember. The SACD was mastered with literally zero compression or added gain.  No complaints there, but getting realistic volume required turning the volume up to 75% of maximum.  Increasing the gain setting a notch made it much easier to find the perfect sweet spot for this meticulously recorded album. 

The superb SACD version of the classic Moody Blues album, In Search Of The Lost Chord, was ravishing with the Rogue and Carver combo. Justin Hayward’s majestic vocals, and the band’s impressionistic soundscapes sounded absolutely lifelike and the psychedelic vibe of the time was recreated in full measure. The stunning B Side on the second disc, “King And Queen” brought it all home, with a melancholy melody and a sweeping, Mellotron heavy arrangement. If it is at all possible to get “lost” in the music, it happened to this listener here.

Moving on to music of a more recent vintage, the 2000 release Transcendental Sky Guitar by German guitar master, Uli Jon Roth, was beautifully served by the Rogue’s excellent soundstaging. Having seen Roth live in late January, the Rogue captured his Hendrix-inspired tone perfectly. The album happens to be well recorded and the accompanying orchestration and heavy rock sensibility was indeed otherworldly.  

To illustrate how uncolored the Ninety Nine was, I experimented with driving the Bob Carver amp, which features a volume control, with the Marantz SACD player directly. This way I was able to see exactly what sonic signature the Rogue was contributing. What I noticed with the Ninety Nine in the signal path was a very slight darkening or thickening in the sound, and an increase in dynamics. But there was no change in focus or detail retrieval, which indicated to me darn good transparency.  Without the Rogue in the signal path, the sound was a bit flatter, although there was a smidgen more bass articulation and definition.

In operation, the Ninety Nine was flawless. Switching inputs and volume changes were utterly noiseless, save for the occasional mechanical sound of the motorized volume control. The machined remote control was also impressive in its precision when in use. I find it annoying when remote controlled volume changes are too severe in nature. Not so here, I was able to increase or decrease the volume to the exact setting I desired with each recording.

 

Rogue 99

Conclusion:

The Rogue Audio Ninety Nine is a fabulous preamplifier, with first class sonics and build.  It brought to the table that classic, tricky-to-define tube magic to the midrange, while remaining transparent to sources, and it was superb at both frequency extremes.  Sonically, the Rogue, in my opinion, performs beyond its $2595 price point by a good margin, even in the standard version. I have no doubt the Super Magnum upgrades would add another notch in performance.

I have always felt that the Rogue Ninety Nine was a bit of an overlooked product in Rogue’s line. All of the Rogue preamps I have heard I have liked, and the Ninety Nine is right up there, and with an optional phono stage for vinyl enthusiasts and the available Super Magnum upgrade, I find absolutely nothing to nitpick. It is a beautiful component to look at, listen to, and to interface with. I tried hard to find where there was compromise at this price point, but came up empty.  

Sure, one can get a bit more refinement by going way upscale, as with Rogue’s own Hera preamp, but that comes at a price. Those looking to spend around $3000 need to check out the Rogue Ninety Nine preamp. I believe it is the complete package, sound and feature wise, at this price point. Solidly recommended, without hesitation.

Specifications


Rogue Ninety Nine Tubed Preamplifier: $2595
www.rogueaudio.com

- frequency response: 1Hz-200KHz ± 1dB
- THD: <0.1%
- gain: line stage: 23dB
- rated output: 1.5V
- maximum output: 30V PP
- output impedance: 350 Ohms
- dimensions: 17"W x 5½"H x 14"D
- weight: 27 lbs.


Review System 1


CD Transport: Musical Fidelity M1 CDT
SACD Player/DAC: Marantz SA-11S3
Server: Squeezebox Touch w/ CIA VDC-SB power supply
via Ethernet to MAC Mini w/ Western Digital & Seagate
external drives.
DAC: Bryston BDA-1
Headphone Amp: Pro-Ject Head Box II
Headphones: Grado SR60
Preamp: Audio Research SP16
Amplifier: Audio Research VS55, Bob Carver Black Magic
Speaker: Martin Logan Ethos, Thiel CS2.4
Cables:  Stager Silver Solids, Kimber KCTG (IC), Transparent  MM2 Super (IC), Transparent Plus (Speaker) Acoustic Zen Tsunami II (AC),Transparent (AC).Shunyata Venom (AC) Element Cable Red Storm (Digital AC), DH Labs TosLink, DH Labs AES/EBU, Audiquest, Forest, WireWorld Ultraviolet, DH Labs USB(USB) DH Labs (USB)
Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks, Shakti Stone, Audience Adept Response aR6 power conditioner,Salamander rack

Review System 2


CD Player: Marantz 5003
Music Server: Squeezebox Touch via Ethernet to
MAC Mini w/ Western Digital & Seagate external drives.
DAC: Musical Fidelity V-DAC II, Rein Audio X3-DAC
Integrated Amplifier: McIntosh  MA6600, Electrocompaniet ECI 3
Tape Deck: Revox A77
Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3
Cables: Kimber Hero HB,  DH Labs White Lightning (IC),QED Genesis Silver Spiral (Speaker),PS Audio (AC), Mojo Audio (AC), DH Labs TosLink, Audioquest Forest USB, Wireworld Ultraviolet USB
Accessories:Cable Pro Noisetrapper, Sound Anchors Stands, Wiremold, KECES XPS


 






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