Magical Journey in Musicality with the RH-5 headphone amplifier from Rogue Audio.

Mark O’Brien has been designing and building world-class amplifiers for his entire life. Rogue Audio an American company that builds all their products in their Pennsylvania factory and has garnished a reputation among music lovers for building great sounding tube and solid state amplification that offer exceptional musicality. CES 2015 was the last time I had seen Mark and we discussed the market’s tremendous growth in personal audio. He told me then that he was working on a hybrid design that would use tubes in the preamplifier section and transistors in the amplification section.  Waiting 2 years I never mentioned anything about the conversation with Mark, and then, finally, I got a call saying the amplifier was ready and the excitement started to build as I was anxious to hear what he had created.

The RH-5 was born using the proprietary RP-X Rogue platform. The 12Au7 tubes is a mu-followed design that drives high current MOSFET buffered outputs. In the RH-5 The amplifier has high quality dual 3 pin XLR and (a single) 4 pin XLR outs puts in addition to two ¼ inch TSR single ended jacks. The supplied remote control can be used to control volume and the amplifier also has three gain settings to adjust for virtually any headphone. The parts are of all high quality and the specifications are all listed below. Headphones used in the evaluation included the HiFiman Susvara, HE1000 and the Audeze LCD 4 in addition to models from Fostex and Beyerdynamic.

Setup

The RH-5 amplifier  was connected to the reference Chord DAVE DAC using the Audioquest Wind interconnects and the Audioquest Chocolate USB cable. All power cords were Nordost Blue Heaven. The RH-5 once setup sounded good right out of the box. Usually while doing a review I find that when a product sound good without burn in it is usually well engineered.   The RH-5 has a preamplifier in addition to the 3-gain stage headphone amplifier. The retail price is $2500 and built in USA.

Sound

Listening to various genres of music with different headphones was a revelation. The HiFiman HE1000 was easily driven by the RH-5. The trademark soundstage that  HiFiman products are known for was apparent and spread out in a pinpoint stage with exceptional air and layering of musicians. Loring Maazel conducting the Vienna Symphony on Igor Stravinsky’s Petrouchka is a musical treat for any classical musical lover. The sound is very fast and dynamic and has the orchestra stopping and starting in passages quickly.

The amplifier has to be fast and have  power to make this track come to life and the RH-5 was able to deliver this track with speed and finesse. The dynamic range seamed endless and the HiFiman HE1000 came alive and was a terrific match for the RH-5. The HE1000 had a wide and deep soundstage with excellent layering and space between performers. The speed of the amplifier was apparent while it soared through this recording and delivered exceptional realism with fantastic dynamics.

Switching over to the LCD 4 was more of the same revelation. The RH-5 delivered the same musicality, whether I was playing classical or vocal recordings. Bria Skonberg’s vocal while singing  Que Sera Sera was alive with the LCD 4 and had that “you are there” feel while listening. The beauty of her voice was clear and when she starting playing her trumpet, the musicality was apparent. The instrument had no harshness and never was aggressive or strident.  The pairing delivered her performance majestically and made the listening  experience a revelation.

The HiFiman Susvara is more of a challenge to drive and requires powerful amplification to get the best out of the headphone. The Susvara plugged into the RH-5 came alive immediately and the power was noticeable. The Susvara never struggled and delivered exceptional world-class soundstage and transparency. The RH-5 showcased the Susvara and was able to get incredible musicality and drive it effortlessly.

Shawn Colvin’s Uncovered album has some exceptional performances and while doing I used to be King was a testament to the pairings transparency. Her vocal was clear and seductive. The sound coming through the Susvara made the system disappear and all I could hear was the music. The performance was spectacular and a rare listening experience.

The Fostex X00 delivered more of the same and the sound was exceptional. Using the selectable gain settings allowed me to adjust to get the best performance from each headphone I was using during the evaluation. The sound coming from the RH-5 on the X00 was similar to the other three headphones. The $399 priced headphone sounded musical and was easy to drive. The RH-5 using the proper gain setting created a quiet and realistic delivery of the music and was an enjoyable listening experience.

Summary

The RH-5 is a testament to Mark O Brien’s creative genius. The amplifier has a fantastic build quality and is designed and built in the Pennsylvania factory. The sound was always musical. The midrange is where most of the RH-5 magic comes to life. Vocal music comes to life on the RH-5 with outstanding clarity and makes the artist realistic. If you’re a fan of vocal performances, the RH-5 delivers big time and the performers always came to life with exceptional transparency and articulation in the delivery of lyrics. Female artist sounded seductive and alluring and kept me focused on their performances.

Listening to large-scale orchestra recordings was like going on a musical journey. Dynamic passages were exceptionally reproduced with outstanding layering and space. I never felt that anything was missing in the performance and many times it felt as if I was listening in a world-class concert hall. The reproduction of the rooms was especially transparent with excellent decay and musical tonality was spectacular.

While listening to piano and horns I always felt the R-5 nailed the tone of the instrument and the tonality was always correct. If the recording had thunderous bass the RH-5 was able to reproduce it and never faltered in making bass recordings come to life. The RH-5 bass had texture and slam when necessary and always made the performance believable. Treble extension in large-scale recordings soared and reproduced horns and triangles and bells with musical realism and nailed the tone of the instruments.

The hybrid design was a good choice by Rogue. The combination of tubes and transistors blended synergistically. Tube magic was evident in the spectacular soundstage the amplifier produced. The speed of transistors helped with extraordinary dynamics that made large-scale performances a revelation. The RH-5 is dead quiet; I heard no noise or distortion. The amplifier just played music and delivered terrific sound. Music lovers who want the best of headphone listening will not be disappointed with Rogue’s RH-5 while listening to headphones.   The dedication of Mark and his team is evident in RH-5. The sound is big and dynamic and offers exceptional value. The fact that it can also be used as a pre-amp is a bonus. The R-5 is a stellar design from a company dedicated to bringing value and incredible sound to the market.   Rogues stellar effort delivers the performance many personal audio enthusiast crave and can serve as a centerpiece in your personal audio system. Highly Recommended.

http://www.rogueaudio.com/

General Features:  – Two tube mu-follower design – High current MOSFET buffered outputs – L/R 3 pin XLR headphone outputs – 4 pin XLR headphone outputs – Two 1/4″ TSR headphone jacks – Multi function remote control – Three faceplate accessible gain settings – Three pairs of RCA inputs – Slow start turn on sequencing – One pair of balanced XLR inputs – One pair of balanced XLR preamp outputs – One pair of RCA preamp outputs – Gold plated RCA jacks – Machined aluminum faceplate and knobs – OLED display with on/off – 43/58 dB MM/MC phono stage (optional) – RIAA equalization within 0.1 DB – User adjustable cartridge loading – Detachable IEC power cord – Fully tested, burned in and auditioned – 3 year limited warranty (6 months on tubes) – Proudly designed and hand crafted in the USA!- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Specifications:  – Tube complement: 2 x 12AU7/ECC82 tubes – Frequency response: 5Hz – 50KHz +/- 1 dB – THD: <0.05% – Gain line stage: 3dB/12dB/16dB (selectable) – Rated output: 3.5W (32Ω) – Output impedance: <0.1Ω (1KHz) – Gain phono stage: 43dB, 58dB – RIAA accuracy: +/- 0.1 dB – Phono overload: 40mV – Power consumption on: 31W – Dimensions: 15”W X 13.5 ”D X 4” H – Weight 19 pounds – Shipping weight 25 pounds – Power requirements 115V – 50/60Hz – Power requirements 220/230/240V – 50/60Hz

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Frank Iacone

Frank started his journey in high-end audio in 1978 and was quickly hooked. Frank’s passion for music and great sound reproduction is stronger than ever. His main focus is with high-end headphones and portable related gear. He is a regular Head-Fi.org contributor and is a co-founder of Headphone.Guru.

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