Headphones

If you’re into high-end headphones, this amp is for you

If you’re the kind of person who owns more than one high-end headphone, the Rogue Audio RH-5 is the amp for you.

Rogue Audio is based in Brodheadsville, Pennsylvania., and they've consistently made some of my favorite electronics, so I was wondering when they would get around to tackling headphone amplifiers. Now they have with the RH-5, and It retails for $2,495/£2,495, which is pretty reasonable for a made-in-the-US high-end component. Sure it's expensive, but If you've already invested in a bunch of audiophile grade headphones it will be money well spent.

Rogue Audio RH-5, with Oppo PM1 and Hifiman Susvara headphones.

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

The RH-5 may be a headphone amp, but it's also a fine preamp, with three stereo RCA inputs, one stereo XLR input, and stereo RCA and XLR outputs. I started my auditions listening to it as a preamp with a Bel Canto REF500 power amp, and Magnepan .7 flat panel speakers. The sound was velvety smooth and full of body, and stereo imaging was big and spacious.

The RH-5's machined aluminum front panel sports two combination 6.3 mm/XLR headphone jacks, and separate left and right channel three-pin XLR headphone jacks. Three gain settings allow the RH-5's output to be matched for low, medium or high, aka hard to drive headphones. The easy-to-read front panel display shows the selected input, gain setting and volume level. You can play two headphones at a time with the RH-5.

The rear panel hosts three pairs of stereo RCA and one pair of XLR inputs; and there are stereo RCA and XLR preamp outputs. There's also an extra cost ($500/£500) phono preamp for moving-magnet/moving-coil phono cartridges, so you can play your turntable through the RH-5, a pretty rare option for amps like this.

The RH-5 is a pure analog device, it doesn't have a built-in digital converter, which makes sense on a product like this. After all digital tech is still rapidly advancing, so a built-in converter would be obsolete in a few years, but the headphone amp might easily stick around for 10 or even 20 years. I used a Mytek Brooklyn converter for all of my listening tests.

rh-5-rear-med

The Rogue Audio RH-5 rear panel.

Rogue Audio

The RH-5 is a hybrid tube/solid-state design, with two 12AU7 tubes in the preamp section and high current transistor power outputs. Though you might assume the RH-5 is just a beefed up preamp, Rogue Audio tells me it's a completely original design.

The RH-5's steel chassis measures 15x13.5x4 inches (381x343x101 mm), and it weighs 19 pounds (8.6 kg). The amp is sold with a three year warranty.

The sound is warmer and sweeter than my reference Pass Labs HPA-1 headphone amp/preamp ($3,500/£3,500), but the RH-5 certainly isn't lacking in resolution, not by a long shot.

With the RH-5 my Oppo PM 1 headphones sounded more neutral and transparent than I remembered them. I'm a fan, but PM 1s tonality can be less vivid than competing planar magnetic headphones from Hifiman and Audeze. The PM 1 definitely sounded more amply endowed plugged into the RH-5.

Which reminds me, the new Hifiman Susvara headphone, one of the most expensive headphones I've ever been lucky enough to try had a special affinity for the RH-5. I'll review this headphone soon, but it's a beast to drive -- no other amp in my collection was potent enough to bring out the best in the Susvara. The HPA-1 amp struggled with highly dynamic recordings over the Susvara, the RH-5 played them with greater ease. The RH-5 sound was also lusher and fuller than the HPA-1, which sounded too lean by comparison to the Susvara.

Next, I continued listening with one of the easiest to drive headphones, my Grado GH1s, and here the HPA 1's transparency and dynamics exceeded the RH-5's, but there was no denying the RH-5's voluptuous midrange was gorgeous. The RH-5 coaxed great sound out of the GH1. It's a better headphone than I thought it was.  

Gripes, I had a few. The cheap looking black plastic remote clashes with this high-end component's otherwise excellent build quality, and worse yet, the placement of the RH-5's power on/off button just below the volume buttons is unfortunate. More than once I accidently turned the RH-5 off when I tried to lower the volume. Once turned off the RH-5 takes 15 seconds to restart.

Summing up, the Rogue Audio RH-5 is in the top rank of headphone amps, and better yet it's less expensive and more fully featured than most of its ilk.