HolidayBuyer's Guide

Born in the USA: The Rogue Audio Sphinx v2 integrated amplifier

No other audiophile integrated stereo amplifier can match the Rogue Sphinx v2's combination of features, power, build and sound quality for the price.

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The Rogue Sphinx V2 amplifier

Photo by Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Rogue Audio makes great high-end components and sells them for very reasonable prices through its dealer network here in the USA, and its worldwide distributors. Rogue's owner, designer and all-around nice guy Mark O'Brien came to audio after he was with Bell Labs working on electronics development, laser and transformer design. Don't let his Sphinx v2 stereo-integrated amplifier's plain looks fool you, there's no other component quite like it.

I reviewed the original Sphinx in early 2014, and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I was eager to check out the Sphinx v2, it's a "hybrid'' tube/solid-state design. One noteworthy improvement of the Sphinx v2 over the original amp is its revised and quieter moving-magnet/moving-coil phono preamplifier section. In addition to the phono input there are three more RCA inputs, plus fixed and variable RCA stereo outputs, the latter can be used with a powered subwoofer. The built-in headphone amp has also been improved over the original Sphinx. O'Brien also redesigned the main circuit board, and he claims that improved the Sphinx v2's overall sound quality. Like before, the remote control is an optional extra.

Inside, the Sphinx v2 uses a pair of 12AU7 preamplifier tubes and Hypex Class D power amplifier modules that deliver 100 watts per channel with 8 ohm speakers, and the power output doubles to 200 watts per channel for 4 ohm speakers! That high output, 4 ohm capability is exceptionally rare for integrated amps in the Sphinx v2's price class. The amp measures 15.5 by 17 by 5 inches (394 by 432 by 127mm) and weighs 25 pounds (11.3 kg). The warranty runs 3 years on the electronics, 3 months for the tubes. You can get your Sphinx v2 with a silver or black faceplate and knobs.

The Sphinx v2's power really came in handy when I played my Magnepan .7 speakers loud. That's something I rarely do with these speakers, but taking advantage of the Sphinx v2's ample power reserves was fun, and I noted the .7 speakers' dynamic kick was better than I usually give it credit for. The speakers get better and better at louder volumes, the Sphinx v2 made that obvious with Lee "Scratch" Perry's outstanding "Dub Triptych" album, the low rhythms growled and rumbled with newfound authority.

Switching over to my Zu Audio Druid V speakers I cranked up Antonio Sanchez' brilliant solo drum score for the "Birdman" soundtrack. Wow, his drum kit's dynamics and power are a brutal test of amplifiers and speakers, but the Sphinx v2 took it in stride. Encouraged, I turned up the volume, slowly, to see if I could make the Sphinx v2 cry uncle, but it never faltered. The sound just got louder and louder, the amp didn't distort or get weird. Sanchez inventive drumming put the system through a workout!

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The Rogue Audio Sphinx v2's rear panel.

Photo by Rogue Audio

Moving onto the KEF LS50 speakers when I played Cliff Martinez' synth driven score for "The Knick: Season 2" CD, the Sphinx v2 unleashed a huge soundstage. The LS50s all but disappeared as sources of sound, and Martinez' densely textured soundscapes were given their full due. Not only that, the bookshelf speakers' deep bass prowess was a pleasant surprise, as was the Sphinx v2's deft control of Martinez' rumbling bass lines.

While the Sphinx v2 may have a pair of tubes nestled inside, I never felt the amp was adding extra warmth or fullness to the sound of Jonny Greenwood's brilliant orchestral score for "The Master " film soundtrack. The Sphinx v2 is essentially neutral and clear, the strings sounded natural as well.

Playing LPs with my VPI Classic turntable and Ortofon Cadenza Black phono moving-coil cartridge the Sphinx v2 demonstrated its analog chops. I did most of my LP listening using Oppo PM-1 headphones, and came away impressed with how quiet the Sphinx v2's built-in phono preamp was, it produced no background hiss. The Replacements ferocious rock and roll on their "Hootenanny" album lit up my Grado RS-1 headphones.

Rogue Audio builds all of its products in Brodheadsville, Pennslyvania, and they've been at it for going on 20 years. The Sphinx v2 sells for $1,295 in the US, £1,495 in the UK. Partner the new Sphinx with KEF LS50 or Magnepan .7 speakers, and if you're into vinyl a Rega RP1 turntable, and you'll have a terrific audiophile grade system for around $4,000 (or £3,500) that could provide literally decades of enjoyment. It may be a lot of money, but if you really love music, it will be money well spent.

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