I just love integrated amplifiers. They are so convenient, and setup is a breeze, yet they can often rival the performance of separate components. So, when given the chance to review the Pharaoh, I jumped at it. Rogue Audio is an American audio company located in Brodheadsville, Pennsylvania, where their products are actually handmade. The $3,500 Pharaoh is the top-of-the-line integrated amplifier, and it's considered a hybrid because it combines a tube preamplifier along with a powerful solid-state amplifier. The fact that the amplifier is Class D, utilizing the highly regarded OEM Hypex modules, adds another level of interest.
Recently I reviewed the NAD M27, a seven-channel amplifier that licenses the Hypex Class D technology, with outstanding results. You can read the review here. Mark O'Brien, the president and lead designer of Rogue Audio, utilized the Hypex OEM Class D modules--not only because of their great performance, but also because it allowed him to use as much or as little of the module as he wanted. While Rogue is not the first audio company to combine a tube preamp with a solid-state amplifier, it is the only company that I'm aware of that uses a Hypex Class D design in the amplifier section. It is a technology that I am seeing implemented more frequently, in recent years, by high-end amplifier companies.
On the other side of the coin, it is a common opinion that tube gear provides a warmer, more lifelike rendition of a performance. The fact that, at some point during the recording process, tube gear is still used today is a testament that there is some truth to the tube reputation. Unfortunately, it's difficult to combine tube gear with speakers that are difficult to drive. Combining a tube front end with a solid-state back end could be considered the best of both worlds, and the inclusion of the Hypex Class D amplifiers could mean the ability to drive difficult speakers with the sonic qualities of tubes. Let's see how this integrated amplifier performs overall, with a variety of speakers.
The preamplifier is a pure tube mu-follower design, using two long-plate 12AU7 tubes. Oversized oil-filled coupling caps protect the analog signal prior to solid-state Class D amplification. The Pharaoh is rated at 175 watts per channel at eight ohms and 350 watts per channel at four ohms. According to the manufacturer, high-quality European parts are used throughout.
The Pharaoh's features list includes a discrete tube headphone amplifier with a tube-driven quarter-inch headphone jack, three sets of line-level RCA inputs, one set of adjustable moving-magnet or moving-coil phono inputs, one set of XLR balanced inputs, home theater bypass, a remote control that has volume and mute functions, subwoofer output via its variable analog output, and a detachable power cord. On the front, from left to right, you will find the infrared sensor, power switch, source selector, processor loop for home theater bypass, a larger volume control, gain unity on/off switch (home theater/processor bypass), balance control, headphone on/off switch, and lastly the headphone jack.
The Pharaoh is 18.25 inches wide, 18 inches deep, and 6.5 inches high, and it weighs 39 pounds. The main case is made of a heavy-gauge sheet metal, with a textured black finish. The front of the Pharaoh has a stunning thick-machined aluminum faceplate, with an almond-shaped recessed plate in the center. That recessed plate has the same finish as the main case. The main front faceplate is also available in black as opposed to the raw aluminum color. The Pharaoh has an industrial yet high-quality appearance with a matching solid-aluminum remote control.
I connected the Pharaoh to three different sets of speakers during my review process: the Vienna Acoustics Schoenbergs, the B&W CM10s, and the B&W 800Ds. For the first two speakers, I used an Oppo BDP-105D as my source, playing CD, and Cardas balanced interconnects to round out the setup. With the 800Ds, an Oppo BDP-95 was used as the source.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...