The Gearhead: Battle of the big tube amps

Rogue Audio is known by many as a great place to start if you’re getting into tubes. Their amplifiers feature attractive chassis design, they use commonly found tubes and are always easy to bias. They offer that “tubey” sound, but also ride near the edge of sounding like a solid state product.

With Rogue amps, you’re not expecting a rolled-off presentation - these sound like modern amplifiers to be sure. The tube goodness happens in the midrange, casting a liquidity and palpability to the important sonic region.

We often have lots of interest in Rogue amplifiers here at The Music Room, so I’m surprised to finally get to see a member of the Rogue family we’ve never sold or bought before.

The Rogue Zeus is about as aptly named a mega product as I can imagine. The Greek god of sky and thunder certainly brings the thunder when called upon to do so — six Tung-Sol KT120 tubes per channel make sure of that.

But can a big musclebound tube amplifier also be nimble? Allowing the user to switch between ultralinear and triode operation makes for two distinct sonic characters. With ultralinear you get more frequency extension and a bit more of that “sparkle” that a well designed modern tube amp can bring. In triode, the imaging is a little more spacious and the midrange tones have a bit more harmonic soul.

The great thing about Rogue amplifiers is how well they perform for the price tag. Comparing the $6,000 Zeus giant (at 200lbs, if you don’t need three people to move it to your listening room you must be a herculean beast) to a $20K GS150 from Audio Research, there is not a whole lot left on the table.

The GS150, part of the G series from ARC circa 2014, is a full-tubed classic that manages to produce the best of both sound qualities in the Rogue amp — it’s got a character of richness in the right places, delicate high frequency detail in the upper reaches of the sound spectrum and typical 3D-ness that the brand is well known for.

But for the vast amount of listeners I’m wondering if the jump to the state of the art in high power tube amplification is really necessary. The GS’ four Tung-Sol KT150 tubes per channel certainly stack up against the Rogue’s six 120s, and by the feel of the monumental Rogue, the iron inside must also be commensurate.

For my money, the Rogue Audio Zeus offers more than 80% of the sound quality of the venerated GS150, at little more than 25% of its original price. Given we’re in the business of pre-owned hifi audio, the bar of entry will be even lower for each of these two high performance, high-wattage tube amplifiers lightly used and in excellent cosmetic condition.

Give your power-hungry speakers a dose of delicious tubes. Shop these two amplifiers while they’re here… Rogue Audio Zeus and Audio Research GS150.

Shop These Power Amplifiers and More