Since the start of the pandemic, I have been working from home most days for my full-time job. Each morning starts relatively the same. Walking into my home office, sitting down at my computer, and saying the words “Hey Google, Turn on Rogue.” (Mind you, the Rogue Audio Sphinx V3 integrated amplifier is not a smart home device, it is just plugged into an outlet that is.) This causes a soft click from the corner of my office, accompanied by the yellow standby and red mute lights on the amp. Moments later a piercing blue light replaces the standby light, and the day has truly begun.
Words and Photos by Marc Smazik
This is a bit of a long-term review, as I actually own this piece of equipment. I purchased it on a recommendation from a trusted friend back in March of 2020. For those reading this who would like to cut to the chase, there is not a single hint of buyer’s remorse for this rock-solid heart of my office system.
Rogue Audio Sphinx V3: Build Quality
The build quality of the $1,595 Rogue Audio Sphinx V3 integrated amplifier is hard to nail down. At no point does it feel flimsy or lacking. It is a solidly built unit. It is, however, by no means luxuriously built. At the end of the day, the box is steel, with six screws holding the top cover to the chassis. In contrast, the bottom cover of my VAC integrated has what seems like twenty-six screws holding it together.
The faceplate of the Rogue Audio Sphinx V3 is a machined piece of metal, with a deep black color. Edges are not hard but chamfered. The solid metal knobs on the face have the slightest amount of play. When the input selector is put into action, the click between sources feels light and almost hollow when compared to my VAC integrated.
The binding posts for the speaker connections are positioned thoughtfully. The left channel posts are on the upper left of the back panel, and the right channel are on the upper right. It is welcome to not need to get out my phone and take pictures of the back of the amp to see where the cables are going. This little musical device wants for nothing in build quality, while at the same time it’s not trying to show off.
At the end of the day, it gives off an industrial aesthetic, which I appreciate. It’s as if all of the money that could have been spent on making it a gorgeous piece of metallic art, which stops visitors to your system dead in their tracks, was instead spent on making it sound great.
Rogue Audio Sphinx V3: The Sound Matters
As I stated earlier, I’ve owned this amp in its previous V2 incarnation. After getting the loan of the Rogue Audio Sphinx V3 from The Audio Company, I proceeded to drop it right in the same place as the V2 and move the sources over. The new Rogue Audio Sphinx V3 was now hooked up to my office system, connected to a pair of Tannoy Precision 6.1 bookshelf speakers (positioned on an actual bookshelf), a Pro-Ject Debut Carbon turntable for the spinny music, and a Pro-Ject streambox/prebox S2 Digital combo for the bits and bytes.
Six black boxes, all working in concert. (Concert: a word chosen purposefully, as this is a very, very, musical amplifier.) I listen to about six hours of music a day (mostly passively) while I work. Much of it is digital.
However, for about an hour a day, I get the distinct pleasure of moving from an off-axis seat to an on-axis chair so that I can really listen. On digital recordings, this amp plays from fairly neutral to ever-so-slightly bright. I use the same reference tracks when testing any system, from high end to arena. So buckle up for the tracklist.
Leonard Cohen, “You Want It Darker” (Analog)
The phono stage of this integrated is solid state, and the line stage amp is powered by a pair of 12au7 tubes. The tubes are working hard to inject some more warmth and musicality to the music. There is a fantastic clarity to this phono stage. It is easy for an amp to muddle Cohen’s voice and the instruments on this track, but we proceed.
With the Rogue Audio Sphinx V3, there is delightful separation here. I have heard far more expensive amps that do not resolve Cohen’s vocals this nicely without dipping too far into an analytical sound. All of that being said, I have heard this track sound warmer and a bit more engaging. The tubes are doing a great job of warming up the sound, but this is still slightly bright. However, this is probably why the separation and resolution on this track feel so good.
Roger Waters, “Perfect Sense, Pt. 1” (Digital)
Have you talked to your children about QSound? This track is all about the sound stage, and as artificial as it might be. There are a couple of things that make this a great test track. The first and primary reason is where things end up in the room. The thunder at the beginning is realistic and moves correctly around the landscape, starting at the 2 o’clock position and ending at the ten o’clock position. This is not the deepest soundstage I have experienced on these speakers, but it is still very impressive.
Next up is the piano. The key tones entered the space almost at three o’clock but sounded a little distant for my taste. If I bring my VAC downstairs, the piano sounds a bit more present in the room, with a more nuanced attack and a warmer tone throughout. It is also located directly next to my right ear. However, the VAC is almost 7x the price of the Rogue. The Rogue is punching way out of its weight class here.
The Chamanas, “Desde Ayer” (Digital)
This Mexican band is not recorded in the most audiophile of ways, but gosh do they boogie. I love this track for testing systems. There is a deep bass drop to open the track that runs almost down to 20Hz. Obviously, my little bookshelf speakers are not going to be that resolving, but the real value of this as a test track is elsewhere. It is easy for this track to find itself going out of control. I try to listen to the high-hat specifically when I use this to tune a system. A quality system will resolve the click of the drum stick as it strikes the cymbals. If the preamp’s transient rendering abilities are not fast enough, the high-hats will hiss, and that’s a miss.
This track also rides the line of being a bit abrasive in the high frequencies throughout. Keeping this in control without sounding dull is a challenge. The Rogue Sphinx V3 keeps up here. There is a slight metallic click on the high hat that adds life to the track. Overall it rides the line of high-frequency resolution just before becoming abrasive. Any brighter, and it would start to step over the line.
Ronnie Earl, “Rego Park Blues” (Digital)
This track is on the list purely to test dynamics. It starts quiet, and on a good system you can hear somebody in the band tapping their foot to keep the beat. I am happy to say it is the case here. A bit later in the track a loud guitar string breaks through the track, so sharply it almost always makes me jump. Again, the Rogue Audio Sphinx V3 shows just how precise and revealing it can be by delivering that note.
At any point, you can pick out and follow any instrument in the music, without it getting lost in the totality of the ensemble. This is no easy task with Bruce Katz on a Hammond organ, in the pocket and deep in the mix. The dynamics in this amp are categorically impressive. The preamp here is wonderfully quiet, but not so much that it picks up the motor hum in the turntable. It pairs so well with the Pro-Ject and offers scary levels of synergy for the price.
Living With The Rogue Audio Sphinx V3
Who is it for? Well, the Rogue Audio Sphinx v3 would be a fantastic addition to many many systems. It is forgiving of many compromises people might make to get a system into a room or budget. It does not require thousands of dollars of electronics to make streaming sound great and engaging. It is accepting of turntables, ranging from inexpensive to exotic. In fact, the way it handles the input from an inexpensive piece of gear is one of the most impressive feats. On a lark, I tossed my father’s old Technics SL-5800 with an AT cartridge at the Rogue Audio Sphinx V3. The sound held up. No motor noise, crisp sound, just great music.
This integrated is possibly idyllic for several types of listeners. If you are reading this and thinking of upgrading or building your first serious hi-fi system, this is a fantastic place to start. It will grow with a budding system for many, many years. It will just work, and work well. On the other hand, if somebody is thinking of a second system, or has space constraints, this is an amp that should be auditioned. Finally, if somebody is looking to dip their toes into the wide world of tubes but is not ready to go whole-hog on a full tube integrated, then please give this a listen.
Sphinx V2 vs Sphinx V3
As stated at the beginning of this review, I own a Rogue Audio Sphinx V2. I would like to take a moment and elaborate on the differences between the versions. The V2 has a slightly lighter shade of black on the face plate, and the knobs are a shiny brushed stainless, as opposed to the matte grey of the knobs on the V3. There is a little more play in the knobs on the V2.
As for the sound, the Rogue Audio Sphinx V3 has distinct improvements in the preamplifier section. It is a bit more dynamic than the V2, and a bit quieter as well. There is a stated difference in the behavior of the transformers as well that makes the sound of the V3 a little bit more analytical. The V2 is just that little bit warmer, but the V3 has a more resolution and is more open overall.
Trying to sum up my thoughts about this piece of equipment is hard. Like I said at the beginning, I own a Sphinx V2. Pitting it against the V3 has been more interesting than expected. Both are fantastic before the price is brought into consideration, and after the price is factored in, it is clear that the Rogue Audio Sphinx V3 is a no-brainer. The V3 is so well executed, and so darn livable. It is unfussy and accommodating. It reminds me why I got into this hobby. Pick an audio source, sit back, and enjoy.
If the person reading this is thinking that this is out of their price range, I give the advice to wait a little longer and save a little more. The Rogue Audio Sphinx V3 is even worth it at twice the price.