ampsandsound Mogwai Amplifier
Ampsandsound are an amplifier and loudspeaker builder out of Southern California. I discovered Justin Weber and team through Head-Fi.org, when reports of their Kenzie headphone amps appeared. Since then, I’ve kept an eye out, and even considered their 2 channel amps for my system. The Bigger Ben was interesting, for sure…until I caught word of the Mogwai.
The Mogwai (US$1850) is a single-ended class A tube amp, that employs 2 (one per channel) EL34, 6L6GC tube, or one the many variants available (KT66, KT77, 6CA7, KT88, 6550). The input is handled by a single 6SL7. This point had me jazzed – I’ve plenty of these power tubes around from previous amps, and was actually daydreaming about how great it’d be to have an affordable low watt, single-ended amp I could work with. After a couple calls and some deliberation I committed.
Justin Weber was quick to respond to all inquiries, and happy to discuss his products. In addition, he delivered the amp before his original target date. The excellent service is much appreciated and deserves mention.
With the Audioquest Nighthawks, there is no noise apparent when the volume is set at my usual level (roughly 9 o’clock), and no music is playing. The Mogwai runs quiet. Of course, as I turn the dial up toward 12 o’clock the noise becomes apparent – sensitive ‘phones.
For all listening, I used a Sylvania 6SL7 V-229 on input duty.
My source is the Clearaudio Concept MM ‘table and the phono pre is the Parks Audio Budgie.
I had three sets of power tubes I wanted to try out. With the KT66 installed, the sound was spacious. I heard a larger stage with remarkable depth and layering. Overall, a I heard a balanced sound across the spectrum, though they are lacking in bass weight and presence. I’ve read these Gold Lion tubes take hundreds of hours to settle in – maybe the low end will improve over time. Definitely less mid-forward compared to the 6CA7-Z, but they projected a holographic stage. Paired with the Audioquest Nighthawks, the sound was dynamic and addicting. The Mogwai, Gold Lion KT66 and Nighthawks make good company.
Next, I tried my Gold Lion KT77s. These are great tubes, and sounded fantastic in this setup.
Currently, my favorite tube in this setup is the PSVane 6CA7-Z treasure tube. It delivers luxurious mid-range, extension on both ends of the spectrum, and all the nuance I want. It’s a very engaging and commanding sound. A ton of drive and grunt – even though I was optimistic, I wasn’t expecting such killer performance.
Ok, so some detail around the Mogwai’s performance driving my Tekton Lore (98db) floorstanders:
On Allison Miller’s latest release with her band, Boom Tic Boom, I’m hearing more of the room even with the luscious mid-range. Kirk Knuffke’s cornet has plenty of both breath and body. The kick drum moves air like you’d expect and the upright bass has a ton of woody tone and blossom in the lower reaches.
As for electronic music:
The second track on James Blake’s record, Overgrown, has some deep reaching synth bass notes. The Mogwai with the 6CA7-Z delivered on this track with great extension, though limited power and grip. Of course, you’re not gonna get full control over those drivers with this amp, but it delivers very satisfying bass. It is tuneful and with plenty of texture – that’s also the 6CA7-Z’s. The quality of bass in the more common bass guitar range – both acoustic and electric – is excellent. I’ve been told some prefer KT88 tubes for their linearity and exemplary low end performance. While, I don’t have any on hand, I’ll eventually give it a go.
Overall, the Mogwai’s circuit is transparent – all tube swaps were easily apparent – and, this is certainly one of it’s strengths. It’s also responsive to tube upgrades. You can roll (affordably!) to your heart’s content. This was key for me. I’m currently limited to the Nighthawks for testing headphone performance. In this area, the Mogwai delivered quiet performance, musical and commanding sound, and with tons of headroom. I hope to have another pair of headphones to try out soon.
This is a heck of a lot of amp for the money.
If you want a tube headamp, and dig rolling, then the Mogwai is a great choice.