AMPSANDSOUND MOGWAI REVIEW

MSRP: $1850 USD w/ tube set

  • TONAL BALANCE / NEUTRALITY 91%
  • MUSICALITY 96%
  • PERFORMANCE FOR THE PRICE 91%
  • FEATURES / FUNCTIONALITY 94%
  • BUILD QUALITY 96%

PROS

  • Solid construction
  • Low noise
  • Excellent Separation
  • Good Musicality
  • Excellent Clarity

CONS

  • Lacks a little finesse

INTRO 

I was able to review the amplifier as part of a loaner tour put together by Justin of Ampsandsound. I admittedly had little interest at the time the tour was brought to my attention by a fellow but signed up for the tour. Well, I am really glad I listened. As you will see below, I find this to be an exceptional amplifier.

 SPECS

Input impedance is 10K ohm with alps pot, .5v for full power.

Input Sensativity 800mV peek for full power out.

32ohm power: 1.8watts RMS @ 1khz, 7.6VRMS

Frequency bandwidth 20hz -1db to 20khz -3db @ 500mw output

Frequency bandwidth 20hz -1db to 14khz -3db full power

Noise on 32ohm tapp @ 580uV

8ohm power: 3watts RMS @ 1khz, 4.7VRMS

Frequency bandwidth 20hzhz -3db to 17khz -3db @ 2watts

Noise on 32ohm tapp @ 340uV

BUILD/DESIGN

The Ampsandsound Mogwai has a retro/modern look to it that really reminds me that I live in Portland. Kind of a hipster look that is simple wood and fire with a touch of American old school candor but that’s just my take. The amplifier feels very substantial in my hands. I was not expecting it to be that solid and heavy when I pulled it out of the box and I had to get an extra grip on it when picking it up. I must admit that I am a sucker for heavy gear. It tricks me into thinking a lot went into it, but also gives me hope that the power supply wasn’t skimped and the performance is clean.

The knob is positioned in the bottom left corner of the amplifier but all the inputs and outputs are in the back. Yes that means all of them. The headphone jack is annoyingly places behind a transformer. Also, I am not aware of the ability to be able to get it customized for 4pin XLR but I just used my 4pin to 1/4inch adapter and kept it moving. My impressions are of a solid product with good build and craftsmanship slightly taxed by an awkward placement of the headphone jack.  The headphone jack placement may have a shorter signal path back there and if it helps so be it. I can get over it if it sounds good.

SOUND

  • BASS EXTENSION 93%
  • BASS BALANCE 99%
  • MIDRANGE BALANCE 93%
  • TREBLE PRESENCE 91%
  • TREBLE EXTENSION 89%
  • BASS CONTROL 87%
  • TONE DENSITY (BODY , OPPOSITE OF THINNESS) 94%
  • MACRO DYNAMICS (SOFTS TO LOUDS) 92%
  • MICRO DYNAMICS (SMALL GRADATIONS OF VOLUME) 89%
  • SOUND STAGE WIDTH 89%
  • SOUND STAGE DEPTH 85%
  • BLACKNESS OF BACKGROUND 88%

It is worth noting that the below impressions are with the JJ6CA7 tubes which are punchy and neutral. Justin of Ampsandsound says that the amplifiers performance is largely dependent upon the tubes used but its control comes from its selected transformers. The Mogwai is very responsive to tube rolling so impressions may vary. This review will give you a gist of what it can do. Please look out for updates

**Update 4-13-17

More time and comparisons found the bass of the Mogwai adequately solid but just a little less controlled and focused than my first go round had it (this is with all tubes tried) .

**BASS

The Mogwai bass is tight, focused, and controlled with decent punch. There is not a lot of bloom or excess boominess in the bass. It has a roundness to it but it hits very hard with good body. The sub bass to upper bass transition is very even and linear with good texture and response. I found that the bass lines on certain songs weren’t extremely visceral but still decently engaging. Quantity is neutral which is a good thing and when read from this site means neither recessed or exaggerated. The amplifier has a warm sound to it but it’s not from the bass being over developed. Compared to my now gone Trafomatic Head 2 the Mogwai is more tight and solid. Attack, sustain, and decay is practically ideal. I also was not expecting my modified T50RP to sound as controlled as it did so I switched to my 6XX and ZMF Atticus thinking a higher impedance would loosen the bass up a bit…nope. All headphones exhibited these traits. It’s not solid state dry and has a slight wetness to it. This doesn’t mean a lack of focus or increase of sloppiness instead it means realistic resonance with an organic decay. This decay is not as exaggerated as I was leery of and the attack is fairly quick and strong. My Audio-GD -9 was tighter and beefier but this amp gives plenty of tonal weight and density and is not far behind in control. For reference, compared to the SPL Phonitors I reviewed last, the Mogwai performs better by almost all accounts. 

MIDRANGE

The lower midrange is not hampered by the upper bass so while I consider the amp rich sounding, the mud region (upper bass to lower mids) is flat and not overdeveloped so the midrange stays clear.The Mogwei is not what I consider perfectly neutral but still within the bounds of what I believe is  good tuning. With these tubes it has a broad spotlight from what hears like about 900hz-2khz but a stronger peak in the upper midrange. This amp is a pretty rich sounding with a forward and commanding delivery.  The midrange accentuation and strong energy make instruments resonate convincingly. The midrange is clear but lacks a little bit of that ‘hear-through’ factor… only a little bit so I think a tube swap can help. Voices should have a lot of air and while a piano needs density to sound realistic a voice needs breath and air to feel light but projected. Amber Rubarth’s voice cut through the recording with some slight peakiness but still had enough air around her voice. Yet some male vocals seemed to suffer a little bit sounding too weighed down.  Considering this amplifiers attributes though, I believe it was tuned wisely and offers a good amount of realism. It has what my HE-9 lacks… soul. The Mogwai has lots of soul and is mostly guts with enough glory

***TREBLE

Maybe lacking a little air but the Mogwai is mostly neutral. It is not elevated or withdrawn and sits right where it should. I sometimes felt the AandS amplifier to accentuate the lower treble a just little bit. The textures in the treble seem a little raw to me and just a little unrefined but as is nothing seems glossed over or hazy. Do not expect the Mogwai to mask any roughness in the treble. Sure the treble is not steely, splashy or digital sounding but textures remain course and organic, if not crude when created so. Treble extension is decent but just a little more extension wouldn’t hurt. 

PERFORMANCE

The Mogwai may sound thick for some but me I think it sounds wholesome. There is an addicting sound that this amplifier brings to the table. It has tangible tones, density, and separation. Nothing ever sounds blended to my ears even though the soundstage is a little compact. It is okay in width and depth but nothing I would call really expansive. The images are very well layered and separated though and the placements are very easy to detect, just not spread out as wide as my HE-9 or TH2 that I used to own. 

What is most satisfactory is how crisp and textured instruments sound. On D’Angelo’s “Really Love” the bass was rich, the snaps and snares were very sharp and defined, and all of the percussion darted in to my ears with good conviction and clarity. Microdynamics are above average as are the macrodynamics. Expect punchy, clear, and dynamic.The Mogwai has a lot of texture and more so than my HE-9. It is able to resolve grit, rasp, and crunch very well. For instance, the electric guitar on “Great Night” by NEEDTOBREATHE sound toxic as the buzzing from the guitar licks kick in.

The AandS amplifier also has excellent clarity and is very transparent with low noise. When switching from my HE-9 the clarity differences are negligible. Apart from hearing the tubes click on with the little microphonic ringing that is normal with all tube amps on start-up, I heard no noise whatsoever. I cranked the volume up when the song was off and barely heard anything at all.

One thing I must say though is that the fact that it is a bit heavy-handed without a lot of extension in the treble makes the amplifier’s ability to convey finesse take a hit. It’s got some muscle with an effortful sound that makes the smoothest and sweetest songs sound a little too weighted to lift off the recording. Something like the HE-9 is too graceful and not grounded enough so it makes the hard and pounding songs seem insipid and weak when being compared to the Mogwai.

PAIRINGS

One thing is for sure, this amplifier didn’t struggle with any headphone I used. I didn’t have much during my time of review with it but the Eikon, Atticus, 650, Modified T50 shown in the pics, and my Pioneer HRM-7 all sound controlled with good transient response. Though  the amplifier is thick, its thickness is more from the heavy tones and not  frequency response related so none of them clashed. I personally loved it with the Atticus because it firmed up the upper mids and didn’t make the bass too boomy.

***UPDATE 4-13-2017

The amplifier I purchased had upgraded caps and a Tungsol 6SL7 and some JJ KT77s which cost just a little more than the review unit did. Immediately upon arrival I noticed that some of the cons of the amplifier had become null. That peak in the upper midrange that I felt was a bit of a hard spot went a way but the amp was much brighter over all and better extended. It seemed less thick than the review unit as well. I think the upgraded caps are what helped the amp sound less thick and more open but the tubes gave it better extension and balance but were just a little bit bright for me. 

– Then I tried some PSVANE KT88MKIIs and the amplifier sounded more balanced with a bigger soundstage yet not nearly as bright with better refinement. They sound really good. As a matter of fact it became a sweet spot of not having too much treble, no hard spots of accentuation and fatigue yet also a little tinted and romantic. 

– Lastly I tried some TungSol KT150s and WOW… I mean when I first plugged the Atticus in it cracked them wide open with the best air, balance and soundstage of any of them so far. The amp sounded like it came a live. They had the slight accentuation of the uppder midrange yet without any hardness and gave the amp the best sound I had heard from it….BUT BUT BUT BUT SADLY they drew too much current and I cannot use them anymore because they caused some internal issues from overworking the amplifier. My amplifier gave it’s last breath before having to be sent back to Justin (AMAZING CUSTOMER SERVICE) a long with the tubes for both to be tested. I love those tubes so much though that even when I get the amp back I will not sell them right away. I wish there was a mod that could enable me to use them so I don’t have to keep tube hunting.  

CONCLUSION

%

I really enjoyed my time with the Mogwai. Actually, it makes me super curious of what AMPSANDSOUND did with the Agartha and Kenzie. Would I buy a Mogwai? Heck yeah. This amp is a great piece of gear.  This is a solid piece of kit with a good build and a commanding sound. This amplifier scores very high in my books. No piece of gear is perfect but the Mogwai does certain things exceptionally and doesn’t do anything unforgiveable. The Mogwai has been Red Philed.

Addendum. Because I liked the Mogwai so much, I purchased one. However the unit I purchased has upgraded capacitors and tubes. I will tube roll and post some of my experiences with various tubes here. I suspect that some tubes will open the Mogwai up a bit more. Stay tuned..

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