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AXPONA 2024: ampsandsound Brought the Funk, the Bump and Stuck the Landing

05-21-2024 | By John Hughes | Issue 133

Justin Weber of ampsandsound takes a break.

300B amps aren't known for their ability to party hard. More often than not you hear about their sweetness, lucidity, and warm conveyance of Big Tone. But the ampandsound kit, powered by their flagship 300B amp, the Black Pearl, had hip bones fully engaged.

The Yellowstone preamp is just under the turntable, and the Black Pearl 300B amp is on the floor.

This was my first exposure to the brand, and I was eager to experience them as I have many friends that adore that voodoo that they do. ampsandsound is duo venture with Justin Weber and spouse Danielle Ilan-Weber designing and building gear in Southern California. Justin has been designing tube circuits for over twenty years, and horn loaded speakers for about as long. Sticking to purist ideals, everything is point to point wired and created without silicon devices, integrated circuits, or transistors in the signal path. With minimal design language, they look just right to me, managing to exude both class and competency.

The Hudson speakers brought the party.

Justin's high efficiency speakers are created with elliptical tractrix horns matched with big woofers and front facing ports. With their finished walnut sides and hand buffed black fronts they give me serious 70's Playboy Mansion vibes, and are the epitome of Classic Cool in my aesthetic.

Fronting the music combo was an SME Model 20 MK2 turntable with an Ortofon SPU Classic N E cartridge for analog or the Auralic Vega G2.2 for digital. However, I only heard the turntable during visits to the room. The preamp was the flagship Yellowstone with its onboard phono preamp feeding the Black Pearl 300B amp pumping out eight fat and juicy watts to the Hudson three-way speakers. Lashing it all together was Cardas' Clear series cabling. 

I was lucky to hear the system several times and was even invited for a late-night session as well. The ampsandsound system fit my ears like a bespoke kid skin glove fits my hand. The sound was tonally dense and fleshy, with broad dynamics, and slam. Highs were crisp and extended and fit well in the mix. Layering and detail was clear without being nit picky or showy. It was on the forward side of the soundstage, but in a way that felt like I was meeting the music, not being pushed into it. It was a system I didn't want to leave.

Janelle Monáe's, ArchAndroid

Russ Stratton was on hand to demo the system with choice pieces from his legendary vinyl collection. He unleashed a frothy mix of funk, jazz, and prog rock gems. Some of these hit the groove with a vengeance. Spinning Janelle Monáe's debut album, ArchAndroid, its progressive soul vibe had the bass walking, tangoing, and sashaying all over the room with her fresh vocals in full swing. The Hudson's proved an able dance partner with bass starting and stopping on a dime, reaching deep, and revealing instrument character. 

Shpongle: Museum of Consciousness

In our after hours session, Russ spun us a Psybient/Psytrance foundational record by Shpongle: Museum of Consciousness. This was my first Shpongle trip, and it projected a complex tapestry of sampledelic soundscapes, pulsating bass lines, and hypnotic vocals. With an electronic edge it managed to get just to the point of overload/harshness, but always came back from the brink. What an an invigorating workout for the system! The energy, scale, and dynamics between the Black Pearl 300B amp and the Hudson speakers was just right and would make many high wattage amps blush.

Sir Adrian Boult conducts Vaughan Williams, New Philharmonia Orchestra, Hugh Bean – Symphony No. 6 / The Lark Ascending

Russ played one of my favorite showpieces, The "Lark Ascending," by Vaughan Williams played by the New Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham, with Hugh Bean on violin. The violin soaring on the heights of the orchestra and floating down delicately to a pianissimo with calm resolution reminded me of a gymnast flying off the pommel horse in a triple turn in one impossibly graceful motion. ampsandsound stuck the landing capturing the acoustic ambience, tone, and color - masterfully.