Thanks to Justin Weber of ampsandsound for sending me this loaner of their Mogwai amplifier to evaluate and share my thoughts on.
I don’t really know much about the history of ampsandsound. The first time I heard their amps was at the NY Head-Fi meet last summer. There, I actually got to meet with Justin Weber, the founder of the company, but wasn’t able to really have a conversation with all the hustle and bustle at his table. I contacted ampsandsound some time in late Jan/early Feb about possibly being a part of the loaner tour for their flagship headphone amp: the Mogwai. Fortunately, I was able to partake in the tour and have had a few weeks to listen and form my thoughts on the Mogwai. The Mogwai came with a 6SL7 input tube and two 6CA7 tubes for the gain stage which are coupled to Transcendar transformers for the output. From my understanding, the headphone output and speaker taps have different output impedances: the headphone jack having a 32ohm output impedance and the speaker taps having a 8ohm output impedance. In my testing I primarily used the speaker taps with a 4-pin XLR to banana plug adapter for listening, though I briefly tried the headphone jack output as well.
The Mogwai is a seemingly very competent if a bit warm-leaning amplifier. I find that overall extension in both directions is still quite good. Impact is something this amp does very well in my opinion the sound is very punchy and full. In my testing I mainly used my Eikon, HD800 and LCD2. I did also try it with my HE-6 and K1000. I felt the HE-6 sounded a bit sloppy and unclear on the Mogwai despite reaching an acceptable listening volume about half way up the dial. The amp also drove the K1000 to a good listening volume; the warmth was a nice complement to the otherwise very forward upper mids of the K1000 and the slight bloom in the bass of the amp gave the K1000 a bit more weight. However, I felt the K1000 was also a bit less controlled and composed overall out of the Mogwai. I felt the HD800, Eikon, and LCD2 all paired quite well with the Mogwai. The HD800 and Eikon made especially apparent the difference in the output impedance between the two outputs (taps vs headphone out) with the 32ohm headphone output sounding significantly warmer and exaggerating bass compared to the speaker taps.
Bass on the Mogwai is very full and punchy sounding. The large impacts of the bass are powerful while the finer texture and separation in bass is affected by a certain thickness and bloominess that allows a good amount of detail to shine through but may force you to listen more actively for smaller details in music. Impacts on the Mogwai are somewhat rounded and blunt in their impact but the amp still presents those impacts with good speed. In that sense the Mogwai can sound a bit thick, but never really sounds slow or syrupy. Extension is great on the Mogwai down low, subbass has extra slam and midbass is extremely punchy while still maintaining a little bit of softness that makes for a very engaging listen without being fatiguing.
Mids are also presented very well here. Mids are very clean, still displaying the Mogwai’s slightly warm signature, making male vocals and instruments just a bit thicker and weightier sounding. Vocals have great detail and presence, seeming to linger just a little bit longer than they normally would, giving them a hint of dreaminess. Instruments are presented with great detail and dynamics, the plucking and vibration of strings and the beating of drums have a very pleasing and somewhat saturated sound that still gives me a very good sense of low level details and sounds that happen around the attack of each beat.
Treble is well balanced, remaining extended but having a touch of warmth and smoothness. Details remain clear, snare impacts are well textured and cymbal crashes ring with clarity and a realistic sense of decay. Extension is apparent due to the good sense of air that the Mogwai seems to maintain around instruments and vocals.
Thanks to the excellent speed of the Mogwai, imaging is quite clear and well defined. It’s easy to understand the direction that sounds are coming from and they seem weighty and grounded in a way that makes them sound more concrete. Soundstage seems appropriate to the music being played, and I don’t find it exaggerated or shrunken in any way but it’s very easy to place different instruments and vocalists within the space that’s presented.
I really appreciate the things the Mogwai does well. It’s a very well balanced, extended and smooth sounding amplifier that really sounds heavy but at the same time swings its weight around gracefully and with a good degree of precision. While I miss the exaggerated sense of space and staging that some tube amplifiers can provide, I appreciate the amp’s ability to image very well and make instruments sound solidly in their place in a space. There is plenty of gain here as well, and with the speaker taps becomes a really nice option for someone running headphones and very high efficiency speakers, though I mainly see this amp performing headphone duty. I have very much enjoyed the Mogwai’s sweeter, thicker sound and its ability to present the smaller details in my music without making them too obvious which can sometimes make for a more fatiguing listening experience. The amp pairs extremely well with headphones like the HD800 that can be much more laid back with just a touch of warmth out of the speaker taps, using the headphone output was generally too warm and made the bass a bit too exaggerated and poorly defined for me. The Mogwai sits in a very competitive space and I feel it meets its competition fairly well in the space, bringing that slightly thicker, punchier sound that still presents detail well. I believe that the Mogwai is a good contender that makes me look forward to getting the opportunity to try more amplifiers in this price range. This point in the market looks like a sweet spot for price-performance ratio for tube headphone amplifiers in general and I hope to see the category grow.