casablanca review

I have had the good fortune over the past few months to work with Justin Weber at Ampsandsound and acquire some great audio gear (speakers and amps). Most recently I’ve added a pair of monoblocks that Justin calls “Casablancas” – tube driven (of course), PP, and depending on power tubes selected probably producing close to 60 watts per. I had previously acquired a somewhat modified “Big Ben” SE amp – dubbed “Bigger Ben” by Justin – and was very impressed and enjoying it immensely when he mentioned he was working on some ideas with monoblocks and suggested I come up for a listen and shootout of two that he had just built.

I live in San Diego, which is only about an hour away from Justin in Orange County, so while its easy to come up and listen to gear with him I protested that I had all needed with the SE amp (of course “need” isn’t really the operative concept for us audiophile junkies). Justin just said to come on up and since when did I not want to hear some fun gear. He was right, so I came up and we proceeded to give a listen to two monoblock setups he had crafted. The first we set up was an absolutely beautiful takeoff on an old Dynaco setup. Very pretty, stainless steel carriage, big transformers, a really impressive looking setup. And we fired it up and the sound was large, muscular, powerful. To tell you the truth I was wondering at that time if he would consider selling the set to me. But . . . .then we set up the Casablancas. We both listened to twenty or thirty minutes of the Casablancas and were both surprised (or at least I was) that the Casablancas beat the Dynaco evolution setup. They (the Casablancas) seem to have a bit more detail and extension, maybe a little more “musical” presence. We switched back and forth again and really the Casablancas were very, very impressive. They won the shootout against a very strong setup. So . . . .of course I had to work a deal with Justin and take them home, which I did. I bought his prototype pair right off him that day.

So, I’ve had some time to live with the Casablancas now, and formed some impressions relative to the very nice SE (Bigger Ben) amp. I like to experiment with tubes as well, and have tried some different combos in both setups and am feeling like the sonic signatures of the two might be:

* SE Bigger Ben – doesn’t get much better than this guy relative to serving up lush intimacy and warmth. For this amp I favor a set of set of NOS 6L6GC RCA blackplates, noted for just those qualities – warmth and intimacy. Put on a vocalist you like (I’m pretty much 100% vinyl by the way) and they move forward a bit from the speakers draw a breath and deliver mid-range vocal presentation that while still silky and detailed is warm and very Present. The vocals are right in front, where they should be, with the supporting orchestration wrapping behind. Not presented on an overly large or deep soundstage, with the RCA blackplates in any case, but really just the right size to capture the focal sound and drop it in right in front of you.

*PP Casablancas – Power. Big and deep soundstage. Very detailed also. I have been liking a set of NOS Tung Sol 6550 gray plates. Think of a big rock band sound, or large demanding orchestration. Huge, wide, deep soundstage. Wall to wall, floor to ceiling. Base is very quick and powerful too. Burning in a set of KT88’s right now to try. We’ll see on those compared to the Tung Sols. These monos flat deliver. A very exciting, powerful,all around performer.

In conclusion I’m enjoying them both. Each with a different sonic signature. And, I should say, that while I seem to lean towards firing up Bigger Ben for vocals and intimate selections – it is still a strong performer with larger presentations and can rattle my windows without losing detail. Particularly if I put in a set of power tubes more in keeping with that sound than my favored blackplates. Before acquiring the Casablancas I didn’t feel I needed anything more in that regard. After acquiring the Casablancas however, I favor them for the bigger, “power” sound. But again, as I commented on the SE Bigger Ben and its broad based capability, these monos are also very, very (did I say very) capable with respect to a more focused and intimate recording as well. Beautiful and present. I could listen to these monos all day. Literally. And, in fact, I do!! Power and detail in spades.

Thanks once again to Justin for continuing to increase and expand the presence of music in my life with high quality and well crafted hardware. (Pictured above: Bigger Ben flanked by the Casablancas on either side).