June 28, 2023 7 min read

Tone Audio Review - Black Pearl Issue 117, Cover Story, Page 42

by Jeff Dorgay


Can a 300B amplifier do that? Yes!

You might think $125 for a burger made with Kobe beef is pure insanity. Until you try one. Beef is beef, right? For our vegan friends, I recently had the absolute yummiest asparagus I've ever eaten in my life . What's the point? Sometimes, simplicity mixed with extreme refinement delivers something so special you can't imagine it until you experience it. Then you'll never forget it. That's the ampsandsound Black Pearl 300B amplifier. Considering what a handful of the world's most desirable 300B amplifiers fetch, $18,000 isn't even close to madness. But the sound it delivers will drive you crazy.

Listening to Lenny Kravitz' "What Goes Around Goes Around" direct from the dCS Vivaldi into the balanced inputs of the Black Pearl is spectacular. Things start here, sans Pass XS linestage, is to see exactly what the Black Pearl can deliver. Yep, I could live with this forever. Listening begins with a pair of vintage ESS AMT-lb speakers, connected so when powered up for photos, we don't do any damage to the output transformers with no load. A few tracks later, the violins in "Flowers For Zoe" come alive and the bass control that this 8 watt-per-channel SET amplifier exerts over these speakers with notoriously floppy bass is simply amazing.

And the Western Electric 300Bs aren't even installed yet.

Getting down to business

It's worth mentioning that this amplifier requires no setup other than installing the tubes. If you are new to the 300B tube, please note these tubes have no central locator pins like the other power tubes you are used to. The bottom of the 300B has four pins, and one pair is slightly larger than the other and if you're really not paying attention, you can put these tubes in their sockets wrong and blow the amplifier up. Take 30 sec and pay close attention. While you're at it, you can admire the premium tube sockets that ampsandsound has chosen for the Black Pearl. You won't see this attention to detail on a McIntosh.


A single 12AX7 for the input stage, and a pair of NOS 5U4 rectifier tubes round out the rest of the installation. This should take all of three minutes to handle and you're ready to plug in to the rest of your system.

You'll also see two controls marked "Hum Pot." The amplifier came with these set to the 12:00 position (straight up) so they were left alone. Justin Weber, the amplifier's designer tells me that "for all but the most efficient speakers, i.e., Altec 604s, K-Horns, etc., it should be fine right where it is." Even with ears pressed up to the Heretics, no noise is present, hum or otherwise. It's solid-state quiet. No squid-like cliches necessary.

Around back, lurks multiple WBT binding posts for common, 4-and 8-ohm loading. Again, Weber tells me that im his experience the 8-ohm tap usually provides the best results. Just to be pedantic, I try them both and agree with him completely. But you know you're gonna try it anyway. Additionally, there are RCA inputs and a pair of transformer coupled XLR inputs.

There are too many possible combinations out there to suggest a clear path here. With the components at my disposal, there isn't a ton of difference between the two, however I ended up preferring the RCAs with the dCS direct, and the XLRs when using the Pass XS to access a turntable.

But it's really close.


Initial Impressions

Next up, an old favorite from 2001, Jacqui Naylor's Live ta the Plush Room. Ironically, this is the first disc I’d ever heard through an SET amplifier, and even then, I was hooked. The smoothness of this live recording, combined with the way it captures the hall feel is a tremendous reference. There is coherence that SET amplifiers deliver that is nearly impossible to get any other way. Think of every word that describes smoothness related to tube amplifiers, yet without the other descriptors that come to mind. There's no sense of rounding of the edges, softening fine details, or substituting a gooey, slow transient attack to get that smoothness. If your aural picture of the perfect amplifier is as much tonal saturation as you can get without going too far, while retaining the dynamic component of what makes music feel alive, then you've got it.

Taking all the pictures you see in TONE has granted me one opportunity - I've listened to every single component we've reviewed in nearly 20 years. And if you've been to a good dealer or hifi show lately, you know there's a lot of good gear out there. However, the Black Pearl is something unique.

At power up , the Black Pearl doesn't warm up as much as it unfolds and expands. Much like my reference Pass monos start up with the image shrunk slightly in all three dimensions, (even though they are solid state) getting bigger and coming out of a gentle fog as the stabilize

thermally. The Black Pearl calmly pulls you into the presentation, taking you from a passive "hey that sounds nice" sound, suddenly becoming a "sit down and pay attention to the music and nothing else" sound. It gently creeps up on you right around the 30-minute mark, taking you further into the "play just one more record" sound. Gravity.

Next Stop

After the AMT-1b, The Heretic AD612's with their 12-inch concentric driver and a modern take on the Altec cabinets of the 60s. These speakers have been a ton of fun to add to my reference component list, and just as the Quad 57s don't always deliver the best performance with low powered amplifiers. Here, the Black Pearl is SET perfection, and it truly excels with music featuring a lot of inner detail or acoustic instruments. There's nothing like listening to Joni Mitchell's voice through a great SET amplifier with the right speakers. The Black Pearl is the definition of inner detail. This is what makes SET amplifiers so special, the way they are able to resolve the texture of fingers sliding across guitar strings, or the attack and release of a drum head. Now imagine that with tight, defined, punch you in the stomach bass control. Woo hoo.

The biggest surprise

Lovely as the Black Pearl is thus far, the new Peak Consult Sinfonia speakers with an 89dB/1-watt sensitivity prove an out of this world combination. If you have a sound level meter, or a sound level app, investigate just how loud 89dB really is. Seriously, even a constant 80dB is more than loud enough most days.

The good news is listening at an 80dB level with these amplifiers and these speakers still provides more than enough headroom for all but those who like to rock really loud. At this level, regardless of program material chosen, the fine detail provided by the Black Pearl is seductive, and more involving than any of the other, bigger amplifiers on hand - both tubed and solid-state. Turning up the volume control you'll know when you're going too far. Because the sound field is so three-dimensional, you'll feel it start to collapse. It's not necessary to push the Black Pearl to clipping.

If you are a moderate level listener, the level of involvement and immersion that the Black Pearl delivers may just spoil you for anything else. As with all of the other speakers auditioned, the level of bass grip and resolution is outstanding. The only other amplifier at my disposal that delivers this is the BAT REX Power Amplifier.

The final push over the cliff

Weber says that the amplifier is more than able to work with the new Western Electric 300B tubes and swapping my pair in takes the presentation even further. Until now, I had been listening to the supplied Gold Note 300Bs.

Great as this amplifier is with the stock tubes, the WE 300Bs take this amplifier well beyond what I've heard thus far. Hands down, the $1,500 for a pair of WE tubes is the best investment you'll ever make on a system built around this amplifier. If you buy a pair of Black Pearls, you'll need a pair, eventually.

The toughest audio reviews to write are for the components you truly love the most. You as the reader is bombarded by so many superlatives lately, they're almost like antibiotics. At a certain point you become immune, and they don't do their job anymore. However, if you've been following TONE for any length of time, you know we try very hard to give you the facts and not turn into fans. Yet, the longer the Black Pearl plays, it's tough not to adopt a fanboy stance. It's like this amplifier has its own gravitational pull.

The one thing I haven't talked about enough is the chassis. Made from 12-gauge steel, you could probably use this chassis to hold up a car in place of a jack stand. The sheer physical quality of this amplifier, both inside and out is the best of the best. Pulling the bottom cover reveals turret boards and Teflon wire replacing circuit board traces. While this is the way Marantz and McIntosh did it back in the day, these classic amplifiers were not built with this painstaking attention to detail.

If you're someone who goes through a lot of gear, you probably shouldn't buy this amplifier. Not that there's anything wrong with being ADD in a techy kind of way, but you won't appreciate what makes it so special. This is truly a destination product. If you've tried a few other things, regardless of cost, the amsandsound Black Pearl will bring a big smile to your face before you even turn the damn thing on. When you do, you'll realize it's worth every penny.

It's easy to make a mediocre 300B based SET amplifier. It's a simple circuit. But to make one like the Black Pearl takes expertise, patience, and meticulous attention to every detail. I've never heard a 300B amplifier perform the way this one does.








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