It is little secret that I am a tube fan, and ampsandsound is one of my favorite tube amp companies (Why? We’ll get to that later.). The only thing that kept this from being my opening review for HiFiAudio.Guru was the question of speakers. Our original choice of speaker did not pan out, they simply did not respond, at all (and for that I am thankful). So when Justin Weber (founder of ampsandsound) suggested that we use the system that he planned to display at T.H.E. (The Home Entertainment) Show 2020 this June in Long Beach, CA, I jumped at the chance, enter Fritz Speakers (after the writing of this review T.H.E. Show 2020 was rescheduled, though no new dates have been announced at this time). While I had not personally heard Fritz Speakers, I trusted Justin’s ear, especially when it comes to his own amps. While Cardas and VPI had always been part of the plan for this review, I initially intended for this to be an analog-only review but the amp and speakers arrived about a week before the turntable, so I used the Earmen TR-Amp as a DAC/Preamp to burn the system in. The last addition to this system came thanks to Frank Iacone’s coverage of CanJam NYC 2020 where I noticed for the first time the Schiit SYS passive preamp. My original intent was to use the headphone amp in the VPI as preamp, but this introduced cabling issues as I discovered the volume control did not affect the RCA outputs so the introduction of the $50 SYS into the system was the least expensive solution without actually compromising the sound of the system.
ampsandsound Zion Monos:
Behemoth is the first word that came to mind as I dragged the 60lb plus Pelican style wheeled (thank god) cases into my house and into my listening room. That impression was not changed pulling the ampsandsound Zion Monos out of their cases. In fact, I believe them to be heavier than the speakers which are no lightweights. I began with them on the floor, but eventually (IE: when the turntable arrived) moved them up to my test bench to accommodate my chosen cable lengths (now I need traction 😉 ).
The story of the ampsandsound Zion Monos is fairly lengthy and can be found Here.
Suffice it to say that the Zions are a fully hand made (except the chassis, in which the original was hand designed and built, then sent to a CNC metal fabrication house to reverse engineer into a reproducible model) using turret terminals and point to point wiring (as opposed to printed circuit boards) and no semiconductors are used in the design. This old school approach is much akin to using high end interconnects inside of your amplifier, meaning greater linearity, better noise rejection, and better isolation among other things. The design is inspired by the classic Harman/Kardon Citation V, employing a tube complement of two Tung-Sol 7581s, one Tung-Sol 5AR4, one Electro-Harmonix 6CG7EH, and one NOS GE 12BY7A (obviously your tube complement may differ depending on availability but these are the ones I was supplied with). The key factor in any tube amp (except OTL amplifiers which surrender a certain amount of musicality to avoid this issue) is the output transformer. For the Zion, ampsandsound employs a custom made transformer that offers a bandwidth of 4Hz to 115kHz belying the myth that what makes tube amps sound good is rolled off highs.
Which brings us back to the question; “Why ampsandsound?” Justin Weber is one of the few audio engineers in personal audio, and I would venture one of the few in his generation that understands what tube sound is all about. Anyone who tells you that a solid-state amplifier can sound like a tube amp by rolling off the highs and adding a magic pleasant sounding distortion, doesn’t get it at all. It is all about Transient Intermodulation Distortion. Ironically, by having a slower slew rate, tube amps allow you to hear more of the resolution of the music as it is not covered up by TIMD. While tube amps, do produce higher levels of THD than an equivalent solid-state amplifier, these levels are universally recognized to be below the threshold of human hearing, but since it is an easily tested for and dealt with spec, it is what solid-state amplifier manufacturers focus on.
So ampsandsound have focused on the weaknesses of tube amps, and worked to overcome them, which is for the most part linear bandwidth. Tube amps are voltage devices and don’t have the copious amount of current that big solid-state amplifiers have (this is not to be confused with Voltage Mode amplification vs. Current Mode amplification which is a totally different subject) to drive and control low frequencies. Justin has overcome this limitation, and the transformer appears to be a large part of this. So in short, ampsandsound amplifiers give you the linearity of tonal balance and the deep impactful, yet tightly controlled bass associated with the better solid-state amplifiers, with the resolution and musicality of tube amps, which is a win-win in my book.
Price: $6,500 each
All transformers are 200% over spec’d. Filaments are spec’d at 8amps, and output transformers are rated for 60 watts.