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3rd Power Amplification British Dream Amp Review

3rd Power Amplification British Dream Amp Review

The combo features ''59 AC and ''68 Plexi channels.


Clips recorded into Pro Tools HD9 through Apogee Symphony I/O. Mic Pre is Chandler LTD-1, no EQ, no FX.

If your dreams revolve around British

amps, the two kings of color are Vox

and Marshall. There isn’t much you can’t

squeeze out of a vintage AC30 and a plexi

Marshall—from Beatles and Hendrix tones

to Petty and Page sounds.

So when Jamie Scott of 3rd Power

Amplification decided to design the ultimate

Brit-flavored amp, he knew he wanted

to merge those two legends into a single

amplifier. The result of his efforts—the

British Dream—boldly combines great-sounding

interpretations of those two voices

with an effects loop and a power section

that's switchable between 15 and 30 watts.

Union Jacked

Scott has been down this road before. His

very successful 6L6-powered American

Dream [reviewed November 2010], combined

brownface and blackface Fender

flavors to excellent effect. The completely

handwired British Dream uses a pair of

EL34s, an EF86, and three 12AX7s in as a

jumping off point for its Anglo signature.

While this 56-pound combo isn’t exactly

compact (it’s also available as a head),

it's both lighter than a vintage AC30 and

significantly less hefty than a ’68 Marshall

half stack. Dressed up in black vinyl with

white lettering, piping, and chicken head

knobs, the British Dream looks original,

stately, a bit mean, and very rock ’n’ roll.

Construction is top-notch and incorporates

3rd Power’s proprietary Switchback

triangular speaker enclosure and tuned

triangle port for getting more of an open-back

tone, if desired. The latter is especially

thoughtful given that AC30s have an

open back and Marshalls cabs are closed-back.

The cab’s side ports enable venting

of the preamp and power-amp tubes,

which are isolated in a separate compartment

to reduce vibration. The vents are

removable to facilitate easy tube changes.

The British Dream’s front panel is divided

into three sections: ’59 AC, ’68 Plexi,

and a Presence/Power/Standby section. In

the ’59 AC section, you’ll find a single 1/4"

input and Volume, Brilliance, and Top Cut

controls. The Brilliance knob is a 3-way

Off/1/2 switch. The ’68 Plexi section has

a 1/4" input and traditional Marshall-style

controls—Volume, Treble, Middle, and

Bass. The third section has a Presence control

for both channels, as well as a standby

toggle for switching between 15 and 30

watts. The back panel has an IEC power

cable input, mains, and fuses, a 16 Ω speaker

output followed by dual 8 Ω and 4 Ω

outs, and the effects loop jacks. The removable

triangular port is held in place by three

screws and has a convenient leather loop for

pulling it away from the cab.

Split Personalities

As the owner of a ’64 Top Boost AC30

and ’68 Plexi, the sounds of these amps are

forever burned into my memory. And it was

startling to discover just how well the 3rd

Power captured so many of the sonic and

performance characteristics of both classics.

A Brian May Red Special guitar with

Burns Trisonic pickups and phase switches

seemed like a logical enough choice for testing

the Vox-inspired ’59 AC channel. And

with the volume at 2 o’clock, the Brilliance

switch off, and the Top Cut on zero, the

sound was pure Queen. Manipulating the

various phase switch and pickup combinations

on the Red Special gave me easy access

to “Brighton Rock,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,”

and “Killer Queen” tones. Without the benefit

of May’s Rangemaster driving the front

end, the British Dream didn’t deliver quite

as much gain as Brian’s tone, yet the amp

could still be aggressively bright. Adjusting

the Top Cut moved me to a more tame and

contoured treble edge.

With an Epiphone Sheraton in hand—a

recipe for Brit Pop nirvana if there ever was

one—the ’59 AC channel took on a very

different character. Even with the volume

set around 2 o’clock, the guitar and amp

seemed linked via a tube-driven central nervous

system. Single notes seemed to leap off

the speaker and chords were rich with harmonics

and sustain, and at times it seemed

you could feel the Sheraton vibrating in

harmony with the sounds leaping from the

British Power. Because the Sheraton created

a thicker sound than the Red Special,

I opened the volume up all the way, giving

the British Dream a jangling and raw character

that suggested the EF86 was working

overtime. But no matter how hard I pushed

the amp, it never collapsed and the break

up always tended toward sweet saturation.

Without a master volume, 30 watts can

become very loud, so I switched over to

the 15-watt mode. There was a noticeable

volume drop, but not at the expense of

richness or character. In general, pushing

15 watts, the tone was more compressed

and a little smaller sounding at higher settings.

The more obvious difference was

how the power drop affected the feel. From

that perspective, it took a bit more work

to get notes to jump and explode than in

the 30-watt mode. But the convenience of

a lower-power setting is huge. Because 3rd

Power uses a non-master volume design,

this power option really expands the amp’s

potential. [Scott responds: “I agree with this

observation, but I’d like to add that I voiced

the Presence circuit to really have an impact

on half-power mode. If you dial Presence up

to 3 or 4 o’clock, it really makes half-power

mode rock.”]

Removing the back port to better

approximate the open-back feel of an

AC30 opened up the sound significantly,

filling the room with a big, but less directional

sound. It would be nice to make

this change without removing screws, but I

suspect the design keeps the British Dream

from rattling with unwanted vibrations.

There’s nothing in the world quite like the

smack-in-the-face raw power of a great Plexi.

And though the British Dream doesn’t have

the horsepower of your typical Marshall, it

does a fantastic job of capturing that spirit.

With a Gibson Custom 1958 Les Paul Plain

Top VOS, a bump in the mids, and the volume

cranked up to 4 o’clock, the 3rd Power

gave me the familiar power-chord wallop and

sustain I know from my Marshall.

The 3rd Power’s tone controls will be

familiar to any Plexi owner too. The mid

control affects both volume and gain dramatically,

and the midrange cuts in that

special way that screams Marshall. Backing

the volume down to 1 o’clock steered the

Les Paul into AC/DC rhythm territory.

Most interesting was how close the single

12" Celestion came to a 4x12 in terms of

response. Perhaps it didn’t blow my pant legs

like a leaf blower, the way some Marshalls

will. But the dynamics of guitar and speaker

interaction were startlingly similar.

Though the British Dream’s ’68 Plexi

channel has a very distinct, Marshall-like

voice, it still enables the character of individual

guitars to come through loud and

clear. Strats exhibited their signature spank,

and P-90s barked mean and raw. It’s a testament

to good amp design when guitars

retain their personality and character, and

the British Dream walks the line between

transparency and authority with aplomb.

The Verdict

With the British Dream, 3rd Power gives Vox

and Marshall lovers a killer one-two punch

in an amp that’s considerably more compact

and manageable than either of those legends.

The tones are amazingly authentic, if slightly

more modern at times, and the response is

startlingly spot on for a 1x12 combo attempting

to approximate the sound of much more

monstrous cabinets. The addition of the proprietary

cabinet design and removable back

panel gives you both open- and closed-back

sounds in one package.

Personally, I would prefer a single input

and channel switching over dual inputs,

as that design necessitates an A/B box. At

times, I found myself wanting a master

volume or power scaling to bring the levels

down for recording, but the ability to

switch from 30 to 15 watts gets you most

of the way there and is invaluable for a

gigging musician. In the end, 3rd Power

has once again come up with yet another

winning and imaginative design—one your

aching back and bandmates will thank you

for, if you’ve been hauling around an AC30

or plexi to gigs.

Buy if...
you want AC30 and Plexi tones in a single, relatively small package.
Skip if...
you prefer channel switching and a master-volume control.

Street $2699 - 3rd Power -