Aaron Lehman: How did Oxygen Amps get started?
Cam Leighton: Oxygen amps got its start in September 2008 when Joe and I got together and started kicking around the idea of building electric guitar amps. Joe is a player and electronics buff who had built his own amp. Using Joe’s amp as the prototype, we began the build. The amp was originally conceived as a three channel design incorporating a Hi-Watt type clean channel, a Vox cream channel and a Marshall crunch channel. The concept was to build a hand-wired point-to-point tube amp that would deliver unmatched tone using only the best components. We sourced transformers from Mercury Magnetics, speakers from Scumback, capacitors from Sozo along with the best tubes and components available. Nothing but the best went into the amp. But the amp needed to stand out from the “crowd”. To do this I decided that it not only needed to sound amazing but that it needed to be unique in its look. It had to be able to stand out in an amp room full of gear. It had to catch your eye and make you want to plug into it and play it. So as a result of dozens of design iterations, the “Wine Glass” look was born. It became a modern version of a retro-looking design that incorporates a graceful curving aesthetic and a two-tone tolex scheme to deliver a gorgeous looks. Many players have told us that “It’s a thing of beauty.” It was there that Oxygen Amps was born.
But this was only the start. Joe and I decided to part ways and I was left to complete the project and bring it to market. A long and winding process resulted in a chance meeting between Cory Davies and I. And in 2011 the project was back on track. With his more than 40 years of experience in RF electronics and electric guitar tube amps, Cory took the original concept and modified it extensively to deliver improved sound in a much simpler and more reliable design. Gone was the 3 channel amp in favour of a simpler 2 channel unit. The new amp still delivers three distinct sounding channels through the new design which incorporates a boost function in the clean/crunch channel. Also gone was the complicated switching circuit that just added more components to clutter up the signal path. The result is a quiet amp with bright, clean tones, warm rich cream sounds and a punchy overdrive channel that appeals to a wide range of players and musical genres. Unlike most amps, you can’t even tell when its been turned on. Its that quiet! No feedback, no popping or hissing, no ghost notes, nothing but pure tone!
Aaron: What makes Oxygen Amps different from the rest?
Cam: There are hundreds of boutique amplifiers crowding the marketplace for your attention and dollars. There needs to be a compelling reason to introduce yet another boutique amp. We think we have a number of compelling reasons why any serious player needs to check out Oxygen. We’ve launched our versatile 18W product line (head, 1×12 combo, 2×12 combo) with a number of features and benefits that make this amp unique.
- Ground Plane Design
No other amp uses this proprietary technology. Instead of using eyelet or turret boards which introduce unwanted impedances into the grounding design, we utilize a copper ground plane to effectively eliminate feedback and ghost notes. This style of building is a little more labour intensive but the end result speaks for itself. Its not that other manufacturers couldn’t utilize this same technology its just that our designers have learned the tricks to perfect it over the last 40 plus years. The end result is an amp that delivers nothing but pure tone completely free of unwanted “noise”!
- London Power Scaling
Many other amps have master volume controls, or attenuators or even a version of power scaling. Oxygen is set apart from the others because of our third generation London Power Scaling. This feature allows the power (and thus volume) levels to be reduced to allow the amp to be played at a comfortable volume in smaller venues without losing the saturation, gain and even order harmonics that characterize the amp at higher outputs. On some amps when you turn the volume down to satisfy your sound person you lose that full, rich tone that you work so hard to achieve. Not so with the Oxygen power scaling. Our circuit is completely transparent! By adjusting the volume and gain accordingly you are able to achieve the same tone and gain characteristics at power levels around 1 Watt which is ideal for even the smallest venues. Our builders in conjunction with Kevin O’Connor, the originator of power scaling, have developed the latest iteration of this proven system to reduce power output. Since the Oxygen power scaling reduces power (and thus volume) by reducing voltage to the output stage, the result is clean tone without sacrificing tube life. By contrast, master volume controls just limit the signal to the output stage, not the output stage power. This is fine for preamp distortion but output stage saturation is lost at reduced drive. Attenuators, on the other hand, reduce power output by creating an artificial load after the output stage. This requires the output stage to run at maximum power which negatively impacts transformer and tube life. We are so confident that this is the best way to achieve power scaling that we have licensed the technology from Kevin O’Connor.
- 5879 Tubes In The Cream Channel
Many other players and manufacturers tout the benefits and characteristics of EF86 tubes to deliver warm, full tone with solid mid-range and bass. We wouldn’t argue that point. But we would point out that the major downside to using EF86 tubes is microphonics. That feedback and ringing that you can’t seem to get rid of or maybe even locate are inherent in EF86 tubes. Its something you have to put up with if you are using EF86’s. Its also probably worth mentioning that you will have to replace that EF86 tube one day. Yes it will fail, eventually. And trying to find a good replacement EF86 will be a challenge. If you’re lucky, it will take 10 tubes to find ONE that performs satisfactorily. We, at Oxygen, feel that the downsides to using EF86’s outweigh the benefits particularly when there are other great tubes that deliver exceptional “cream” tone. We have chosen to use the 5879 tube in the cream channel. It produces warm, full tone with solid mids and bass without any of the microphonics that the EF86’s are prone to. Not only that but the consistency from one tube to the next is extremely good. Almost every 5879 can be counted on to provide exceptional sound. You’ll be relieved when you replace the tube one day and the new one delivers tone that is just as good as you’ve come to expect.
Aaron: Do you have any Worship Guitarists in your artist lineup currently?
Cam: We don’t currently have any worship guitarists or churches using the amps. We are working hard to change that.
Aaron: What is the inspiration behind the tone of Oxygen Amps?
Cam: Our amplifiers are inspired by the classic British tones of some of the best amps from the 60’s and 70’s. The objective when we designed the Oxygen was to deliver an exceptionally clean platform that would be a basis for all of the tonal options a player could ever desire. We strived to keep the signal path as uncluttered as we could and purposely left out some of the features like reverb and tremolo that could have made their way into the amp. Because of this we were able to provide a simple but elegant design that delivers nothing but pure tone. Separate inputs guaranteed that issues with internal switching wouldn’t be a factor. The amps accept pedals very well and as a result the player benefits from maximum versatility. Oxygen perform flawlessly for most genres of music, from rock to country, jazz to funk, and blues to worship.
Aaron: What amplifier would you recommend to worship guitarists looking to try out Oxygen?
Cam: Currently we are producing the 18W Ozone series which is available in head, 1×12 & 2×12 combo’s and 2×12 & 4×12 ext cabs. Our best seller is the 18W Ozone 1×12 combo. We will be launching the 36W Ozone models in December just in time for NAMM 2015.