Albion main man Steve Grindrod logged four decades in design and production for Vox and Marshall in the U.K. To be clear, Albion is Grindrod’s company, but is it also part of the Taiwanese owned IAG (International Audio Group) list of companies. IAG is based in China, and, according to Grindrod (who lives in China and oversees all aspects of Albion design and production), has a very advanced audio factory system, designing and making as much as possible in-house, including all speaker components, transformers, and PCBs.
The Gulf Stream 30 combo expresses its internationalism via a four- 6V6 output section—a surprise, perhaps, given its lineage, but considering Grindrod’s love of Fender Deluxe amps, and his aversion to copying anything he’s done before, it all makes sense. The major goods are centered around the Gulf Stream 30’s very simple Normal (clean) channel and more comprehensively knobbed Boost (lead) channel. The former has just Volume and Tone, as well as a 2-way Voicing switch with “fat” tweed and “scooped” blackface settings. A similar Voicing switch on the Boost channel delivers your choice of chimey “top boost” or thicker Marshall- style tones. A high/low-gain switch further expands the Boost channel’s range, as do independent Gain and Volume controls and a 3-knob tone stack. The Master section has tremolo Depth and Speed, independent reverb controls for each channel, a global Presence and a Master Output control, which works within the power section to govern both preamp and output voltages simultaneously, from ten-percent to full power. Around back there’s a series effects loop, a footswitch connection (4-button footswitch included), and dual speaker outs with an 8Ω/16Ω switch. I’d have expected a direct out of some form here, and also notable is the lack of a standby switch, though, as Steve Grindrod explains, “The circuit has a slow ramp-up, thus eliminating initial surge, and you’d need much higher voltages than the amp uses before any form of cathode stripping or valve damage could occur.”
Inside, the Gulf Stream reveals printed-circuit-board (PCB) construction, with board-mounted pots and jacks. Grindrod emphasizes the overall quality, however, saying “The PCBs are top grade FR4, two-ounce copper double sided—and strategically supported—utilizing silver mica smallvalue caps, top-grade Wima coupling caps, carbon-film or metal-film resistors where appropriate, and high-grade Z11 transformer laminations.” The birch-ply, semi-closed-back cab features dual handles for lugging its considerable 68 lbs, and houses two Albion-designed and built 12" speakers wired in series for a 16Ω load.
Tested with a Les Paul and a Telecaster, the Gulf Stream revealed good versatility, and more than enough volume for large clubs and bigger stages besides. For me, the amp’s soul really lives in its Boost channel, which could arguably have been divided into footswitchable clean/lead options in itself. By comparison, the Normal channel offers American-style clean tones that, while not overly inspiring, provide a selectable foil to whatever crunch or lead tone you dial up elsewhere. But, set Boost to low-gain, voiced for fat, and there’s great tweedish or early Marshall bounce here, which takes on some Voxy shimmer when flipped to “top boost.” My Tele tended to get a little icepicky here, but it smoothed out at high-gain settings, allowing me to roll between chunky plexi rhythm crunch and singing high-gain lead depending on how I balanced the Gain and Volume. Searing stuff when you want it, and bags of fun for everything from Kossoffstyle stompers to proto-metal pyrotechnics, with great low-end thump from this semi-closed cab. There isn’t a ton of clarity or anything approaching boutique-grade depth and sparkle anywhere on the dial, but these are respectable tones nonetheless. The tremolo is very satisfying, but less so the digital reverb, which I found to be overly washy even at low settings, tending to swamp out your tone. Otherwise, all works well enough to make the Albion Gulf Stream 30 another viable alternative in the mid-priced club-combo market.
GULF STREAM 30 COMBO
PRICE $1,199 street
CONTROLS Normal (clean): Volume, Tone, Voice switch; Boost (lead): Gain, Volume, Bass, Middle, Treble, Gain and Voice switches; Master section: tremolo Speed and Depth, reverb level for each channel, Presence, Master Output.
POWER 30 watts
TUBES Three 12AX7s, four Shuguang (China) 6V6 output tubes
EXTRAS Tremolo and Accutronics digital reverb. Series FX loop. Parallel speaker outs with 8/16Ω switch. 4-button footswitch for channel, reverb, tremolo, and loop selection.
SPEAKERS Albion-designed and built Vintage Smooth Response 12"; one medium-magnet 50-watt and one large-magnet 80-watt
WEIGHT 68 lbs
KUDOS Versatile feature set. Good range of clean to scream tones on the Boost channel in particular. Impressive volume.
CONCERNS Reverb is somewhat washy.