28 August, 2009

Extended Audition: The BIG 300B Tube and Amp Report

Overview: The BIG 300B Tube and Amp Report

First, an overview, and then a 7-part listening chronicle. My listening preference has shifted slightly over time with regards to certain tubes, but these articles written in 2001 still ring mostly true. Later I shall post my current feelings about even more 300B tubes. Almost 10 years later, I'm still listening to 300B, but things have changed a little.

Comparison of 300B tubes: 2001 Overview
(Revised from thread posted here, on 05/07/01)

The current production 300B tubes illustrate one basic point: that competition by manufacturers fuels progress. Let's hope the competition does not proceed to cut-throat level which will surely provoke a decline in quality, reversing the trend of product improvement we have enjoyed.

When I started with the 300B tube several years ago, Chinese and Cetron were almost the exclusive game. Then we got Sovtek, Svetlana, Tesla, re-issue WE, VV (defunct), KR, AVVT, and now Tianjin. Not only that, manufacturers, particularly Chinese ones, have come up with
commendable variations and, more importantly, improvements. The current state is an embarassment of riches.

No 300B test can have ALL 300Bs. I believe our several articles have the LARGEST variety of tubes available in any test, and we have tested the tubes in more amplifiers and configurations. Most of us, especially me and Andy have lived with a variety of tubes for many years and have intimate knowledge of our own, as well as each others' systems. I have not tested the Sovtek this round as a friend recently destroyed 2 filaments of one of mine and the other is orphaned (had NEVER happened to me; just don't pull on those things when hot) but that is an excellent tube for the price. I also had run a pair of Cetron for a long time many years ago. It was smooth but
lacked some resolution and air and I preferred the Sovtek in the AN kit one, at that time my only 300B amp.

No test can seriously A/B all tubes in one setup. Indeed it is my personal belief such A/B test is non-optimal and ultimately not helpful. I do believe there are no best tubes, and those serious about sound know things are system dependent. Our tests offer an interesting variety of amps and operating conditions, and carefully readers will even note that I repudiated myself from time to time. Such is the nature of things.

We should be humble in scrutinizing our own opinions. We should be proud that we enjoy the music so much and that we lsiten to such a large variety of serious music. Indeed it was a joy to have a teenager bringing his so-so recording (sound-wise) of Shostakovich largo to test out tube gears! And yes it was sometimes a chore to have to wait for the violin to emerge from Beethoven's long lead-in. But all was ultimately joy. Yes, the joy was in the music and 300B is the great messenger, better than most over-rated tubes.

I enjoyed most of the tubes. There's plenty of room for "error" in the views, but I do believe NO ONE is immune. If I am forced to make a summary, here it is:

Original WE, Tianjin meshplate, Svetlana
These are my absolute favorites. The TJ mesh is surprisingly similar to the WE. I do not agree with those saying it has a different sound. As a matter of fact the TJ is closer sounding to NOS WE than the re-issue WE. The Svetlana has a different sound, with some of the characters of other tubes, but it is a good boogie tube that keeps the refinement. I would keep it in this august company and do not regard it as inferior to TJ mesh, at the same price point too.

Sovtek, Valve Art (both versions), non-mesh Tianjin (ST and globe)
These are basic tubes with balanced virtues but a somewhat over-excited top, but used correctly would give a lot of pleasure. The best starter tubes for the budget minded.

Tesla, KR, AVVT, re-issue WE
These share some interesting characteristics that have NOTHING to do with the original WE 300B. Our listening favors KR which may be the best sounding tube in this group, with Tesla last. I have heard good performance of re-issue WE300B in 1 system, so care is needed. And it
cannot be emphasized enough that run-in is perhaps most important for this group and evaluation likely to be most erroneous. Problem is, people will only run in very expensive tubes like re-issue WE...

Cetron
Very warm and suitable to lean and over-revealing systems.

Evaluation is not meant to be inflammatory. Your mileage may vary, even greatly. With due respect, reading Thorsten's and the old TNT and Stereophile reviews, I agree with many points and disagree with as many. Your inputs are MOST welcome.

Lastly, we have no ties with ANY company, though some testing was done at Opera.

Listening Log
1. Part 1.
(Revised from thread posted here, on 22/06/01)

I was lucky that I got hold of a pair of Tianjin (Fullmusic) meshplate 300B to play for a while. Preliminary listening is very encouraging. As personally I always thought 3-note shootouts to be not desirable, I decided, what the hell, I'm going to seriously evaluate these, and in the process, test again all my 300B amps and 300B tubes. This is going to take many parts.

As summer has fully pressed upon us, I have gone into my small room for daily listening. This 80 ft room has the quieter and smaller (energy-saving) air conditioner. Following is the stuff I used for testing, which may change as test progresses, as the aim is to bring out the best in each.

FRONT END
-Micromega Drive 1/VdH Optocoupler/Micromega DAC.

PREAMP
-None used for amps with volume knob (Advance and AN kit one)(CD direct in, passive attenuation).
-For pure amps (AES-1) I use either the Audio Synthesis Passion V passive preamp, or if necessary, the Fisher 400C.

INTERCONNECT
-Taiwan military teflon silver cables into amp.
-When preamp is used, VdH Second from CD to preamp


AMPS

-AES-1 (Cary) 300B kit, original version, but upgraded with a load of boutique parts like Hexfreds, Cardas and Tiffany posts, Kimber caps and a pair of AN copper-in-foil caps. ss rectification. Fixed bias, with one adjustment for total of both channels. 1x 6SL7 and 1x 300B
per channel. Ken Rad silver plate 6SL7 used. This amp is highly revealing but a bit lean and un-involving, so a challenge. More details here.

-Advance 300B kit. This Japanese kit is one of my favorites. 1x 6AN8 (don't tell that to Joe Rosen) and 1x 300B per channel. Sylvania 6AN8 used. Stock except for Black Cat couplings caps. Meter and 2 pots bias the 2 tubes individually. Fine, warm sound, no doubt partly attributable to some NFB (no-no in some people's book, but not mine). Not as powerful, but nice.

-Audio Note kit one. On loan to a friend but soon to be back. Stock. 5U4 rectification. 1x 300B per channel, together driven by 1x 6SN7 and 2x 5687 (in SRPP). Will use RCA smoke glass VT231, Sylvania JAN 5687WB. This IMHO is THE most powerful 300B amp.

SPEAKERS
-TAD 300 used mainly, placed close to wall.
-Spendor original SP1 for comparison.

SPEAKER CABLES
-For TAD, original simple twisted stranded copper.
-Goertz cheapest copper for comparison.

SOFTWARE AND APPROACH
I'm going to spend a lot of time listening to various CDs, but for each combination I'll listen to a few fixed CDs:

-Brahms piano concerto #2, Katchen/LSO/Ferenscik (Decca)(Superb sound in bargain 2fer, sounding like Kingsway/Wilkinson type of thing, but uncredited, a recent favorite)
-Burmester CD II, various tracks, Ricky Lee Jones, Inbal/Weiner Symphoniler/Shostakovich #9, Von Otter sings Handel.
-Bach partita #2, chaconne, Menuhin (EMI), mono (sound good but difficult to make appealing due to Meunuin's style; a challenge)
-Teresa Tang (Polydor)


First 2 nights I played with both the AES and the Advance. With 2 amps one has the advantage that one can insert tubes in the idle amp (it is NOT advisable to change tubes hot, sure to kill weak filaments). I started with the Advance amp. For 300B I started with the long familiar Valve Art (VA), then Tianjin (TJ).

I quickly determined that using the preamp was not beneficial to the Advance, which already has volume knobs. With CD direct in. Sound into TAD was a good match. The TAD has ultra-analytical power. You hear SO much it is almost annoying sometimes. Fingers striking on the board, pages turning. The Advance smooths this out a bit. Without the preamp the Advance had the more natural flow. With loud passages the congestion was still a little annoying with the VA. This disappeared almost completely with the TJ. One immediately noticed that things are
a bit rounder at the leading edges. But importantly the scale was preserved (no mean feat to improve smoothness of attack and preserve scale), and the energy and presence of the Valve Art was not lost either. At this point I listened to several hours of CDs and I had absolutely no fatigue and enjoyed all the discs. No doubt the TJ is great for long term listening.

The TJ also needed a slightly longer warm-up to reach steady state. Within one minute it will clip. One tube has slightly dimmer outer filaments, but sound was unaffected.

Moving on to the AES proved a lot more troublesome. To be honest when I got this amp, with original Sovtek 6SL7 and Sovtek 300B I played it with the TAD. I was astonished by the brutally revealing nature of it, but I was not happy as it did not have the boogie factor. Perhaps it was "upgraded" too much that musicality vaporized. Recently I returned from the USA and brought back some Ken Rad silver plate 6SL7, the best in the business (yes, those UK "equivalents" are very bad). OK, with the KR 6SL7 on board and VA 300B the sound was quite a bit more refined, indeed almost musical. I started using the Audio Synthesis passive, and had to advance the volume to 3 o'clock to have good sound pressure, so the input sensitivity is lowish. But there still was considerably more grittiness than using the Advance amp. The lean nature had some advantage. Piano was better rendered, with the resonances clear, like the piano top had been opened. Clearly there were some good things but the AES must have particular attention paid
to matching. The Goertz fleshed out things a bit but lost the improvement in the piano. Switching to the SP1 mellowed out the sound quite a bit. Really more musical but the slight veiling and loss of details were palpable and difficult to accept after TAD. Switching to the Fisher preamp, volume around 12 o'clock, the effect was similar to the change to SP1. I decided to stick to the AD, original cables, and Audio Synthesis for the AES.

And then I changed to TJ in the AES. Predictably the leanness was ameliorated, not completely but by half. Things were still sharper than the Advance but the pro's and con's now became more even, and listenable too. Things were really quite fine except massed strings which still were a bit too thin, but this may be the TAD's Archilles' heel anyway. The Burmester CD, Teresa, all beautifully rendered. The only area in which the VA was not bettered was piano tone, with the TJ a bit fat and muddy there. Playing Menuhin again just confirmed that the playing was still not appealing. TJ could not do that, so was not over-decorating the music (IMHO Menuhin needed that).

One thing I need to mention. This used pair of TJ 300B biased quite a bit differently than my other 300Bs. I had to turn the bias pot quite a bit more clockwise (a few hours) on BOTH Advance and AES. The difference is greater than any of the 300Bs, usually within 1-2h. That
probably indicated the conductance characteristic is possibly quite different, or possibly aging effect. The 2 tubes also did not bias quite the same in my Advance, indicating not quite a matched pair. This has implication. As the AES can only bias 2 tubes together, that means for unmatched tubes it was wise to bias low for safety. I adjusted the AES to be 100-105 mA. Ideally it should be 130 mA for a matched pair, meaning 65 mA each tube. In this
situation who knows I may still be getting 60 mA in 1 tube and 40 mA in the other, with the total 100mA (though I doubt the difference is that much). So I played safe. The bias held rock steady in both amps though, with no nasty fluctuation, and that was nice.

2. Part 2.
(Revised from thread posted here, on 26/06/01)

Over this weekend I finally had a bit of time, and the weather was not THAT hot. So I took the AES amp out to the living room and hooked it up to the La Scala. Totally different setup:

SOURCE
-either the Quad 67 cdp or PS Audio Lambda/Illuminati/Monarchy 18B. The former is very musical but the latter is more hifi, with excellent resolution.

PREAMP
-Wai Lee. 1/2 6SN7 transformer output. Using generic GE 6SN7. I used an old RCA 5Y3 rectifier.

AMP
-AES-1, with KR silver plate 6SL7 and TJ meshplate 300B.

CABLES
-MIT Terminator 3 interconnect throughout. Cloth WE (thin red) for speaker cables.

ADDITIONAL SOFTWARE
-Beethoven Symphony #9. Krips/LSO (Vanguard)
-ditto. Zinman/Zurich Tonhalle (Arte Nova)
-ditto. Wand/NDR orchestra (RCA)
-Chevalier de Saint Georges, violin concerti, Nishizaki/Cologne chamber orchestra/Muller-Bruhl (Naxos)
-Bruckner Symphony #3. Bohm/VPO (Decca)


This marked the first time I listened to the La Scala in months. Ever since I got the lowther I concentrated on the lowther to make it sound better and better. That was NOT because I preferred the Lowther. On the contrary, I prefer the La Scala, but it was interesting working on
the Lowther.

I was literally floored listening to the La Scala again. Unparalleled presence and rhythm and timing, and just a big wallop of sound. How delightful.

With the admittedly milder cabling in the living room, sound was eminently musical. As a matter of fact, The AES with TJ mesh sounded great! I now have the additional query of whether I had under-estimated the AES, or if the TJ made things much more musical, or both. But that is for later.

There is no doubt that the qualities observed of this TJ meshplate before (vs VA) shone even more in the large room. The smooth leading edge is very much in evidence. I put on the Vanguard Beethoven (have never listened before, excellent performance) and was very pleased by the excellent scale and smoothness. What REALLY astounded me was the very defined vocal image. This was much sharper than I remembered with the La Scala. To confirm I played the other 2 versions of the 9th that I have played many times before. No question, the sense of scale and definition had better subtle gradation than before. A delight in the last movement of the 9th because of its large and varied forces. Similarly, the Vienna brass in Bruckner (LOTS of them) howled with fabulous full tone, surely a reason why we use horns.

After the Beethoven and Bruckner, I changed the source from Quad to my just-returned PS Audio/Monarchy combo, and played the violin concerti. This front end can sound a trifle hard with the violins but not this time. Beautifully clear and involving violin.

I would think all this due to the TJ mesh, but I shall change tubes later in the AES to confirm. But so far so good.

3. Part 3.
(Revised from thread posted here, on 27/06/01)

Thanks to the seemingly non-ending rainstorms I got to spend a surprising amount of time at home. So last night, after a pint or 2 (none for the road, :-)), and after cooking myself a vegetarian dinner, I continued the 300B test. Setup exactly the same as Part 2. I refreshed myself with the sound of TJ meshplate. Then I tried to change to Tesla.

What a bummer! The base of the Tesla was a little too big for the depressed socket, so this tube CANNOT be used in the AES. Will have to do this with another amp.

What then? OK, my favorite Svetlana then! So I installed them. This is a matched pair but I decided to bias them at the same point used for the TJ mesh (105 mA for 2 channels). Fair?

What do you know! Sound is really quite different from the TJ meshplate. There is no doubt that, despite the smooth leading edge and excellent scale of the TJ mesh, these are surpassed by the Svetlana. The Svet has the denser texture and better control. And though the leading edge is a tad wirier than the TJ mesh it does not detract from the overall dynamic superiority. The boogie factor is in full force. But most of all, the Svet plays louder passages more composed. With the TJ mesh I haven't previously mentioned that with large volume the sound still whites out and flattens out a bit (though already superior to VA). This does not happen with the Svet. The Svet/AES kept its composure with loud passages, with excellent instrumental separation
and bass texture. There is something else difficult to describe. The Svet simply has superior 3D feel, imparting the feeling of greater texture.

The performance of the AES is more than a little unexpected. As a matter of fact, it is on full par with my other amps. I should retract some of my less kind words on AES before. As used here, it has excellent timbre rendition and instrumental outline. Imaging is superior.

I suspect the results will vary with the bias. At 105 mA this is lowish for 300B, but I think I like it very much, and shall continue testing the other tubes in AES at this bias point. Perhaps a little
lowish but there may be something to gain too. If I do get another pair of matched TJ mesh I shall try a higher bias on both of these tubes again.

4. Part 4.
(Revised from thread posted here, on 28/06/01)

Thanks again to the cool weather I was able to continue testing in my big room.

I substituted the Audio Note Kit One for the AES, and inserted the Sevtlana ("autobias"). Contrary to my usual practice of direct in, I kept the preamp to make a comparison with the AES. Sylvania 5U4GB, NU black glass 6SN7, Tungsol 5687.

Additional music played: Buena Vista Social club's Ibrahim Ferrer and Ruben Gonzalez CDs (World), and Sibelius symphonies #4, 2, and 3, Babirolli/Halle (EMI) (yes, 3 in one evening).

The difference of the 2 amps are clear enough. The kit one remains the more powerful amp, handling any climaxes with more headroom. It brings even further smoothness and refinement to the Svetlana, removing the (very) little bit of sizzle in the top (when in the AES). It is
noticeably slower than the AES though. The separation of instruments is a tad (but just) not as crisp as the AES, but dynamic gradations and turns are even more graceful. Only when the quavers get really complicated, as in symphony #3, did I miss a little more separation and a faster speed.

So another splendid outing. I would like to try next the Tesla, Sovek and KR. And if I get another pair of TJ meshplate I would love to test it in the 450V operation of kit one.

5. Part 5;
(Revised from thread posted here, on 29/06/01)

Last night I took the big plunge. And what a pleasant surprise!

Eager to hear more of the TJ mesh, I threw caution out of the window and inserted them in my autobias AN Kit One. This is having them work at considerably higher disspation than the AES SE-1. And HOW beautiful they sounded!

I had to listen really hard to compare the performance with the Svetlana. Execept ONE thing, which is soon noticeable. The TJ mesh sounded faster than the Svetlana in the Kit One. This is without sacrificing ANY of the smooth leading edge.

And unlike in the AES, the TJ mesh yielded little to the Svetlana. If anything it was a wee bit smoother in the upper midrange. It was fully dynamic, with none of the whitening-out noted in the AES. The Svetlana still have the upper hand in density of texture. The TJ meshplate was a shade lightweight in comparison, but that, together with the faster speed, had the occasional advantage of sounding more buoyant and airy, especially with jazz cymbals and percussion, though this was by no means always evident with other music. As I said you have to listen real hard to tell. With bopping music it was also apparent that the boogie factor is a bit below Svetlana.

Additional software: City of Sadness, soundtrack (Flying Saucer). Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues, Scherbakov (Naxos).

With this superior performance, it appeared that TJ mesh preferred to be run at higher dissipation. It would be interesting to run it in the AES at 130-140 mA if I have a real matched pair. We shall find out more about it when I take it to Andy's rig this weekend. His DIY 300B
amp runs at only 300V or so!!!!

6. Part 6.
(Revised from thread posted here, on 03/07/01)

Thanks to the bad weather and the successive long weekends, I managed to get a lot of work done this past weekend (due to rain, no laundry though, :-()! System stayed the same.

Additional music played: Mozart symphony #40. Wagner, Celibidache/Munich (EMI).

I need to clarify one fact. I just confirmed the AN kit one actually works at ~380V and not 450V. So nothing unusual.

I inserted the Valve Art into the kit one. One immediately noticed coarsening of the treble. With warm up this improved but was never on the same level of TJ. Indeed the whole texture was slightly coarser than both the Svet and TJ. The ability to play loud as well as the scale were both slightly restricted. It was faster than the Svetlana but did not have quite the same boogie factor. But it was an even performer that had no overly weak areas. Unlike...

Then I tried out the Tesla, which was my least run-in pair, with probably <80 style="font-weight: bold; color: rgb(255, 0, 0);">7. Part 7.
(Revised from thread posted here, on 05/07/01)

OK, write this part before the impending typhoon reaches me...Has anyone read "Man in the holocene"?

Sunday night and Monday I took the TJ mesh to 2 persons' homes and tested it out. This is possibly the most important part of this mammoth series.

First system (Andy's):

Marantz CD7/Michell Orbe/SMEV/Benz Ruby/Benz phonoamp/DIY 6SN7 transformer oputput preamp (using RCA 5692)/DIY amp using 5U4 rectification, 1x 12AX7 (Forgot which expensive one) and 1x 300B per channel [Note: these have unusual operating conditions as it was really an 2A3 amp with changed filament; Opearting at 240V and 70 mA]. Into Tannoy Canterbury HE (so this can approximate Thorsten's setup a bit more than mine). Tara labs Decade and Air cabling.

CDs used: Burmester CDII; Mozart piano concerto #23, Bilson/Gardner (DG). LP used: Paganini violin concerto #1, Rabin (Classics re-issue).

First up was REAL NOS WE, 1951 matched pair. These have been used maybe 50 hrs? For those with long memories, initial sounding was good (better than new re-issue WE when new) but not quite beautiful nor relaxing as my very old pair. Sound now was excellent, indeed best
sound Andy had obtained with this amp (yes, better than this amp with RCA 2A3 which we found ultimately inadequate for Tannoy). It sounded rich, with no artificial forcing of any passages, and indeed remarkable with LP (yes, better than CD of course). Looked like TJ would be in trouble.

So we swapped the TJ in. Surprise!!! Excellent and on a par! Much of the smoothness was comparable. Indeed the TJ was smoother in some passages though violin had a wee bit of edge that yielded slightly to the WE. The TJ sounded a bit faster and more involving and you could
listen at a lower volume. The TJ was a wee bit muted at top compared to the WE. But the astonishing thing was that they sounded mostly ALIKE! How about that! For Andy, as TJ was not really better, he would continue using the WE (lucky him), and for me I see no reason not to
go with TJ. Everyone was happy.

Then we tried out the KR 300B. We expected maybe some disappointment? But surprise, it performed rather well! It had the denser texture mentioned about Tesla and re-issue WE (NOT present in the NOS WE300B) but it was more balanced, with reasonable rendering of harmonics and less shut-in quality. Bass was tight but good. Scale and rhythm and pace were good. A very clean sound. Indeed of this type of more uptight sound we both have found KR better. With some more playing (these were 30 hrs?) maybe a bright future ahead? Not quite as
beautiful as WE and TJ, but a dignified performance.

And thanks Andy and his wife for an excellent dinner. Much appreciated.

Second system:
Sony ?B940 SACD/CD player (this is the cheap but top-rated one by UK mags)/Audion Silver Night (Amperex Holland 6DJ8, Tungsol 5687) into Lowther Acousta (Opera Audio's version). Mostly DIY cabling.

SACD software: Vivaldi, Four seasons, Stern/Israel chamber (Sony); Kunzel/Cincinati pops DSD. Supplemented by CDs: Beethoven, violin concerto, Perlman (EMI); Shostakovich symphony #5 and Tchaikovsky symphony #6. Mravinsky (Victor); miscellaneous vocal recordings.

Paradoxically we (friend of host and his classical music fanaftic teenage son [who brought the Mravinsky's], and I) found the SACD player to be quite shrill with SACD, and the on deck DAC was not as good the digital out connected to a Musical Fidelity X24k DAC, which we ended up using except for the SACDs.

First up was the host's newly bought WE re-issue 300B. These are brand new and <15 hrs run-in, so take these with a grain of salt. The sound was a bit like the Tesla sound described last time. At small volume, good and dense mid-range texture which is however somewhat shut-in,
with shortchanging of harmonics and short decay (not a good thing for Lowther), thus accentuating the upper treble. Scale was somewhat compressed and bass was one-note and so-so. With louder volume there was shouting. As I know the Audion quite well, I estimate the rhythm and timing to be a bit better than Tesla though. These WE need much run in but some of the sonic characteristics is just as I remembered.

The TJ mesh were substituted and, BINGO, all problems were gone. Music smoothed out, regained scale and dynamics, with better and elastic bass. Air and harmonics returned. What more could we say! Unanimous decision.

Then the crowd drove to Andy's place and enjoyed his system (with 1951 WE 300B) and he played a few LPs. Viva analogue: Beethoven, piano concerto #5 Bishop/Davis (Philips); Rimsky-Korsakov, Scheherazade, Reiner/Chicago (Classics); Wagner, ride of the Valkyries, Boult/LPO (EMI).

With this part I think I shall draw a line and finish the 300B series. Indeed I had tried my best to try out various tubes in various amps and places. Not all combinations were possible (nor deserving). Together with the 300B tube and amps summaries, which I shall write soon, these will form the inaugural 300B issue for the magazine, and hopefully people will find it useful. No meaningless 3-note shootouts here.

I shall continue experimenting with other combo's, especially the tubes that did not do well (this is what I really like rather than proclaiming something as the best). E.g., I had put in the Tesla in my Advance and the results were promising, and I will run the Tesla in some more (and the re-issue WE 300B owner will too for sure), so more fun are coming.

Buying Guide: Akihabara, Tokyo

Buying Guide: Akihabara, Tokyo

The articles concentrate mostly on SE amps, a Japanese specialty. Read them in sequence:

1. Akihabara and Japanese Amp Kits. Part I.
(Updated and edited from threads originally posted by Hoi here, on 19/09/01)

As some of you might know, I am really into amp kits these days and bought some Japanese Tube Amp Kits last month. I am still waiting for some of them to arrive. But I did bring home myself a couple of them, the Elekit TU-870 (6BM8x2) and TU873 (6SN7x2 and 300Bx2; not in production).

It was the first time I visited Tokyo. Before I went there, I didn't have any idea what to do. Just had a hotel reserved in Ikebukuro (had no idea where it is). However I wanted to go to Sun Audio in Akihabara to audition the VT-25 and 6V6 single-ended amp. Apparently, very few
people in Hong Kong are interested in these amps and both the amps and the kits were not available in Hong Kong at the time before my trip (this was when Reference Audio just took up Sun).

I arrived Tokyo Narita Airport at about 4 pm. Took some time to go through the immigration (need a visa if you stay more than 72 hours) and when I arrived the baggage claim area, I found all my baggage LOST! GOOD!! No need to go to the hotel now. Go straight to Akihabara!

Took the JR (Japan Railway) Narita Express (expensive and there are better choice) to downtown Tokyo and switched to JR Yamanote line to Akihabara. It was already quite late when I arrived. Did spend some time walk around and get myself familiar with the area a bit. Had some cheap Japanese set rice dinner, which was good, and then looked for the hotel. The next morning, had a heavy breakfast. Did some reading about Japan and things that interested me in a bookstore, got myself a map and head for Akihabara.

SUN AUDIO (Click for website) : Went there first. Address is: 2-23-9, Kanda Suda-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, 101-0041, Japan. Get out of the railway station at the electronic shopping area exit, walked toward Man-Sei bridge direction, yes there is a river there. Crossed the bridge and made a left. It's on that street. Sun Audio is difficult to find. It's upstairs and there is no sign. But downstairs, there are three Hino Audio stores that sell DIY stuff. Sun is upstairs directly above one of these three stores.

Spent almost two hours there audition different amps. The staff (Mitsuru san the son, and father) spoke English and was very helpful and polite. Spent some money and wase very happy. He even introduced me to the area where I can found some amp kits and gave me a MJ Audio Technology Magazine where there are a lot of advertisements about shops and amp kits.

HINO AUDIO (Click for website): Downstairs in Hino, they have Elekit pre- and power amp kits (website), Acoustic Masterpieces M101 SE KT-88 amp and pre amp kits (may not be manufactured now; AM is Air Tight kit division) and other tube amp products as well. In one of their shops, there are a lot of Speaker kits as well.

AUDIO PROFESSOR INC (Click for website). is another shop that I went. Do not have their English address. They have a lot of amp kits available, like EL 156 PP, 6V6 PP, KT-66 PP, 12E1 PP, 300B SE, 6C33CB SE and SEPP OTL, 2A3 SE…etc. Have not seen these before and they seem to be on the expensive side. The shop also has a lot of DIY tube stuff.

Right outside the electronic shopping area exit, there is a couple of shopping buildings in the front. On the fourth floor of one these building (sorry, can't remember exactly where it is and don't have their address). There are some shops that carried tube amp kits. I saw kits from Advance Audio (click for website), Tonal Control and some other companies that I have no information.

There are actually a lot more DIY stuff, especially tube audio, in Akihabara. Since I only spent one afternoon there and interested only in amp kits at the moment, can't tell you more about it. This is all I have for amp kits.

Japan is a very interesting country. Although there are things that I don't like about Japan, people are in general very friendly and polite. I will visit there again. Next time when you were there, let me know if you have more information about Japanese amp kits and what you got.


2. Akihabara and Japanese Amp Kits. Part II.
(Updated and edited from threads originally posted by me here, on 19/11/02)

Before proceeding a good map is essential. One of the best is here. Sorry this map is Japanese only, but with careful recognition of landmarks, and by printing out and circling wanted destinations I believe even westerners can get to the places we mention. Feedback would be welcome. Please note that although the link still works, I am not at all sure this is the same map as before. I cannot find the numerical figures referred to in this Part. While I search, please disregard the numbers and concentrate on the descriptions. Also, these numerals do NOT refer to the additional map at the end of the Blog. Most important to note on the map are several things:

(1) the NORTH sign in the upper left corner for orientation.

(2) the avenue (called "central avenue") that runs north-south on the map (center axis)

(3) You can click on any of the numerals to get a detailed pic on any area.

(4) Please also note the Kanda river that runs east-west, seen on the map between 2 and 5/7. The Mansei Bridge crosses it.

> better choice) to downtown Tokyo and switched to JR Yamanote line to
> Akihabara.

The JR line is NOT the major metro, but free to Japan Rail pass holders. The station is in the center of things. Find this in the left lower center of map, orange "JR". This is good for accessing the greater Akihabara, but not SUN AUDIO and HINO, as detailed below. Watch that there are many exits. I recommended you use exit SOUTH as reference.

> Went to SUN AUDIO first. Got out of the railway station at the electronic shopping area exit,
> walked toward Man-Sei bridge direction, yes there is a river there.Crossed the bridge and
> made a left. It's on that street. Sun Audio is
> difficult to find. It's upstairs and there is no sign. But
> downstairs, there are three Hino Audio stores that sell DIYstuff.Sun
> is upstairs directly above one of these three stores.

If you want to start with these stores by metro, the alternative and easy way is to take the metro GINZA line, to KANDA station. KANDA station would be JUST outside the southern edge of the map (or click on "1"). When you get out, walk NORTH (use map "1" now) and you will notice the Mansei bridge and the river in front of you. Use map "2" now and the stores would be just before the river, on the DIAGONAL street on the map, close to the jumble of letters.

> Spent almost two hours there audition different amps. The staff
> spoke English and was very helpful and polite.

The father spoke little but was very nice. Son Mitsuru spoke more and I had a good chat over coffee with him. If you go, please tell him that doctorjohn and the professor (Hoi) from Hong Kong say hello.

To me without a question one of the most worthwhile product is the SUN VT-25 amp. You can write them IN ADVANCE requesting a 110 or 220V version to be picked up yourself. AND I was told buy Hoi you can specify a special version that has a 16 ohm tap (the regular version only 8 ohm). Pleaes note that the cheaper 6V6 kit could also be converted to VT-25 although you would have to fit new sockets etc etc. I picked up the VT-25 kit when I was there.Watch out that some other stores and SUN charges a few percent for credit card.

> some amp kits and gave me a MJ Audio Technology Magazine where there
> are a lot of advertisements about shops and amp kits.

This magazine has all the stores and is a must for Chinese who can at least deal with the Japanese idiograms. An old copy will do just as well.

> HINO AUDIO, they have Elekit pre- and power amp kits, Acoustic Masterpieces M101 SE
> KT-88 amp and pre amp,kits and other tube amp products as well. In one of their shop,
> there are a lot of Speaker kits as well.

Yes, worth visiting. Worth purchasing are the ELEIKIT 6BM8 kit and perhaps the matching preamp (it's cheap and even has phono), but sadly the CD kit appears to be out of production and cannot be found in Akihabara. Acoustic Masterpiece is I think kit versions of AIR TIGHT, with nice and upmarket chassis and Tamura trans, but based on the underperforming and expensive KT88 SE amp I heard before these may have beautiful sound but lack life, hence not at all the value SUN offers. You may also consider buying FOSTEX and PIONEER stuff, particularly fullranges and supertweeters. I particularly loved the mini-A5 speaker cabinets.

> Right outside the electronic shopping area exit, there is a couple of shopping buildings in the front. On the fourth floor of one these
> building (sorry, can't remember exactly where it is and don't have
> their address). There are some shops that carried tube amp kits.Isaw
> kits from Advance, Tonal Control and some other companies that I have no information.

This building is a must. I think this is Radio Kaikan building, though I may be mistaken. Please go to map "6". I believe it is the building with the "P". Escalators or lifts take you to the 4th floor. Some shops have good prices (bought my ELEKIT there). You can also get DENON cartridges there. The 103R is a good buy but the regular 103 is more expensive than in Germany. You may also consider the cheap and well made DENON MC-stepup. There is somewhere also 2 ground floor shops.

Diagonally across the street, under the railroad tracks, are buildings on the ground floors of which there was a maze lined by little shops. Very few had audio stuff, but I sighted some, and one of them carried the AUDIO TECHINCA ART2000 cartridge, a good buy, though perhaps not for theose who prefer to indiscriminately drown in saliva of female singers.

Crossing the major central avenue to the other side there are tons more shops, but fewer audio ones. There are 2 of note:

-A TUBE shop. Prices not too bad. This is in the middle of map "12". Shop is tucked way inside a building, but there is a display of tubes at the entrance of the building, which opens onto one of the narrow east-west streets (I believe the one closer to the tracks).

-ISHIGAWA megastore. This is left upper corner of map "12". there are several stores in the area but this one has hifi. Not that much but I bought my one of my ART and 103R cartridges there. This is a DUTY-FREE shop so producing your passport can save you the VAT though you need to fill out forms which have to be handed to IMMIGRATION upon exiting japan. Staff spoke good English. A note here. Some of the smaller stores (probably just as reliable in Japan, an honest place) have lower prices but no tax exempt, so compare savings.

> AUDIO PROFESSOR INC. is another shop that I went. Do not have their
> English address They have a lot of amp kits available
> before and they seem to be on the expensive side.

Expensive. And store is very difficult to get to. Look for sign outside of building. I believe the store is in the upper right block of map "11", close to "NEC" but clsoer to the east-west street
represented by the red line just between maps "11/12" and "15". On this street very close to Audio Professor is a hifi store (small but 3 stories) that sells both new and used hifi. I saw the cheapest price for the DENON MC-stepup (after I bought one) there.

Close to map "21", maybe one grid further north? (can't remmeber) is a HiFiDo (website)shop difficult to find [秋葉原店 〒101-0021 東京都千代田区外神田5-3-12清和ビル1F B1F (03)5818-4751] . Saw some LPs there (bought 2). But for LPs LeeHC's guide is better.

The SINJUKU area also has 2 shops that I visited. One was tucked into a residential complex with a garden. The other had James transformers and a pair of WE 92Amps!!!! They have a
lot of vintage stuff.

Please feel free to correct errors and add info.

3. Good English Akihabara Guide in TNT-Enjoythemusic, written by a Japanese audio person. I think Radio Kaikan is the building I mentioned in my post.

4. Additional Info. Something loaman9 wrote reminded me that I had visited the very large main store of AUDIO UNION before. See map below. Click for website. This shop is as worthwhile as HiFiDo and easier to find. I have not visited the other stores, like the one in Shinjuku.

Additional Maps below



27 August, 2009

Extended Audition: 300B shootouts

Extended Audition: 300B shootouts

300B review: The Longest Day

(from the thread here, on 28/05/2001)

In Memoriam Stanley Chu

"...Saturday May 26th was the longest day. A horde (including Captain, Andy L, TKL, Hoi, Patrick, as well as a few people I have never met before, like Eric and friends) invaded the beachhead at Opera Audio (held by Stan C and Byron), and a long battle of 300B was fought, with surprisingly little casualty though. The event was also spiced by the appearance of Eric's DIY 45 amp (which will be discussed in another post).

GEARS
-----
-Marantz CD72 as transport
-MUSE DAC (of some import, as will be revealed in another post, note this is a LOW output one, <1mv) style="font-weight: bold;">Consonance preamp and 300SE monoblocks. The 300B amp was
running at 390V and 78 mA.
-We chose the new Lowther Fidelio (with PM6A) for testing (another thread will be posted re: Acousta vs Fidelio).

300B lineup (in order of appearance)
------------------------------------
1. Valve Art (VA) nickel plate. Courtesy Opera. Run-in.
2. VA copper plate (new model). Courtesy Opera. New.
3. Tianjin (TJ) ST bottle. Courtesy bcherry. New.
4. KR. Courtesy Andy L. Virtually new.
5. Well-Used (indeed worn) Western Electric (1955). My pair. Test low
non-matched. of course thoroughly run-in!
6. TJ globe (same structure as ST). Courtesy bcherry. New.
7. AVVT. Courtesy Eric. New.
8. Svetlana. My pair. Run-in.
9. Tesla. Courtesy Opera. ~run-in.
10. VA nickel plate (1) again as memory refresher.

MUSIC USED
----------
From Burmester Test CD-II. Tracks 9 and 12 nearly played in full;
track 8 briefly last.
-Track 9 Rickie Lee Jones (dynamic track, with groovy rhythm, big
swings in vocal)
-Track 12 Von Otter sings Handel (baroque strings, VERY high notes)
-Track 8 (HDCD)(?Dallas band?) briefly, large orchestral dynamics.
Drums, brass.

RESULTS
-------
Let me say right off, that ON THAT DAY, WITH THE GEARS USED, AND MUSIC PLAYED, sound was UNIFORMLY excellent..Big, warm and dynamic for such a hugh showroom. I think most of those present would agree that the differences between the 300Bs tended to be small, even trivial. THIS IS IN CONTRAST TO SOME OTHER REPORTS. We will discuss why this may be so later.

Testing so many (we went from 4 to 7 pm, with interlude of 45 amp), and with the small spread, it's difficult to describe the differences. My own impressions:

VA nickel, VA copper: Sound similar but difference is clear. Very even virtues, with slight treble grain. Good scale. The difference of the copper is real enough, a bit richer and smoother in the midrange. Both these tubes have a sheen and energy that give good presence.

TJ coke and globe: These brand new tubes sounded the same, so the envelope made little difference. They also surprisingly sounded similar to the VA, retaining the good scale and energy, but also with some difference. They are a bit more composed and easeful. Slightly less grain on top, at the expense of a little loss of air and presence. Its bass seems a trifle shy. These last features are a bit similar to NEW WE, KR and AVVT.

KR, AVVT: These sound more similar than different, despite all the war of words between the 2 former partners. In some ways, these have the cleanest leading edge and are the most composed, at the expense of sounding a bit "slow". Indeed, aside from a more "neutral" midrange, these remind me of re-issue WE300B. They can sometimes be more subtle
in conveying microdynamics, but overall they also have drawbacks like a restrained scale, slight loss of air and presence (mentioned above in TJ). Of the 2, personally I thought KR the richer tube. Oh, yes, one factor, I thought the sound of mass orchestral brass through these tubes very truthful.

Tesla: It sounds similar to the KR, AVVT, with better bass but shouts a bit and has a big drawback. It has a rather flat scale. Things move but do not boogie. Rhythm and pace are matter-of-fact.

Svetlana: This has a combination of much of the strength of VA/TJ and KR/AVVT. It has good presence like the VA/TJ, but with less grain like AVVT/KR. It bass is very good too. Its speed, rhythm and pace are probably the best in the test.

Old stock WE: This is just one smooth tube. It plays loud more comfortably than any other, without hint of any shouting. You can listen to this tube for long periods. It is surprisingly good at
dynamics (considering taht these have below par conductance) but a bit weaker in bass.

DISCUSSION
----------
(1) UNLIKE some recent postings, differences are small. There had been posts, soon to appear in www.enjoythemusic.com, touting the superiority of TJ that rates it FAR above the crowd. In our test, results do not bear this out. Some arguments:

-Maybe people use words differently? Any given difference is regarded as small by some, and BIG by others. Personally I think most of those present on that day, including the people I do not know, would belong to the former group.

-Maybe the setting was not resolving enough? This is a serious question. Here I have to say that the difference on that day was a lot smaller than when Andy Law and I privately evaluated 300Bs (including Svetlana, VA nickel, KR, AVVT, Tesla, Sovtek, old and re-issue WE). HOWEVER the CHARACTERS remain largely recognizable. Personally I think OPERA's large room make room properties far outweigh tube differences. MANY of the people who offer opinions work in small rooms and were really listening near-field. Seriously if your room is 80 ft you are virtually listening to earphones and can tell more difference. The key question is, does the setup on Saturday sound good? I say very good indeed for a large room, with enough dynamics and little shouting. The setup Saturday was a lot more musical than at most other
shootout parties I have heard.

(2) What would I pick? I would balance reliability, price and performance. Actually due to the intense competition ALL prices have come down except WE. Re-issue WE is definitely NOT a best buy. Svetlana, Sovtek, KR, AVVT, Tesla all have some reports of filament weakness. I
would say VA offers good sound and reliability. TJ offers equally good sound but is new to the market, so reliability is unknown. For those eager to experiment and careful about filaments (not pulling hot tubes etc) Svetlana is a good bet for dynamics and energy and KR/AVVT
a good bet for density and composure (VERY much like re-issue WE but a lot cheaper).

(3) What? Doctorjohn doing a "public" tube shootout? Indeed! That surprised even ME! There IS a reason. I personally regard many of the current 300B EXCELLENT tubes worth promoting, and as good as WE. And yes, with the right amp, these tubes beat many of those outrageously expensive, so-called "best" output tubes (beam, tetrode, pentode) out there. These are all tubes you can go and buy at relatively little cost. Please do not confuse this with the other kind of shootout where people concentrate on the tube itself rather than music as an experience."...

1999 300B shootout on CR Woodham
(from the thread here, on 23/06/2001)

"I spent several hours at the wonderful home of Andy and had a good time, but listening to 3 tracks over and over was taxing.

Setup briefly:
Proceed transport/DAX-2/MIT/CR Woodham/RSC Decade interconnect/speaker
cable

We tried various 300B:

-Bilington Gold (well run-in). Chinese. Kind of thin in the midrange. Bass not impressive.

-first up Sovtek (well run-in). We were quite surprised how much MORE bass and bass control we got. Airy. Treble and midrange were better than BG. Certainly not harsh. Only when the music got complex was it obvious midrange control not the best, slightly ragged. But it was
VERY exciting.

-then Tesla (<20 style="font-weight: bold;">Svetlana (well run-in). IMHO this was the most balanced of all. Got 80% of the dynamics of Sovtek and the much of the smoothness of Tesla. I also though it got the best separation between instruments.

-then Angela Valve Art nickel plate. Kind of similar to BG, but to me better composed.

-then re-issue WE (brand new, supposedly). Excellent controlled midrange, quite
like Tesla with vocals. Good separation of instruments. But shut-in treble and to me the bass and dynamics were clearly inferior to Sovtek and Svetlana. Uncontrolled when the going gets rough. Perhaps not fair. This is a new tube. But the experience is similar to my previous
experience. MY conclusions on the CR Woodham:

-Chinese ones have whiter treble and midrange. Not much bass.

-The re-issue WE and Tesla are rather similar in many ways. Tonally good but
fail to lift the music.

-The Svetlana and Sovtek are similar but Svetlana is a better tube.

-Overall I clearly prefer the Svetlana. I would not want to be without the Sovtek for sheer excitement."...

Extended Audition: Fascinating Tango and Tamura transformer shootout

Fascinating Tango and Tamura transformer shootout
(From an article that initiated the thread here, on 09/05/01)

"...Sunday 6 pm, just back from the USA, I gave Andy L a call. Guess what, a significant event was taking place at his house, with Thomas, and also Mr and Mrs 徐偉強.

They had been testing various output transformers on Andy's DIY 300B amp. Or more accurately, 300B tubes in Andy's barely modified 2A3 amp. Working condition was ~240V, 70mA. 3.5 wpc by Andy's estimate. Tannoy Canterbury against the wall of course... DIY
6SN7 (using RCA 5692) preamp. Marantz CD7 cdp.

I missed the first contestant, the top-of-the-line (TOTL) Tango 2.7k outputs. Thanks to the ferrying by Thomas, I caught the next contestant, the TOTL Tamura 3.0k outputs. Compared to the next contestant, sound was more musical in the midrange, with silky treble. But the bass was loose, indeed watery. Next was the TOTL Tango 3.5k outputs, which no doubt tighten the sound, with more sharply etched midrange and MUCH stronger bass. However this came at the cost of less subtlety and less elasticity. According to Thomas and Tsui and Andy, the Tango 3.5k was more balanced and extended than the Tango 2.7k.

The important thing is that the difference between the impedance (same grade; 3.5k vs 2.7k) as well as between brands (Tamura and Tango) were CLEARLY and EASILY audible. So much for those people who say only tube matters. I should add the difference between the Tamura and Tango was TOO BIG to be explained by the small difference in impedance.

Which would I prefer? Hard to say. I think Tamura is more musical. With the wroking voltage of 240V, indeed too low for 300B, I'm not sure the results can be extrapolated to a more typical working condition of, say, 450V and 70 mA. Would like to find out though.

Overall, Andy's sound was more musical than before, when I heard the amp as 2A3 (RCA double plate). Of course I was not surprised to find out the tubes used were a pair of 1951 WE 300B. Hmmm...And well maybe sometimes there are multiple sweet spots in operating a tube, and
using lower dissipation should not automatically be ruled out (as people do today, in general working tubes towards the fringe).

I should add that before all this the new DIGNITY AUDIO million dollar 300B amp prototype sounded. These used the REALLY expensive iron, and had been previously reported in Audioboard. Many of us, including me, Captain, Richard Mui, TKL etc have heard the previous incarnation, a good machine that never seemed to saturate. Superior iron no doubt.
According to accounts, the results this time were super-transparency, speedy and detailed, but somewhat lean in Andy's system. Rumor has it that JUST the transformers MAY be available for trial in Andy's amp. THAT would be interesting.“

Extended Audition: Lowther Diary (SE amps)

Extended Audition: Lowther Diary (SE amps)

Lowther diary 2: more amps, including 801A
(Edited from the article that started the thread here, on 17/3/2001)

"..To pick up where I left off last time.

I had been listening happily to the Foreplay preamp + Wai Lee amp with cheap E130L tubes. But one of them intermittently emitted a noise. I substituted the San Ei 6BM8 kit but one channel is noisy too (from long term disuse), so I went back to the Wai Lee. My ICL 2A3 is on
loan.

Yesterday Thomas, David, and Richard C came over to listen to the Lowther TP1. The E130L was acting up so I put in a pair of (late) KT66. Sound was a bit smoother than the E130L, and good enough to me. Large orchestrals tightened up though at higher volume. We listened to a bunch of stuff before Thomas asked to put in the San Ei 801A amp.

A bit of explanation. I seriously believe the transmitting tube 801A is an excellent DIY tube (brand new Sylvania ~USD 40). It uses >600V voltages and puts out 3.5 watts. But it needs a 10k output, a problem. Mine is an old San Ei kit (now closed) with all Tango trans (Tango is
gone too), bought form all people my neighbor!!! It uses 12AX7 and 12BH7 also. ss rectification.

I used a 6mV DAC direct into the amp, and used the amp's volume knob. To my surprise, the sound, though even smoother than the Wai Lee, lacked some dimensionality and orchestrals lost speed. Someone said this combo sounded more like conventional speakers. One thing good
though; large scale sound gained some composure. Put the preamp back in and things came alive, though the dimensional qualities were still behind the Wai Lee. Finally we hooked up the amp to La Scala, and it was that much more lively.

The performance of the 801A was a little surprising to me. It works perfectly with the La Scala, and makes me want to sell many of my other amps as it is enough for me. With the La Scala I only need to run the CD directly in. But this is not the case with the Lowther.

Some thoughts again:

-Again this demonstrated that Lowther is NOT as efficient as La Scala (9x db vs 104 db on paper). You need more driving power, and preamp, to make the Lowther come live.

-The horn aspect of the sound quality is less pronounced and requires care not to lose it. With the La Scala you do not have this problem. Anything goes happy and its always horny.

-Aside from the location problem (mine are not in corners right now, they are in middle of room), careful titration between speed and power may be needed to maintain horn quality, yet make music loosen up at higher volume and complexity"...

Lowther Diary 3: 300B
(Edited from an article that started the thread here, on 20/03/01)

For the last few days I hooked up my Advance 300B amp to the Lowther. This is a 6AN8 driven amp. ss rectification. Japanese kit, acquired thanks to Eric. It is not the most powerful 300B but has a warm sound, perhaps due to its being driven by a pentode section and with
feedback.

I first used the Valve Art 300B and cheap Monster cables. Sound was more relaxed than the other amps used before, but it was a bit polite. Strange. I didn't realize the VA 300B were so polite before?

I changed to Svetlana and the Radio Shack cables and the sound balanced out by quite a bit. Actually this combo really loosened up the speakers by de-emphasizing the lower treble, and yet keep the treble afloat. I played even a Bruckner symphony last night.

The sound seems to continue to loosen up. Good. TKL asked me why am I posting this Lowther diary. Because I believe this experience can be shared with any Lowther user, even the
cheapest. One point I want to do is to have SOME detail in why I think this is this and that is that. Not just to say x is the best and y is the worst. I'd welcome any user to detail their experience in tube SYSTEM.

The matching of different amps to Lowther is a completely different experience from La Scala. It is just that much fuzzier. ALSO, cables prove to be a HUGH difference, as much as tubes, may be more. One can play many ways. Many HK people will probably just change all kinds of
tubes in 1 amp to see whether they can "transform" the system. I have never thought this productive. Better to see the system as a whole.

I have read a lot of threads on the Yahoo Lowther group (and has joined as member). It's interesting how many different types of amps have been used for Lowther. But few people do have several amps to compare at any given time. After I play some more I'm going to combine
the threads and post it in the Lowther forum. There are some HK people, including one person using M9 (switched to Klangfilm)to drive it!!!!"...

Lowther Diary 4: Humidity, new position, more 300B, Wai Lee re-visit
(From an article that originated the thread here, on 26/03/01)

"The Lowther sounds better these days to my ears. No doubt not at all solely due to my manouvers. I believe it's the humidity (alledged by many to be true). Seriously.

Well, uncontrollable factors aside, there have been important developements.

After the Advance 300B experience I got back my Audio Note kit one, in which I put my Valve Arts. No question, better line and speed and definition compared to the Advance. But a bit impersonal heh? Never noticed that before with the joyful La Scala...perhaps it's the Lowther?

Saturday, Hoi came over and with GREAT patience helped me move things around. As some of you know, I have so many things around that moving ANYTHING is like playing with Rubik's cube. We dismantled my 2 hifi racks, and moved a large rack (holding gears and CDs) to the opposite wall. This allowed the Lowthers to be more WIDELY spaced, now about
10 ft apart (7-8 ft from me), and they each gained ONE solid reflecting surface. The sound was immediately more easeful. I know these are still not ideal, but they will do for the moment. Next time I get help I am poised to exchange position of these with my far corner La Scala's. Tantalizing...

The effect of re-positioning:

-More easeful. Things just flow more naturally. The quickness of the notes do not become mechanical. Much better for large scale music.

-Due to the distance between the 2 speakers (relative to the distance from me) no doubt the imaging is less sharp than previously. This is less of a concern for horn users, but noticeable nonetheless, particularly on small scaled pieces. Amazingly even the bass outline loses slightly sharpness. In larger works, the ambience gained outweighs the slight loss in focus. There is little doubt these speakers prefer larger rooms.

With the new positioning, the amps sound very different, and more play is needed."...

Home Visit: ARC SP6, SP9, CL30

Home Visit: ARC SP6, SP9, CL30
(From a thread that started here, on 15/03/2001)

"I have always regarded the ARC Classics 30 as a great bargain. Some years ago, a colleague lent me the amp, together with ARC SP9 MkI preamp and I was astonished by the transparency and drive of this so-called 30 wpc amp and preamp combination.

The CL30 is a hybrid design with a pair of 6CG7 as driver and just a pair of 6550 in triode PP each channel. There are matching concerns: A certain leaness can be ameliorated by cables...

The SP9 is also a hybrid design, with just ONE 6DJ8 tube in the line section and one in the phono section. Due to some "oscillation problems" in early MkI samples, it was quickly modified to MkII. It is a very dynamic preamp which also has some concerns: a leaness has to be matched with cables (like MIT) and tubes (Mullard is useful here; stock of MkII is Sovtek 6DJ8). It also needs a LONG warmup to sound good.

(The host's) system was a model of economy and the result he got is an example of value for money. A modified B&W CDM1 provided clarity that had nothing to do with the stock (which I had heard elsewhere). Gone are the somewhat fatty mid-bass and we get instead real transparency and bags of detail and air...DIY cables and a Toshiba DVD (!!!) hooked up to MF X-24k for source. We matched up the CL30 with the ARC SP6-B-II and the ARC SP9-II (the SP9 is a contemporary of ARC CL30).

Obviously the SP9 offered immediately noticeable dynamic performance, and hifi parameters excelled. The violins were a bit, hmmm, scratchy though. The SP6 offered more musical performance but hifi parameters were definitely behind the SP9. These were with very cheap tubes. As you may have read...a bit of (still within our budget) tube rolling produced dramatic results. But we will wait for him to finish his continuing little bit of tube rolling to discuss CHEAP but effective tube rolling (something that will be laughed off elsewhere).

The main point of this post is to suggest these as best buys:

-CL30. Condition of the output tube is critical. I would recommend getting a copy of ARC
manual (write to ARC; unfortunately no email) for a small fee, to make sure things are biasing up properly. Caleb, I'm not sure KT88 is a good choice for this amp. Write to ARC about this and biasing requirements. In any case, a matched quad or at least 2 matched pairs is essential.

-SP9 and SP6, along with SP8, and the even warmer (too warm for modern tastes) SP3, are all good buys. SP9 is definitely NOT for many people who like vintage and "wet" vocals. For SP6 and SP8 be extra careful of modifications. Some heavily modified units sell for cheap,
but should be avoided.

HiFi Basics: Why Horn Speakers?

With this article I am going to start to link some of what I had previously written in my Yahoo group Doctorjohn_Cheaptubeaudio to this Blog. I believe even many of my friends in R33 haven't read my previous stuff. This is also the first of my "HiFi Basics" series.

HiFi Basics: Why Horn Speakers?
(originally appeared in a thread that started here, on 11/3/2001.)

"People are often interested in horn speakers but sometimes find them unsatisfactory in shops or have problems with them even at home. So it's actually discouraging to many. Here are some thoughts:

First and foremost, you have to "get" what a horn sound is (note: the more I go along, the more I realize many horn users don't even know what it is!). This is more important than you think. Many audiophiles, long polluted by hifi jargons, pay almost excessive attention to imaging, soundstage, tonal qualities etc. They forget what it means by "REAL" (simulation of course). REAL is not just timbral accuracy nor just harmonics (though horns do that in spades), it's an indescribable feeling of "you are there". This can also be referred to as "presence" though this word has other connotations regarding midband.

This is most obvious on brass and wind instruments, like saxophone. It should sound like the thing blowing in your living room. Percussions and string instruments should also have a similar feeling, but these are more difficult to recognize. Indeed regarding violin, if you believe Editor Chan's claim that Sonus Faber Guarnieri, LS3/5A and Ensemble Reference is violin, then you may need to re-think the horn's presentation. To me, a good horn like Klipsch and Lowther does better.

The usual virtue of high efficiency and use of single digit watt amplifiers is known. Therefore horns allow you to use cheap low powered amps to perfection. Horn is also for the minority of audiophiles who like to play music loud, like classical symphonic music. A few watts will not feel like "bottoming out", unlike conventional speakers. In this respect, horn is more versatile. It can play soft, and loud.

Editor Chan says one thing right. It takes at least 3 years to get a handle on horns. Not for people short of patience"...

"...practically horn users, like me, believe the "atmosphere" and "ambience" provided by the horn is not duplicated by other designs.

True, the box, especially the folded horn, introduce probably great coloration. But I am not sure at all the "presence" factor has to do with coloration. As an example, I think the Lowther is quite colored, and is less accurate in sound than the La Scala, but its presence
factor is not as high...

This feeling of "presence" seems to be only appreciated by horn users. :-). Indeed not everyone takes to the horn and I knew I'd fail miserably in conveying what horn users feel."...

23 August, 2009

The Yumcha Diaries: 22/08/09

The Yumcha Diaries: 22/08/09 Simple is best

We all have heard many different types of setup. Some are so complicated, with no elements un-tweaked, yet so underwhelming, that one is forced to question why all the fuss. Some are so simple, yet effective. Happily, the setup this time belongs to the latter category. After yumcha, while whlee toiled away at the kitchen, 2 of use went for audition.

Previously, this setup was housed near the window, along the long wall. Due to the short listening distance, sound was compromised. After renovation, the setup is now placed properly and that made a BIG difference. The room is not ideal, almost 2:1 at ~11 ft x 20+ ft, yet there was absolutely no problem with the sound. This shows placement is good and perhaps the 2 side corridors are beneficial in this instance!

This is a rare (in our circle) implementation of a digital amp setup. The previous source, Wadia 8, developed a problem so the host is now temporarily using the digital output of the humble Marantz SA17-S1 SACD/CD player, surely not an ideal choice. This connects via a digital cable to a Lyngdorf digital preamp (with room correction). Then, again via a digital cable to a TACT integrated digital amplifier, which drives a pair of rear-ported Chario speakers.

Now, you may ask why the need for the Lyngdorf? That was because the host had severe booming problem in the previous setup and used the room correction capability to smooth out the problem. 斬腳趾避沙虫? Perhaps, but I'd not argue with that. Afterall, it's VERY common in our hifi world due to household constraints.

After some simple tweaking it was difficult to fault the sound, tonally balanced and with reasonably good micro-dynamics. The Chario's almost certainly need a bit more power than the TACT can provide. This is why the addiiton of the Lyngdorf preamp to the integrated amp sounds livelier than the TACT alone. As for the room correction, it seemed to be doing little and I prefered it off for more natural dynamics.

A simple setup that does justice to the music. The most important thing next is to get some proper stands.

Most impressive too was the collection of Japanese navy fleet models! Some tanks too!

22 August, 2009

Review: Belden 9497

Review: Belden 9497
Best Buy

Official Spec's

This VERY cheap speaker cable came to underground fame because it was used by Master Shindo himself.

I have used this no-nonsense cable for a long time and can attest to its neutral tonal balance and transparency. I use it with my Tannoy. Some of my friends who use Kondo even use this cable!

If your setup does not need high-current delivery, using high efficiency speakers or SET amps, this is an excellent choice. But you have to order a roll, which is a pain.

Here's what I wrote in 06 in R33:

Since so many people took interest in this cable, I researched my own newsgroup, where it all happened (my memory proved to be at least 2/3 correct; yes it's Belden, yes endorsed by Shindo):

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/doctorjohn_CheapTubeAudio/

The story for this giant killer cable went like this (I think):

Our dear, but temperamental friend, Tanuski, actually wrote an interview of SUN AUDIO for Taiwan's Audio Art magazine. May I say I only recently read it, and a very good article (I always wanted to translate it, but too lazy; one thing SUN AUDIO insisted was their trannies now are not made in China, as rumors suggest)

This all happened in 2003:

Tanuski wrote:

"I was interviewing the Uchida (father and son team) of Sun Audio when I first heard about the Belden Speaker cable last year.

In Japan it is called: the "Studio 497".

When I visited the Hino Audio, the boss Hiromu Maruyama san also confirmed the info. I talked to other serious audiophiles, who are super rich customers of Hino. Most of them agree with the opinion. Even the uncle of my wife said good things about the Studio 497.

When I am back to NY, I called Belden. No one in the company knows what "Studio 497" stands for. After some struggling, they sent me to a tech guy and the closest he can come up with is the model"9479". And he finally recommended me to order a few thousand feet to "try it out".

At that point I am quite out of gas on the Belden issue. Besides I do not believe it will be as good or better than the Tara Labs RSC Master Gen 2.

The Studio 497 is consisting of one red and one black wire twisted together. If you want to take a look, please follow the link:
http://members.jcom.home.ne.jp/k-kusunoki/cable.html

May be Keith can help finding out from Allied Electronic whether they can ID the 9497. If we have a bingo, I will be more than happy to chip in and give it a shot..."

Then very nice Keith, now relocated, researched:

"...Belden 9497 can be ordered through www.alliedelec.com for $129.74 per 500ft spool. Allied Part #216-2154

The Japanese are big fan of Belden. Lots of them said the Belden 9497 is the best Belden speaker cable.

The "Belden 9497" cable is a unshielded twisted pair of 16ga stranded tinned copper wire. Tinned copper - "hmmm, this thing can acutally sound good?" was the first thought I had when I realized the conductor is not pure bare copper.

Anyways, after listening to it all day today, I can safely say this is indeed a good sounding cable. I am comparing it to the 4TC, which is the only reference I have. I find it tonally balanced and has excellent imaging, just like the 4TC. The difference between the two that I can detect is that the 4TC seems to have more slightly more "weight & slam" and slightly more "forward" in its presentation. The Belden 9497, on the other hand, is more transparent.

These are two cables I dont mind having. I am not good at describing at things I hear (or fail to hear), but something in my heart tells me to leave the Belden 9497 in there for now.

Considering its dirt cheap price, and depending on what others think about it, it may very well have a shot at making the "cheap audio hall of fame"..."

(DJ: MOST expensive cables should be in BS audio Hall of SHame).

A European Franck Joncheray said:

"...Hi, could you tell me how you got this information ?

A few months ago I asked Mr Shindo what speaker cable he could advice to me, and he told me that Shindo uses Belden 9497 between the crossover and the drivers because the Shindo cable was not better at this..."

(DJ: Can you imagine!)

Even the famous Thorsten Loesch chipped in:

"....Hi DJ, Maybe you wish to forward this.... From the looks, temperature ratings etc of Studio 497/9497 it is simply standard stranded PTFE insulated silverplated copper. I use what is in essence the same in my Bedroom system with a non whizzer cone 6.5" Fullrange Speaker.

For my main system this kind of cable lacks tonal balance (evenness) and resolution. It is not bad nevertheless and quite cheap..."

To which I replied:

"...Good to hear from TL. I'm sure he's right.

I'm sure the cable is not the last word in resolution. I am not sure about tonal balance. If it is PTFE definitely it would be rolled off on top, but good ones just a bit. The bass can be good with thin AWG. If the funky retro cloth WE cables are anything to judge by, tin-plated may just be my preference for musicality. It just doesn;t have any of that weird lumpy dynamics you get in many of the expensive cables. Sorry Tanuski, Tara Lab THE ONE included.

Yes, let's experiment. BTW I'm even more interested in the 22 awg one. Anyone?..."

Then Keith, Tanuski bought someone and got CFT to bring some to me.

17 August, 2009

The Yumcha Diaries: 15/08/09

The Yumcha Diaries: 15/08/09
Triple Play

It was really nice in the last few yumchas to see quite a few old friends turning up. Sometimes we even have more unregistered people than people who have signed up. Some are regulars who prefer not to be mentioned, some just walk-in's.

It should be stated here: (1) the yumcha has been maintained jointly by a few of us, because the open spirit of JC yumcha, rooted in Review33, deserves to live on even if the founder has left HK; (2) everyone is welcome, even if we have not met you. I know very few people would just turn up, but some have in the past after an email or PM; (3) if it's politically incorrect for you to come yumcha with us, that's too bad; we'd still like to see you and would not mention you at all should you come (one of the reasons for some unregistered attendees).

BenYC's setup: Two Saturdays ago four of us re-visited the setup (click for previous report). A real tweaker himself, BenYC has straightened out the inadvertent tweak of his son, and the sound took a dramtic turn for the better. I'd like the massed strings to be a bit fuller, but everything else was very nice. The C/P ratio is among the higest I have ever heard. BenYC has just changed the crossover and I look forward to his further efforts.

This past Saturday: It was a nice surprise, with 9 people altogether. Topics ranged from DACs to the relationship between cooking and lung cancer. I even got to look at some X-rays! No fees, but that should be the case as it's not my expertise! As we enter the age when more and more relatives and family members become ill, it's as important to build up mental fortitude as it's to find ways to soothe our minds, and nothing does that better than music. Not hifi, music!

Sang's setup: After yumcha, most of us went in 2 cars for a rare visit to Yuen Long. First stop was Sang's place. This is my 3rd visit (click for report of 1st visit and 2nd visit) and not much has changed. As I have just loaded quite a bit of music onto whlee's iPod, I am lending him my Wadia iTransport. Being 惡客, we plugged this into the SFD-2. Comparison with the resident transport (Acuustic Arts CDP) was interesting to say the least, even sobering. While perhaps not as steady as the Acuustic Arts, the iPod seemed to deliever not only a better perpective, but has more details and better rhythm and pace. Just before we ;eft, we changed the power cord of his DAC and things took a dramatic turn for the better. We did not have time for a re-match.

Andy's setup: Then we went to Fairview Garden. Thanks Andy for entertaining us on short notice. Since my last visit Andy has acquired a Benchmark Pre DAC and also set up his portable PC to play music WAV files (EAC-burned) via USB connection (with Opticis optical cable in between). Using the same files and the same DAC, the comparison between iPod/iTranposrt and PC/USB was fascinating, to say the least. Both sounded very good, though the PC was cleaner. However, all of us preferred the iPod/iTransport for dynamics, rhythm and pace as well as, surprisingly, details! This is in agreement with my view last time in a similar shootout held at Danz's place. There is something seriously lacking in PC playback, expression.

All of this Music Server stuff shall be further treated in detail in another article. Let me say here I have also acquired a Squeezebox Classic and shall also report on it.

Surprise TAD/Shindo visit: Lastly we managed to squeeze another visit before dinner by visiting yet another TAD setup! I shall report in detail in a later article. Let me just say that it's hard to believe a Shindo tube setup of 8 watts per channel can adequately drive TAD 2402, but this fellow against all odds finally did it. Secret? Shindo must be connected in balanced mode. Sound was excellent and 敲擊卡門 was beautifully done! Bravo!

A very full day. Origianlly we were to audition my SB3 but that shall have to wait till next time.