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).

-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.

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.

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.

(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

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."...

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