300b lovers

I have been an owner of Don Sachs gear since he began, and he modified all my HK Citation gear before he came out with his own creations.  I bought a Willsenton 300b integrated amp and was smitten with the sound of it, inexpensive as it is.  Don told me that he was designing a 300b amp with the legendary Lynn Olson and lo and behold, I got one of his early pair of pre-production mono-blocks recently, driving Spatial Audio M5 Triode Masters.  

Now with a week on the amp, I am eager to say that these 300b amps are simply sensational, creating a sound that brings the musicians right into my listening room with a palpable presence.  They create the most open vidid presentation to the music -- they are neither warm nor cool, just uncannily true to the source of the music.  They replace his excellent Kootai KT88 which I was dubious about being bettered by anything, but these amps are just outstanding.  Don is nearing production of a successor to his highly regard DS2 preamp, which also will have a  unique circuitry to mate with his 300b monos via XLR connections.  Don explained the sonic benefits of this design and it went over my head, but clearly these designs are well though out.. my ears confirm it. 

I have been an audiophile for nearly 50 years having had a boatload of electronics during that time, but I personally have never heard such a realistic presentation to my music as I am hearing with these 300b monos in my system.  300b tubes lend themselves to realistic music reproduction as my Willsenton 300b integrated amps informed me, but Don's 300b amps are in a entirely different realm.  Of course, 300b amps favor efficient speakers so carefully component matching is paramount.

Don is working out a business arrangement to have his electronics built by an American audio firm so they will soon be more widely available to the public.  Don will be attending the Seattle Audio Show in June in the Spatial Audio room where the speakers will be driven by his 300b monos and his preamp, with digital conversion with the outstanding Lampizator Pacific tube DAC.  I will be there to hear what I expect to be an outstanding sonic presentation.  

To allay any questions about the cost of Don's 300b mono, I do not have an answer. 




For now, Don tells me he is focusing on the Raven preamp and Statement power amp. We expect to transfer production to Spatial Audio, with product names and prices to be determined. The circuits, parts selection, and overall construction technique are pretty much done, so what you hear in your home (the first pre-production run) and at the Seattle show, will represent what's coming.

Will Don continue to make his current preamp and KT88 power amp? That's his decision, not mine. My focus right now is the Seattle show and completing the large-format high-efficiency 2-way speaker Thom Mackris (Galibier Designs) and I have been working on for the last couple of years. (This design is completely independent of Spatial Audio, and an outgrowth of the "Beyond the Ariel" thread elsewhere.)

As Lynn was saying above, I have spent the last year working on this 300b amp project and the matching "Raven" balanced preamp.  Spatial Audio will decide on final naming and pricing and I will help them get started on production.   The cosmetics will probably change a bit, but the circuits are stable and that is what will be shown in Seattle.  This thread has mentioned many fine amps and as I said, there are many paths to audio nirvana.  Lynn and I have had fun with this project and we want to see it out in the world.  It is cost no object, sort of within reason.  The gear isn't going to cost $50,000, but it also isn't going to cost what the current Kootenay amp and preamp cost either.  These are much more expensive to build and more involved.   If you can hear them in Seattle please drop by.  Honestly, I would love to hear people's opinion!



Let’s discuss driver tubes. Back in the Nineties, my Tektronix friend Gary Pimm built a distortion analyzer that could measure each distortion harmonic, out to the 10th harmonic, down to an astounding -120 dB. Maybe even -140 dB. It was way, way down there.

So naturally Gary and I went and measured a bunch of tubes, and ran them at realistic drive levels (50 volts RMS or so). I knew from previous experience that audibility of 2nd harmonic is quite low ... I can barely hear 1% second harmonic, and audibility of 3rd harmonic is around 0.25%, if it’s mixed with somewhat more 2nd harmonic. (3rd by itself is harsh, but sounds pretty nice mixed 1:4 with 2nd harmonic, giving a richer, more fun sound.)

But the high-order harmonics are not nice sounding. Crowhurst suggested back in the Fifties weighting audibility of the order by the square of the order, or even by the cube of the order. High-order harmonics are what give electronics their nasty "electronic" coloration, and contribute very strongly with a forest of IM distortion clutter on the noise floor.

Unfortunately, unless the design is very poor, the relatively innocuous 2nd and 3rd order harmonics will dominate the THD measurements, to the point where THD is nearly useless for assessing sonics. When 2% THD is just barely audible, no, that is not a useful measurement. By that standard, all amplifiers are perfect.

But a spectral analysis is a lot more interesting, providing you pretty much discard the 2nd harmonic, and take a good, hard look at the rest, particularly the 4th on up. In a good amplifying device, you want 4th through 10th as low as possible.

We measured 300B’s from several vendors and vintage 45’s. Of all the tubes, these were closest to perfect. High-order harmonics were nearly absent, and of all the 45’s, none were visible at all. For 300B’s, they were way down, -60 dB or less, depending on the vendor.

That was one surprise. Most tubes, with a few exceptions, had comparable THD and 2nd harmonic, but the high-order spectra would vary within a given tube type by 20 dB, a huge difference. Twiddling the operating current made about 2-3 dB change ... not much ... but changing the brand would show much larger changes, 10 to 15 dB. We were plainly seeing differences in manufacturing technique ... uneven grid structure, tilted grids, etc.

The DHT’s were the clear winners in all categories, but the vintage 2A3’s were 10 to 20 dB worse than the 300B’s and 45’s. And the indirect-heated tubes were another 10 dB worse, or comparable to the 2A3’s. The worst tubes of all were the 9-pin miniatures, with the 12AU7 and 6DJ8 at the bottom of the heap. The 12AU7 had the decency to have lots of 2nd harmonic, which masked the clutter higher up, but the 6DJ8 had less 2nd harmonic and a harmonic spectra more like a transistor, with abundant high-order terms.

The 6DJ8 was a frame-grid tube designed for RF front ends in TVs and FM tuners, where linearity is of no concern at all, so you can’t really hold that against it. And the 12AU7 was designed as a compact replacement for the older 6SN7, operating at the same bias point and voltage. But ... high-order distortion is 10 to 20 dB worse than any 6SN7, even the worst. But you can’t hold that against it; 20 dB of feedback was universal when the 12AU7 was introduced. Loop feedback will reduce distortion in all tubes in the circuit, so it hardly matters.

The 6SN7 family is the tube of choice if you care about high-order distortion, and a DHT alternative is out of the question due to cost, size, practicality, microphonics, and severe filtering requirements for the filament supply. Of the 6SN7 family, the antique single triodes were the best ... 6J5, 6C5, etc. but there certainly were good 6SN7’s, both new and vintage. And differences were consistent within brands, reflecting manufacturing technique, and not always visible from the outside. Were the fancy MILSPEC ones better? Not really. More consistent, which is what MILSPEC is really about.

Don is correct that octals are (nearly always) better, unless you need a mike or phono preamp tube. That’s the 6DJ8 (or WE 417A) niche, where signal levels are very low, and noise and low microphonics are the primary concern.

I am another of the lucky guys to get one of Don's 300b stereo amp.  After many years of transferring components in and out of my system, this amp simply puts everything into place.

And, of course, being matched up with the DS preamp doesn't hurt either.  Stunning sound.  Everything in its place.  Great soundstage and holographic to boot.  The only other amps I may consider in the future are the new monos when they become available.