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. 

 

 

whitestix

IT coupling dates back to the 1920’s Atwater Kent and radios of that vintage. Like field coil loudspeakers, it is the oldest form of coupling of all. But transformers have always been labor-intensive and expensive (going right to the beginning of electronic amplification), so when coupling caps became practical in the late Twenties, ITs mostly went away, although Western Electric and high-end radio builders used them as late as the end of the Thirties.

What pretty much ended them in all applications was the universal use of global loop feedback, with the landmark Williamson of 1948. You can wrap feedback around one set of coupling caps and an output transformer, but two transformers are out of the question. So IT coupling was moribund until zero-feedback amps saw a comeback in the early Nineties.

In the mid-Twenties, the only signal source was AM radio. Electrical phono pickups were just coming on the market, and movie sound was brand-new and experimental. By the mid-Thirties, movie sound was universal, with a bandwidth topping out at 8 kHz. Electrical phonographs could reach 8 kHz, but users often used "scratch" filters to soften the sound of noisy shellac 78’s. AM radio reception could go higher, but people often used the narrowband setting to get rid of interfering whistles from adjacent stations. The only truly wideband source was the Armstrong "Yankee Network" of FM stations in the 42~50 MHz band, which was limited to a few stations in the Northeast. These were the only FM stations in the world, and could be received by the high-end radios of the day.

It was only in the postwar years that wideband (30 Hz ~ 15 kHz) sources became widespread, with LP records in 1948, pre-recorded tapes in the mid-Fifties, FM broadcasting in the postwar 88~108 MHz band, and 70mm movies with magnetic soundtracks in surround sound. By then, all amplifiers were medium to high feedback designs, and used RC coupling throughout.

Modern wideband transformers were in studio use from the early Fifties, and the triode designs of the early Nineties opened the market for more unusual products, such as interstage transformers. True, it’s a 1920’s technology, but they didn’t have modern bandwidths back then ... the recording technology was unforeseen and decades in the future. What we hear now, with our ultra-wide band, ultra-low distortion sources, is a brand new sound, running through new-tech devices.

I hope you don't mind me going a tangent, but delving into modern and old technologies and taking advantage of such knowledgeable folks sharing with an open mind I wanted to humbly ask what function does a preamp fulfill in the context of a single digital source (DAC) driving a good SET? 

Here's why I'm asking: time ago I got into DIY speakers and adopted software-based FIR crossovers and 4-way active stereo, driving amps directly from a multiway DAC. AMT tweeters are driven from a 45 Yamamoto SET (hopefully not considered "junk" here 😊, combo sounds great to me), mids by KT88, midbass and subs by class D. My system sounds better now than it did before with branded speakers with passive xo, but I do wonder if I'm missing something driving amps from a DAC...I did love my Lamm LL2 preamp but I decided to optimize for digital sound reproduction with multiway so a stereo preamp didn't fit anymore.

In the context of not needing more than a digital source, the DAC producing enough gain such that using a digital volume control works well, and gain matching among amps being already solved, what would the advantage of using an interface between DAC and amps? 

Thank you in advance!

@lewinskih01 I have experimented for years with tube preamps.   When I built the Raven preamp it was after I had sent the 300b monos down to Spatial Audio for the Seattle show.  Then I built the matching preamp.  They were able to run the mono amps directly from the tube output stage of the Lampizator Pacific DAC, and they had one with a volume control.  I wanted to test it so I took used my Pacific DAC (no volume control) and implemented digital volume control in ROON.  It worked fine and sounded good.  I built the Raven preamp and inserted it in the system between the DAC and my 300b amps and the improvement was obvious.   I have done this experiment before with other preamps and DACs and every time I have preferred the sound of my good custom tube preamps to a direct connection from a DAC to the amp.  I have built passive preamps with the Khozmo volume controls.  I always preferred the active tube preamp and it was never close.  That is just my experience and others will undoubtedly have different opinions, but I have experimented off and on for years and always preferred a very high quality active tube preamp in the system.  That said, I have never owned active crossovers, nor will I, nor have I ever bi or tri amped a system, nor will I.  So my experience is not really applicable to your case.  I prefer the simplest system with passive crossover and one amp per speaker.   My 2 cents and of course your mileage may vary:)  This is why I build high quality active tube preamps for people with fairly simple systems.  Just my preference.   

@alexberger 

I don't use tube rectifiers in power amps, but I do use them in preamps.  In your amp, if you wish to keep the 5u4g, I would consider using it for the input and driver section and using good quality diodes to drive a separate power supply for the 300b.   I use only regulated supplies, and I have my way of doing it that I don't wish to get into here.  But, yes, it is a good idea to have separate supplies for the input/driver section and the power tube sections.  What sort of supplies is up to  you, but a DHT will echo your power supply AND your filament supply very clearly so make sure they are very good.  

Good luck!

Don

Hi, Lewinskih01!

You bring up two different approaches to system building. One is taking full advantage of modern multichannel DAC chips (8-channel is a common default size) and letting DSP do the heavy lifting. Taking it a bit further, tuning each amp for its own driver, rather than using a AV multichannel amp of marginal quality.

It depends on subjective priorities. Does the speaker need DSP to reach its full potential, and is DAC coloration small change in the overall scheme of things? Can’t say I blame you. Speaker colorations are obvious and gross, and DSP is the most direct and powerful way to attack them.

I have friends who own Altec Duplex 604’s and they don’t like it when I tell them the only way to straighten a 604 Duplex out is DSP ... no physically realizable crossover can fully correct it. Otherwise, you learn to live with the coloration, as Lowther owners do.

DAC coloration ... hoo boy, let’s jump into that rabbit hole, shall we? I feel most audiophiles can barely hear DAC coloration for modern delta-sigma designs ... and measurements are essentially perfect, far exceeding the 44.1/16 Red Book PCM specification. If a modern AKM or ESS converter with a circuit board full of op-amps is perfect for you, you can save big money, and jump on the DSP train with confidence. Do not pass GO, collect your $200, and enter the wonderful world of DSP. Amps built to taste are entirely optional.

Only a few people can hear differences between modern converters, and if you can’t, don't feel bad, you are part of the vast majority of audiophiles. Just buy a $700 Topping or S.M.S.L. and explore DSP. It’s what headphone jocks do these days. No shame in it.

Differences between DACs are weird and extremely subtle, and frankly you have to train to yourself to hear them. I can’t honestly recommend audiophiles go down this rabbit hole. It’s extremely expensive to pursue and full of deliberately confusing technobabble from slick marketers. Maybe not as bad as cables, but still pretty bad. Trust nothing when it comes to DACs, no matter how famous the name, or how glowing the review,

I was shocked and disgusted I could hear what sounded like "big" differences between my antique Monarchy DAC, with its Burr-Brown PCM-63K converters, and the latest confection from the Berkeley DAC (which any Topping will take to the cleaners these days). I also have the exaSound DACs which are ESS based.

I find DAC chasing neither fun nor enjoyable. The best are insanely expensive, and they go obsolete really fast. I might love the $13,500 Mola Mola I heard in the Songer Audio room, but the Mola Mola won’t be worth as much three to five years from now. DACs should be thought of as consumables that depreciate the moment you buy them.

Amps and speakers ... ah, now that is good value. Buy or build a good tube amp (and that certainly includes the $5000 Valhalla from Spatial) and it holds its value indefinitely. Similarly for speakers. The good ones cost more because the parts themselves cost more, and it takes serious design work to make them perform.