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. 




It turned out the ultrapath capacitor wasn’t sonically that different than a conventional cathode bypass cap. In the context of a regulated supply with an output impedance of 3 milliohms, and equivalent to a 2000uF passive supply, the Zout of the power supply is effectively zero compared to the cathode bypass or ultrapath capacitor.

By comparison, a passive CLC supply with a Zout similar to a 100uF capacitor, a ultrapath bypass might be more appropriate, but then the exact value has to trimmed against the noise introduced by the passive CLC supply. By contrast, the active regulator has 130 dB of noise isolation, so there are no issues of noise introduced by the supply and getting into the cathode circuit.

So it all comes down to the power supply. The optimal solution for a passive CLC supply, with its distinctive noise profile, might not be optimal for an ultra quiet supply with a very low output impedance.

And then we get into the deeper waters of the sonics of the regulators themselves. Some are slow and noisy, and intermodulate with the music. Others are fast and silent. Regulators do not all sound the same, and passive CLC supplies can have a signature too, depending on the capacitors chosen. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.

I should mention the battle of active vs passive supplies has been going on for at least three decades, and is somewhat biased by prejudice against the low-quality active regulators available 30 years ago. High-voltage regulators now are far better, and far more reliable, than what we had then.

The sonics of power supplies are different for SE and PP amplifiers, so it is impossible to generalize without specifying the amplifier topology.

The modulations of supply current on the main B+ supply in a single-ended amplifier are simply the music itself, with an addition of noise from the rectifier stack. Single-ended amplifiers are entirely Class A in operation, by the way.

This is not true for a balanced or push-pull Class A amplifier. The modulation of music on the supply is reduced by 30 to 35 dB (depending on balance), and what’s there is doubled in frequency, similar to a balanced-detector in a radio. The balanced-detector artifacts are the result of symmetric nonlinearities in the balanced pair ... if they have 100% distortion, you get a balanced detector.

If the balanced-pair distortion is a small fraction of that, say, 1% or less, then you still get balanced-detector distortion but much reduced in level. If the balanced-pair are 100% distortionless, then current draw is constant, with no variation. But distortionless balanced pairs exist only in fantasy, so there is always some variation in current draw with real circuits.

In a Class AB amplifier, it is worse, with three regimes ... Class A at low levels, and clipped-off Class B at higher levels.

This has an impact on the sonics of the supply. A single-ended amp is simple ... improve the musicality of the supply, since music is directly impressed on it. Push-pull is more difficult ... the modulations on the supply are a mix of residual imbalance and balanced-detector artifacts, and significantly worse if Class AB artifacts appear in the output stage.

This is the strongest argument for stage-to-stage isolation, so distortion artifacts from a high-level stage do not modulate a lower level stage, In the Raven and Blackbird, we go the additional mile by having a shunt regulator for the input section. The shunt regulator operates by having a current draw that is the precise inverse of the audio-circuit fluctuations, so the net current draw is constant.

By contrast, in a generic Dynaco or Mullard circuit, we have several topologies, with only simple RC power-supply filtering between stages. The output stage is typically Class AB semi-pentode, the driver is Class A triode, and the input is single-ended triode. All three have different distortion signatures.

And then we get into the deeper waters of the sonics of the regulators themselves. Some are slow and noisy, and intermodulate with the music. Others are fast and silent. Regulators do not all sound the same, and passive CLC supplies can have a signature too, depending on the capacitors chosen. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.

The tricky bit using regulators is bandwidth.

The output of any regulator has a certain impedance. What you are looking for is a linear impedance curve across the entire audio band. The tube regulators often had a problem with this; the output impedance rises when the regulator meets its bandwidth limit. At this frequency the regulator has to be bypassed with a capacitor that keeps the output impedance as linear as possible. It won’t be perfect- usually you wind up with a step in the output impedance at the crossover point. Too much capacitance can cause the regulator to run hotter and with tubes, you can have reliability problems that might occur when the capacitance is charged during warmup.

Solid state regulators often have much wider bandwidth so don’t usually need so much bypassing, but they can have stability problems so are often bypassed with a small capacitance at the output to prevent it oscillating.

Adding additional capacitance to the output of the regulator will do little to improve sound quality and if enough capacitance is added, will increase the heat of the regulator and could threaten its reliability.

If the regulator is properly bypassed and operated well within its limits then they will tend to be neutral.

To help the regulator along, its a good idea to do as much as you can to minimize noise at the input of the regulator. For example a PI network is helpful to reduce the amplitude of the sawtooth waveform at the regulator’s input; this will reduce the work the regulator has to do, which can reduce its operating temperature.

@lynn_olson - what are your thoughts on using a balanced input stage to drive a single ended 300B?  My front end hardware is all balanced and I like using balanced connections. I’m thinking an LTP with a CCS on the cathodes and a push/pull interstage on the anodes. Output of the IT driving a single 300B with fixed bias connected to the other side of the IT secondary. I haven’t decided which tubes to use for the input stage, but was thinking about triode strapped D3As. 

I have a nice pair of Monolith Magnetics SX-11 output transformers that I want to use.