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. 




My PP 845 Mono's are produced with a optimised performance for the 845, they are Low Wattage approx' 25 Watts when the VU Metre at Biasing is set to 12.5, I have been informed I can push the Watt Output Up if I increase the Bias, but the Trade Off is a reduction in the Head Room, in the past I played with Bias, but the Headroom when perceived is quite addictive as a trait of the Amp.

These Amps have Hand Wound Output and Power Tranx's, the designer/builder has informed me recently, that even though there are increased options for Tranx's since this Amp' was designed, there is not an off the shelf winding that they are aware of, that is readily available to suit the Amp's design.  

I’m not surprised. The great enemy of transformers are high impedance, which decreases bandwidth on both ends of the spectrum, and increased insulation resistance, which takes up room on the winding stack. Both act to increase the size of the core, the winding stack, and the entire transformer.

When transformers get bigger, inter-winding capacitance goes up, and HF bandwidth decreases. Yes, little transformers are better, at least at high frequencies. To get the lows, though, you need more inductance, and that makes it bigger and heavier.

The technique to increase HF bandwidth are more complex interleaving schemes between primary and secondary, but this can cause ultrasonic resonances and poor square wave performance. The art of interleaving has fortunately been somewhat simplified by computer modeling, but there’s still plenty of art involved. You want a skilled builder with plenty of experience with audio transformers.

There ain’t no free lunch with transformers. They solve problems, but you really have to keep impedances low, and work closely with the transformer designer. They’ll tell you what they want, and you tell them what you want, and you work together to meet your goals. In my case, I wanted matched capacitances on the primaries, good phase match at 20 kHz, and the ability to tolerate a certain amount of imbalance current. With SE, of course, it’s all imbalance current, so a (very) large gapped core is required.

A problem with using old transformers is corona discharge where the enamel on the wire has thinned or cracked. Once a point of breakdown occurs, those windings are shorted to each other, and the problem cannot be solved unless the transformer is disassembled and completely rewound using the same interleaving scheme. New transformers are commonly tested with HIPOT, a test fixture that generates 5 kV between the windings and the core.

The evolution from the original Karna amplifier, built by Gary Pimm in 2002 and designed by yours truly, to where it is now, is a desire for rationality combined with reliable performance. The original was a proof-of-concept, the kind of thing I’ve been doing since Shadow Vector in 1975. I’m not so good at manufacturing engineering, which is where my collaborators come in ... Gary Pimm, Thom Mackris, and now, Don Sachs. These guys keep me on the straight and narrow and argue me away from my wilder flights of fancy.

The original Karna was based on a desire to get rid of all capacitors in the signal path, since I truly despise these things. But realistically, transformers are mostly problem solvers, so it’s better design practice to give them a problem to solve.

1) The input transformer accurately phase splits and offers ground isolation between preamp and power amp, if desired.

2) The interstage offers Class A1/A2 operation for the output section, a favorable load to the driver (compared to RC coupling), and balanced Class A drive for lowest distortion into a reactive load (the Miller capacitance of the 300B grids).

3) The output transformer multiplies current by about 28 times, so the peak currents the 300B offers (in the 200 to 300 mA range) now become many amps at the 4 and 8 ohm taps.

All three solve problems. The first interstage in the original Karna was mostly there for spite, to get rid of coupling caps once and for all, just to prove a point. But that required a low impedance tube, and I didn’t want to use a 6DJ8, which is woefully unsuited to power amplifier use. That left a family of industrial tubes that are reasonably linear (much more linear than a 6DJ8), the 5687/7044/7119 family. They worked reasonably well but I wasn’t entirely happy with the tone quality, but I was stuck, since the high plate impedance of the 6SN7 made it a no-go.

The founder of Tribute Transformers saw this as a challenge ... 15 K plate-to-plate ... and built four interstages with an 80 kHz bandwidth and perfect square waves. They’re in my Karna amps and Gary Dahl’s Amity amps now, and no, they weren’t free, both of us paid in full for them. So yes, it is possible to build an amp with two interstages and no coupling caps at all. But ... using a truly exotic interstage, a genuinely one-of-a-kind design from Tribute.

I wasn’t going to lay that burden on Don. We started with the greatly simplified Symmetric Reichert and improved it step-by-step, edging back to the original Karna, but certainly not using a four-box design with a quite exotic grounding system, aviation-grade Amphenol connectors, and four massive power supplies. You really have to draw the line somewhere.

Don had a lot more experience on the practical side, as well as real-world production experience with top-quality, and most of all, reliable power supplies in his well-regarded KT88 amp. So off we went.

I have never had a wooly or bloated 300b amplifier owned about 30 of the things not one had any bloat. All had a very wide frequency range when powering proper loudspeakers. Now if you don't use loudspeakers that are correct for SET or 300b amps they may have issues think that's where most of the bloated 300b comments come from. Since I see many SET or PP 300b etc users running speakers that are not best used with it.

It’s been fun writing about the zigs and zags that took Don, myself, and the team at Spatial to where we are now. More to come? Who knows? The preamp (with remote control thanks to Khozmo) and power amps are off to a good start.

Phono preamp? Ooof. Now that would be a challenge, not one I’d like to take. DACs? Definitely not. I leave those things to the pros. Speakers? Spatial already has a crackerjack in-house team, plus I have no clue how these dipole things work. Maybe they could teach me.

People ask me about 100-watt or even 200-watt tube amps. Designing around banks of KT90’s in massive parallelism, mostly likely in Class AB, is pretty much the polar opposite of the current project. Seriously, if you need Big Watts, just go Class D (with Bruno Putzey tech) or buy the Manley professional products. Both approaches are reliable and get the job done.

To Lynn's comments about the need for big power for your speakers, that Class D amps get the job done, I would humbly add that an excellent tube preamp such as Don makes in the path adds a measure of bloom and euphonic sound that so many of us desire.  I prefer to own speakers that mate well with tube amplification, but that is just me.  

The preamp, since it has balanced transformer-coupled inputs and outputs, breaks the ground connection between components, reducing hum, as well as RFI breakthrough and buzz. That’s why transformers are often used in noisy professional applications, and are used here.

This comes in handy for digital sources, since all ultrasonic noise (outside the 50 kHz bandwidth) is scraped off, as well as complete ground isolation. Rowland has been doing this for decades, and they're on the right track.

It is evident to me that Don's new preamp is designed to mate in such a fashion with the mono blocks, connected with balanced cabling.  

I think it’s very cool that there is a type of renaissance with DHT amps.  I wish Don the best in this new venture 

Don and I reflected on the optimum interface between the Raven preamp and Statement power amps. We obviously wanted the highest-quality interface directly between the two, while retaining compatibility with the rest of the audio world.

There’s an input switch on the Statement 300B that has two positions: XLR DIRECT and RCA XFMR. They do what they say: the direct switch goes straight to the 6SN7 grids through twisted-pair wiring, with the input transformer secondary completely disconnected from the circuit. The RCA position goes through the studio-grade transformer, which does the phase splitting and isolates the RCA grounds, preventing ground loops.

This provides optimal quality with the Raven preamp, which has transformer-coupled balanced outputs, and also offers compatibility with existing vacuum tube and solid-state preamps with balanced XLR outputs. For preamps with unbalanced RCA outputs, the input transformer provides accurate, low-distortion phase splitting as well as ground decoupling.

Don and I spent a surprising amount of time coming to this input topology. It has the cleanest interface to the Raven, while offering flexible connections to other components.

This is getting dangerously close to an infommercial😉   Really, I have enjoyed the thread and never expected it to have this sort of life.   I just received the final version of the preamp output transformers from Dave Geren at Cinemag yesterday and installed them.  They are the next level up.  I expected a subtle improvement, but I am quite shocked.  The prototypes were the best I had heard, but the final version has improvements to the core material to give even more detail and even better bass response.   You can hear it right away.   These will be in Seattle and again, I hope to get everyone's opinion who can stop by and listen.

I will state again that there are many paths to audio nirvana and I would never claim that Lynn and I are on the only true path.  For those who love SETs please come hear these amps and let us know what you think.  You may be surprised.  My own personal bias (pun intended) is towards an all tube system.  I can hear any solid state device in the signal path and don't like it.   Yes, my Lampizator Pacific DAC has a solid state chip set doing the DAC part of the job, but that feeds the output tube grids directly and from that DAC chip set to the speaker is all tubes.  I would always choose a tube friendly speaker so that I can use a tube amp.  I realize there are those folks who love speakers that are difficult loads and require big solid state amps to drive them.  So be it.  There is no right or wrong.  There is what we like.  If you can visit the Pacific Audio Fest in Seattle you will hear the sort of system I favor.   All tubes, these amps and preamp, and some wonderful all passive open baffle speakers from Spatial Audio Labs.  There will be no DSP or powered subs or anything like that in the signal path.   The only solid state device in the chain will be the DAC portion of the Lampizator Pacific, then it is all tubes and passive speakers.  We hope you like it!

This thread has been informative and inspiring and I’m looking forward to hearing these amps at the PAF next month.

This thread has also caused me to reflect on the question of "what should I do" or "what should we do?" given the fact that Don & Lynn’s new amps are not available to purchase at this time and that, when they are, they are likely to be out of my budget.

My guess is that many of us who have followed this thread with great interest already have equipment that reflects the performance goals, priorities and values of Don and Lynn. I'm grateful that there are so many options out there right now - we seem to be living in a new "golden age" of hi-fi and music. So I'm not actually discontented with my equipment right now. But I've learned a lot on this thread that has provoked some new ideas and questions and for that I'm grateful.

The interesting thing is that "conventional" amps like PP KT88’s can be substantially improved as well. For example, floating paraphase phase inverters instead of split-load inverters or Mullard long-tail pairs. The phase division isn’t as precise, which is why they dropped out of favor, but the drive capability is much stronger than the other two types. And they really sound better. That’s one thing.

Another is dual B+ power supplies per channel, and is especially worthwhile in any PP amp, more so than SE. Isolating the noise and distortion of the final section from the driver + input is very worthwhile and lifts the amp into another class. This applies to solid-state as well. That’s another thing.

The third thing is scaling up driver current two or three times, and choosing the most linear driver tube that is available. Typically, this will be a medium-power tube, not a video amplifier out of a 1958 color TV. Video amps are powerful but linearity was not a major consideration in the tube design. You might get a linear one, but you might not. And you really want matched pairs for equal and symmetric distortion spectra.

Combine these three things, and the PP KT88 is now on a different level, but still has the same power as before. The slew rate goes up, and the noise and distortion go down.

Am I going to design this? Nope. But folks in the medium to high-power PP KT88 arena should check it out. You can’t keep making copies of Marantz amplifiers forever.

So, Lynn, given your comments, would an experienced technician know where to start to make these kinds of modifications? Or are they too obscure for the average tech to understand and execute...

Unfortunately, revising the driver away from the usual single 12AU7 means another hole in the chassis, and a pair of octal sockets at that. And split power supplies means another power transformer and rectifiers, although it relaxes the endless search for Holy Grail rectifiers. When an amp is that sensitive to rectifier choice, frankly, there is a design error lurking in there somewhere.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, splitting the power supplies front to back sounds better than isolated stereo power supplies, where the gain is fairly minor. The front to back isolation is not minor. Another counter-intuitive thing is PP amps benefit more from power supply isolation than SE amps.

As for inverters, the split-load inverter plus input tube uses two sections, while Mullard and the floating paraphase use three sections. And the last two sections can be octal medium-power tubes, not a single 12AU7.

This will change the forward gain of the amplifier, not by by much, but some. Probably a few dB less gain thanks to different and lower-mu drivers. Maybe a small trim in the feedback network, but less gain is easy to adjust for (unlike more gain).

In practical terms, a new chassis. Sorry. Those old amps were engineered down to the last inch, with no room to spare, and not one part wasted. Flip one upside-down and the parts in there are really, really tight. Too tight, and prone to overheating, which does no favors to the capacitors.

Most of the engineering effort in the Golden Age, even for Marantz and McIntosh, was simply watts-per-dollar, and keeping chassis size down as a secondary goal. In the late Sixties, the Crown DC300 and Phase Linear 700 blew the watts-per-dollar tube amps out of the water, and forced them into the audiophile market, where they remain today.

As for the tech, none of this is difficult. They will know how to connect and bias the floating paraphase phase inverter ... plenty of old schematics out there ... and the rest is a matter of chassis space and heater current for the new drivers.

"Floating Paraphase" sounds more scary than it is. The secret of any phase inverter is finding what the lower grid is connected to.

In a Mullard circuit, the lower grid is grounded through a coupling cap to ground, but is connected to the other grid through a high-value resistor. This sets the bias point the same as the other side, but the grid does nothing and is simply a reference. The common cathode does the phase splitting. The long-tail is either a high-value resistor or a current source .., yes, I know, transistors. The main drawback of the Mullard circuit is restricted peak current delivery to the power tubes. (But the split-load inverter is much worse in that respect. Split-load inverters do not like to deliver current ... they go out of balance. Ideally, they should be buffered with cathode followers.)

The floating paraphase has the upper tube drive the upper power tube through a totally normal RC coupling. Nothing to see here, sir, move along. The lower tube is often drawn in an opaque way, but what’s going on is the lower grid is connected to a pair of resistors midway between the power tube grids, after the RC coupling, What this weird-looking connection does is local feedback that forces the lower, phase-inverting tube to act as a unity-gain inverter, or plate follower. Phase inversion isn’t quite as pretty as the other two methods, but ... more power is available to drive the power tubes, which is what really counts. And you can ditch the 12AU7 and use real power tubes, because, why not? Just a matter of another socket and heater power.

I have a question to @lynn_olson 
I have 300B SET 6sn7 input, 6f6g in triod driver with RC coupling. One friend of mine who reads DIY forums and tries all this thing by himself, recommended me to enlarge cathode capacitors up to 100,000uF in input and driver tubes.
So I did 10,000uf in input first and because I like the results I did 100,000uf on input and 50,000uf on driver. So I get even more improvement - deeper and more controlled bass, bigger soundstage, more low level details, transparency, bigger more dynamic sound.
Then I increased driver capacity to 87,000 uF and it gave a big improvement in dynamics and sound quality. Despite intuitively it shouldn't do too much!
In all cases I use a bunch of 10000uf-15000uf (CDE, Nichicon KA) medium quality capacitors bypassed by one 50uf AN Kaisei NP.
Can you explain why these huge value cathode capacitors work?

For example, floating paraphase phase inverters instead of split-load inverters or Mullard long-tail pairs. The phase division isn’t as precise, which is why they dropped out of favor, but the drive capability is much stronger than the other two types.

@lynn_olson A simple way to improve this circuit is to use the bias supply for the KT88s as a B- voltage and then use a 2 stage constant current source to set the operating point of the differential driver. This improves the differential effect quite a lot and gets rid of the need for slightly different plate load resistors- they can be matched instead.

To this end we use bipolar supplies in our amps; B+ and B- have the same absolute value. No balancing is required in the differential amplifier and often the plate voltages are within 3-4 volts of each other. This improves the CMRR quite a lot which in turn reduces distortion (there is the additional benefit of more gain and wider bandwidth as well). If the input stage is built in a similar manner, even orders will cancel throughout the circuit, resulting in a dominant 3rd harmonic which can mask higher orders.

The harmonics will be found to fall off at a faster rate (than seen in SET circuits) as the order of the harmonic is increased; they will follow an exponential decay based on a cubic function. This works really well for the human ear (smoother sound and greater detail, both on account of reduced open loop distortion)!

To eliminate a frequency pole caused by a coupling capacitor, we’ve been using a differential cascode circuit as the sole source of gain in our OTLs. Because the gain is increased in that single stage of gain, so is the CMRR and overall differential effect. This allows one to use a cathode follower driver direct coupled to the output section. In our OTLs the power tubes are in turn direct coupled to the loudspeaker. If you were to use an output transformer, a pair of DHTs are easily driven- linearity is such that no feedback need be used. Bias is obtained from the driver circuit, so if bias controls are used, they are in the grid of the driver tube rather than the power tubes.

If feedback is desired, it can be wrapped around the circuit and applied in a manner identical to how its done in opamps- using resistor divider networks that mix the feedback with the incoming signal at the grids of the input stage. This technique vastly reduces distortion that the feedback signal would otherwise encounter, which in turn means the feedback is more effective at its job, generating less higher ordered harmonics (caused by non-linearities in the feedback nodes traditionally used in both tube and solid state amplifiers). By doing this a wider range of speakers can be used.

Here's a question for @atmasphere - Though I'd welcome the comments from anyone else on this thread -  these are all related to the question of what causes a power tube to wear out - 

1. Does it matter what volume a power tube is played at? Does that effect tube life?

2. Does it matter if a tube is cooled, say, by a small fan nearby?

3. If a tube is powered up but not making music does that "cost" tube life just as if you were playing music through it?

4. What is harder on a power tube? Turning it on and off, let's say twice during a day (two listening sessions totaling three hours) or letting it stay on, let's say for an eight hour period?


1. Does it matter what volume a power tube is played at? Does that effect tube life?


If the tube is operating class A1, the power its making won't matter. If operating class A2 or A3 the higher power levels will probably affect tube life. If the tubes are running class AB then they will run cooler, which could translate to longer life, but higher power will shorten that. You didn't mention the load but that affects things too- its rare that the speaker actually loads the output transformer correctly for a given tap; transformers transform impedance in both directions so a load too low on the output transformer will be a load too low on the output tube(s) as well. That will reduce tube life as more of the power made by the output section will be dissipated in the tube(s) rather than the load!

2. Does it matter if a tube is cooled, say, by a small fan nearby?

It helps! During WW2, 6L6s were used due to shortages to get amazing power levels by being water cooled.

3. If a tube is powered up but not making music does that "cost" tube life just as if you were playing music through it?

Always- how much depends on the class of operation and other variables such as dust on the envelope and so on.

4. What is harder on a power tube? Turning it on and off, let's say twice during a day (two listening sessions totaling three hours) or letting it stay on, let's say for an eight hour period?

Tubes wear out no matter what you do. They also draw power... The longer the off time the easier it is to answer a question like this. If we're talking about an indirectly heated power tube, the turn on should include time where no B+ is applied until the power tube cathode is properly warmed up. We supply a Standby switch for this purpose on our amps. If the tube is directly heated it won't matter. So if it were me I'd shut the amp down when not in use, even if for only an hour.


Great response, Ralph, answering questions I have long wondered about.  My Sachs monos put out a fair amount of heat so I mounted a couple of noiseless computer fans at the back of my rack to dissipate the heat to a degree.  

The Statement ... or Blackbird ... or whatever it’s called, is pretty sensitive. Don told me 1.5 Vrms to full clipping, and my gain calculations indicated a bit more sensitive than that. Since there is no RC loading anywhere, and all the cathodes are bypassed, all tubes run at full gain.

For a 6SN7 that’s a mu=20, and for a triode-connected 6V6 that’s a mu=8. Since the 300B grids take 80 volts to reach zero bias, and can go positive to +20 above that, that’s 100 volts of swing for each side, about 3x what a pentode requires. Since this is a PP amplifier, full power requires +100 volts on one grid, while the other receives -100 volts. The input+driver provide 20 * 8 = 160 gain, excluding transformer losses, which are typically 5% or less.

Imagine those 200 volt peaks at 30 kHz, with no local or global feedback, at less than 1% distortion, with another 3 dB of headroom above that. This is why driver design for DHTs is difficult, and not in the Radiotron Designers Handbook.

Let’s talk a bit about distortion, particularly in a DHT driver. It defeats the purpose of using a very low distortion 45, 2A3, 300B, or 845 if the driver has more distortion than the DHT itself. You might as well use a much cheaper power pentode or beam tetrode and save yourself a lot of trouble. Not only that, but pentode and ultralinear-connected output sections requires feedback across the whole amplifier, which cleans up the mess from the input and driver sections. This is why the driver section is an afterthought in Golden Age PP pentode amplifiers. In the Dynaco circuit, there isn’t even a driver ... the power tubes are driven from the split-load inverter, or "concertina" stage.

But ... if the goal is the most linear possible amplifying stage, with zero feedback, a completely different approach is required. True, push-pull substantially reduces distortion, but in reality it only reduces even-order distortion ... 2nd harmonic, 4th harmonic, 6th harmonic. etc. It has no effect on odd-order distortion ... 3rd harmonic, 5th harmonic, 7th harmonic, etc. Most tubes have dominant 2nd harmonic distortion. But not all. The 6DJ8/6922, an RF tube, has dominant 3rd harmonic. Tubes designed for video amps can also have dominant 3rd harmonics, since distortion in a video tube has almost no effect on the picture (even 5% distortion would be barely visible).

Aside from the subjective sonics of dominant 3rd harmonic, this has consequences for a PP amplifier. The PP circuit will have no effect on 3rd harmonic; it will not reduce it even 1 dB. So tubes with dominant 3rd harmonic should be avoided.

What about more "normal" tubes with dominant 2nd harmonic? Well, one of the requirements for PP cancellation is the magnitudes and phase of the cancelled harmonics line up with each other. The magnitudes of the (even) harmonics from each tube should be within 1 dB of each other, and the phase of the (even) harmonics should be within 45 degrees of each other. Normally this would be of no concern with reasonably matched tube sections, but it does matter if the capacitive loads are not the same. The odd harmonics, of course, do not cancel.

The notion of harmonics having phase might seem a little odd, but keep in mind that square waves and triangle waves have identical magnitudes of harmonics; the only difference between the two signals is the phase of the harmonics. So the phase of the harmonics is not insignificant, and actually reflects a different transfer curve. In graphical terms, you want complementary transfer curves; if kinks appear in the curve of one tube but not the other, that kink will not cancel.

The full scope of the driver requirements for DHTs is probably now coming into view.

* Three times as much swing is required, compared to pentode or beam tetrode.

* Linearity should be better than the DHT itself.

* The load is mostly capacitive, consisting of the 60 to 80 pF Miller capacitance of the DHT grid. Reactive loads increase distortion at high frequencies, where it is most audible, and also reflects the power back to the plates of the driver tube.

* If the driver is PP, 2nd harmonic should be at least 10 to 20 dB greater than 3rd harmonic, and the two loads should be symmetric to keep the phase of the driver harmonics the same.

* There should be at least 3 dB of driver headroom so the amplifier doesn’t all clip at once. More headroom is desirable.

* Momentary sags, or program-correlated noise, in the power tube B+ supply should not interact with the driver tube B+ supply.

Since rolling out of bed in the morning, your amps have been filling my room with amazing sounds, and I appreciate greatly the design thought that went into them, the technical derivations of which is way over my head.

The amps, now with the excellent new Linlai WE300b tubes also run in, create a sheer wall of sound, effortless in its presentation, heft in the LF, delicate highs, and a mid-range to that sounds exactly right.   Even compared to Don's excellent Kootenai KT88, these monos are in a whole different realm.  The sound with my Spatial Audio speakers just hangs effortlessly the room.  

This thread, with both the participation both you and Don, has been most informative, and I am an early beneficiary of your design which as been to elevate my listening enjoyment to degree to a level that I never anticipated possible.  With your monos, there is no amp at all... just joyous music, heard in a way I never thought possible with no sonic signature at all... just pure clean vivid sounds.  Perhaps that ought be the design goal for all... create front end gear that sounds like nothing at all...  You gents have succeeded in that respect. 


I am very happy for you. What you wrote expresses genuine joy and satisfaction listening to music. Isn’t this the ultimate objective? You are fortunate to have received this early opportunity. I know you are very grateful.👍

It’s been so much fun and interesting reading about the development of this new 300b push-pull amplifier and what it took to get here.



How about using SE as opposed to PP in the first stage and a SE to PP interstage transformer between the first and second stage? 

Well, I tried that with an amp I once called the Aurora. SE input, and if memory serves, the conversion to PP prior to the driver, which was PP. The problem is the input tube has a high output impedance, which enormously complicates the transformer operation.

You see, the input transformer of the new amplifier, as well as the Mark I Karna’s, is driven with a low source impedance ... the preamp. There are a handful of ancient preamps with a Zout of 8k or so, but they are hard to use because a Zout that high makes them very susceptible to rolloff from cable capacitance. Most tube preamps have cathode follower outputs in the 400 ohm range, and if feedback is used, quite a bit lower. Transistor preamps can be as low as a few ohms.

Transformers like to see a low impedance on either the primary (input) or secondary (output). It doesn’t matter which end. The problems start with an interstage, where the secondary is driving a grid, which has a near-infinite impedance that is somewhat unpredictable, and a primary connected to a plate. The nicest sounding tubes tend to be the old octals, or even the true antiques, the five-pin tubes from the Thirties.

They all have pretty high output impedances, 7.7 k or higher. This is a really high impedance for a transformer. The lack of bandwidth wasn’t a problem back in the day, since AM radio bandwidth was never higher than 8 kHz, optical movie soundtracks the same, and shellac 78’s were mostly noise above 6 kHz. And program sources didn’t go lower than 50 Hz. Modern bandwidths of 30 Hz to 15 kHz didn’t arrive until the mid-Fifties, with magnetic tape, modern LP’s, and FM radio. By then, transformers were used for line level applications in studios, and for output transformers in power amps. This was the all-analog vacuum tube era, of course.

Interstage transformers are a very special use case. We are reviving a 1920’s and 1930’s technology to modern high-bandwidth applications, but there are still limitations, mostly the result of using high impedances. I did use what I call "Interstage 1" in the Karna amplifier, but that was really putting the transformer right to the edge of what can be done. Adding phase splitting to its task list means I will likely see phase spread at the top of the band due stray capacitances not matching between sets of windings. This is a solved problem for studio line-level transformers, but asking interstage transformers to do this results in a not-very-good interstage transformer.

And frankly, for what benefit? It isn’t like a SE input tube is all that awesome. In phono preamps, sure, SE circuits make things easier, what with RIAA compensation combined with noise considerations. But for the input stage of a power amplifier? Where’s the benefit, except for tradition?

So I restrict phase splitting to the easiest location, the input, where it isn’t doing much else. This is proven studio technology that’s been around since the 1930’s, and well-refined by the 1950’s. The interstage, a far more difficult task, is confined to the driver/output interface, and is fully balanced on both ends.

Yes, there are interstage transformers on the market that are SE to PP. I would not use them. It is very difficult to get HF symmetry on the secondaries, but modern transformer designers can do a lot that wasn’t possible even ten years ago. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 300B SET driver interfaced to PP 300B outputs through such a transformer. I won’t be the one designing it, though.

A power amp with three 300B’s would have a certain visual appeal, and you could weave a fun story around it to match the visuals. At the hifi shows, you could hang pictures of famous trimotor airplanes, like the Ford Trimotor.

Don, Lynn

Like many have said, there is a lot here that is technically beyond me...so, I'd like to see if I've understood the essence of what you are saying..which I believe is....

That by eliminating all harmonic distortion above 3rd...and by driving 2nd and 3rd harmonics to extremely low levels you have achieved an amplifier that is not "tubey" in the classical sense but absolutely open and clear that gets out of the way resulting in truthful musicality.

Obviously, this is an extreme simplification of what you've achieved and how you've achieve it...but is this a correct interpretation or have I over simplified or missed some key discoveries?


To simplify.. All tubes have distortion. The higher orders are what are like fingernails on a blackboard to your ear. DHTs have lower levels of higher order distortion than other types of tubes, and good indirectly heated octals like the 6SN7 and 6V6 are reasonable regarding distortion in the higher harmonics. When I rebuilt a ton of vintage tube gear I instantly could hear that pieces using small signal tubes, particularly the 12au7 were not very good. If you see a 12au7 in a piece of gear other than a tuner, go buy something else. I always preferred amps with octal tubes as drivers. Anyway, to keep upper harmonic distortion down we choose a great DHT, the 300b for the output tube. Traditional feedback approaches can keep higher order distortion down, but phase split circuits and the usual coupling methods, and the feedback itself rob the amp of clarity. Push pull amps have lower levels of distortion. Class A is the way to go. If you can build an amp with no feedback at all and solve all the problems it will sound cleaner and clearer. The driver stage has to be able to really push a 300b. There are numerous forms of coupling, but interstage transformers (if really well made and designed for the circuit) solve a lot of problems. Recovery around clipping is really important for the driver stage and the transformer coupling aids that considerably over traditional RC coupling. LC coupling sounds very good for an input stage where an interstage transformer would have to deal with the higher impedance of the input tube. Power supply topology and design is critical and the output stage should be isolated from the input and driver stages. Of course the quality of the output transformers is a key as well as the power transformer, which should have good regulation. I am sure I am leaving some things out, but those are some key points of the design.


I did check catalog of one European manufacturer for SE to PP interstage transformers. Within the limited offerings, it does seem that a tube with low Rp is needed in the SE stage - if not a DHT, ones like 6EM7 (the half with 750ohms Rp) may work. The gain will be less, but can still work with an active preamp. 


Ultimately, I agree that it all depends on the design goal - I wonder whether having some 2nd order harmonic would end up being a good thing for someone who prefers sound of SETs. But there is a lot factors to balance in such a design that uses SE in the first stage.

What a great thread!  Reminds me of the early 2000’s when I was on here more often.  I love how charles1dad said it back a ways so I’d like to repeat it, hope he doesn’t mind: “If a thread topic generates quality insight, information and perspectives from genuinely knowledgeable and earnest contributors then this is what happens.”

In January 2021 I bought from Don Sachs a Valhalla integrated amp.  I couldn’t be happier with the sound of my system.  After years in the “pursuit” I have felt no desire to change anything.   The Spatial Audio X3 speakers have a lot to do with what I love about my system now.

Don mentioned in an email last month that he was working on some 300B monos for the Seattle show.  Immediately I was interested and have been looking forward to hearing them in the Spatial room since I’ll be there.  Although much of the technical info in this thread is over my heard it is fascinating to read.  I’ve gained so much further insight into Don’s expertise, learned about Lynn Olson and how the two have worked together with their combined knowledge on this amazing project.  I think anyone who has enjoyed one of Don’s masterpieces would probably feel these new amps are a must have, including me.  It’s fortunate I’m so happy with the Valhalla since the new amps might be out of reach.  Hearing them in the Spatial room could be dangerous.

Looking forward to meeting Don and Lynn and would be nice to see Clayton again this year like last.  Hope he can make it.

Jeff S.

Gig Harbor, WA


I don’t mind.😊

I am interested in your listening impressions of this amplifier  at  the upcoming Pacific audio show.



Being an owner of Don's Vahalla tube integrated, might your "handle" more appropriately be "@jeff_tubes"?   ;-)  

 I have the Triode Masters and heard the Sapphires and was not compelled to upgrade.  However, the X-series is a different kettle of fish so I am enthused to hear them with Don and Lynn's newest electronics, presented in their best possible light.  Oh, and the excellent Lampizator DAC which will clearly complement the rest of the gear.  

I reiterate and amplify my love for these new mono's, which sounds cliche, but they sound like no amps at all, just masterful reproduction of the music in such an effortless and ethereal way... the sound is suspended in the air in the room with a completely realistic manner.  The amps just completely get out of the way with a sonic signature that I would not describe with adjectives like "warm" or "cool", just completely realistic to the source of the music.  This uncanny sound reproduction you will hear when you visit the room, of that I am confident.   I hope I run into you and others on this thread in the room to get acquainted and share our impressions of what we hear.

I wish Charles would be there so I could meet him and applaud him on his excellent contributions on this forum, a paragon of audio knowledge and the utmost of civility.  He clearly knows the sonic splendor of 300b gear.  For me, hearing these mono's, it is a bell that can not be unrung.  I think other attendees to the room might come to the same conclusion.  



He clearly knows the sonic splendor of 300b gear.  

Sonic splendor is true. 300b SET mono blocks owned since 2009 and as happy with them as I’ve ever been. Listening to the great jazz guitarist Barney Kessel as I write. Reading the comments from Lynn and Don on the how and why of their PP 300b amplifier convinces me your description of its sound is dead on the mark. I have no doubt that it is sublime.


I rather think that there is inherent magic in the employment of 300b tubes, which I discovered with my Willsenton 300b amp with all of 8 wpc.  It drove my Spatial just fine... until it didn't.  With these monos, there is no such limitation on db levels vs distortion which stands to reason.  Easily end-game amplification which will be added to with Don's new preamp, designed from the get-go to pair optimally with the monos via XLR connections. 

You have great 300b amps, and you like Barney Kessel (I am almost solely a jazz listener for 50 years) so you and I are on the same sheet of music.  Your posts are always informative and upbeat, which I value.   

Whitestix I can tell you are astute and have a sense of humor.  When I came up with that name in 2002 I was thinking of my family name and probably at that point didn't realize ss is an abbreviation for solid state amps.  Funny :^)

I too have been almost exclusively a jazz listener since junior HS in 1964.  Listening to Joe Pass, the Compete Pacific Jazz Years right now.

I hope to meet you at PAF

What’s odd is that I have trouble describing the sound of my own gear ... this applies to Shadow Vector, my loudspeakers, and my electronics. I aim for natural, open sound that is free of electronic artifacts. If there is a residue of coloration, I’d like it to be pleasing, but as low as possible.

That’s the goal. What I hear is a very spacious sound, no surprise there, but also an unexpected "trippy" kind of feeling that slowly deepens over the first ten to twenty minutes of relaxed, non-critical listening. I have no idea what causes it, to be honest. Many don’t experience this, but some do, and it’s fun to watch them process the experience. My only guess is the disjunction between the auditory experience and the visual experience is so strong that secondary emotions are invoked.

My degree is in Psychology with a focus on Perceptual Psychology. I grew up in Japan and Hong Kong, which gave me a cultural experience different than most Americans, and am a bit familiar with Buddhist, Taoist, and Vedanta Hindu world-views. Partly as a result of that, I take Western audiophile pronouncements about what can, or can’t, be perceived with a lot of skepticism. Different cultures experience the world in profoundly different ways, and there’s a lot of individual variation, too.

The task of the audio system is to get out of the way of what can be a profound emotional experience for the listener. "Accuracy" in this context is absurd, since the goal is to facilitate a trance experience, a dreamlike state of consciousness. Artificiality (colorations that do not occur in nature) is distracting and can prevent the experience from happening.

By minimizing coloration at the level where it originates, the device itself, there’s less need for post-facto processing, which can induce dynamic colorations that are unnatural and a signature of "electronic" sound.

This discussion is kind of "meta", but it is my experience audio designers need to have a goal they are aiming for, otherwise you will never get there. And not a mechanistic goal, but a perceptually subjective goal.

I forgot to ask, will the new amp also take 2a3?  The LINLAI 2a3 apparently sound better than Elrog 300b, so high praise indeed.


No, sorry.  The 2A3 is 2.5 V filament and 300V plate max.  The 300b is 5V and the plates are at about 395 V in this amp.   Not ever going to happen.  What you have to realize is the 300b is a better tube for this purpose and people who make comparisons may not be doing it in amps where the 300b is actually driven by a driven section that can show what it can do.   The best 300b I have heard in the amp is the Linlai WE300b exact copy.  It is just superb and can be had for under $800 per matched quad.  The "new" WE300b is $1500 per pair.  I have not heard them, and at that price I probably won't when I can get a quad of absolutely superb tubes for half of that.  These amps deliver about 27 watts/ch and can drive most rational speaker loads.  A 2A3 amp would be limited to more efficient speakers.  That may work for some, but we wanted an amp that could drive a much wider variety of speakers.

I am not sure the of the adjective @whitestix would use to describe the amps, but "trippy" is pretty much spot on.  It is funny, because when I first wrote Lynn after building the initial stereo version with the CCS on each 6V6 plate I told him that it was so clean and clear and threw such a soundstage that it sounded like you were high every time you listened to it.  He was amused and wrote back and said that he and Karna described the sound of the first amps as "trippy".   That indeed is how they sound.  They are unlike anything I have ever heard, and with each improvement, they get "trippier".  Adding the Raven preamp with XLR connection directly to the input tube grids pushed them to new "highs" 😉 

I have an old timber frame house and the ceiling slopes upward from about 10 ft at the speakers to at least 20 ft overhead at the listening position.  So there are no ceiling reflections.  The sound stage is huge, and as I said earlier, it is akin to Omnimax theater for the ears.  Sometimes you are sitting inside the recording if that makes any sense.  Trippy indeed, and once you hear it, you just cannot unhear it and go back to some other amp.  It sort of blows the lid off of things.

The house I lived in back when I was in Portland had a ceiling like that, with a panoramic picture window overlooking the Oregon Coast Range behind the speakers. The very first PP 300B amp, the Amity, had a vast, CinemaScope soundstage. Once I heard that, no more SETs for me, nor PP pentode. All done.

That’s when I contacted Harvey Rosenberg back East and told him that interstage transformers were The Way. He never did get to hear my amps, but he got his hands on the Japanese Sun amplifiers (with ITs) and never looked back. Harvey was powering his gigantic Tannoy Westminsters, but from what he told me, the Sun amplifiers took charge of the big Tannoys. No surprise there.

IT-coupled PP DHT’s have a power and majesty unlike anything else in audio. Bell Labs and Western Electric knew what they were doing back in 1935. It probably didn’t hurt they had Leopold Stokowski as an in-house musical consultant.


IT-coupled PP DHT’s have a power and majesty unlike anything else in audio. Bell Labs and Western Electric knew what they were doing back in 1935.

A compelling point. I do believe that if implemented properly the DHT tubes are difficult to equal or surpass in terms of music reproduction purity. Nothing is perfect but they have considerable  intrinsic sonic value and ability.


Is anybody else building IT-coupled PP DHT amps these days?

Kinda' seems like these amps are going to be (justifiably) pricey when they come out.

@markusthenaimnut  I have no idea.  I think Lukasz at Lampizator was.  Yes they will be pricey because the power supply topology is something that I have not seen in any commercial amps that I haven't built, and there are custom wound transformers throughout.  So even if someone would build a similar concept, these have a lot of features that probably wouldn't be in something else.  Hence the cost.....  Again, this was essentially a cost no object (within reason) project to see what was sonically possible.  I am pleased with the outcome.  There are certainly many decent quality tube amps out there for under $5,000 including the Kootenay that I used to build.  None of them are this good though.  Doesn't mean you cannot have a really satisfying and enjoyable stereo for less.  Just that if you want this level of performance it costs this much to do correctly.


IT-coupled PP DHT’s have a power and majesty unlike anything else in audio. Bell Labs and Western Electric knew what they were doing back in 1935.


Western Electric is also pioneer of "Ultra Path" circuit design for SE amplifiers which removed local feedback which is evil in true audiophile amps.


Long tailed symmetric push pull is another WE originated design.

Only modern circuit design which enhanced WE golden edge SE DHT amps is solid state CCS which a magnitude better than tube CCS.

Link not working, no.  There are some monos on ebay with no tubes for $2-3K per pair.  SE amps.  Typical Chinese amp in that you have no idea what is inside that transformer box.  Could be ok, could be $99 transformers.  A tube amp is the sum of three things.  How good is the circuit?  How good is the power supply?  How good is the iron (transformers)?   The circuit might be a faithful reproduction, the power supply and iron are suspect.  Ali Express brings to mind two words:  caveat emptor🙄

True, push-pull substantially reduces distortion, but in reality it only reduces even-order distortion ... 2nd harmonic, 4th harmonic, 6th harmonic. etc.

@lynn_olson This statement is not correct. If the circuit is fully differential and balanced (in effect, PP from input to output) distortion is compounded less from stage to stage. The result is less 3rd harmonic than you would otherwise see if only the output section is PP.

In addition I should point out that the 3rd harmonic is innocuous in the same way as the 2nd as long as it is at the same level or less as seen in an SET, which as you pointed out in most cases (except for the example I just gave) it will be.

A properly functioning tape recorder makes a dominant 3rd harmonic that is actually higher than seen in most PP tube amps at full output. No-one really seems to complain about the ’sound’ of tape; rather people seem to like it quite a lot!

How about using SE as opposed to PP in the first stage and a SE to PP interstage transformer between the first and second stage?

@ffzz When you combine single ended and PP in one amplifier you get two distinct non-linearities (since neither circuit is perfectly linear). PP circuits generate what is known mathematically as a ’cubic non-linearity’, while single ended circuits generate a ’quadratic non-linearity’. The cubic or quadratic function describes a lot about how the higher ordered harmonics behave in the circuit. This is important because higher ordered harmonics can contribute to harshness and brightness, as that is the tonality assigned to them by the human ear.

When you combine both circuits in the same amp you get both non-linearities. Norman Crowhurst (one of the technical gurus that wrote about tubes and other technical/engineering topics related to audio) wrote about this 65 years ago, stating that the result is a more prominent 5th harmonic. With this understanding I’ve not found it surprising that SET owners prefer their amps over PP simply because the PP amp combined both types of circuits with the result described.


Hi Don,

I have always wanted a 300B system. Two quick questions. I currently have a pair of KEF Reference 5 speakers @91db. How well will your 300b power them? And can you give me a ballpark price so I can start groveling to She Who Must be obeyed?😁

Thanks in advance.