LONG LIVE KING TONE
"I would rather have a cup of tone, than an ocean of power".
WHY THE 300 B?
We are now talking about the renaissance of a classic work of American art that emerged from our post-depression artistic renaissance. This 1938 Western Electric directly heated triode is the most important tube in the thermionic cosmos. It is the thermionic Phoenix. The quality of tone that is possible with 300B circuits is so compelling that it has become the "golden tone standard" for the most difficult task...the sublime midrange.
Up until this point in thermionic history we have only known the 300B in limited bandwidth amplifiers...oops, let me say that again in a more paradoxical way....in a single ended triode transformer coupled amplifier the 300B is subject to significant bandwidth limitations....but who is complaining.....if that is the price we have to pay...we gladly play. Or should I say that the beauty power of the 300B midrange makes us forget that anything else exists?
That is why I keep on referring to the current directly heated triode revolution as an artistic revolution...it is raising and redefining our midrange consciousness. This is the reappearance of King Tone. This also explains why it is so difficult to feel really passionate about our old lovers, the EL34 and 6550; they simply dont have the tonal magic of directly heated triodes.
As my fellow thermionic techno-shaman Lynn Olson asserts....."the single-ended thing has been mislabeled because what we are loving is the tone of directly heated triodes, and that ranges from 45s to 845s". Over and over again I sing the marching song of The Triode Guild, BE VERY SIMPLE, BE VERY STIFF, because that is the best, and may be the only gizmological strategy for achieving the most sublime tone. If a tube is brilliant, get out of its way and let it do its natural thing. The less you do to discombobulate the circuit the purer the tone will be...if it is pure to begin with. What did Buddha say about tubes?......"I would rather have a cup of tone, than an ocean of power".
Once you hear an artful 300B, you are a goner, and it doesnt seem to matter where you are living, what language you speak, or what kind of music you like to listen to. This, as you know, is not just my raving, but the opinion that is shared world wide by the doyens of audio gizmology. This classic work of American art, appreciated by the Japanese for decades, ignored until recently by America, has now become the thermionic objet dart for the world. Yes, there are some who dont appreciate this tube. The only possible explanations for this: (1) they rides 350cc. Honda Nighthawks (2) they are spiritually insecure and undeveloped and into a bogus power trip (3) they dont yet put tone at the top of their artful pyramid or (4) they havent found the right associated equipment (especially speakers) to reveal the nascent wonder in this golden directly heated triode from the Golden Age of America, or (5) they need new batteries for their hearing aid.
THE 300B HARMONIC MEME
It is natural to wonder why the 300Bs tonal beauty is so addictive. The concept of the meme, which is very popular in the field of genetics and artificial intelligence offers us an insight into the power of the 300B. The 300B is a harmonic meme. I quote here from Richard Dawkins famous 1976 books on genetics, which is must ready, The Selfish Gene.
MEME: An idea as a living organism which can reproduce. An idea that has the capacity to be permanently imbedded in the mind and live from generation to generation.
Examples of memes are tunes, catch-phrases, pop fashions, ways of making a pot or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. If a scientist hears, or reads about, a good idea, he passes it on to his colleagues and students. He mentions it in his articles and his lectures. If the idea catches on, it can be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain. As my colleague N. K. Humprhey neatly summed up an earlier drafter of this chapter: memes should be regarded as living structures, not just metaphorically but technically. When you plant a fertile meme in my mind, you literally parasitize my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the memes propagation in just the way that a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a host cell. And this isnt just a way of talking -the meme for, say, belief in life after death is actually realized physically, millions of time over and over every day, as a structure in the nervous systems of individuals the world over."
This is the intellectually provocative thought I am asking you to embrace....The 300 Bs tone is so powerful.... its harmonics are so ecstatic and its tone becomes a meme of irresistible power. Go back and re-read the Dawkins quote and substitute "harmonics" for idea, or notion, i.e.
MEME: A harmonic, a tone as a living organism which can reproduce. A harmonic that has the capacity to be permanently imbedded in the mind and live from generation to generation.
This is one of the best explanations of how the 300B is parasitizing our musical souls. Its tone is infecting us, and there is no known cure for it, and this sublime directly heated triode virus has gotten completely out of control all around the world and it is taking over. Those of you who are comfortable with an expanded gizmological metacontext will also use the concept of the meme to understand the impact that the unique American metaharmonic has had on the world, namely rock and roll music.
THE UNIVERSAL HARMONIC CONVERGENCE
.....is what I call this. In effect, the 300B has accomplished, what the United Nations dreams about : the political power to bring harmony to a chaotic world. This is the first time in the history of audio arts that there is a world wide consensus on the concresence of audio coolosity, and thank the Lord, in Her Infinite Wisdom, that it was born in America, and not Peru. It is like we all decided to go on the gold standard to bring some stability to the harmonic chaos. The 300 B has become the golden harmonic mean, because it is a golden mean, and the most potent political force in the high end audio cosmos.
PLAYING THE DIRECTLY HEATED TRIODE GAME
What day is it today? Is it Western Electric, Svetlana, Sovtek, KR, Bertrand, Cetron, or Golden Dragon day? And which 6SN7s should I exercise today, my 1950 RCAs or my 1944 Western Electrics made by Sylvania? It takes less than one minute, using my insulated ski glove, to change tubes in my SET, and this results in a very big difference in my harmonic/space/time continuum, and therein lies the enormous joy of this 300B game. Let your mood swings and your very refined taste in music determine which set of tubes you use for a particular selection of music, or day, or week. Now granted, it takes about forty minutes for the output tubes to get to their optimal harmonics, but if tonight is rock and roll night at your music cave, use your fave rock and roll 300 B tube combo. This is also the way to get the most juice out of our CDs. Or if you are listening to German leiders use your rave fave combo for this music. This is what audiomania is all about: having complete control of the artification of our harmonic/space/time continuum in an expanded aural matrix, and what could be more fun than that?
BUT FIRST A MESSAGE FROM HARLEY-DAVIDSON MANAGEMENT
The reason you buy a hawg is so that you can as quickly as possible start taking it apart and making it into a completely unique expression of your personality. The motorcycle accessory industry that caters to the artification of hawgs, is much bigger than Harley-Davidson. There are hundreds of thousands of hawgs out there and each is completely unique. Obviously, Harley-Davidson management knew this reality, but for years they resisted being a major supplier of custom accessories. Today Harley Davidson will gladly sell you everything you need to tweak and personalize your bike from different cam shafts, pistons, brakes, carburetors, wheels, etc. Here we have an industry that worships the tweaker, the motorcycle artisan as the life blood of its creativity. This is type of artistic creativity that energizes and stimulates a male tribal activity, and is a driving force of the Japanese audio culture. For American high end audio manufactures tweakers are lepers.
Retailers have trained guard dogs that know the smell of tweakers, to insure that none enter their stores. This is the major point of digression between America and Japan. Stereo Sound, the most successful audio magazine in Japan features the most sublime home built audio systems in every issue. This is the section everyone turns to before they read the reviews. May I suggest retailer start putting big signs on their door: TWEAKERS WE LOVE YOU
For the American audio press the unspoken rule is: Lets not confuse our readers with excitement and creativity, because we want our readers to focus on buying a new gizmo. I consider this an insult, as you should.
MALE INITIATION RITES WHICH EXPAND OUR POWERS
Obviously my goal here is to encourage all of you to learn to solder, which is childs play. In that way you can build your own 300B amplifier and build your very own high efficiency mini-monitors. There is no amplifier that is easier to build, and while we dont have hundreds of different kits available here, as there are in Japan, there are a number of very high quality ones available.
Lets stop the audio weeny-itis. If you are courageous enough to ride a motorcycle, or get married, you are courageous enough to solder a circuit together. I have never heard of anyone who got hurt from building a tube amplifier, yet I have seen people torn up in motorcycle accidents, and men who are maimed by marriage. What are you afraid of? Okay, you dont know anything about electronics. No problem. We are going to find you a teacher; a solder slinging savant who is going to guide you through the process.
The reason this is such an important process is that it is an authentic form of initiation, like climbing Mt. Everest without oxygen tanks, or killing a lion with your Swiss Army knife. The thrill of listening to your own work of art is quite special, comparable to watching your child being born, or watching your first ship being launched. Like the first time you made love, your first hand built amplifier will become a permanent part of your soul. I also want to assure you that it will expand your gift for listening. Again, the intrinsic simplicity of the single-ended triode circuit makes this great fun. And mistakes are an essential part of the artification process.
The reason this is the right time to begin this artification process, this is the Golden Spring of the classic directly heated triode, and you should spring eternal too. Have I convinced you that it is time to build your own custom hawg or single-ended triode push/pull amplifier?
300 B KITS GALORE
Building a 300 B amplifier is a form of meditation and liberation. It is an expansion of your musical metacontext. It is your direct connection to an ancient artistic tradition and to a community of righteous soul mates. The minute you light up your soldering iron and start the artification process, you have liberated vast musical resources that were untapped, because you have shifted from the observer to the doer. Your mythological role has now changed. Now you are not just questioning God, your are wrestling with Her. From a gaggle of crude electro-mechanical parts you are going to create a magical charm. You are now permanently crossing the boundary between "the you and you the music", where, by becoming its servant you discover your mastery.
Kit building is the same type of activity as mountain climbing, hang-gliding, or archery; all of these activities are intended to let us experience deeper knowing that we know only exists at the perimeter of ourselves.
If you are afraid of building a kit, it is especially important for you to build one. Kit building is a very Zen form of meditation, which is why so many wealthy Japanese men spend more money on their 300B kits then they would on a store bought amplifier. Totems help us face our demons and conquer them. If you demon is fear of voltage or fear of failure, this fear taints your listening. Building a 300B amplifier is the surest way to substitute "triumphant/creative energy" for fear/incompetence into every moment of musical delight.
You will be a different man after you build your first kit. Your hearing will become richer and deeper. You will be more vulnerable and more confident. You will want to kick yourself in the ass with a large boot for not having done this much sooner. No shame, no blame. You are ready when you are ready. Build a amplifier. Celebrate its birth and your re-birth with a gala party. Send Positive Feedback a picture of your Debutante Ball and we will publish it. And be sure to sell lots of Triode Guild T-shirts at your coming out party.
If you ever decide to move on, never sell this amplifier. Have it bronzed, or have it molded into a large clear Lucite cube, or build a pedestal or a chapel for it. Be sure to carry a picture of it next the picture of your children. Put its picture on your refrigerator door with a magnet. Dont be embarrassed to give this, your virgin popping experience, a lovable name, like Topsy, Poopsy, Honey Bumpkins, or whatever turns you on. You are right to be proud. You have just become an official real American thermionic techno shaman, and nothing is cooler than that.
WHAT KIT TO BUY
More and more 300B kits are coming out every year, and some truly significant kits are arriving from Japan. Shortly I will be listening to the Sun Audio 300B transformer phase splitter kit/push/pull kit. Here is my advice: check out Vacuum Tube Valley, Glass Audio and Sound Practices for the latest offerings.
Generally speaking I recommend that you buy the cheapest easiest kit you can get so that you get your first taste of the 300B magic. If I am right then soon you will be go higher up the 300B mountain. For starters choose the Sovtek tubes because they are so good at their price. Then you can move up to the Svetlana 300Bs which are very close to the Western Electrics.
GIZMOS 300B GLORY
Here are my 300B objet darmour:
My 300B single ended amps started out as Cary audios now classic 300B, but as you know I am a triode addict and when Mike Le Fevre sent me a pair of his Magnequest output transformers,....well you know what I did...I changed. Transformers. I also added tube regulated with some of those big heavy and ancient industrial tube regulated power supplies, and then fiddled with the one coupling capacitor. I also added a choke to the power supply for the input tube. I love this amplifier and you might say it is my favorite wife. She is not the most beautiful or the ultimate in performance (no stock amplifier can be), but I can listen to her all day, and she is infinitely tunable.
The reason I love the Manley push/pull/single ended amplifiers is because they have twice the power and really kick butt with rock and roll. There is no doubt that push/pull 300Bs have some amazing qualities that can never be achieved with any single-ended amplifier. But quick frankly the thing I love about these amplifiers is...it is like having a triode orgy. I love switching back and forth between push/pull and single-ended and being able to adjust the feedback. This the is the closest anyone can get to being a tweaker and being terrified of a soldering iron. These amps sound great. Are they the ultimate statement in thermionic coolosity. In a way they are because they give you the listener the control you deserve over your music system.
The Manley 300B line stage is also amazingly cool because with it I can get totally down on the directly heated triode sound and the combo of these two Manley pieces is exactly what I mean by audio alchemy. Directly heated triode line stages are the wave of the future and, trust me, you will be seeing more of this.
Nobu Shishidos 300B amplifier was a completely unique experience because there is nothing else like it in the world. His unique combination of Western Electric driver tube, 6L6 triode connected driving an interstage transformer which in turn drives the 300B creates a mysterious sound that is beyond language to describe. Trust me...Nobu has got it right, and more and more will be following his formula.
Audionote Kit One: I had it about ten days before I connected a tube regulated power supply to it. Let me assure you that this is one of the greatest bargains in the audio industry because the transformers are so good, and it has tube rectification and a meaningful choke. And yes rewire it with solid silver wire, and tweak it until you drop. If this is all you can afford, dont sweat it. You are definitely in the Triode Heaven ball park here.
BERNING 300B ZOTL: Earthlings are having a problem with this, the worlds first single-ended directly heated triode OTL with high frequency and regulated power supplies on all voltages...and it does not have all the weird impedance sensitivity of all transformer coupled amplifiers. That is a mouthful and an earful. Who would have ever thought that there would be a single-ended OTL using our rave fave high impedance directly heated triode tubes? What does a 300B sound like without the limitations of an output transformer and with the benefits of a totally silent, regulated power supply? Let me use the wisdom of my Hebrew ancestors and answer the question with another question: What is the sound of one 300B clapping?
THE SUN WILL SOON BE RISING: Another 300B scoop from the Guildmeister.
Sun Audio of Japan makes a hugely cool 300B push pull amplifier because it uses a transformer phase splitter and very high quality Japanese output transformers...and it is on the way to me, and will arrive in a few weeks. This amplifier is a bargain and I will give you my evaluation.
WELBOURN LABS 300B KIT: I listened to fellow editor Jeff Silversteins home built amplifiers and I thought they were great. These amplifiers are real value and you must check them out. If you need to save pennies, get them with the Sovteks and then start adding to your 300B collection.
WHATS NEXT: FRITZ, THE AUDIOMANIAC WILL SOON BE RECOMMENDING SPEAKERS THAT LOVE TO MATE WITH 300BS SO CHECK OUT SPEAKERMANIA
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