(Bodhidharma was an Indian sage who lived some 1600 years ago. He made the treacherous journey from India to China pointing directly to what is True to those enmeshed in belief and conceptualization.)
I was first bitten by the audio bug well over twenty years ago when I heard a pair of Rogers LS3/5 speakers in a rather esoteric little audio store in Rochester, New York. Listening to reproduced music would never be the same as new doors to yet more intense listening experiences would open up over the years. Another musical passion of mine is for acoustic guitar, and I play mostly blues, including slide, as well as some harmonica, and I sing along with it all, as well. I have lived at meditation retreat centers for most of my adult life, and presently continue to live and work on staff at just such a center in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.
For several years now I have been reading about single-ended triode amplifiers and was interested to check one out. The way some people describe their experiences with them seems to put them on a whole different plane from other amplifier designs, almost as though an emotional relationship with the music takes place unlike anything else these people have heard before. Of course there have also been those who see them as no more then tone controls, (the editor of STEREOPHILE for one). Their poor bench measurements also cause some reviewers to shake their heads in disdain. Be that as it may, I recently purchased a pair of Spendor SP2/3 speakers with the idea in mind that this would be an SE amplifier-friendly speaker.
Not knowing where to turn with regard to advice about which amp to investigate, I emailed Harvey Rosenberg who graciously responded with some direction. As we all know, its rare to find several people - whether they be sales people or reviewers - who can agree about audio components; one can feel lost and confused talking with more then one audiophile if one has no first-hand experience with the topic in question. I felt that getting advice from Dr. Gizmo himself would be about as far as a triode neophyte could go in terms of receiving information based on LOTS of first-hand experience. He recommended I listen to the Golden Tube Audio SE300B Mark II amplifier, and also recommended some tube changes to further improve the sound. I read his article about this amp - as well as other articles - on the Triode Guild website. I was able to track down a demo unit which I could try out at home, thanks to Frank at Audio Classics. I need to say upfront that I listen in the near field (about 6 feet from the speakers) and in a very small listening environment, so volume levels have not been a problem with this amp. I was also able to get my hands on the recommended tubes, including a Mullard 5AR4 rectifier, which in particular proved to offer surprisingly better sound then the stock tube.
I have owned my share of amplifiers over the years, both tube and solid state: Audio Research (D76B, Classic 60, D70 MKII), Classe, Museatex/Meitner, Quicksilver GLA, Conrad-Johnson MV50, and Musical Designs D75B to name a few. I have never experienced magic quite the way that I am experiencing it with this Golden Tube SE amp. I recently told a friend that I cannot remember enjoying reproduced music as much and being sometimes startled by it at the same time; startled in the sense that with a well- recorded disc, the music has such an uncanny presence. The aural cues that help to make the experience that much more believable are there to a greater extent then I am used to. The sound is also really quite full, even if it doesnt shake the rafters. Singers and most instruments have all the body one could ask for (but I dont listen to orchestral music, organ, or heavy rock ). What is going on musically on each disc seems to be unraveled to a greater extent then I am used to. And the music is presented in a very natural way, allowing connection to happen easily. One friend who listened to it calls it the "magic amp".
Thanks to Dr. Harvey (Gizmo) Rosenberg for his helpful advice and recommendations. Although the idea of trying my hand at building an SE amp has its appeal to me, I dont think I could do as well for the money as I did with this amp. And it looks real pretty too. And that tiny bit of feedback you can add with the turn of two knobs adds just the right amount of body to the overall sound.
Years ago an audiophile friend of mine always had the same question after Id tell him about some new audio component I had read about in one of the high-end rags. He would respond with, "Yes, but what does it sound like?" Its funny how we need to be reminded not to go by reviews, measurements, or what have you, but to answer that question for ourselves. What does it sound like, one triode clapping? Check it out for yourself; its worth the effort.
Stew Glick (firstname.lastname@example.org)
e-mail Dr. Harvey "Gizmo" Rosenberg: email@example.com
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