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Did I have any complaints about 6 watts of limited power output? Hardly. Michael Kevin Jones’ Bach Solo Cello Suites, Yuja Wang’s Sonatas & Etudes and Tone Wik’s Bellezza Crudel presented SET euphony with unperturbed equanimity yet never shied away from dynamic contrasts typified by the chain-missile firepower and sylphide suppleness of Yuja’s flying fingers. The symphonic front was undeniably the 6L6’s forté but I was still left agape by the sinewy strengths of the KT88. Two remarkable recordings from Naxos best illustrate the point.

Original Works for Euphonium & Orchestra
have Adam Frey as soloist and Bruce Hangen conducting the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra [Naxos 8.570538]. Playing this disc on the TL66 and Klipsch Synergy F2 worked faster than you could say abracadabra. The multi-talented brass instrument with the soothing agility of a French horn, the cantabile magnificence of a bassoon and the basso profundo of tuba combined with Adam Frey’s virtuoso musicality and his wonderful choice of repertoire was handing the TL66 license to kill. With Frey’s Boston Pops background, you can be assured of orchestral bonbons galore. The most challenging piece and also most entertaining is the Euphonium Concerto by Vladamir Cosma (b. 1940). In well disciplined three-movement form, it’s everything but conservative. The Spanish-flavoured orchestral palette mixes freely on a 3R color triangle of Rodrigo, Ravel and Rimsky-Korsakov, then spins off into a transitory Piazzolla pigment with the "Andantino" movement. The TL66 embraced the challenge with unrestrained articulation and authoritative aplomb even during the most complicated tutti. The soundstage remained open and airy, instrumental allocation was naturally laid out.

I didn’t expect the other recording to be flattering but somehow it was. Vasily Petrenko’s rendition of Shostakovich’s Symphonies Nos. 5 & 9 [Naxos 8.572167] puts him into the league of the world’s best symphonic colorists.  

Not only did he draw out virtuoso finesse and timbral delicacy from his Royal Liverpool Philharmonic forces but he also revived the musical aesthetic of the 'Stalin-shadowed' symphonies, freeing them from political burdens with his unique music-for-music’s-sake approach. With the SET aura in my audition room, even the sharp-tongued orchestral squabble was honed to witty eloquence.  

Two more topics to cover and I’m ready for my conclusion. First, tube rolling. On the Elekit TU-879S, also a pure Class A single-ended beam tetrode design that can freely roll between 6L6, EL34, KT66 and KT88, my personal preference has always been within the 6L6 family. With the JohnBlue and to my flat-out surprise, the winner was the Mullard EL34. This is the only instance where I'd gladly trade my favorite 6L6 and only the second time I've so been taken by a tube amp’s magical valve bloom. I lost my cherry with the Italian The Dream 2A3 monoblocks by Synthesis. Those cost more than $7,000, more than thrice the JohnBlues. Once I was actually dreaming The Dream while on loan from a friend for a few days. Then he shipped these amps to a buyer. That could have been me - had I just known they were for sale.

Now the JohnBlue TL66 is the best contender to fulfill my interrupted dream. I’ve never experienced so much fun tube rolling, the logical assumption being that the TL66 is so simple and direct of circuit design that it transfers each tube’s individual character intact. For the first time I not only enjoyed affinity with the EL34 but also KT88.

I never invested in these tubes before. I only had them on loan from Victor Kung of VK Music, the Canadian Elekit distributor of Elekit, while I was handling the TU-879S review. Without thinking, I now purchased matched pairs of Mullard EL34, Tungsol EL34 and Svetlana KT88 for future reference. Addicted or what?