Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Cairn Fog v2.0 as transport; Zanden Audio Model 5000 MkIII DAC; Furutech Digi. Reference BNC-BNC digital cable; Ortho Spectrum AR-2000 filter/buffer on the DAC's analog outputs
Preamp/Integrated: Bel Canto PRe6
Amp: AUDIOPAX Model 88; Bel Canto eVo 4; Coda Technologies S5 [on review]; Acoustic Reality Enigma Plus [on review]
Speakers: Avantgarde Acoustic DUO
Cables: HMS Grand Finale; Analysis Plus Solo Oval and Oval 8; i2digital X-60; Stereovox HDXV; Mapleshade Ebony active digital interconnect; Mapleshade Planar power cord with DC bias; Audio Magic Clairvoyant power cords; Z-Cable Reference cables and Hurricane power cords [on review]
Stands: Grand Prix Audio Monaco four-tier
Powerline conditioning: BPT BP-3.5 Signature; Walker Audio Velocitor for source components
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for tube amps; GPA Apex footers underneath stand and speakers; Walker Audio SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; WorldPower cryo'd Hubbell wall sockets; Musse Audio resonance dampers on DUO subs; Mapleshade 4" solid maple platform under BPT conditioner
Room size: 30' w x 18' d x 10' h [sloping ceiling] in long-wall setup in one half, with open adjoining living room for a total of ca.1000 squ.ft floor plan and significant 'active' cubic air volume of essentially entire house
Review component retail: $3,290 [$2,250 stock with remote]

Tubes. Valves. Glass bottles. Thermionic devices. Röhren. While those glow bugs do unapologetically constitute my chosen mode of amplification, I'm not a terribly smooth operator. I'd take a 211 over an 845 any day of the week; a PX-25 over a 2A3; a stout high-current KR/Vaic/ EAT 32B variant over the 'real' Western Electric 300B; and in fact use KT88s in a clever variation on super-ultralinear single-ended pentode mode in my statement monos. The way I see it, there's such a thing as too smooth, too lush, too mellow - and to my ears, many of the venerable 300B implementations err on the side of beauty for beauty's sake - a bit listless and engorged. You see, I like my music with a certain attitude, boogie factor and micro-detail resolution. Bluster. Excitement. Dynamics. Articulated attacks. Speed. That too is beauty and closer to my life - without the-air brushed and collagen-enhanced glossy lips. Which is why, in general, I'm not a fan of 300Bs. Naturally, that sez more about me than the tube which, to be clear, has legions of devout followers. Now, each time you adopt a comfortable little niche whereby to define your own biases, along comes a challenger to wash your head and prove the exception to the rule. In my case, that exception were the Manley Labs NeoClassic 300B SE/PP monos I reviewed last year. In a one-two assault follow-up, now enter the remote-controlled Jolida JD300B integrated which gave my remaining preconceptions and beliefs, about 300Bs and associated expense, the stiff New York middle finger.

What the hey? Jolida, that jolly leader of the cheap'n'cheerful brigade, now in the serious 300B business? You bet. As first indicated by their popular JD100 valved CD player, this Chinese firm with German transformer vendors and US final assembly is no longer content to be shoehorned into the entry-level box of "good when you're first starting out". One glance at the physical beast above should assuage any suspicions that such a statement couldn't possibly be any more than wishful thinking on Jolida's part. Massively solid at 65 lbs, with 6 inputs and remote control over input switching, volume, mute and standby -- and not just any plastic remote but Jolida's very own custom metal job with embedded metal ball actuators -- you also get metal-trimmed holes for the four small-signal tubes (2 x 12AX7/ECC83, 2 x 12AT7/4003); a true 12AX7-cascode active preamp stage rather than passive switching matrix with attenuator; dual-mono tube rectification via 5Z3Ps; the afore-mentioned 300B bottles for 8 watts of single-ended zero NFB power; a banana-fitted tube cage; green/red power/standby and green input indicators plus a green stave LED in the volume knob to confirm setting as well as go blink-blink when in 'mute' or during the 15-second circuit stabilization upon power-up via the rear mains.

However, Jolida's published specs might have you reel in disappointment: +/-1dB frequency response of 100Hz-34KHz (clearly no bass); and a S/N ratio of >65dB. Back to the stone age via the slow boat to China? According to Walter Liederman of Underwood HiFi, the stock machine would not have been entirely to my liking. "All midrange magic but very good for the money" is how he summed it up. Alas, after giving the overall build quality and circuit layout the critical evil eye, Chris Johnson of the Canadian Parts ConneXion pronounced that a little nip'n'tug surgery of strategic parts substitution could completely level the playing field to take true advantage of the first-rate German transformers on board and obliterate the "good for the money" qualification. In fact, so excited was Chris by this transformer quality (the most critical part in especially single-ended tube amps) that he proposed a go-for-broke modification package, price no issue.

When Liederman extended his trust by giving the go-ahead, Chris cooked up an 8-hour beautifying spa treatment whose ingredients are detailed on Walter's site (link at review's end) and, within their by now well-known scheme of custom upgrades, designated Level-2 to indicate the full Monty assault of show-me-what-you-got - in ya. Raising the unit's $2,250 stock pricing by $1,040 dollars, the actual cost of the mod is $1,500, something you'll have to pony up if you're interested in a retro-fit rather than purchasing the already-modded machine for $3,290 from Underwood HiFi. Said outfit, by the way, has thoughtfully obtained authorization to extend Jolida's 18-month factory warranty to their tweaked units.

A $1,500 upgrade on a $,2250 machine? Sacre bleu! Do the math to calculate how this mod would have condemned standard retail pricing had it been incorporated at the factory of origin proper. It'd have undergone the standard markups between factory and foreign distributor, distributor and rep, rep and dealer, then dealer and final buyer. We can thus all appreciate that what I listened to during the review period bore precious little semblance to the standard JD300B outside general appearances. I'm rather certain that pre-Johnson overhaul, this integrated followed the standard affordable tube formula of curtailed frequency extremes, veiled details due to intrinsically high noise floor, and a consequently luscious but overripe vocal range with little air on top and soggy one-note bottoms.

Alas, I was listening instead to significantly upgraded tubes and a large number of premium parts including hookup wire, capacitors, resistors, rectifier diodes and connectors. Admittedly, my evaluation doesn't serve those readers who have their eyes on the standard piece. But it nearly certainly saved me from having to pen one of those overly critical and scornfully negative reviews. And despite the perceived 'even-handedness' those might signal to folks perennially convinced that only evidence of such instances prove a reviewer's objectivity and worth, such ream jobs are really no more fun to read than to write and of dubious use - unless a component were unquestionably a rotten apple and not just the victim of personal biases and system synergy problems, something that rarely happens anymore.

As the pictures show, this Jolida is a rather deep component - it measures 17.5" wide by 13.5" deep by 8.75" high. The black fleck chassis paint and substantial clear-anodized aluminum fascia and transformer covers cut a classy two-tone profile and fit'n'finish are what you expect in a $5,000 machine but here get for half. Jolida clearly went the extra mile to combat its perception of purveyor to the 'lower' classes - and a full-function remote in the realm of 300B amplifiers remains a definite rarity regardless of price.

The first indication that this 9-watter (the modification ups the ant-power ante by one watt) was more than just an overweight looker occurred upon concluding the first thermal stabilization process. Midrange hiss on the 103dB Avantgardes was zip, zilch, nada, and white noise 'ocean surf' on the tweeters so subdued as to equate my expensive statement AUDIOPAX monos. Whatever Chris Johnson did to the amp upped the published S/N ratio something fierce. This promised far better low-level data retrieval than the stocker predicted. Time to find out in earnest.