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During my previous 300B exploration, I'd come up with a list. It split the lot of bulbs I then had into two categories - the classic vintage sound as exemplified by the Western Electric*; and the modern sound as embodied by the Czech/Slovak camp of AVVT, EAT, EML, JJ, KR and Vaic. Of the four amps I then had at my disposal, two seemed tailor made for one half of the tubes. The two others embraced the other half. Yin and yang. As far as generalizations go, the below division of assets and liabilities is quite solid. My personal fave 300B is the Emission Labs 300B XLS closely followed by the EAT. That very appropriately pegs me a 'modern' listener. If WEs are beyond your reach on price or availability, I find the Full Music/TJ mesh a very good substitute. I have not heard the newer SE version from TJ nor the Shuguang Princess Series.


* I in fact never yet heard an original WE, only their modern reissues. Cognoscenti claim the originals were in a class of their own. If so, it'll be a mute point to most of us given what they fetch on the NOS market.

The vintage/classic group: Sino and US The modern group: Czech and Slovak
from good to best Shuguang 98, Full Music/TJ mesh, Western Electric JJ, Emission Labs 320BXLS, EAT 300B or EML 300BXLS
good traits limpid, liquid, elastic, willowy controlled, dynamic, extended, linear, taut, damped
poor traits limited treble and bass extension, a tendency to the slow, thick and fuzzy particularly when driven from 6SN7s, softer contours a staid stiff-backed demeanor, a tendency for a more transistor-type overdamped sound, potential for occasional glassiness with the JJs
ideal amps Emillé Labs, Woo Audio Trafomatic Audio, Yamamoto
ideal music chamber music, vocals complex symphonic, full-range highly dynamic modern music

Size and cosmetics of the Create Audio valves peg them vintage when these power triodes were physically smaller and lighter before the Eastern European triode freaks reinvented them. The Create/Synergy or C/S bulb itself is identical to my brown-base Shuguang. That's how it should be given the previous page's history. Just so, the inner structure is patently different also as advertised—visually akin only to the white-base Gold Aero balloon in my inventory—and the pins are distinctly superior to the stock Shuguangs.

Would those elements keep the C/S bottle in the classic sector or modernize it sonically?

This time I only had my two personal 300B amps on hand. The Emillé Labs and Trafomatic Audio review loaners had long since departed. For speakers, I leashed to the Yamamoto and Woo machines the 97dB 12-ohm Zu Essence. It's a well-publicized and known speaker. It's not too expensive either but very happy with 8 watts of triode power.

Front-end duties were handled by my new 1TB iMac running WAV files into the USB input of the April Music Stello CDA-500 via AOL Audio's new USB link; or by the Stello playing RedBook transport for my usual Yamamoto YDA-01 converter.

With speakers and headphones (the Woo ran Sennheiser HD800s, audio-technica Raffinatos, Grado PS-1000s and AKG K-702s) and on both the Japanese and American amps, the C/S bottle at first was very lit up on top. Steely and bright and even plain hard sprang to mind. That's certainly so not what you'd hope for from a designer-priced 300B. So I ran up the odometer. What changed over time was that the valve grew balls. What didn't was that it remained lit up. I'd put it sonically right between a JJ and EML/EAT. By comparison, the Western Electric clan was wispier and leaner of substance. Rather than bother going through the ranks—given these amps, my hierarchy on my tubes is pretty clear—I compared the actual WE as the best of that lot directly against the C/S. In the Woo, the Chinese was clearly the more robust, solid and meaty performer. In the Woo, I'd take Mr. Liu's bottle over the WE any day of the week. On the Essence. More on that anon.

Interestingly, the quality of driver tube here was more vital still. My Yamamoto uses the German C3m. Tough luck rolling that. But the Woo uses the very popular 6SN7. Stockers were ElectroHarmonix. As soon as the Russians were replaced by the pair Mr. Ningsheng Liu had dispatched, things shifted again just as they had earlier when I'd moved from the WE to the C/S output tubes. The EH driver was wispy, lean and thin by comparison. Gilding the lily by upgrading to EML's colossal 5U4G rectifiers did precious little thereafter.

Mind, I had no other 6SN7s on hand. This made for a terribly limited assessment, Still, in order of magnitude rolling the Woo amplifier, the 6SN7 was first followed by the 300B followed by the 5U4G rectifier. To put this into starker contrast yet, when I'd run the earlier 300B experiment linked to above, I'd classified the Woo as a vintage-voiced amp. That's exactly what the yellow list also shows.

Imagine my surprise when by the time that amp was completely decked out with Create/Synergy finery—'completely' except for the rectifiers—it had morphed strategically into a thoroughly modern wide-bandwidth design with dynamics superior to the vintage crowd and distinctly sharper bite on plucky transients, better separation and higher drive. The true lynch pin for that was the 6SN7, not the 300B.

I would however caution the intrepid 300B hunter that the top-end energy of the Create Audio power triode mandates proper matching. Here the quality of the driver tube and how it interacts with the output tube becomes vital so the general sound is fully fleshed out and sufficiently anchored down low. Then it nicely integrates the unusually developed upper mid/treble range. If you favor a more romantic pipe 'n' slippers sound, this valve will dance on the edge and possibly sooner than later on your nerves.

The Zu Essence makes a very meaty sound and isn't ultra resolved in the upper reach of its widebander. For my aging ears, the Create/Synergy 6SN7/300B combo was still properly balanced if nicely piquant. On headphones however, particularly the Sennheiser HD800s and AKG K-702s take no frisky prisoners. Here I felt the Chinese 300Bs were a bit too energetic over the longer haul. Substituting them with my usual EMLs rectified that again. But even over the headphones, I clearly preferred the Create Audio 6SN7 to the ElectroHarmonix. For me, those 6SN7s would be keepers.

To paraphrase from my earlier categorization on 300Bs in general, the modern 300Bs—peculiarly all from the Czech Republic or Slovakia—excel on incision/projection power, bandwidth, dynamics and impact. The lowest entry in this sector is the JJ whose quality control of late has become abysmal. The JJ 300B has a built-in propensity for getting a mite glinty, sharp or glassy at times. The best modern 300B variants I know of are by Emission Labs and EAT. They lose the JJ's prospective brightness to warrant no qualifications other than that they're not as fluid, languid and nubile as the Western Electric school. They're brasher and more vital. Hence I listed the "vocal and chamber music" catch-all as the vintage school's forté. Renaud Garcia-Fons or Dhafer Youssef ripping into their strings come off a lot better with the modern valves. An otherworldly Bruckner Adagio of massed strings carrying the listener into the heavens should favor the vintage tubes. Massive chorus will waft more on the old-style tubes and separate out more succinctly with the moderns. These are silly labels all but they do point at very real qualities.

Wrapping it up: The Create/Synergy 300B is sonically more refined than the coarser JJ but, like the JJ, not entirely free of friskiness. In the appropriate surroundings, this very quality can—just like a behaved Lowther that's not been neutered altogether—inject just the right kind of pep and illumination. The valve appears physically well made, with a solidly bonded ceramic base and Czech-type pins. Unlike the EAT/EMLs however, the C/S is microphonic. Flick the tube with a finger and it'll ring. Naturally, you don't do that whilst listening but particularly over headphones and during the warm-up period, there'll be crackling, crinkle and expansion noises until things stabilize. Flick the Euro Audio Team and Emission Labs bottles and thud is the only answer.

Given that in the appropriate scenario, I preferred Ningsheng Liu's valve over the current-gen Western Electric; and given that his is cheaper (though far from cheap per se) - I'd have to call the Create Audio 300B a welcome addition to the Queen of Triode clan. If you can't quite spring for an Emission Labs 300B XLS or EAT but are after their type of slightly more 'transistorized' rather than 'romanticized' sound, I'd exercise the new Create/Synergy option and stay well clear of the JJ. Ditto if your amp is of the slower cozier sort and you want to transform it into something a bit spunkier and feistier. If your 300B amp runs 6SN7 drivers, I'd experiment with those before the output tubes. The Create Audio drivers could move you straight into the sweet spot, no further actions required.

PS: On the following page, we have Wojciech Pacuła's report on the same Create Audio 300B for some added data points. And while on additional data points, the assortment of 300B choices in current production has just expanded to Japan of all places where the Takatsuki TA-300B launched. Not only does vinyl refuse to die, so does valve audio including the 300B.

Synergy Hifi website