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This review first appeared in the April 2010 issue of hi-end hifi magazine High Fidelity of Poland. You can also read this review of the Create Audio 300B in its original Polish version. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with publisher Wojciech Pacula. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of High Fidelity or Trafomatic Audio. - Ed.

Reviewer: Wojciech Pacu
Review system: Go here

Nowadays it’s uncommon to learn of a new vacuum tube manufacturer who does not just stamp his name on a product. That's what makes Chinese Synergy HiFi special. This company was founded in 1995 in Hong Kong. Until now, they dealt primarily with the domestic distribution and sales of tubes and tube amplifiers in China. Mr. Ningsheng Liu who designs these new tubes together with his partner Mr. Tan explained that "…we deliver our materials and some of our technology to the Shuguang factory. Create Audio are not just rebranded tubes. They are manufactured to our specification and designed to fulfill our requirements." He added that "those technologies and materials are unique to our tubes and not to be found even with Shuguang's own tubes".

Shuguang is one of the biggest tube manufacturers in China and joint ventured with Korean giant LG Electronics. Its Black Series with carbon-coated glass is known as one of the best especially for 300Bs. Such success is backed by years of research. The Shuguang factory opened December 26th 1965 with the plain number #770 instead of a formal name. It was built to supply the military with electron tubes from the very beginning. When China opened up to the West in the 80s, the company received the official name Shuguang. This means ‘East’ and was to represent a new beginning. An interesting factory tour of Shuguang can be found on Enjoy the here.

Create Audio is too small to acquire their own valve-crafting machines. Hence they contracted with Shuguang. Create offers 300B and 845 power triodes, KT88 tetrodes and EL34 and EL84 pentodes as well as 6SN7, 12AX7, 12AU7 and 12AT7 small-signal triodes. Besides tubes, they sell audiophile fuses with gold-plated contacts. We received most of their products for review but I though that the 300B would make for the most interesting subject. These tubes are delivered in matched pairs. The bases are ceramic, the pins gold-plated and inside the quartz glass bulb we see a carbon-covered perforated anode made from nano materials, a new approach to stabilizing electron flow.

Because Janusz's amp—he is the host of our Krakow Sonic Society meetings—is the Ancient Audio Silver Grand Mono which uses four 300Bs, I requested two pairs. Interestingly, Janusz now runs Shuguangs which replaced carbon Full Music 300B/c. After a week of listening he bought the Create Audio tubes. After burn-in, he found them as good as the Shuguangs but more precise, resolved and energetic. He felt the Shuguangs were more saturated, slightly warmer, more "condensed" and "meditative". The second amplifier for testing was the fantastic Trafomatic Audio Experience Two integrated. It ships stock with Electro-Harmonix Gold Series 300Bs manufactured by Sovtek. Thanks to Polish distributor Tomasz Król of Sophia Electric, I managed to procure two more interesting candidates, the carbon and mesh-plate Princess 300B/c and Princess 300B/n.

Sound: For review, I used the following discs - Diorama, A Different Life, Accesion Records, A 102, CD; Eva Cassidy, Imagine, Blix Street, G2-10075, CD; Gerry Mulligan, Night Lights, Philips/Rainbow CD, PHCE-3064, CD; Jack Johnson, Sleep Through The Static, Brushfire Records, 56055, CD; King Crimson, In The Court Of The Crimson King, Universal Music Japan, UICE-9051, HDCD; Kraftwerk, Autobahn, Capital Records/KlingKlang/Mute Records, STUMM 303, 180g LP (2009); Kraftwerk, Tour The France Soundtracks, EMI Records, 591 708 1, 2 x 180g LP; Lisa Garrard, The Silver Tree, 4AD/Sonic Records, SON212, CD; Tingwall Trio, Vattensaga, Skip Records, SKP 9087-2, CD; Tommy Dorsey, A Portrait of Tommy Dorsey, Music Collection International, Gale 404, 2 x CD; Wynton Kelly, Piano, Riverside/Universal Music Japan, UCCO-9273, CD.

Although the purpose of this evaluation were the Create Audio tubes, I could of course not refuse listening to the other tubes and comparing them. The basic reference was the Electro-Harmonix. I tried to make all evaluations relative to them. But I must make an important statement upfront: tubes sound different in different applications. Although they retain the basic aspects of their sound almost invariably, it’s up to the designer of a given amplifier which aspects of a tube type will be highlighted and which will be underplayed. Hence I  suggest to treat this test as an introduction for experiments which should be carried out personally. This is about real tuning and we must do it in our own systems.

Sophia Electric Princess 300B/n.
The Sophia mesh plate seems to be slightly brighter than the Electro-Harmonix. We can immediately hear how the center of gravity shifts up. This is partly because of more treble information. The Russian has the more massive virtual performers and the shapes of its instruments possess clearer edges. Yet the Sophias were more resolving and vivid. Although less taut than the EHs’, their bass was the more colorful and tacit. The contrabass from the Mulligan disc Night Lights had more clarity in general and played a more active part in recreating the piece. The lead saxophone was better structured but its edges were not as well defined. The most important difference was the brighter timbre and the much more resolved and vibrant treble. The energy transfer was in a higher class and the instruments had more sound intensity. Although they weren’t louder or closer to the listener per se, their intensity was much bigger with the Sophias.

With the Tingalli Trio's disc Vattensaga, especially the title track showed how the Chinese bass was softer. This is a current disc with the contrabass recorded as is now the norm - more contoured than real life and how it was done in the past. The price to be paid is a hardening of the attacks. The EH tubes better showed how the instrument was actually recorded or at least they got close. The Sophia smoothed and softened things slightly. While this was actually closer to reality, with better recorded instruments and over better electronics it would be perceived as a softening. There wasn’t much to talk about soundstage since it is was very similar to the EH – deep, clear and with splendid separation of the layers. This is a very refined tube with a rich treble and nice midrange. But its timbre is rather pastel and its bass not as tight as the Electro-Harmonix. It also seems that bass distortion sets in sooner with the Sophias. It's worth repeating that how a tube works depends on a specific application. In a slightly darker system that would profit from some light and freshness, the Sophias should sound better and more interesting than the Electro-Harmonix..

Sophia Electric Princess 300B/c.
A fantastic tube but… let’s wait until later with that but. The timbre’s center of gravity is lower than with the mesh and closer to the Electro-Harmonix. The sound is far deeper here, harmonics seem fuller and everything has more body. The sound moves closer to the listener and one gets the impression that everything is here and now. This stems not from forwardness but a greater physical presence with higher energy. Against this background, the mesh plate seemed a bit leaky. The carbon version was denser and more coherent. The whole musical emission was slightly quieter and not as eager as the 300B/n.

The vocals of King Crimson’s In The Court of The Crimson King developed far better. Everything flowed without hesitation or nervousness. The tube reproduced instrument weight properly. This was mostly due to a strong full bass. This bass wasn’t as contoured as the Electro-Harmonix but still nicer because it combined the best of the mesh Sophia and the Russian. And now to the but. This Sophia recesses a part of the midrange to make everything deeper and fuller. The whole is very vivid but because of a midrange dip around 1kHz, nothing was unduly lit up. Treble resolution was higher than with the mesh version and better than with the EH. It had the more correct timbre and attack. Still, the mesh version could sound better with its higher treble saturation. This was audible with the Tingali Trio where the carbon Sophia dulled the piano a tad and the cymbals didn’t ring out as far. The changes were minor but worth taking into account when making choices. On the Mulligan disc’s baritone saxophone, the carbon Sophia shone due to the dense timbre and a strong first soundstage layer. In general, I found the carbon version a big step forward yet there was a price to pay.

Create Audio Golden Jazz Series 300B. Here I must confess that Janusz is an important influence when it comes to 300Bs. It's why his decision to replace his treasured Shuguangs was an important message. I try avoiding stereotypes  but after many versions of the same tube, I cannot resist an at least temporary theory that mesh plates sound lighter, possess a more vivid treble and cast a much bigger. soundstage. This is comes at the cost of the bass which is most beautiful with the carbon tubes. Their midrange is more fleshy and saturated as though there was twice as much sound.

On this canvas, the Chinese tubes were a bit to the side. This is a perforated plate with carbon coating to combine traits of either mesh and solid plates. It is more resolving than the carbon Sophia but has lower bass than the mesh. In my opinion the bass of the carbon Sophia is brilliant and a bit deeper and stronger than Create Audio’s. But the latter was stronger than the mesh Sophia and had much clearer and more resolute bass than the Electro-Harmonix - which was already very good.

Most important about the new Chinese is their brilliant resolution. Without brightening or steeliness, it gives the vividness of the best Full Music mesh plates but higher precision and a slight honey coating. The result isn’t forwardness but richness. I liked this tube. A lot. If I could add to it the bass from the carbon Sophia, we’d have an ideal. Its midrange is not as saturated as the Western Electrics or even the Sophia but still far from thin. I think that this tube has the most neutral tonal balance. This might discourage vintage 300B lovers who prize the midrange most to go for Western Electric instead (the NOS version, not current production). But it is worth seeing what the sound actually looks like without a strong personality filter. This is a linear dynamic tube with outstanding soundstaging. What a debut!

Although I don't usually run numerical ratings because it’s a shaky proposition at best, in this case I made an exception to better illustrate the differences. To remain within a recognizable pattern, I borrowed Thorsten Loesch's scale from Enjoy The Perhaps I could have gone farther still but there's no value in redundancy.

Electro-Harmonix 300B
Timbre 65
Bass 70
Midrange 60
Treble 55
Resolution 55
Sound stage 60
Manufacturing quality 55
  Sophia Electric Princess 300B/n
Timbre 70
Bass 60
Midrange 65
Treble 70
Resolution 65
Sound stage 60
Manufacturing quality 60
  Sophia Princess 300B/c
Timbre 75
Bass 70
Midrange 80
Treble 65
Resolution 70
Sound stage 65
Manufacturing quality 60

Create Audio Golden Jazz Series 300B

Timbre 75
Bass 65
Midrange 80
Treble 80
Resolution 80
Sound stage 70
Manufacturing quality 60

Technical data according to the manufacturer:

UH: 5V
IH: 1.2A
Maximum values:
Anode voltage: 480V
Automatic bias: 100mA

Fixed bias: 270mA
Anode dispersing power: 40W
DC parameters:
Va: 1300V
-Vg: 60V
Ia: 60mA
Gm: 5.5mA/V
Ri: 700Ω
μ: 3.85

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