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Frederic Beudot
Financial Interests: click here
Digital source: Mac mini, Burson Conductor, Ocellia Reference USB cable
Analog source: Acoustic Solid Classic Wood, AS WTB211, Dynavector DV20X-2, Esoteric E03
Preamplifiers: Burson Conductor, Triode Labs Au Pre du Triode [in for review]
Amplifiers: FirstWatt F5, Finale F-7591 [on loan]
Speakers: Zu Essence, Ocellia Calliope 0.21 Twin Signature, Rogers LS 3/5a
Headphones: Burson Conductor, AKG K701
Cables: Full Ocellia Reference loom
Power cords: Genesis Absolute Fidelity, Ocellia Reference power [on loan]
Powerline conditioning: Isotek Nova
Sundry accessories: Isolpads, ASI Heartsong racks
Room size: 12.5' x 18' x 8'
Review component retail: €6.940

Ever since Srajan's 2007 review of Trafomatic's The Experience One which earned one of our very first Realsization awards, I secretly wanted to give one of Sasa Cokic's creations a thorough evaluation in my own system. I heard Trafomatic amplifiers on many occasions at shows and demos but it took almost six more years for an opportunity to arise with today's SM-300B integrated. Even that took time as SM-300Bs were selling well and Trafomatic couldn't keep them in stock long enough to spare a loaner. Then came a challenging and costly crate shipment from Serbia to Canada but in the end a Trafomatic arrived safely at my place on the shores of Lake Ontario securely nested in a massive wooden crate filled with tightly packed shock-absorbing material. Over my years as reviewer, I have developed a feeling for how a company cares for their equipment based on how much they leave to chance and the finicky gods of global logistics. Esoteric is probably best in class with their quadruple boxing and palletized shipping but Trafomatic's packaging was every bit as robust if less striking. It made me feel good that therein hid an amplifier somebody obviously cared a lot about.

The SM-300B initially available in the white series alongside the Kaivalya monos, Premise and Aries integrated and Reference One preamplifiers now also comes in a darker wood finish and black and red lacquer. My loaner's wooden robe showed Trafomatic's very high quality standards. Build quality was exemplary and seen throughout. The current silver trim then showed a little less bling than the gold treatment of the original TEO.

From the spiked feet, massive tight-fitting speaker connectors, transparent tube grill, elegant wooden remote to the solid well-marked knobs, metal plate on the upper deck to prevent against damage from excessively hot 300Bs, I can't see how and where anybody would fault the SM-300B's quality of construction and finish. With TEO Trafomatic hit one out of the park six years ago and today show proof of the ongoing validity of their design concept in a fast changing industry but also that they have matured into a company which knows how to make gorgeous tube gear that goes up against the best names in the category on fit 'n' finish alone. To put it plainly, the SM-300B blew away the Yamamoto A014 on that count and even Ocellia's massive and expensive 300B integrated might benefit from borrowing a few details from Trafomatic's flawless execution.

When designing the SM-300B—SM are the initials of Sasa and his partner Mica Despotovic—Cokic started with a very robust power supply built around two separate toroidal transformers. Regulation is solid state as it is in all of Trafomatic's push-pull designs to ensure stability and robustness of the power supply which is so critical to delivering dynamics and response extension in that type of circuit. Of the two power transformers one serves the tube heaters (DC for the 300B and 5687 inputs, AC for the 6N6P) whilst the other provides power for bias and anodes.

The circuit is auto fixed bias to insure identical operating points for all tubes whilst avoiding user error and amplifier fussiness. The self biasing circuit resides outside the signal path for no impact on sound quality according to Cokic. The output transformers also of Sasa's own design and fabrication are C-core types with 4 and 8Ω taps.

One of the things to keep in mind with the SM-300B is its input sensitivity of 0.4V and circuit gain of 30dB. The amp won't need to be pushed hard to reach significant SPL especially in high-efficiency systems where people might be tempted to try it first. On the positive side of this equation, the remote-controlled volume is very finely stepped which makes it easy to find the perfect listening level at even high attenuation. Although I don't mind getting up to change volume, I admit that the comfort of a remote is nothing to complain about. During its time the SM-300B emitted a very light noise through the speakers, slightly more than the ultra-quiet Triode Labs EL84TT but far less than the very noisy Yamamoto A014. This never intruded on the music even during low-level passages and that's what truly mattered. The amplifier offers three unbalanced inputs on RCA, a digital input on USB and a ground post in addition to the already mentioned massive 4 and 8-ohm binding posts.

The USB input is really a convenience affair. Although assembled by Sasa instead of being completely OEM subcontracted, it is limited to 44.1, 48 and 96khz signals to omit the very useful 88kHz integer Redbook upsampling frequency. If one refuses asynchronous upsampling as I do, this DAC forces people to listen to ripped CDs at their native sampling rate. This really does not have my preference. It also sounds fairly compressed dynamically and congested. It'll do in a pinch but the amplifier deserves far better sources to show what it can do. My listening comments thus are limited to tapping the amp with an analog signal. Trafomatic was already working on an MM phono module and <200Hz sub out as future options in lieu of the USB DAC but neither were available yet during my time with the amp.