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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Zanden Audio Model 2000P/5000S; Opera Audio Reference 2.2 Linear
Preamp/Integrated: ModWright SWL 9.0SE; Music First Audio Passive Magnetic; Bel Canto Design PRe3
EQ: Rane PEQ55 active merely below 40Hz
Amp: 2 x Audiosector Patek SE; Yamamoto A-08S; Canary Audio CA-308s; FirstWatt F3 & F1; Bel Canto e.One S300; Eastern Electric M-520
Headphones: AKG K-1000 w. hardwired Stefan AudioArt harness; audio-technica W-1000
Speakers: Zu Cable Definition Pro in custom lacquer; Anthony Gallo Acoustics Ref 3.1
Cables: Zanden Audio proprietary I²S cable, Zu Cable Varial, Gede, Libtech and Ibis; Stealth Audio Cable Indra, MetaCarbon & NanoFiber [on loan]; SilverFi interconnects; Crystal Cable Reference power cords; double cryo'd Acrolink with Furutech UK plug between wall and transformer
Stands: 1 x Grand Prix Audio Monaco Modular five-tier
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S fed from custom AudioSector 1.5KV Plitron step-down transformer with balanced power output option
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for transport; GPA Apex footers underneath stand, DAC and amp; Walker Audio Extreme SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Walker Audio Reference HDLs; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer
Room size: 16' w x 21' d x 9' h in short-wall setup, with openly adjoining 15' x 35' living room
Review Component Retail: $1,200/matched pair
This particular series of articles takes place in the amazing system of Cypriot audiophile Dan who lives a mere hour from me. It's not about formal reviews. It's about "on location" observations and experiences in an acoustically fine space filled with a very ambitious hornspeaker system. There's a plethora of ancillary equipment that includes various amplification choices by the likes of Art Audio, AudioSector, darTZeel, Electronluv, FirstWatt, Kondo Ongaku, Korneff, Supratek, Tektron, Yamamoto and Wavelength; digital by Zanden and an Esoteric/APL HiFi UX-1 NWO-2; fine vinyl via an SME30 table, SME 5 arm and a Kondo cartridge; and an ATR 100 open-reel machine with Aria electronics. Future installments might feature parallel audio commentary by Dan and myself, on common listening sessions. Those could compare different amps using the same output tube, for example. Dan's unusually eclectic hardware collection lends itself to exciting juxtapositions. Those go well beyond what could be reasonably put together within our formal review process. Stay tuned for other reports on this mindblowingly exotic "audio lab" of the hobby taken to the extreme. Adventures in Cyprus. Perhaps in the future, other such opportunities will arise elsewhere. They might warrant the launch of a new series of articles devoted to the same theme - using a very special system that's not owned by one of our formal reviewers but by a fellow music enthusiast who's happy to open his doors for experiments. All of these shall be conducted in the spirit of exploration and an open sharing of resources so that readers around the world can benefit, learn and, most of all, share in the fun. (Unless noted otherwise, whatever equipment appears in such commentaries will be owned by the host rather than have been formally submitted to 6moons as temporary review loaners.)
Western-bloody-Ecclectic. Various expletives to that effect escaped like snake hisses through paralleled sets of clenched teeth. Cause of the excited din? A new current-production WE300B. It had snuck in place of a fine TJ. Scene of the crime? Dan's system in Cyprus. It'll be the common destination of future installments for this particular new series. Location of the 300B plug-in? As driver for a 6C33C-B, in a pair of Mick Maloney/Kevin Covy one-up custom Supratek monos with massive valve outboard power supplies. Expert witness ears? Kevin Scott of Definitive Audio in the UK aka Living Voice speaker designer and celebrated setup and systems expert. Digital-with-tubes maestro Alex Peychev of APL HiFi. Josh 'Gordon in the Flesh' Stippich of Electronluv. System owner and generous sharer Dan. And pen man yours truly.
Dan's system sports 6-way speakers with ALE compression drivers. The +/- 110dB horn system starts at the bottom with 30-foot long straight bass horns. Those vent into the room behind the equipment rack as two square man holes in the middle of the front wall. They're flanked in the room corners by two large scorpion-tailed midbass horns. Their faceted flares engulf three separately mounted ALEs. One stand-mounted Acapella ion tweeter per channel sits between side wall and midbass horn. Crossover duties for this system are by necessity complex, critical and adjustable.
|The Suprateks ran everything except the basshorns. Those were driven by a pair of AudioZone chip-amp monos. The Australian valve amps found themselves strapped into the rig instead of the FirstWatt F3 which Dan had previously run. Our merry group of audiophile knaves of course couldn't leave well enough alone. If there were knobs to be polished, tweaked, twisted and turned, what else do you expect but manly mayhem? Chasing the cause of a resultant echo-y blurring as well as a tonal imbalance, Kevin --
|who was on vacation and whose carefree inspiration level at this point had been sufficiently lubricated by 20-year old 63% proof Scottish Schweppes -- suddenly suggested to pop in a pair of brand-spanking-new WE300Bs. Dapper Dan. Jolly good.
"Those ain't even genuine output valves, y'auld fewl. Thems just measly drivers. Why bother?" That's probably what most of us thought about Kevin's bright idea. Yet nobody dared to say so out loud, in feckless obedience to looking equally inspired and presentient as the systems tweak expert (including ye olde Editor whose disdain for strong spirits meant that he was the most uninspired fifth wheel of this happy congregation). Needless to say, those new bottles from WE's Huntsville/Alabama plant -- rumored to be superior to their vintage 300B brethren even -- remedied all of the previous ills we had variously attributed to crossover and attenuator settings or acoustic issues like driver interferences and horn colorations. Not.
|The differences were huge; entirely beyond reason. As a speaker designer whose oeuvre includes horns, Kevin confessed that whenever he hears problems, his first reflex is to suspect the speakers - of lobing, less than optimal crossover points, placement issues rather than the electronics. "Selling and installing horns makes you look like a self-delusional ass most of the time. At least initially. But if you can sort out everything just so and get it dialed, you'll be celebrated as a stonking genius. It's so easy to blame such speakers", he added, looking at Dan's prized and gargantuan possessions. They fly in the face of much audiophile common knowledge (which occasionally is far more common than special). If any system with hornspeakers elicits criticisms, the horns always become the instantaneous fall guys. Reasons for why they couldn't possibly work will be a dime a dozen from armchair speaker designers and audiophile know-it-alls.
|That swapping out a well-regarded TJ 300B for a Western Electric as driver should make such wholesale improvements -- improvements which experienced audiophiles had all along suspected would have to be a function of crossover and slope
|adjustments -- well, this plainly messed with all our greying heads. It was a good reminder to leave no stone unturned; to second-guess all that we think we know which could prevent us from considering other possible solutions at hand. And, most specifically, this experience suggested that the new 300Bs from the house of Western Electric could be the black cat's magical meow.
|In fact, our man in London Edward Barker had already whispered suggestive somethings to that effect into my ear. Via phone. Audiophiles are a kinky sort as you know. Phone sex and all. Stuck into his Canary Audio push/pull monos in sufficient quantities, Edward had confessed that his prior dislike for 300Bs was, after all and much to his surprise, not a broad indictment of the valve type or numerous amp implementations thereof. Rather, it was a function of comparatively inferior examples of the tube. In his personal pantheon, the 300B has skyrocketed from least-favored valve to personal favorite. Knowing that Kevin Scott would hit Cyprus, Edward had asked him to bring me a pair of WEs to try in my own Canary Audio CA-308s. After yesterday's unexpected transformation at Dan's, I'm keen as beaver to see what they'll do as output devices rather than mere drivers (though driver tubes are perhaps more important than suspected).
I no longer have KRs or EATs or other 300B "super" tubes in my possession. No comprehensive evaluation of the WEs against them. I'll have to restrict myself to the stock 300Bs that came with the Canarys. Stay tuned. Kevin Scott has conducted comparisons against KRs and doesn't hesitate to express his opinion on the WE. "It's the gennuine ahticle", he blushes happily in that most effusive of British accents.
|For now, consider this a teaser notice. This new crop of Western Electric 300Bs -- despite significant sticker shock -- has all the earmarkings of being anything but your grandfather's hand-me-down. In Mick Maloney's amps and the context of Dan's system, the sound went
from subliminally phasey, loose-edged, minorly unfocused, soft-bassed and improperly organized to straightened out, taut and integrated, yet with simultaneously more buoyancy, tone color and humanity. I've long since shared Edward's assessment of 300Bs as being slightly fuzzy, somewhat indistinct and loose. If the WEs pull the same stunt in my 8wpc Canary monos as they did in Dan's system, I'll have to revise my generalized judgment of 300Bs tubes and the amps that use 'em as not pertinent to the new Western Electric. It'd be the perfect closure for the inherent lesson that spawned today's writing: that preconceived notions close rather than open doors; and that for every tired old rule, there's that one brilliant exception...