Gramophone Dreams #51: Feliks Audio Arioso amplifier & the Western Electric 300B tube Page 2

The lesson here is: If you have a tube amp that offers multiple output taps, never assume 8 ohms to 8 ohms, or 4 ohms to 4 ohms. Try them all and choose the one that pleases you most.

My only criticism of the Feliks Arioso was: It never took acid and rolled naked in the Woodstock mud. It played even the raunchiest 1920s blues wearing a crisply pressed Sunday-go-to-meeting shirt.

The Western Electric 300B
The Western Electric Company was founded in 1869 as a pioneering electrical engineering and manufacturing operation hoping to become a leader in the dawning electrical age.

In 1906, a Yale graduate physicist (and former Western Electric employee) named Lee De Forest demonstrated the first three-element (Audion) vacuum tube. De Forest's new third element (a control grid) changed our world forever by making it possible to amplify small alternating currents into larger, precise copies of the original. In 1912, Western Electric bought De Forest's Audion patent and, within months, was producing the world's first high-vacuum tubes. The first task for this new device was to amplify sound. By the 1930s, Western Electric Company, now associated with AT&T and Bell Labs, had established itself as the world's leader in communications and sound reproduction equipment.

The 300A triode tube appeared in 1932, followed in 1938 by the 300B tube, which incorporated a center-tapped, equipotential cathode. Western Electric's 300B remained in production for 50 years until 1988, when Western Electric ceased tube production.

In 1992, entrepreneur Charles Whitener approached AT&T to inquire about acquiring the intellectual property and a license to manufacture and sell vacuum tubes and audio equipment under the Western Electric name (footnote 3). Charles's goals, he told me in a recent email, were "to bring back the audio division of Western Electric with precision and authenticity."

On Valentine's Day in 1997, the first set of "reissued" WE 300Bs was shipped from the WE Kansas City Works in Lee's Summit, Missouri. By the end of that year, WE was shipping worldwide, and Japan's prestigious MJ Audio Technology magazine had named the new 300B "Product of the Year."

Tube production continued at the Lee's Summit plant until 2002. In 2003, WE's electron tube operations were moved to Huntsville, Alabama, where the 300B remained in production through 2008, at which time 300B production was paused "in order to concentrate on making tubes [other than 300Bs] and test equipment for the US Department of Defense."


In October 2020, WE shipped the first 300Bs from its brand-new Rossville, Georgia, facility, the Rossville Works. Whitener wrote, in that same email, "This is the 3rd and final electron tube manufacturing plant I have built. It is the most advanced facility of its kind anywhere in the world."

The new WE 300B
Vacuum tubes are elegant switching devices that succeed or fail on the strength, volume, and long-term consistency of their cathode emissions. My love for triode-tube audio is fueled by my personal vision of thermionic emission as a glowing, volcanic, natural force that makes recorded music flow.


Today, if you were to ask me what makes these new made-in-Rossville 300Bs different from 300Bs manufactured in Germany, Russia, China, or Japan, I would speculate that it is the company's unique filamentary core material, which, according to the WE website, "is derived from a 1963 melt from the Western Electric Hawthorne Works in Chicago." Equally important is the cathode wire's oxide coating, which, according to Whitener, consists of "a mix of strontium and barium, ... but Western engineers add their own proprietary elements to form their own unique coating—one that was originally developed for use in underwater sea-cable applications." Western Electric's website proudly adds, "This special coating not only extends the lifetime of each tube, it supports the dynamics required for superior music reproduction."

I used to tell people that a tube's midrange sounded like its plates (anodes) looked. I don't believe that anymore, but Western Electric's unique-looking, patent-pending, graphene-coated nickel plates are surely another reason that these 300Bs sound different than everybody else's. In another email, Charles gave me a glimpse behind the scenes of American tube manufacturing in its end days (the 1980s) and its new days (now):


"Back in the day, the WB Driver Company was the primary supplier of raw and exotic metals to US tube manufacturers. As the tube industry began its long, slow decline, units of Driver were sold off or merged with other firms. The carbonized nickel unit was later processing nickel under a company called Driver-Harris. Later, this line was sold to a company called Harrison Alloys. Harrison was the last company that produced carbonized nickel in the US.

"We had all of our nickel that was specially manufactured to Bell Labs specs shipped to Harrison Alloys in New Jersey beginning in 1995. Unfortunately, Harrison went bankrupt around 1999, and the consigned nickel we had stored with Harrison was sold at auction. That created a serious dilemma. It appeared our only option was to learn how to process the nickel and carbonize it in-house.

"Fortunately, Bell Labs had patented a process for carbonizing nickel in the early '60s, and we began building a line that would emulate this process. During this effort, in an attempt to create a safer process for carbonizing"—processes that utilize hydrogen combined with carbon-rich gases at temperatures above 1000°C can be dangerous—"we began coating the nickel with graphene, albeit by accident! Problem solved and with a significantly better result. As far as we know, we are the only tube manufacturer in the world that uses carbonized nickel for its anode construction."


300B Comparisons
Potential 300B users are always asking how long should these new 300Bs last? I always answer, "Look at the warranties."

Original Western Electric 300Bs were stated, by WE, to last "40,000 hours"—more than 4.5 years of use running 24/7.

The made-in-Japan Takatsuki 300Bs sell for $2499 per matched pair with a one-year warranty. That translates into $6.84 per day of warrantied ownership.

The made-in-China (by Linlai) Cossor "WE 300B Edition" costs $499 per matched pair with a 90-day warranty. This translates into $5.54 per day of warrantied ownership.

The made-in-America Western Electric 300Bs sell for $1499 per matched pair. That price includes a five-year warranty, which translates into 43,800 hours of use and $0.82 per day of warrantied ownership.

Because cathode quality and the completeness of a tube's vacuum are the prime factors determining a tube's life, it is reasonable to assume that these warranties reflect each manufacturer's belief in their ability to consistently accomplish these two extremely difficult manufacturing tasks—a tall order, but it explains why different tube brands sound different and how tubes from different batches (from the same manufacturer) can sound different.


According to Charles Whitener, Western Electric uses a double oxide cathode coating consisting of strontium and barium carbonates, "with proprietary elements added." Not triple-coated (strontium, calcium, and barium carbonate) liked other manufacturers. "With triple-coated cathodes, a layer of aluminum orthosilicate forms between the coating and the core material itself. Interface impedance is increased and harms the life of the tube.

"We could not guarantee a tube for 5 years with a triple-coated cathode." Purportedly, double oxide coatings give highly consistent emissions resulting in longer, more even-sounding tube life. Triple-oxide coatings are credited with more powerful but less consistent emissions.

With the new Western Electrics installed, the Feliks Arioso single-ended 300B amplifier's 50Hz–1kHz octaves were more brilliantly lit and refraction-free than with the stock Electro-Harmonix EH Gold 300Bs. Bass with the WEs was more tightly damped than with the Psvane, Cossor, or Electro-Harmonix 300Bs. The WE tubes appeared to slightly increase the Feliks's damping factor, which might indicate a lower-than-usual plate resistance.

When the Western Electric 300Bs replaced my Russian-made Electro-Harmonix EH Golds in the Elekit TU-8600S, I discovered a more microscopically detailed, laboratory-clean midrange. Historically, Western Electric 300Bs have offered this unique, low second-, high third-harmonic character that manifests as mist-free transparency and strong drive.

Previous to experiencing the new Western Electrics, the made-in-China Cossor-branded, made-by-Linlai WE 300Bs ($495/matched pair) were the cleanest, lowest-in-second-harmonic 300Bs I'd ever used. These Linlai-Cossor tubes are advertised to be "100% 1:1 replicas" of vintage Western Electric 300Bs, but I hope you can see how ridiculous this claim is. Even the new Western Electric tubes cannot achieve this, and they have original cathode core material, tooling, tech data, and even some of the original workers.

Replicas or not, the Cossors were hyperbolically eloquent and water-clear. Their overtly appealing liquidity made the new Western Electrics seem a bit stark and the Electro-Harmonix EH Golds a bit coarse. The EHs specialized in making snare drums, double bass, saxophone solos, and spring reverb sound tangibly present. The more delicate and transparent Cossor WE 300Bs specialized in making church choirs, sitars, string quartets, and sultry female vocals seem unabashedly beautiful.

After a couple of weeks of studying the new Western Electric 300Bs, I went back to the Cossor "replicas" and played a stunning, gloriously transparent recording called Bloom featuring Armenian singer, songwriter, pianist, and storyteller Areni Agbabian backed by Nicolas Stocker's sparse, mystical percussion (24/96 FLAC, ECM/ Qobuz). The Western Electric tubes played Bloom with unprecedented clarity and transient authority. In contrast, the Cossors played it with conspicuous delicacy and detailed refinement.

(To my surprise, after I wrote these words to describe the Cossors, I discovered that Linlai claims their unique "overhung filaments," where the filament extends past the top of the grid wires, give their WE 300Bs "greater delicacy and refinement" than those of other manufacturers. Obviously, I heard what they heard.)

The new Western Electric 300Bs might be sonically superior even to WE 300Bs made before 1989. With their 5-year warranty, I view them as the most cost-effective choice in today's competitive 300B market. Time and consumer consensus will make their choice, but for now, if I could have only one pair of new 300Bs, I'd choose the Western Electrics.

Footnote 3: Western Electric, 410 Chickamauga Ave., Suite 300, Rossville, GA 30741. Tel: (404) 352-2000/ Web:

Ortofan's picture

... made by E.A.T.?

Herb Reichert's picture

but I am curious about E.A.T's 300Bs.