In Search of the Perfect 300B Tube Page 4

JJ Electronics 300B: $199/pair. As tall as the KR, but not quite as heavy. Gold wire is used for the grid, and the grid supports are supplied with cooling fins (unusual in a 300B). Worked well in both amps. Very good bass—real pressure there—but with a trace of "hollow" coloration in the midbass when used in the AudioNote. Very involving, even euphonic—almost as if trying to make things nicer than real. Quite open, but a very thin veil was noticeable that resulted in a subtle soft-focus effect. Good dynamics, reasonably fine detail, threw a remarkably wide stage with the AudioNote. Lost some control in complex music. Rhythm okay, but rather speedy and not totally relaxed.

Golden Dragon 300BLX: About $500/pair. The "LX" suffix means that this tube is equipped with a titanium anode. The grid has gold wire. The position of the small slot-pin on the side of the base is different from where it is on the Western Electric. This tube was not as spectacular as the preceding two, but bettered them in letting the music swing. Bass was very nice in the AudioNote but lacked real pressure in the big amp. Fine detail was very good, with many subtleties, but fell short in large dynamics; apart from that, control was exemplary, with fine rhythm. It threw a wide stereo image with both amps—lots of air and space, with only a hint of veil, but no coloration. No problems with complex musical patterns.

Svetlana 300B: $304/pair. Construction is described as an exact copy of the original WE. This tube was very easy to listen to, and very involving and mysterious. "Swing" in music was even better than with the GD-LX. There were space, air, and reverberation; the sound was mellow (but not overly warm), and the highs sang. Dynamics were good, fine detail very good. Control was not quite 100%, but complex music remained intact. In the AudioNote, a trace of "hollowness" could be detected in the midbass, and voices sometimes developed a slight edge.

Group A
Western Electric 300B: $900/pair. It took WE some time to get it right (1990s production started 1½ years later than planned), but the result is impressive. This tube combined everything good that can be found, to a smaller or larger extent, in the tubes described above. It had the KR's authority, but was devoid of any obtrusiveness. Bass was deep, but in total balance with the rest of the spectrum, and was controlled and easy-flowing. It bettered all other tubes in air, space, width, and depth. Very involving, too. The only criticism is of the very slight edge on sibilants, and, in the AudioNote, a just-noticeable hollowness in the midbass (footnote 6).

As most readers know, the Western Electric is also the most expensive 300B, at $900/pair. (I've seen it sold at shows within the last year for about $700/pair.) For that price, it comes in a wooden case and with a one-year guarantee.

In view of the results, and assuming the tube suits your amp and taste, the JJ Electronics looks like a real bargain. It is, however, the only 300B tested here that is not equipped with a center-tapped filament, meaning that it might be somewhat more sensitive to (residual) hum on the filament supply. If you want cheaper still, I'd go for the Valve Art C60 or the new Sovtek. A variety of tastes can be served in the $300-$500 price range.

But if you want the best, there's only the Western Electric.

Footnote 6: On the surface of it, one could say that the amplifiers are responsible for this coloration, not the tube. But the Golden Dragon 4.300BLX showed neither of these (admittedly minor) defects, and several other tubes in this group performed perfectly on both amplifiers. My conclusion stands: the WE itself was responsible.