I save the best for the last. Listed below are the 300B tubes that I have tried along with my impressions of their sound. Moving to Vienna, Austria recently, I have a very different listening room environment compared to what I used to have before. In the US, I lived in a wooden framed house with sheet rock interior walls and ceilings and wide plank solid pine wood floors. Ceiling height was around 9 feet or so. In Vienna, I live in an apartment in a turn of the 19th to 20th century brick and stone building with hardwood installed over stone floors. Ceiling height is about 14 feet. My system sounds quite different and to my surprise the impressions of the sound of some of the tubes are different from what I noted down when I was in the US. This was most obvious with the 300Bs. Strange but this is how I perceived. The reason for mentioning this is as a caveat to my sound impressions of each 300Bs. They may differ notably depending on the listening environment even using the same equipment. So, please take this into considerations as you read.
Electro Harmonics (EH) Gold:
A stock pair of 300Bs that came with the kit. These Russian made tubes may not be the best but they are very musical, one of the least expensive 300Bs on the market and I personally feel that they give the best value for a dollar spent. Warm and wonderful midrange with weighty bass that makes everything even the harsh sounding CDs sounds like good ol’ sound of vinyl as we remember. Once my wife and I invited her friend and her husband who happened to be an avid Jazz lover for a dinner, I was playing Jazz CDs as our background music (our house had a large loft like space where kitchen, dining and living areas were together) and he asked me where the record player was hidden. He was certain that I was playing vinyl. Compared to other more expensive tubes, EH Gold 300B somewhat lacks details and high frequency extensions. Anyone who is not a die-hard audiophile should be very happy this tube.
Another inexpensive 300B tube. This Chinese made tube features graphite coated “mesh”plate (more precisely, a perforated metal plate). Not bad but not as musical as the EH. Just a hair more detailed but not as warm or romantic sounding. Bit more neutral but can be considered bit dark.
Slovakian made tubes in what used to be a Tesla manufacturing facility. Bit more neutral sounding and detailed than Shuguang 300B-98B. Can sound bit lean and bright even harsh at times depending on the recordings and the listening environment.
Sophia Electric Princess Mesh with black plastic base and ST shaped glass:
Chinese made tubes to Sophia Electric’s specification with “Mesh” plate plate (more precisely, a perforated metal plate) Very interesting sound. Perceived frequency responses sounds rather compressed but they widened the sound stage by quite a margin. Not as warm sounding as EH or WE (described below.) They are quite a bit larger in diameter than Shuguang 300B-98Bs. Please note that the tubes I have and evaluated was one of their earlier versions.
Western Electric 300B (reissue):
The closest thing to the real McCoy without having to pay much more than the cost of the Kit1. They are warm, detailed with excellent tonality. They produce very natural and accurate timbre of acoustic musical instruments and wonderfully realistic human voice. Compared with some of the modern designs, it sounds as if frequency range does not extend to its extremes.
Emission Labs (EML) 300B and 300B XLS:
German designed tubes that are made in Czech Republic. They sound as if the frequency extensions were added to WE300B without taking anything away from them. EML 300B XLS, a higher rated version, sounds bit more neutral and more in control of the speakers than EML 300B but overall, two versions are more similar sounding than different. They were my choice of tubes until 2011. When I first purchase these tubes, I thought they were quite expensive. Now I think they are relative bargains as more so called premium 300B tubes coming out from China and Czech Republic that are priced twice as much! The look of EML tubes always reminded me of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum in New York.
A balloon shaped 300B from Shuguang. For quite some time, I thought the only difference between this and the 300B-98B was the shape of the glass. Actually plates materials are different as they have carbonized nickel “mesh” (to be more precise, perforated) plates. Ken from Tubeman.com always recommended this tube to me indicating that they are the best 300B to come out of Shuguang and arguably the best current production 300Bs other than the WE reissues. When I finally tried them last year, I understood why he had been saying so. They added more details and a bit of clarity to the EML tubes with improved imaging but without sounding bright or thin. Now they are my 300B of choice, at least for now.
I would like to remind again that the choice of tubes especially the 300Bs would largely depend on one’s preference, listening environment and system. However, if I were to recommend to my personal friend, I would recommend the following as my personal preference: EH-Gold, Shuguang 300B-SB, and Emission Labs 300B. I would not include WE300Bs as they are becoming very expensive and difficult to find. Also, I did not include EML 300B-XLS as I feel that EML 300Bs are fully adequate and a bit cheaper.
My Kit One now has following tubes installed:
Cryogenically treated TungSol 5378s, cryogenically treated NOS Sylvania 6SN7 GTB, cryogenically treated Mullard Australia (labeled as Amalgamated Wireless Valve Co.) 5AS4 and Shuguang 300B-SBs.
Most Recent Changes
In the early summer of 2012, I have added a preamplifier to my system, the Audio Note Kit’s L3 Line. With the new pre-amp, I took out the selector switch and the volume was replaced with two pairs of 1W 47K AN UK’s tantalum resistors. I also changed the hookup wires in signal path to VH Audio’s cotton insulated OCC silver wires (remnants from my pre-amp construction.)
In October 2012, I have added Continental Capacitors' "Type-A" oil-filled capacitor to the high voltage power supply. They are excellent capacitors to be used in the power supply application. Mike Elliot (founder of Counterpoint) endorsed them by writing “These are luscious-sounding capacitors, warm, round and very present. They make it sound like the singer or musicians are in the room with you…” I think this is not much of an exaggeration. I first used them as an upgrade to my phono amp. I very much liked the improvements it made so I now use them in most of my equipment that has room to install.
Most of the retailer/manufacturere contact information are listed in my links page here: Audio/HiFi Links