First tube gear- Is a 300b amp a good place to start?

CDC77

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I recently bought the JJ 322 push pull 300B amplifier with 2 JJ 300B per channel. I’m using it with a Lampizator Pacific DAC that also uses direct heated triodes (300B, 242, 45, etc.). I run the Lampi direct into the JJ, and use the JJ ALPS potentiometer for gain. No preamp needed. My speakers are Quad 2905 electrostatics, not particularly efficient. I thought the JJ would not be powerful enough. I was pleasantly surprised by how powerful it sounds. Granted, I don’t listen at 100 dB, the Quads don’t do that anyway. In my listening chair 12 feet from the speakers, average listening level is more like 75dB. I find that plenty loud. It’s the very best sound from my Quads I have yet heard over many years.

I have a far more powerful Audio Research 210 tube monoblock amplifier that uses 8 KT120 tubes per channel and produces about 225 watts per channel. I vastly prefer the sound of the 20 watt JJ. I also have an ARC Reference 3 preamp. Both ARC pieces are now gathering dust since I got the JJ. I bought the JJ amplifier used for less than 2 grand with four new JJ 300B tubes.

My personal view is that the JJ 322 would be a steal at 20 grand, which is less than what ARC now charges for amplifiers comparable to the Ref 210. At 2 grand, it’s the best hi fi purchase I have made in 30 years. If you can find one, BUY it. You will be hard pressed to find a better amplifier. I have owned a vast amount of amplifiers, all the way from the 200 pound Krell 700cx behemoth to little Quicksilver tube amplifiers. The JJ’s are very special. You can get far more powerful amplifiers. But it’s the first 2-5 watts that count, and here you can’t beat the JJ. It’s a battle tank, weighing almost 100 pounds. It’s beautifully built. It has very low distortion as these type of amplifiers go (0.3% at 10 watts). It’s sound is to die for. That’s all there is to it. Nirvana. No, you can’t get rock concert volumes, not with the Quads. But I haven’t tried more efficient speakers.

View attachment 93165 View attachment 93166
I recently bought the JJ 322 push pull 300B amplifier with 2 JJ 300B per channel. I’m using it with a Lampizator Pacific DAC that also uses direct heated triodes (300B, 242, 45, etc.). I run the Lampi direct into the JJ, and use the JJ ALPS potentiometer for gain. No preamp needed. My speakers are Quad 2905 electrostatics, not particularly efficient. I thought the JJ would not be powerful enough. I was pleasantly surprised by how powerful it sounds. Granted, I don’t listen at 100 dB, the Quads don’t do that anyway. In my listening chair 12 feet from the speakers, average listening level is more like 75dB. I find that plenty loud. It’s the very best sound from my Quads I have yet heard over many years.

I have a far more powerful Audio Research 210 tube monoblock amplifier that uses 8 KT120 tubes per channel and produces about 225 watts per channel. I vastly prefer the sound of the 20 watt JJ. I also have an ARC Reference 3 preamp. Both ARC pieces are now gathering dust since I got the JJ. I bought the JJ amplifier used for less than 2 grand with four new JJ 300B tubes.

My personal view is that the JJ 322 would be a steal at 20 grand, which is less than what ARC now charges for amplifiers comparable to the Ref 210. At 2 grand, it’s the best hi fi purchase I have made in 30 years. If you can find one, BUY it. You will be hard pressed to find a better amplifier. I have owned a vast amount of amplifiers, all the way from the 200 pound Krell 700cx behemoth to little Quicksilver tube amplifiers. The JJ’s are very special. You can get far more powerful amplifiers. But it’s the first 2-5 watts that count, and here you can’t beat the JJ. It’s a battle tank, weighing almost 100 pounds. It’s beautifully built. It has very low distortion as these type of amplifiers go (0.3% at 10 watts). It’s sound is to die for. That’s all there is to it. Nirvana. No, you can’t get rock concert volumes, not with the Quads. But I haven’t tried more efficient speakers.

View attachment 93165 View attachment 93166
Mr. God of Wealth, I am a new Horizon owner, and have been thinking about finding a new amp to run directly from the Horizon without a preamp. And so your experience interests me. May I ask, did you come to your conclusion about your tube amp after exploring the solid state world? My current amp, and prior DACs were solid state. I went over the Lampizator Pacific, and now the Horizon, to bring some tube quality sound into my system. Not sure if I stick with a solid state amp or go all in on tubes with a tube amp to pair with the Horizon. Your thoughts will be appreciated. Thanks — and by the way, great Internet name.
 

godofwealth

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I haven’t heard the Horizon, but my advice is to keep the signal path as simple and pure as possible, which usually means tubes. In my case, the active devices are the two output 242 tubes in the Pacific, followed by two 300Bs in the JJ (there is one 6N6P in the Pacific and 1 ECC 83 and 1 E88CC as well in the JJ). In any case, we are talking about just half a dozen active elements in the entire analog signal path. If you go solid state, you’ll be using potentially hundreds, especially if your solid state device using op amps, as many do. I think you lose the purity of the Lampizator sound (For what it’s worth, Lukasz firmly stresses the same point). I realize it depends a great deal on your speakers. If you have very low efficiency Magnepans or something similar, it can be hard to drive them with tubes, or it gets very expensive. Also, if you like to listen really loud, then solid state might be unavoidable. But if you’re like me, and value purity of sound over brawn, then tubes are the way to go.

I have had many great solid state products over the years (Krell, Levinson etc.), and while the best solid state can sound very good, nothing I’ve heard comes close to the sheer beauty of tube preamplifiers or amplifiers. They get the dimensionality right and the midrange can be ravishing. Yes, the bass is not as well defined and if you’re a bass freak, that’s worth considering.

For some reason, tube watts seem much more powerful than solid state watts, which makes no sense. My little 20 watt JJ sounds just as powerful as a 150 watt solid state amp, since I suspect that at the volumes I listen to, the JJ is able to cope just fine. Try a good tube amplifier, even an inexpensive one from Quicksilver. In my guest room, I use the Quicksilver 8417 monoblocks, which sound delightful with my Quad ESL 57s.

Ultimately, your ears need to be the ones that make the decision. Tubes require a lot of work, something to keep in mind. They do require periodic replacement.

Glad you like my Internet moniker!
 
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charles1dad

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Thanks for sharing your experiences and perspectives. Nothing is ever perfect' However for audio, simple audio signal pathways via low power tubes get a lot right (At least the things that matter most to me).
Charles
 

CDC77

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I haven’t heard the Horizon, but my advice is to keep the signal path as simple and pure as possible, which usually means tubes. In my case, the active devices are the two output 242 tubes in the Pacific, followed by two 300Bs in the JJ (there is one 6N6P in the Pacific and 1 ECC 83 and 1 E88CC as well in the JJ). In any case, we are talking about just half a dozen active elements in the entire analog signal path. If you go solid state, you’ll be using potentially hundreds, especially if your solid state device using op amps, as many do. I think you lose the purity of the Lampizator sound (For what it’s worth, Lukasz firmly stresses the same point). I realize it depends a great deal on your speakers. If you have very low efficiency Magnepans or something similar, it can be hard to drive them with tubes, or it gets very expensive. Also, if you like to listen really loud, then solid state might be unavoidable. But if you’re like me, and value purity of sound over brawn, then tubes are the way to go.

I have had many great solid state products over the years (Krell, Levinson etc.), and while the best solid state can sound very good, nothing I’ve heard comes close to the sheer beauty of tube preamplifiers or amplifiers. They get the dimensionality right and the midrange can be ravishing. Yes, the bass is not as well defined and if you’re a bass freak, that’s worth considering.

For some reason, tube watts seem much more powerful than solid state watts, which makes no sense. My little 20 watt JJ sounds just as powerful as a 150 watt solid state amp, since I suspect that at the volumes I listen to, the JJ is able to cope just fine. Try a good tube amplifier, even an inexpensive one from Quicksilver. In my guest room, I use the Quicksilver 8417 monoblocks, which sound delightful with my Quad ESL 57s.

Ultimately, your ears need to be the ones that make the decision. Tubes require a lot of work, something to keep in mind. They do require periodic replacement.

Glad you like my Internet moniker!
Looking closely at Absolare Hybrid Stereo Amp (Signature). The obvious goal would be to get as much as possible on the tube side but with power to drI’ve my somewhat demanding speakers (The Music, Vienna Acoustics) and not sacrifice bass.
 

Atmasphere

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For some reason, tube watts seem much more powerful than solid state watts, which makes no sense.
Actually Watts are Watts. The tube amps sounds as powerful as it does because you are pushing it to very near clipping. At that point it makes more higher ordered harmonics, which the ear interprets as loudness. If you were to use a sound level pressure meter you'd see that the tube amp isn't playing nearly as loud as you think. It just sounds that way.
 

morricab

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Actually Watts are Watts. The tube amps sounds as powerful as it does because you are pushing it to very near clipping. At that point it makes more higher ordered harmonics, which the ear interprets as loudness. If you were to use a sound level pressure meter you'd see that the tube amp isn't playing nearly as loud as you think. It just sounds that way.
Not based on work some work by Peter Van Willenswaard that showed the tube amps (SETs in particular) could swing large temporary voltages that SS amps could not.
 

Atmasphere

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Not based on work some work by Peter Van Willenswaard that showed the tube amps (SETs in particular) could swing large temporary voltages that SS amps could not.
:)

Voltage does not exist without current. The power formula is derived from Ohm's Law and is thus inviolable. In order for there to be more voltage there must also be more current, therefore more power. Almost all the SETs I know of are class A1, which means their power draw does not change no matter if at idle or full power. So if there were extra power Kirchoff's Law would be violated.

What was really happening is the amp was making more voltage due to the interaction with the load. Literally, Peter didn't suss the whole thing out.

I'm going with Occam's Razor on this one- either a fundamental rule of electricity got violated (thus forming a new branch of physics) or Peter made a mistake. Of the two explanations, the 'mistake' explanation is by far the simpler.
 

morricab

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:)

Voltage does not exist without current. The power formula is derived from Ohm's Law and is thus inviolable. In order for there to be more voltage there must also be more current, therefore more power. Almost all the SETs I know of are class A1, which means their power draw does not change no matter if at idle or full power. So if there were extra power Kirchoff's Law would be violated.

What was really happening is the amp was making more voltage due to the interaction with the load. Literally, Peter didn't suss the whole thing out.

I'm going with Occam's Razor on this one- either a fundamental rule of electricity got violated (thus forming a new branch of physics) or Peter made a mistake. Of the two explanations, the 'mistake' explanation is by far the simpler.
I am sure that is not all there is to it. Dynamic headroom is real and measurable.
 

morricab

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Of course!

"Dynamic Headroom' is a function of AB amps. By definition, class A amps have 0dB of dynamic headroom since the load on their power supplies is constant.
Do the experiment and demonstrate it’s wrong.
 

godofwealth

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One further point is that I’m using Quads, which have very high impedances in the bass (> 50 ohms), which generally gives solid state gear trouble as voltages keep halving for each doubling. Say a solid state amplifier produces 50 watts into 8 ohms, which amounts to a 20 volt output. Into 16 ohms, that’s 10 volts, and 5 volts into 32 ohms and so on. Tube amplifiers are generally happier into high impedance loads. Another issue is the low damping factor of tube amplifiers, unlike the significantly higher damping factor of their solid state brethren. And, of course, because transistors are so nonlinear compared to tubes, transistor amplifiers need huge amount of feedback to control the distortion, which gives them the high damping factor. Not surprisingly Nelson Pass’ recent designs on low powered solid state amplifiers has adopted many of the design aspects of tube gear (e.g., small number of gain stages, low feedback), and given up on useless chasing of meaningless metrics, like 0.001 THD. Given that the average moving coil loudspeaker produces around 5-10% distortion in the bass, it’s really useless to focus on design goals where the speaker’s distortion is many times worse than even many tube amplifiers.

Check out the distortion measurements of Revel’s best speaker below, reproduced from audioscience.com. Even one of the best loudspeakers on the market today, which costs around $17K, has around 3% distortion in the bass. 99% of loudspeakers are much worse than this figure, which is why Stereophile never plots distortion of loudspeakers as they are uniformly so terrible.

D5EE6220-92FF-43FB-B6C8-D4E19F9F9766.png
 

Atmasphere

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Yes, I'm very familiar with how ESLs can shine! I attribute that to a power supply operating its MO plus a lack of breakups.

Tube amps lacking feedback can make quite a lot of voltage on ESLs owing to their high impedance in the bass.
Do the experiment and demonstrate it’s wrong.
I've done quite a lot as you might imagine. All I've ever seen when a tube amp makes a higher voltage at its output is a comensurate higher impedance load (such as the old Quad) is also present. Tube amps with output transformers can have another source of high voltage output: if the power tube is forced into cutoff, the magnetic field in the OPT can collapse, resulting in a high voltage spike at the output. I imagine you could do this with an SET but you'd have to drive it really hard for this to happen. Normally this is more of a thing with AB amps or just plain class B.
 

adrianywu

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I haven’t heard the Horizon, but my advice is to keep the signal path as simple and pure as possible, which usually means tubes. In my case, the active devices are the two output 242 tubes in the Pacific, followed by two 300Bs in the JJ (there is one 6N6P in the Pacific and 1 ECC 83 and 1 E88CC as well in the JJ). In any case, we are talking about just half a dozen active elements in the entire analog signal path. If you go solid state, you’ll be using potentially hundreds, especially if your solid state device using op amps, as many do. I think you lose the purity of the Lampizator sound (For what it’s worth, Lukasz firmly stresses the same point). I realize it depends a great deal on your speakers. If you have very low efficiency Magnepans or something similar, it can be hard to drive them with tubes, or it gets very expensive. Also, if you like to listen really loud, then solid state might be unavoidable. But if you’re like me, and value purity of sound over brawn, then tubes are the way to go.

I have had many great solid state products over the years (Krell, Levinson etc.), and while the best solid state can sound very good, nothing I’ve heard comes close to the sheer beauty of tube preamplifiers or amplifiers. They get the dimensionality right and the midrange can be ravishing. Yes, the bass is not as well defined and if you’re a bass freak, that’s worth considering.

For some reason, tube watts seem much more powerful than solid state watts, which makes no sense. My little 20 watt JJ sounds just as powerful as a 150 watt solid state amp, since I suspect that at the volumes I listen to, the JJ is able to cope just fine. Try a good tube amplifier, even an inexpensive one from Quicksilver. In my guest room, I use the Quicksilver 8417 monoblocks, which sound delightful with my Quad ESL 57s.

Ultimately, your ears need to be the ones that make the decision. Tubes require a lot of work, something to keep in mind. They do require periodic replacement.

Glad you like my Internet moniker!
Your 150W solid state amp will only play 9dB louder than your 20W tube amp, which might not matter much if your speakers are already sufficiently sensitive. With my 110dB sensitive horns, I will not be able to tell the difference between an 8W or an 800W amplifier (in terms of dynamic capabilities).
 
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adrianywu

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One further point is that I’m using Quads, which have very high impedances in the bass (> 50 ohms), which generally gives solid state gear trouble as voltages keep halving for each doubling. Say a solid state amplifier produces 50 watts into 8 ohms, which amounts to a 20 volt output. Into 16 ohms, that’s 10 volts, and 5 volts into 32 ohms and so on. Tube amplifiers are generally happier into high impedance loads. Another issue is the low damping factor of tube amplifiers, unlike the significantly higher damping factor of their solid state brethren. And, of course, because transistors are so nonlinear compared to tubes, transistor amplifiers need huge amount of feedback to control the distortion, which gives them the high damping factor. Not surprisingly Nelson Pass’ recent designs on low powered solid state amplifiers has adopted many of the design aspects of tube gear (e.g., small number of gain stages, low feedback), and given up on useless chasing of meaningless metrics, like 0.001 THD. Given that the average moving coil loudspeaker produces around 5-10% distortion in the bass, it’s really useless to focus on design goals where the speaker’s distortion is many times worse than even many tube amplifiers.

Check out the distortion measurements of Revel’s best speaker below, reproduced from audioscience.com. Even one of the best loudspeakers on the market today, which costs around $17K, has around 3% distortion in the bass. 99% of loudspeakers are much worse than this figure, which is why Stereophile never plots distortion of loudspeakers as they are uniformly so terrible.

View attachment 93363
The ear's sensitivity to distortion is frequency dependent. On double-blind tests, listeners could not detect 10% distortion with the fundamentals below 300Hz. On the other hand, the ear is highly sensitive to distortion at high frequencies, especially to certain higher order harmonics.
 

godofwealth

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Indeed. Peter Walker, who founded Quad and designed their electrostatic, once said that to reproduce orchestral music in a normal living room with speakers of average sensitivity, he didn’t see a need for an amplifier more powerful than 10-15 watts. Coincidentally, Quad’s best selling amplifier, the Quad IIs that are still revered 60 years later produced about 12-15 watts. Paul Klipsch once said what the world needed was a good 5 watt amplifier. Now of course 1000 watt amplifiers are routinely sold by many manufacturers. Like 500 horsepower cars that are used daily for commuting to work on congested highways and getting groceries, I suspect these 1000 watt amplifiers produced by Bryston, McIntosh, Krell and many others are usually loafing at 5 watts or less 99% of the time.
 

godofwealth

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The ear's sensitivity to distortion is frequency dependent. On double-blind tests, listeners could not detect 10% distortion with the fundamentals below 300Hz. On the other hand, the ear is highly sensitive to distortion at high frequencies, especially to certain higher order harmonics.
Excellent point. On Stereophile not publishing distortion measurements of loudspeakers, I stand corrected. It turns out the John Atkinson did measure the distortion of my Quad 2805s, only because, I suspect, he knew it would look so good (see plot below). At 86dB, the Quad 2805 has lower distortion than most solid state or tube amplifiers. Peter Walker designed the Quad 63s in 1963! Took 18 years to bring to the market. Released in 1981 after painstakingly working out the bugs. 60 years later, the world is still waiting a better loudspeaker.
 

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adrianywu

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Excellent point. On Stereophile not publishing distortion measurements of loudspeakers, I stand corrected. It turns out the John Atkinson did measure the distortion of my Quad 2805s, only because, I suspect, he knew it would look so good (see plot below). At 86dB, the Quad 2805 has lower distortion than most solid state or tube amplifiers. Peter Walker designed the Quad 63s in 1963! Took 18 years to bring to the market. Released in 1981 after painstakingly working out the bugs. 60 years later, the world is still waiting a better loudspeaker.
Yes, the Quad ESL was the only speaker capable of reproducing a square wave. There is little distortion because of the very small excursion of the membrane. Compression drivers also have distortion that is an order of magnitude lower than conventional dynamic drivers due to the small diaphragm excursion. If you want low distortion, fast transients and transparency, go for stats. If you want dynamics, go for horns. Conventional drivers are neither here nor there (other than being cheap).
 
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oldhvymec

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The ear's sensitivity to distortion is frequency dependent. On double-blind tests, listeners could not detect 10% distortion with the fundamentals below 300Hz. On the other hand, the ear is highly sensitive to distortion at high frequencies, especially to certain higher order harmonics.

I heard "like" information in the 80s. That distortion as high as 30% @ 120hz and below was not noticeable.

Then after a few years of refinement @ 120hz and below to 5% or less (with some, not all) servo bass systems, the world of mechanical distortion & vibration control came together to produce a lot more transparent speaker package systems. I can tell the difference when the distortion is reduced and vibration control is addressed. BIG change for me. I still use inner tubes @ 5 psi on bass bins in the shop.
 

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