Western Electric 300B Impressions and Measurements

Discussion in 'Modifications and Tweaks' started by purr1n, Jun 21, 2022.

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    I went around the house trying to my bargain Electro Harmonix 300B so I could do a direct comparison. I wasn't able to find them. I figure having one reference point for direct comparison would help me more accurately triangulate with my memory of other 300B tubes I've heard on the Studio B. For now, it's all based on memory. You can call me full of shit, but I think you guys know by now that I have a pretty good memory of how stuff sounds.

    DSCF0160.JPG

    The is the third coming of the Western Electric 300B. There was a second coming sometime in the 2000s. I'm not sure exactly when. Please correct me if I am wrong. I believe Craig Uthus at Eddie Current / Moth Audio may have had a pair of Western Electric 300Bs, but ended up not having them and then regretting it. Or maybe not because Craig doesn't listen to tubes. He sells the good tubes that he gets to customers.

    I viewed with skepticism this third coming of the Western Electric 300B. It's supposed to be the same factory, same machining, same processes, and I would assuming as similar materials as possible to what was available in the 1940s. I was going to stay skeptical under I actually heard one. My impressions on this third coming of the Western Electric 300B is that yup, it's a 300B. I've never heard a vintage 300B before and I'm pretty sure if I did, it would probably be well used and not necessarily representative of how it's supposed to sound.** Listening to this WE 300B, it does seem to all make sense. This is the source, the ideal, of what all the other new production 300Bs strive to shoot for.

    Listening was through the Eddie Current Studio B, via Grado RS1X (Gerod Earpads from Amazon), Audeze LCD-X (RD Modded), and Frugel-horn XLs with Fostex FE167NS driver. The Studio B is an output transformer coupled SET. It takes a small amount of feedback (~1.5db) from the tertiary winding of the OPT. I have early prototypes of the Studio B, but this is this first time I've heard the production version. I think that the production version ended up with just a hair less feedback than the prototype. The feedback helps tighten up the bass. Bass from SET amps without feedback always sounds rounded or even murky to some extent. The feedback also reigns in some of that 300B characteristic: bloomy lower mids (I prefer to say that this includes upper bass too, but this is a matter of semantics) and rolled highs. If you ask audiophiles, some will say that the 300B is the best thing ever. Others may say yuck. I'm kind of in the latter group because I'm a type 45 guy. The problem is that the 45 is super low power, having one-quarter the power of the 300B. Anyway, what I'm trying to get at is the EC Studio B doesn't have an overt 300B sound. It splits the difference enough for me to really like it. Besides, I think the Studio B is Craig's overall best, and probably last amp design, at least for his amps that aren't custom or don't use unobtanium parts. I am assuming because of the design, you can drop whatever 300B into the Studio B, and the amp will still sound good. This isn't true for many 300B amps I've heard. Some are very tube dependent.

    DSCF0164 (Large).JPG

    Because of this, when I dropped the Western Electric 300B* into the Studio B, flipped the on switch up, and listened via whatever headphone or my speakers, the clouds did not part, rays of light did not shine upon me, angels did not sing, I was not touched by the hand of God. However... I did say to myself: ahh, so this is what it's supposed to be like.

    *I had let the tubes run overnight. Manufacturer says 100 hours burn-in. While I do think burn in is necessary because tubes have mechanical parts that need to settle from heat, expansion, contraction, etc, I don't think it takes 100 hours.

    **The fact is, there are so many tubes on their last legs out there that we don't really know. So when somebody claims a particular unobtanium Wolf-Penis Tube is super-awesome, I don't believe them. Oftentimes, this unobtanium is used to shit and is soft sounding and distorted, but the person actually loves the sound this way.
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2022
  2. atomicbob

    atomicbob dScope Yoda

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    So would there be much perceived difference between Gold Lion, Linlai and Western Electric in the EC Studio B?
     
  3. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    Unfortunately, I never heard the GL, the Linlai or the Acme. I know they have been recommended here on SBAF as awesome, and comparable to vintage tubes. However, I have my doubts because no new production tube has ever measured with much more above 100% emissions from the Amplitrex. In fact, I found it consistently to be the case that moderately used vintage tubes will often measure higher on emissions compared to the value Eastern European and all Chinese tubes.

    I'll set the Amplitrex to fixed bias mode. (I don't recall what plate and bias are used to test the 300B, but I can find out). As you know, manufacturers of parts will specify a spec, and as long as the product meets spec, then it's fine. It gets complicated because manufacturers will usually give themselves a spec that they can beat.

    This has been my past experience with the Amplitrex and it's default database of spec and fixed biased testing - for the universe of tubes which I have tested:
    • Premium Eastern-European tubes: a bit over 100% for emissions, e.g. 102%, 105%
    • Bargain Eastern-European tubes: 100% give for take a few percect
    • Chinese tubes (bargain or premium): 99% (lol, it always seems to be 99%)
    • Vintage tubes: anywhere from 0% (lol) to 125%. For a good "NOS" one, which is probably still used, 105-110%
    However, this doesn't mean the Linlai or Acme won't hit better numbers than "expected". Call me skeptical though. If I was skeptical about this third coming of the WE 300B, then I'm allowed to be skeptical of the Chinese tubes. Generally my impression of the premium Chinese tubes is that they sound "dull" compared to vintage American and European tubes. Whether the Chinese tube tried to emulate the vintage tube richness, a modern drier cleanliness, a super-lush bloomy wetness, or a pampered royal princess butt smoothness, they all exhibited that "dull". I'll be putting these WE 300B on limited loaner after the Texas Audio Show to select SBAF members.

    With respect to emissions, see below for this pair of the WE300. I'm getting 128% and 127%. I suspect the dullness of new production tubes is inherent - because the companies making new production tubes don't have the secret sauce on how to make the filaments. The stuff that emits the electrons. And maybe everything else, like the plates, how the materials may be doped.

    PXL_20220622_032019239.jpg
    PXL_20220622_031827885.jpg

    Note transconductance (GM) is lower than "spec", but matched between both, which is more important since close enough.
     
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    Last edited: Jun 21, 2022
  4. Lyander

    Lyander Official SBAF Equitable Empathizer

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    Possibly a distraction but there's still a lot of confusion regarding specific aspects of tube speccing, secret sauces and arcane techniques aside. Could just have missed it over the years or completely forgotten reading it (has happened a few times now, yikes), but a primer on what constitutes a "good" measurement might be worth its own thread when the queue lightens up.
     
  5. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    We just don't know. However, I covered it as much as I could with whatever nebulous data that I have now. Ultimately, it's relative, but I think emissions when new (per the Amplitrex fixed bias testing parameters) may have some correlation to this "dullness" of new production tubes that I speak of. Emissions is a measure of how many electronics are flying off the filament, those glowing red wires in the first photo above.

    --

    The Electro-Harmonix and JJ new production tubes circa 2019 have the most similar tone to the WE 300B. The JJ may be a just touch warmer and more incisive than the EH, but they are roughly in the same league. I'd pick the JJ as the bargain ones to go with personally. I generally prefer these Eastern European tubes to most Chinese tubes because they are less "dull" sounding; although the Chinese tubes often have more flavor or something interesting going for them. It's just a preference thing. I never had Chinese tubes around unless they where specific high-bargain $99 deals.

    If I were to attribute the tone of the WE 300B, it would be like the above EH or JJ tubes more or less, but with a more focused, more incisive presentation, plus higher "engagement" factor. I don't know if there is a "house" sound to Western Electric tubes, but the ones I've had, directly heated or indirectly heated, are on the warm side, which pip the rest of the other vintage with respect to engagement factor. (I have a secret stash of WE 396a). I know Mike at Schiit, who is way older than all of us and has seen and played with it all, thinks Western Electric made the best stuff. It's just that all of it is gone, or if there any left, then are mostly used to the ground.

    --

    The premium Eastern European 300B from KR and EML generally have a more solid state sound. Some super affordable Chinese 300B like TJ Full Music are super bloomy and wet sounding. Quite seductive, for any hour, before I want to destroy them. The cheap fake mesh stuff (only KR and EML know how to do mesh) from Sophia with the pinhole pierced solid-plates sound like ass.

    I haven't heard any of the two other super-duper premium 300Bs, like the Tatami-Mat or Lichtenstein-Oligarch. (Don't remember their brand names). Supposedly they are really good. However, rich audiophiles usually have shit for ears, or are lost and fickle. It's one of those things: prove me wrong. And I'll admit I'm wrong too. Until then, I remain skeptical.

    --

    IN A NUTSHELL:

    1. It comes down to this: do the Western Electric 300B sound like a vintage tube or what I would expect an American vintage 300B to sound like based on my fairly extensive experience with other American vintage directly heated triodes such as the 45, 2A3, etc.? The answer is an unqualified yes! Perhaps even better because all my vintage tubes are well used and at best are down to 88% or 93% emissions.
    2. Is the Western Electric 300B needed if I am using a JJ 300B or <insert-reasonably-priced-300B> on my Studio B? No it's not needed. A big part of the Studio B's sound is the transformers. Craig listens to his amps with whatever he has available. Listen to music, don't listen to tubes. Pay off your debt first. However, some 300B amps sound like ass without the best tubes and best component upgrades.
    3. Strong emissions. 125% of spec on the Amplitrex. Good luck seeing this on any other new production tube. This means longer life to start with and thus a higher value proposition if one intends the keep the tubes (keeping in mind that our tendencies to move on to different sounding gear in short order).
     
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    Last edited: Jun 22, 2022
  6. nishan99

    nishan99 Friend

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    Is that generally how heavily used tubes tend to sound? Soft and distorted?

    If so I might start buying heavily used tubes to tailor the sound if necessary.
     
  7. Abhishek Chowdhary

    Abhishek Chowdhary Friend

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    IME:
    1) Heavily used tubes have most impact in treble response. Treble extension and that vibrancy to sound is lost. Next audible impact is fat and slow bass (gets highlighted even more due to dull treble response)
    2) I'll always take an unused tube over better measuring but used tube. I was in disbelief when this happened the first time.
     
  8. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    Pretty much this. I would use words like weaksauce, limpdick, dull, soft to describe very used tubes. The thing is that we often don't realize it until we compare to new ones and get those transient snaps and excitement back. The flip side is that most tubes will last much longer than expected. I may come back in a year or two to measure emissions, and realize, oh, it went from 88% to 83% emissions on the Amplitrex. 75% emissions (again this is per spec) is about when I don't think the tube is doing it's job anymore, at least for power tubes, small signal tubes can be worked until lower. It depends upon the amp. Some amps eat tube, run them aggressively. (Tubes on Craig's amps seem to last forever. He tends to run lower plate voltages and the high frequency heaters running at 50k seem to be more gentle on the filaments.)

    P.S.

    I like the fact that we start out with a very high 125% emissions on the Western Electric 300B. Assuming equate rate of emissions drop per use compared to tubes, the price of the WE can be better justified. I wouldn't be surprised if the filaments of the WE degrade slower either. That would even be more value.
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2022
  9. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    Here are some measurements from the Studio B for future comparisons with other 300Bs. A good Bendix 2C51 was used as the driver tube.

    Western Electric 300B
    EC Studio B
    1kHz 2Vrms into 32-ohms (BAL)
    0dbR line = 2Vrms
    upload_2022-6-22_10-19-46.png

    Western Electric 300B
    EC Studio B
    1kHz 1Vrms into 32-ohms (BAL)
    0dbR line = 2Vrms
    upload_2022-6-22_10-22-56.png

    Western Electric 300B
    EC Studio B
    1kHz 0.5Vrms into 32-ohms (BAL)
    0dbR line = 2Vrms
    upload_2022-6-22_10-23-40.png

    Western Electric 300B
    EC Studio B
    1kHz 0.1Vrms into 32-ohms (BAL)
    0dbR line = 2Vrms
    upload_2022-6-22_10-26-14.png

    IMPORTANT NOTE:
    upload_2022-6-22_10-29-57.png
     
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2022
  10. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    Western Electric 300B
    EC Studio B
    THD (no N) vs Output Level Vrms
    upload_2022-6-22_10-41-38.png
     
  11. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    Here is another one, but with the WE300B's swapped L+R, but also with a different driver tube. Note that the prior 2C51 driver tube actually measured with strong emissions and the exact same GM between the two triodes. Small signal tubes with gain* tend to be a bitch with respect to the two triodes being consistent. No one who sells you tubes will tell you this. "Matching", unless it's done on an analyzer won't necessarily tell you this. Only honest but cranky old guys who make tube amps and SBAF will tell you this.

    Western Electric 300B
    EC Studio B
    THD (no N) vs Output Level Vrms
    Measurement #2
    upload_2022-6-22_10-50-32.png

    *The good new is that power tubes don't differ all that much, so often I don't worry about "matching". Small signal tubes are another story.
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2022
  12. peef

    peef Friend

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    I think it's a two-edged sword. Looks like the test program is comparing the plate current at the test condition to a standard value. If the table's right and emission (and thus plate current) is 25% higher than nominal, that current is going through the OPT's primary, It would be interesting to see if this results in more low frequency distortion, as this pushes the OPT closer to saturation. Maybe worth measuring the distortion spectrum with a ~100Hz signal, to push the transformer a bit harder?

    Assuming they use the same oxide coating as other 300B manufacturers, the main thing impacting emission will be the filament temperature, which depends on the power that the filament dissipates and on its geometry (thin wire gets hotter than thick wire). It's surprising to see that transconductance tests a bit low with emission testing high.

    There's a really great article on how tube construction impacts these parameters over here:
    https://www.john-a-harper.com/tubes201/#Emission

    Also, in case you haven't seen it, EML has an app note for testing their 300B on the AT1000. Would be great to know what the test settings are.
    http://www.emissionlabs.com/Club/Testing/How-to-test-with-AT1000.old.html
     
  13. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    Won't it be in real use, the amp designer would set auto-bias or provide instructions for user to set appropriate fixed bias point as to not saturate the OPT?


    P.S. Amplitrex Tube Test Parameters:

    "Standard" 300B: 300V 60mA 58.5V grid 5500uHMOs
    EML-300B: 300V 60mA 61V grid 5200uHMOs

    The Amplitrex measures EML tubes to a different spec provided by EML. They provide a separate file. In fixed bias testing, the Amplitrex applies the plate and the grid voltage per the database, and then looks at the current output. The is then compared against the database and expressed as a percentage for the "emissions" measurement. Note EML has their own weird 300B Pro Max Plus tubes: 300M, 300XLS, 320XLS, etc.
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2022
  14. iFi audio

    iFi audio MOT iFi Audio

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    Thanks, that's an awesome down to earth feedbeack I hoped to see here at SBAF one day. Lots of hype about latest WE300B, so the more hard info we get, the better. THANKS!
     
  15. yotacowboy

    yotacowboy McRibs Kind of Guy

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    I'm just going to reiterate some of my thoughts from the other thread because I think it's important to mention. IME, between GLs, LinLai reproduction/WE "clones", and newest production WE300Bs, subjectively the WE300Bs get that last little bit of everything that, sound-wise, make it a maybe-almost-worth-it proposition. IF(!!) WE manages to stick around for more than 5 years (BIG if), then having a 5 year warranty kind of bumps the almost-worth-it proposition into really-worth-it if you feel $1k+ matched pairs of tubes are a stretch. Though, I'd still be super pissed if even some JJs shit the bed after 366 days, or just out of warranty.

    Anyhow, I've offered to send Marv some of my 300Bs (GL, LL WE clones, and I might also throw in the LL300B globes) to throw in the tester and on the AP rig, and if he's got time, spend some time listening. In due time!
     
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  16. peef

    peef Friend

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    Thanks for sharing! The -58.5V/300V op point sounds familiar, but I can't find from where. I don't think it's on either of the datasheets of yore after a quick skim over them (1950s, 1930s). Page 4 of the '30s datasheet shows 300V, -58V, 80mA as a suggested op point-- so going off of that, the tube's emission is bang on.

    You think more highly of amp designers than I do. :) With the proper checks and balances in place, of course it will be fine. I think it's just an idiosyncrasy worth keeping in mind, if other 300Bs test lower.
     
  17. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    For what it's worth, WE did provide curves with these tubes. Kudos to them. I know these tubes are expensive, but I really like what Western Electric is doing. Made in the USA (if that matters), good sound, five year warranty (good luck with KR tubes if the break during the summer), and some rigor with testing. Feels like I'm actually getting a premium product.

    BTW I can do plate curves on the Amplitrex. Anyway, the result is consistent with what WE provided:
    we 300b curve.jpg

    I do wonder if Amplitrex's database was based on new production 300Bs tubes or maybe it was an error or oversight. The database has hundreds of entires. I do know I had to go in to reprogram the pin outs for 2C51 types because the database had it wrong.

    @yotacowboy offered to lend me other tubes. This could be interesting to see how well other tubes meet spec as well as their tube curves. WE right now seems ahead of the game with respect to transparency.
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2022
  18. dasman66

    dasman66 Self proclaimed lazy ass - friend

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    damn... I fought back the urge to order these after reading @yotacowboy 's review of them months ago... now this thread comes along and reignites my curiosity to compare to the Linlai Cossor WE300b clones. Damn, damn, damn...
    -----edit-----
    apologize for the noise
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2022
  19. iFi audio

    iFi audio MOT iFi Audio

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    We're all here awaiting patiently how this story unfolds further :D
     
  20. Polemarkos

    Polemarkos Rando

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    I paid a visit to Vintage Tube Services this afternoon and was told there's a chance the current issue WE300B's aren't necessarily going to be available indefinitely and to buy while you can as in his experience they are the best 300B available. I heard some horror stories about Takasutki's and various premium Chinese 300B's that have crossed his test bench. The 1998 issue that the proprietor had on-hand for personal use continues to test exceptionally well, and he claimed that they have up to a 40K hour lifespan if employed correctly. I was already primed to buy after reading the impressions and test results above but that tipped me over the edge and I ordered a set as soon as I got home.
     

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