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Reviewer: Marja & Henk
Financial Interests: click here
Sources: CEC TL5100, Audio Note tube DAC; Philips DVP 5500S SACD/DVD player
Preamp/integrated: TacT RCS 2.0 room control system, modified Audio Note Meishu with WE 300B (or AN, AVVT, JJ, KR Audio 300B output tubes); Trends Audio TA-10; Qables iQube; RSA Predator
Speakers: Avantgarde Acoustic Duo Omega; Avantgarde Acoustic Solo in HT 2.0 setting; Podium Sound Podium 1 [on loan];
Cables: Audio Note AN/Vx interconnects; Siltech Paris interconnects; Gizmo silver interconnect; Qunex 75 reference interconnect; Crystal Cable CrystalConnect Reference interconnect, CrystalDigit S/PDIF RCA/RCA and RCA/BNC, Y-cable, Crystal Cable Piccolo iPod to XLR, CrystalPower Reference AC-Eur/IEC CrystalSpeak Reference; Audio Note AN-L; Gizmo silver LS cable. Nanotec Golden Strada #79 nano 3; Nanotec Golden Strada #79; Nanotec Golden Strada #201 nano3; ASI LiveLine interconnects; Less Loss DFPC [in for review]
Power line conditioning: none
Equipment racks: Two double sets of Solid Tech Radius; Acoustic System amplifier shelf
Sundry accessories: IAR carbon CD damper; Boston Audio graphite CD damper, Denson demagnetizer CD; Furutech DeMag; Nanotec Nespa #1; Machina Dynamica Magic Box; TacT RCS calibrated microphone and software; Exact Audio Copy software; Compaq server w/Windows Server 2003 and XP; iPod; wood, brass and aluminium cones and pyramids; Xitel surround processor; Manley Skipjack; ASI TopLine; Boston Audio Design TuneBlocks
Room treatment: Extensive set of Acoustic System Resonators, Diffusers and Sugar Cubes; Gizmo's Harley Davidson cap
Room size: ca. 8 x 4.7m with open extension to a 2.2 x 2.4m A/V bay and open kitchen. Ceiling height is 2.5m, reinforced concrete walls of 45cm, reinforced concrete floors and roof of 30cm. Room has large glass bay on one side.
Price: $100 to $900 a (matched) pair

Tube rolling is a joy forever and that ain't no lie. What other electronic part can make such a difference in the way we experience music and is swapped so easily? Sure, cables can alter the perceived musical reproduction but they are not the most convenient flavoring of sound. And tube rolling is flavoring after all. It is no wonder we call our stash of available tubes the spice rack. The idea of doing a tube comparison evolved during our review of the Tri TRV-A300SE for the Dutch Music Emotion magazine syndicated on 6moons here. As an integrated amplifier built by the book, the TRV-A300SE presented the perfect opportunity. Its Japanese designer used a very simple single-ended circuit, point to point soldering and good quality components throughout. Our own Audio Meishu is a long way from stock so judging the effects of tube rolling was better done on the unmodified Tri.

The TRV-A300SE integrated amplifier uses one 6SN7 driver followed by a 300B power triode per channel. We could toy with the double triodes in the primary stage or the big boys at the end. For the simplest of all tubes, we chose the good old 300B. Our Spice Rack holds five different pairs. Three are based on the original 1935 Western Electric design - Chinese Audio Note branded tubes, JJs and a pair of the modern Western Electric. The Tri came with its own Tri-branded Chinese tubes. Besides those we had a set of the heavy envelope KR Audio and two tall AVVT/Vaic SLs as examples of 'inspired by' variants. Each of these tubes had already spent many hours in our Meishu and we had a pretty good idea of their particular flavoring effects on the music we enjoy.

After we did the listening tests and scribbled the notes that would lead to today's report, we did a little homework to find some answers for what the exact effects of tube difference are and where they might stem from. Next to Eric Barbour's well-known How a Vacuum Tube works article, we found something even more interesting - a transcription of a presentation given by Dutch tube maven Peter van Willenswaard. Peter wrote many tube-related articles for magazines like Stereophile before he devoted himself full-time to his company Audio Magic where he builds custom amplifiers and DACs. In this he is a true artisan. By his kind permission, we can quote his presentation verbatim.

100th anniversary of the triode - introduction presented by Peter van Willenswaard during the 2006 European Triode Festival: The Birth of the Triode
I'll be speaking to you about the birth of the electronic valve. And I prefer to use the English term 'valve' in this account and not the later American 'tube' for three reasons: 1. Englishman Fleming created (or should I say recognized) the first electronic component in history, 2. most valves were round bulbs at the time and not cylindrical tubes, 3. in the triode, the current could be shut down or opened up by means of the grid just like water in a mechanical valve.

The birth of the valve was by no means planned. No one was looking for an amplifying device, nothing even remotely like it. The first two steps on the road to the electron valve concept were set even before Thompson's 1897 discovery of the electron. You can't speak of electronics if you don't know that electrons exist.

Before going into detail, it pays to look at the second half of the 19
th century and the beginning of the 20th. This was a strange time. A profound technological revolution took place on a scale never seen previously in history. On the contrary, you might be forgiven to think that between the demise of the Roman Empire in the 5th century or so and the end of the Middle Ages lie 10 centuries during which hardly any technological progress was made. One exception that springs to mind is the advance in clockwork artistry in the Late Mid! dle Ages. On the other hand, many advances made by the Romans had been lost by then like central heating, how to make concrete for building four-story houses etc.

Then finally arrived a time during which certain individuals started clever things: the discovery that the earth rotates around the sun, the making of lenses, the basics of Western physics and mathematics which culminated in the very practical invention of the steam engine in the early 19
th century. A few refinements later, this led to trains and railways halfway through the century. That proved so successful that by 1890 clocks across the country and Europe had to be synchronized because without it, time tables for trains were meaningless. Imagine that until then, each and every city had its own time. What I mean to say is that for 10 centuries, time had nearly stood still. For two more centuries, something stirred here and there but relative to that, the 19th century was an explosion.

Speaking through telephone wires, Marconi sent radio telegraph signals across the English Channel using spark transmitters during an 1870 stereo demo at the World Exhibition in Paris. Dynamos, the production of electrical energy and light followed and in a few years Einstein would disclose his Theory of Relativity. By the end of the 19
th century, many started to believe that anything was possible.