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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Zanden Audio Model 2000P/5000S
Preamp/Integrated: ModWright SWL 9.0SE
Amp: AudioSector Patek SE; Decware Zen Taboo; DeHavilland Ios [on review]
Speakers: Zu Cable Definition Mk 1.5; Gallo Acoustics Reference 3
Cables: Zanden Audio proprietary I²S cable, Stealth Audio Indra (x2),Zu Cable Ibis; Crystal Cable Reference power cords; Zu Cable Birth on Definitions; ZCable Hurricane power cords on both conditioners
Stands: 1 x Grand Prix Audio Monaco four-tier
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for transport; GPA Apex footers underneath stand, DAC and amp; Walker Audio SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; WorldPower cryo'd Hubbell wall sockets
Room size: 30' w x 18' d x 10' h [sloping ceiling] in long-wall setup in one half, with open adjoining living room for a total of ca.1000 squ.ft floor plan
Review Component Retail: $5,195/pr excluding 300Bs

The king of direct-heated triodes? For global renown, El Rey would be the 300B. The mother of tone? For small-signal valves, she's the 6SN7. Grab two of the latter, one of the former, throw in a 5U4 to avoid switching noise from solid-state rectifiers and voilà, shake'n'stir, Canary Audio's CA-308 monos for -- you guessed right -- 8 watts of S.E.T. 300B power.

Prominently displayed front, aft and atop in classy cursive script as "Handcrafted in California", one might erroneously guess at the reason for why these ladies protesteth so much. Do they aim to elude disqualification by default, with popular perception on offshore origins still in the clutches of the past? Canary Audio focuses squarely on its Californian headquarters in Rosemead when it comes to the origins of their valved kit.

Before arm chair research assistants claim Red Rose style obsfuscation, a phone call to California settled the matter conclusively. Canary Audio is American all the way. The only Chinese part used in these amps are the tube sockets. Even the transformers are US, wound by "Gary who used to make the transformers for McIntosh."

One of Canary's two owners is a now 60-year old Korean who worked for Samsung and Sansui in Japan. His partner is an American designer who worked for one of our most famous domestic audio firms before buying into Canary. As an enthusiastic owner, moonie Edward Barker from London has long since sung the praises of Canary Audio's mighty four-box dual-mono dual power supply CA-903 Signature Edition preamp. When US liaison Bill Feil of Audiofeil International asked whether I'd be interested in taking a look at Canary Audio's newest S.E.T. creation, my preconceptions meant that I was already very positively predisposed towards a brand I had otherwise zero experience with nor really any knowledge about. If our own in-house vinyl insaniac had plunked down serious cash for Canary's statement preamp, I was prepared to be impressed.

If the champagne-colored elegance and 38 lbs half-width mass hadn't already, one look at the 308s' innards would have you convinced - this gear is executed to a very high level, with enviable parts quality and tidiness. According to the company's mission statement, Canary Audio isn't about reinventing the wheel. They mean to uncompromisingly implement proven principles for value-oriented high-performance products instead.

No proprietary shunt-regulated input and output stages then as we'll see shortly from Exemplar Audio's John Tucker for his newest 300B monos. No user-adjustable gain Wyetech Labs Sapphire style, with paralleled bottles for 18-watt monos. No, the CA-308s are conventional transformer-coupled single-ended, direct-heated 300B amps. In classically inefficient Class A fashion, they consume 105 RMS watts at the wall to produce 8 watts of full power at 1.2V input sensitivity. Frequency response of 10Hz to 54,000Hz +/-3dB, input impedance of 100Kohms and 4/8-ohm transformer taps are all right in the ballpark of the expected. Claimed THD at <0.2% could be standard or exceptional depending on power level (which remains unspecified). Dimensions of 9" W x 19" D 8" H mean two 308s will fit on a standard-size component shelf cheek to cheek. S/N ratio of -90dB @ 1 watt is very respectable but, on my unusually revealing 101dB Zu Definition flagships, turned out to make for a constant steady-state background drone that remained audible in the listening seat. It turns out that Canary Audio routinely modifies input sensitivity and gain for high-efficiency customers. They simply didn't realize I would turn out to be one such customer. I was asked to ship the amps back for the adjustment and promised utter silence upon their return.

Slightly different from the norm are the square perforations in the transformer case and bottom plate. The binding posts too are custom, super-sturdy, well conceived and capable of accepting bare wire of nearly 1/4" diameter. With clearly marked ceramic tube sockets recessed into the anodized aluminum dress cover and auto bias to never require any user adjustments, the Canary Audio monos are elegantly understated, user-friendly and apparently aimed at a set'n'forget crowd. A three-year non-transferable warranty (contingent on mailing in a registration card) adds peace of mind. All warranty repair work is performed at New Century Enterprises in Rosemead/CA. The packaging is very professional and clearly UPS proof, with both amps shipped in a common double carton and the two sets of tubes packed separately but shipped inside the master box.

Clearly, my ignorance in all matters Canary was reprehensible. I asked Bill Feil to fill me in on company background and anything else he felt would be relevant to prospective Canary Audio customers.

What I received was the U.S. retail price list, itemizing a rather sizeable arsenal of tube-powered electronics.
  • CA-200 passive preamplifier $845
  • CA-601 MK-II preamplifier $1,965 (2 x 6922, 1 x 6CG7)
  • CA-900 preamplifier $2,350 (2 x 6922, 1 x 6CG7, 1 x EF86, 1 x 12BH7)
  • CA-980 preamplifier $3,795 (1 x 5Y3, 1 x 12BH7, 1 x EF86, 1 x 12AU7, 2 x 12AX7)
  • CA-801 SE dual mono dual chassis preamplifier $4,895 (2 x 12AX7 / ECC83, 2 x 12AU7/ECC82)
  • CA-903 dual mono four chassis preamplifiers $8,295 (1 x EF86 , 1 x 12BH7, 1 x 5Y3 )
  • CA-608 40wpc EL34 integrated amplifier $2,695 (4 x EL34/6CA7, 2 x 6SN7GTB, 1 x 12AX7)
  • CA-100 80wpc EL34 stereo power amplifier $4,895 (8 x EL34 / 6CA7, 4 x 6922, 2 x 6GU7, 2 x 12BH7A )
  • CA-160 100/140w triode/UL EL34 monos $8,750/pr (8 x EL34 / 6CA7, 2 x 6922, 1 x 6GU7, 1 x 12BH7)
  • CA-770 40wpc EL34 stereo power amplifier $1,995 (4 x EL34, 4 x 6SN7GTB)
  • CA-306 24wpc 300B stereo push-pull power amplifier $5,195 (300B tubes not included - 4 x 300B, 2 x 6SN7GTB, 1 x 12AX7)
  • CA-308 8wpc 300B single-ended monos $5,195/pr (300Bs not included - 1 x 300B, 2 x 6SN7, 1 x 5U4)
  • CA-330 26w 300B push-pull monos $8,250/pr (300Bs not included - 2 x 300B, 2 x 6SN7GTB, 2 x 5U4GB)
  • CA-339 50w 300B push-pull monos $13,995/pr (300Bs not included - 4 x 300B, 2 x 6SN7GTB, 2 x 5U4GB)
  • Reference One 80-watt 300B monos $27,995/pr (300B tubes not included - 8 x 300B, 3 x 6SN7GTB, 1 x 6SL7)
  • CD-100 vacuum tube Cd plater $2,795 (24-192, 2 x 6922)
  • IC-ONE interconnect $395/1m/pr
  • IPW-ONE nickel power cable for power amplifier $495/6ft
Ambitious in scope yet value-oriented when accounting for finish, build quality and features, this clearly is a solid brand entry into the slowly crowding market of serious tube audio.

Because I don't have 300Bs in my resident tube arsenal, Canary Audio supplied a pair of Gold Aero 300BS-Bs. Spotting an opportunity for some tube rolling, I contacted Sean Ta of AYDN and he promptly dispatched a Full Music pair. Meanwhile Alfred Kayser, KR Audio's man in the Americas, offered to participate and a pair of his Czech Western Electric clones (recently previewed by Marja & Henk) will arrive shortly.

With no pretensions at a complete survey of available choices, this little tube rolling adventure will additionally
be qualified by the amps used. Still, I stood to learn something and hence embraced this opportunity. Truth be told, I was particularly curious about the new WE clone from the Kron stable since I've had exceptional results with their 32B, PX-25, 845 and 842VHD valves in the past. I always flash "KR" when I think reliability and superior sonics.

While final listening notes are a bit down the road still, first impressions based on cosmetics and inspecting the innards are excellent indeed and mirror our British colleague's high esteem of this brand. Stay tuned. Ditto for the firm's first 6922-based fully balanced one-box CD player called the CD-100.