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Physical inspection: With firmly attached ceramic bases free of micro wobble, with stout gold-plated pins and golden labeling screened sideways (to the right if your amp's fat pins sit behind the skinnier ones), the only cosmetic demerit was brown grime in the base/bulb creases. This gunk looked like very fine sand residue set inside glue. Flicking the tube whilst holding it in my hand and up against the ear betrayed the common 6-second trail of audible ringing from the resonant inner metal structure. This was identical to the Shuguang-built Golden Jazz variant marketed as Create Audio/Synergy Hifi. While the shape of their bulbs matched too, the Treasure glass was just a bit taller by about 5mm.

On the head: Using my Ken Ball-rewired beyerdynamic T1 on the Woo Audio Model 5 to compare Shuguang's Treasure against their OEM Golden Jazz, I noticed 95% overlap over 5% distinction. Compared to a current WE, both were clearly quieter. Where the Western Electrics suffered a constant low-level background hum, the Chinese at the same volume setting had no audible self noise. Lovely. The Sino bottles had more attack articulation (the operative word would be crispness), clearly more bass amplitude and a more lit-up top end. The subjective impression vis-à-vis the American was higher resolution, more kinetic energy and more drive. What the Yankee glass had over the Asians was that vocal tunes—think Portuguese Fadista against guitar ensemble—seemed to take more time in the ebb and flow of tiny hesitations and rushes which musical notation calls rubato. Chopin was a master of rubato. The melody slows against a steady left-hand accompaniment, then makes up for stolen time again.

This temporal liquidity or rhythmic elasticity is the providence of the vintage sound and accompanied by a midrange-centric tonal balance. In Manouche Jazz guitar personalities, it'd be Romane vs. Joscho Stefan. The latter's sheer technique (resolution) is plainly superior but his timing tends to be more mechanical or straightahead. Romane's fingering is often sloppier but his swing has more charm or humanity. Of course I overdraw for clarification. Mechanical devices like vacuum tubes don't alter musical flow in the time domain. Not really. Yet once you inspect just why the Western Electric sound seems more romantic and you get beyond the plain obvious tonal balance affair, you arrive at this polarity of flexibility vs. tautness.

Suffice it to say that the broader bandwidth and grippier articulation of the Chinese bottles, in my classification scheme, pegged them modern variants. These qualities are arguably vital for much 21st-century music. The potential lynch pin—mostly for vintage listeners—is the handling of the treble. If your preference calls for a more laid-back original Zu Druid type sound where the top is end is deliberately shelved down and mellow to emphasize the vocal band, you might find these modern Sino 300Bs bordering on brash. I personally didn't with the T1 Beyer cans but on 'unrepentant' Sennheiser HD800 (i.e. with their stock wire harness) I would. Conversely HifiMan's HE-5LE orthodynamic headphones with their stock copper wire (rather than HE-5 silver) cottoned to this character as a helpful asset.

The only area where the two Chinese diverged just enough from each other to identify them on the right kind of music was the bass. Here the black bottle had a small advantage in weight or impact. Dulce Pontes on Momentos didn't benefit one iota but the electric harp of Asita Hamidi on Blue Ark with the potent accompaniment of various drums and bass did. Likewise for club infrasonics and female vocals accompanied by pounding soundscapes à la Azam Ali and Lisa Gerrard. I expect that most listeners only marginally familiar with 300B SETs but well versed in the usual preconceptions and common wisdom would be quite shocked to encounter the bass amplitude and control these valves can dispatch particularly over high-impedance headphones when they're not asked to control beastly woofers. At this juncture, I thought of the Treasure and Golden Jazz as two peas in a pod. Customer preference would be foremost informed by price and appearance. If you love valves also for their visual attributes, the coated glass looks more industrial and obscures the popular emission glow. Then the Create/Synergy tube wins on fireside romance.

Compared to my Emission Labs 300B-XLS—and the very similar Euro Audio Team—the Chinese were bested on bass power. On Azam Ali's Elysium for the Brave for example, the physically bigger bottles also had the bigger but still tight bottoms. That benefited this music's sense of scale. Subjective resolution of retrieving the ambient glow around Azam's voice set into a rollicking percussive groove was equivalent between the Asians and Europeans. This was far higher than the WE which couldn't muster equivalent separation power. On this type of music, the Western Electric type sound simply falls on its face. Versus the EML/EAT, both Shuguangs had the more emphasized treble. This led them to sound fresher and more angular. I'd call the EML/EAT treble a silk-dome tweeter, the Treasure/Synergy version a Titanium dome. As far as generalities go, this really is a most applicable tie-in.

Intermediate conclusion: As a headphone amp bottle, Shuguang's Treasure 300B-Z in a circuit implemented as well as Woo Audio's has the necessary operational quietude to prevent annoying self noise. This tube majors on separation, bandwidth and articulated attacks. The general character is taut and lit up and as such, quite the antidote to pipe 'n' slippers ideals.

A finely balanced headphone like Beyer's T1 called the black bottle very linear with just the right dash of extra sparkle on top. A more high-strung design like Sennheiser's HD800 had its own HF forwardness ruthlessly exposed to get just a bit steely. An inherently mellower design like Fang Bian's planar-magnetic HE-5LE enjoyed an infusion of luster and excitement by riding the Shuguang's uncut treble energy. If you know these three headphones or have read my reviews, these characterizations should give you sufficient data points about what to expect from the 300B-Z Treasure.

Naturally, in the small sector of 300B SET aficionados, headphone listening over these direct-heated power triodes is a lot rarer than speaker drive. Once you hear the small 6S45P tubes in Trafomatic's Head One for example, you could question the sanity of paying big bucks for big designer bottles on headphones. The marvelous Woo Audio amp of course drives loudspeakers too. It makes that particular argument mute but the sessions more relevant to more readers would be over my Acoustic System Int. Tango R speakers. While their 91dB rating reads marginal on paper, their highly linear 6-ohm impedance below 1.000Hz actually makes them ideal. My 8wpc Yamamoto's gain is steeper than the 25-watt FirstWatt J2 and F5 transistor units to play louder than necessary from 2V sources without active preamp gain.