Reviewer: David Abramson
Source: Audio Note CDT1 and DAC 2.1x Signature
Preamp/Integrated: Eastern Electric MiniMax
Amp: Art Audio Diavolo
Speakers: DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 8
Cables: Audience Au24 digital & analog interconnects; Ensemble Megaflux speaker cables
Stands: Sound Organization
Review component retail: varies with NOS tube type and supplier

Boom boom boom boom boomba-boomm-baaaha. Vah nill a. Ice Ice baby. Too cold, too cold. And, I think you'll agree, that was enough of that. Now why did I do this? Why did I proceed right off to plaster such doggerel boldly -- irreverently -- across the top of the first virtual page I am penning (pecking) for Six? Because I wanted to tell you here and now, my future friends, that I refuse. That's right; I flat refuse to ruin good music in the course of what is, by its very nature, an audiophiliary (I like it, no?) pursuit.

At least in my opinion, one cannot write a review about the sonic differences between tubes -- um, tjoebs -- without a good number of tjoebs. No? Yes. Moreover, even given the very revealing nature of the wonderful li'l Eastern Electric MiniMax as regards said tjoebs (alright already - toobs), sometimes sonic differences between them can be quite subtle; shadows here, a glint or two of silver there and so forth. Sometimes. Other times, the differences almost bowl you over sonically and it's like you've got a whole new piece of gear in your see-stem. In any case, I decided early on in this particular game that all one really needed to describe the differences sonically is Norah Jones. Well, that ilk at least. Any well-recorded, vapid collection from a young (or old) sultress-du-jour will do, really. [Yes I know, Norah Jones is quite hot. Yes, I would like her phone number and, if possible, to sit astride her piano bench with her sipping mocha java (not Starbux) while she croons that one about turning her on inches from my face. No, I do not think this defends well against the claim that her products thus far have been less than legendarily involving/deep. Please do not write in. And, done with it.]

Allow me to justify. There are many tjoebs in this survey that have been waiting long for their very own turn at being carefully seated in the business end of an Eastern Electric MiniMax. Some have been waiting nigh on 50 years in a dinky white box for this opportunity. Others have only recently had their sleepy multi-pronged golden metal butts pulled from that state-of-the-art circa 1960s MIG fighter lying sheepishly atop some dung heap in far Trashcanistan, discovered by a hapless peasant for pennies on the 12AU7, all the long trip home salivating in anticipation of meeting Bill O'Connell in the higher hopes of being sent on to yours truly to be part of something larger than themselves. Wow. This no space-limit thing on the net is a godsend. I luv it!

Now then, what does this mean for you -er us, gentle reader? It means that I ain't gonna cue up a beloved recording of Beethoven's "Emperor Adagio" or some treasured Jussi Bjorling recital or some such other real music and play the track/movement/album into the ground with twenty -- umm, one, two, let me see here - well, anyway, with however many tubes I got here -- combos just to describe some tantalizingly subtle tonal difference between two tubes too rare to obtain anywhere this side of Neptune. No. Not gonna do it. Wouldn't be prudent at this juncture.

Don't get me wrong now. When our beloved and most high (hey, I'm an FNG - F'in New Guy) editor sees fit to send me some two-and-a-half-of-its-kind Electron Sexuality Model 0.000001 tube amp that costs more than a boat load of Patek Phillipes, then you and I'll slap the classics on the platter and talk involvement and being drawn in and how much there there really is there (well okay - we can talk about the amount of there in this survey if you like). Hell, I'll pull out the good ones for any component review and have a daddy of a therapy session with you about each and every one of 'em. But when you gotta listen to all kinda tjoebs plunked down in all kinda slots...

Stop - collaborate and lissun, Norah Jones is on a brand new mishun... or whatever.
Wire. Square Better Wire. That's just what I envisioned our first clear li'l bottle up and saying as he hopped, nay, glided into the amplifier socket of my Mini (preamp that is; don't get nosey). Sylvania Black Plate Square Better Wire 12AU7 is his full god-given and I can tell you he is one suave and debonair clear customer. I can picture this tube making a grand ball entrance with the slickest fox in the place on one arm, top to tails in Armani and with a martini so comfortably seated in the left hand (you greet with your right) it may well have always been there. Taking his moniker, I believe, from the square wire visible in the top of the bottle, this tube had an instantly recognizably natural tonality and a deft way with color and intimacy. You can hear the quiet pressure of the hammers setting against their strings in the softer moments on some of the tracks of NJ's second CD, Feels Like Home. The musicians give each other space and there is a beautiful silence pervading that space. Elegance.

That word kept coming to the fore of my lexicon in trying to describe Double Oh 12AU7. Yet, this suavity was not at the expense of either rhythm or bass. Both were given their due. No blunting here whatsoever. In short, the debonair

Bond, James Bond in this survey. Well, he'd certainly be better than P-Diddy or whoever it is they are down to for the next one. Man, soon I'll get a call. I'll do it, too. Role of a lifetime aside, one of my absolute favorites, this Sylvania shows us it is definitely still hip to be square (you knew it was coming - it was only a matter of when).

Time out (spanking is just wrong)
While we're on the subject and as has been detailed elsewhere (nice end-run around an electrical engineering degree, eh? I thought so), the EE Minimax has three sockets for tubes. If the pre is facing you, then the one on the left is the socket for the tall thin 6X4 rectifier tube, the one in the middle is for a 12AU7 buffer stage tube and the one on the right is for the 12AU7 amplification stage tube. Now if'n you got a choice, don't be ignorant like me and go wondering why the rocket scientists over at Eastern Electric didn't send a matched pair of each tube for review. It's because each tube works in whatever capacity it does (rectification, buffering, amplification) dual-mono-in-one-bottle on both channels. Hence, only one tube of each type is needed.

Now I am going to perform most of this rollin' in the right-sided tube socket, the amplification one, coz that's where I was told things are most readily apparent. I can tell you that this seems to be true. However, it is also true that the Mini is so sensitive/clear a window on the goings-on in its general vicinity, no doubt by dint of its relative simplicity, that substitution of NOS tubes for stock tubes in the other two sockets also bear hugely on its sonics. Of this, there can be no doubt. But if I had to pick one socket to sub into -- say you had like a thousand Gs burning a hole in your trousers and you wanted to see just what would happen if you missed your wedding anniversary just this one time, choosing instead to blow the wad of it on some rare Afghanistani pre-war 12AU7s -- well then, I'd go for the amplification socket as you'll most clearly have your tube's qualities on a platter herein. Yessiree.

In the pre-P-Diddy years, Bond's best movie was arguably...
Goldfinger. And I got 'im, more or less - mostly less, right here in me Mini. Neither corpulent of sound nor particularly malevolent, the Raytheon 7730 Goldpin in fact bears little resemblance to his near-namesake. Why then, do I call him Goldfinger? Well, for starters, because he indeed has gold pins affixed to his gold base and well - the tube above was James Bond and this, after all, is my fantasy. Anyway, apparently rare as a C minus at Harvard undergrad, the Raytheon 7730 Goldpin has a black belt with 2 stripes in expressiveness. The subtle inflection -- the innuendo, the nuances -- make this tube what it is. I mean, at times, Norah Jones was almost moving (at times)! Possessed of neither the suave tonality of the Mr. Square Better Wire Bond nor of the wonderfully deep and pitch-accurate bass of the Sylvania 5814A, Goldfinger manages a plaintive argument like few of his brethren. To watch the movie, whoda thunk it? But as a tube, he is particularly fleet of foot and oh so expressive. I do have some reservation about the tonal leanings of this bottle, finding it a bit on the white side of the force. There isn't quite enough richness there for me and I sometimes get the sense that things aren't as fulsome as they really should be. Okay - laying it plain, it's maybe a teensy bit thin for me tonally. But it certainly has this je-ne-se-quoi that is alluring even if its tonality isn't quite. And did I mention the speed? Definitely no resemblance to his near-namesake there. I mean, Odd Job did all the physical labor but if Goldfinger wanted to be, say a Navy SEAL, this would be his tube-likeness. In certain systems, perhaps those slightly to the yang, Goldfinger may feel perfectly at home; if, that is, you can find him!