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To suss out small differences requires resolution. To find speakers that are highly resolving yet uncompromisingly persuasive in the emotional realm is always a challenge, perhaps especially for professional reviewers who are also musicians by training and proclivity. I was very fortunate then to get Franck Tchang's Tango speakers into my space and to further, have it acoustically tuned by the maestro himself. This finally gave me a true reviewer's microscope plus a profound pleasure machine for good to excellent recordings. With a custom copper, gold and Platinum resonator inside each Tango cabinet and a plethora of bigger room resonators, 'sugar cube' noise filters and phase inverters installed strategically throughout our new tri-level Chardonne residence, the 'R' version Tango is special. Its capacity for example to resolve molecular harmonic content from a silk dome tweeter -- released and amplified by riding the resonators' carrier wave perhaps -- exceeds my earlier experience of muRata's tiny gold piezo dome.

The advent of the Tango in Casa Chardonne thus precipitated the long-planned 300B comparison by magnifying in particular the various upper harmonic contributions of the diverse output triodes and how that element affected my perception of their tone, elasticity and air. The speakers' ruler-flat 6-ohm impedance below 1kHz coupled to its paralleled three 8" woofers is equally endowed in the opposite direction. The absence of a conventional port pipe completely eliminates the ringing resonance of common vented alignments and just how well the Yamamoto amp controls this benign load isn't believable unless heard. In fact, Franck Tchang himself was shocked.

For a tell-all track not too complex to become confusing but allow consistent focus on the essentials, I settled on "Promenade" on the Melos album [ECM 2048]. This is a very striking release with composer Vassilis Tsabropoulos on piano, Anja Lechner on cello and U.T. Ghandi on percussion. Most tunes are originals but there are also three numbers by the legendary Armenian mystic George I. Gurdjieff who penned more than 300 pieces with Thomas de Hartmann.

This album is one of my favorite finds of 2008. As such, it comes with my highest recommendation. Everyone I've played it for has rightly gone gaga. So you owe yourself a copy. For my purposes, it also allowed very close inspections of timbre, harmonic distribution and microdynamics in a truly best-case scenario. As one expects from ECM releases, recording quality is very high but that alone wouldn't count for much if the compositions and musicianship weren't so breathtaking as to withstand the strange rigors of endless tube swaps (which only nerdy audiophiles would dream up and conduct but that was today's name of the game after all).

The final tube inventory included two pairs of EATs (to also be used in a follow-up report of the Trafomatic Audio Experience Reference monos); one pair each of EML 300B-XLS and 320B-XLS; two pairs of JJ (stock complement of the Trafomatic monos); Shuguang 300B-98 (stock complement of my Woo Audio Model 5); TJ/Full music globes (stock complement of Emillé's 300B integrated) and Western Electrics - hence all valves from current productions except for one rectifier. The glaring omission of KR Audio is due to Eunice Kron's decision to no longer supply tubes to non-KR amp owners. I also had a pair of Emission Labs 5U4G mesh-plate rectifiers (again to also outfit the Serbian monos) and a pair of Sylvania NOS equivalents (stock with the Serbians).

Euro Audio Team, Czech Republic
Emission Labs 300B-XLS, Czech
Emission Labs 320B-XLS, Czech
JJ Electronics, Czech Republic
Shuguang 300B-98, China
TJ/Full Music Globe, China
Western Electric USA

Sylvania NOS
Emission Labs

The above photos were taken from the same distance. The size offsets of certain tubes implied by the transformer cover edge are thus factual. All the Czech valves are stouter, heavier and bigger than their Sino and US equivalents, with the EMLs the tallest.
The highest build quality is to be found with EAT and EML. The former sports the nicest pins of all the testers. The JJs suffered somewhat lose sockets on their glass envelopes and weren't made to the same exacting standards as the other Czechs. Still, their glass is thicker and heavier than that of the WEs and Shuguangs.

Sonically too, the tubes split into two camps. The Shuguang (an obvious WE clone), TJ and Western Electric belong into the class of yesterday - restricted bandwidth, limited dynamics. The EAT, EML and JJ belong into the class of today - expanded bandwidth, expanded dynamics. The Shuguangs' comparatively flat and coarse presentation had them come in last, period. The JJs came in last in their class but ahead of the Shuguangs. The two rectifiers followed in lock step, with the Sylvanias joining the Western Electric aesthetic, the monstrous EML that of the Czech triodes. The sonics of the rectifiers could be 'hybridized' or 'cross-coupled' by running a Czech 300B with the Sylvania 5U4G versus one of the traditional 300Bs with the huge Emission Labs rectifier. Mating a traditional 300B with the traditional rectifier enhanced the flavor of distanced softer focus while going Czech all the way accomplished the same in the other direction.

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The traditional 300Bs produce limited HF energy and a spectral balance of less brilliance and luster that begins in the midrange. An equivalent lighter bass maintains the tonal balance center but on the cello and the lower piano registers, the effect was similar to lightening an image's black level in Photoshop. The modern 300Bs are more lit up and incisive but also weightier and more damped in the bass. If your system can't resolve the ultra-fine uppermost harmonics, the modern 300Bs will sound sharper, with their sweet airiness diminished.

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Another way of saying the same thing is that the traditional 300Bs are more laid-back and by comparison, feel more distanced; cuddlier, more romantic. The modern 300Bs are more direct, with the kind of transient energy balance you'd find closer to the stage. In the Czech class, the JJs are more mechanical than the EMLs and EATs. This 'solidifies' some of the inner elasticity or elegance in the music. To a far more smaller extent, that's also what the 320B XLS does in comparison to its 300B XLS Emission Labs cousin.

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It's not quite as fluid even though its bass weight and impact appear slightly superior, with this latter aspect requiring far more serious software artillery to become relevant; like Mercan Dede's neo-sufi Nefes [Double Moon] which combines acoustic instruments and electronica in a masterful mix. On balance however, the minor grunt gains of the 320 were offset by the 300's more potent elegance factor to have me prefer the 'smaller' of the two on this amplifier.

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While clearly cut from the same sonic cloth, the JJs are more staid and stiff. Harmonic halos around high piano notes sustained by pedal are less expansive and the deep while very temporary flashes of fire flies around triangles have less depth and charge. The Tangos' exceptional harmonic resolution in a fully 'resonatored' space proved supremely instructive in showing off the relationship between overtone content and distribution vs. my perception of elegance, buoyancy and breath. As tube swaps curtailed extension and perceptible decay lengths, the music's lithe willowiness stiffened. If my ears were the hands of the gladiator dreaming of his after life while brushing through tall grasses, their blades got bristlier as illumination of the very fine gossamer stuff toned down. In short, gestalt altered. The spontaneous 'breath of life' became more constricted, quite similar but in reverse to what happens when a premium super tweeter at just the right amplitude and high-pass is added to a system. Instead of getting brighter and harder -- the erroneous assumption of "more treble energy" -- things get sweeter, breathier, lighter and more flexible. That was the core effect of the Czech valves over the traditional contingent. The EAT and EML 300B XLS had it the mostest, the EML 320B XLS stepped it down a skoch and the JJ even further.