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Vintage or modern? When I owned 300B amps from Art Audio and Woo and reviewed others from Trafomatic to Wyetech, I compared 300B from numerous vendors. I've since done the same in more limited capacity with our preamp.
I group my contenders into two families: vintage and modern. Our Western Electric 300B and VT52 are vintage, our Elrog equivalents modern. Standard Emission Labs and KR Audio—Living Voice have a KR-sourced 300B that differs from the stock KR—are modern, TJ's Full Music vintage. True wire mesh not punched metal plates are always vintage.
Here I'm not referring to production dates but sonic gestalt. Routinely my vintage examples use thinner lighter glass, the moderns thicker/heavier construction. In my use of these terms, vintage DHT have somewhat narrower bandwidth. They sound darker/mellower and more midrange centered. They're also more generous texturally, more fluid, elastic and decay rich. Modern equivalents extend farther into the extremes, are brighter/airier and texturally drier, more weighted on transients than decays and more damped.
Overly simplistic but still painting a useful picture, the looser, lither more billowy vintage sonics do exceptionally well on chamber music, minimalist vocals and classical music. The stiffer/tauter modern sonics favor rhythmically complex, bassy and … well, modern music. Vintage indulges the tone/texture domains, modern the timing and resolution aspects. Given my personal sorting hat, on what side would these current-production Linlai fall?
On sheer optics, I knew going in that Rachel orders her tubes without any of the distracting yellow silk screen shown on this 101D. She ordered a mute grey in vertical orientation which disappears nicely. There's also Linlai branding on the bases and a stamped serial # with brand name flies on its own metal badge inside the glass. Let the tubes do all the talking, not garish branding. Rachel knows that looks matter when you spend more on boutique glass.
Here is a comparison of Psvane Acme/Linlai Elite 300B. According to its writer, the Psvane sounds a bit more lush/wet, the Linlai a bit more dry/taut. In my sorting scheme, that'd make the Psvane more vintage/classic, the Linlai more modern. With Linlai having special WE replicants not unicorns—300B and 845, with the latter based on Western Electric's 284—they already offer two distinct flavors that likely sort down well within my scheme
My Linlai triplets shipped via DHL from Canada and arrived in these simple cardboard boxes wrapped in cling film. Each pair came with a handwritten inspection note and a 'grade A' mark. Unlike certain posh presentations that charge you for pretty boxes you'll never use again, Rachel's packaging is safe and functional but properly basic so no cash goes to waste on non-essentials.
Below we see a 2A3, 101D and 300B against the wall. The vertical branding on the glass and the horizontal branding on the bases aligns with the two thick pins so isn't visible below. If your component orients its sockets with the fat pins forward, you'll see the branding.
If you flick these tubes with a finger, you'll hear them ring. The smaller 101D obviously has a higher resonant frequency so rings higher but also longer. When you play tube gear, nobody taps its tubes, obviously. But exposure to physical vibration and air pressure variations still attacks a thermionic valve. That can trigger microphony which bleeds into the music signal to become audible distortion through the speakers. Purely from a construction angle, I'd classify these as more vintage builds because of their thinner/lighter glass. The Elrog, EML and KR audio bottles I'm familiar with are noticeably heavier and their glass is thicker. On the subject of wobbly/crooked sockets or visible glue, my samples were mum. They stood straight 'n' clean.
My visual inspection signed off without any complaints. Needless to say, none of it predicted any sonics. For that one must plug in, turn on and hit play. So let's. Because the preamp was set to 5V for the Elrog ER50, I'd start on the 300B foot with Western Electric, Elrog and Linlai. Whilst clocking 100 break-in hours for each pair, I asked Rachel whether I should run the 4.5V 101D on my preamp's 4V or 5V setting. The slightly lower value was obviously safe. But was the slightly higher? "I got confirmation from the Linlai factory. They recommend that you only use 4V as the higher 5V does exceed the filament's design limit. Over voltage will result in noisy playback and shorten tube life." I like unambiguous instructions!
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