Publisher Profile

Audion 300B Golden Dream Monoblock Amplifiers Review

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Golden Dream 300b tube amplifierIntroduction

Working in 1986 as Audio Innovation’s Technical Director, David Chessell, with the now-defunct company’s founding member, Erik Andersson, claimed to have produced the first triode amplifier in Europe the same year. The partnership continued into the following year with David founding the Audion name and making Erik his Chief Designer. In 1992, when Chinese audio vacuum tube maker Golden Dragon succeeded in producing its version of the Western Electric 300B triode tube, Audion adopted the new tube and introduced its acclaimed “Silver Night” triode monoblocks.

In 2001, prior to leaving the business, David Chessell sold his company to two of his good friends, David Gough and Graeme Holland, while Erik stayed on as the Chief Designer. In addition to being co-owners, David G. assumed the role of Director of Production, and Graeme Holland became the CEO and Marketing Manager. Though a British company, Audion’s production facility is located in a small village half an hour northeast of Bordeaux, in southern France.

Audion has been offering six progressing models of power amplifiers in twenty-three variations, with nine from the entry-level Sterling line, six from the next-level Silver Night, one from each of the Paragon and Golden Night lines, two from the Black Shadow and last not least, four in the top-of-the-line Golden Dream series. Prices ranged from the Sterling’s $1,295 to $34,895 for a pair of top-level Golden Dream monoblocks. Audion also made preamplifiers, and reviews on the 2-chassis Quattro is being arranged.

In the words of Randy Bankert, Audion’s U.S. Importer and proprietor of O.S. Services, Inc.,

“all Audion products retain the characteristic ‘family’ sound: very fast rise time and slew rate, extended
phase coherent high frequencies, excellent resolution and low-level dynamics and detais, involving
natural tonality and presentation.”

Technical Background

Based on a platform of the Golden Night, the Golden Dream is a single-ended design, utilizing two 300B tubes in parallel configuration per monoblock to produce a claimed 25 Wpc into all impedance.

There are four different levels of refinement in the GD line, designated as Level 5, 6, 7 and 8. The Level 5 Golden Dream SCSE (Self-Canceling Single-Ended) retails for $10,595, while the similarly equipped $15,995, Level 6 GD is endowed with an output transformer with a silver secondary winding, a choke filtered polypropylene power supply unit, pure silver input transformer and silver signal path throughout. Level 7’s $26,195 MSRP includes silver signal path and Black Gate capacitors in the main unit. Then, the $34,895 Level 8 Golden Dream monoblocks put silver into everything, including the wiring in the power supply unit. The subject of this review is a pair of the $15,995 Level 6 Golden Dream monoblocks.

Audion’s “Self-Canceling” topology aims at canceling out second order harmonic distortion inherent in tube amplifiers. According to Dave Gough, the proprietary topology accords superior impedance matching to drive the output tubes slightly harder, yielding two additional watts from each 300B, and inducing transient and bottom-end response “very difficult to find in other amplifiers.”

Each Level 6 Golden Dream features heavy duty speaker connectors robust enough for larger cables with either banana or spade termination, with separate positive connectors for 2 ohms, 4 ohms and 8 ohms applications. Volume adjustment is via a step-less Alps volume knob on the front panel that has no volume marking around the knob, using a notched locator etched on the gold-plated collar to indicate the volume setting.

Each of the amplifiers from the Golden Dream line features tube sockets with unique locking mechanism that corresponds with the locking pins at the 300B tube’s base. Replacing the usual pin holes inside other amplifiers’ tube sockets are unique conductive levers allowing the tubes to be inserted and rotated 60-degree clockwise for locking.

Set Up And Audition

Significantly larger than either the Audio Note Quest monoblocks or the single-chassis Loth X JI300, the pair of Golden Dream’s in their formidable chassis depths and widths took up the entire top shelf of one Salamander Synergy 20 rack, which was one of the few flexible designs of its kind on the market able to accommodate components of extraordinary depths, such as my former reference transport, the CEC TL1, and my former DAC, the Wadia 27. In addition, the Golden Dream’s uniquely mirror-like transformer cover, and gold sheet metal top chassis constantly attracted considerable attention away from other equipment in the system.

AUDIO NOTE
AN-E SEC SILVER Primary speakers were the Audio Note AN-E SEC Silver reviewed in February, 2003, while a pair of Italian loudspeaker manufacturer Aliante’s Royal Device Laura Studio Mk II with Miranda Horn and the Tannoy Churchill Wideband were also on hand to provide additional perspectives. Primary digital front end was the 47 Laboratory 4704 PiTracer CD Transport with the 4705-G Gemini Progression DAC. Audio Note’s $30k DAC 5 Special, Harmonix Reimyo’s $5,500 DAP-777 20bitK2 DAC and Sony’s SCD-777ES SACD player also provided additional perspectives. AN’s 1-meter length Sogon was used as digital cable, and an 1.5-meter length of its interconnect version were used between the DAC to the Golden Dream’s. Speaker cable was an 1.5-meter length of AN’s SPx.

In a RBCD rendition of Deutsche Grammophon’s 1975 Mozart Requiem hybrid SACD (DG SACD 471 639-2), the Golden Dream propelled the silver-wired AN speakers to produce dynamics atypical of tube amplifiers. The silver wire-laden loudspeakers conveyed the serenity of the angelic strings in the whispery opening procession of “Introitus” with the unmistakable 300B midrange beauty as endowed by the Golden Dream’s, then propagated the immediately ensuing choral succession with dynamic impacts resembling those of the advanced, switching-power-enforced Linn Klimax Twin.

ROYAL DEVICE
LAURA STUDIO II with
MIRANDA HORN The Golden Dream’s rendition of “Lacrimosa”, in which the female choir’s vocalization eclipsed even the accompanying strings’ spellbindingly subliminal fiddling with distinct dimensionality and textural impression, conveyed a convincing realism. Dynamic scale of the venue was infused with vocal flamboyancy that conveyed a communion and expansiveness that was at the same time charged with energy and warmth. The exclusive realm of the SET was fully glorified.

Musically, the very energetic and yet resolving Golden Dream/AN-E SEC Silver interface complimented the spectacular DSD-remastered recording with such dynamics, that also lent credibility to the opinion that no other ensemble could’ve mustered the level of perfection as the Berlin Philharmonics did during the von Karajan legacy.

Unless you also own von Karajan’s 1985 four-apple-cover, Le Quattro Stagioni (The Four Seasons) CD on Deustche Grammophon, the label’s recent re-release of the recording in Vivaldi: The four Seasons/L’Estro Armonico/Bach, J. S.: Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 3 & 5 (DG CD 474 287-2) of the much sought after music-making under the baton of the Maestro with the BP strings is another gem. The fact that von Karajan utilized Berlin Philharmonic’s entire string section for the occasion is historic, and the Golden Dream’s conveyance of both the dynamics and fullness of the fiddling was towering, as well as unprecedented.

TANNOY
CHURCHILL WIDEBAND
The Golden Dream’s 25 Wpc rating proved to be more than enough for the Tannoy Churchill’s 95 dB/8 Ohm sensitivity. Under such unification, the Tannoy’s 15-inch Dual-Concentric™ method rendered a majestic manifestation of the Berlin Philharmonic’s massive strings, at the same time inducing the delicate layering of the 300B sound, making for an invigorating experience only the Audion/Tannoy union could muster. While Linn’s Klimax Twin’s vanquishing of the Churchill satisfied with delicate, pristine top-end and a remarkably effortless transients, Audion’s Golden Dream’s pushed the envelope of SET methodology in driving the Tannoy to producing spades of tonal vividness and an unprecedented dynamic transients.

The music-making abilities of the ensemble, together with the Maestro’s artistic version and BP/DG’s massive sound of strings, already dwarfed many other performances before and after it; and now the recording is sounding better than ever. This is a fabulous re-release, making a classical fan’s dream come true.

Via the AN speakers, Vladimir Ashkenazy’s piano solo reading of Chopin’s Barcarolle, op. 60 (Decca 470 608-2) also benefited from the Audion’s methods. A hybrid SACD that is a positive testimony to the multi-format arrangement, the CD layer’s piano was depicted with outstanding clarity in an highlight of the pianist’s prowess, and the dynamics portrayed had an atypical conciseness that fostered the illusion of a live instrument. Most importantly, the Audion monoblocks vanquished the Audio Note speakers into projecting wide-ranging dynamics and convincing tonal sophistication. In this audition, Ashkenazy sounded even livelier than the young Evgeny Kissin on RCA’s high-resolution discs.

But it was in the lamentation of despair amidst powerful beats of Rock artist Seal’s same name CD Seal (Sire W2 26627) and the mayhem of heavy-metal hard-rock group’s Metallica (Elektra 9 61113-2) that the Golden Dream’s surpassed expectations. What once belonged in the realm of the solid-state devices was now re-interpreted with a 300B-infused full-bodied tonal immediacy with powerful dynamics not produced by other tube amplifiers, and the GD’s prompted the Tannoy’s 15-inch Dual-Concentric™ into recreating the quintessential bass lines and percussions in rock music, with the colossal scale and thunder to boast in this matching.

On Pre-Amplification

Audio Note’s $10k, M5 preamplifier was instrumental in amassing more tonal sophistication in connection with the Golden Dream’s. Yet, when driving speakers with compatible, complimenting efficiencies, such as the Audio Note AN-E SEC Silver (94.5dB/8 Ohm), Royal Device Laura Studio Mk II with Miranda Horn (98.5dB/6 Ohm) and Tannoy Churchill Wideband (95dB/8 Ohm), the Audio Note DAC 5-driven Golden Dream monoblocks already garnered sufficient gain in exploiting the speakers’ potentials on their own.

Furthermore, coupling the M5 to the Golden Dream monoblocks mandated a lowering of both the monoblocks’ input level and the preamplifier’s volume to maintain my usual listening level, which might have restricted each to operate at its own optimal.

Situations were different when the 90dB/6Ohm Genesis VI and the 82dB/8 Ohm Celestion SL700 were utilized, as the Golden Dream’s benefited from the M5’s extra gain, as the preamplifier became pivotal in exploiting the speakers.

In this setup, what the Audio Note M5-driven, 230 Wpc/4 Ohm Linn Klimax Twin system was able to induce from the Celestion was fundamentally equaled by the M5-coupled Audion Golden Dream. Dimensionality and tonality of the Celestion continued to be exemplary when driven by the M5 and Golden Dream’s, and the Linn Klimax Twin’s top-end delicacy, extension and tonal coherency was very nearly matched by the the SET monoblocks, with the distinction of a fuller midrange, more vivid tonality and slightly less extended frequencies.

With all taken into consideration, on their own, with the 47 Lab PiTracer and Audio Note’s DAC 5 Special at the helm, the Audion monoblocks-driven AN-E SEC Silver speakers exhibited highly resolute disposition approaching that of the integrated Loth X JI300, manifesting superior dynamics akin to those generated by the $9,000 Linn Klimax Twin.

Conclusion

In a side by side comparison, in spite of the 300B’s known, inherent tonal uniqueness, the Audion Golden Dream monoblock’s was a less evocative tonal iteration of the Loth X JI300 Integrated 300B Amplifier, while enforced by a superior level of contrasting, vigorous dynamics, due presumably to the company‘s exclusive “Self-Canceling Single-Ended“ circuitry. Relative tonal modesty notwithstanding, the Golden Dream’s 300B-induced midrange remained captivating and prevailing, its texturing pristine and refined. The Audion’s interaction with digital front ends of varying degree of finesse, from the $5,500 Harmonix Reimyo DAP-777 DAC to the $30k Audio Note DAC 5 Special, also revealed a refined, intrinsic nature that will compliment ongoing upgrades of source component.

The Audion monoblocks were also among the most powerful, volume control-equipped 300B-based SET amplifiers in today’s high-end audio environment, being able to vanquish all speakers at my residence without need for a preamp, except for the Apogee Duetta Signature.

Therefore, the Audion Level 6 Golden Dream’s may well be the one glass device in a position to capture the aspirations of transistor purveyors, while their expeditious transients and the noticeably less flamboyant 300B tonal disposition will also stir controversy among SET aficionados on the rationale of the design.

As one audiophile’s budget on amplifier can be another audiophile’s annual salary, none of us can criticize the logic of the one who will not spend more than $500 on an amplifier anymore over the other who can care less about spending over $10,000 on the same pursuit. For a device such as the Audion Golden Dream that is capable of approaching the dynamics of the Audio Note/Linn system while garnering Loth X-like SET tonality, if your sonic priorities coincide with my finding of the Audion’s, and you listen only to a digital front end, or don’t mind changing connections when necessary, then your investment of $16k will give you tremendous satisfaction in the long run by acquiring the Audion Golden Dream monoblock amplifiers. Although there are two higher models after the Golden Dream’s in Audion’s own lineup that will surpass the monoblock amplifiers, the GD’s are unlikely to be matched at its asking price by any other designs for the encompassing strengths.
Associated Equipment:

Digital Front End
47 Laboratory 4705-G Gemini Progression DAC
47 Laboratory 4707 PiTracer CD Transport
Audio Note DAC One 1.1x Signature
Audio Note DAC 5 Special
GW Labs DSP Engine
Harmonix Reimyo DAP-777 20bit K2 DAC
Sony SCD-777ES SACD/CD player

Amplification
Decware SE84C
GW Labs 270 tube power amplifier
Harmonix Reimyo CAT-777 tube preamplifier
Harmonix Reimyo PAT-777 300B SET power amplifier
Linn Klimax Twin
Loth X JI300 integrated amplifier
Reference Line Preeminence Two passive preamplifier
Reference Line Preeminence One Signature power amplifier]
Z-systems RDP-1 Reference Digital Preamplifier

Speakers
Apogee Duetta Signature
Audio Note AN-E SEC Silver
Celestion SL700
ELAC CL330JET
Genesis VI
Loth-X BS1
Rethm 2nd
Royal Device Laura Studio Mk II with Miranda Horn
Tannoy Churchill Wideband

Cabling
Audio Note Sogon digital cable (1m, RCA)
Audio Note Sogon interconnect (2m pair, RCA)
Audio Note AN-Vx interconnect (1.5m, RCA)
Audio Note AN-V silver interconnect (RCA 1m, 2 pairs)
Audio Note AN-SPx speaker cable (2m, bananas, bi-wired)
Audio Note AN-La copper speaker cable (8 feet, bi-wired)
Canare L-5CFB 75-ohm digital cable (RCA, 1.5m)
Canare D206 110 ohm digital cable (AES/EBU, 1.5m)
Cardas Quadlink 5C (8 feet)
Granite Audio #470 silver cables (RCA 1m, 2 pairs)
Granite Audio #560 AC Mains (2)
Illuminations D-60 75 Ohm digital cable (1.5m, RCA)
Loth X
Royal Device Bi-wire speaker cable
Van den Hul MCD-352 (8feet)

Accessories
ISO
Salamander Synergy 20 (2)
ASC Tube Traps and Flat Traps

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