I don’t have many pet peeves, but one of them is the fact that we only think about recent or vintage stuff. A few examples, libraries are full of books; some of them written a few hundred years ago, but the only ones on the wait list to check out are brand new or a few classics. Then just see what happens when they have a contest to let sport fans vote for the 10 best players in their sport; the fans vote like no one any good played except in the last 20 years, or are hall of famers. One last example that applies here: We read a review of a great piece of audio gear and no matter how good it is let a few years pass and no one is writing about it anymore. So I want to go back and look at a few products that aren’t old enough to be vintage yet, but are too good to forget just because they’re not the newest thing. A couple of these I have owned for over seven years. I don’t know if you know how amazing it is for any product to stay with a dyed in the wool audiophile for seven plus years. Then you add to that the fact that I am a reviewer and I have all kinds of great sounding gear coming through all the time and it becomes even more amazing.
First, I want to talk about the piece of equipment I have built my whole system around, the Wavac EC300B amp, with Western Electric 300B power tubes, Western Electric 435A front end tubes, and NOS Sylvania 6L6GC driver tubes. There are several good and even more bad choices for the 6L6GCs, but I haven’t found anything else to use that I like nearly as much as the WE 300Bs and the WE 435As are a must.
I fell in love with tube amps when I heard my first “Pure Class A” tube amp. It was a little Beard P35. It used EL84s run in class A and it stole my heart. This was during my mini-monitor phase and I owned Celestion 700s and drove them vertically bi-amped with two of the little Beard P35s. As I have shared in other articles I kept getting bored with mini-monitors and got rid of them and got a pair of Klipsch Fortes. It was about this time I was reading Joe Roberts’ great little and long not in print magazine, “Sound Practices.” So I made the decision to try a single ended, no feedback single ended triode amp. The first one was a little inexpensive kit designed by Dennis Had. It had no top end and the bass was slow and not very deep, but I fell in love with the midrange, a love I have never lost
My love of SETs and especially 300Bs continued and I tried several from Audio Note and Cary. I ended up with the little Wavac MD300B with a pair of Western Electric 300B tubes. I knew this wasn’t the ultimate 300B amp, but I picked it up for a steal used and I knew it was the best I could afford. I made a tragic mistake though of hearing its big brother, the EC300B; but as I didn’t have $30,000 I just dreamed. Then fate shined on me; I got a phone call wanting to know if I would be interested in a kind of beat up EC300B that had been hauled to audio show after audio show for several years. The price was $9,000 and I couldn’t resist. It is a decision I have never regretted.
It is one of the few Wavac amps still in the current lineup that was designed by Nobu Shishido. It is still their all out work with 300Bs and I think the best amp they ever made. The fact that they make amps that cost way into six figures now is no reason to overlook this classic 300B amp. At the heart of the EC-300B is the Inverted Interstage Transformer Coupling circuit developed by Nobu Shishido. This removes all the coupling capacitors from the circuit. I promise you can hear the difference between this design and other SET amps, in fact this maybe the best reason for buying any WAVAC SET amp.
Nobu Shishido in some ways was WAVAC until he passed away in March of 1998. He was one of the pioneers in the rebirth of SET design. One of his most devoted followers was the late Harvey Rosenberg, better known as “Dr. Gizmo.” You can still find schematics of his Loftin-White 2A3, one of the most famous SET designs ever. The schematic was first published in 1970. There’s not much history of WAVAC on line, but Greg Weaver did an article on Positive Feedback where he shared this much with us.
WAVAC Audio Labs come into being in 1994 when Yasuo Yoshizawa, the executive director of the former Yoshiki Industry Co., stumbled upon the book “Production of Single Amplifier” written by the late Nobu Shisido. Mr. Yoshizawa was so taken by the read that he sought out Mr. Shisido at his home, and the two rapidly developed a friendship, one that blossomed into a project to develop and produce tube amplifiers.
Though the circuit was the brainchild of Mr. Shishido and the chassis was the result of the efforts of Mr. Yoshizawa, the company eventually grew to include a development staff which included Yuzuru Ito, a stage, sound effect, and recording engineer, Yasunori Matsuki and Masakuni Kudo.
The EC300B is one of the amps still in the current Wavac lineup that was built to the designs of Nobu Shishido. As noted above,.his patented circuit uses what is called an Inverted Interstage Transformer Coupling to feed an optimized signal to the 300B output tubes. It cancels DC magnetization in the I ITC transformer, giving the amp bass performance unlike any other 300B I have heard. The EC300B is also direct-coupled which in not the norm with SETs. There are no coupling capacitors anywhere in the EC300B. The 300B heaters are supplied from a filtered DC source to minimize hum and noise as well as a powerline input filter. I can say all of this results in the what is easily the quietest SET I have listened to.
The EC-300B to any tube lover is simply beautiful to behold. Don’t mistake that beauty for a lack of substance, the build quality is the best I’ve ever seen. Just start by looking at the array of four Western Electric Tubes. All the tubes are mounted in tube sockets milled from solid blocks of Teflon, with gold-plated bronze phosphor contacts. Each tube socket is isolated from the chassis by its own suspension. Then there is the fact that the chassis is milled out of a solid block of aluminum.
The most important parts of any SET is the transformers. It is here that WAVAC went all out. The amp has nine transformers and weighs in at 60 pounds. The transformers were designed by WAVAC with TANGO; the Japanese company well known for making the best no cost transformers in the world. Still WAVAC chooses to wind their transformers in house. I promise you this is where a lot of the cost of this amp lies.
I remember my reaction when I first sat down to listen to the EC-300B. My first thought was I had no idea you could get that close to live music. A speaker designer who came over to hear it said, “Spooky, I mean it’s just hard to believe.” Over the last eight years my convictions about how good this amp is has only increased. At the time I got the amp it was the first amp that cost over $10,000 I had heard in my home. Now I have heard several amps in the $30,000 plus categories and none of them have had the EC300B unbelievably alive and natural sound, a sound I sometime in reviews refer to as “scary real.
I think it all starts in the EC-300B’s ability to do things we think no one amp can do. For example it has an ability to be both incredibly dynamic and nimble at the same time. It has more sheer speed than any amp I’ve ever heard giving it that spooky since of immediacy. At the same time the music seems to float effortlessly in space and never seems forced or strained. I’ve heard many systems with 100 watt plus amps that cannot pull off this effortless dynamics. The bass has a rhythm that sounds life like, but when there is no bass it adds no warmth or slam of its own. Over the last seven years I have not heard any amp that has the tonal accuracy and purity the EC-300B has with instruments and voices.
It is very rare to see one of these on the used market, but even at retail it’s a great amp; to me personally, the best amp. The dealer network in the US is not very big, but it’s worth a trip to hear it. Keep on boppin’ and stay tuned for part two when I talk about Lowthers.
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