If you are a regular reader of Dagogo you know of my love for the sound of the Western Electric 300B vacuum tube. My Wavac EC300B is decked out with two NOS WE 300Bs, two NOS Sylvania 6L6GC driver tubes and a pair of NOS WE 435As. A few months ago it seemed it was time to replace the 6L6GCs and the 435As. When I did I was shocked by how much better my system sounded. So I thought with nearly 12,000 hours on them I should start to look around for some more WE 300Bs.
This turned out to be such a daunting task that I decided to see what was available in new 300Bs. The ones I had heard so far had been in the $300 to $800 price range and just weren’t in the sonic ball park with the Western Electrics. Still there were two or three I was hearing really good things about. One was the Sophia Electric’s Royal Princes 300B. I heard such good things from people I trusted that I just ordered a pair.
Sophia Electric is located in Vienna, Virginia, where they design, manufacture, and sell handcrafted vacuum tube Hi-Fi electronics. The company is led by Richard Wugang. Turns out that like me, Richard had found that the new-production 300B vacuum tubes didn’t measure up to the Western Electric, and he decided it was time to try to do something about it.
So in 2001 Richard went to Mr. Zhe Sheng Liu, a retired Chinese engineer, who had designed some 300B tubes in China under the All Music label. They established a relationship with the goal of building a 300B with the midrange magic of the Western Electric and at the same time to extend the frequency extremes. With Mr. Liu providing the engineering expertise, and Richard guiding the voicing of the tube, they thought they could reach this goal. Since 2001 they have made several models of the 300B; all were good but none up to now had retained enough of the midrange magic for yours truly. Still, I was hearing that with the Royal Princess they had done it!
The first thing I noticed when I unpacked these was that they came in a wooden box that looked just like the one that some of the later Western Electrics had come in. The second thing I noticed when I took the first tube out of the box: These 300Bs were much more substantial than the Western Electrics. They have a very solid and well-made feel to them. The glass of the Sophia Electric 300B was obviously both heavier and thicker than my Western Electrics and the ceramic tube sockets were a very nice touch.
One of the dangers of using 300B tubes is they do not have any kind of grove or key on the center pin on the tube to prevent incorrect installation. 300Bs simply use two larger pins and two slightly smaller pins for proper orientation; with most it is possible to force them in wrong with bad consequences for both amp and tubes. It’s a nice touch by Sophia that they have made the large pins enough oversized that they are too large to insert incorrectly into the tube socket.
When I started listening to Nelson Pass’ First Watt SIT-1 solid-state monoblock amps I dicovered early on that they were more like my Wavac EC300B than any amp I had heard. Likewise, from early on I knew that the Sophia Royal Princes 300Bs captured more of the Western Electric midrange magic than I had heard from any other 300B tube. By the way the Wavac EC300B SET with the Sophia Royal Prince 300Bs and the First Watt SIT-1 amps sounded even more alike.
I can’t think of any way to tell you about the sound of these wonderful tubes other than to compare them to my Western Electric. I can say without a doubt that they are better than all the other current production 300Bs I have heard in my system. The only frontrunner I know of that I have not heart is Pavane’s reproduction of the Western Electric and I hope to hear them soon.
So let’s talk about how the Western Electrics and the Sophia Royal Princess 300Bs sound compared to each other. The Sophias have a more fleshed out and slightly darker overall sound by comparison. To my surprise they also seem to play louder and bolder than the Western Electrics. The Royal Princess also have a richer timbre and seem to paint more vivid tonal colors.
By contrast in the midrange and upper bass the Western Electrics displayed ever so slightly more detail, are more delicate sounding, with a little more air. Images are more solidly defined with the Sophia Royal Princess, but at that slight cost of air. This is only by comparison to the Western Electrics, compared to all other 300Bs I have heard they excel in these areas.
The soundstage presentation is slightly different also. The Sophia Royal Princess is bolder with bigger scale, but more tightly focused while the Western Electric’s soundstage opens up with more air and more spatial information.
One of the goals of the Sophia tube design was to better the Western Electric’s frequency extremes instead of imitating them. I would have to say they have managed to extend both frequency extremes and to add weight to the bass and shimmer to the top end. There is no doubt that the Sophia Royal Princess plays a little further into the bottom octaves. By contrast he Western Electrics have more punch and speed in the upper bass region. The top end also has more tonal colors with the Sophia Royal Princes tubes which comes across as sweeter and silkier. Still, somehow the Western Electrics have slightly more air.
Both tubes play music with a great sense of musical realism and emotional involvement. The Sophias have an overall sense of drama when playing music that is captivating. By contrast the Western Electrics sound more relaxed, which is equally beguiling. I have come to feel that this sense of sounding alive and relaxed at the same time may be at the heart of fabled midrange glory of the Western Electrics. My system sounds more like Quad 57s that can play really, really loud with the Western Electric. With the Sophia Royal Princess in my system it is sonically more spectacular and at the same time tonally richer and more vivid.
The Sophia Royal Princess are exceptional 300Bs. For the first couple of weeks I had them in my system I thought they had bettered my beloved Western Electric 300Bs, but when I put the Western Electrics back in the system I was blown away by the WE’s special ability to sound really alive and relaxed at the same time.
I’m not a collector or an accumulator so I have always found it hard to understand people who like to own multiple phono cartridges and tubes. My first exception to that was the Benz Ebony TR and Miyabi Standard phono cartridges. Now that I think about it the differences in those two phono cartridges isn’t that different from the two 300B tubes. The Miyabi Standard is the more tonally rich and has a bigger sound whereas the TR sounds more like the Western Electrics. So I’m in the same predicament I was in with those two cartridges, that is before I got the Soundsmith SG-220 Strain-Gauge: I just can’t decide which of the 300Bs are best. I love them both, but in the end I love the Western Electric the most!
The Princess mesh and Carbon 300B tubes came before this Royal Princess 300B tube. Each has its own characters. Many reviewers have praised them to be superior or competing with Western Electric. They are great value in the market place for different price range. It is difficult to say they don’t have midrange, especially when the reviewer has not heard them yet. The carbon 300B especially was praised to have WE like midrange.
- (Page 1 of 1)