The MD-300B is attractive in its light gold-colored chassis and taller light gray transformer cover. It has a wood front panel with a large round power button in brushed light gold, and two knobs that are triangle shaped on a round back in the same color and metal. One knob is an input selector switch, and the other is a volume control. It also comes with a beautiful, one-piece curved glass tube shield. WARNING: the glass shield is highly breakable and very expensive to replace. The amp has a simple elegance that most everyone who sees it thinks is beautiful. By the way, MD stands for Music Dandy, and that it surely is.
The MD-300B is now the entry-level amp for WAVAC with the discontinuation of the MD-311. But, like all WAVAC Amps, it is transformer coupled with no caps in the signal path. And like in all its amps, WAVAC winds its own transformers with what the WAVAC folks call Oriented-Highbee-core material. The MD- 300B produces 10 beautiful SET watts per channel, and can be used as a stereo amplifier or as an integrated with three inputs and a passive volume control. It has no active preamplifier stage.
The amp has a pair of 300B output tubes, a pair of 6Y6s as driver tubes, and a pair of 12AT7s as input tubes. I listen to it with the mesh plates from Sophia and JJ, and I preferred the Western Electrics
ultimately. The mesh plates had a tighter bass and the top end seemed a little more extended; but they just didn’t play music as beautifully as the Western Electrics. So all of my comments are based on
audition of the amp with W.E. 300Bs.
To Go Passive Or Not
The MD 300B not only has a volume control, it also has a selector switch for three inputs. This brings out the temptation to use it as an integrated amp. I have used it this way a lot, and I think many audiophiles and especially those who grew up listening to amps of the sand persuasion might prefer it with no pre-amp.
Now, on a quick A/B, you might think the WAVAC is quicker and tighter without a pre-amp. However, having lived with this amp for over a year, I don’t think that is the case. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
Without a pre-amp, you are unable to hear the beauty of the instruments as wellit’s like you hear the plucking of the strings but not the body of the bass.
Adding the Audio Note M5 fleshed out the music some. It was slightly more real, like all the sound just came together better with the pre-amp. The Shindo Aurieges-L was the pre-amp that really let this amp
shine. With it, you can explore deep into the texture and harmonics of the music. The WAVAC sounds good by itself, and I would not be surprised that it would sound better with the passive volume than it would with many pre-amps.
For the rest of this review, the WAVAC was used with an active pre-amp, primarily, the Shindo.
I try not to place too much emphasis on the specs, because they don’t tell the whole story. Perhaps other manufacturers measure differently. The truth is that as is often the case with tube amps, the numbers just don’t seem to add up. This seems even truer for SET amps.
I mean, who are they kidding when they say the bass goes down to 30. The first thing everyone who has heard this amp says is they didn’t know you could get that kind of bass out of a 300B. The bass is
articulate and allows the music to have a very natural sounding sense of weight. This seemed true whether listening to an acoustic guitar or an electric bass. This weight seemed to give all of the music a foundation to build on.
When used with the Shindo Aurieges-L pre-amp, you not only hear the beauty of the plucking or bowing of a bass, but you also get to hear the textures of the instrument itself. The bass seems to breathe and takes on a lifelike quality. This, combined with the speed of the strings, gives you a beautiful sensation of a real bass. This is also the quality you will hear with drums and big horns. Never fat, but you will hear the instrument, the space, and the air around it. This is true all the way up into the mid bass.
Well, this is why we buy SETs. I don’t think it’s because we always wanted a 10-watt amp. The WAVACs, the Shindos, and the Kondos do this magical midrange better than any other amps I have heard.
Well, what does this magic sound like? First, it is immediate, the dictionary says immediate means:
1. Happening or done without delay
2. Nearest in time, space, or relationship
3. Urgent or pressing, and so needs to be dealt with before anything else.
All three of these definitions let you in on the sound of the WAVAC. It’s quickthere is no sense that there is something slowing down the timing or pace of the music; but it is in the second meaning of immediate that I think you get the best description of the little WAVAC. It lets you listen into the relationship between the performers and the instruments both in time and space. It’s this sense of relationship that lets you in on the whole.
To me, this is the difference in these three artists that I mentioned who make handmade tube amps, and the rest of the amps I am familiar with. It can best be described by trying to see two different pictures in
The first picture is a white background, and the artist has painted the strings and the outline of a bass in black on the canvas, and from the strings a few notes float off into space. I think this is often what we hear in systems that have great soundstaging and pinpoint imaging. It’s very impressive if you don’t know what you are missing or if your imagination can fill in the rest.
The second picture is also of a bass. Its background seems to be dark black and brown pant legs, socks, and shoes. The bass is mostly brown with black and mahogany colored grain. The strings are not quite
the same color, and you can see deep into the instrument. There is a single hand plucking the strings. If you follow the picture up the strings, you see others performers, and they each have big smiles on their
faces. Now this is what a great SET tube amp can do.
Which brings us to the third definition of immediate; it has a sense of urgency about it. Put on a good performance (I did not say a good sounding disc) and it’s hard to read a book, work on the computer, or
do anything else. It puts a smile on your face and it makes you want to tap your foot or clap your hands; it might even make you want to get up and dance. It probably doesn’t leave you much time to try to evaluate how it’s doing in audiophile terms.
The Top End
If the word to describe the midrange is immediate, then the words that best describe the top end is to say it is beautifully delicate. It extends without much resistance, and finishes off the over all sound like sparkles in the night. It’s not a top end that calls attentions to itself, but what it adds just makes the music sound
more beautiful and, at times, soar.
It is also the quietest amp I’ve had at my house; including transistor amps. I think these two features give it one of its most captivating qualities. This amp has the best sense of pace and rhythm that I have heard. I found myself tapping my foot almost as often as I do at live music.
If you want to know if this amp has as wide or as deep a soundstage as others I have used, or if it’s as detailed, or if the images float in space, or other audiophile questions, then you miss the point of this amp. It has a great soundstage that does not draw attention to itself. It doesn’t sound overly etched or detailed, but I hear delicacies with strings and guitars that I have never heard with recorded music. It sails through music with grace and rhythm and a sense of timing that is uncanny.
What I’m trying to say is that it lets me listen to my stereo and think about the music and the performance and not the equipment. For a seasoned audiophile like me, this is really something.
Let me end the review by sharing the two things this amp does that are very important to me.
1. Voices. I have always known that how an audio component does voices is the deciding factor for me. This amp lets you hear small nuances in voices. It lets voices swell into big moments without
loosing those nuances or straining. With the Audio Note M5 pre-amp, there is a natural weight to voices that lets them just sound real.
2. Quiet Passages. As much as I’ve always known how important voices were to me, I never even thought of quiet passages as part of the audiophile experience; but we all know that they are a big
part of live music. As easy as this amp sails through big passages, it has a magic with quiet passages that I had never before imagined. I guess it’s because of the quietness of the amp; but when the music gets soft and quite there is no desire to turn it up, because you can still hear all of the delicacies and nuances that are there without having to crank the amps so that loud passages are too loud.
The Review System and Setup:
Sony 777ES SACD player with both Kern mods and the VSEI 4.5 mod
Shindo Aurieges L
Audio Note M5
Audio Note AN/E SEs
All audience au24
Two of the ISOs built for JC Audio
AMP and SACD player are on Systrum stands set on a heavy solid maple table.
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