In the history of high-end audio, the venerable 300B power tube, originally created by Western Electric in the 1940s, has a special place in the hearts of many audiophiles. They often try to describe a 300B-based amplifier as having an intangible ability to "communicate the emotion of the music" to a much higher degree than any other vacuum tube-based or solid state amplifier. However, when the 300B tube is used in a SET design, there are at least two major drawbacks to consider.
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First of all, by having a 300B SET amp, you can only put out around five to eight watts; therefore, it can only drive very efficient speakers with no difficult slopes in their crossover design. This is the reason why you often see this type of amplifier teamed up with a single driver and no crossover design speakers used in a near-field listening setup in small rooms. Secondly, this combination of a 300B SET amp and single-driver speaker is often rolled off in the bass frequencies and not very extended on the high end. However, the 300B power tube can be used in a push/pull design, which will double its power rating and provide much more current, if quality transformers are used, to drive many more speakers of different types without the loss of low frequencies/dynamics and high-end extension. Since my Lawrence Cello speakers have a sensitivity of 90db and a nominal rating of five ohms, which is a relatively easy load to drive, I was very intrigued to review a modern 300B push/pull design amplifier in my reference system.
After investigating many different manufacturers of push/pull 300B design amplifiers, I found that Melody Valve HiFi, an Australia-based company with its own factory located in China, had a very highly regarded and reasonably priced push/pull 300B integrated amplifier. I contacted Hugh Nguyen, owner of Angel City Audio, the U.S. distributor for Melody Value, to set up a review on the Melody AN 300B integrated amplifier, which retails for $5,999, and suggested that it would be a good match in my system. The Melody AN 300B weighs 88 pounds. The Melody's dimensions are just over 10 inches tall by nearly18 inches wide and just over 17 inches deep. The Melody AN 300B produces 22 Class A watts per channel into either four ohms or 8 ohms. The back panel has four single-ended inputs, one XLR input, two sets of either four-ohm or eight-ohm WBT-style speaker posts and, finally, the IEC power inlet. The Melody AN 300B uses four 300B power tubes for the amplifier section, two 6SN7 tubes, and one 12AT7 tube in the preamp section, which are all located on the top in front of the massive hand-wound transformers. The Melody AN 300B uses a single full-wave 5Z8P tube for rectification in its power supply. On the front panel are two knobs, one for selection of input and the other for volume control. On the right side, there is an on/off toggle switch. The Melody AN 300B is constructed of thick aluminum slabs that have a silky gloss silver finish, with side panels of piano lacquer rosewood. It also comes with a matching tube cage that is easy to remove or replace, depending on whether you want the full glow of the tubes or prefer less light in your listening room. Finally, the Melody AN 300B's remote control allows you to increase/decrease the volume or mute it altogether. It is a well-built remote, made out of thick aluminum. The Melody AN 300B offers a very high level of build quality with its point-to-point hand wiring, hand-wound transformers, and NOS caps used throughout the design. The build quality can also be seen in its very attractive external appearance.
Could this 22-watts-per-channel push/pull 300B integrated amp produce the sonic magic that is found in 300B SET designs without the above-mentioned shortcomings? Could the Melody AN 300B come anywhere close to the performance of my highly regarded pair of Pass Labs XA-60.5 mono blocks and my Concert Fidelity CF-080 preamplifier, having a combined cost of $33,000, compared to $5,999 for the Melody? Let's find out.
With my first musical selection, Peggy Lee singing the title track from her album Black Coffee (Verve), I knew something special was taking place. There was a fluidity/liquidity to how Lee's voice just floated out dead center between my speakers with more image specificity than I have ever had in my system. The center fill was even more precise and deeper than my reference front-end gear had offered. The air around Lee's voice made her seem to be much more three-dimensional and real. The tonality and color of her voice and the instruments in her backup band were beautifully rendered, with the right amount of warmth and texture.
One of the great recordings both sonicly and musically of the last couple of years is the album by the Jimmy Cobb Quartet, Jazz in the Key of Blue (Chesky). This Quartet's version of "If Ever I Would Leave You" can show whether an amp can produce the exact location of each player, with the decays of their individual instruments bouncing off of the walls of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in New York City. The Melody AN 300B allowed me to hear the locations of each player more precisely, even where they stood or sat, when they were playing at this church. It also rendered very fine micro-details and decays with more purity than I have ever heard in my system. It was hard for me to believe that the Melody AN 300B had a lower noise floor than my reference gear, which allowed these spatial cues to be easily heard. To my surprise, it turned out to be the case.
Next, I listened to the great Thelonious Monk song, "Straight No Chaser," done by the Bill Holman Band on his album Brilliant Corners (XRCD JVC). The macro-dynamics and bass extension on this number will test any amp's ability to produce high, realistic volume levels and the slam of a big band at full swing. The Melody AN 300B was at least at the same level as my Pass Labs XA-60.6s sonically on this number. The Melody AN 300B was a touch more seamless/cohesive on the biggest peaks as the band reached its highest dynamic levels. It was amazing that that was done with only 22 watts per channel on this music in my large acoustic space. This could only happen because the quality of the transformers allowed great current to be passed at high volume peaks to control the speakers. If the Melody AN 300B did not have high-quality wound transformers, the transformers' cores would have become saturated, which would lead to distortion or attenuation at high peak pressure levels.
Read about the high points and low points of the Melody AN 300B amp on Page 2.