I posted this in the Salk circle, but I figure I will fill it in here with tube choice. Up front I will say that all testing was done with a WE made 274b tube. Also, I took 101Ds out of the mix for this test as my tennis ball 101Ds are from the 20s and I am not ready to plop them into my DAC yet. My ST Shape are in another potential project. I used a pair of 45 globes that are Cunninghams. The rest were 70s WE 300Bs, 60s WE 275As and a pair of 1958 Sylvania 6A3 tubes.
Hopefully this will kick start some sales for all involved. I love the combination in my home (note that I do not use Wells Audio amps. I have my home brew 1625 amps (basically a military 6L6 with 12 volt heater and the anode pin moved to a top cap). I also use a modded Mac mini on an LPS). The Exoticas are so smooth, but you don't have any detail loss. It is like being there in more ways then one. It is the first setup I have owned where I get shivers at least once every time I press play.
Last night I was listening to compare some tubes for a friend who is getting a new Lampizator DAC. The Exoticas shine with almost any type of music you throw at them. I usually start with female vocals because I think that is one of the hardest things to get right. I start with Amy Mann, Kathleen Edwards, Natalie Merchant, Eva Cassidy or something like that. Last night, the first two selections were "Because the Night" by 10,000 Maniacs and then "Change the Sheets" by Kathleen Edwards. Merchant's voice in Because the Night, when done right, is airy, transparent and smooth. When done wrong, it is closed and almost rigid. Each time the Exoticas just present this open, beautiful window into the song. They also reproduce the clapping from the crowd perfectly. I found for this it was hard to beat the 300Bs. I think they are a little shy of the 275As on bass, but that is the only place they lose to any tube on this track. Other than that, they are the best sounding out there.
On to “Change the Sheets.” Kathleen Edwards has one of the most distinct voices I have ever heard. I adore it, but it is an acquired taste. I use it because she can hit soprano at times, but is mostly mezzo soprano. I like this song because it has almost all of the rock elements I look for in test music (just missing a hard driving guitar). It has an acoustic guitar, keyboard, electric guitar, bass and kicking drum parts. Bad speakers compress the heck out of this recording. You lose half the nuance. Exoticas, however, and you are hearing it all. Voice reproduced perfectly. Bass is unbelievable. It isn't thumping, but is what a bass guitar and a bass drum do. You know they are there, but my seat is not vibrating. The sound is just so refined that you will never mistake the type of drum/cymbal that is being hit. The separation is just perfect. Each note of the guitar is spot on. You just get enveloped by the music. Here, the 275A leads the pack. It just simply does everything right. The increased bass and mid bass push it over the top of the 300B for rock music IMO. The 6A3 from Sylvania does get right up there, but I don't think it can compete with the WE here.
I then usually pop on Damien Rice’s “Cannonball” from Live at Finger Prints: Warts and All. This is an amazing acoustic track. The guitar is sublime. You can tell he is using a Lowden guitar on these speakers. The distinct tone is so clear that it is almost unnerving. Rice has another interesting voice. It’s haunting and perfectly tenor. His then singing partner, Lisa Hannigan, is a pure soprano. I love this album. I won’t gush on it other than to see it is not complex. There are not a ton of instruments, but the sound is clean, open and inviting. I get shivers when I hear the few opening chords. It is just beautiful. 300B hands down. The 3D way that this track is reproduced is haunting.
Then I move on to instrumental music. I usually use “Take 5” as a benchmark. Mostly because I have heard it 1000 times and I know it. It is also the song I hear in every room in every audio show I have ever been to. Regardless, the Exoticas do it all right. The sound of Paul Desmond’s tongue hitting the reed of the sax and the keys slapping shut are just spot on. The air forming the notes from the saxophone make you feel like you are standing in the room with Desmond/Bruebeck. Joe Morello’s light touch with the brushes (which may be the most awe inspiring work on the track) is reproduced to the point that you believe that you can hear every bristle sliding over the cymbal. And the decay just cannot match any speaker I have heard that is less than $50,000. Morello’s amazing solo can be described as jolting and yet not so jarring that you feel it doesn’t fit. It is hard for me to describe. It really is a blast when he slams down on the bass drum, but the feel is so spot on to the music that it is isn’t really jarring to me. It is a jolt. I guess it is part of what makes the song so special (as if 5:4 time wasn’t jarring enough), even though it has been a mainstay of every single audio show for decades. Here I go back and forth on the 275A and the 300B. The 275As get this mostly right, but the 300Bs make the soundstage so engaging and wide that I find myself wondering where Desmond is hiding in my room. The globe 45s really push well here, but they lose in the bass department handily.
My next song is Rhapsody in Blue. I find this song, when reproduced well, is just what I think instrumental music should be. I will not spend a ton of time on this song, but know that it is reproduced as one would expect. It is a hard song to mess up, but I grew up listening to it, so I know the sound and how the song should feel, and to me, it feels right. I am going to call this too close to call, but I really liked the 300B and the 45 here.
I then listened to Schubert’s unfinished symphony (another favorite). The first movement is a raw and inspiring in its sorrow. The recording I use is not the best, but it is the one I have. I also like to hear a bad recording on speakers because I know that the sound will disappoint in some ways. It does here. I love the sound of this piece, but the lack of refinement in the recording bleeds through to the speaker. You can tell there is something you want more of (detail in this case) as the strings sound a bit muffled, but by the same token, I am pulled into the music and have to pay attention. This song is too hard to judge on because it is badly recorded. I won't comment on tubes.
I will stop writing because this probably doesn’t belong here, but let’s just say I looked at the clock, it was 3:00am and I wondered where the time had gone.