I’m going to confess something. Okay, yes, another something. Here we go. I don’t know a ton about vacuum tubes. I don’t! I’m learning, but the reason I’m learning isn’t because tubes are better than solid state or that tubes are the only truth path to audio nirvana. No, I find myself drawn tubes because, well, because they’re cool.
So, a couple of days ago, I was visiting Border Patrol in Waldorf, MD. Gary Dews had very kindly invited me down to spend an afternoon just listening to his top shelf amps, one after the other. More on that another time, when I have more time. But I have to tell you about something I saw and heard there, something I thought was just too awesome not to tell you about. It’s a tube. A 300b from Takatsuki, actually — appropriately enough called the TA-300b.
These things are stupidly expensive. Purportedly, this tube goes for something like $1,800 a pair, assuming you can actually find anyone to sell them to you. The website is entirely in Japanese. There’s really very little info online on these tubes, aside from a write up on High Fidelity that was reprinted on 6moons.
I got to hear these back to back with a pair of Sophia Electric Royal Princess 300b tubes ($1,200/pair). Some say that these might be the best 300b tubes ever made, excepting the now-impossible-to-get Western Electric tubes from yesterday. That said, aficionados of the WE tubes will tell you that the strength of that tube is solidly on the mid-range. What’s cool about the Royal Princess tubes is that it has a gorgeous mid-range, too — but when put into a good 300b tube amp, there’s actually treble and bass. Yeah, who knew? Well, Gary Dews did — and this is one of the reasons why his amps are so crazy-good.
I wasn’t expecting much, not really. Tube changes tend to be minor things. Small adjustments. Yeah, well, I have to say, this was pretty big — I was floored. Detail, air, presence, life … everything you might have heard about the classic WE tubes, now that I think about it. Add to that a great top end! If I had to nit, I’d point out that the bass may well have been a bit squishy and the mid-bass a bit light. This is something the Royal Princess had covered, just not with all the air, delicacy and finesse of the Takatsuki.
We pulled out a pair of the Sophia Electric Carbon Princess tubes (a relative bargain at “only” $600/pair) out of the P21 push-pull I borrowed for a month this past summer, and were treated to a tonal shift downward, in a way most certainly satisfying to my bass-hungry soul … but at a sacrifice of not only air but general treble extension, mid-range clarity and detail.
All in all, the Takatsuki is a thrilling tube. $1,800 for a pair of vacuum tubes seems a recipe for heartbreak, to me, but if that Western Electric thing is your thing, then the TA-300b ought to be on your wish list. As for me, I think the 1-year warranty on the Royal Princess may make up for the gap. But while I do really like the full-frequency performance of the Royal, boy-howdy, that Takatsuki was stunning. If you’re into jazz, female vocals, and small arrangement pieces — otherwise known as the “audiophile audio diet” — to the exclusion of everything else, this tube is a show stopper. Find them, tell me where you got them, and done is done.
Dude — I don’t even have a 300b amp and I want a pair of these.