Perhaps the best integrated tube amplifier in the world!
Review By Steven R. Rochlin
here to e-mail reviewer.
It happened during one of those times when
audiophile nervosa sets in. The past year reviewing various turntables and
tonearms has been a revelation! Source components and loudspeakers can
make a wonderful improvement to one's system. But what would you do if one
day, out of the blue, you received an e-mail so enticing that is were like
a moth to a flame. You knew the company's top-line preamplifier was the
most revealing, neutral, and captivating device your ears ever had the privilege
to examine. For the curious few who have not read my February 2002 review of
Silbatone's C-102 battery powered tube preamplifier please click
To this day the Silbatone C-102 is the standard by which all other
preamplifiers have been measured. Nearly five years later there has been
nothing that comes close to the spectacular performance of the
Silbatone preamplifier. To quote my own review, "Ok, so it is three
large chassis, takes up quite a bit of physical real-estate, weighs what
seems like a ton and costs $30,000. So what?!?! The end result is a unit
that reproduces music beyond that of any other preamplifier ever heard...
and i have heard more [preamplifiers] than one cares to mention."
With that said, a few months later, May of 2002, another review of Silbatone's product
appeared within Enjoy the Music.com's
Review Magazine. This time it was their Ji-300B integrated tube
amplifier (see review by clicking
here). Of course expectations were high, as the preamplifier unit
was leagues ahead of the usual audiophile high-end kit. While the $16,000
price was nearly half of the C-102 preamplifier, my hopes were to find a
large amount of the C-102 preamplifier's performance had filtered down to their Ji-300B
integrated. Sadly, the unit fell far short of expectation.
The Ji-300B was quite good mind you, though for $16,000 it was hard for me
to completely rave about it. My conclusion says, "There are other
amplifiers that meet my preferences at lower costs." In life we all
have preferences, and the Ji-300B was not quite my cup of tea. Perhaps too
much of that 300B rose-colored glasses sound, which the C-102 preamplifier
had not a hint of? Bottom line is that while i did love the sound effect,
long-term ownership was not in the 'must have' category, unlike Silbatone's
New & Improved
While Silbatone was extremely pleased with my finding of the C-102
preamplifier, they were less enthusiastic with the assessment of their
Ji-300B integrated amplifier. Frankly, i agree with them, yet from my perspective
of course. Months ago i received an e-mail from Silbatone stating they
have made improvements to their integrated amplifier and they wanted me to
review it. Oh boy oh boy, could this really be my dream come true or
another let down? When expectations are very high, you really can
set yourself up for a fall. Am sure over the years many an audiophile has
auditioned/purchased a product they felt would be the Next Step Higher
Into Musical Bliss, only to be let down with a loud thump. Sad isn't it
how we do our very best to make wise choices, yet sometimes even the best plans fall short of
As this is December 2006 and we are near Chrisma-anukka-Box-Quanza
Day, it was time to unwrap my review of this new and stunning unit. Call it a
gift for those who dream big, spend big, and live in the Big Time. The
below review is not for the weak of heart or those with fragile
backs. While your financials must be This High to enjoy
the ride, the exhilaration factor may well be worth the price of
admission. And now
we enter a world where dreams do indeed come true.
What Dreams Are Made Of
Ji-300MKII integrated amplifier ($15,000) uses a pair each of the Western
Electric 300B output, 5965 and 5687 small signal tubes. The front
panel allows for easy selection of 5 switched stereo inputs using the
large knob on the left. Input impedance is 10kOhms. The left, smaller
backlit push button is for monitor output, which is provided for connection to other
integrated amplifiers or
recording purposes. The center button turns the unit on or off while the
far right button is for muting audio output. The large knob to the right controls
volume, with a total of 40 levels to choose from. Like the previous model, the movement
and feel of the volume knob can be described as sensual. Ok, perhaps i
need to get out a bit more, yet if you ever have the chance to operate one
of Silbatone's volume knobs you will understand where i am coming from. The
movement is silky smooth, yet very positive.
have been upgraded from the previous version. They are now
semisilverfoil to semisilverfoil nickel core and wired for both 4.8 and 8 Ohm
impedances, with 16 Ohm available by simply rewiring the appropriate
output transformer wires to the loudspeaker binding posts.
Other improvements include doubling up the silver mica capacitors and all
internal wiring went from being copper in the previous version, to now
consisting of 100 percent silver. With these improvements, the price has
actually come down from $16,000 for the first version to $15,000. This
could be due to the low valuation of the United States dollar or more
cost-effective engineering technics. Whatever the cause, it is good to see
improvements and a lowering of price.
While the hefty loudspeaker
terminals are silver, the RCA jacks are gold-plated. An interesting mix of
metals, but who am i to argue? Like the $30,000 C-102, the Ji-300MKII chassis and knobs are precision
machined from solid aluminum blocks and are hand finished. The chassis
has an extremely solid feel and is lavished with sensual curves.
Visually, it is extremely attractive and refined.
Operation is quite simple, as once you have everything wired in you
press the front panel power button and it will illuminate red (it also flashes when in the
Mute mode). Once the unit's soft-start delay has run it's course,
the power button lamp changes to blue. Then all one needs to do is choose
input and volume setting. Of note is that Silbatone suggests loudspeakers
with 93/dB/W/m sensitivity or higher. This is a good suggestion, though
depending on how kind a load you may find lower-sensitivity loudspeakers will
also work well. During this review i employed my beloved Reference 3a MM
DeCapo-i and vintage Audio Note AN-J/SPx loudspeakers. Both are
high-sensitivity, easy to drive units with the nod going to the Audio Note
for bass extension.
And The Angels Sang...
Expectations were high, though perhaps a bit measured as my hopes were dashed when listening to the first version of this unit years ago. With
quality and reliability never being an issue, it was good to just let her
settle in and let my ears be my guide. My usual listening sessions
for reviews start out with music that is quiet, serene, and with plenty
of microdynamics. No need to induce ear fatigue on a 'fresh set' of ears
What poured forth into my listening room was nothing short of a
For those who read my Silbatone C-102 preamplifier review, you will
recall how the microdynamics of that unit were head and shoulders above
anything else in my stable. Once again the brilliant minds at Silbatone
have done it! Obviously the changes in design and parts are paying big
dividends in this department. The usual comments of 'floating' and 'caressing'
were noted. It saddens me that very few audiophiles have truly heard the Magic
of Microdynamics. Part of the problem may not be system related as it
is with the high amount of background noise i hear in other's homes.
Ultra-quiet background levels, as is true in my humble abode, are usually
only reserved for recording studios or purpose-built soundproof rooms. My
point being is that the Silbatone integrated amplifier easily provides
high-resolution in the lowermost sound levels and follows the music
extraordinarily well, but you need a listening environment conducive
to such things.
On a grand scale, call it rock n' roll time, the pace (PRAT) and
dynamics were mesmerizing. Kraftwerk's The Mix (both vinyl and CD)
had a staggering driving speed, with the synthesized uppermost frequencies
extending to the stratosphere. Lesser units tend to miss the truly miss
the airy highs in the song "Pocket Calculator." They should
easily float about without any perception of being cut short. This is
exactly how the Silbatone Ji-300MKII produced these musical passages.
On the song "Radioactivity" there are very obvious phase
cues, expansive sounds, and driving deep bass. Over the years i have found
that only units with immense inner resolution can do all things during
this song. At 10 seconds you have a very long reverb effect with main
sound delay. At 43 seconds is an expansive electronic sound. Add to that,
at just over 3 minutes into the song you have the phasey, pulsating
explosions for the next minute. Sure many systems can get parts of this,
or perhaps a diminished version, yet only the most capable render all the above
completely intact in every aspect.
Every Kraftwerk lover knows the songs "Trans Europe Express,"
"Abzug," and "Metal On Metal" and the constant tonal
changes with phase. To be fair, this is not just a test of electronics,
but also the resolution of one's speakers — especially the tweeters or
supertweeters if you have them. Supertweeters usually show their
advantages with the song "Homecomputer." Summing this all up,
only the very few can really dig in and effortlessly produce these
pyrotechnics in full. The Silbatone passed with flying colors.
If there was
anything to possibly complain about, it would be the extremely deep
sub-40Hz zone, though that is probably due to my review loudspeakers
(Audio Note AN-J/SPx and Reference 3a MM De Capo-i). Neither of these are
known for that very last octave (or two), though have heard this album
using my M+K MX-2000 subwoofer. Those not familiar with this subwoofer
should simply know it was their top-line unit, bettered the MX-5000 in my
opinion, has hundreds of watts, dual 12-inch drivers in special
dual-loading format, very steep crossover (36dB/octave), and was perhaps
the most accurate subwoofer i have ever heard. Actually, you did not quite
hear this woofer more than you felt it, as it should be with
a proper subwoofer design (read: below 35Hz and reaching down to
near single-digit territory).
"So how about acoustic music Steven?" you ask. Placing my
fave Mile Davis Prestige vinyl box set by Analog
productions on the turntable brought many hours of musical bliss. From
breathing technics to subtle tones... it was all these to be heard. As a
musician, it is also interesting to note that you can hear more of the musician's
interplay between each other. It is these very small inflection and timing
cues, and other bits. While most non-musicians may not fully understand
this, those of us with years of experience will understand where i am
albums of small-scale string ensembles to large-scale orchestral works...
the resolution and ability to follow multiple groupings, harmonic
shadings, and dynamics both macro and micro were nearly flawless. i would
be hesitant to really put my thumb on any one deficiency, as said
deficiencies seems to not be constant. It begs the question of whether it is
the integrated amplifier, or perhaps the system or the recording itself.
This also proves that when i have to go over my listening notes and listen
further to make a conclusive analysis, and said analysis comes into question.
Ask yourself this, when was the last time you read a review where the
reviewer is honest enough to know how good a component may be and the
remainder of their system (or the recording) comes into question? Perhaps
when one's system reaches a certain level you begin to hear so much into
the recording, and the system is truly of such high resolution, that
deficiencies become a moving target. Just when you feel you have things
nailing down, the next recording unseats your findings and brings about
On the positive side, the extreme resolution and ability of the
Silbatone Ji-300MKII is enjoyable. In the past my system became so
hypersensitive as to make the music less enjoyable. In other words, it
may not be that you hear too much of the recording and imperfections more
than the way it is presented to the listener. Fortunately that type of irritating
system i had years ago did not last very long in my home. It was an interesting
educational experience and nothing more. If you desire very high
resolution and musical pleasure, then the Silbatone Ji-300MKII should
easily fill the bill when employed within the right system.
Imaging was excellent, with good instrument delineation without being
what sounds like artificial etching. Depth and hall reverb expansion was
also in the top realm of audiophile exotica, with perhaps a touch of
shortening at the very far right and left of the front soundstage. All in
all a very impressive, nearly unrestrained floating into the listening
space. As previously mentioned, you need to have a very quiet noise floor
to truly appreciate these subtleties to the Nth degree.
The Clouds Parted The Sun Shined Down On Earth
To plagiarize from my review of the Silbatone C-102 preamplifier review
"So it seems the review above is one of those reviewer unadulterated
raves. Well dammit it all if you had this piece in your system i would
challenge you to say bad things about it. So what?!?!... What we have here
is something so far beyond what i previously felt possible that the
gauntlet has been raised for other designers to step up to the
challenge." Integrated amplifiers have come and gone in my home, with
the Audio Note Meishu and VAC Avatar being among the Best of Breed. Of
course the Audio Note Ongaku was in another league, though for the price
of entry that is to be expected.
i can wholeheartedly add the Silbatone Ji-300MKII to Ongaku status. It
far exceeds that of virtually all other integrated amplifiers offered at any
price. With the price being 2 to 3 times the cost of other units, one should
expect such performance. While the first version was a let down, it
appears this redesign has captured the magic found in their preamplifier.
Sure other reviewers appeared to have been pleased with the first version
of this unit, though perhaps having the privilege of reviewing their preamplifier swayed my
opinion — as knowing what was possible brings into perspective the
shortfalls of the first version.
Of note is that i have also been tube rolling the stock WE300B for
other tubes. As one would expect, the differences are very audible. It may
take me more time and analysis to fully explore this unit, though the past
few months certainly does allow me time to get a handle on the stock configuration.
There may indeed be a follow up to come, as one would expect when dealing
with a unit capable of this starling amount of clarity.
This second, MKII version, corrects the previous errors and brings into
focus what is truly possible. The
Silbatone Ji-300MKII proves that time and evolution can produce remarkable
results! Those seeking for the ultimate integrated 300B stereo amplifier
should place this unit on the top of their list. Until you hear it, you
may never know what is genuinely possible. Of course in the end what really
matters is that you...
Enjoy the Music,
Steven R. Rochlin
Type: Integrated stereo tube amplifier
Tube Compliment: two each 300B, 5687 and 5965
Frequency Response: 20Hz to 35kHz
Power Output: 8 Watt per channel
Signal To Noise Ratio: 98dB
Inputs: five stereo pair line level RCA
Output: One stereo pair RCA
Input Sensitivity: 750mV
Input Impedance: 10kOhms
Output Impedance: 4.6 or 8 Ohms (16 Ohms optional)
THD: Less than 2 percent
Signal To Noise: 100dB
Dimensions: 44 x 25 x 43 (WxHxD in mm)
Weight: 59 lbs.
#1006 Byuksan Digital Valley III
212-13 Guro-dong, Guro-gu