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April 2024

Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine

 

Aric Audio Super 300B SET Stereo Power Amplifier Review
To 300B or not to 300B, that is the Question.
Review By Ric Mancuso

 

Aric Audio Super 300B SET Stereo Power Amplifier Review

 

  Aric Kimball is an audio component designer and is a self-made audiophile. It is seldom to come across an audio designer who has eluded the radar among the audiophile community. His father somewhat inspired Aric to take a journey into the audio universe. Aric told me that his dad owned a Pioneer Rack system back in the 1970s that Aric had admired. Aric wanted to own one of his own. That compass point ignited his passion for ultimately designing his gear — a big step from the glitzy look of the Pioneer Rack system. I used to sell those in my previous life as an audio salesperson. Oh, those meters!

So, I asked Aric who his mentors were and what components were his envy. He admitted to me that he had no mentors or any icons of audio that he worshipped. Here are a few answers to some questions I asked about his audio formative years.

 

Biopic: Aric Kimball, Designer For Aric Audio
A: "When I was a toddler, I remember Dad tweaking his Pioneer rack system and playing air guitar and I was mesmerized by the bass, midrange, and treble sounds coming from his speakers. I ended up bugging my parents non-stop for a stereo system and ended up saving to purchase my own Pioneer rack system when I was 16."

Ric Mancuso: Do you have a mentor or audio designer that you collaborate with? People in the factory?

Aric Kimball: No, not at all. I've essentially always been a tweaker and pulled electronics apart since I could hold tools- always fascinated by how things worked. I've been repairing electronics since I was a kid, so viewing schematics to start with and then moving on just physically building them to see how they sounded was my start. I then got into some of the DIY forums and started learning about cap upgrades, and the benefits to different types of transformers, and circuits. It's been a step-by-step process until I feel like I've really "nailed" something, and it blows me away sonically. I also have an adversity to over-built products, and I apply this to all my gear. 

 

RM: ll of your components are made in the USA in-house. Parts?

AK: "All of the work I have control over is performed 100% in the USA. My chassis, the plates, the wire, and all the machining/tooling and assembly is performed in the USA. For parts- well, not all of the parts associated with audio gear are even available as "Made in the USA". My output transformers are proudly made in California, the Vishay resistors as well, and many other small parts. However, even purchasing parts from US manufacturers generally has some outsourcing occurring. The Antek toroid power transformers are shipped from NJ but made in China, however, they are incredibly well-built and reliable. My switches are all NKK and made in Japan, filament transformers are Triad and made all over the world. "

 

RM: What was your reference that enabled you to design tube gear? Stuff you owned or heard.

 

AK: Strangely I never owned or listened to any tube gear before building my own. My references were all vintage solid-state Yamaha, Pioneer, Onkyo, and Sansui units. Later I purchased used QSC pro sound amps since they were cheap for the power they produced. I always heard that tubes made things sound more "Human" and I felt I needed that to take the digital edge off my solid-state gear, so I searched for a schematic and built my first tube preamp.

 

RM: Do you have a mentor or audio designer that you collaborate with? People in the factory?

AK:  No, not at all. I've essentially always been a tweaker and pulled electronics apart since I could hold tools- always fascinated in how things worked. I've been repairing electronics since I was a kid, so viewing schematics to start with and then moving on just physically building them to see how they sounded was my start. I then got into some of the DIY forums and started learning about cap upgrades, and the benefits to different types of transformers, and circuits. It's been a step-by-step process for me until I feel like I've really "nailed" something, and it blows me away sonically. I also have an adversity to over-built products, and I apply this to all my gear.

 

 

RM: What are the major differences between your 300 B amps in a general sense?

AK: The only real differences are that one is parallel single-ended and can deliver twice the power, but it does use the same signal circuit as my SET version. The power supply is a bit different in the Custom 300B PSET as it needs to provide roughly double the current as the Super 300B SET.

 

RM: What topology of circuitry is employed in the 300 B Super? Special parts.

AK: The front end is a pair of 6SN7 voltage gain tubes arranged in an SRPP (series-regulated push-pull) arrangement which are cap-coupled to the triode-strapped 6V6 driver tubes. They are then coupled to the 300B grids via interstage transformers to overcome grid current and any slewing or wooliness that occurs with lesser-built 300B amps. I use copper foil paper in oil coupling caps between the first and second stages, then Transcendar interstage and output transformers between the driver, power tubes, and speaker outs. The entire circuit is point-to-point wired using pure copper wiring and there are a couple of tricks I use to allow the amplifier to deliver more current and have an extremely low (nil) noise floor.

 

RM: What is your favorite music to listen to?

AK: I rarely, if ever listen to full albums. Generally, I rotate music- usually just to not get bored or sick of my favorite tunes. But if I had to choose a few bands (in no particular order), it would be Slightly Stoopid, Dave Matthews Band, Grateful Dead, Umphrey's McGee, Phish, Live Allman Bros, and various eclectic jazz/fusion/alternative/electronica. I just enjoy hearing the different tonal palettes of music as well as diverse recordings to keep my palette clean.

 

The 300B Initiation And Experience
I must admit, I have never owned or had a 300 B-type amp in my review system. Shocking as it may seem it is true! It always came down to; Do I have the right sensitivity speakers, will low power deny me the dynamic impact in music, or will I have to baby the tubes and adjust bias constantly? My mind's imagery suggested owning an Alpha Romeo and always having to tweak or fix something with it. Well, finally my editor arranged for me to review an Aric Audio Super 300B SET amp. I received two heavy boxes along with a box for tubes for the amp (s)? I thought the cartons were for two mono-block amps. Wrong guess. It turns out there was the amp and a heavy power supply unit that would link to the power amp via an umbilical cable.

So, the journey begins. More like an initiation. The packaging was very tight and organized. Proper foam bracing and all tubes were removed from the chassis and stowed in boxes. Then the peg board game of installing the tubes in the power supply unit and power amp was accomplished. I put the units on self-engineered plinths with Black Ravioli energy drains under the two units as well under the plinths. The Black Ravioli drains bleed off mechanical and electrical noise while tightening up the sonic presentation of audio components. More audible or inaudible benefits than spikes.

Doing a little research, I found the 300 B tube was designed by Western Electric in 1938 to be used in telecommunications. The application demanded linearity and speed! Not what we associate with the tube in audiophile applications. My expectation was the Aric Audio Super 300 B SET would be sound syrupy, dense, and midrange-centric in its presentation. NOPE-NADA-NET.

 

 

System Set Up
As always, I hook up a pair of a pair of "Bargain Audiophile" loudspeakers to a tube amp that comes in for review to make sure it doesn't cause harm to the more expensive stable of my audiophile speakers. The Aric Audio Super SET 300B amp sounded full-bodied and tonally right from the beginning with the Triangle BORA 2's. I let the amp settle in for a couple of weeks. Also, to get a sense of where to go next in pairing up with a more full-range speaker. Interesting to note, I have the new Triangle self-powered speakers in for review. Great bargain brand IMO.

The Zu Audio Omen MK II with the Clarity Caps and better wiring were next to be put up to the task. The speaker's with a 97dB/W/m efficiency should be right in the 300B's wheelhouse. High sensitivity with a 12 Ohm load. The Aric Audio Super 300B SET would lose a little power from 8 Watts probably down to 6 Watts. Still more than enough to light up the speakers. Again, I put the speakers on self-engineered plinths with Black Ravioli Pads underneath each.

The speakers were placed 8 feet apart with a 5-degree toe in for a listening near-field configuration. Speakers placed 3 feet from the rear wall and two feet from the side walls. Black Ravioli energy drains positioned underneath the loudspeakers.

 

Tubes And Parts
The outboard power supply utilizes twin 5U4GB rectifiers, dual OA3 regulators, and 3 chokes along with 100% film capacitors for each filter stage. There is an interstage transformer coupling of the driver to the 300B, which is said to eliminate the syrupy" sound commonly associated with 300B amplifiers! The amplifier utilizes silver-coated copper output transformers, which are custom-made in the USA. Jupiter Copper Foil" coupling caps, with copper wire, are used throughout the signal path and copper shielding.

6SN7s are employed for the input stage which drives a 6V6 triode circuit The driver stage is said to provide extra headroom so that the 300B never sounds rolled off or compressed. This amplifier is touted to behave like a 15-watt per channel amp instead of the 8-Watt rating.

 

 

Aric sent me two sets of 300B power tubes to try as well as a second pair of 6SN7s. This tube amplifier responds well to tube rolling. The first set of 300Bs used were Western Electric-type tubes, clones if you will. The others were less expensive and sonically commensurate to their costs. Hey, Deez good tubes are not cheap!

Also, I noticed how transformers on the power supply and amplifier are quite robust. I strongly believe an amplifier's performance is hinged on how good the power supply is. Think of an automobile engine that has enough power to drive a good transmission. A weak power supply (engine) cannot deliver good power to the transmission and wheels (speakers). We have an electro-mechanical system that delivers power in both cases.

 

 

Brush Strokes And Sonic Palate
Listening to the Super 300B SET was like viewing an original painting instead of looking at a copy of the real thing! We usually get sonic brush strokes from components, which suggest a hint of realism. The Aric audio amp is not impressionistic in its presentation.

The Super 300B SET is a lively amp that renders tonal colors realistically without being over-embellished. Instruments and vocals are portrayed with a natural timbre and are reproduced as you would hear them in a live performance. The speakers pair well with this 300B amp. A great synergistic combination of strengths. I'm always looking for how well a component(s) renders the sound of a piano and the human voice. This combo checked those boxes.

I was able to hear distinctly the differences between brands of pianos. Vocals were precisely positioned between the speakers. Palpable is not quite the word to describe the experience. More like a presence without an announcement of purpose. When we hear live music, our senses are stimulated as a whole listening to the performance. One is not usually aware or paying attention to the nuanced details of the music. In other words, "It's all happening between your ears right now."

Let's talk about clarity. I think we all remember when driving down from a mountain trip there is a moment when your ears "Pop" and the experience is "Wow I can hear clearly again", this happens when the negative pressure in your ears returns to normal. That is a similar epiphany moment I heard with the Aric Audio Super 300B SET amp in the system. There is an openness that is wide and deep when listening to this amp. Of course, the speakers do the hand-off quite well.

 

 

Dynamics And Frequency Range
The Aric Audio Super 300B SET amp can get up and go! I did a lot of late-night listening with the system at low volume levels. Then it was time to let the amp cut loose. I played some classical recordings from Reference Recordings engineered and recorded by the world-famous Keith Johnson. Do you want dynamics baby? How about a full orchestra at close to realistic volume levels? Bing, check the box. The other thing about the dynamic range was what you didn't hear. The amp is dead quiet! I believe the benefit of having a separate power supply allows for silent operation which increases the dynamic range. Every dB makes a difference.

I was surprised by how well-defined, and the fullness of the bass was presented by the Aric Audio Super 300B SET. This is not your father's tube amp. It is quick, lively, transparent, and dynamic. Tonal contrasts and frequency responses were smooth in transitions. The high frequencies were articulate fully extended and natural sounding. I don't think I've had an amp in my system that accomplished these feats! Do all 300B amps sound this way? Remember this is my first journey with a 300B amp. Is this the Super 300B SET a benchmark design? I'm inclined to say yes.

The consistency of listenability of program material was a joy. The amp will tell you about the quality of recordings without denying you the enjoyment of music.

I was not able to clip the amp with the high-sensitivity speakers. I did not hear any distortion or performance anomalies with the amp.

 

 

The Bones And Tones
The Aric Audio Super 300B SET is robustly built. Two units comprise the component. The well-built power supply and the main amplifier. They are hefty units connected by an umbilical cable with Speak-On connectors. The amp runs cool for a tube amp. The tubes glow brightly. The bias is automatically done. The OA3 tubes in the power supply glow like a red giant star in the power supply. You can read a book at night along with the brightly illuminated bias meter. I would have liked a dimming feature on the meters and a tube cage for those who wish to listen with the lights off. I listen in a near-field set-up. The Super 300B SET amp is not microphonic and is dead quiet when music is not present. The units have a real wood finish trimming the sides of the pieces. The look is premium and salutes you before listening.

 

 

300 "B" Or Not to "B"
That is the question.
The Aric Audio Super 300B SET was an ear-opener for me. My first trip into the world of 300B amplification. After taking the amp out of the system and returning to my reference setup, it was a bit disappointing overall. All though you adjust your ears to a different sonic reality in time. "You don't know what you have until it's gone." At $6500.00 the Super 300B SET matched with the right speaker can be a magical marriage. USA-made and crafted with love. Can I stop the FedEx shipment back to Aric?

 

 

 

Tonality

Sub–bass (10Hz – 60Hz)

Mid–bass (80Hz – 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz – 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear
Soundscape Depth

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise
Emotionally Engaging

Value For The Money

 

 

 

Specifications
Type: Vacuum tube power amplifier
Output: 9 Watts RMS per channel
Frequency Response: 5 Hz to 50 kHz
Input Impedance: 100 kOhm
Input Sensitivity: 1.5 Volt (can be used without a preamplifier)
Included Tubes: Two each Linlai 300B, 6V6, NOS Hytron 6SN7, RCA 5U4GB, and NOS OA3 regulators
Includes custom-made power umbilical cables (x2)
100% point to point wired
Weight: 60 lbs.
Dimensions: 16" x 12" x 8.5" (WxDxH)
Warranty: Two year warranty
Price: $6475

 

 

 

Company Information
Aric Audio
32 River Street
Palmer, MA 01069

Voice: (413) 627-2543
E-mail: aricaudio@gmail.com 
Website: AricAudio.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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