JoLida JD 300B
The JD300B takes on the stylish looks of its big brother the Envoy. Brushed, machined aluminum faceplates and transformer housing tops contrasted by a black casing. Up front is a big, lighted, machined, volume control along with no less than six source buttons. I've got to say, his latest creations are very eye catching compared to his older established designs. This unit also comes with a full tube cage just in case you've got curious fingers around your house.
Along with the other stylish features, the JD 300B comes with a serious remote control. This remote control alone weighs the best part of a pound. It's a big, heavy, machined, beast of a device you could easily use to inflict bodily harm if the need ever arose. I've got to say, this is one of the more attractive pieces of gear I've had through audio central here. It should be well received by all but the pickiest of spouses.
Like JoLida's other creations, this amplifier is an integrated of sorts. Rather than having a dedicated preamplifier stage, Mike has designed a variable input attenuator to take on the duties of volume control. When you drop power ratings and raise the efficiency of your speakers, you soon become completely aware of how much the preamplifier can affect the sound of your system.
As you can see from the picture, JoLida has chosen a pair of 12AX7 tubes as the driver tube configuration. This is a little different from most 300B amplifiers. Typically, we are seeing single 6SN7, 6C45P and the like used as driver tubes. In turn JoLida has opted to pair the 12AX7 tubes to get the gain required to drive this amplifier. Not necessarily a bad idea when you think about it. There are tons of great 12 series NOS (new old stock) and current production tubes to choose from out there. I realize that you guys all have your favorite driver tube as do I (mine is the 6C45Pi). I personally feel that tube is cleaner and more dynamic sounding compared to the others. That doesn't mean that the 12 series tubes won't work, 'cuz they do.
When you look inside this monster of an amp (it tips the scales at 65 pounds), you will see that it is a PC board based design. This particular board reportedly exceeds Military specifications for vibration and it has nice think traces. Mike of JoLida has put a lot of thought into the build quality of this board knowing that it will affect the sound that comes out of your loudspeakers. The JD 300B comes with a feature Mike calls the 'digital protection circuit.' Mike has designed protection circuit that protects the unit from voltage spikes and surges. In fact, Mike made the mistake and plugged in a 220-volt lead used for his overseas versions into one of the 110-volt units by mistake and the only thing that happened was a blown fuse. After a quick replacement, the amplifier was up and running again. The delay is about 30 seconds before the contact is make.
As I looked at the amplifier I found the usual cast of characters. Gold plated RCA's, Midline WBT knockoffs, an Alps volume pot and a top panel bias terminals and adjuster not to mention JoLida's proprietary German transformers. The stock driver and output tubes are Chinese where JoLida chose the ultra reliable Svetlana 5U4G for the rectifier tube. The JD300B also has a set of nice, heavy duty, vibration absorbing feet. During my tenure with the JD300B, I chose to replace the stock Chinese driver tubes with a set of Mullard 12AX7's that I had lying around. This went a long way to taming the (somewhat) brittle sound of the stock Chinese driver tubes.
The first of my adventures with the JoLida 300B was during break in. I decided to use an old pair of Infinity Qe's that I had lying around to shoulder the burden. Not to complain but the binding posts that JoLida has chosen are not spade friendly. These binding posts are designed to allow bananas or bare wire only. Not wanting to cut up my speaker cables or use a banana adapter (which would veil the sound) I was forced to stick one fork of the spade into binding post. It worked but it's not the ideal scenario. Anyway, the Qe and JD 300B was actually a nice little combo. The pairing didn't play overly loud as the Infinity's are only about 88 (or so) dB/W/m efficient. It was kinda fun listening to those old speakers. It really reminded my why I've hung on to those all this time. The sounds were fairly well balanced and plenty musical. Not to mention, I've never heard them do the SET thing before which was kinda cool.
Shortly after the JD 300B broke in, I decided to take it on a field trip to a friend of mine's house (with Mike's permission of course). Bill owns a pair of Altec Model 19's. If you're not familiar with these beasts, they are the biggest mammer-jammers that Altec made for home use. After these came the full blown A-7's for pro venue use. The 19's use the 811 multi-cell horn and the 15" 816 woofer. All of this is housed in (about) a 5 cubic foot vented enclosure. The 19's just plain rock. These things are in-yer-face from the minute you plug them in.
I love the sound of old horns. I grew up in an era where horns ruled. Speakers like Altec's, JBL's and big assed Klipsch's roamed the countryside like dinosaurs never to become extinct. Trouble is, it takes a special pairing of amp and source to tame any of these big old honkers. You either needed an ultra clean or ultra smooth amp otherwise you could plan on sound that I liken to stabbing yourself in the ears with an ice pick. When we slid the JD-300B in and let it warm up a bit, we both knew it would be a great match. The forward nature of the Altec's were tamed by the laid back nature of Mike's latest creation.
One of my personal favorites that we played that afternoon was Pat Metheny's Imaginary Day. Track 7 titled "The Roots of Coincidence" is one of the most aggressive songs that Pats ever recorded. It's a true fusion of jazz and hard-core rock and roll. This song is extremely dynamic. We started the song at a fairly low volume level. Before long I'd goosed it up to where we were well over 100dB in Bills listening room. The bass delivered by this amplifier and loudspeaker combination was by the boatload. It was tight and deep. Much better than I would have expected from this 300B.
The Altec's didn't give me a very good sense of how the highs were on the JD 300B. Honestly, they could use a little help in that department. A quality super tweeter cut in around 15kHz to 17kHz would really add some air to these vintage monsters. The treble that was there was very smooth if not a bit subdued. As I mentioned earlier, the 19's are in-yer-face speakers and need a slightly polite amplifier to tame them down a bit. That's exactly what the JD 300B did.
Back at the old homestead, next up was my pair of Lowthers in the Medallion cabinets. As you all know, Lowthers and bass are two words foreign to each other. Anything below 80Hz to 90Hz is pretty much non-existent. So I decided to hook the JD 300B into system just as I do my 2A3, actively crossed over and used from 100Hz and up with the bottom being filled in by a pair of 15" Goodmans driven by a pair of ASL Wave 8's. This should give me an excellent feel for the JoLida's SET-ness, midrange and treble extension (I use a vintage Pioneer PT-3 horn crossed at 17k to fill in where the Lowthers leave off).
The vast majority of the music I chose was jazz, classical and acoustic while the JoLida was in this system. I found the timbre of the JD very good given the slightly rolled nature of the amp. I was still able to extract a good amount of detail though not as great an amount as it is with my handmade 2A3.
I played tons of music in the Lowther system. One of the first things I noticed was that same politeness I alluded to when I was listening to the Altec's. It's a slight hint of veiling to the overall sound. When you compare the JD 300B to my 2A3, the Handmade Audio is much more defined and 'airy' as well it should be. Tony's amp uses ton's of boutique parts like Black Gates, Teflon caps, and expensive resistors. Mikes designs use good quality caps and resistors but he doesn't design and build with the cottage industry parts we've all grown so accustomed to.
As I listened for some of the other characteristics we audiophiles value so much, I found the soundstage to be fairly nice. Again since Mike doesn't use cottage industry parts in his amps, you will find that the image created is slightly larger and a bit less defined when you compare it to say an Audio Note. You aren't going to get that huge stage or ultra precise presentation but what you will find is a very smooth sounding amplifier.
As my tenure with the JD 300B progressed, I happened to get lucky and have another quality pair of high efficiency speakers show up. Thankfully, Mike let me keep the JD 300 a little longer so I could play some more. The Daedalus Audio DA-1's arrived and after some significant break in time, I decided to try out the JD 300B in front of them.
The simple pairing of an Arcam 8se, the JD 300B and the DA-1's couldn't have been much easier. After listening to the JD for a while, I decided to change the driver tubes out to something a little more forward and bright sounding. The Mullards I installed were just a bit too relaxed for this pairing. I settled on a pair of Penta Labs 12AX7's and a pair of Glotron 12AX7's. This combination gave me a bit more 'air' while retaining the slam on the lower end.
The JD 300B with the Daedalus DA-1's is was a fairly nice pairing. The simple 9 watts of the JoLida easily drove the DA-1's to 100dB without any effort. I still had plenty of headroom for transients. The sound was much as I described before, slightly veiled and a bit rolled in the highs, but still very musical.
In the end, I enjoyed my time with the JoLida JD 300B. I found it a bit on the polite side which is absolutely fine if that's what you are looking for. I'd have to say after playing this amp in front of numerous speakers that it tends to like a very forward sounding pair of speakers. The more aggressive the sound, the better. The best matches I experienced were the Altec's and the Lowthers which are both forward sounding speakers. For some people these will be matches made in heaven. The JD 300B certainly helps tame these type of speakers.
This is exactly what Mikes design goals are with his amp designs. He manufactures amps that are extremely easy on the ears. Mike likes to describe the sound of his amplifiers to a fine paintjob on an old house, it tends to cover the blemish's. When you pair his amps with aggressive speakers and even more aggressively recorded music, things tend to sound better. No longer do your ears start bleeding as you dive for the remote control. You begin to listen to all of your music collection rather than just a few finely recorded pieces that sound spectacular on your overly detailed system.
Is this amp for you? Maybe. It all depends on what you are looking for out of your music and sound system. If you are looking for the last word in detail and resolution, I doubt the JD 300B will be your answer. On the other hand, if you are looking for reliable, non-fatiguing sound that captures most all of the SET magic you read about so often, I think you've found a candidate. Mate the JoLida JD 300B with fairly efficient pair of forward sounding speakers like the Klipsch Reference series and I think you'll be happy as a biscuit in milk gravy.
and now for a little music...
A long time ago in a far away galaxy I did a music review from a little known Swedish Jazz trio (here in the States anyway) called Esbjorn Svensson Trio (EST). The release I wrote about was Somewhere Else Before. This CD was this Jazz power trio's entrée to the US market. Somewhere Else Before is a 'best of' album. It's a compilation of three of their four previous European releases, Winter in Venice, From Gagarin's Point of View and Good Morning Susie Soho. Each of these albums is simply phenomenal in their own right. Unfortunately, these previous CD's are only available in Europe. I happened to get them from their manager, Burkhard Hopper in Germany as part of that review.
Since that time, EST has released two more albums. In 2001, they released A Strange Place For Snow on the Sony label and more recently, Seven Days of Falling. Seven Days has actually been available to you (lucky) European readers for almost a full year. Reason I know is, I check the EST website regularly to watch their touring schedule and keep up to date on new releases.
When I discovered Seven Days of Falling was released I couldn't wait to get a copy. As chance has it, I waited... and waited... and waited. On a few occasions I talked to Burkhard Hopper, the groups manager, to find out when the CD would be released here in the States. Again, as luck would have it, Sony decided not to release it. In turn the boys had to go shopping for a new label on this side of the big pond. They came across 215 Records. 215 Records is a small upstart Indie label owned by Casablanca Music. They specialize primarily in smooth jazz artists. Not to worry, EST is anything but smooth jazz.
Esbjorn Svensson Trio has garnered excellent press here in the States from some pretty notable publications like Downbeat, MOJO, and The New York Times. Unfortunately due to the state of commercial radio in the US, EST has seen very little airtime. If you weren't aware, the 'pay for play' game still exists. Yeah I know, Congress supposedly eliminated that back in the 50's but they left a huge loophole that everybody uses to skirt the law. As it stands right now, the only way to get any airtime is to have a huge promotional budget. All of the so-called pop stars of today that you hear on commercial radio are bought and paid for, period. One of these months soon, I'll fill you in on the best part of two years worth of hard-core research I've done on the 'music' industry. But that's a story for a different day.
Represented by ACT and Diesel Music in Europe, EST is huge. These guys have been playing together for over a decade! Over half of their albums have won the European equivalent of our Grammies and won Best International Artist at the BBC Jazz Awards in 2003. They are continual chart toppers in the Jazz categories, again, all in Europe.
Now, all this isn't to say you may not have heard them here in the States. If you listen to the Jazz Channel on the Direcway Cable Network, they are playing Elevation Of Love from Seven Days of Falling on about a six hour rotation.
Esbjorn Svensson Trio is not your typical American Jazz trio. These guys are completely different. One of the writers called their music The Future Of Jazz. After I wrote my article back in 2001, I got a number of emails from guys in Europe welcoming me into EST fold. One of the guys called EST's sound, Rebirth of the Cool. I personally think both statements are spot on. These guys are so different that they defy classification. To think that they are rat holed in the Jazz genre isn't quite accurate. At times, these guys are as intense and edgy as any quality Rock and Roll band, yet Esbjorn and company can step back into the traditional sound of a Jazz based piano trio without skipping a beat. Just when you think you have them figured out, these guys will jump forward and hit you with a sound and beats that are reminiscent of Trance and Chill Out music.
One of the coolest things about EST is the fact that they like to experiment with the sounds of their instruments. Going back to their early releases, I was extremely impressed with Esbjorn's ability to blend sound effects from his piano into the music. Esbjorn will reach inside the piano, strike a cord and mute the piano string with his finger. That or pluck a pure note from within using his fingers. This isn't new by any stretch. Keith Emerson (and others) used to do this going back decades. But Esbjorn is the first mainstream Jazz artist that has been able to incorporate it into music that is infinitely listenable (as opposed to some of the avant-garde crap that passes for music today).
As I mentioned earlier, I check the EST website every month or so to see if they have any new releases, that or if they are touring anywhere near the St Louis area so I can go see them live (as opposed to Memorex). This particular surfing adventure, I noticed they were playing up in Chicago. 215 Records had booked them at a club downtown in the old Printers Row area called Hot House. Well, since Chicago is only about a four or five hour drive from St Louis (not to mention I know my way around Chicago pretty well), I decided to buy some tickets and take a road trip.
The concert was on a Tuesday night. I wasn't able to talk my lovely wife into going so that left an open ticket. Since I've got friends that live in the Chicagoland area, I decided to give them a buzz and see if there were any takers. Well it just so happens one of the first guys I called was Mr. Lowther himself, Jon Verhalen of Lowther America. Jon jumped on the chance sight unseen (or hearing unheard as the case was). Jon had never heard of EST before.
Before long, it was time for my road trip. I cruised on up to Chicago in my usual record time (about five hours). I've really got to stop doing that. One of these trips, one of Illinois finest is going to throw my fat behind in jail. So I check into this fleabag hotel out in the county because all of the downtown hotels are booked. I won't go into any great detail or tell you the name of the hotel (LaQuinta) but I'll just say (LaQuinta), this place (LaQunita) was the pits (LaQuinta). The first thing I did after I finally found my room (the room numbers were out of numeric order) was to flop down on the bed to stretch and take a load off. As I was lying on this bed, something felt strange. I noticed my feet were higher than my head….even with a pillow. Great, I get to sleep going uphill. I can just see it, in the morning my head will be swelled up with blood like a tick ready to pop. Well, I won't whine anymore but rest assured, things got worse from there until I left for the show.
I stopped off to pick Jon up from his house of destruction. Jon is an Engineer by trade. He tests the tensile strengths and failure rates of things like ladders and such. Most times I call, he's usually breaking stuff and recording the results. We hopped in my car and shot down the Eisenhower to the venue. After a quick stop for a beer and a burger at the corner bar right next to Hot House, we wandered upstairs to the venue.
When EST came out they immediately started the show with one of the songs from their latest release (the one I'm supposedly writing about). Esbjorn and the boys start in on Ballad For The Unborn. This is a simple piano driven piece. Since neither one of us had heard any of their new material, we were sort of in awe of how bad the sound was in the club. It sounded scratchy, thin and well, pretty bad. I looked at the house monitors and noticed they were Bag End monitors. These things aren't exactly what I'd consider bad speakers by any stretch. Bag End makes a fine sounding monitor. So I looked a little harder and noticed 4 or 5 mics pointing at different spots on the piano, one of which was located where the hammers hit the strings. As we listened to the first song, we noticed what sounded like a distorted guitar playing but alas, there isn't a guitar player around for blocks.
So what the heck was going on? Just about that time, I saw Esbjorn pull out a bottleneck slide and place it specifically in the piano on the strings and he started playing Elevation of Love. When you hear this song, the first notes you hear are Esbjorn's on his piano doing a simple riff, but over the speakers, it sounds like midrange driver has been blown and is buzzing. Come to find out, what you're hearing is that bottleneck vibrating around inside the piano. It's got it's own mic. Then next thing we know, we hear that distorted guitar sound again. Sure enough, Dan Berglund the bassist has his double bass close mic'ed (and who knows maybe even pickups attached) and is using a stomp box (distortion) that turns his bass sound into a lead guitar.
All of a sudden, everything came into focus. It all made sense. For the longest time I thought these guys were busy in the studio mix down room applying processing but they aren't. It's actually done at the instrument level. Oh, the effects aren't limited just to Esbjorn on piano and Dan on bass, Mangus on drums gets into the act too. More than a few times this evening I saw him reach over and hit some form of distortion switch, that or de-tune the head of his drum to change the pitch mid-cord. What was really cool is we saw him grab a bulb type squeeze horn (like old Model T Ford's use), set it flare side down on the snare drum, give it a gentle squeeze and make music. Shortly after that he took a 12" cymbal and laid it on the snare drum head and began to play it. After that, Mangus played the entire song Did They Ever Tell Cousteau? with his hands (no sticks).
I know all of this sounds a bit weird, but you'll have to trust me on this one, it works. Not only does it work, it works extremely well. Esbjorn Svensson Trio does anything but play avant-garde music. In fact it's more melodic and engaging than the majority of (so called) modern American Jazz. I'm not a fan at all of music that isn't melodical. In fact it drives me nuts trying to keep up with polyrhythmic timings. If I have to think about what each soloist is doing (timing-wise), I'd just assume not listen. Music (for me) needs rhythm. Something I can tap my feet to. This is something EST does extremely well. Even though they are living on the progressive edge, their music is extremely engaging and rhythmic.
These guys have become a mainstay in my cherished music collection. There isn't a week that goes by that I don't listen to one of their discs from beginning to end. Seven Days Of Falling is similar to their other releases, they are all well recorded. There is some compression that you will hear on occasion but for the most part it's pretty un-noticeable. The overall quality of the recordings is excellent.
Damn, I almost forgot to mention, this release is not only a CD but it also comes with a separate DVD mixed in 5.1. The DVD features four live cuts from EST's Live in Stockholm concert plus an interview with the boys and last but not least the music video of From Gagarin's Point Of View featured on the release of the same name.
Unfortunately for those of us in the States, we've only got three of their six albums to choose from, Somewhere Else Before, Strange Place For Snow and now Seven Days Of Falling. I'm extremely lucky, Burkhard Hopper, EST's manager sent me their entire back catalog when I wrote my initial review. I'm so glad he did. These guys have brought tons of musical bliss to my own little corner of audiophile heaven.
Not many groups will ever come with a higher recommendation from me than Esbjorn Svensson Trio does. I can only think of one other Jazz artist that consistently turns me on musically as much as these guys do, that being Pat Metheny. It just so happens, Esbjorn traveled and played with Pat on one of Pats many European tours. If Pat asked him to join the tour, you know they've got to be something special.
For those of you that are thinking of taking the plunge, let me make a suggestion if I might. Start at the beginning... well, the beginning here in the States anyway. Pick up Somewhere Else Before. Listen to it for a while. As you peruse the songs, notice the dates they were published. Listen to the musical progression these guys are making. Then pick up Strange Place for Snow. Again, you will notice a maturing to EST's sonic adventures. Then finally, buy Seven Days of Falling. By this time, you should be as absolutely smitten with these guys as I am.
As always, you can go to Amazon and listen to samples. Unfortunately, 30 seconds of a song barely gives you a taste, much yet let's a 7 minute song develop. It should give you a basic 'feel' for their music. Oh, don't be misled by what I said about their earlier work either. Even though it hasn't been released here in the States, you can order it from Amazon.uk or .de. It's going to cost you a premium but believe me, it's well worth it. At least one of EST's albums would end up on my Desert Island list, without a doubt.
'til next time...