Elekit TU-8300R 300B amp kit
Elekit, a Japanese electronics firm founded in ancient 1970’s pre-iPhone Japan, didn’t always make fiddly esoteric audiophiley tube amp kits. A quick Googling reveals “ELEKIT was born at the electric appliance shop ‘KAHO’ in Fukuoka in 1970's. The founder Tsunao Yanase saw many children visiting their shop to find parts to make a radio, with a technical book in their hands. Then he came to an idea of making a kit set of those radio parts for these children. This kit set evolved into a robot kit series called ‘MOVIT’ which gained much popularity among children.” To this day, they make a mean robot arm kit [http://www.elekit.co.jp/en/product/MR-999R]; to say nothing of an exceedingly colorful talking milk carton piggy bank [http://www.elekit.co.jp/en/product/JS-6111S].
Now I ask you, does this sound like a serious high-end audio company to you?! Good. It did to me too; which is why I immediately requested a review loaner of the Elekit 300B tube amp under examination here today (Well… that plus some very good cyber word-of-mouth from one of my favorite bloggers at wallofsound.ca, Noam Bronstein).
A colorful milk carton piggy bank and robot arm kit, indeed! I’d like to see Audio Research try THAT one. How ‘bout Conrad Johnson? Mark Levinson? Didn’t think so. It’s a smart strategy on Elekit’s part if you ask me, for Elekit has shown the high-end competition a clean pair of heals in that they have managed to make a name for themselves in the world of high-end tube amps while simultaneously cornering the outlandishly competitive talking food container/robot arm kit market!
Asked via email why thetubestore.com decided to carry the Elekit line of tube amplifier kits, Jon Esau responded in straightforward fashion that he and his tubestore ilk just thought the Elekit 300B kit amp was non-specifically “fantastic“ and added, in referencing my review unit’s garish costume, “yes, it’s red. Although not my favorite color, it does get ones attention.” It does at that. I mean, it’s no milk carton solar lantern but whadya gonna do?
Come to think of it, in our communications Jon never once mentioned Elekit’s wide-ranging product line of talking milk carton piggy banks and robot arm kits. I guess he didn’t want to brag. Or maybe thetubestore.com doesn’t sell as many of those. Probably has to do with advertising. Yeah, that’s probably it.
AKA “The Red Amp”
I am told Elekit amplifier kits represent a beginner to intermediate challenge to build. Luckily for me, I will never find out. You see, I would far rather have someone expert in the field of building things build those things for me expertly than build them myself. For this reason (and no offense to Papa Pass) the whole of DIY enthusiasm escapes me.
I mean, do you want ME to build you a First Watt amp or Nelson Pass?! [Hint: one of us can’t recognize a capacitor on a circuit diagram or, for that matter, a circuit diagram] Also, for similar reasons, I believe I would have made a wonderful and benevolent billionaire. Well maybe as the Buddhists say, “next life.”
It seems though, the increasingly internet-famous reviewer-sample “Red Amp,” as it has come to be known (And aptly so. It is inexplicably, undeniably RED.), was not constructed by an “expert.” Rather, I am told it was built by a Tubestore-affiliated DIY enthusiast in the early years of his passion/affliction. I suppose this amp’s completed form therefore proves it is possible for non-experts to construct this Elekit and I certainly am witness to the amp’s tendency not to shock me or explode upon turn on, so I cant argue the point.
In fact, this particular supposedly “inexpertly” constructed Elekit looked very expertly constructed indeed and was blessedly free from any electrical anomaly or aberration, or cosmetic chip or scratch. Upon flicking the on/off rocker switch, it came alive with a very cute LED light show, then silently went about the business of waiting for me to feed it music. Turn-off was similarly fraught with silence, save a barely audible low thump. In actual operation, the Red Amp was flawless; as silent as a decent solid-state amp with maybe a hint of hiss n’ hum audible through my higher efficiency Tekton Lore Ref speakers. Overall, operation of the Red Amp was particularly un-dramatic and really, there was nothing to differentiate the day-to-day operation of this many-decades-old technology from a decent solid-state amp. As tube amps go, it doesn’t even generate that much heat, making partially enclosed placement of this amplifier a possibility.
The Scarlet Note
Whoa Nelson (Pass)! This 300B tube amplifier certainly defied my expectations of the breed in a very good way from hour one. Since it’s a low-powered, single-ended 300B tube amp, let me count the ways in which it upended my limited expectations and premeditated “of courses.”
For example, of course, being only 8 watts, I expected the Red Amp to be anemic in terms off bass and dynamic punch as compared with my Dayens Ampino (30 watts a side) or certainly, my Croft Line Integrated (40 watts a side). I was wrong. Try as I might, in my admittedly small to mid-sized 26’ x 12’ foot listening space via my admittedly high sensitivity (96 dB) Tekton Lore Reference speakers, I could not reliably discern any reduction in either the power or quantity of bass; or for that matter, in the scale of images and/or brunt of dynamic swings as compared with my ‘beefier’ amplifiers. The little Red Amp went punch for punch with my 40 watt Croft integrated on everything from the XX and Vampire Weekend, to real music (juussssst kidding) such as Beethoven’s piano concerto No. 1 on Leif Ove Andsnes’s wonderful new-ish recording series The Beethoven Journey [Sony Classical, 2014]. It similarly didn’t chince out when it came to the sweep and majesty of the “Eroica” symphony (Beethoven No. 3 in E-Flat) as played by the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela under the baton of live-wire conductor Gustavo Dudamel Here, by comparison with the Croft, the Red Amp’s sound was glorious and undiminished at levels which were “high-ish” for an NYC apartment (definitely above fireside chat/girlfriend-approved levels but below, “you kids turn that down and get off my lawn!” levels). Bass was well-defined and equally deep.
Of course I thought the Red Amp would be more pipe and slippers (fife and drum?)/”slower sounding” than my usual amps. Wow, here I was really wrong. As a matter of fact, the Red Amp was a pacey superstar! This was no old-school Cary amp. Especially with the stock tubes (more of tube-rolling anon), music of all genres was toe-tappingly fun and I really would put the PRaT of this amp on a par with my recently departed Naim Nait XS (original model) and current Croft integrated; both of which are known rhumba kings in the “get up and dance” department. Who woulda thunk it? Whether jazz (lots of Eddie Higgins Trio—I likes it mellowwww) or String Quartet, the Red Amp had me tapping along to the beat and was always involving.
Of course I thought the “tone” would be wonderful and glowing, characterized by midrange prominence and slightly rolled frequency extremes. As a Russian cat might say, “Myet!” Well, partial “myet.” Yes, the tone was wonderful and glowing, but the amp spoke with a slightly more forward accent than my Croft. Going back and forth between the two amps on a very good 24/96 recording of the Escher String Quartet playing Mendelssohn [Bis, 2015], tonal differences between the two amps were readily apparent, albeit not monstrous. There was slightly more glint on the strings with the Elekit amp and there was perhaps a slight tonal shift to the yang (sunnier side of the street). Returning to the Croft integrated put the players in a slightly more cavernous work/play environment and turned the contrast nob down just a click. It was as if the players were awash in more of the venue with the Croft than with the Elekit. Ah- I know just the reviewing cliché to use; the Elekit insisted the players were here and the Croft was slightly more insistent I was there. Yes, that worksJ
On any given Sunday, I could go Croft or I could go Elekit. Indeed, during the review period I switched them out pretty frequently; first swearing to the Holy Bazinga I preferred the one and then the other. Given that the Croft is one of my very favorite pieces of audio gear, recently displacing even my beloved Naim kit, I think this really says something; or, I hope it does.
Namely, that while both amps are priced around 1200 bucks (yes, that’s around what a completed-by-an-expert 999 dollar and 95 cent Elekit will probably end up costing you), there’s not lot negative that could be said about the Red Amp, even when performing back to back against my favorite piece of audio amplification gear in years. Okay, it is bloomin’ friggin’ screaming RED and I wish it weren’t. That’s negative.
But Jon Esau would bid me remind you that your Elekit comes in a lovely subdued/refined white and you can paint it any which way but loose. Or, you could get it done by someone who actually is an expert in painting amps. Just sayin’.
Going all vintage on you and such
One nice thing about tube amps is that they have tubes. And tubes are soooo eminently swappable. Oftentimes, you got yourself a whole new amp with radically different characteristics just by rolling in a different set of bottles. No solder iron, circuit diagram (or expert in soldering and circuit diagrams) needed. To wit, I requested some sexy swappable bottles from Jon at the thetubestore.com and he agreeably agreed, sending me a matched pair of Shuguang Western Electric replica 300B’s and a matched pair of Genelex Gold Lion ECC81/B739’s.
Now stock, the Red Amp comes with Shuguang 300B-98’s and Shuguang 12AT7’s (though I’m told my review sample actually came with slightly uprated British military grade Mullard 12AT7WA/CV4024 tubes), but you should be made aware this amp is rather special in that it has a pair of sockets adjacent to each of the 300B sockets that, when uncovered, can accept a whole magic garden of glowing bottle varieties, including KT88, 6550, KT66, KT77, EL34/6CA7, or 6L6GC tubes. Sadly, I had neither the time nor the word count to go off on a tube drum circle, sampling and savoring each and every variety in its turn. Trust me (okay, trust Jon at thetubestore.com), the amp can handle all of these various and sundry glowing bottles and each probably has its lauders and haters.
While unboxing the gorgeous replica WE 300B’s Jon sent me, I thought “wow—I’m in for some serious-ass religious experience I bet! I mean, if the stock tubes make the amp sound this friggin’ good—what will replicas of the legendary WE 300B do for me?!! Perhaps I shall become enlightened. Yes. That’s it. I shall become enlightened and leave my wordly existence for a remote Theravada Buddhist monastery in the south of Thailand. It’s a very good thing my girlfriend refused my recent request for a certain munchkin kitten named Mewers, because I’d have to leave him exclusively in her care while in Thailand in the monastery and all, and the kitten might suffer if she doesn’t take over its care.” (N.B. I figured you should be privy to ALL of my thoughts here upon unboxing the WE replica tubes- not just the beginning ones). In any case, I was very excited to hear the tubes.
Well, of course I had to start with the pseudo-WE’s! Thailand awaits. Alas and sacre bleu, to my sensibilities, they took the amp more ‘inward’ and darker tonally than I’d prefer. It was as if a frolicsome red Easter bunny lost a bit of his happy hippity-hop and put down childish things. Sure the tonal color was beautiful and there was more depth, though the little Red Amp lost some of its get up and go, put on a cardigan, invited me to a sherry and lit my Meerschaum with a cedar. Ahhh, so THIS was the “true” 300B sound of lore? Dad’s 300B amp? Maybe; “tone above all” and that. Well I must say, (and I have no idea as to break-in time on these pseudo-WE’s), I preferred the amp for its punchy/pacier and more ebullient personality with the stock Shuguang 300B-98’s. Beautiful ornamental boxes and all, there it is. Okay, so I’m not moving to Thailand and my kitten Mewers has been vetoed. For now… for now.
Now the Genelex Gold Lion ECC81/B739 tubes were another meow-tter; here were certainly the little lions that roared! The Red Amp, I thought, took on a bit more heft and muscularity in the tone with these little lions, while still remaining sufficiently forward and pacey. String tones were perhaps more refined and lost that tiny bit of shine. There was perhaps a bit more space. In this configuration, stock 300B’s and uprated Gold Lion ECC81’s, the amp moved closer to the Croft’s tonal perch. Yes, I could definitely see myself cuddling up with these little lions. Sorry Mewers.
The little Red Amp that already did…
Impress me; both with it’s rock solid functionality (despite having reportedly been built by someone who was NOT in fact Nelson Pass or even a close relative thereof), and with superbly balanced sonics which were, in most meaningful ways, the equal of my currently preferred and much more on-paper-powerful 40 watt Croft integrated amp. Okay so if you order the Elekit TU-8300R, you’re gonna receive a pile of parts instead of an amp, whereas Glenn Croft himself assembles the pile of Croft parts.
Nah warries, mite! I got your solution right here (and mine); go here to tubeaudiolab.com and email the main man in charge, Min. He’ll no doubt give you an expert level build at a very reasonable price because he is in fact an expert builder and you sir most likely are not. Okay I suppose even if you are a non-expert, you can supposedly easily build it yourself in an estimated 10-15 hours, but where’s the fun in that?! Pah! Get people to do those things for you, I say! You’d make a terrible billionaire.
In either case, the Red Amp, aka Elekit’s TU-8300R (which comes in an elegant white and can be painted any color the owner would like) is what I consider to be an absolute sonic steal at the price. What you get when you amateurishly knit that ungainly pile of parts together is a 300B amp that goes watt for watt and note for note with my current, much more potent, Croft integrated; an amp about which many other than myself (including the Walter Kronkite of audio, Art Dudley) have raved and which has seen off many a competitor in my own home.
Just promise me if you have a kitten, you’ll leave the tube cage on!
I bid you peace.
Price: $999.95 US dollars
Stock tube: 300Bx2, 12AT7x2
Max Output: 8W+8W (with 300B tube, 8ohm load)
Frequency Response: 15Hz-40KHz (-3dB)
Residual Noise: 0.5mV *0.1mV when KT88 (IEC)
Input sensitivity: 200mV DF: 6.3 Speaker impedance: 4-16ohm
Output terminal: Gold-plated, binding post (banana-plug compatible)
Input terminal: Gold-plated RCA jacks, Single stereo line (rear)
Power input: 3P inlet (IEC320)
Power voltage: 100V AC 50/60HZ (115V, 200V and 230V are selectable)
Power consumption: 80W by standard (70W-95W as ip adjustable)
Dimension: W400xH213xD250 mm
Weight: 10.8kg (assembled, excl. power cord)
Review unit provided by www.thetubestore.com