Just a short post to report on a fun trip up to Carytown Sound, in Richmond, VA.
I took a drive up to see a couple of new items that are on my radar, including a nice Moon Audio 700i integrated and a Synthesis Titan A100 integrated.
Surprise surprise but the first thing I saw when I walked into the store around noon on Sunday was this beautiful beast from Western Electric, the 91E 300b integrated amp:
Oddly enough I’d had a very recent text exchange with Early Bender, proprietor of HiFi Town in Crewe, VA about the Western Electric 91E. Early was
commenting on his experiences at Capital Audiofest 2023 from the prior weekend and brought up the fact that he’d seen the Western Electric 91E at the show. I won’t get into his comments, suffice it to say that they were centered around the amp’s output transformer design/spec and the use of a Hybrid MOSFET output stage. Neither of us could quite understand some of the design decisions that went into this amp, but I haven’t heard it, and I’m not sure if Early actually heard it at the show, or not.
Anyway, as I walked through the door at Carytown, the amp was sitting there in all its glory. It does in fact look quite attractive, at least to my eye, in its champagne finish and with its blend of modern and retro design aesthetic. For those curious enough, here’s a link to the Western Electric website and a link to Carytown Sound in Richmond, should you want to hear it or purchase it.
Here’s the amp in black, from the WE website at https://www.westernelectric.com/91e
The base amp retails for $15,000 USD (11/2023) in the black and champagne finish, add $1000 for the ‘Nickel’ finish. There are three add-on options:
- Transformer Block Add-On – ($999.00) where you can interchange the 91E’s included 8-ohm transformer with a 4-ohm or 16-ohm option to match speaker impedance. Transformer blocks can be unplugged by the end user enabling easy switching.
- Phono Plugs are also available for $75/pair
- And you can spend another $100 on a sturdy shipping crate if you choose to have the Western Electric 91E shipped from the factory.
Anyway, there are some polarizing opinions online over how this amp sounds and also some of the design choices. Western Electric makes a claim for “Trouble-free, noise-free, and double the power of traditional 300B amps. Made possible by patented circuit design.” It is my understanding that the patented circuit design centers on the use of MOSFET circuits which are used to push up the rated output from the 300b tube to somewhere between 14 and 20 watts, depending on your speaker impedance and how much harmonic distortion you’re willing to tolerate. The MOSFET boost supposedly comes without impacting the sonic character of the 300b tube and its associated circuitry. I’d have to hear it to make a judgment call on whether or not Western Electric has been successful in this implementation, or not.
On the subject of the implementation technology behind achieving the boost in power output from the 300b tubes, Western Electric’s manual has this to say:
PATENTED STEERED CURRENT SOURCE TECHNOLOGY
The 91E is the result of years of research and effort by Western Electric engineers to provide listeners with the absolute finest in SE tube sound. This achievement is made possible by a patented (U.S. Patent Office 10256776) steered current source (SCS) circuit, explained below.
The circuitry embodies an enhanced parallel feed design, wherein the load (primary winding of the output transformer with the secondary winding connected to the loudspeaker) is AC coupled to the plate of the 300B tube. DC bias is removed from the transformer and allows for smaller, simpler transformer designs with no need for a gap in the core. The welcome side effect is the absence of unsymmetrical magnetic distortions caused by DC current through the transformer. The circuit topology also strengthens the coupling between tube and load.
Unlike traditional parallel feed topologies, the tube and output transformer are supplied current by the SCS. Working in Class A mode, and with the transformer AC-coupled, the SCS provides a constant idle current for the tube’s plate, ensuring a very stable operating point for the tube.
With the reduction of tube current comes decreased AC power dissipation, providing more power to the load without overstressing the tube. Additionally, the SCS design can achieve an output power of more than double the conventional 8-10 watts.
Some notable features of the WE 91E amp not already mentioned include:
- The amp has auto-bias of the 2x 300b tubes and uses 2x ECC81 Electron Tubes on the input.
- The amp is designed for use with Western Eletric’s own 300b tubes, and the manual cites potential for diminsihed performance if non W.E tubes are used.
- The 91E design has been liberated from the 1936 91A’s stock chassis and cabinetry. (I’m not really sure what is meant by this, since there are no obvious visual similarities, but it’s paraphrased from wording in the owner’s manual).
- The 91E has a BT antennea and accepts streamed audio via Bluetooth.
- The 91E has a MC/MM phonostage installed as stock.
Anyway, Tim Mullins, proprietor at Carytown Sound, kindly offered to loan me the Western Electric amp for a while, an offer which I would have taken up had I a sufficiently efficient speaker on hand to pair with the low power rating of the amp. It would probably drive my ProAcs okay, but I really wouldn’t like to judge the amp unless there was a high degree of synergy between amp and speaker. Maybe I’ll find a more efficient speaker in one of my many closets before Tim and the Western Electric 91E part company.
[Leave a comment below and let us know what you think about the W.E 91E – better still if you’ve heard it!]
Oh My Giddy Aunt….
On another note, feast your eyes on this photo! Talk about designing a fantastic sounding system, on a reasonable budget, and one that would fit beautifully into any home:
I rather lazily forgot to make a note of the model numbers, but we’re looking at the entry-level SME turntable, a Hegel integrated amp, REL subs…. and the small stand-mount speakers are from Graham Audio, in the UK. Hearing this I wonder why so many of us chase some elusive idea of sonic perfection, when this setup can get you 95% of the way to the top at a fraction of the usual ticket price.
I highly recommend that you take a trip to Carytown Sound in Richmond, VA, there’s a great mix of high-end audiophile quality gear, with many selections for the more budget-minded.
M-T Appt. Only
3101 Ellwood Ave, Richmond, VA 23221