Willsenton R300 Tube Integrated Amp Review.
By Steve Huff
Phew. It’s been a crazy last couple of weeks. It seems the HiFi reviews have kicked into a higher gear with more products coming in to the room for review. I am thankful for that as I love doing these audio reviews. As I get older I find I am spending even more time listening to music, and I do so to relax, to ease my body and also my mind. As I sit on my couch in my listening room I settle in and usually listen for 2-5 hours at a time.
My Video Review
To enjoy music reproduction this much requires a system that is non fatiguing. By this I mean it can not be bright or etched in any way. I am always on the search for amplifiers, DACs and solutions to bring that certain sound I enjoy into my room. While I have reviewed so many solid state amps this year, I have always been a S.E.T. (Single Ended Triode) guy at heart. It’s why every speaker I own is easy to drive. From Klipsch Heritage to Fleetwood Deville’s. There is just something special about a low wattage single ended triode amp and a sensitive speaker.
These combos have life, they have pizazz and they get closer to recreating a live performance than most speakers I have heard. They create a realistic “in the room” intimate kind of performance. I love that kind of stuff.
Today I want to talk about an integrated amp that I bought with my own money from Amazon (prime) a few weeks ago. It is indeed one of these low powered S.E.T. integrated amplifiers that I could not pass up the chance to check out. Could this amp be as good as other amps of this variety that cost much much more?
The Willsenton R300. A 300B tube based amp that offers up 10 watts per channel.
This integrated amplifier is bonafide gorgeous in looks and design. It is also hand made and hand wired, something that is not done very much these days due to the expense. It has a blue semi glossy piano paint finish for a true high end look. It is built very well and uses what I feel is the most magical tube in existence for audio. The 300B. This is an integrated amp made for easy to drive speakers and the sounds it creates are lush, deep, rich and beautiful.
In the past I have tried amps like this that cost around $6k and up, and one even had a bad transformer buzz. This amp I am talking about today is $1,499.00 and is silent as a mouse.
What? Yes my friends, this is a beautiful amp that has the sound to match and even has a basic metal remote. All for a penny under $1500.
I ordered this amp because I was curious about how an amp from China, using the 300B tube would sound. I have heard amps made in the USA that are similar to this one and when these amps are quiet they usually sound beautiful.
The 300B tube does indeed have a special characteristic. The sound usually has a plump mid and upper midrange and a big wooly bass on the bottom end. Not loose bass, but big wide open bass. Sometimes the top end is slightly rolled off as well. Slightly.
These amps are usually the definition of what most people expect a tube amp to sound like.That is a good thing as long as the speakers have synergy well with the amp.
The sound is described by some as “romantic” because of this big sound that is welcoming, warm and with 3D qualities.
I enjoy this sound. but not everyone does. It is in no way lightning fast, lean or overly detailed. Rather 300B amps usually tend to focus on the human voice, bringing them in your room in the most magical of ways. It’s that midrange thing and the 300B, in my opinion, has no equal in this area. I have heard 2A3, 845 and 805 based SET amps. For me, the 300B is just a stunner with voices. This tube has always held a place in my heart ever since I owned a Duetto amp from Wavelength Audio (and then the Cardinals) oh I would say that was about 22 years ago.
The 300B tube brings the artist in the room with you in a more haunting ethereal way than any solid state amp can muster. Along with this we usually hear a very wide soundstage that is three dimensional with a gentle treble that has just enough sparkle to make it all realistic.
I have heard these magical qualities in other 300B amps but would it be present in a $1500 made n China integrated from Amazon? If so, the times they are a changing!
Yet Another Willsenton Amp
A couple of years ago I reviewed another amp by Willsenton simply called the R8. The “R8” is another “value” tube amp that really performed well past its price point. In fact, I feel the R8 sounds just as good as some other amps just like it in the $4-5K range. No joke. Add some better tubes and it can sing with the likes of Prima Luna for much less. (Prima Luna is also made in China).
As sweet as the R8 is, the R300 has even more tube magic than the R8 in my opinion.
It is more expansive, more human, and has that true 300B character. The only catch is that this is an amp made for speakers that are at least 90db efficient. Sure, it may drive some 87db speakers in a small room but do not expect any head banging to be going on. This amp shines with speakers that are easy to drive. Horns are WOW with this amp.
With sensitive speakers this amp weaves its magic with effortless ease.
I tested the R300 with Klipsch Heresy IV and Klipsch LaScala’s. I also tested it with Fleetwood Deville SQ’s and harder to drive Emotiva budget speakers. This amp was able to drive all of them and all produced sound that was big, warm, fluid and expansive.
I hooked up the all tube R300 (it is even tube rectified) to the DCS Lina DAC, the Weiss 501 DAC and a Bluesound Node. The cool thing about an amp like this is that its forte is not about throwing surgical details at you. This means almost any decent DAC will do and sound lovely with this integrated.
Wether I used the pricey DACs or the $600 Node, real human music emerged from the speakers and this music never sounded artificial in any way. Sure, I heard more space and expansiveness with the DCS and a little more detail with the Weiss but even the Node brought some of these qualities when using the R300.
As I looked over the amp I was sort of shocked at the quality of the build, the design and the sound it brings for the price. So much so I have already declared it my “best buy integrated amp for all of 2022”!
At $1499 this amp is better than it should be. This R300 actually looks like a very pricey amp sitting on my shelf and easily rivals competitors in the 300B integrated space that cost thousands more.
One thing that truly impressed me was the lack of noise and hum. The Klipsch LaScala AL5 are 109 DB efficient. With the Naim Supernait 3 hooked up I can hear hiss and some buzzing and while the music sounds fantastic with the SN3 and the Klipsch, when there are silent segments the noise is easily heard. This is because the LaScala are so sensitive it can pick up any amount of noise from an amp.
With a Pass Labs XA 60.8 set of amps I hear some hiss from the AL5’s but no buzzing. With the Willsenton R8 I hear some hiss but no buzzing. With the R300 they are nearly silent which is crazy. Sure, there is some hiss when I am close as this is normal but at my seat I hear nothing. This is crazy for an all tube design as there is usually noise associated with tubes.
The transformers are also silent, without any kind of vibration, buzzing or humming.
Last year I bought another popular USA brand 300B Integrated amp from Amazon. Yes, they had 3 of them via prime at a clearance price of $3900 and it was an amp I always wanted to try out.
Unfortunately I did not get to hear it as it buzzed so loudly I had to send it back. The transformer vibrated and I felt it when I put my hand on it. Then the volume knob broke off with a normal twist. I must have had either a bad sample or maybe it was damaged in shipping, I do not know. It felt a little cheap in construction and was not hand wired. It also used a Solid State rectifier.
This is another reason I had to try the Willsenton as it was 1/3 the price and if it was quiet and brought that 300B sound I knew it would be a keeper. A no brainer.
I am happy to say that after nearly 3 weeks of being powered up I have not heard any noise from the R300. No crackles, no hum, bo buzzing at all.
The Music from a S.E.T. Amp
There is just something about sitting in a dim room listening to a S.E.T. Amp. Yes, this amp is a Class A S.E.T. amp, or Single Ended Triode. S.E.T. amps have seething special about them and I have always been a fan of them. My fondest memories of listening over the last several years have been with S.E.T. amps and I now remember why after spending some time with the R300.
I have owned a couple of S.E.T. amps from Line Magnetic and loved them. The sound was rich, big, and hauntingly beautiful. Since they left I seemed to have forgotten that beauty and the R300 was quick to remind me.
With the Willsenton I am getting what I hoped for and while the 300B tube does most of its magic with Jazz, Vocals, and small scale music the amp can also rock out due to the upper and mid bass. Again, if you have easy to drive sensitive speakers then this amp will sound good with any music you throw at it. Best with vocals for sure.
With the Fleetwood Deville’s
The Deville’s are 94 DB efficient and 8 ohms so an easy peasy drive for this amp. The sound of the Devilles in general lean a touch warm. They have a very easy treble energy and are in no way bright or forward. They are more relaxed up top than most horn speakers but they also do not have the “horn wonkiness” in the mids. None that I notice anyway while listening.
Beautiful music emerged from the Devilles but at first I was concerned as the sound was much too warm. I was missing that treble energy. The bass and mids were big, full and expansive but the treble was rolled off. Hmmm. I realized I had my Cardas Clear Reflection and RCA Cables in. I removed those and replaced them with some (less expensive) Nordost Blue Heaven speaker cables and RCA cables.
WOW! What a difference. This brought the treble energy out and it was smooth but extended moreso than ever. Goes to show what cables can do to change the sound. The Cardas cables are warm and thick kind of cables and focus on the mids and mid bass. This was too much of a good thing with the combo of the 300B and Deville’s. Swapping to the Nordost really made them come alive and they brought a big wide soundstage that had transparency and air. I couldn’t believe a cable swap did that but it was truly night and day.
It shows that synergy is key. With an amp like the Hi-Fi Rose RA180 the Cardas are a Godsend, as they warm up that amps forward nature. So match the cables to the system, always! They DO make a difference if you have a well setup system and space. Some cables are made to sound warm and fat, others with a more detail focus. Some are made to sound more expansive and ethereal. I preferred the Blue Heaven as they are faster and focus less on the mid bass and are more even handed through the range.
This combo of Deville’s, the R300 and Nordost Blue Heaven cables was heavenly and did beat out the HiFi Rose $7k integrated when I compared them side by side. The Rose sounded lean in comparison (even with the Cardas), faster and more dynamic, but a different sound. The Willsenton sounded more flesh and blood, more real, more human and magical.
With the Klipsch Heresy IV
Now this is a great match as well. The Heresy IV has more treble bite than the Fleetwood’s so they have more energy up top with the R300. The sound is large, expansive and intimate but again, with the Cardas cable I was getting too much warmth in the mid and upper mid bass. Going to my fave $39 cables fixed that issue and they sounded more balanced. I believe because the R300 is so strong within the bass regions, the Cardas is just too much of a good thing with this amp.
There is some of the horn midrange honk going on when I compare them to the Deville’s but one thing is for sure, I have never heard the Heresy’s sound so full of life and Beauty.
Overall the R300 gives the H4’s a sweet expansive sound that when set up right offer up a slice of that three dimensional magic. The Deville’s are more refined and have more of an even top to bottom coherency for sure, but the Heresy’s seem right at home with the 300B tube.
If you want a big slice of magic with your Heresy IV’s, this amp works very well with them.
This amp makes the Heresy IV’s sound warm and humongous with that inner glow we can only get from a S.E.T. amp.
With the Klipsch LaScala AL5’s
The LaScala’s were my dream speaker for the longest time. I have had them now for about one year and have enjoyed them in two systems. The Fleetwood’s replaced them and in a recent side by side I validated my thoughts. To me the Deville’s are a better sounding speaker in general. More refined, more expansive and just as big sounding with more magic and better imaging with a wider stage. I just sold the AL5’s (deposit has been left) as I need the room and space, but not before I tested this amp with them.
The Al5’s were absolutely amazing with this amp and probably the best sound I have gotten from them. Just enough top end, just enough of the magic in the mids and it brought big bass to the LaScala, which I thought was impossible. I was rocking out one night to Sammy Hagar and wow they sound rather amazing with this amp. I then settled in for some smooth Jazz and was in audio Heaven.
Again, with Klipsch Heritage this amp weaves its magic with a big expansive soundstage and a warmth and glow about it. If you own Klipsch you will need to hear this amp!
I love this amp not for it’s pinpoint imaging, detail retrieval or fast as lightning incisiveness. It doesn’t focus on those things as some big money audiophile amps do.
Rather, I love this Willsenton R300 because it brings a richness and humanity to the music I play through it. Warmth, body, glow and a large soundstage with realistic haunting imaging that have depth. Yes, this sounds like a tube amp because it is! It takes me back to a time when was younger and reminded me why S.E.T. amps speak to me so profoundly. It is not one of these modern day tube amps trying to sound like Solid State.
For its price it is unheard of to find something like this, something this special. It’s hand wired, it’s hand made, it has a glossy paint finish, a beautiful silver metal faceplate, it is easy to bias, it uses the 300B tube which is known for its midrange reproduction of the human voice. It comes with a metal remote and even a painted tube cage, and the paint job is automotive quality. It is silent as a mouse and has no hum, buzzing or hiss.
If I want more to make it even better I could thrown in some better tubes. Western Electric 300B anyone? Yes, I have some on the way to test with it. NOS 6SN7? Yes Sir!
The tubes that it comes with are great to start with but one can indeed improve the sound of this amp with better tubes. With that said, after about 50 hours on the amp it opens up from cold out of the box. The included tubes are decent indeed. From the 6Sn7 to the 6SL7’s you can tailor the sound to your likes.
To top it all off this amp sounds human, big and has body. It has warmth and depth with a big bass presence. It offers up a different sound from those solid state amps that always seem to lack body and focus on the speed and treble. The R300 makes you want to settle into your chair, get cozy and melt in to the music.
For $1499 I can not think of a nicer integrated amplifier for those who own sensitive easy to drive speakers. If you own Klipsch this amp will make them sound beautiful. If you own other easy to drive speakers you owe it to yourself to hear this beautiful amplifier. It’s available on Amazon Prime which makes it easy to return if you do not like it or have an out of the gate issue.
Willsenton has service centers in the USA as well. The closest to me is in Wisconsin, or so I have been told. What is not to like? This is a bonafide hand made single ended triode amp for under $1500 and it’s a beauty. It has already become a fave of mine and will stay in for a long while.
Because of this amp, I have even went and purchased another 300B amp made by Dennis Had, whom I have admired for 25+ years. This amp came with new Western Electric 300B’s so Idid try these tubes out in the Willsenton. It improved the transparency by 10-15% but it was not a night and day change from the stock tubes. The bass was still HUGE and FAT with the R300 but there was a little more sparkle up top. The Inspire amp is burning in now but I can already say that this amp is $2500 more expensive, doesn’t have a remote but looks like a work of art. The sound….stay tuned.
Looks like I really am a S.E.T. guy at heart. Be careful though! S.E.T. tube amps can become addicting!