A Lifetime Amp. The Inspire 300B-v by Dennis Had.
By Steve Huff
My Video Review of the Inspire 300B-v
I bought the snazzy SLP-98p pre-amp in the early 2000’s and for me that was a big deal back then. I was just starting to jump into the deep end of the audio pool and for me that SLP-98P was breaking the bank back then, but I adored the heck out of it. It had a sweet sound, a big sound, a warm yet detailed sound, a TUBE sound. The sound I still love today.
The Cary SLP98p pre-amp created by Dennis Had back in the early 1990’s
This was such a gorgeous preamp. With it’s all tube compliment and external power supply it was indeed as advertised. It was indeed a “Sweet Little Preamp”. This pre is still made and sold today by Cary Audio, though it now has upgrades available to bring it into the modern day. It still looks the same though, and that’s a good thing as this Dennis Had design is timeless IMO.
Once I started enjoying the SLP98p back then I went further down the Cary Audio rabbit hole. Soon I had a Cary CD 306 CD player. Then it was the gorgeous and mighty V12R amp. Then I tried the Rocket 88R amp and then the Six Pacs. I also had some 805C mono blocks at some point. The 300 SEI was in my home as well as the SLI-80. Honestly though those Six Pacs were my favorite of them all, and the least expensive! They were so good for the little money they cost back then.
The Dennis Had AES “Sic Pacs” were a tremendous value
One thing all of these products had in common were that they were all designed and built by Dennis Had. Dennis is the man who founded Cary Audio and he is the man responsible for these iconic designs (and most of the tube products that Cary still sells today). While Dennis retired long ago from Cary his passion for creating gorgeous tube amps never faded.
In fact Dennis has been making some pretty serious low wattage single ended tube amps for the last several years. He does this kind of under the radar without marketing, advertising or hype. He creates a design, builds it, tests it and puts it up on his Ebay page where they usually sell pretty quickly. He also has a healthy following of music fans who love his work. So much so that many of them have multiple Inspire amps and pre-amps.
I can understand that as each piece is truly stunning and like a work of art. If you love the way tube amps look, these are about as tubey as an amp can get in design and style…and sound.
From KT88 amps to 6V6 amps and everything in between. Dennis has also created a stunning 2 WPC 45 amp and the 6-8 watt per channel 300B amp I will be talking about today.
The 300B-v as it runs at 1am in the listening room. Those WE 300B are putting on a show!
I really enjoyed that Cary gear over the years. They had (and still have) the looks, the build and the sound behind them that make them so enjoyable. BTW, “That Sound” was pretty much all from the ear of Dennis Had. The way he voices amps is really to my personal liking. A bit warm but still detailed. Big bass and very holographic in the soundstage department. His designs have that 3 dimensional “tube sound” many seek out, much more so than any solid state amp I have heard. His amps are never lean or sterile, rather the opposite.
The little Inspire amps that Dennis makes today make me think of another low wattage tube amp maker, Decware, who are very busy these days. Decware makes beautiful unique designs as well but be prepared to wait! While I write this the current wait time (from what I hear) for a Decware amp, after ordering, is 2-3 years. Phew.
Decware makes some beautiful tube amplifiers and preamps indeed
I have heard a Decware amp with some Klipsch Cornwalls and it was indeed beautiful. With that said, it wasn’t any more beautiful sounding than what I am hearing with my latest acquisition from Dennis, and there was no wait at all for me to snag this beauty up!
The Dennis Had Inspire 300Bv Amp.
The Dennis Had amp is not a production line product, nor does Dennis want it to be. When he left Cary he left the headaches of running a big business behind. In his retirement he seems to do what he enjoys, and that is making a beautiful amp when he has the desire to do so. He even signs the bottom of each creation with the date and name of the amp.
These amps are very special, and are one of those rare “Lifetime Amps” as long as it fits your needs. These are low power designs but these are among the sweetest sounding of all amplifiers one can buy today, at any price.
Intimate. Real. Beautiful. Expansive.
With my Fleetwood Deville SQ’s that come in at 94DB efficient (8 ohms) the 300Bv amp powers them with ease, grace and what seems to be much more power than the 7 WPC this amp puts out.
The 300Bv amp is all hand made by Dennis himself. It’s his design, his circuits and his hand that wires up the amp. Yep this guy is all point to point wiring. This amp also ships with I feel is the best 300B tube available today, the Western Electric 300B. I owned a set of these back in the late 90’s and adored them. I wish I would have kept them but who knew that they would have closed down and stopped making them for so many years!
Today the vintage WE tubes from the 70’s and even 90’s are sought after and go for insane money. The new production is just as good IMO and come in at $1500 a pair (with 5 year warranty).
No circuit boards here. Hand wired throughout.
Yes! Western Electric is now back making thee tubes and after listening to them in the Inspire 300B-v (along with trying out a couple of other sets) I still adore them for their magical midrange and superb transparency. The detail retrieval is magical with this tube once they are run in for about 50 hours. Dennis ships them in there iconic wooden box along with the amp.
The Blue Glow is Quite Cool (and normal)
The Inspire 300Bv amplifier is again, hand made by Dennis. It includes and was designed around the WE 300B and so he ships them with the amp, brand new. These amps, not many are made. Even so, the complete Amp comes in at $4,000 with all NOS tubes and those WE300B. This is well worth it for this amp. I remember hearing a Luxman 300B amp that comes in at over $20,000 and I do not remember it sounding any better than this Had design.
If I had a nice $10k Luxman preamp I would love to mate it with their 300B but for a fraction of that cost the Inspire is one heck of an amp.
The Luxman is a beauty indeed but be prepared to pay! Another lifetime amp.
The Inspire amp is hefty but compact and uses two 300B tubes, one 6SL7 tube and you choice of rectifier. Either a 5U4 or a 5Ar4/GZ34.
I have several rectifiers here and a couple of NOS 6SL7 (Dennis ships with NOS tubes for the driver and rectifier).
Remember though that this is a low wattage SET amp. It puts out between 6 watts and 8 watts, depending on if you use a 5U4G or 5AR4 tube.
What I will say is that it drives my Deville’s with ease to moderate and semi-high volumes in my small and intimate 13X20 space. It drives Klipsch Heritage to levels I have not heard before. What I mean is, I never heard sweeter more beautiful sounds from the Heresy IV’s. This amp seems like it was made for them.
The amp also has a built in volume knob. The 300bv does not use a preamp circuit, rather it has a volume pot installed. This means if you have a source with a high enough output you can drive it without a pre-amp. My DCS Lina DAC lets me go to 6V and that works so well with the Inspire amp (It does not clip the inputs). There is only one input so it is not an integrated amp, though it functions like one if you only have one source.
I wouldn’t use this with a source that only puts out 2V as you will not have enough gain/volume on tap to really show you what this amp can do, unless you are running 100-102DB speakers. Something like the Klipsch Cornwall or LaScala would rock with this amp and 2V output.
Direct from my DCS Lina it sounds detailed, heavenly, big and expansive with a rich totality along with that tube midrange glow and delicacy. It’s a magical sound indeed and does not sound anything like solid state or anything else I have heard. Compared to the Willsenton R300 300B amp I recently reviewed this Inspire is a different animal.
The $1500 Willsenton R300 is a 300B integrated that punches WAY above its weight! See my review HERE.
Where the Willsenton has a big beefy warm bassy sound, the Inspire is more transparent, delicate and provides much more air around each voice and instrument along with more finesse and grace. If the Willsenton gives us a big taste of that 300B SET sound, the Inspire is the definition of the 300b sound.
It did take about 50 hours of burn in to truly flesh out and open up but once it did I was flabbergasted by how good this little amp sounded direct from my DAC. It had that 3D imaging thing going on where every sound can be heard in space, where it is supposed to be. It was not syrupy or bloated but rather has a balanced sound from top to bottom with one extra ingredient….TUBE MAGIC!
The old Dennis Had 300B mono’s from his Cary Audio days
Many years ago I heard Dennis Had’s 300B mono blocks from Cary. If you ask me, those older amps do not compete with the modern day 300B-v. Sure, I am going by memory but the 300B-v is creating what I feel is as close to a “perfect SET sound” for my ears. This amp is more alive and real sounding vs the old 300B monos.
I love the inner glow, the gentleness, the sweetness and the 3D soundstage aspect.
With that said this amp will not be for everyone! It doesn’t have a massive kick and slam type of sound. Oh yes, it does have dynamics and deep bass but this amp is more about listening to music rather than being blown out of your seat with power. It has a gentle flow, that 300B character that seduces more than excites.
It’s an excellent low volume amp and provides flesh and bone to the music even when listening at low levels at 2AM. It retains the details and transparency as well. While you can play any music with this amp, do not expect it to excel at hardcore metal or even EDM. It can do those genres but this amps forte is jazz, classical, chamber music, vocals, ambient, bluegrass, strings, etc.
While I did listen to some good old fashioned rock and roll, I thought it was a bit lacking in drive for those genres at times. If you want to crank it up and jam other amps are better for these things (more powerful amplifiers).
I was so pleased with what I was hearing with my DAC just going into the 300B-v that I decided to order a pre-amp from Moon Audio by Dennis Had. The IHA-1 which is mainly a headphone amp but also has a preamp as well.
The Dragon Inspire IHA-1 Pre/Head amp from Moon Audio.
Once I had the Inspire amp for 7-10 days I wanted to see what a Dennis Had inspire preamp would do to the 300B-v. Moon Audio sells the Inspire IHA-1 that was created by Dennis Had in collaboration with Drew Baird. This is a pure tube design as well with 2 6SN7’s and a rectifier. While 98% of those who buy this piece use it for headphones I was curious about the pre-amp function.
The IHA-1 is a very well loved amp in the headphone world so I figured that if it worked out for me as a pre-amp in to the 300B-v I could use it for some headphone reviews as well. This one is also signed by the man himself. It’s a beauty as well though the paint is different from the 300B-v I have. It’s more of a copper red than the amp’s jaguar red. Even so, they look good next to each other.
The Dragon Inspire IHA-1 is a Pre-Amp and Headphone Amp for under $2200.
When the IHA-1 arrived I installed all of the NOS tubes I ordered with it. RCA 6SN7’s and a RCA 5U4G NOS rectifier.
With the IHA-a hooked up to the 300Bv the sound became a little bit warmer and slightly less transparent. It had a slightly more powerful sound but after a couple straight days of running it in and listening I noticed the deepest lower bass was also diminished a touch from running direct via the DAC. The mid bass was fuller but the lower bass was a touch shy, a different sound.
Also, the preamp input was clipping from the 6V output of the Lina DAC. When I turned it down to a 2V output it stopped clipping but I had to turn the volume almost full bore to get medium level daytime listening output. This was not going to work for me as the 300B-v sounded much better from the DAC itself and using the volume pot on the amp for loudness. If I was using speakers that were 99-103db efficient the IHA-1 would have been a perfect mate.
What About Klipsch?
The Klipsch Heritage speakers are very dynamic and live sounding speakers. The Heresy IV are also even more sensitive at 99DB efficient. They can sometimes have a treble that is a little “hard” sounding and the combo of the Lina and 300Bv made these speakers sound expansive, alive and the bass was full and pretty large sounding.
The little H4’s sounded large and as powerful as ever but were much more expansive and the imaging performance went up a couple of notches. The Bass was sounding very present and while not as tight as the Deville’s they were very nice to listen to with the Inspire gear.
I also tested the Inspire 300Bv with the LaScala AL5s before I sold them (Yes, I had to move them for space reasons). The LaScala’s were absolutely drop dead amazing with the 300Bv amp all on its own. I tested them with the amp after the new owner of the speakers left me a deposit. I started second guessing my decision to sell them as again, I never heard them sound better. Klipsch Heritage love that 300B. If I had a much larger space I would have kept the LaScala as they truly are lifetime speakers.
At the end of the Day
I have always loved the way Dennis Had amps sounded. They have that human touch sound. They can bring that emotional response from your heart and also excel at low volume listening. Those moments late at night when you are at your most relaxed, listening in your seat. This amp can bring that artist to you with the tube glow and warmth.
Waves of sweet music float to your ears, brain and then heart. You feel it. You soak it all in. This is a typical experience with a nice S.E.T. amp, and the 300B-v delivers that to me in my room without much effort.
The 300Bv is a Single Ended Triode amp that ships with the best 300B tubes you can buy today, the Western Electric 300B. This is an amp made in the USA by a legend of Audio. I feel Dennis is making his best amps ever in his retirement!
While these Inspire amps are not mass produced they are made for passionate audio buffs who want to own something that is a piece of art and also sounds absolutely beautiful. This is indeed an amp one would want to own for life. Dennis uses high quality parts in the build and they are affordable for what they are due to the fact that there is no advertising, middleman or marketing involved.
Those in the know indeed know how special these amps are.
I can happily say that today I am listening to some of the finest sounds I have heard in this room, albeit at medium volume levels. I feel blessed to own some incredible speakers, a couple of incredible DACs and even amps. I love them all but I do have my favorites. This 300Bv has become one of those favorites. It offers up the sound (with sensitive speakers) that I have always loved and chased. It looks gorgeous. It’s hand made by Dennis Had.
It’s not perfect though as it is not for those seeking head banging loud volumes that have immense kick and punch. It is more for those who like to relax in a sweet spot and listen critically. Where you can be surrounded by the performance and enjoy the magic within the soundstage yourself.
This Inspire 300Bv is one of the finest amplifiers I have ever heard or owned as one as it is used within its limitations. If you have speakers in your life that are 90Db or greater in efficiency (I would even say 93 or greater) and a source that can output 4-6v you are in business and really might want to check out this amp. If you have an active preamp with some gain even better. If you have a Dennis Had Inspire dedicated Pre, better still!
It may not be easy to acquire one of these as there is no shop, dealer or space to check them out but Dennis is on Ebay as Radioman731. He will list amps from time to time on his page, and I believe he will also do custom orders.
I have a feeling that if Dennis started a big company again for these amps he too would have a long wait list. As it is, I am sure he is happiest doing things at his own pace. It is after all his passion to create devices that bring beautiful music to your living space. Today he is doing that better than he ever has IMO. The man has delivered beautiful music to me for close to three decades. Wow.
I love this amp. It’s special indeed. The pride of ownership with this one is high my friends. If you own a Dennis Had inspire, or plan to acquire one, enjoy it and let the music feed your soul!
I can not say for sure if this will stay with me for the long haul. It has every right to, but it’s not the best review tool as sometimes I get speakers here that are not an easy drive. While this amp sounds deliciously good with my Deville’s, it may not do so well with 87-89 DB 4 ohm speaklers. It could indeed be my low wattage reference though, as it is that good.
Low Wattage Heaven lives inside of this amp!
Strand of Oaks – Album “In Heaven” Acoustic Version. Song: Jimi & Stan
I love this album, both this version and the standard. The standard version has some beautiful sonic landscapes within the songs and the music washes over you like a huge wall of magical bliss. The acoustic version is nice as well but stripped down to acoustic guitar and vocals. On the track Jimi & Stan, which is about the singers pet cat (who passed away) meeting Jimi Hendrix in heaven you can hear the emotion in the song when he sings “Now I don’t have my Buddy who knew me so well, it’s hard to be happy or even go out without Jimi & Stan”.
I do turn this track up as I can feel that emotion in the recording. The 300B-v does the human voice so well. That’s a feature of a nicely done S.E.T. amp. Each guitar strum has meat on the bones, and the voice is slightly forward and throaty but also transparent enough to hear those emotions. It’s a cool song and sounds amazing on the Inspire amp. Be sure to check out the standard version as well. It rocks : )
Erasure – Day Glo – Song Harbour of my Heart
This album is different from most Erasure albums. When I listen to gear I do not cherry pick audiophile tracks as I want it to sound great with the music I enjoy. This album is full of electronic beats and 3 dimensional effects. Voices go from left to right, front to back and the music fills the room as instruments hang in the air. With my Deville’s the bass is just right and the track is full bodied while still retaining that magical sweetness. With Heresy IV it is brighter and more exciting and a touch holographic. A rare feat for the Heresy IV! This album is not may fave from the band but this track is pretty cool when you want to hear that giant 3D sound. The 300B-v brings its deep bass game for this one, and passes the test with ease.
Lady Blackbird – Black Acid Soul Album – “Fix It” song.
This track will show you the magic that the Inspire 300B-v brings to vocals. Many amps will do justice to this song but with a 300B tube you really are taken to the performance in a way that solid state can not do. The vocal is dead center and you will swear you have a hidden center channel in your system! The Piano gently weeps in the back right behind my Deville SQ. The Bass line appears behind the left and center. The Piano sounds so lovely here as if the notes are floating in the space above and behind the right speaker. With the Heresy IV the Piano has a bit more bite but this also brings more excitement and a more live feeling.
This is the kind of thing this amp is made for. Gorgeous. The Piano solo is astonishingly ALIVE!
I would love to know how to aquire one of these! any insights or can you point me in the right direction!
Love your videos!
He lists them on his Ebay page when he makes one. That’s all I can tell ya!
“The old Dennis Had 300B mono’s from his Cary Audio days” <– 211 if I recall or 845
“The Blue Glow is Quite Cool (and normal)” <– nope ('cool' looking, kinda. "Normal" – not exactly, not in a vacuum tube. What do you think the blue gas comes from?)
It’s 100% normal and will happen on nearly every WE 300B tube. They talk about this on their website, and if you email them they will answer within a few hours with a full explanation. It’s actually a good thing when you see this blue gas burn off in a 300B.
Explanation from Western Electric:
Q: I am seeing a blue glow inside my 300B. Does this affect normal operation? Does this effect mean my tube is defective?
A: A blue glow may appear in the dome of the WE300-B. The glow is caused by the electrons striking the plate, volatizing the surface, and dislodging atoms of nickel. High speed barium-strontium electrons from the filament collide with the atom, tearing off electrons, ionizing them and causing a deep blue color even in a well evacuated tube. The resulting glow is a function of the plate voltage and the number of gas molecules in the envelope. In a good vacuum there are still billions of molecules. The electrons travel safely back to the positively charged plate.
The size of the glow varies with plate voltage and is not the same for each tube and can range from hardly discernible to very obvious, even in daylight. It does not affect tube performance as can be shown by observing the characteristic curves during tube operation.
Thank you for your response and apologies for rather dry original remarks. I do agree that blue glow in many current production valves doesn’t harm them or negatively affects the sound, still it’s considered an impurity of the production process (gas leaks or not removed “gas molecules in the envelope”)
There are number of articles and books on this topic, and I would suggest readers dig deeper in time, perhaps RCA tube manuals or something from 1950-60s era. Heck, check with some older TV repairmen; they have tons of knowledge and experience on the subject
Regardless, I rather opt for a pair of tubes without gasses. If someone really admires the blue glow, there are blue LEDs that can be position behind tubes to fake such effect.
As for Cary Audio gear; I believe I familiar and had a chance to listen to all their products in mid-late 1990s when working in a High End audio store as a Cary dealer. Also, had the opportunity to discuss Cary audio products with Mr. Had’s partner, Mr. Billy Wright during his visits. Clearly, I love their products, owned and still do own few pieces and enjoy them daily.
This brings me to where I should start, thanking you for reviewing analog equipment and hopefully bringing photography and audio enthusiasts to your site.
What are the operating temperatures like? Pass Labs hot? Enleum hot? Not as hot?
Not as hot as either. It’s so small, the heat it puts out does not heat up a room in any way.
If you like this amp, check out the 300B PSE at 12-13 WPC…
Is this amp work with dynaudio heritage speakers?
I would not use it with Heritage Specials as those are not 90db or greater. They are only 85db efficient. This amp is for easy to drive speakers. If you listen near field in a small room and listen mainly to vocal/Jazz/acoustic then it would be fine.
I cannot find Dennis contact info. Would very much like to order one of these amps if he will build it. Can you tell me how to reach him? Also unable to find him on eBay. Thanks. Michael
I talk about that in this review and the video. You have to check his Ebay page. He already listed two and sold them in the last couple of days. I think he is going to list one more, for shipping in December.
Not able to find his eBay page either. What is it? Michael
I show it in the video and in this written review as well. He has put up a few and sold them all within moments it seems. I doubt he will have anymore to offer until the new year but that is just a guess.
Great to read more about Dennis and his work. I bought my Dragon Inspire IHA-1 headphone amp from Moon Audio in 2018 and still use it as my only amp, even though every other component of my headphone system has changed several times since then to better and better components. The best tubes I have found are the atmospheric Treasure Globe 6sn7-SE (to Focal Utopias).