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Thanks to the immortals. Why? Ah, to the very real wonders of break-in, grasshopper. You see, my initial impressions weren't that positive. "When I recently switched from the Pateks to some very well-made 300B monos with a choice of superior output bottles, the very first and thereafter persistent impression of the valve amps was that of a rain of translucent ash. The crisp fresh air of the AudioSector view suddenly had millions of microscopic particles floating in it. The sonic scenery got softer and less direct and even priming the pump didn't remove that effect. Believe it or not - I couldn't wait to get back to the sand amps. They had more immediacy, directness, spunk, articulation and energy -- at any level -- than the most infamous direct-heated bottle of them all." [Excerpted from my AudioSector Patek SE chip amp review.] Strongly dilute this comment post break-in, with the KR bottles. Dilute it less so with the stock Gold Aero mesh plates. In-between for the TJs.

Like most -- but not all -- tube amps, the CA-308s also take considerable time after each power down to come back on song. I'd say about a good hour. Post mod (with a voltage divider installed to drop input sensitivity and overall gain), the amps on my 101dB Zus had a very modest amount of self noise left when run from my ModWright SWL 9.0SE tube preamp. However, they were completely oblivious to the bustle of the world when the Canadian AudioZone transformer-attenuator passive stood in. In fact, that's how I ran 'em for most of the review period. And not just for textbook perfect zero-noise performance either.

You see, the opening quote still holds true to a minor degree once the amps are fully run in. This effect of "stuff between the notes" was emphasized with anything but the passive preamp - from what I had on hand. Whereas the PRE-T1 either subtracted too much (or didn't add enough when mated to transistor amps - impossible to call, that), its very not-thereness proved absolutely perfect for the 308s. Resolution went up, noise went completely absentee. I got to hear what the amp/speaker interface was doing, without any additional signal enhancements that would have the monos go slightly retrograde into fuzzville.

Passively driven, the CA-308s garner a big thumbs-up for fetching image density, very convincing spatial manifestation, vocal magic and subjectively even linearity. The latter only by comparison to my solid-state amps proved to be less than completely developed in the extreme high-end. It was also down in amplitude in the low bass. The solid-plate KR 300B Western Electric clones became my poison of choice for best drive, dynamics and body. The mesh-plate was leaner and whiter, proving out Marja & Henk's parallel findings in Holland. The TJs ended up #2 and very good but slightly out-tightened by the KRs. Comparing the 8-watt monos to Don Garber's Fi 421A proved educational. For equivalent bass weight, I had to turn the Definitions' bass attenuator down going to the 4-watt single-tube stereo amp, up again for the monos thereafter. Counter intuitive but factual. HighEnd makes predictions impossible at times!

The 421A amp is more lit up, faster, more transparent but also a bit slimmer than the 300Bs. Leading-edge articulation is more solid-statish and defined than on the Canaries. Those exhibit a rounder behavior that would fatten up to the detriment of spunk with my tube preamp. With their home state's eternal sunshine, the Californians are inherently full-blooded, tonally present amplifiers. They can be shifted within that envelope but will never be the penultimate word in articulation or dynamic startle factor. However, they're distinctly not sluggish, fat, dazy-hazy, unduly midrange centered or voluptuous per se. They're simply long-term zero fatigue devices. They minimize their chosen output devices' liabilities -- the 'deep triode' lie that overlays everything with a patina -- but don't strip 'em of their innate goodness.

In the big picture, I believe that 300Bs are somewhat overrated when you compare them without prejudice to superior implementations of 45s or even PX25s (and are willing to accept lower power). Those tubes strike me as inherently more extended, resolved and microdynamically more agile. Of course, there'll always be exceptions to challenge generalities. On the 300B subject, Roger Hebert's fabulous Wyetech Labs Sapphire paralleled monos come to mind. Those distill the 300B essence and then strap minor turbochargers to their valves' butts. [Non-turbo butts to left.]

Conversely, devotees of the famous 300B sound may find the Saphhires just a bit too - distilled. They may wish for a few more pounds on the frame. If that describes you, the Canary Audio CA-308s would be right up your alley. They move into denser 300B milieu, meaning you give up some startle factor and ultra-fine detail but you gain pulp (palpability) and image heft. More importantly, you stay well clear of any excesses. You're smack in the heart of why people love tube amps yet you're still fully "audiophile-approved" by not becoming an octave-doubled distortion fiend.

The above comments really aren't criticisms. 300Bs sound different from 845s and 2A3s and KT88s. There's no sense in faulting one for not duplicating the other. That'd undermine the flavor palette from which the music lovers gets to pick according to his or her preference. If, in the final analysis, I turn out to not be a completely dyed-in-the-wool 300B man, that's certainly not the Canaries' problem. The CA-308s are beautifully built, perform without any hiccups or funny noises and are exceedingly balanced performers that don't volunteer easy targets for nitpicking.

Google for 300B amps. In short order, you'll come across dozens that use 6SN7 drivers and tube rectification. There's absolutely nothing groundbreaking about the Canaries. Neither does their maker pretend to anything other than solid implementation of time-honored principles. The appeal of these monoblocks resides squarely in how common sense embraces proven circuitry. Now add premium parts, understated but flawless cosmetics and a fair price. Think Acura V6. Nothing exotic but solid dependable engineering for the long haul. It'll satisfy well after initial infatuation with flash and fireworks has worn off.

The kind of customer who'd go Canary has owned solid-state and expects reliability. She desires more overtone finesse, fleshier timbres, more 3-D soundstaging, a gentler treble and more roundness than incisive edge.

To achieve that, she's willing to forgo the last degree of cymbal splash and her hubby's Bryston balls in the bottom two octaves. She knows about so-called digital amps and their premium resolving power. Still, she'd rather step that down a notch for more warmth and treble elegance in trade.

If 8 watts do it for you and those attributes dominate your wish list, the only penalty you have to embrace is that these amps won't sound their very best when you first fire them up every day. Flip the switch when you come home from work. Make yourself the Martini in the kitchen, play with the kids and hop in the shower. By the time you're ready to hit the sweet spot, the amps will be ready.

That's really no different from most highly dialed systems. They ought to be resolving enough to portray the difference between cold and fully warmed-up operation. Still, if you're used to always-on sand amps, keep this in mind lest you judge the Canaries prematurely. If I were a Stereophile reviewer, I'd conclude with "high Class B performance on the cusp of Class A". As a moonie, I'm stuck with the lunar game. I call it "one night prior to full moon". Why this subtle restraint? Aren't reviewers expected to wildly gush over every new toy? Well, at $6,800 including four 300Bs and 18 watts, the Wyetech Labs monos occupy the top seat in my personal 300B pantheon thus far and aren't displaced by the Californians. No shame in that. At ca. $5,500 with 300Bs, they're less expensive, arguably better looking and truly excellent examples of the breed.

Indeed, look forward to more CA-308 mentions in the upcoming FI 421A and Yamamoto A-08S reviews. Those will triangulate their respective feature subjects against the two others. I believe it bodes very well for prospective customers that the manufacturer today is head-quartered in California. With the unending parade of Asian imports of often questionable support stability, this is a big feature that must be included in the purchase consideration. Color me yellow - for Canary. That's short-hand for impressed all around: looks, build, detailing, packaging, operation and performance. The 308s are very trendy in the sense that they're modern devices. They take full advantage of upscale parts and premium iron. They sound modern rather than vintage, too. If I was at liberty to tell you who the chief designer worked for before, it would add immeasurably to your comfort level when dealing with this
emerging brand. But it shows regardless once the amps have passed their break-in transformation and you've picked quality bottles befitting the amps' true potential. The KRs get my strongest recommendation closely followed by the TJ Full Music solid plates. Edwar Barker in London was right to recommend the Canary electronics for further investigation on this side of the pond. Accordingly, we won't end here. Look forward to John Potis weighing in on the massive 140-watt EL34 monoblocks and yours truly on the Canary CD-100 valved CD player mated to today's monos.

This truly is the Golden Age of HiFi. The sheer variety and quality of goods is so staggering that each personal new discovery of yet another premium brand begs the question of whether there's enough customers left who care deeply enough. That I don't know. What I do know? There's clearly plenty of makers left who truly care. Canary Audio is one of 'em. Kudos for your efforts, gentlemen. This audiophile really appreciates them.
TJ valves provided by AYDN
KR tubes provided by KR Audio Products
Manufacturer's website