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Less is more - cliché but touché.
Setting the JB3s on the rock-solid Mark & Daniel compound marble stands immediately improved bass extension without any help from subwoofers. Free from the early reflections and diffractions from desktop surfaces, the real potential of the JohnBlue 3" drivers was once more unleashed. However, one must know what music to feed these to assess their strengths. So I abstained from butchering these tiny drivers by jamming heavy orchestral works down their narrow throats. Instead I handpicked some vocal and instrumental pieces (woodwinds and strings) that full-range speakers are fondly associated with. Just as I did in Phase 1, the JB3s took turns to show what they could do best with traditional transistor amps, Tripath amps and tube amps. For the former, I picked two low-power models from my stable: the 50/70wpc @ 8/4 ohm class AB Thorens-Restek MMA-5 monoblocks with volume control; and the 50wpc @ 8 ohm Audio Zone AMP-ST integrated chip amp. For Tripath, I restricted myself to the Trends TA10 and KingRex T20. I skipped over the Winsome Labs Mouse because it's highly unlikely that users of this amp would be looking at full-range speakers, let alone one with 3" drivers. For the glass gear, I had the Dared VP-20, Dared MP-2A3C and Elekit TU-879S. Source equipment mixed and matched from Denon DP-59L + Denon DL-302 + Ensemble PhonoMaster, Marantz SA6820 + Deltec PDM Two DAC to the one-box DSD upsampling-ready Philips DVP-9000S.

I am glad to report that all was fair in love, war and JB3. In the SS grouping, the Audio Zone AMP-ST shone. The similarity in design philosophy between minimalist chip amp and crossover-less miniature speaker immediately transcended preconceptions into coherence and harmony of the highest order. Speed for one was light speed. Treble was clear as spring water. Imaging was spotlessly clean especially when the digital source was aided by DSD upsampling in the Philips DVP-9000S. Switching to the Marantz with Deltec DAC, the tonal spectrum became more suave and the soundstage airier yet imaging was less well defined and bass not as deep and tight. The Thorens-Restek MMA-5 with the legendary Toshiba 2SA1302 and 2SC3281 power amp transistor duo working in bipolar output fashion offered deeper bass and more revealing textural details but displayed occasional ringing with sopranos singing in the high C vicinity. That happened when I played through "Pimpinella" from Tchaikovsky's Complete Songs Volume 3 [Naxos 8.555371] sung by Ljuba Kazarnovskaya. The excessive brightness was probably due to the unusually wide bandwidth of this amp (3Hz to 270kHz unweighted). Speed was marginally slower than over the Audio Zone. Other than those handicaps, it remained musically involving nonetheless.

In the Tripath sector, the findings were somewhat similar to the desktop audition, meaning I personally favored the KingRex for its tube-like warmth. The T20 handles midrange with a golden touch. One CD in particular made a lingering sonic memory: La Clarinette à l'Opéra with Alessandro Carbonare on clarinet and Andrea Dindo on piano [Harmonia Mundi HMC901722] The blackwood magic began with the speakers camouflaging into point-source imaging. The range of the clarinet coincided with the 3" drivers like a pair of heaven-sent gloves. Breathing, pulse and tongue action were breathtakingly vivid. The most lifelike part was not the sonic attributes but the music making itself. It made me forget about the audio equipment. All of a sudden, these humble 3" drivers made me realize the true meaning of full-range speakers. They have the magic to glue me to my seat and forget their physical limitations. When the KingRex Preamp was added to the chain, microdynamics were conveyed even more effortlessly. I could feel the timbre of the blackwood change through subtle shades as the air moved swiftly in and out, pitches weaving nimbly up and down. When I replaced the PSU with the newly arrived SLAP, the cleverly designated Sealed Lead Acid battery Power pack from KingRex, bass dipped a little deeper still and imaging perked up a little tighter.

After the encouraging synergy with the Audio Space duo, my lower-power tube amps worked wonders with the JB3. However, with any of these setups, it's strictly not for head bangers. The Dared MP-2A3C in particular was restricted to soft music over these 87dB speakers. Here, timbre ruled the land of single-ended triodes and single drivers. Jeanne Mallow's wonderful rendition of Lillian Fuchs' Complete Music for Unaccompanied Viola [Naxos 8.667932] showed exactly what that means. The color of the tone, the voice of the instrument and the ever-changing weight and lightness of the body and image density were always in precise proportion and dimension. It was unmistakably a viola, not a violin played in the lower register or a cello in the upper.

By comparison, the 20wpc Dared VP-20 flexed more muscle and exerted better control over a broader repertoire. I am almost tempted to call this the second-best tube amp match after the Audio Space. The fiery and passionate interpretation of the Dvořák "Dumky" Trio by the Ahn Trio's Korean sisters [EMI 556674 2] is nothing short of musical intensity. The VP-20 + JB3 combo was immediate and direct, holding nothing back. Even the piano double forte was conveyed with presence and grandeur.

Still, there is something special about the Elekit TU-879S. This Japanese-made single-ended beam tetrode integrated amp lets you roll KT66, KT88, 6550, EL34 and 6L6GC without any adjustment. JohnBlue's TL66 does exactly the same except for its monoblock configuration. In case you are not familiar with the long obsolete British Deltec PDM Two, this dual-chassis 1-bit DAC employs six optical cables to transfer signals from the digital box to the analog box resulting in a tube-like affair without the glass. By hook or crook, matching the JB3 to the Elekit via the Deltec was the closest I could get to simulate Tommy's home system with tube buffer. Playing back Tommy's favorite music -- Rossini's Sonatas for Strings -- from both analog and digital sources, I experienced one of the most exquisite moments in string music. Actually, I first began with a pair of ElectroHarmonix KT88. These slightly more powerful tubes rewarded me with ample valve bloom. Though the lower octaves could not surpass that of the KingRex Preamp + T20 + SLAP combo, the naturally rich timbre with the right amount of tautness and elasticity of bowing was absolutely mesmerizing. When the KT88s were replaced by RCA 6L6GCs, the soundstage was further consolidated into a well-defined three-dimensional space. Timbres became more endearingly 'real' so that the soprano became effortlessly charged with emotions, uniting body and soul. Lower registers also extended somewhat with a polished refinement as witnessed by the clarinet CD. I was surprised to find that the bass went deeper and cleaner than over the push-pull Dared VP-20 while speed was faster, due to single-ended amplification I presumed.