You know what I like? Surprises. Vinnie Rossi of Red Wine Audio had packed an unannounced gift into the box of the (recently reviewed) Signature 15 (AU$1500)…which I didn’t notice until I began to repack the amplifier for its return trip to the Connecticut.
What was it? A second tube for rolling into the little 15 watter.
But let me first be clear: this integrated already sounds mighty fine with the stock tube (a JJ E88CC). It delivers bags of tone and texture, hence the DAR-KO award. It is for these reasons that I’ve taken the additional time to investigate the possibilities of tweaking the sound even further with a tube swap.
Rossi had sent me a NOS Miniwatt Dario E188CC. Originally made by Phillips in the 1960s, these can usually be picked up on eBay for around fifty bucks per pair.
The removal of eight screws allow me inside the neat internals of the Red Wine amplifier. Out came the stock JJ, in went the Miniwatt Dario. It really is as easy as changing a light bulb (globe).
These past couple of weeks, I’ve been revisiting the Blur back catalogue. The double disc remasters are – like the Suede re-issues before them – fine documents of 90s Britpop largesse. Stephen Street (who worked with The Smiths in the late 80s and produced Parklife and The Great Escape) has done a fine job in really opening up the mix to allow more breathing room for subtleties in some quite densely packed songs. Compared to my FLACs of the original CDs, the reissues sound fuller and wider – there’s greater acoustic mass. VERY nice.
The sound? Firstly – and most importantly – the Miniwatt Dario soothes that ebullient top end, rounding the edge of Graham Coxon’s more aggressive guitar snarls. If you’re already running a bright-ish system, this kind of roll is for you. Compared to the stock JJ tube, the NOS bottle is slightly warmer, more relaxed, laid back, sweeter up top, more liquid in the middle and sun-tanned tinged. If the JJ is cooler and more wide-eyed, the Miniwatt Dario can be found sipping cocktails by the pool. It gives greater illusion to Damon Albarn being a voice-attached-to-a-human in my listening space.
These changes are none too dissimilar from when I dropped a pair Amperex 12AX7 into the front of a Leben CS300XS – it swaps out a little urgency for a little relaxation. The changes are small but very real.
Conclusively, tube rolling: it’s a thing. A thing that’s even more satisfying when it’s a surprise.