Jolida JD 302B Integrated
we're now 50 years into the age of the transistor, vacuum-tube technology is still alive
and well in the world of audio. While this surprises many people when they first learn
about it, there are many good reasons for the survival of the tube in audio -- tubes are
amazingly linear amplification devices and tube circuits tend to be uncomplicated (elegant
But if you have only shopped for audio in the large box
merchants, you probably have never seen a contemporary tube audio product. They tend
to be made by small companies, which sell their products through specialty audio stores.
Since many of these companies essentially make their products in limited quantities by
hand, tube products have acquired the reputation of being expensive -- and many are. But
recently, several companies have made a point of designing high-quality tube gear that can
be made affordably through the introduction of efficient manufacturing techniques and the
use of off-shore manufacturing facilities.
Jolida, for example, manufactures its products primarily in
China, but reserves final, critical assembly for its US facility. As a result, their 50Wpc
integrated amplifier, the JD 302B, retails for $950. When you consider that the JD 302B is
virtually hand-made and is packed with expensive, high-quality parts, that's a good price
-- but it is higher than many other 50Wpc integrated amplifiers. Does the use of
tubes justify the added expense?
But first . . .
Before we go there, you probably need to determine if tubes
are for you. There are reasons the transistor dominates the market, after all, and one of
the biggest is convenience. Unlike transistors, tubes wear out -- which means you'll need
to change them from time to time. This isn't hard. It's about as complicated as changing a
light bulb. But, if you're a set-it-and-forget-it audiophile, you may not feel comfortable
knowing you will one day have to change your tubes.
So, if tube products are less convenient to use and cost
more, why do people still want to use them? It's all in the sound. Many audiophiles feel
that tubes offer sonic benefits that transistor-based products simply can't match. In all
fairness, many other audiophiles feel that tube designs sound the way they do because they
introduce additional noise and distortion to their circuits. This is one of those
chocolate/vanilla controversies -- the only way to determine whether or not you
prefer tube or transistor sound is to listen and decide for yourself.
The first thing you'll notice about the JD 302B is
the tubes. On top of its low chassis are two rows of glowing glass tubes -- four tall
EL-34 output tubes, which deliver power to the speakers, and a shorter row of four
tubes, which control them. The second noteworthy detail is that the Jolida is heavy.
It weighs nearly 40 pounds. It delivers 50Wpc and has four line-level inputs, a balance
control, and a tube bias (adjustment) control. On the rear panel it has knurled-metal
binding posts and gold-plated RCA jacks. It does not have remote control or a recording
The JD 302B's construction quality is superb and it looks
exotic. You won't find many solid-state components near this price that look remotely like
it. It utilizes a high-quality volume control (an ALPS potentiometer) and custom-wound
transformers, which can be adjusted for either 4- or 8-ohm speaker loading. Tubes are a
little more finicky that way, so its important to know what the impedance of your
speakers are and make the right selection.
The sound of music
The Jolida sounds even more powerful than it looks on
paper. Its 50Wpc output makes it compatible with a wide range of speakers. Products such
as the Axiom M3Ti SE and the NHT SB1, as well as other GoodSound! favorites, will
make a good match as long as the room is not too large and ear-splitting volumes are
Of course theres more to music enjoyment than
ultimate loudness and the JD 302B integrated amplifier soothes the listener with its
smooth, balanced approach to the reproduction of music. This is particularly noteworthy in
the Jolida's presentation of massed strings in orchestral recordings. The amplifier gives
massed string a warmth and ease that allows the amp to get out of the way and let the
Tube gear has the reputation for delivering bass that is
less than state of the art. It generally goes deep enough, but often its not as
tight as that produced by the best solid-state amplifiers. The Jolida JD 302B is true to
form in this regard. The bass is a little less defined than it could be, but not
obtrusively so. In fact, some listeners who own over-damped speakers may actually enjoy
the Jolida's added bass bloom. But dont take that to mean that the Jolida turns
well-recorded bass passages to sonic mush. Where it falls short, it only misses by a hair
-- and the sound is truly enjoyable. When mated with appropriate speakers the bass is
robust and full.
"Gia" from James Taylors Hourglass
CD [Columbia CK67912] with its traveling bass drum presents a pretty telling test
for any amplifier. The Jolida softens the sound of the drum, making it a tad over-ripe.
Where the drum should strike like a thunderbolt, its a little billowy here --
a not altogether unpleasant presentation, just not quite accurate. But skip to
"Ananas" for a punchy bass rhythm driven by the electric bass -- and skip along
it does! With no softening and no overhang, the bass is very well behaved.
For bass performance I sometimes like to go to GRP's
Live In Session [GRP-D-9532]; this is a very present-sounding recording,
captured during a live-in-the-studio concert for a small audience. "Oasis"
features some close-miked drums that exude power, authority, and speed. With the Jolida
they do. Deep and powerful, the bass drum and tom-toms are wonderfully tight and weighted
and, though the sound is frenzied at times, the Jolida never allowed the bass to lag
behind the midrange or high frequencies. It maintained a real sense of well-timed
Mid- and upper-bass performance is very good and
well behaved too. Where sloppiness in this area can have a disastrous effect on other
parts of the spectrum (it can overlay the midrange causing obscured detail), the Jolida
does a very respectable job of controlling these frequencies.
Moving up through the midrange, the Jolida gets even
better. I was continually struck by the clarity and purity of the JD 302B's midrange. It's
marked by amazingly low levels of coloration and surprisingly high levels of detail. Some
gear can sound opaque, dark, and closed-in, but the Jolida sounds quite the opposite. The
sound is remarkably open and transparent, allowing you to hear through the music to its
Female vocals, such as Dianne Schuurs "Reverend
Lee" from the same GRP disc, are vibrant and transparent. Her voice is just about as
open and immediate as it gets. Theres nothing between you and her.
Or for a horse of another color, try Patricia Barbers
Companion CD [Blue Note/Promotion 7243 5 22963 2 3]. She's the polar opposite to
Schuur. Her voice is richer, warmer, darker, and harmonically more complex, and the Jolida
keeps perfect stride, clearly revealing the differences between the two singers' voices.
And then there is that expansive soundstaging, which is
spacious and completely free of the speakers -- another area most affordable audio gear
hardly ever gets right, but the Jolida does wonderfully.
High-frequency performance is where most similarly priced
gear doesnt stand a chance against the Jolida. Ive heard many comparably
priced solid-state components that possess a hard-and-spitty top end, with a decided lack
of air and extension. There are exceptions, of course, but I cant point to a single
piece that combines an acceptable treble with the Jolidas midrange purity. You
generally get one or the other; the Jolida gives you both and that's what helps to make it
Try Larry Carltons "Whatever Happens" from Alone/But
Never Alone [MCAD5689 SAN-443] for steely guitar work, married to percussion
featuring, front and center, the high-hat. Less-than-stellar high-frequency performance
will turn the high-hat to an ear-piercing white noise that will curtail a listening
session prematurely. The Jolida preserves the appropriate tonal colors and keeps them from
becoming too brittle, allowing you to listen all day.
You certainly can find amplifiers that outperform the
Jolida JD 302B in one way or another, but finding a component that is clearly superior to
it across the board will cost you plenty. If you're thinking about trying tubes, I
highly recommend that you give the Jolida a whirl, even if you have a substantially larger
budget. You might be amazed at just how far a $1000 budget can take you on the road to
Price of equipment reviewed