Sample supplied by atube-hifiimport
Retail prices in the Netherlands (incl 21% VAT):
91E amplifier in Black or Champagne: 17.250 euro
91E amplifier in Nickel: 17.850 euro (as reviewed)
Alternate Output Transformer Block: 1.000 euro
Matched pair 300B: 1855 euro
The story of Western Electric in a nutshell
Western Electric was originally established in 1869. At that time, inventor Elisha Gray and entrepreneur Enos Barton each contributed $2,500 and opened a shop in Cleveland, OH to make electrical parts. Their move to Chicago paved the way for a storied future that included Bell Telephone, Bell Labs, AT&T, and Westrex.
In 1938, Western Electric manufactured the first type 300B electron tube. It was a breakthrough power triode, but in those days it hummed away from behind a curtain in early Hollywood sound systems. The same things that served moviegoers back then—low noise, ultra-long life, sonic purity, and warmth—made it a standout tube for music lovers and vintage audio collectors as the years passed.
Deep into the age of the transistor, communities around the world in search of true, original, high-fidelity sound rediscovered the 300B and its exceptional performance. New amplifier designs brought the tube front and center but until recently, one could only rely on NOS 300-B tubes.
More recently, entrepreneur Charles Whitener, in partnership with AT&T, has recovered Western Electric and the Westrex Corporation and in 1997 resumed production of the first new 300-B triode tubes in Kansas City. They received universal praise and quickly became the gold standard.
In 2003, the company moved production of the 300-B tubes to Huntsville, AL, and through those years it served the Department of Defense with electron tubes and test kits. Besides tubes, Western Electric has also designed and developed High-End audio amplifiers, CD players, phono preamplifiers, along with other audio components.
Today, the 300B is manufactured at the Rossville Works facility. This new factory home was custom-built to master the dozens of individual demands of tube making, from sealing the iconic glass bulb to the complex metallurgic processes within. Western Electric believes twenty-first-century listeners deserve twenty-first-century manufacturing standards.
Also manufactured in the Rossville Works facility is the subject of this review, the magnificent WE 91E integrated amplifier!
The 91E is a Class A, single-ended (SE), integrated amplifier that was inspired by its predecessor, the 91A. Compared to the original, the 91E offers double the power which is made possible by a completely new approach to SE amplifier design. Developed over five years, the 91E uses Western Electric’s patented steered current source technology, the parallel feed constant current source (SCCS). The unique parallel feed topology contributes half of the AC current to the plate (anode) of the 300B by modulating quiescent current. As a result, half of the power dissipation occurs in the tube, allowing for a greater output power of 20 watts per channel. The design employs 2x ECC81 Tubes for the preamp section and 2x 300B tubes for the power section. Microprocessors automatically bias the 300B tube pair each time the amplifier is powered on and no manual adjustment is necessary.
Whereas most tube amplifiers use multi-tap output transformers with two or three windings, the 91E uses a dedicated, user-swappable output transformer block that is optimized for a particular load. Single impedance transformers maintain lower winding capacitance that is normally impaired with multi-tap transformers. The amplifier’s retail price includes a single transformer block that can be specified at 4 Ohm or 8 Ohm and users can also purchase an extra block at extra cost.