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Passive preamplifier + amplifier
Cymer PA 3.1 + 300B SE 9.1 Single Ended

Price: 68 000 zł

Distributor: 300B Systemy High End

ul. Traugutta 25/12, 90-113 Łódź

phone: 501 056 466


WWW: Cymer

Text: Marek Dyba
Photo: Marcin Olszewski

Recently I had a great pleasure of reviewing Don Garber's 2A3 amplifier (review HERE). Now I have another chance to personally experience a product of another famous „tube guy” Mr Elson Silva. Don is one of the greatest in the USA and Elson is THE man in Australia. Many people visiting last AudioShow had a chance to listen shortly to this amplifier. A new Distributor on the market (although an experienced one with his background in Best Audio ) presented an Aussie system combined of Cymer monoblocks, passive preamplifier, WHT speakers and PSC cables. I am a great fan of SET amplifiers and those based on 300B tube in particular so how could I resist a possibility of listening to this device in my own room?

But since Elson is mostly known in Australia I should start with some information for readers who never heard of him before. Elson Silva was born in Brazil. He started his „adventure” with audio quite early – his first amplifier based on 6V6 GT tube was built when Elson was still a teenager. First success encouraged him to continue his work and his second design was a 30 Watt push-pull amplifier. He decided to expand his knowledge of electronics and acoustics. As a 23 years old man he started to work in a recording studio in Rio de Janeiro. Only four years later this young but already experienced sound engineer designed a complete audio console. In the late 60's Elson Silva moved to New York. There he graduated from the famous RCA School of Electronics. Later his career was related mostly with recording studios. Roughly twenty years later Silva decided to change a continent again – he left for Australia and lives and works there ever since. He became the best known „tube guy” in the whole Australia and many audiophiles ended their quest for the ultimate system with one of his products. Cymer is in fact just one-man-show – small enterprise manufacturing tube amplifiers and a designer using his experience gained on three continents.

Lets be honest – Australia is for us Poles a far-far-away exotic country. And I am not talking just about geographical and cultural distance but also what do we know about Aussie's audio business? Most of us almost nothing. Cymer doesn't have a webpage, you can't find its advertisements not only in Polish but also in any audio magazines (maybe is some Australian – don't know), and I haven't also found any review of any of Elson's products in the Internet. The only „place” full of opinions/feedback about Cymer's equipment are Australian discussion forums – raise your hand if you read them, anybody? Yeah, me neither. During my research when I was trying to find some information about this company I visited couple of those forums and I can tell you two things I found out - first - Elson manufactures lots of different designs based on many tubes (some quite exotic), second – I couldn't find any negative opinion about Cymer's products or about the man himself. Quite impressive, isn't it?

Even taking into consideration that this is all manual job I have to admit that the finish of the monoblocks is superb. You can see that Elson Silva is a man who takes care about details and treats his work with utmost care – I would even say love. The devices are beautiful in their simplicity. Like many other high-end manufacturers Silva leaves the choice of tubes to the Customer. Discussion forums not only in Poland but also all over the world are full of threads where advantages of one 300B tube over the other one are disputed over and over again. You can find fans of Full Music, Sophia Electric, KRAudio, EML, Shuguang, or the most classic one - Western Electric (and many different NOS tubes too). So the conclusion might be only one – everybody has to find his own best choice. Distributor delivered „basic” set of Electro-Harmonix tubes.
One of the most important elements of the design are hand-made output transformers and special „floating” grounding. The latter is responsible for uniquely low noise level – in fact even with the quite efficient horn speakers (mine are 100 dB) you can't hear amplifier's operation. The delivered set included also passive preamplifier made by Elson. PA 3.1 is a simple silver box with Alps and input selector, two RCA outputs and three inputs – that's it – simplest possible solution to control volume and to allow use of multiple sources. The Distributor had a chance to try some high quality preamplifiers with Cymer monoblocks but he says that still PA 3.1 offered the best sound. „Less is better” as someone said so unless you need some additional gain you can surely go with passive solution and the sound quality can be surpassed only by some high-quality, most likely expensive preamplifier. During my review I could also use WHT speakers PR1 MKII Falcon (96 dB) and PSC cables so the system (except for the sources) was the same as the one presented during AudioShow.

So finally I could start the audition – the ultimate test and the only way to verify why everybody says only good things about Elson Silva and his works.


Discs used for listening sessions:

  • Renaud Garcia-Fons, Arcoluz, ENJ94782, CD.
  • Doug MacLeod, Come to Find, JVCXR-0023, XRCD.
  • Etta James, The Chess Box, Chess, B00004TS85, CD.
  • Joseph Haydn, Les sept dernieres paroles de notre Rédempteur sur la Croix, Le Concert des Nations, Jordi Savall, Astree, B00004R7PQ, CD.
  • David Gilmour, In concert - Live at Robert Wayatt's Meltdown , Capitol, dvd B00006LI4S, DVD.

My experience with 300B SETs told me to use basic set of tubes delivered with monoblocks and not my own, supposingly better, tubes as some amplifiers are tailored for particular tubes and even if those are not objectively the best ones but still sound best in the particular device. So I kept my WE 300B away from Cymers, at least at the beginning. I started listening session with recording of brilliant bassist Renaud Garcia-Fons called „Arcoluz”. Each of his pieces is kind of adventure with his bass and usually also other, often exotic instruments. This adventure might offer fabulous, unforgettable sensations comparable to the most exotic vacation. There is only one condition that needs to be fulfilled – your system must be capable of delivering it to you. To do that my first choice would be a system with 300B SET. Cymer's version of such design makes you feel like taking part in VIP's all inclusive vacation in the most beautiful place on Earth. I happened to hear such a real-sounding double-bass (from audio system) only couple of times before – usually the price of the system was as impressive as the sound. One of such systems I listened to recently - Tenor Audio amplifier with Hansen Audio (tested HERE ) speakers did it even bit better but we had over 100 t USD „playing” in that system. Elson's monoblocks are capable of presenting the whole robustness of double-bass, its great timbre and all that while absolutely not enlarging it over the natural size. You can easily hear fingers plucking strings, or a bow moving on them and last but not least the soundbox – sound doesn't just come of the strings but you can also hear „the wood”. The instrument is clearly presented on the soundstage with lots of air around it. All the other sounds combining together for the whole recording are presented also with highest precision – guitar and violin sound as realistic as double-bass. Arcoluz is a live recording but done with real „audiophile” care for details – such recordings do reveal the real quality of the system. /p>

Time to move on – I decided to try … some very simple music – blues, namely Doug MacLeod's Come to Find. Blues isn't too complex music but it doesn't mean that it is easy to reproduce by any audio system. In this particular case it is additionally an acoustic recording – sound of acoustic guitar is very rich, every pluck or strike counts, sound coming from resonating chamber, sound of fingers moving along the strings – only good presentation of all these elements will provide real guitar sound. Elson's amplifier shows this instrument tremendously – associations with AudioShow presentation were immediate – there we could listen to live performance of Pawel Scieranski, and in my room Doug MacLeod was playing live. Equally great was the presentation of acoustic bass – like in guitar's presentation I could also easily recognize sound of each string – very few systems are capable of such great differentiation of sounds to allow an extremely real sounding presentation of string instruments. This ability of bass differentiation is one of the distinguishing features of high-end devices.

During the session with 300B SET I simply couldn't miss a chance to listen to some female vocal. I chose Etta James – the Queen of Chess label, and her The Chess Box, which is a 3-CD edition summarizing her achievements. Oh boy! This woman can sing! Cymers with WHT speakers presented Etta in a way that made me feel shivers going down my spine – I could „see” this human volcano of energy, emitting tones of emotions. That's another feature of high-end devices – ability to show „real” emotions and this system did that very convincingly. Many other amplifiers should be able to deliver proper timbre and texture of Etta's voice but only the best few will be able to add on top of that this level of expression.

Maybe The Big Three - Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughnan and Billie Holiday have better voices but Etta put not just her voice but her heart and soul in every song, every note and if you happen to have such a an amplifier like Cymer you will hear it all. Just a small digression (as I don't understand why she is not so popular as other singers) – Etta's way of singing was an inspiration for Janis Joplin – much more familiar name, right? - so in my opinion the place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is well deserved.

The next recording during my session was Joseph Haydn's Les sept dernieres paroles de notre Rédempteur sur la Croix performed by Concert des Nations under Jordi Savall. I probably wrote that before – in my opinion that is one of the most fabulous presentations of acoustic space, ambiance of the place of the recording. It was recorded in a great church – Santa Cueva in Cadiz – and you can hear that thanks to excellent capabilities of tubes. Most of them, and 300B in particular, can exceptionally well present three dimensional acoustical space. You can easily spot reverberations traveling along quite empty (most likely) church walls. Period instruments sound natural and vivid when telling us in their own way the Last Seven Words of Christ on the Cross. I think that even people who are not really religious will admit that this is a wonderful piece of music and I can add that Elson's monoblocks do everything right to present as much of this beauty as only possible.

When driving my car I heard on the radio the recording of the rehearsal of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon – kind of alternative version of part of this great piece of music. So when I got home some Pink Floyd CDs had to „land” in my player. Most fans know whole discography perfectly so I will describe my impressions of the session with CD that … officially doesn't exist. And it is in fact David Gilmour's recording not PF's. CD that doesn't officially exist? Yes, in 2002 David released a DVD called In Concert. CD or vinyl were never released but since I am rather an audiophile not a „videophile” I used modern technique and produced from my own DVD a double CD edition with sound ripped from DVD. Quality of the sound is very good and some versions of Pink Floyd's pieces are really worth listening on a good stereo system. Concert starts with Shine On You Crazy Diamond played solo on guitar by David. Cymers presented it brilliantly – you can't overestimate how good vocalist Gilmour became – I would even say, that he is like a wine – the older the better. Very interesting timbre of very well controlled voice is precisely positioned on the stage, and presented in a very palpable way. Sound of the guitar is very natural, even organic creating magical version of well known piece of PF's music. The second tune I would like to mention to describe how human voices are presented was written by … Bizet, yes the Georges Bizet. This pieces is called Je Crois Entendre Encore and comes from his opera The Pearl Fishers. In this performance David and his guitar are accompanied by mixed choir – this tune is a real vocal challenge. The Australian amplifier allows you to follow each voice, or group of voices separately, study the timbre and texture of each of them. But being very detailed, revealing many layers of the sound it doesn't loose the big picture - great harmony of the choir. I don't speak French at all but when I listened to this piece of music, specially on the system based on Cymers and WHT I couldn't help getting moved by the beauty of this piece and performance. As I mentioned already before – only the best systems are capable of presenting music and emotions at the same highest level – and Elson Silva's amp did it in a fantastic way.

Last but not least I decided to do some tube rolling. I had my own Western Electric's 300Bs and Ei's 12BH7 Ei – I used these tubes in my own ArtAudio Symphony II. Change in the sound was easily recognizable but it didn't mean that it was a huge change. I had a chance to listen to many 300B amplifiers and in most of them changing power tubes to the better ones offered really significant upgrade in sound quality. But when a real high-end device is involved there are no drastic changes in sound anymore. You might find some more details, bit better transparency, more air, some changes in soundstage's depth or width – but all those changes will be quite subtle. Does it mean it is not worth looking for the best tubes? Of course it is worth it! If you had already spent 70 thousand PLN to buy an amplifier than you should spend another couple of thousands to get the best tubes money can buy for your device just to get one more small step closer to your musical nirvana. If your system gets to the high-end level than all you can do is struggle for very small improvements, subtle details. In this particular case my tubes brought bit more openness to the sound and improved subtly its clarity/resolution. A simple example – I could easier understand texts of songs, especially in foreign languages. In above mentioned Bizet's piece of music a differentiation of voices in choir became even better. I could hear more air around instruments and I thought that the sound became even smoother. Yes, „I thought” because at this level some changes are so subtle that you start doubting your own senses. But I can for sure recommend using the best tubes you can buy for Cymer monoblocks. Of course if you give them a chance, listen to them and than decide to purchase.


As I already mentioned before the look and design of monoblocks suggests that Elson Silva is a man who loves beautiful things and pays high attention to the details. This seems obvious – if you want to sell high-end devices they must offer great sound but they also need to look good, to appeal to Customers aesthetic expectations. The black front (piano black!) with blue LED, and gold plate that reads: „Cymer by Elson Silva” looks really very elegant. The top part of the amp which accommodates all three valves (one 300B, 12AX7,12BH7) has a mirrored surface that enables distinguished and impressive presentation of valves especially when the amplifier is on.. Big blue Nippon capacitors and huge transformers in black cases perfectly compliment the mirror surface. The sides are made of Jarrah timber, which is uniquely Australian. On the rear panel, you can find an IEC socket, one RCA input (it’s a monoblock), and 3 binding posts internally connected to transformer taps – one for 4 and the other for 8 Ω speaker output.

To be honest I am not a „technical” guy so to describe how the reviewed device is built I need some support. Many manufacturer's webpages are quite helpful, sometimes user's manuals. But in this case there was no webpage, no manual, no other reviews in the internet. I had to try check myself but when I looked inside one of the monoblocks I found there almost nothing – just have a look at the picture. Easiest conclusion – the whole „trick” is in impressive transformers – well it usually is when it comes to tube amplifiers.
Fortunately Polish Distributor was kind enough to grant me some information from Elson Silva that I can share with you.
All the transformers in Cymer amplifiers are hand wound from the best materials available in Australia. Sevenfold interleaving allows achieving small capacitance and increases inductance. This system ensures extremely small inductance leakage between transformer wire winded turns. This pair of monoblocks is amazingly quiet due to Mr Silva’s special floating grounding method. Cymer amplifiers were tested with 96db ( 8 ohms) loudspeakers. Such an efficient speaker would normally act as a magnify glass exposing with no mercy every little bit of noise and hum during the review but there was nothing I could hear.
So called “gapping” is not typically calculated using well known formulas but rather “tuned” individually for each of the amplifiers. That again helps reaching a wide waveband and particularly clean, deep bass with outstanding dynamics. Silva’s amplifiers do not use any PC boards. Components are connected “point to point”. At the amplifier’s output there are metalized polypropylene capacitors Mundorf silver/oil. All the resistors are oxidized to obtain high stability. The power supply used is a Nippon one.

Technical data (according to the manufacturer):
Output power: 9 W
Frequency response: 20 Hz-20 kHz, +/- 2 dB
Input impedance: 50 kΩ
Input sensitivity: 550 mV
S/N: 90 dB
Dimensions (DxWxH) : 435 x 320 x 200 mm
Weight: 19,7 kg

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