I have had nothing but pleasure from this pre-amp. In my system it is perfect.
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Dan runs the tubes very conservatively in the SWL9.0SE, so I would say around 6000-8000 hours easily. You can use 5687, 7119, 7044, 6900 tubes in this unit.
I never tried the Bendix 6900 tubes because they are ultra expensive, (like $600+ per pair). They are claimed to be the best.
My favorites, (and I tried MANY), are in order:
1. Amperex HOLLAND 7119
2. Raytheon Red Label 5687
3. Tungsol 5687
4. Mullard USA 7119
5. Amperex USA 7119
5. GE or RCA 7044
I REALLY, REALLY liked the Amperex HOLLAND 7119. They were wonderful with a very open, smooth, warm, romantic sound. Not the end all, be all of detail, but very musical. My favorite tube by far.
Shakedown, the only time I've heard or seen a hole having to be cut is for a different RECTIFER tube than the 5AR4/GZ34. The small 9 pin tubes have no problem with clearance of the lid. I tried at least 9 or 10 different brand/styles of tubes and had no problem with any of them.
The Amperex Holland 7119's show up here on AudioGon once in awhile. You might check with the usual suspects, (Jim McShane, AZ Tubes, e-Bay). I did find several pair, but it took me a few months. You might need to be patient.