I am using a Heathkit AA-40, I love that amp. I like the sound of the vintage equipment. It matches my ears the best.
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Dodd's 120 Monoblocks when I owned them, prior to switching to an amp with 845 tubes (Art Audio Quartets). The Dodds had great control over the speakers' drivers, while maintaining that tube magic in the form of a huge holographic soundstage and palpable mids. They are not only a great deal at their retail price, but a downright steal used.
I raise the question because one of my amps is the Ars Sonum which uses four JJ Tesla EL34L and I think it is a fantastic amp with my speakers (Merlin VSM)and I assume the use of the EL34L has a lot to do with it. Every wonderfully rich, organic midrange with resulution and quite a bit of tuneful and present bass, which I did not expect due to the rep of the EL34 and the fact that the amp is "only" 30 watts (I'm use to bass, one of my other amps is a CAT JL2 which SOTA bass from a tube amp). I get the sense that there is a beauty in the EL34 and amps that use them. At least in the Ars, the tube is not "slow" "over lush", etc.
I would try a tube change from your JJ tubes to a set of Siemens, RFT, Mullard, Sylvania or Telefunken if you can find the deal.
I have a Sonic Frontiers SFS 40 I use in my B system. I swapped out the JJ's in it for a quad of Siemens as well as the driver/input tubes with Valvo's and it transformed the amp.
What was a passably good midrange while suffering in the high and low end has changed to an excellent midrange with very good highs and quite acceptable clean tuneful low end .
If you are happy with the EL-34 sonic signature- a good set of American or German EL-34's tubes may send you over the rainbow.
Lissnr, what other amps did you audition or compare with the VTLs when you made your decision? Have you tried other amps since and decided to stick with what you have?
Ralph, I'm a bit hesitant to tube role withe Ars since it was desinged with the EL34L in mind I am told has more gain and "better" bass attributes than the non "L" version of these tubes - the Ars certainly seems to have excellent bass performance for a 30 watt integrated. Were your JJs the "L" versions?
My tubes were not the "L" version but I have had similiar results with other EL-34 based amps over the years. A Dynaco ST-70 & Sound Valves M-40 both responded to non-russian/non-chinese EL-34's with great improvements in dynamics and range.
It may be worth a tryout since you can resell good tubes easily. You have nothing to lose really by comparing and a non-russian EL-34 certainly will not hurt your amp.
Is this not the nature of this hobby to try new things?
You can't unless you find them used. They were actually made from the Dynaco designed circuits after Dynaco's demise.
A company bought the designs ungraded the components to a degree and started producing Sound Valves amps.
You can find them occassionally here or on eB*y. They are easy to mod and if you like the Dynaco sound can be a real find.
I started into tube amps with a Jolida SJ-302A integrated just to get my feet wet, it was 50 wpc using 4x EL-34's total and I really thought it was a nice sounding unit and a great value. After that I was curious about the Hovland but it was cost prohibitive at the time. I new I liked the EL-34 from my Jolida experience so I sought out another contender which was VTL. I tried the ST-85 which was also a good sounding value but when I heard the MB-125's I was sold. A great amp which I just sold after almost 5 years of pure listening bliss. I miss it dearly (new speakers were too much for it) Please let us know what you're auditioning and your impressions. Good luck. Lissnr
The amp I am considering is a Music Reference RM9SE, which I auditioned yesterday at the house of an audiophile that happens to own the same preamp (Joule), speakers (Merlin)and cabling (Cardas) as I do and I thought it was outstanding. So along with my Ars Sonum (both are EL34 based) I think this tube is a real good match with my speakers. I don't think more than 30-50 watts are need to drive the Merlins as loud as I would ever want or could take. I think that VAC has also designed some good amps with the EL34 which I want might to try.
Pubul I'm driving my Merlins mxe's also with the El-34's through my Lectron JH 50. I think Like you it's a great match. I havn't had many amps behind the Merlin's but the EL-34 is by far the best performer. I'd love to hear the performance of the ARS someday to get another reference with these wonderful tubes. I'm also using the JJ tesla's. I think they provide a great neutral sound allowing the equipment to move out of the way. I haven't had any desire to try NOS tubes yet.
I'd be interested in what you come up with if you do some tube rolling.
EL-34 tubes I have tried that I think are better than JJ's:
Siemens- Good dynamics, engaging presentation,solid top to bottom
Telefunken- Rich, good dynamic range, detailed-great tube but pricey
Mullard- original not the Russian reissue . Smooth, warm engaging a bit on the soft side for me but not mushy
Sylvania-great American tube, solid performer, dynamic
Other EL34's with good reputations I have not tried:
Matsushita -made in Japan from Philips tooling
Not sure how to ask this, but is it not possible that a circuit is designed for a particular version/brand of a tube - in my case the JJ EL34L, and that the sound of the amp takes that tube into account ("voiced"?). In other words, I'm questioning whether a tube really has an inherent sound independently of the ciruit in which it is used, they seem to be two parts of the equation leading to the sound of a paricular tube in a particular amplifier. I've heard many amps using the same basic tube type with very different sound attributes (the type of differences you ascribe to the sound of Siemens versus Telefunken versus Mullard); I have to imagine the circuit is just as an imporant factor as the tube type/brand. Of course, this is no reason not to try tube rolling (I have done a lot of tube rolling on my CAT JL2 with Amperex, RCA, GE, Syvania, etc), but the maker of my Ars Sonum told me to tread lightly.
That's an interesting question Pubul. I to have been told with my modded JH 50 that most other tubes besided my current JJ's will sound mushy, slow, or lack detail. This will probably not stop me from trying some out though as i ascribe to "in your system to your ears" theory. Plus learning about how my system reacts to differing changes is good to know as well!
I would enjoy though an answer to your question if anyone is willing to expand.
Both circuit and tube determine the sound of a particular component as well as internal components. A circuit can indeed be optimized for a particular tube's characteristics. Does it mean no other tube of the same type will work? Probably not. Could it cause problems? Maybe but not likely. Will you change the circuit? not likely. Will you change the tubes to try to improve the sonics of the circuit? YOU BETCHA!
If you change tubes and nothing else resulting in a change in the sonic signature of the component then it has to be the sonic character of the tube causing the change.
Whether that change is positive or negative is determined by your ears alone. The tweaky nature of this hobby means I am going to try all avenues to extract the sound I most desire from a system. Tube rolling is one of the easiest and most easily reversed ways to do that.
For your peace of mind you may want to compare tube specs between JJ EL34L and other EL34's to find if there is a signifcant difference in the tube voltages and outputs. If there is not then you may be missing some music that is available to you with a tube change.
A quick search on the web seems to point out the only difference in specs between a standard JJ EL34 and the JJ E34L (there designation) is the ability of the E34L to handle a larger plate voltage on grid 1. (-13.5V to -16.5V compared to the standard EL34 -10.0V to -13.5V) All other specs are the same.
Significant? Don't know enough about tube grids or the circuit in your Sonum to say yes or no. Perhaps others can.
I am told that the importance of the L versus the standard is that in my circuit it is produce better bass presence compared with other EL34s (more solid and tuneful - the amp is suprisingly good in the bass department). The amp also runs Class A to 22 watts (it is a 30 watt amp with a pair of EL34s)and I think the voltage spec you mention has something to do with that, but I am talking way above my head now. When I spoke with the designer I was eager to discuss a bunch of NOS options for the EL34, 12AX7, and 6922 slots - he said he tried most of them (a lot of them anyway)and he still felt the JJ in his circuit would be hard to beat - I certainly understand why he would not want NOS EL34s as the standard tube. I am going to ask if any harm is done in trying the EL34 simply based on the plate voltage handling differences.
JJ Kt-77's are killer tubes that can be swapped in place of any EL-34. They are basically a "Super El-34" IMHO as they have a better electron flow construction than any EL-34 (because they were designed to do many things better electrically than 34's comparably). When I compared them to NOS Svetlanas (cryo'd too), Triple point matched Electro Harmonics, cryo'd JJ EL-34L's, NOS Mullard XF-2's....the KT-77's prevailed above all. These tubes are much more linear top to bottom, more transparent, better focused sound stage with better bass definition and cleaner treble to boot! They had me discover something I wasn't even aware of when I compared them to all the other el-34s. The 34's all have what I would call a "pasty" high end (to varying degrees mind you, the Mullards being the least offensive here) that I wasn't aware of until I substituted the KT-77s during comparisons, where the 77's highs where clean as a whistle! The only downside the 77's have sonically is that they are not as bloomy or romantic in the midrange as some of the 34's. That is a coloration IMHO but I can see how it may help some systems sound more involving. What more can I say, I love these new 77's that were just brought to market a little more than a year ago.
Audio Electronic Supplies(AES)Super Amp MkII, designed and manufactured by Cary Audio in NC, USA.
Fast, airy, dynamic, great frequency extension, with good bass. It sounds like a cross between SS and tubes.
I am using it with a full compliment of EH tubes for the driver, input, and output tubes. These tubes take a long time to break in. They are harsh for 100s of hours before they settle in, but they have great extension and tonal pitch.
I've heard that KT88 can sound quite good and I have yet to try them. The Super Amp 2 is so versatile it can use 6 different output tubes and also be configured in triode as well. This amp looks like Cary discontinued Rocket88 that used KT88 tubes so it makes me want to try it sometime.