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Since the amplifier was originally designed for KT88s, why couldn't the improvement simply be due to the fact that they are a better match for the circuit than another tube type, though compatible from the standpoint that it won't damage anything, that has different specs?
"If this much is good, then more must be better" can be tempting whether tube wattage, car horsepower or a zillion other items, but often the best performance is obtained when things match.
After giving us, and assuming the manufacture, the type and brand of your vacuum tubes is there a reason you don't mention the brand and model of your amplifier?
You mentioned to the manufacture the edginess of the120 tubes and his response was not to worry about the low bias because it made little difference? That's it? He made no comments about using the 120's or any other suggestions?
Thanks for your responses. True, I don't know how much the KT120s have been used (likewise the KT88s), but was told they didn't have many hours on them. Second system, so I haven't put many on them.
I didn't mention the amp manufacturer because that was the constant. What changed was the tubes. And I only discussed with him the bias maxing out before reaching recommended voltage, not the sound. The amp is a Music Reference RM200.
My question is more about what feature of a vacuum tube can cause a difference in the dynamics an amp produces. (hope I'm using that term correctly - soft passages really soft, loud passages really loud - big swing between the two) And does bias setting play any part in the resulting sound? For instance, does increasing bias voltage move an amp more toward class A? Did the fact that I couldn't adjust bias to the recommended value for KT120s put the amp in a better state with KY88s?
And FWIW, I'd side with noromance and atmasphere that KT88s sound better (at least in my amp).
While my manufacture, Bob Carver, feels the KT 120s are a sonic improvement in his VTA180 design I've returned the KT 88s back into service while my 120s are collecting dust.
There is definitely an audible difference between the tubes but nothing like what you've described. To me the much older 88s simply sound right to my taste. Possibly another amplifier design might showcase the 120s.
At some point I may consider the upgrade needed to use the KT 150. Good luck with it.
Thanks for the link, rcprince. A lot of what Kevin Hayes says went over my head, but a couple of his points maybe speak to what I heard.
"3) You should expect more distortion with the KT120, possibly particularly at moderately low listening levels and with highly reactive loudspeakers"
"6) You’re likely to give up a few kHz of high frequency response"
And one of his main points is as mlsstl suggested earlier, an amp designed for KT88s will not sound as good with tubes having a different spec.
I'd still like to hear from anyone who knows what differs mechanically in tubes. Like what is physically different between KT88s and KT120s - bigger plates? - thicker metal? - different metalurgy?
I've been using a factory upgraded Jolida 502p for a few years now and KT120s sounded great and really lasted in that thing. Don't get the distortion issue at all as the 120s were really clean and powerful sounding until I wore them out (took a long time by the way)..went to 150s and they also sounded fine (although perhaps taxing the heater current draw on the 502) but before long I simply became curious to try the Gold Lions partly because they look cool (so sue me). Consequently, earlier this year I ordered an appropriately matched quad of GL KT88s from thetubestore and they're GREAT sounding in the Jolida…sweet, snappy and accurate clear sounding tubes, and I might have to admit they're maybe a better match for this amp as it was shipped with 6550s. The Lions are currently ahead in points…"I like it, it's good."
If a BMW has a Ford Cobra 500 hp engine installed in it, will it drive better, faster, or what?
Switching tube is more than matching the voltages. Just because it fits in the socket doesn't mean it will work.
A KT120 or KT150 has a lot more 'horsepower' than a KT88. If the amp you have is designed for X watt output and you now have X+2 or X+3 power tubes in it, you may well be over driving the output transformer and or demanding more 'juice' from the power supply that it can supply. Both of these situations will not be ear pleasant.
Some mention that they can not get the bias pots to the desired mv reading when switching from KT88 to KT120 or KT150. If you can not, then your tube is burning COLD and while that may make the tube last for 10 or 20 years it sounds ....cold, may even sound buzzy, and is running towards class B, or more simply to 'cut-off' of the power. Not being able to bias to the recommended point (unless something is damaged) means that amp is not designed for that high an output.
I think it was Nelson Pass who said or made famous the phrase "If the first watt is not good why would you want many more of them?" Or 100s more of them etc.
The answer to your question can be ascertained by looking up the parameters available from the current manufacturer. Try your question on tube forums, like audio asylum tube asylum, for additional discussion.
The real answer however is simple. Magic!
The Tiger was kind of fun (a friend had one) and seriously cool but didn't handle so well. From that era I preferred a Lotus Elan I was lucky to drive for a bit as those were REALLY fun, and felt very fast.
Nelson Pass is too cool. Somebody wrote about hanging out with him listening to a First Watt amp with a meter showing how many watts were being used while listening to some fairly loud music…around 3 or 4 watts or so max, with not particularly efficient speakers. The "first watt" idea is completely correct and can be illustrated by any electric guitar player…try a 50's era Fender Tweed amp (Julian Lage uses 2 of these live…a beat up looking Champ and a Deluxe) and see what a first watt can sound like.
Thanks, glassandlight. The part about not being able to adjust bias to the point spec'd for the 120s seems legitimate in my case and part of my original question. The 88s operate in their range, the 120s don't.
As to what's physically different about the tubes, I'm OK with the magic answer.
Re: Sunbeam Tigers, revving up and dumping the clutch would make the leaf springs buckle like crazy. No wheelie bars needed. (currently checking out a hi-po 289 swap for my M3)