High labor costs, micro-thin demand.
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Vintage tubes were built to high tolerances, and with high quality because the equipment in which they were installed depended on it. Think military...radar, portable field radios...National defense. Plus, as Unclejeff mentioned, civilian demand was strong for excellent tubes for home radios and TVs.
Today, there is no civilian or military demand to spur the investment necessary to manufacture consistently good, high quality tubes. I believe the last real demand for super tubes was during the 80s for the Russian military.
Warren, the Penta/Shuguang KT88SC is as good an '88 as anyone has ever made, according to LOTS of folk, so now you've heard about an excellent current-production tube. Western Electric is currently manufacturing excellent 300Bs, KT88s, and others, but high quality is expensive--the 300B is $550 and the '88 is $350!!!!!!! http://www.westernelectric.com/pricing.asp
But things usually work the other way. After rejecting an entire production batch and being out of stock for a while, GrooveTube has those great-sounding 12AX7Ms again, but they're NOT great-sounding or well constructed this time. Read about it on the Tubes Asylum, http://www.audioasylum.com/audio/tubes/messages/188228.html .
Unclejeff is correct too. But there are other reasons, the principal one being costs. It costs a lot of money to, for instance, duplicate the esoteric material combinations and the excellent vacuum pumping used in decades past. Occasionally the Russians or Chinese get it right; the Serbians (Croations?) at Ei got it right for years, but they're now out of the tube business.
Oh well. My 'solution' is to use NP 845s because old ones are frightfully expensive, to keep all the great-sounding Ken-Rad 6SN7s I have, and to continue buying carefully the world's best-sounding 'N7, the Tung-Sol roundplate.
Back in the old days, when tubes were in everything, there were a number of tube manufacturers that built tubes of all kinds, for types of applications. Because of this, tube manufacturers could easily build a specific flavor of a tube number to match the requirements of the device builder or customer, such as the military. Now that low power tubes are considered obsolete for the most part, the existence of a number high-quality tube manufacturing plants is simply not cost justifiable anymore. Tubes are such a specialty item, practically no one these days is willing to invest the big money to start a plant to build low-power tubes that will be sold only to a very limited audiophile market. For that reason, that orange label Amperex 6DJ8 that now sells for whatever the market will bring, used to sell for about $2.50 each back when tubes were in everything from car radios to TVs to broadcast equipment to test equipment. The reason you still see new Russian tubes being made is because the USSR used tube electronics long after the rest of the world went solid state.
It's also about perception, which is hard to look past. If everyone says the old tubes sound better than the new ones, then people who are thinking about making new tubes are in a hole even before they start. In the audio world logic, the higher the price, the better sound; the older the tube the better it's made.
Companies such as CAT, ARC, Berning, Cary, etc., put out excellent products without a single NOS tube. Simple reason is that NOS tubes are inconsistant in quality and unpredictable in supply - the death knell of a manufacturer. Tighter tolerances and quality control cause these guys to throw out tubes that beat their NOS thousand-dollar-a-pair-on-ebay counterparts.
The quality tubes are there, but they come packaged with the rest of the product as they are an intergral part of the sound.
Why, for instance, with the labor cost in China, can't they make as good a tube as Amperex, Siemens, Telefunken, or the rest? Or do they, but we can't justify purchasing them and recommending them because they are so darn cheap? And you know that anything in hi end audio that is inexpensive can't be hi end...Also, what brand tubes, are CJ, Carey, Art Audio, etc. using in their rigs? Another also: Can/does Shuguang (specifically) make as good a tube as Siemens, Amperex etc did? What is it about a 6922 tube, or the like, that we cannot get right today? What is the complex concepts todays tube manufacturers are not getting right? Materials, labor, it would seem Russia, China has that? No? Why can't they make an even better tube? No market? What is Shuguang doing now, then? Still confused. Sorry for the plethora of ????, but I'm still not getting the answer.
I am not a tube expert by any means but I do think that for the money spent the SED el34 are a hellavu good tube.Many other very good new production tubes out there..Sure the NOS Mullard/Telefunkens tubes are great,but what did they cost when new..You really need to campare the cost vs cost on all accounts.Look at the cost of new autos today..Are they better or worse??? Good question! For me its a little of both.Whatever works.Not all Nos tubes work best in all situations..Its all a matter of what works for you and how deep your pockets are and if you willing to drop the extra $$$ in the Big Black Hole!
i think it is more of the case of the "new tube sound", which is very resolving and much closer to solid state. circuits are designed today not to be tube sensitive so that it almost doesn't matter what tube you use.
the tube is less important than the circuit. the circuit compensates for the current stock of tubes.
tube gear sounds very different today than irt did 30 years ago, regardless of ehat tubes you use.
Warrenh, if you'll head over to www.vintagetubeservices.com you'll find page after page of historical insights ( & photos) offering glimpses into the manufacturing processes of bygone times. Modern tube manufacturers have sales ONLY to the musical instrument and audio market, they do not have the support of military, television, and radio markets that endowed manufacturers of the past with much greater resources. Yes, the Russians & Chinese are filling a market void, but to reach the heights of manufacturing prowess greats of the past achieved would require much greater investment in R&D, facilities, and worker training. The current size of the tube market doesn't make that greater investment a wise decision from a managerial perspective. If you were to quadruple your investment in manufacturing, you'd have to recoup that in greater sales volume or you're out of business.
Right now the current Shuguang KT88 and 12AX7 are on par with the legends of audio.
But, as has been mentioned, in the past, when the military and commercial (telecommunications, radio/tv, computers) electronics industries relied on vacuum tubes as their lifeblood, the importance of building the best tubes possible was light years away from a niche industry that supplies guitarists (mostly) and audiophiles (not many of us).
I agree it has a lot to do with demand, but...
It also has a lot to do with the engineers today vs. in the past. Today, the best engineers are in semiconductors/solid state designs because that's where the money is. In the past, the state of the art was vacuum tube technology, so the best and brightest worked in those fields and the fields that supported them.
Aren't these tubes a very simple design? How complex are they really? That difficult to duplicate greateness of yore? Looking at the inside one of these babies it just doesn't look that complicated. But then again what do I know? Anyway, I'm beating this to death. BTW, Andy Bowman of Vintagetubeservices.com, you mentioned, would disagree about the 12AX7s. I'm not going to cancel my 4 NOS 12AX7s nor my 6DJ8s, but on down the road, you can bet I'm going to sample some Shuguangs and hear what's up. I will then have a referent. The 12AX7s I have in my amp are counterfeits. Andy says Amperex are counterfeited the most, but all the big names have their problems with fakes. Man does he know tubes. A wealth of info that overloaded my tube ignorant brain. He was highly recommended to me from some other audiphools. And most of all? HONEST. When he says it's a NOS. It's a NOS. As you can see from his website, he have the digs to know.
I wholeheartedly support those who prefer to purchase new production tubes versus old, unreliable vintage tubes.
I agree with Tvad 100%........Why purchase old tubes to go with your new equipment.I'll take those old ones off your hands and you can buy the latest factory fresh tubes offered from China and Russia..Vintage tubes to sell:Some Amperex tubes had a factory defect,looked like a pinched waist.Get rid of them now and buy new non deformed tubes.Other old vintage tubes had painted logo's that rubbed of easily.Get rid of them too..Again as a public Service to my fellow members,I'll buy these old tubes.:]
Some Amperex tubes had a factory defect,looked like a pinched waist.Get rid of them now and buy new non deformed tubes.
Absolutely agree. Anyone who has those defective Amperex pinch waist tubes, please contact Jdlelera or me. We'll certainly find someplace to use them.
Andy Bouwman is the greatest, but he goes a little overboard with his warning about fakes. I once asked him about a pair of Herleen Holland made Philips Miniwatt 6922 I had just purchased. He told me they couldn't possibly be real, so he asked me to look for the Delta plant code. Yup, there it was. He agreed they were real.
He also cautioned me about Siemens CCa tubs, claiming good ones are nearly impossible to find, and many are fakes. Thus far, I have owned four pairs. None were difficult to find. All were genuine, and five out of the eight tubes were good...quiet and microphonic free. Perhaps I've been lucky with these (if you consider 5 out of 8 being lucky).
In his careful, anal-retentive pursuit of the best tubes, Andy can cause fear in buyers, IMO. God bless him for caring so deeply. One surely gets the best when buying from him.
Warren, yes, this has been beaten to death, just check the archives. It's a very common newbie question. It is what it is.
FWIW, there are better stock tubes available today then 10 years ago. Also, as mrtennis mentioned, many circuit designs today aren't as dependant on the quality of the tube as in the past. All of this is very good, as the prices of NOS tubes is getting downright ridiculous. It makes me wish I had invested $10K in tubes 20 years ago, I could be retired right now.
The other option is SS......
Andy is a great guy, and perhaps a litte eccentric, but, like you said, you get the best from him, and it's the real deal. Can't ask for more than that, I suppose. Tvad, true he said your Herleen Hollands couldn't be real, but I bethcha if he told you they were fake, after you gave him the scoop, you'd believe him. Right? He's a great guy to know, and like all of us ('cept for me of course) have to be taken with a grain of salt. Getting back to this question I'm trying to get answered, about tube construction. Apparently there was something going on 40 years ago that we just cannot duplicate. I know Andy thinks so, and that's enough for me. Speaking of Andy, he be da man I should ask this question. I'll let you know if I can possibly explain his explanation...
Doubtful knowing what I did about the clues to identify the genuine article. I'd probably have sent them to him for inspection rather than accepting an over-the-phone appraisal. I did this before with an Amperex 6X4 I wanted to verify as a Blackburn Mullard tube. He verified it, tested it and polished the tube pins. $20. It was worth it to me for a tube I purchased on E-Bay for $6.
come on, you know what I mean..send it to him, over the phone, he be the man you'd trust to give you the scoop, right? All I'm saying (I'm agreeing with you through the back door) it's great to have a tube guru to validate the authenticity of a tube. The sound of you'll get out of that tube? There are no tympanics I trust more than my own.
First, NOS tubes can produce more of an audible effect as the quality and tweaking of your system improves. Same as a car...you can feel the difference that a few pounds of tire pressure produces in say a Ferrari. A Neon or Focus, and you couldn't tell if the tires were only inflated to half pressure!
Second, the purity of chemical compounds used on the cathodes is much better than on modern tubes. The vacuum isn't as hard on modern tubes. The tolerances [especially on the grid wires and their windings] are nowhere near NOS tubes. I think it was RCA that determined that the location and bend angle of the grid wire terminations could effect the performance. When their manufacturing plant closed, file cabinets full of decades worth of irreplaceable engineering data were just left in the abandoned buildings...generations of knowledge lost forever. Also, I believe that EVERY NOS tube was burned in for 100 hours at racks in the plant.
That being said, NOS tubes were not made with the audiophile [came later on] in mind. It is important to have someone test [and match, if necessary] the NOS tubes, as some can be quite noisy, especially if used in a MC phono preamp. Andy Bowman at Vintage Tube Services is the best, period! Chinese tubes seem to be VERY quiet, but they will not last all that long, compared with an NOS. But at the cheap prices for Chines tubes, does it really matter?!
Actually, the only demand for tubes is from audiophiles [not really a market, in the big scheme of electronics], R.F. applications, and guitar amps, most of which use a 6L6, so these 6L6's will be produced forever!
Warren, I don't believe that you will have any tube manufacturers chime in here for explainations. If they did, they would probably tell you that tubes today are better than ever. At least many measure that way, but then transistors have better measurements than tubes, so what does that tell you?
ok, given that Chassbo, are those Chinese/Russians up to snuff? Why not then? What is it in the inherent nature of the tube that is making it so hard to duplicate with the same quality? or is that not really the case?
Basically your questions are unanswerable. 'What is the meaning of life?' kind of questions. Science can't figure out why people prefer the sound of tubes when transistors test better on the scoresheet. Science cannot figure out why people prefer vinyl when digital test better on the scoresheet. Why ask why? Just listen and enjoy.
One analogy that I have heard from a tube equipment manufacturer goes back to the same answer that has basically been ignored over and over in this thread...demand.
He said, what are the odds that a golfer who golfs 3-4 times a year will be better, or even as good, as a golfer who golfs 3-4 times a week?
In other words, there really is no use for a high quality tube anymore. It's not like we use them for military applications like we used to. Many of the best tubes were basically driven by the military powers of the West. That's where all the $$$ were spent on quality, PQ's, 7308's, JAN, what have you, because lives were at stake.
The stakes on tubes are not quite so high these days. They're pretty much just for musical pleasure. That's all.
Or maybe, just maybe...stay with me here....the vacuum tubes get better as they age and leak. Maybe today's stock will sound as good in 40 years as todays NOS tubes today. Yeah...that's the ticket....you have to age them like fine wine, or a good bottle of scotch........yeah, that's the ticket.....if only they would put less vacuum in a vacuum tube, they would sound better right off the bat. :)
This is all my own personal opinion...
In the vast majority of cases, I find the Russian tubes to be more than disappointing. The Sovteks tend to be grainy, harsh, and bright, while not offering good detail or frequency extension. The EH, which some claim to sound identical to Sovteks, are nothing of the sort to my ear. Instead, they're quite dark and slow sounding, much like the way Chinese tubes have historically sounded. I think a lot of people confuse this as being "warm" or "analog" sounding. The real Svetlana tubes can be OK.
Tubes made in the former Yugoslavia can be decent, depending on the model.
The JJ/Tesla/Teslovak tubes are often excellent. In fact, their E34L, KT77, and KT88 tubes compete well with the NOS standards.
Historically, the Chinese tubes were not at all good. Again, I have listened to the latest Triple Mica Shuguang 12AX7, and while they do not eclipse my reference (so they don't live in my amp), they have beaten some of the most highly regarded 12AX7 in audio history - including my former reference. As shocking as it is, I have to admit it. Which is a GREAT thing for us buying tubes. If anyone told me this, I'd say they were flat out crazy. The Penta/Shuguang KT88 has also impressed many.
Which brings me to my real point - no one, I don't care if it's me, a reviewer, a trusted tube seller, can replace the experience of you listening to a tube, and forming your own conclusions. Just like everything else in life...
Andy says that German, Holland, England: The three tube champs, each have their own sound. Very interesting, and it's still his opinion that they are not made as good as yester year. That being: Trela, may I ask you what tubes the Mica Shuguang Eclipsed including you old reference? And what is your reference 12ax7s, now? Just bought NOS 12AX7s from Andy and I'm wondering what your experiences have been? warren :)
I also am extremely fond of the tubes from Germany, Holland, and England. A lot of my reference tubes (6922 and 12AU7) are these varieties. That being said, don't discount the American tubes, which more than a few people seem to do.
The Shuguang Triple Mica 12AX7 beat my 1960s Mullard Blackburn 12AX7. And, though it wasn't night and day, it was decisive.
My favorite of these tubes, however, is the Sylvania Triple Mica 5751. The Grey and Black Plates definitely exhibit different flavors - what works for you only you can decide. The Greys are a bit more smooth and lush, while the Blacks are more incisive and detailed. In my system, for my taste, nothing has yet beaten the Black Plates.
My feelings agree a lot with what is put forth at Joe's Tube Lore.
The Triple Mica of the new Shuguangs make me think they've targeted the famous American 5751s of the 1950s. Haven't really seen another 12AX7 with 3 micas.
In a 12AX7 tube shootout at my home - with too many audiophiles to really be able to say things with 100% certainty, the Shuguangs placed in the top three, along with the Telefunken Ribbed Plate 12AX7 and the Sylvania Triple Mica Black Plate 5751. Most agreed with me regarding the Sylvanias - they came in as the winner. The other two kind of had the camp split.
There were some good tubes included that didn't earn top honors - the Telefunken Smooth Plate 12AX7, Mullard Blackburn 12AX7, JJ 12AX7, and Ei 12AX7. Would have been nice to also include the Sylvania Greys, GE 5 Star 5751, Raytheon 5751, as well as some others, but the list of tubes was growing too large already.
Well, the tubes I ordred from Andy are not in that lot, but Andy loves them, and Joe of Joe's Tube Lore does as well: The Amperex Bugle Boys, early 60s Should have them Saturday. He also recommended that the 6DJ8s by Amperex of about the same time, were fabulous. I'm going with them, as well. At least I'll have a quality referent. I'll see where, if any, I may roll. Recommendation for break in? 8 hours continuous enough? Thanks again. warren :)
I also am a very big fan of the Amperex Bugle Boy tubes. I like the 12AU7, and am about to test 2 sets of their premium 12AU7, the 7316/E186CC - both the D Getter and Halo (now I forget if it's the large or small halo) Getter versions I've recently acquired.
Their 12AX7 tubes are excellent, but I still prefer the Shuguang.
At some juncture, I'll give the 6DJ8 and a few other Amperex flavors a try. Right now, in my CDP, I'm using a pair of Valvo (I forgot the source) 7308.
One thing to keep in mind regarding Amperex/Bugle Boy is that they are rebadged tubes from other manufacturers. So, often one will have a tube that is actually a Mullard, Philips, etc., and knowing that eliminates the need to buy both to try in comparison.
Again, I realize it isn't always economically feasible, but I cannot stress enough the insight provided by acquiring and auditioning as many tubes as possible. Perhaps a group of people could get together and form a "Tube Exchange" program, sort of like a lending library, that allows people to try a wide variety of flavors, while keeping the cost down for everyone?