Tube Rolling Advice - Cary Six Pacs

I recently picked up a pair of the AES/Cary Six Pac monoblocks.  They came with a set of Ruby EL34s, which I understand are just relabeled Shuguang tubes.  With these tubes installed, the amps sound very sweet and pleasant, with a lot of liquid midrange - can't complain about that! - but perhaps just a bit compressed and, for lack of a better word, "mushy".   

The Six Pacs can be run with 6L6, KT-66, KT-88, 6550C, KT-90, KT-99 or El-34 tubes.  But tube rolling becomes an expensive proposition when you have to have a matched sextet for each channel!  So I thought I might solicit some advice on what might be a good option to try, as I don't have a ton of experience rolling tubes.  I listen mostly to classical and jazz at low to moderate volumes.  I  definitely don't need more power, "punch", or bass.  I guess what I might be looking for is a bit of a "cleaner" sound that doesn't sacrifice too much of the midrange magic of the EL-34... or am I just barking up the wrong tree?  Maybe a new set of better EL-34s would get me where I want to go?  

I'd love to hear from anyone who has experience with these amps or with rolling EL-34s.  Thanks!


Hey zm,


I think you may have picked up that set of Six Packs I had my eye on also on the ‘Gon over the last few weeks. If so, good for you, I’m glad they found a good home.


I opted instead for a Cary SLI-80 integrated, to drive my Infinity IRS Delta speakers (4 ohms nominal, 1 ohm minimum). Got a sweet deal on ebay and lucked out, it’s it in great shape and sounds…. well, it’s the single most dramatic improvement to the sound of my system since upgrading my speakers. So, I’m very happy – and listening to it as I type this.


Anyway, as to your question, I am currently breaking-in a set of SED Winged C EL-34s. I recently purchased them as NOS (as they’re no longer in production) from a fellow A’Goner. They were new-in-the-box when I received them (I trust the person I bought them from). They replaced the output tubes my SLI-80 came with, which were SED Winged C 6550s.


So, we have the opportunity to compare 2 different tube models (Winged C EL-34 and Winged C 6550), but from the exact same manufacturer. As such, in theory, any sonic differences should be specific to the tube model, and not the name brand, manufacturer, or NOS vs. modern, etc.


I have about 80 hours on the EL-34s so far. Consensus on the ‘net is that this should be enough to consider them sufficiently broken in (as output tubes, anyway).


I have not yet done a real-time A/B comparison yet, but my first impression is that I prefer the 6550s. The EL-34 do get the midrange right – living up to their reputation. And that’s where most of the music is after all. But…… The 6550s have so much more texture, more depth and width of soundstage, more openness, more richness and lushness. The EL-34s sound more analytical, more focused, more precise, more – I hate to say it – solid state! Which is not at all what I expected, based on my internet research. Frankly, I'm a tad disappointed - but, welcome to the world of tube rolling, eh?  ;-)


Of course, I must emphasize, “your mileage may vary”.


Popular opinion on A’gon and the ‘net is the OPPOSITE of my findings in my system. Most say the EL-34 has a lush liquid midrange and is killer for female vocal and other more acoustic music. I can’t say that’s wrong. What I can say is the 6550s are simply more interesting and involving to listen to. And to me, that's matters most.


You know those moments, when you’re listening to your system but not really paying attention – and then you hear something that grabs your attention and suddenly you’re laser focused on the sound? In my system, that’s the 6550, not the EL-34.


That said, my experience is not in-line with the averages on A’gon and the internet. But I trust my ears first, as should you. ;-)

So put that tax return to good use, and keep the vacuum tube economy rolllllling along!






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