I am not about to claim that the Manley Steelhead is the best possible phono stage, but I do own one and enjoy it. I use it as a full function preamplifier to drive the amplifiers of a pair of Beveridge speakers (another topic entirely). I chose the Steelhead because reviews and comments led me to believe it was very good, and because it provides three pairs of phono inputs. I required that because I use two turntables to feed the Steelhead phono stage. FWIW, you don’t say whether you own v1.0 or v2.0 of the Steelhead. I have v2.0. The following describes the modifications I made to my Steelhead that greatly improve its Sound Quality (SQ). You will have to be someone with some electronics savvy and soldering skills:
I could not get a schematic; Manley does not provide a schematic even for professional repair shops. But if you read an interview with Evanna Manley, several years ago in 6 Moons, she describes the output stage. I won’t reiterate her summary (please google it; look for the Steelhead review in 6Moons) but suffice to say that the output of the phono stage, which either drives the volume control if you use it as a full preamplifier or the outboard linestage, if you use it as a phono stage only, uses a 47-ohm resistor in series with the signal followed by a 30uF output coupling capacitor, whichin my opinion is mediocre in quality, at best. This capacitor and what follows are holding back the performance of the Steelhead, IMO. I removed the 47-ohm resistor entirely; it’s not needed for anything, and I replaced the 30uF coupling cap with a much higher quality 10uF capacitor. (Choose whatever you like but spend the $$$ for a very good one.) You need 10uF, I calculate, because the volume control seems to have a 5K ohm input impedance (very low). (10uF driving a 5K ohm load will give you a very low bass cut-off; 30uF is way overkill. Less than 10uF might compromise extreme low bass performance.) OK, then the output from the linestage section (the output side of the attenuator) uses yet another 47 ohm resistor in series with yet another 30uF capacitor of the same type and brand. I removed that 47R resistor and replaced THAT second coupling capacitor with a 4uF film cap that I like very much. Since my amplifier has a 50K input impedance, 4uF is more than adequate to get good bass. Those two coupling capacitors, from phono stage output to attenuator and from attenuator to linestage output have everything to do with the SQ of the Steelhead. Coupling capacitors should be rated for at least 250V, to be safe.
@lewm Thanks, I have the latest version, the Steelhead RC. I'm not about to do any mods to it, though I appreciate that there might be gains to be had.
I do like how it sounds and its versatility, but I'm just ready for a change and an upgrade.
@rauliruegas That link is to a full function preamp. I'm just looking for a phonostage, I have a good preamp.
I went from the Steelhead RC to the Allnic H3000 v2 some 8 years ago and never looked back. I liked the Steelhead, bought it new and used it for 4 years with a variety of cartridges. It’s very good. But the Allnic I found to be a significant step up. Comparing them side by side in my system, the choice was clear. Of course, since it is based on SUTs for MC, you need to use cartridges that lend themselves to SUTs, in general, and the ones Allnic includes specifically, and this qualifier can be somewhat limiting. Benz LPS and Gullwing, eg, are not a great match for a SUT because of their combination of lowish output and highish internal impedance, but the Benz Ebony L and TR are both excellent matches with the Allnic offerings. Many great options out there, though.
@wrm57 Thanks, I'm a fan of Allnic gear, I've had their 5000DHT preamp, A6000 monoblocks and I still have their H1202 phonostage in a second system. I don't see an H3000 on the used market but I'll keep an eye open.
If your Steelhead is still in warranty, I do understand your not wanting to modify it, as that would void the warranty. Fortunately for me, that was not an issue. Also, I had the needed upgrade capacitors in my stash of spare parts, so no new money needed to be spent. I did the work myself, so for zero cost, the upgrade was and is major.
Dear @rooze : My mistake sorry.
This is the rigth unit I was talking about:
Here at the other extreme what could be the phono stage " bargain ". Read carefully the review and even if you could not care take a look to the J.Atkinson real time measurements. The unit is way way better than what's price could tells us and yes it's an upgrade from your Manley.
In the other side the worst audio system place to use/have tube alternative is at the prhono stage link:
@rooze: Congratulations on having such a good system that you feel a need for an upgrade from your Steelhead phono pre-amp. We should all be so fortunate!
At the risk of appearing condescending (I hate that), may I suggest that a "deeper dive" into the music you love might provide a more meaningful improvement to your musical life than a "mere" component upgrade (if such is even a possibility) would? But then I consider musical enjoyment and appreciation the goal of all hi-fi endeavors. If I seem out of line, I apologize in advance.
In the past six or seven years I have added a great number of recordings to my music library (the term I prefer to collection), which has greatly advanced my ambition to absorb as much music as I can before my inevitable (and presumably impending) demise. Does your Steelhead provide a better reproduction of the music contained in your LP’s than does my Herron? Sure, if reports are to be believed (I’ve never heard the Steelhead). But it can only reproduce the music contained in your LP library. It is my opinion that the price of one’s hi-fi system should be kept in proportion to the amount of $ one has invested in his or hers music library. Not everyone agrees with that philosophy.
@bdp24 No problem with your comment at all, I'm considering all options and one option is certainly to 'do nothing'. I don't have a large vinyl collection, in part because I offloaded my collection some years ago and took a hiatus, and I've been slow to re-assemble my collection since reinvesting in the medium.
Most of the 'new' music I hear comes from digital/streaming, and I use digital sources to cherry-pick new stuff that I acquire on vinyl. So yes, I could certainly use the funds to accelerate the process of building my vinyl collection, or I could use it to make what I already have sound a little better. Two options that I'm still considering.
@rauliruegas OK, thanks for that link. I like what I've heard over the years from Simaudio/Moon - I had their W10 monoblocks some years ago and more recently their 280D DAC. But I'd never really considered them as a contender in the phonostage arena....I'll do some reading/research.
@wrm57 are doppelgängers. We seem to make the same moves. I also went from a Steelhead to the H3000, it sounded better in my system. I was rolling tubes in the Steelhead and using the MM inputs at 47k. I also used a line stage which added more meat to the bones. Eva Manley was great to deal with, the thing is really well built but for some reason, I couldn’t get it to open up-- there was a slight electronic glaze to the sound that made it very hi-fi. The Allnic is somewhat polarizing in that some folks who want the last word in clarity and detail find it "burnished" sounding- I didn’t need more detail, but the spatial information and retrieval of ambient cues is what really sold me. I’ve only had to do minor stuff on the Allnic--replaced one funky tube socket and replaced all the audio circuit tubes after 5+ years. I roll the rectifier- have a bunch of really good ones, including a NIB/NOS metal bass Mullard, which is a grail tube. The rectifier I like best for the voicing of my system is a GEC u52 with a cup base. Those are not particularly easy to find these days either. The rectifier will make a huge difference in the sound.
What whart said, "...for some reason, I couldn’t get it to open up-- there was a slight electronic glaze to the sound that made it very hi-fi." The haze goes away with better coupling capacitors and getting rid of the 47 ohm resistors in the signal path. Manley uses this topology, because they have to build fool-proof units, never knowing just how many feet of cable or what impedance their product might be asked to drive. For any knowledgeable audiophile, with an intelligently put together system, the 47 ohm resistors and the 30uF of capacitance at both the phono stage and linestage outputs is simply crazy overkill.
One reason to "upgrade" is if you want to convert to balanced mode for your phono reproduction, as would be the case if you went for the Sim Audio phono stage recommended by Raul. In the one of my two systems where I use the Steelhead, it is driving Beveridge amplifiers which are single-ended all the way. So there would be not much to gain by using a balanced preamplifier. (I did think about installing transformers at the inputs of the Bev amplifiers, so they can be driven balanced.) In my other system, it is balanced all the way.
You just send it to me to upgrade the unit. We did one last year which came out stellar. PM me if you want and I can see if the guy who we did it for will speak to you. His was a basic upgrade. We could have taken it to a entire better level.
bigkidz, What is your basic upgrade? Do you have a website?
@rooze I represent RADA and of you search will see their Precious One phono is highly regarded for an all tube design. Will want a ( good ) SUT for a lomc in this case.. For SS I agree, Moon is doing good work.
I have a Benz LPS. When you get ready to upgrade your cartridge you should consider MY Sonic Lab cartridges. The Signature Platinum was a significant upgrade.
You have a great turntable and cartridge. You ask a great question.
The phono stage has a huge impact on the sound you get from the turntable / cartridge. I would recommend an Audio Research PH-8 or higher…there is a PH-9, Also a level up I have the Reference 3 and Reference 3SE. I have had Audio Research phono stages for over thirty years… to me, they are the standard to judge others. Incredibly natural, dynamic, quiet. I have been using a Reference 3 and 3SE for the last few years, but the PH8 and beyond have been simply stunning.
Anyway, I highly recommend the highest level Audio Research you can get used.
Interesting case @rooze : you are looking to improve what is already a v. good system, and within a specific budget limitation!
Given your reticence in modding the Steelhead (I wouldn't either), the Moon that Raul rmentioned seems like one of the best choices out there.
Phasemation makes excellent phonos, as does FM Acoustics and CH precision - but they are all much more expensive...
The Manley Steelhead is $12k. I think an upgrade should be 50-100% more in price, otherwise you’re just looking at different. At the price range you’re talking about, you might not get much of an upgrade, but maybe I’m wrong.
I used to own a Steelhead, and upgraded to a current based phono stage, the CH Precision P1, which is a significant upgrade in every aspect.
I’ll second @rauliruegas’s recommendation for the Moon 610LP. I have the Moon 310LP/320S combination and it is absolutely brilliant; I heard the 610LP recently and it is a very significant step up in SQ.
Lampizator’s phono is about $8000 ish and very very good
Why not forget about loading and go
with a Sutherland Phono Loco current/transimpedence phono stage?
At $8200 it’s right at your budget
i personally went through several voltage type phono stages
until I personally went with the Little Loco
This change was the single largest improvement I have ver experienced in gear changes /upgrades To my vinyl front end playback.No longer do I need to worry a loading and this unit gives me the most accurate reproduction of the grooves that I have ever experienced. Also forget about hum because this design is dead quiet.
Good luck Willy-T
@willy-t Thanks for the heads up on the Sutherland. I wasn’t aware of this technology, using the current and not the voltage generated in moving coil cartridges. It’s interesting since I’m also looking to change tonearms so I can spec the balanced ungrounded cable requirements.
I wish there were some place I could get to hear this thing.
Otherwise I like the Moon idea, unless something else comes along. I haven’t found much reading on the Moon phono but I’ll have another look around later today.
Please keep any other suggestions coming. I’d like a shortlist of perhaps 3 units before I get my spinning wheel and pointer out :)
I suggest you read up on the current phono stage and if you decide on the Sutherland please let me know
im pretty sure I can hook you up with a discount on a new unit though a retailer
I know very well
@whart was the reason I purchased my Allnic H-3000. Will probably be my last phono. It smoked my Allnic 6500 and just had such warmth and encompassing sound. Plus the build quality and tube rolling in the power supply definitely does help unlock more and different aspects of it. You could buy a used allnic and still have $3k leftover for tubes to roll and new records. Oh and I've also read about the old importer discussing upgraded Stillpoint feet and that having an impact on the power supply sound as well. Fun to be had.
Keep in mind that a current driven phono stage works best only with very low internal resistance LOMC cartridges. Rule of thumb is 10 ohms or less. Certain Benz LOMCs need not apply, for one example. The idea that you never have to think about loading is good marketing but specious.
@lewm good point and duly noted.
Find a used Herron VTPH-2A. Still at least as good or better than anything else available. Within your budget and worth much more.
i didn’t know there was any other kind😏
Dear @drbond : " I think an upgrade should be 50-100% more in price, otherwise you’re just looking at different. "
Upgrade an audio system link has its real foundation not in the price that at the end could be tell you almost nothing other that it's more expensive. The foundation of that upgrade belongs to the engeenering level and build quality of the unit manufacturer and you can besure that the 610 does not envy your CH about.
Wish I’d heard a Steelhead - almost bought a used one last year. What do you want to hear from its replacement? More detail & transparency? More warmth and body? More dynamic sound? All of that? (that’s hard to pull off lol).
- Herron VTPH-2A - This one doesn’t add warmth. It’s very clean & cool / neutral-ish in character. Not very tubey. I honestly don’t dig it on my Tannoys, where I desire more meat on the bones. BUT it’s proving a great partner for my Stax 009 / T2 rig - the T2 amp already provides all the necessary lushness on its own, and the Herron’s clean sound slots in well here.
- Hagerman Trumpet MC - Ridiculously cheap for how enjoyable it is to me. Gobs of warmth and body, lush midrange - honestly feels like it has a mild bass boost. Very tubey sound with an large & open soundstage. Responds well to NOS tube rolling. Works well with anything. This is literally the best I’ve heard my Benz LPS.
- VAC Renaissance SE - Classic upper-echelon VAC sound: very good resolution and dynamics, absolutely gorgeous midrange (natural, organic). VAC makes one hell of a phono stage, especially this 6-tube version. Neutral-ish when using the onboard Lundahl SUT. Not a huge fan of the Lundahls, honestly. You can get a more meaty sound bypassing them and using an outboard SUT (Koetsu, EAR, Bob’s Devices). Which I do!
- ARC Reference 3SE - OMG this stage is so good. It was my best overall phono stage, and I sold it (lol). Only because I went with huge VAC 300 Watt monos, and then the Master preamp matched best with those, and the Ref 3SE didn’t gel so well with the Master pre, for some unknown reason. I’m a particularly huge fan of its MM (low gain) mode. I still preferred my own outboard SUTs over its MC / JFET stage, but it was also very good! It is the cleanest, most linear phono stage with top marks in dynamics, detail, transparency, good body, and a touch of sweetness. Why did I sell this (oh yeah - I also needed the funds to afford the monoblocks). Perhaps surprisingly, the monoblocks made a much bigger difference in the overall system performance.
Good point. This is particularly important at lower levels of investment… my rule is double the cost or it is likely a sideways step. So, we agree.
However, at this level, one must assume a more discerning pallet and a flavor change would be a big change. Here I would consider a Audio Research, Conrad Johnson, and a couple other top tier.
I am totally with Raul on this; spending more money, even 2X more money, is in no way a guarantee of a performance upgrade. A difference, yes, but an improvement? Not at all necessarily. Since we are all fallible and human, once we've paid a lot more money and we do hear a "difference", we are very prone to interpret that difference as an upgrade.
I like to see what's inside the chassis, and I know what to look for. In my experience, more $$$ doesn't even guarantee more expensive parts, let alone better design and implementation.
I used to have same phono stage with similar vinyl set up. I replaced it with the VTL TP 6.5.
Have not heard all, but only thing I have heard better than the VtL is the Boulder 2018.
@mulveling Great information, thanks. I guess the Steelhead retrieves detail sufficiently, does most things very well, but doesn't imbue the sound with the typical midrange bloom and presence that I expect from tube gear. It's a little bit solid-state sounding, as others have alluded to here and elsewhere. @whart above describes it as 'a slight electronic glaze', which I think is a fair assessment, with emphasis on 'slight'. It hasn't responded particularly well to tube-rolling, the tubes I've tried haven't really tilted it away from neutrality to something with a bit more bloom.
With this in mind, I've been reluctant to try an ARC phono as my experience with their preamps and power amps over the years has left me with the impression that their gear is voiced a little on the lean side, a little neutral perhaps. Maybe I need to reassess.
Dear @ghdprentice : " my rule is double the cost or it is likely a sideways step. "
Well, it looks as you really don’t read yet the link of the PS Audio Stellar phono stage that comes with a low price tag of 2.5k and using Ortofon Diamond and Lyra Atlas, SAT tonearm, Continnum TT , Mr. Fremer compares it to over 20 times price tag with phono stages like Dartzeel and the same CH that drbond own which who you agree, go figure.
Fremer " insert " the Stellar in a cost no object room/system and performed at that levels. Of course that if you " insert " the Stellar in a mid-fi system it does not converts the system in a cost no object.
Your rule? fine with me.
@ghdprentice Thanks for the info on the ARC phonostages. As I mentioned in a post from a few moments ago, I've had a long-standing impression that ARC gear is voiced to be very neutral, not at all tubey in any sense. In that way, it's similar to the Steelhead, which also sounds more neutral than other tube'd phonostages I've heard. I'm looking for a little more bloom, more substance - meat on the bones etc, without any loss of detail or dynamics. Given this, do you still think it's worthwhile checking out ARC?
While you might not realize it, the Steelehad is definitely "tubey" in sound, compared a neutral. I had a Steelhead for 15 years, and really enjoyed it. It's a great phono stage. As you mention, perhaps, you should tube roll: the 5687 and the 6922 both make a sonic difference. But you'll probably need to spend $1,000 in 6922 to get a real improvement (early 1960's Siemens CCa tubes). The currrent based phono stages are much more neutral and precise sonically, so don't go that route if you're looking for more bloom. Regardless, enjoy your listening.
@rauliruegas I agree, I'm also skeptical of the 2x rule (which isn't a rule, I guess...it's just a loose guideline). The 2x doesn't really take into account the used marketplaces and how different gear retains its value over time, nor how equipment is sold in the first instance, i.e factory direct or through an importer-distributor-dealer model. Nor does it take into account the rare occasion when a low-cost item appears to knock the spots off gear costing way, way more - perhaps as with the PS Audio Stellar Phono that you kindly linked to.
I just read Mr. Fremer's review of the PS Audio kit that you posted. It reminded me a little of reviews I've read of the iFi iPhono3 Black Label, which I tinkered with a year or so ago and wrote about on my blog. That's a fantastic little box that punches way beyond its price of a measly $1000 or so.
It boils down to how much extra we're willing to pay for that last couple percent of performance. Some of Fremer's comments about the PS Audio kit suggested it might lack a little low-end oomph and authority. That could be enough for some folks to pony up the extra cash for something 3 or 4 times more expensive, or even more.
I don't have any answers here, other than cite the well-worn idiom: to each his own.
Thanks for posting the link to the review.
@drbond Thanks for the input. I didn't spend close to $1000 on different tubes. Perhaps that's something I should invest more into before I give up on the Manley.
As an aside, I had both the Zesto Andros 1.2 and a Manley Chinook here before I bought the Steelhead. The Chinook was what I would unreservedly refer to as 'tubey'. The Zesto was far more neutral and a little more clinical, but more dynamic than the Chinook. The Steelhead captured the strengths of both and combined them. So yes, it has some evidence of tubeyness in its presentation, I'm just looking for a tad more, without losing the dynamic capability and all its other virtues. I'll have a look around for the early 1960's Siemens CCa tubes, as you've suggested.
It has been brought to my attention that I mis-spoke in my post and am unable to edit my post. The Allnic H-5500 was bested by the Allnic H-3000 that I had purchased. The H-6500 is a Preamp and not a Phonostage.
In describing the H-6500 as a "preamp", I presume you mean either that it is a full function preamplifier with a built in phono section or that it is a linestage, with no phono section. (You must be young; in the good old days there were very few standalone phono stages, and the word "preamplifier" assumed a linestage with built in phono stage.) If the H-6500 to which you refer is a linestage (only), then from what I know of Allnic nomenclature, wouldn't it be called "L-6500"? Since Allnic do not currently market a full function preamplifier, that would seem to be the case. On their website, I do see L-6500 but not any H-6500. The H-5500 appears to be the current latest revision of the H-1201 and H-1202. I ask because somewhere else I was led into this same quandary regarding the possible existence of an H-6500 phono stage.
Although I am not an ardent admirer of tube rolling as a way of upgrading performance, I do use Siemens CCa's in my Steelhead. Do I think they made a big difference? No, but they are "nice".
I just checked what I have for tubes in the Steelhead:
Amperex 6dj8 orange globe x2 for gain
I bought a quad of TUNG-SOL 5687WA Blackplate Big D getter but they created some noise, so I switched back in the JAN NOS GE 7044. My understanding is that there's no technical reason why the output buffers should impact the sound, so there's little point in spending a lot of money on those.
@rooze : I can see that you are way demanding with that " bass " in the PS Audio unit.
Fremer was using the WA ALEXX paired with Dartzeel Monoblocks and top of the line Dartzeel phonolinepreamp, no tubes at all an in true high resolution system and I think that the Stellar made a great job down there that any Allnic/Manley/VAC or tube unit can touch it.
As the Dartzeel or the CH the PS Audio phono stage is not perfect but for the " huge " 2.5K price tag you can't ask for more.
While someone else mentioned that the Steelhead uses a transistor per channel as a constant current source (CCS), it is my belief that the amplification stage is actually a hybrid cascode, with a transistor serving as one half of the cascode circuit. Using a cascode, to my knowledge of tube electronics, is the only way they could be getting up to 65db of phono gain. It is also possible that the cascode is derived from single sections of two of these high transconductance dual triodes, with the transistor serving as CCS only. But since Manley do not release a schematic to anyone, this is pure speculation. What is not speculation is that you cannot get 65db of phono gain with merely a 6DJ8 type tube. I think it's a cascode driving a White cathode follower (mentioned by Evanna Manley in the 6Moons article) which drives either the attenuator, if you use it as a full preamp, or driving the external linestage. If output goes through the attenuator, then the attenuator drives yet another White cathode follower, which drives that output.
Here's a good summary of the 6922 tubes from Brent Jessee Recording and Supply:
OK, SO TELL ME HOW THEY SOUND!!
A tough question if there ever was one! The best advice is to get a few types and hear for yourself the good sounds you have been missing. All of these vintage tubes are excellent, much better than the Russian or Chinese yuck that is being made today. When replacing any stock Russian, Chinese, or East Europe tube with any of these vintage NOS types, you will notice immediately that the midrange glare is gone. Gone too is that honky, boxy quality, and the tiring upper midrange screech that current production tubes are famous for. Here are some VERY GENERAL observations about some of these vintage tubes:
TELEFUNKEN, SIEMENS, VALVO, LORENZ, and other German made NOS: These tubes are usually characterized by an impressive open "air" at the top end. The soundstage is large, even in mono applications these tubes have a great 3-D image. The midrange is ruler flat, and the bass is tight and accurate. These tubes have a fine sense of dynamics, and most are impressively quiet. These are not "warm" tubes, and to some ears their lack of midrange warmth may be heard as bright. I tend to think of them as accurate, and their clean, focused sonic image is astonishing. My personal favorites. The top types are as would be expected: the 7308/E188CC, the Cca, and the 6922/E88CC. The Cca is a very special 6922 made for the German government for telecommunications. They are excellent tubes, as good as any 7308. By the way, the 1970s versions of these brands are excellent as well, in spite of some trashing on "Some Guy's Tube Lore" and other web pages. Don't let anyone tell you what tubes you should like and what you should not like!
AMPEREX, PHILIPS, MAZDA and other Holland/France/Belgium made NOS: These tubes are a great balance of a clean, airy top end, nice midrange warmth, and accurate bass. They are very pleasant, clean, and musical to listen to in hi-fi applications. The white label Amperex PQ type or USN-CEP (same tube, the USN was made for the military) made in the USA are considered one of the best 7308 or 6922 types of all ever made. The D-getter and pinch waist rare types are also highly regarded, and are very quiet as well. The orange label types run a close second. Look for the white label USA and Heerlen Holland factory made for other brands. They are the same tube and usually less expensive than those with the Amperex or Philips label! Finally, Philips (the parent company of Amperex) owned a number of tube brands, and many were never seen outside of Europe. Most were actually made in the same Heerlen, Holland factory that turned out the Bugleboy 6DJ8 and PQ 6922 Amperex. Watch for tubes labeled E88CC with brands like Valvo, R/T, RTC, Miniwatt, Dario, Philips, and Adzam. These tubes are identical to the Amperex PQ and Philips SQ (Special Quality) types more often found in America, and are perfect if the Amperex is not available, since they sound and look the same. Also rare in America are these same brands made at the Philips-owned Mazda factory (La Radiotechnique) in Suresnes, France. These usually have a capital "F" in the second line of the date code. They are sweet like the Holland tubes, with a bit better detail and punch at the top end, and still have nice balanced warmth. We are one of the very few worldwide tube dealers to offer these rare NOS French Philips tubes.
MULLARD, GENALEX, BRIMAR, and other British made NOS: Like a warm British jacket of the finest tweed, these glorious tubes have an attractive sweet warmth in their midrange and lower regions. The top end is silky and pleasant, without being rolled-off. The best of these tubes retain a fine sense of "air" at the top, and the upper midrange is smooth and liquid. These tubes reproduce the human voice, especially female voices, with haunting realism. The 1970s Mullard made have an attractive sparkle at the top with the rich bass, and these tubes are usually priced less than the older types.
RCA, RAYTHEON, GE, SYLVANIA, and other USA made NOS: This group is very diverse. The older RCA, GE, and some other brands of 6922, 7308, and 6DJ8 were often made by Siemens, Mullard, or Amperex, and usually are a bargain. The USA made 1960s vintage 6922 and 7308 are nearly always made for the military, although there were some early industrial versions made by Westinghouse and other brands. They are fairly good and usually priced very low. Their sonics are reasonably well balanced. The 6DJ8 tubes made in the USA, and the 6922 or 7308 USA tubes made AFTER 1975 are generally best used in test equipment that calls for them, as they are not particularly attractive audio tubes. The earlier 1960s versions are somewhat better, including the greyglass GE. Their prices are usually very low, putting them on par with the Russian or Chinese types. You may want to try them if on a strict budget, for they will surely outlast several sets of current production tubes, and probably still sound better than the Russian-Chinese trash. Overall, the USA made tubes are a nice surprise with their low prices as compared to the European types.
A Note About Amperex 6922 and Bugle Boy Tubes:
Because the trade names of "Amperex" and "Bugle Boy" have been sold to a USA electronics firm, there is much confusion in the tube world about Bugle Boy tubes. I will try to clear up the confusion as briefly as possible. This company bought the rights to the name Amperex, the name Bugle Boy, and the rights to the cartoon tube logo. This new owner is NOT Dutch Philips or North American Philips, who originally owned Amperex and made the 1950s to 1970s vintage tubes that audiophiles want. When I mention "Amperex Holland" or "Amperex USA", I refer to the original Dutch and North Amperican Philips owned companies (now defunct) that made the vintage tubes, now in demand by audiophiles, up until the late 1970s. There are 6922 tubes being sold today under the name Amperex Bugle Boy, and they even come in a green and yellow box like the original Amperex tubes. THESE ARE NOT AMPEREX TUBES AT ALL, AND THEY ARE NOT NOS. They are either relabeled new Chinese or late production JAN Sylvania tubes. These fakes contain several errors:
1. Genuine NOS Amperex Holland or Amperex USA NEVER used the words "Bugle Boy" on their tubes or boxes.
2. Genuine NOS Amperex tubes NEVER had the cartoon Bugle Boy printed on the tube box.
3. Philips/Amperex Holland or North American Philips/Amperex USA NEVER made a 6922 (E88CC) tube with the Bugle Boy cartoon on the box. They also NEVER made a 7308 or E188CC with the Bugle Boy on the box OR glass. In this family of tubes, only the 6DJ8 had the cartoon tube on the glass, but again, never on the box.
4. Again, there IS NO SUCH THING as a genuine NOS Amperex "Bugle Boy" 6922 or 7308 tube. This bears repeating!
5. We stock the real NOS 1960s and 1970s Amperex (Holland and USA made) 6922 and 7308 tubes. They either used the white label or the orange (or later green) globe logo label, with either the PQ (premium quality) logo, or were military USN/CEP or JAN labeled. We also stock the real NOS Holland 6DJ8 Bugle Boy tubes from the 1960s. Amperex did not make these in the USA. These DO have the cartoon boy on the label, but NEVER had the words "Bugle Boy" printed on the box or the tube glass.
6. Nearly all of the NOS 1960s and 1970s real Amperex tubes have the factory date codes on the side of the glass. The fakes do not.
7. Some knowledgeable sources have reported seeing recently some Amperex HOLLAND made 6922, and even rarer, a few 7308 gold pin tubes with the Bugle Boy cartoon on the glass. They were only Holland made, none from the USA. It appears there were so few made in the early 1960s that it is unlikely any will turn up anywhere outside of The Netherlands or neighboring countries in Europe. Determining if they are real by the date code and other construction factors requires some skill. Since they are so scarce, it is advisable to treat any "Bugle Boy" 6922 or 7308 tube as a fake, unless you can clearly see the Holland date codes on the glass.
Here above is an example of fake Amperex Bugleboy 6922 tubes. There are several clues to the trickery being done here: The tube is an A-frame top getter. The A-frame getter support was used after the Bugle Boy logo was discontinued and the Amperex orange globe logo was being produced, for the type 6DJ8 tube. The 6DJ8 is electrically the same as a 6922 but the quality is inferior. The A-Frame getter was also NEVER used on a 6922 tube! The type font is thin and wrong for Amperex tubes. The Bugle Boy cartoon character is what is known as "the thin man" which was a thinner and more detailed picture, used only from about 1962-1964, but never on A-Frame getter tubes (which are 6DJ8 types, 1972-1976 vintage) and never on 6922 tubes. None of the tubes have the factory date codes near the bottom. This indicates a tube made after 1975. So what we probably have here is an Amperex made 6DJ8 A-Frame getter tube, likely made after 1975. These would have come with the orange or green globe logo on the glass, and standard pins. Someone has carefully removed the labels, put on the fake 6922 Bugle Boy labels, and then electroplated the pins with gold. This attempts to deceive the unwitting buyer, who thinks they are buying a real 6922, into spending 4-times the amount that the 6DJ8 tube is really worth! We at Brent Jessee Recording are trained to spot fakes, and all of our tubes are guaranteed genuine. Buy from a dealer you can trust!
It is very difficult to find tubes from a NOS Production Period such as the from the 60's Period, that are perfectly matched for the purpose of being used in a Phonostage.
I have Siemens and Mullard Brands which took months of searching and arranging a purchase condition where if a Tube did not measure to a certain level I was allowed to return it.
I got there in the end, one Tube came from Japan ands another from Germany to make a matched pair.
Tube dealers will supply tubes that will produce music and have a decent usage life.
To get Two Tubes with the Four Halves across the Two Tubes all measuring close and above manufacture Spec' is a challenge for certain era's of production.
This is where the real magic is to be found for a usage in a Phonostage, fortunately, these same owned Tubes are transferrable to a used DAC as well.