Mullard XF2 double getter
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Only other great choice not mentioned is in the same vein as Jtinn and Khaki8. The MO Valve KT77. It was designed as a premium replacement for the Mullard, which was enjoying much success back then.
Only problem is money, NOS KT77 are even more expensive than the Mullard, although there are things they do that are superior, even to the XF1 Brown Base series.
Albert-Where can you find KT77's. I have a second system that I'm running with Quicksilver mini monos and Moth Audio Cicadas. I've recently purchased a quad of GE 6L6 GC's which are incredibly holographic. I've heard good things about the KT77 but have not found any sources. Any tips would be much appreciated. Thanks-Gary
Getting back to tubes the average audiophile could actually find, hear, and buy without being independently wealthy, an inveterate risk-taking junky, or possessing an advanced degree in ancient audio esoterica: The Svetlana's are the best new EL-34's available IMHO (used in my C-J MV-55). There are previous threads on this subject to search for...
Yes, I auditioned a Jolida 302B with both the stock and Svetlana tubes and the Svet's sounded very good to me (warm and full). The only other EL34's that I have ever owned/used have been Mullard XF1's and 2's, though in different/vintage amps so a comparsison would not be valid. The Svet's, again, sounded very sweet and 3D. I do have NOS Mullards on hand in the event that I ever own such an amp again, but still would not hesitate to try the Svet's as well, based on what I heard.
Zaikesman, I hope you never hear any of those "ancient esoterica" tubes for yourself.
If you did, you would discover that money invested in premium tubes are often more improvement than twice that amount in equipment upgrades.
Tubes are not just parts, they are the heart of the equipment and almost as important to performance as the design itself.
One last factor to consider. Many of the old tubes such as the KT 77 are known to last 30 years and more. How many Svetlana's and for what amount of money would be required to equal that durability record? Assuming you are willing to take the quality "hit" along with the cash.
Albert, I'm sure you've listened to many tubes that I never will, but I suspect that if I could, I might only somewhat disagree with you in degree, not in kind. I do not at all dispute that tubes can greatly affect the quality of the sound, and that there are times when an older tube, even an extensively used tube, can have the superior sound. Most of my tube-rolling using vintage tubes has taken place in my guitar amps, and there has even been an occassion when the best sounding tube was an "obsolete" metal-case oldie. I will admit that these experiments were done with tubes that I just scrounged up, not pristine NOS bought for big bucks from a dealer. But I have also done a little dabbling with mail-order NOS in my hi-fi preamp, and mostly been disapointed, with noisy, ringy results. And with power output tubes, I've always found that freshness does matter. Obviously, it's possible to manufacture either a superior or an inferior tube, and it is probable that some of the best would have been made in the tube's heyday. But it is also possible that someone could make a top-quality tube today. In addition, I think it is quite likely that some amount of snobbery and opportunism has attached itself to the NOS market, as will happen with any scarce or no longer made commodity. If I had the patience and werewhithal to hunt down premium NOS and do all the comparing, maybe I would reach conclusions similar to yours. But this is clearly not for everybody, and motivation, in the form of dissatisfying sound, would also have to be present. I think that in a case such as the Svetlana EL-34's, that someone might be manufacturing a tube right now that is about as good as anything ever made, a position some reveiwers have taken on this tube. I like what I hear with this product enough that in my rig, I am not really curious to go down the NOS road (and they've been very durable). YMMV!
When the best tubes were manufactured, they were the industry that brought the brightest minds and biggest budgets into play, much like the aerospace or computer industry today.
The materials and manufacturing quality control standards (especially for Military versions) were often "cost no object." This was due to the fact that we were at war and fighting for our very survival.
The Russian tubes are good, no doubt. They are however the product of great American marketing, where we find cheap labor (China as well) and make a decent knock off. The true cost of a Svetlana EL 34 is less than 50 cents. No doubt a great value for the money, but hardly state of the art.
If your equipment does not benefit from the better quality, then you are blessed. I am after the best sound reproduction available and will not compromise on tubes, even if you perceive it as snobbish.
Albert: Thanks for the tip on KT77's (never heard or heard of them). I will add them to my hit list when we are on our thrift and flea outings. Currently looking for #50's for a friend. All of the old repair shops have already been stripped by a local tube dealer (years ago), but I do run across good tubes from time to time. I picked up a NOS pair of XF1's a few month's ago for $20 (in a CEC Mullard box and the tubes are stamped Dynaco). I had thought of selling them, but decided that I could not afford to replace them. LOL.
The joys of tube hunting! I scored some Mullard dual getter XF2' EL34's on EBAY some months ago by a seller in Hong Kong. His rating was not built up yet and buyers were afraid to bid. I wrote him a note to which he quickly and courteously responded, and I placed my bid.
In the end I scored a total of 8 for $160.00, only twenty bucks a hit. This is not normal, but those who want the quality and are willing to shop, it is a great way to bring up your high end systems performance for a very fair price.
Well, I didn't mean to give the impression that I find Albert's pursuit of the best possible sound snobbish. But I do think that the high-end industry as a whole, and the NOS tube sub-industry, does drive its marketing and pricing strategies, in part, from a snob-appeal perspective. I'm not saying anything revolutionary, of course, and this business is hardly the only one to indulge in it. (I do think that the music lover can suffer for it these days, but I also have to admit that the snob-appeal angle "works" on me to some extent, as I'd warrant it does with most audiophiles, aesthetes of the picayune that we are.) But if it's fair to criticize the modern product by suggesting that it only costs .50 cents to manufacture it, then its also fair to criticize the NOS business by suggesting that an old tube didn't cost $100 to manufacture, either.
Actually, this whole topic begs a question that I, as a tube user with a distaste for the vagaries of NOS-chasing, find very interesting to ponder. Why couldn't the tube-component industry, maybe in conjunction with the guitar-amp makers, form a consortium to design and manufacture a modern line of tubes that would take full advantage of the latest technologies and manufacturing capabilities? It's already been proven that people will pay a premium for the best, and equipment makers would love to be able to depend on a reliable supply. I think that, as a whole, the modern tube gear industry is probably large enough to make such an undertaking feasible, and that it would be profitable in the long run, even if very expensive as a start-up proposition. (Look, for instance, at what Kron Enterprises has been able to accomplish, or at least attempt, on their own.) Maybe a new generation of "super-tubes" could help tube gear catch up in some of the areas where SS has advanced beyond what was acceptable performance before the latest generation of speakers and digital sources upped the ante. I believe tubes are obviously here to stay, and that there is no reason in theory why a superior product couldn't be made today for the future, same as transistors or chips.
Zaikesman, if you could somehow persuade the importers of tubes to spend the bucks and allow the Russians (or whoever) to build a line of tubes equal to the best of NOS, I would be ETERNALLY grateful.
Unfortunately, their concern is more with producing tubes as economically as light bulbs, making themselves appear gracious with offers to replace for free and warranty goods. Not to mention their program of giving away tubes to reviewers, guitar makers and equipment manufacturers.
Better in their mind to build a tube that cost them fifty cents, pay duty and throw away what they don't like the look of (rather than argue with the Russians about a slip up) and still manage to make a huge profit when they wholesale them for $6.75 (EL 34 is reference here).
If you build the equivalent quality of original USA NOS tubes (and some DID cost $100.00 each even in 1940's money!) the cost would be very high. I cannot say for sure, but even with inexpensive labor in Russia and China and the rare earth materials and hand assembly required to build the ultimate tubes, the cost could easily be $20.00 each. When you apply just the normal rule of 5 to 1 markup from manufacture to end user, this tube now costs $100.00 each. More money than some of us pay for genuine NOS stock.
I do like your idea, I mean that in a most sincere way, but I doubt that it will happen. In fact, about as likely as convincing the software manufacturers to upgrade our media quality rather than spending millions on pop videos for Brittany Spears.
Albert, with all due respect to you, and I do think very highly of you, I think you are wrong on the 5 to 1 markup. That may be the case on PARTS costs on a piece of electronics, but not on the markup on a single item. I even think the 5 to 1 markup is higher than many manufacturers do, correct me if I am wrong. If they do a 5 to 1 markup -- that is a crime.......
It is disgusting to hear, however, that an EL34 costs 50 cents to make and then wholesales for $6.00. No wonder many of you believe that NOS tubes are far superior to present day production. I have limited experience with NOS tubes, simply because of the expense and the uncertainness of what you are buying.
Albert, I wonder what you would recommend for an EL34 for the Cary V-12?
Kevziek, a few years back, an amplifier manufacturer friend of mine bought tubes direct from Russia. These retailed for about $18.00 at that time. He and others in my audio group joined orders and bought 300 of them for about $3.00 each. I assume the guy in Russia that was our contact made something for his effort.
The five to one markup is usually on parts, and I did not mean to say that EVERY audio component has that markup. Remember that the manufacturer has to make a profit after designing the gear, ordering, sorting and testing the parts, then must advertise and support the dealers and customers and have staff to do warranty.
This is all very expensive, as we are talking about human time and effort. The cost of the materials may well be 5 to 1 or even greater, but that does not take into consideration the other factors.
I think because tubes are somewhat fragile, prone to failure with expectation of total replacement (not pro rated like tires) the markup is kept high to build in a bulletproof profit base. I wish some of the profit was spent to produce the premium tubes that we discussed.
As for the direct question about the Cary V-12, I have zero experience with it, but have heard from reliable sources that it is a very good amp. My tests of various EL 34 tubes in the Tube Research, Sound Valves, and Wolcott all prove the Tesla E34 L to be a great tube for the money. It is new production like the Russian and Chinese tubes and is probably not better reliability wise, although I do like it's sonic signature.
Of course the Mullard is what sounds best in each of these, especially in the high end gear like the Tube Research and Wolcott. They even beat up on my supply of Telefunken EL34's.
My posts were not meant to say that new production tubes were of no value, not even to say that they were not good. The discussion somehow turned to where I felt I had to justify the quality of NOS, something that seldom ever needs be said at this site.
FWIW, I agree with Albert that the Tesla's are good for the money, but for a little more I prefer the Svetlana's. My tests were done in my Connie-Jay MV-55 driving Thiel CS2.2's (I've not heard the V-12). The Tesla's were certainly better sounding than the stock Sovtek's, and I used them for over a year before trying the Svet's. My impetus to experiment again came from durability issues I was having with the Czech tubes. The Svetlana's have the most natural sonic signature of the three on all manner of instruments and voice, with less tonal coloration, the cleanest transients, and the firmest bass. The Tesla's were more extended than the boring-sounding Sovtek's, but had a rising high frequency emphasis and lacked fullness and body compared to the Svet's, which I think are more neutral but just as extended. They also possess the smoothest-textured presentation and the greatest sense of image solidity. Overall, the amp now sounds more transparent to the source, with the least "electronic" character imposed. And as I stated before, longevity seems very good so far (about a year of a few to several hours a day use).
Zaikesman, your observations are no doubt correct. As with all electronics, the end result of various tube tests, whether output or input variety, vary depending on the gear.
I performed the same test with the Svetlana tubes that you did, only with the amps I've already mentioned. They were somewhat better than the Sovtek and Electro Harmonex, but still ranked below the Tesla, and way below the Amperex, Telefunken and Mullards.
As with all things in high end audio, best that the end user does the final test for themselves. Tubes are a smart investment, last forever in storage while generally increasing in value.
What is not the perfect tube in your system today, may be tomorrow. Investing in NOS or clean premium tubes to have on hand for testing insures you are getting the maximum performance possible.
In fact, we all voice our systems to the associated gear. If you or I changed a major component such as the speakers, or moved to another listening room, we may well choose a different tube for one or another positions.
I must say though, that in my system I always prefer voicing with premium tubes rather than current vintage. The only exception is the 12 AX7 Sovtek. I continue to be surprised by its remarkable performance. I wish the same effort would extend to the 6922, 6SN7, KT88 and EL 34.
Perhaps in time.
Amperex double-D-getter, late 50's. Better than the Mullard "O" getter xf2 EL34s. I've not heard the "fatbase" xf1 or metal base Mullards but Amperex are the best I've heard. The Amperex are more dynamic and less vieled; two areas of weakness for EL34s. This was in my (then) VAC triode amp which I used for three years. I sold the VAC for a Moth SET amp. I found the SET topology and both the 2a3 and 45 output tubes superior to any of the EL34 tubes I've sampled.
Albert, exactly which Sovtek 12AX7 are you recommending? I was never impressed with them in the past, but I know they've introduced some new wrinkles in the meantime. My preference in new 12AX7's has been Yugoslovian EI ECC83's, though a person has to go through a bunch to find a couple of quiet ones. Fortunately, they are common at local guitar shops (when the country of manufacture isn't in chaos), so I can try several and promptly return the duds (if only I could do this with NOS!) I also tried the newish Teslas, but didn't like them much better than the Chinese ones (and had durability problems with these as well). The even more recent Svetlana version still awaits my audition.
What you say about a circuit's being intimately bound together with any particular tube's performance in it is undoubtedly the truth. So in fairness, I should point out (as I have alluded to in past forums that touched on this subject) that C-J techs advised me not to run the Tesla EL-34's in my MV-55, because their tests showed that only the Sovtek was up to the demands of this circuit (I suppose this has to do with biasing). I went ahead and ignored that warning, since the Teslas clearly sounded better than the Sovteks in the amp, and since I had always found C-J's tube replacement kit choices for my preamp to be seemingly based mostly on dependability of supply rather than sound (and I can sympathize with their need in this). Now the fact that the Tesla still managed to sound better than the manufacturer's recommended brand, albeit while not lasting as well in the circuit, led me to assume that I was not compromising its sonic potential and that C-J was just playing it safe. But I obviously cannot rule out the possibility that the Tesla tube might be able to give even more of itself in a situation where it was operated more comfortably within its (claimed by C-J) design specification. Luckily for me, the Svetlana made all this moot, and I have wondered why C-J never made them the OEM choice in this model, given that they have used Svetlana 6550 types in their bigger models. Maybe they still thought the Sovtek was going to last a little bit longer here - or maybe they just didn't want to buy a more expensive tube for a two-grand product.
Mwalsdor, I have a good friend who has the exact opinion as you concerning the double D getter Amperex tubes. In the Tube Research and Wolcott amps I preferred the Mullard XF 1 and 2 over the Amperex, but then again, it is a circuit thing.
The Tube Research was supposed to be magic with KT 88 and even KT 90 tubes. I tried all of the current tubes, Svetlana, Tesla, Sovtek, Ruby Tubes and others, only to be disappointed with all of these.
Of the batch, the Svetlana 6550 was the most reliable and biased up the best. Still, the sound was extremely disappointing, compared to Tung Sol 5881 and Mullard EL 34, the best sound I ever got with that set up.
Needless to say, I had complete sets of every current new construction EL 34 made, and tested for nearly three months.
Guess it is safe to say that testing in one's own system with as many options as possible is the best course of action.
Zaikesman, the Sovtek that performed so well was the 12 AX7 LP. This specifically in the first gain stage of the Aesthetix Io phono preamp. The ones I have had good experience with come from Jim White, the owner of Aesthetix, who selects them for extra low noise.
Quite necessary for this position in a high gain phono circuit, even with the best of the NOS tubes, and certainly for inexpensive tubes like the Sovtek.