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Thread: Chinese and Russian tubes

  1. #1
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    Chinese and Russian tubes

    I skimmed through a tube vendors site looking for some tube accessories. There are quite a lot of different tube models. When I started to look around I see that most of the tubes are the same no matter which shop it is. I guess most of them are made in Russia or China. Some shops are reluctant so say so some others are frank about it. So this time I happened to be on a site with info that seemed to be honest. I mailed and they told me that they manufacture their tubes in China. They also told me that they're constantly trying to improve the quality etc on these tubes.

    Up until quite recent I was quite anal about my gear. But I happened to ebay a reissue Hagström Viking a while back, yes folks I'm from Sweden. First I was surprised about the quality comparing it to the real deal made in Sweden. Now during the last year it has moved up the scale and is now my workhorse nr 1. Why this little story you might wonder. Well I just started to wonder if I should be more serious about Chinese and Russian tubes. Are there good tubes to be found..? Any suggestions?
    In this forum everyone is entitled to my opinion.

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    Unless you buy NOS American or GB tubes, what choice do you have?

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    Senior Member ThermionicScott's Avatar
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    The Chinese 12AX7s used to be highly-praised for sound and microphonics.

    It's not about the country, it's the process and the QC going into the products.

    - Scott

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    I don't really know, but I figure I'd try some to see for myself. Like I said, I'd like to get suggestions on some new tubes to try.

    There are some labeled Chinese tubes sold by The Tube store called Preferred edition, or something like that, and over by Watford valves they have a tube series called Harma. I wouldn't be surprised if they're all manufactured in some factory in China. However, it seems folks on different forums are quite pleased with them...

    Then there's Tung-Sol which I believe is manufactured in Russia. Some of their tubes are getting good reviews to.

    Anyone reviewed them on MEF?

    Edit, missed your post. Might be so, in that case it's the process of finding the right tube I guess.
    Last edited by überfuzz; 01-20-2011 at 12:17 PM.
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    Mhmm, no one has tried them or no one's interested. Ah well...
    In this forum everyone is entitled to my opinion.

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    Harma tubes do not come from one specific factory, or country of origin, they are "selected" tubes from various manufacturers (can be current production, or NOS depending on the tube in question - I have had Harma tubes made by Reflector (Sovtek/EH/Tung Sol RI etc), SED Winged C (Russia), JJ (Slovakia) & Phillips/Sylvania (USA)...probably more besides, but these are the ones that I know of.

    It is confusing because so many re-sellers re-brand stuff (or factories supply marked up to their spec) but there are excellent current production tubes available from Russia, Slovakia & China (the only countries that manufacture tubes for guitar amps at the moment). In fact, the most expensive amps on the market use these tubes, largely because they need plentiful & reliable supplies & because reject rate of "picked over" NOS stock was getting unfeasibly high (these same manufacturers often offer NOS items at an upcharge, but it's more economically viable for the end user to experiment here). Talk to your tube vendor in person for specific recommendations.

    +1 on what Scott says. Guys who sell lots of tubes have QC procedures to weed out problematic tubes (whether NOS or current production) & usually provide a warranty.

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    It's very confusing!

    I found a little guide: Guide over presently manufactured tubes.
    In this forum everyone is entitled to my opinion.

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    Then make life easy for yourself, determine what kind of tube you need, how much you are willing to pay & buy from a vendor who supplies advice & a warranty. If you need 3 or 4x 12AX7 for example, buy different brands & see which you prefer. In the typical amp, different preamp tubes (V1, V2, V3 etc.) do different jobs, different tubes might suit different applications better.

    You can't categorise a tube's tone simply by knowing its country of origin, different batches from the same manufacturer sound different anyway (unless pre-selected for certain characteristics). One factory might make different lines for several end suppliers (like Luxottica make Ray Ban, Police, Persol, Arnette sunglasses), some countries have more than one factory...all the products sound different. There are great tubes from the past that still have not been surpassed, however the idea that all NOS tubes sound better than all current production is a fallacy. Look at it like speakers, as long as they are reliable, one that sounds good to you is good. If you don't like one, it doesn't matter who made it. The same tube can perform wildly differently in different amps/circuits, I might not go as far as to say that "there is no such thing as a bad (reliable) tube", but even the cheapest tube, with a relatively poor rep can surprise you in some applications.

    So, don't worry about country of origin.

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    Ehh... I thought it was clear that I've been rethinking me opinion regarding tubes origin, gear in general. But anyhow, do you have any suggestions? Have you tried Tung-Sol ECC803 Gold?
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    "Have you tried Tung-Sol ECC803 Gold?" No.

    JJECC83 are middle of the road, rich sounding, not so keen on their 12AT7 prefer to go NOS Phillips there, JJ 6V6 are a safe bet. Their 6L6 is tough & fine for most applications.

    EH 12AY7 - it's the only one made today, but stands up well. EH 6V6 is often though to be "softer" than the JJ.

    SED Winged C 6550 is popular, I quite like their KT88 too.

    Russian 5Y3 is fine for amps that don't push the B+ on the power tube plates & cathode biased amps that have headroom on plaet current, but NOS stocks are still plentiful for old Deluxes etc.

    Really, it's all relative, depending on what the tube is going into...?

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    Thanks!

    Actually, I've been burned out on JJ tubes. I bought some ECC83s to use while firing up home brewed amps. First batch 3 out of 6 were bad. 1 out of the 3 replacement, vendor just shipped them without asking for 3 bad tubes, tubes were bad. Further, the functional tubes I finally ended up with, my opinion is that they are noisy and unreliable. They might be great for others, but me... I don't know.

    I'm looking for a tube that's quite linear. A dream come true would be a tube that could go into all my amps without messing things up. Tubes that function in North American styled amp. I'm not into überdistortion a-la Marshall break up... Just me thinking freely.
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    Update on harma/Watford Valves, or no update actually...

    Last weekend I mailed for the second time and asked a couple of questions, still no reply. Anyhow they have a tube called Harma ECC83-STR. Supposedly it has the notorious spanngitter, or frame grid in English. Anyone with more insights on this?

    Are there any contemporary tubes with frame grids? I thought no...
    In this forum everyone is entitled to my opinion.

  13. #13
    Senior Member Pedro Vecino's Avatar
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    Currently there are many 12Ax7 models on the market, but all are developed from three or four basic models.
    Russia: (Reflector and Svetlana) 12AX7WA / WB / WC / WXT / LP / LPS / EH / Svetlana box anode / Mullard / Tung Sol...
    Slovakia (JJ): ECC83 / ECC83 gold pins / ECC803 (long plates)
    China (Shuguang): Basically the same classic model: 12AX7A/B/HG ... (infinite nomenclatures submitted by distributors)
    and the "Mullard Style" (a different model)
    Russian 12Ax7´s are characterized by having too much compression. This is best seen on high gain amps. Among the Russians, I think the basic models that are needed for know the "family" are WC / LPS / Tung Sol. WB model is the darkest of all. It may be useful using it carefully.
    The most linear model for me is LPS.
    Among the Slovakian, the traditional model ECC83 S. Gold pins version is the same texture but brighter.
    Among the Chinese, the classical model (found variations through selection by TAD, for example) and the model "Mullard Style" (across TAD or Groove Tubes). This tube is different from all others. Is more similar to classical European NOS Philips/Brimar/TFK... but with a distance with them..

    If I were to recommend a small number of representative models, would be:
    Russian WC / WB / LPS / Tung Sol / Chinese / JJ / Chinese "Mullard Style".

    The problem is that all have some "negative" aspects: high/nonlinear compression, harmonic swirls, lack of treble extension, acid/abrasive character in overdrive, lack of agility (speed of response), etc.., therefore usually is not desirable to use all of the same model because the presence of certain "flaws" are multiplied. There are always exceptions, but ...
    If I had all the necessary units of NOS tubes (Mullard, Dutch Philips, Brimar, TFK, Tungsram, RFT, Tesla, GE, Raytheon, American Tung Sol, RCA, Matsushita, NEC ...) I would use modern 12Ax7´s only for vibrato circuits (also would be fun to shoot them). All except the traditional Chinese model, associated with the sound of high gain amps in the last twenty five years. Now I have to juggle combining them.

    The best thing is to know their structures and know how to differentiate. This way there is no possible error in interpreting the nomenclature used by distributors.
    Sorry for the brick and my poor english.

    PD: Harma ECC83-STR is Solvakian JJ ECC83
    Last edited by Pedro Vecino; 01-20-2011 at 11:04 PM.

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    Yes about the Harma tube, I guess it's obvious, if you read between the lines, so to speak. Thanks for an insightful post!

    (I didn't want anyone to get the assumption that a tube is great just because it has a frame grid. It's like cars all have tiers. A Skoda doesn't compare to a Mercedes just because it has windshield wipers.)
    In this forum everyone is entitled to my opinion.

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    Thanks for the great info here guys although for me it may be overload. I am mainly a guitarist and occasional amp tinkerer (so far pretty lucky, thanks to good assistance here).

    I'm looking for some new pre amp tubes for my old Blackfaced 73 Twin. I'm willing to buy several brands to mix and match but nothing too expensive. Any general recommendations welcome (types as well as vendors). For inputs V1 and V2 and V4 (vib channel /reverb amp) which where 7025's, are "low noise" 12 ax7s a good bet? How about V6 phase inverter? Thanks in advance.

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    I haven't gathered enough courage to shop for the tubes suggested in this thread. If you do, please let me know what you think.
    In this forum everyone is entitled to my opinion.

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    Quote Originally Posted by überfuzz View Post
    I haven't gathered enough courage to shop for the tubes suggested in this thread. If you do, please let me know what you think.
    Will do, although I hope to get some guidance here. Any recomendations on decent on line sellers? I've used Doug's Tubes in the past and did ok.

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    I'd like to think more in terms of reliability, BUT..... there hasn't been a case where I've used NOS USA and British tubes where they DIDN'T sound and respond better and last MUCH longer.

    Sorry to say, but the Russian tubes have not yet caught up with NOS tube quality. Even more sorry is that China hasn't yet caught up with Russia.

    A word on JJ tubes: I don't have a problem with their SOUND. In fact, they have the ONLY 7591 that actually SOUNDS close to the original. My issue is with their power tube reliability. I've seen a lot of them blow up in amps.

    Chinese tubes, even if they start out good, seem very prone to "spontaneous combustion".

    What is tough for me to fathom is that Russian tube makers haven't yet sussed-out the old USA and British tube technology, as to what makes them sound and respond better as well as last longer. It's not like it's new technology y'know.
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  19. #19
    Supporting Member tubeswell's Avatar
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    I quite like some 'Russian' output tubes (6P6S, 6P3Se). Others can be flakey. I now have a stash of my favourites. But IMHO ya can beat the old Sovtek 5881 WXT for 6L6 output tubes in terms of price:reliability equation. Their EL84s usually aren't bad either.
    Building a better world (one tube amp at a time)

  20. #20
    Noodle of Reality Steve Conner's Avatar
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    Well, the 5881WXT is just the 6P3SE with a different base, to allow the "bear trap" tube retainers in some amps to keep a hold of it.
    "Enzo, I see that you replied parasitic oscillations. Is that a hypothesis? Or is that your amazing metal band I should check out?"

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    Supporting Member tubeswell's Avatar
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    Yes on closer inspection the internals look identical. Thanks Steve.
    Building a better world (one tube amp at a time)

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    Old Timer Gtr_tech's Avatar
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    I think the Ruby6L6GCMSTR is a fantastic 6L type. Great tone and long lasting. I've been gigging a set of these for 3 years and they ain't let me down yet. Sovtek/EH EL34s are a safe go-to. Especially for high plate voltage amps. The JJ EL84 seems to have mechanical problems....they get rattley faster in combos than the cheap-o Sovteks. The Sovtek "5881" stamped tubes are durable and will take whatever you throw at them plate voltage wise, but don't tend to sound all that great. I use them as pass regs in my HV supplies. The sound best that way
    The farmer takes a wife, the barber takes a pole....

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    i found the test reports on this website really helpful

    Watford Valves :: Reports

    party on

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    Quote Originally Posted by mrwilson View Post
    i found the test reports on this website really helpful

    Watford Valves :: Reports
    Yes, a nice site, but I never listen with both ears if it's a salesman reviewing stuff.

    Quote Originally Posted by mrwilson View Post
    party on
    Hell yeah!
    In this forum everyone is entitled to my opinion.

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    Quote Originally Posted by überfuzz View Post
    Yes, a nice site, but I never listen with both ears if it's a salesman reviewing stuff.

    Hell yeah!
    true very true. but for me who knows very little it was a nice place to start. i never considered buying from them any way....ebay is my usual starting point.

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    Old Timer km6xz's Avatar
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    I am amazed and bemused by the inroads New Age Hoodie-Voodie thinking mythology has made into the M.I. from it's birthplace in over the top subjective, effusive gibberish and non-sense of esoteric audio. That Watford test was total BS. Those who claim these sound signatures to tubes while ignoring the mountains of more influential variables just shows they are either in on the gag or clueless about testing and human perception about sound. The flakes and fairy dust salesmen from esoteric hi-fi and their golden ears have been proven frauds in any well designed tests that limit variables as much as possible and reducing cuing, like common double blind tests. The $3,000 /meter interconnects that are highly praised with flowery language prove to be no better than zip cord in real bind tests. I've conducted tests with that type of gear and studio gear, and guitar amps and when getting the player/evaluator out of the feedback loop differences quickly fade to insignificant. What to improve your tone...play better, or change the position of the speaker in the room 7 degrees if you want real change, buying a highly praise tube(which happens to be off the exact assembly line as lessor valued tubes...I guess the differences in mass of the logo ink on the glass made the difference) for more clearity in the highs or richer bottom is a fool's quest, you might as well buy fairy dust. I am still waiting for one of the esoteric cable or tube evangelists to explain just how the physics of their claims can be described or tested for. It will be a long wait, it can't be and only exists in their own and their follower's imaginations. If they can't describe it, how did they design for it, or know when to stop? It is marketing, not engineering or even music...
    They must know that human's can't reliably recall characteristics of sound and acoustic environment for more than a couple seconds, although we have long term memory of what we judged the sound to be like, we can remember or impressions of how the sound was experienced. That is highly influenced by suggestion, as any hi-fi salesman can tell you. He can make you accept any speaker he is getting extra commissions on that day.

  27. #27
    Noodle of Reality Steve Conner's Avatar
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    Me too, same results.

    It's irrelevant to the industry, though. Engineering isn't what makes people buy products. Marketing is. They're not selling you an amp, they're selling a dream. Nowadays, nobody who buys an electronic product actually understands on a scientific level how it works. So the products that come with the best advertising fantasies sell the most. That Watford Valves article is a fine example of what I'm talking about.

    Disclaimer: The only 12AX7 type tube I ever bought was one of the Blackburn Techtubes ones. I have a reasonable stash of Mullard, Brimar and Mazdas rescued from scientific dumpsters over the years.
    "Enzo, I see that you replied parasitic oscillations. Is that a hypothesis? Or is that your amazing metal band I should check out?"

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    Quote Originally Posted by km6xz View Post
    What to improve your tone...play better, or change the position of the speaker in the room 7 degrees if you want real change, buying a highly praise tube(which happens to be off the exact assembly line as lessor valued tubes...I guess the differences in mass of the logo ink on the glass made the difference) for more clearity in the highs or richer bottom is a fool's quest, you might as well buy fairy dust.
    I agree regarding tone. It's very hard to tell difference between tubes. But on the other hand, difference in break up is a feature thats very easy to hear. (Just mentioned as an example.) So yes, a golden ear to hear a golden toned tube is somewhat odd. But, even my mum can tell difference in break up. Question in this thread is, is it possible to find good tubes presently manufactured; Russia, China.

    Hard to tell, I have my own preferences, smooth break up, long life span. I can tell difference in tone, but usually I don't let it bother me. If I want to tone my amp/playing differently I change guitars, or maybe get an other gauged set of strings. (Occasionally I plug my amp into an other speaker.)

    Cheers!
    In this forum everyone is entitled to my opinion.

  29. #29
    Senior Member Pedro Vecino's Avatar
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    http://www.watfordvalves.com/cgi-bin...treport_46.pdf

    I think this test of the EL34 is the most successful of all I read. Certainly has not written a spectator but a guitarist playing the guitar.
    I know all those tubes and fully agree with its findings. Who probably do not work with them or not play guitar with them has the problem of giving the true dimension to each assessment but if you know well them, should be able to appreciate these comments.

    Mix the effects of speaker cables with the effects of the tubes in a well know guitar amp should be banned

  30. #30
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    It's not that hard to tell the difference between differing brands of tubes, in the same amp & under as similar operating conditions as possible. Some tubes sound dramatically different to other brands of the same designation.

    Things are the same if they are the same, if they are different they are not the same.

    Km6xz are you suggesting that brand of output tube has no bearing on the sound that an amplifier makes (as many factors that can be, being equal)?

  31. #31
    Noodle of Reality Steve Conner's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MWJB View Post
    Things are the same if they are the same, if they are different they are not the same.
    So what about the 5881WXT and the 6P3SE? Are those different, or the same?

    I have a pair of blackplate RCA 6L6GCs and a pair of 5881WXTs. I can do some reamping tests where the only thing that changes is the tubes. (Reamping means that the guitar is recorded into a DAW through a clean guitar preamp, and played back through the amp, the output of which is recorded on another DAW track.) Then I can post the two files and challenge you all to tell which is which.

    But I guess you will all argue that the results don't count because I used some oddball home-made amp instead of a real Fender, or the 24-bit digital recording somehow corrupted the mojo, etc.
    "Enzo, I see that you replied parasitic oscillations. Is that a hypothesis? Or is that your amazing metal band I should check out?"

  32. #32
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    There will be variation even amongst tubes of the same brand. I have never seen a tube labelled as 6P3SE, I wouldn't be surprised if it was largely the same as the 5881 WXT, but the 5881WXT looks identical to the 6L6EH...but they sound quite different.

    Whoa! I never said that I can tell which tube is which, that is a bizarre claim, I only said that there is often a difference between tube brands. Tubes on their own don't make any sound, you need a circuit, instrument & speakers for that & to be familiar with all aspects whilst conducting A/B comparisons. The same tube (not same brand or designation, I mean the same very tube) will sound different in different applications. I won't argue, if they sound the same then they sound the same, but I'll wager you had to make some changes to operating conditions to replicate plate voltage & current?

    Whether I agree with Derek Rocco's test reports or not, he is attempting to put the various tube brands in perspective, in real world tests. Take them with a pinch of salt by all means, but if he was just a profiteer it would serve him better to just stock the brand with the highest mark up & say "they all sound the same, anyone who says different is plainly mad & selling snake oil....by the way do you like my new clothes, they are so fine & light that some people think that they're not there at all".

    Example: 6G12A '63 came with NOS Sylvania 6L6s, drop them in 40mA per tube. Replace then for 5881WXT (could be a 6P3SE, I don't like to make assumptions) and now we see 7mA per tube. Biasing the 5881WXT to run at 40mA per tube would be no problem, in order to perform a like for like test. However, rebiasing the Sylvanias to 7mA would have required rewiring the bias circuit as a voltage doubler because there simply wasn't enough negative voltage coming off the diode to get that low. My point being, that even if the difference in sound between the tubes was down to different plate current & voltages alone (which personally I doubt, but let's "assume" that it was) that the work involved to achieve this was disproportional in terms of parts & chargeable labour (besides the owner is unlikely to want anything beyond "in keeping" changes to his prized vintage amp - OK you got me it's Fender ;-) but that's moot, the numbers illustrate the issue). The result is different whichever way you look at it, if it's not the same then it's different, "whys & wherefore's" are secondary.

    If tube brand (& even variations within brand) make "no difference" what does make "a difference"? If I subbed my 100K plate resistors for 110K would that make a difference? If 10% difference is "no difference" then 100% difference is ten times nothing & still "no difference", same goes for cathode resistors....so if we follow this thought, then as long as a tube receives voltage on the plate, is biased by a cathode resistor & receives a signal on the grid, then we may as well "assume" that it doesn't matter what any of those values are as they make "no difference".

    What is the dividing line between "a difference" & "no difference" as long as the amp makes some sort of noise?

    Let's assume I want to watch a John Wayne movie, let's say it is "True Grit" (though "The Shootist", or "The Green Berets" works just as well for this test) - now whether I watch it on a 14" portable black & white TV, a 40" flat panel TV, or straight from cine film in a cinema, I can still recognise the actors, still follow the dialogue & the story line - but is there a difference between the images that I see? Now let's replace John Wayne with Jeff Bridges, same story line ...is there still "no difference" if it's still "True Grit".

    Hence things are the same, if they are the same. If they are different, then they are not "the same". Yes, we can put perceived differences down to flaws in human perception, but some are better at perceiving than others....a toddler can spot a flat note in nursery rhyme, Chuck Berry & Johnnie Johnson were apparently happy to record out of tune with each other more than once.

    How would you fancy your skills as a single malt blender, compared to someone with experience?

    If you can't largely trust your senses (we are all susceptible to some degree), then why bother with any of it?
    Last edited by MWJB; 02-11-2011 at 03:09 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Conner View Post
    I can do some reamping tests where the only thing that changes is the tubes... ...Then I can post the two files and challenge you all to tell which is which.
    This was exactly how I got into the tube swamp. My band couldn't record in our studio because of an other band rehearsing next door. We pluged an amp direct into the comp, then later on we 'reamped' it. It was very interesting, we started to try different speakers, tubes etc. And sure, you can tell different, even if they're ever so small.
    In this forum everyone is entitled to my opinion.

  34. #34
    Noodle of Reality Steve Conner's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MWJB View Post
    What is the dividing line between "a difference" & "no difference" as long as the amp makes some sort of noise?

    If you can't largely trust your senses (we are all susceptible to some degree), then why bother with any of it?
    3dB. If the 5881s had some distortion harmonic that was 3dB different in amplitude to the real 6L6s, then I'd say that was a difference. (Unless the harmonic itself was small enough to start with that psychoacoustic masking would prevent you from hearing it.)

    Same reason you watch the John Wayne movie: because fantasy is enjoyable.
    "Enzo, I see that you replied parasitic oscillations. Is that a hypothesis? Or is that your amazing metal band I should check out?"

  35. #35
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    That's not really an answer Steve.

    The 5881 are REAL, they fit in the socket, they light up, they make a sound, drop them from the top story of a multi story car park & they'll smash...just like a 6L6.

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