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Thread: Do different brands of transistors sound different?

  1. #1
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    Do different brands of transistors sound different?

    I hear all the time that Brand X vacuum tubes sound way better than Brand Y vacuum tubes. I have never heard anybody say that Brand A transistors sound way better than Brand B transistors.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Enzo's Avatar
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    I don't even consider the brand, in fact even different types of transistors can usually be subbed for one another.
    Education is what you're left with after you have forgotten what you have learned.

  3. #3
    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    sure can be a problem if they're counterfeit.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Axtman View Post
    I have never heard anybody say that Brand A transistors sound way better than Brand B transistors.
    Transistor are too cheap right now for anyone to have business in making the effort in such claims.
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    They don't sound any different, in principle.

    HOWEVER, different brands of the same numbered transistor, and even different batches of the same numbered transistor from the same manufacturer (brand) CAN result in a different sound in the same circuit, simply because they have different specs, such as hfe. That said, the question is why would they "sound different"? And the answer is that the components around the transistor are predicated on the transistor having certain specs. Changing those surrounding components to compensate for those transistor specs can result in the identical "sound" across different transistor batches and makes.

    It's a bit like asking "What colour is the brightest?". The answer will depend on what the background is. In the case of transistors, the "background" is whatever components are used to bias the transistor and set its gain, in addition to supply voltage, etc.

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    Quote Originally Posted by darkfenriz View Post
    Transistor are too cheap right now for anyone to have business in making the effort in such claims.
    Sounds like the kind of pitch we've come to expect from Mercury. I'm sure their sales team could work up a campaign.
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    Plenty of mojo claims for transistors if you go looking. Also pedals. Stick in an AC128, OC44, OC71, BC108, GT308 or whatever and make a snake oil claim. Especially if its a Mullard or something.

    I bet it sounds 'organic', has a 'wide sound-stage', and is 'detailed'.

    Mummy, I feel sick.
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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mick Bailey View Post
    ...has a 'wide sound-stage',....
    Without losing intimacy, of course.

    -rb

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    Quote Originally Posted by Axtman View Post
    I hear all the time that Brand X vacuum tubes sound way better than Brand Y vacuum tubes.
    ...and yet we hear all the time about the Child-Langmuir law (three-halves law), which apparently applies quite broadly to diodes and triodes regardless of differences in electrode shapes and spacings. If all triodes follow the same law, they should all be able to sound exactly the same (if you drive each one over the same part of it's three-halves-law curve).

    On the other hand, we know there are always manufacturing tolerances to deal with - if you pick up ten 12AX7s from the same manufacturer, each of the twenty triodes will have slightly different transconductance, anode resistance, and gain. If you happen to stick a higher-gain triode in the same circuit, it will distort more. If you stick a lower gain triode in, it will be distort less. Depending on your taste, you may then decide that one of them sounds better than the other. And then you might notice that the one you happened to like better says "Mullard" on it, and draw the wrong conclusion - that all Mullard 12AX7s sound better than all Brand Y 12AX7s.

    So I've always wondered if these differences people say they hear between brand X and brand Y valves, really come down to nothing more than normal minor variations due to manufacturing tolerances, and are not due to brand difference at all. I might be lynched for actually coming out and saying that on a forum, though.

    Quote Originally Posted by Axtman View Post
    I have never heard anybody say that Brand A transistors sound way better than Brand B transistors.
    As has been mentioned, some people do in fact attribute magic mojo to some brands of transistors. Invariably, those are old, out-of-production types.

    When it comes to transistors, there is something beyond superstition to consider, though. The very oldest and most primitive transistor circuits were very sensitive to normal manufacturing variations in transistor parameters. This is a very bad thing for mass-production, so smart engineers got to work, and figured out how to design solid-state circuits that were very robust to changes in transistor parameters. Negative feedback is one of the elements that make this possible, but circuit topology is also involved.

    The end result is that a properly designed (and properly used) solid-state amplifier will behave almost exactly the same whatever transistor you use (as long as the transistor can actually handle the voltage, current, power, and frequency demands placed on it). That, of course, means that it will also sound the same whatever transistor you use.

    As usual, there is an exception - it lies in the two words "properly used" in the preceding paragraph. In music electronics, we sometimes do things that fall outside the bounds of proper use. Overdriving the heck out of an op-amp is an example - they were never designed to do this, and therefore, some will overdrive more gracefully than others.

    One last thing to keep in mind - we are very fallible creatures. If we pay more for a valve, or transistor, or car, or loudspeaker, we will automatically hear/feel/see that it is better than the cheaper alternatives. This is why very few Yugo owners would refuse an even swap to a Mercedes, even if it turns out that that particular Mercedes model was a lemon.

    -Gnobuddy

  10. #10
    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    Wait a second -- if silicon all sounds the same, then where does Tube Screamer mojo come from ?!?!

    "Stand back, I'm holding a calculator." - chinrest

  11. #11
    Old Timer J M Fahey's Avatar
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    From its tube, of course.
    Juan Manuel Fahey

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by bob p View Post
    Wait a second -- if silicon all sounds the same, then where does Tube Screamer mojo come from ?!?!

    My logarithmic transfer function sounds better than your identical logarithmic transfer function!

    (And my daddy is bigger than your daddy, too!)

    -Gnobuddy

  13. #13
    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    my previous post was a reference to the Op-Amp Mojo attributed to the Tube Screamers that contain the "magic" JRC4558. there are guys that are so hung up on Op-Amp Mojo that they rip apart Japanese electronics looking for an original vintage JRC4558. RG's even written a tech paper on this.

    The Technology of the Tube Screamer

    Me? Never owned one, never built one. But if you believe the lore, the Mojo comes from the Op-Amp. Or maybe it's the magic clipping diodes ... I'm surprised that nobody has recommended using FRED instead of signal diodes for smoother tone ...
    "Stand back, I'm holding a calculator." - chinrest

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    Quote Originally Posted by bob p View Post
    Me? Never owned one, never built one. But if you believe the lore, the Mojo comes from the Op-Amp.
    I'm in the same boat, never owned one, never built one.

    In my twenties, however, I did build several diode-clipping circuits of my own design, as well as a variety of transistor clipping circuits. I eventually gave up when I realized that I really didn't like the sound of any diode-clipper thingy I could devise.

    Years later, I stumbled across the fact that following a diode-clipping circuit with a dollop of delay, and maybe a sprinkle of reverb, can take most of the ugliness away.

    A few superhuman guitarists - David Gilmour, Eric Johnson, and maybe one or two others - have managed to create truly beautiful sounds from diode-clipping circuits. All of them seem to have used a stew of multiple other signal-processing ingredients to transform harsh diode clipping into something beautiful and ethereal. I've tried once or twice, but never managed to duplicate their magic myself.

    Here is a rare case of Joe Bonamassa not suffering from his usual frantic widdly-widdlies, and actually slowing down long enough to showcase some really lovely "50-lb violin" tone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iChc...ABE54DAE4C1802

    I have no idea what Bonamassa was using to create that tone, though.
    Quote Originally Posted by bob p View Post
    ... I'm surprised that nobody has recommended using FRED instead of signal diodes for smoother tone ...
    From what I've seen on the 'Net, people have tried all sorts of things. In addition to garden-variety germanium and silicon small-signal diodes, also Schottky diodes, small-signal MOSFET body diodes, LEDs, JFETs, you name it.

    My suspicion is that most all diode-thingies will sound about the same, minor differences in low-pass filtering aside, as they all have the same logarithmic transfer function. MOSFETs and JFETs do sound distinctively different than the various diode clippers, which isn't too surprising. To my ears, they generally produce less harshness.

    The mystery, to me, is that an unwanted and unloved NOS $1 TV valve will so often end up sounding better when overdriven, than anything solid-state.



    -Gnobuddy
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  15. #15
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    Gilmour uses a wide variety of effects, and pretty much all of them set quite low. Low gain, high volume, big amp in a big room, little amp in a little room. Real acoustic feedback is a major ingredient in his sound, which I find much cleaner than many most of the time, since Wish You Were Here. But he's the only one I know anything about.

    I think the "sound" that most of us are really chasing is something largely out of reach, due to grumpy neighbors, families, and friendly neighborhood law enforcement... But I keep on trying, anyway; sucks to the neighbors!

    Justin
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    Quote Originally Posted by Justin Thomas View Post
    Gilmour uses a wide variety of effects, and pretty much all of them set quite low.
    I think Gilmour is a true master of subtlety. It's not usually the first word that comes to mind when you think "guitar hero", but it definitely applies to Gilmour, at least as far as his music goes.

    -Gnobuddy
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  17. #17
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    And don't forget all the amps that have diode clippers in them, too. Both SS and Tube. My modified Sessionette is so good many people think its a tube amp.

    I also saw an SCR clipper circuit, to add to the clipping device list.

  18. #18
    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gnobuddy View Post
    I think Gilmour is a true master of subtlety. It's not usually the first word that comes to mind when you think "guitar hero", but it definitely applies to Gilmour, at least as far as his music goes.
    My impression is that Gilmour is deeply concerned about feeling the music that he plays, rather than being a show-off on guitar.
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    We seem to have reached the conclusion that the 'Gilmour' brand of transistors sounds best.

    Coincidentally I have a considerable stock of NOS Gilmour transistors, please contact me if you're interested.
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  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gnobuddy View Post
    I think Gilmour is a true master of subtlety. It's not usually the first word that comes to mind when you think "guitar hero", but it definitely applies to Gilmour, at least as far as his music goes.

    -Gnobuddy
    Ever heard "One Of These Days" live and in person? Subtle? Methinks not! Though, I do know what you mean and agree completely.

    Justin
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    Quote Originally Posted by darkfenriz View Post
    We seem to have reached the conclusion that the 'Gilmour' brand of transistors sounds best.

    Coincidentally I have a considerable stock of NOS Gilmour transistors, please contact me if you're interested.
    Thanks for the business idea - "now, distortion pedals that only go to TWO!" Minimum sale quantity five, and daisy-chain them together. No, seriously - personally, I use 2 or 3 distos in series, and keep the gains well under halfway. It works out okay. And you still hafta play LOUD.

    Every time I meet a guitar player wanting to improve their distortion sound, I turn down the "Gain"and turn up the Volume. Once they get over their fear of big scary loud guitar amp, they INVARIABLY say, "wow, you're right! That <DOES> sound better!" Works with pedals AND amps alike.

    Justin
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  22. #22
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    If you are playingclubs nowadays volume is a real issue. Some of the best distorted tones I have gotten was using a slightly overwound pickup equipped Japanese Squier Strat through a stock Epiphone VJ through a 12" open back cab driven by a a Rocktron Big Crush compressor, Digitech Bad Monkey (cheap TS clone), and a Beringher ($23) reverb pedal. At lower volumes Class A is where it's at. And at some point tone is in the hands. I would set the VJ behind a beat up 1960 Ampeg Rocket and plug it into the Eminence speaker I had loaded in it. The amp wasn't even on. People thought I had some kind of magic old amp, lol. Now I'm usually using a Bugera V22 ($249 no tax free shipping) with a Weber 50 Watt Attenuator that I can shut on and off with a footswitch. The other guitarist has a mountain of 100 watt Marshall stuff turned down. The Bugera sounds better at club volume. Basically there is no magic bullet or magic parts. You do the best you can with what you have at the moment. I think Santana played through some obscure SS amps at Woodstock. Still sounded like Santana. He was even on acid!
    Last edited by olddawg; 08-17-2017 at 10:28 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by darkfenriz View Post
    Coincidentally I have a considerable stock of NOS Gilmour transistors, please contact me if you're interested.
    For years now, Fender Musical Instrument Corporation has been putting white pickups and knobs on a 'Strat with a black pickguard, marking up the price by a few thousand dollars, and selling them to hopeful mojo-seeking guitarists. I'm sure your NOS Gilmour transistors would go very well with the Gilmour Signature 'Strat. Maybe you can talk to Fender about putting together a package deal.

    -Gnobuddy

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    Quote Originally Posted by Justin Thomas View Post
    Every time I meet a guitar player wanting to improve their distortion sound, I turn down the "Gain"and turn up the Volume. Once they get over their fear of big scary loud guitar amp, they INVARIABLY say, "wow, you're right! That <DOES> sound better!" Works with pedals AND amps alike.
    I don't doubt you, and I personally stink at creating glorious distorted guitar tone, so I certainly don't presume to know better than you do.

    The thing that keeps bugging me like a loose tooth, however is this: I can listen to a Gilmour track played back at low volume, and his distorted guitar sounds gorgeous. That means that gorgeous low-volume distorted guitar tone is possible; the thousand-dollar question is, how can we create it right off the bat, without the enormous chain of steps that lies between Gilmour's guitar and the finished sound I hear on the CD or WAV file?

    Anyone who can figure out the answer to that question will make a lot of today's urban guitarists very happy.

    -Gnobuddy

  25. #25
    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    < Put on Gilmour Fanboi Hat>

    I was watching a special about Gilmour on PBS the other night. It seems that he has a gift for expressing himself emotionally through music, but he's got an impediment in communicating his ideas through words. His current songwriting method is to record musical phrases on his iPhone, accompanied by senseless babbling because he can't figure out the words he's trying to express. He gives the recordings to his wife, she listens to them, and she tries to figure out what words he's having trouble bringing out. It's like she can figure out what he's trying to say even when he can't. Right now when it comes to songwriting, he's the music and she is the words. Like many great artists it seems that he's gifted in one way and impeded in another. Communication problems aside, I think he's got great emotional expression through his playing.

    < Take off Gilmour Fanboi Hat>
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  26. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gnobuddy View Post
    I can listen to a Gilmour track played back at low volume, and his distorted guitar sounds gorgeous. That means that gorgeous low-volume distorted guitar tone is possible; the thousand-dollar question is, how can we create it right off the bat, without the enormous chain of steps that lies between Gilmour's guitar and the finished sound I hear on the CD or WAV file?
    Your LISTENING to a recorded track at a low volume is no indication of how loud HE was playing as it was recorded. Another thing, listen to the CD Pulse & the DVD Pulse. Definitely very differently mixed.

    I gave up long ago trying to clone what has already been done. But what I <CAN> do is to listen to myself and say, "Dave might use that... I think he'd like that... Maybe he'd even own it as his own." I don't have the man's gear, and more importantly, I don't have his hands. What I HAVE done is spent 20 years dedicating myself to how the man plays SPACE, and for a brief period, I owned a Dual Showman Reverb & period 2x15". Damn if it didn't come REAL close to Shine On You Crazy Diamond.

    Justin
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  27. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by bob p View Post
    Right now when it comes to songwriting, he's the music and she is the words.
    And what a wonderful partnership, to have with your spouse!

    In the Pink Floyd years it seems Gilmour and (Richard) Wright were the music, and Roger Waters was the words. Usually deeply depressed and/or seethingly angry words about war, a topic on which he seemed to be permanently stuck.

    I would say Gilmour's traded up a long way - not only is Ms. Polly Samson a gifted songwriter with considerably more versatility than Waters, she also has a much more enjoyable personality. As a bonus, she's also very considerably more fetching.

    Quote Originally Posted by bob p View Post
    Like many great artists it seems that he's gifted in one way and impeded in another.
    On a couple of his DVDs I saw him playing the saxophone. The back-story was in the special features on one of the DVDs - he learned alongside one of his children, to help motivate the kid as well as fulfill a personal desire. He even hired his kid's music teacher to give him lessons after his kid was out of school.

    I have a lot of respect for any accomplished musician (in his sixties, no less) who's willing to step back into raw fumbling beginner status, starting out all over again on an entirely unfamiliar instrument. The exact opposite of, say, Yngwie Malmsteen, who's now fat and middle-aged, but still stuck in exactly the same place musically and psychologically, white shirt open to the waist, gold chains dangling, widdling away as fast as he can on the same technically superb but emotionally trite licks and scales he's been playing since the 1980's.

    There are ugly things about Gilmour's life (his wife mentioned on a DVD that legal claims from children claiming to be the product of Gilmour's one-night stands with total strangers all over the world still surface from time to time), so I'm not a fan of the man himself. But, IMO, he is a true musician in the deepest and most gifted sense of the word, and I am definitely a fan of his musical gifts.

    -Gnobuddy
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