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Tube/Valve Dampers (bit long)

Discussion in 'Hi-Fi Stereo Systems & Separates' started by Paul Williams, Jun 9, 2005.

  1. Paul Williams

    Paul Williams
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    Well you know how it is; you’ve just bought a new cable, or some pointy sharp, or squishy round, or magic whatnot. You carefully install sit back and listen and yes, no question its better (or perhaps different) and you like the difference. Which is all well and good until you try and rationalise the cost against the improvement. More often than not these days I’ll not even think about the latest gizmo/trick/fad unless I can get a sale-or-return or free trial. Just been through some mains cables - better, well yes, worth the money, no I’d be quite happy to live without them at the price. Anyway to the point, valves (or tubes) I’m currently running an Eastern Electric MiniMax Pre-amp, to bypass the pre-section of my CR Developments Romulus integrated and I’m really very pleased with what I hear. But before I installed the MiniMax I was having trouble with the tube (12AX7) in the pre-section of the Romulus, very micro-phonic so I replaced it with a higher spec tube (well actually bought three different ones to try) and at the same time bought a Golden Dragon ‘Tube Ring’ £10.95 and this did make a difference, even with the better tubes.

    Now fast forward to today and I’ve got the MiniMax with its 2x 12AU7/ECC82’s, the Romulus has its 2x 12AX7/ECC83’s and 2x 12AU7/ECC82’s and I’ve got one ‘Tube Ring’ which is wrapped around one of the MiniMax tubes and does make it sound marginally better. So £65.70 and I can kit out all these (signal) tubes with the Golden Dragon ‘Tube Ring’s, but I’m not too sure the sound improvement I’m hearing is really worth that sort of outlay. Well a few day’s ago I receive a package from Miami, to be specific from Sandy & Barbara Levy that’s resolved this problem. The package contained 2 sets of 8, High Density Silicone Vibration Dampers (rated to withstand 400 degrees F) so in effect enough to cover all the tubes. Now you may have seen the likes of these gracing the latest offerings from Audio Research & Conrad Johnson and I’ve no idea if these are the same or not and to be honest it doesn’t matter. They’re red and round and slide tightly over both the largest & smallest diameter ECC type tubes I’ve got. Before I go any further, I’ll also say they improve the sound of my system and are worth every penny. So now if you want - you can skip to the end for prices and so on.

    Initially, I started by using them only on the Pre-amp, replacing the Golden Dragon ring. The tube here is actually a Sylvania 12BH7a. This is taller than a standard 12AU7/ECC82, has much longer anodes and as a consequence more widely placed supports and the sound improvement does depend on the placement of the ring on the tube. Indeed, as the listening test and application of the rings progressed, fairly simple rules for initial placement became apparent. Place the initial ring between the anode supports; place the second ring above the top support. If the top anode support is close to the top of the dome of the tube, slide the second ring down to the first and position both between the anode supports. This process was then followed with the phase splitter & pre-driver tubes in the power section of the Romulus. Each time an incremental improvement could be discerned, except in one notable case - Mullard box anode ECC82 or the CV4003. When these tubes were substituted there was significant sliding on and off of the rings and to be absolutely honest, I don’t think I really heard even a minor difference. Other cases were the initial placement rules didn’t apply was with the JJ Electronics ECC83S. Here the ring between the anode supports made no difference and only a single ring between the top support and the dome of the tube was required. I think this is probably due to the closeness of the anode supports and the substantial build quality of the tubes themselves.

    To the specifics of the improvement heard, and here it was very tube dependent, with the Mill Spec or ruggederised less so than with standard tubes, greatest improvement was with lower cost current production tubes. Also as intimated above the longer the glass envelope and/or the longer the anode structure, the greater the improvement could be.

    Now there were no dramatic changes in the overall tone, range, inherent sound of the system, indeed I feel it would be rather bizarre if there were. Mainly the improvement was in the ease with which you could discern detail (yes, yes I know ‘..as if a veil had been lifted..’) and things sounded more natural. Now even with a poor system you should be able to hear if the piano(?) is a Fender Rhodes or just another synthesizer with the Rhodes button pressed in, or the difference between a Gibson or Fender guitar. On some of the better systems you might discern the difference between a Fender Jazz and Precision bass, but could you tell if they were using flat or round wound strings? Well I thought I could before and now I’m certain. The term micro-detail now really has some meaning, plectrum, breathing, drumming techniques are all there and easily discernable. To be honest they were there before, but now the performance is just that shade more real. Don’t think that I’ve fitted a few red rings over my tubes and had my system elevated to a whole new level, because it’s not, the key term is ‘..that shade more real.’ But they are well worth the cost!

    Oh and the cost $25.83 delivered, that’s under £15 at current rates. So even if, in the cold light of day and lots more listening, the improvement turns out to be a fleeting fancy, I’ll at least know that I’m in good company. After all both Audio Research & Conrad Johnson thought they were a good idea too. Also, I expect you could go to your local car parts supplier and source the necessary correct size silicone ‘O’ rings, but to be honest at these prices, could you be bothered - because Sandy & Barbara have saved you the effort.

    Detail: - Sandy & Barbara Levy’s eBay stuff can be found by searching for the eBay.com ID: ‘sandyphoto’. Cost for a single pack of 8 was $8.99, but as there’s a single postal rate of $7.85 you may as well get a second set – they’re available in 5 sizes even to accommodate output tubes at $9.99. True values are declared on the outside of the package but 2 sets are well within the import duty allowance, check allowance if ordering more. Service was first class and efficient. And all for the cost of 1½ Golden Dragon Tube Rings. So I’m up for another set for my output tubes and wonder if they can source some smaller ones for my (18mm) 6x4 rectifier tubes?

    I have no connection with the company, other than having bought and been satisfied with their dampers. As to the question of are these the same type as used by the above mentioned manufacturers, Sandy tells me

    "....I am under a non-disclosure agreement, but I can tell you that I have been supplying some of the most well known names in the audio industry with my dampers..."

    but as I said above, it isn't important really as the product speaks(?) for itself.

    Paul
     
  2. alexs2

    alexs2
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    Hi Paul...like you,I succumbed to the urge to try out some of the Golden Dragon(Duende Creatura) tube rings....with microphonic tubes,and especially high gain small signal tubes,they do make a difference,and since I wasnt looking for something along the lines of Pearl Tube Coolers,I'm quite happy with them.

    The product you've described,especially at that price,is also very interesting,but for what it's worth,I didnt find the power tube rings made much if any difference,as might be expected if they arent microphonic(thats with a set of KT66's,and obviously I can't find anything that would fit a set of TJ 300B's!).

    Very useful link for any tube-a-holics.
     
  3. Paul Williams

    Paul Williams
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    Well given the cost (under £6) for a set of 8 dampers for the power tubes, I'm going to give them a try. I've also ordered a set for the 6X4 rectifiers but being smaller and in less demand, the cost a whole $1 more (for 8) than normal signal tube ones - well I can stretch to that. So for the cost of 3 small Golden Dragon (Duende Creatura) tube rings, I'll be able to cover every tube (11) in my set-up & have rings to spare.

    Paul
     
  4. Paul Williams

    Paul Williams
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    Now kitted out with dampers on all valves in the system (just added ones to the 6L6WGC's in the power stage and 6X4 rectifier in the pre) and again we have a worth while step forward based on the cost of these dampers. Improvement with the dampers is very marginal on the output tubes (as you thought Alexis2) but these dampers are by no means as tight a fit as on the other tubes and this may be a factor. Still, well pleased and my very good sounding set-up just gets better and better.

    Paul
     
  5. Paul Williams

    Paul Williams
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    Well after quite a few hours listening the final verdict is that as the dampers were introduced there was an incremental improvement in the precision of the overall sound with the more control in the bass and an overall more natural presentation - except for the dampers on the output tubes. Initially I though these had only a very minor impact on the sound, but it became quite evident as the I listened to some old favorites that the sound stage was reduced. This is quite repeatable - play a track with the dampers on the output tubes and the sound is very good, with high levels of realism. Remove the dampers and there is a marginal drop in quality, but the soundstage spreads. This is very evident with 'Breathing Light' from Nitin Sawhney's 'Prophecy' album. Here, on my system, the soundstage goes beyond panoramic, it actually wraps around you, you perceive sounds directly to the side and even behind. With the dampers on the output tubes this is reduce to being just very wide. Other albums, such as 'Goucho' from Steely Dan are locked into the speakers with the dampers in place. So, all the other dampers are going to stay on and the output tube ones stay in the bag. Got to say though that I'm at a loss to explain this, but it would seem as if an element of distortion/microphony (or what ever the damper suppress) can be beneficial, but don't really see how this can be linked to the width of the soundstage!. This is similar to those mains cables where you can hear the reduction in edginess, but the sound is robbed of some of its sparkle and life. Anyway, looking into something else to add to my list of 'things to spend your pocket money on to do with tubes', so watch this space.

    Paul
     
  6. dynamic turtle

    dynamic turtle
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    Thanks for the interesting review Paul. Given the affordable price, I might as well invest in some for the Romulus, Tube Box & Classic One. I did considered getting some Golden Dragon tube rings, but balked at the price (which seems out of proportion with their manufacturing cost).

    DT
     
  7. dynamic turtle

    dynamic turtle
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    Paul,

    Seeing as your 6L6 dampers are "in the bag", would you mind throwing them my way ;) ?

    DT
     
  8. Paul Williams

    Paul Williams
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    Hi DT

    If you want to have them on loan for a few weeks to evaluate, PM me your address and I'll post them to you along with the 4 spare ECC##/12A## ones I've got. I will want them back however as I suspect they will be tried at a later stage in other set-ups - certainly I have plans for a tube phono stage to replace the TAG one.

    Paul
     
  9. dynamic turtle

    dynamic turtle
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    Paul,

    Don't worry about it dude, more hassle than its worth. I'll get some myself, at some point.
     

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