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Which 12AX7 (ECC83)?

Discussion in 'Hi-Fi Stereo Systems & Separates' started by Paul Williams, Mar 19, 2005.

  1. Paul Williams

    Paul Williams
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    A question for all the 'Tube' enthusiasts.

    I’ve now got a valve integrated amp :smashin: with 6L6WGC/5881 output valves (4), 12AU7 Pre-driver (2) , 12AX7 Phase splitter (2) and a 12AX7 in the pre-amp. All are sourced from Chelmer (CVC Branded). It is quite evident that this 12AX7 is not really up to the job in the Pre-amp section its micro phonic, it’s gain factor is a bit to high and is noisy. :thumbsdow

    The question is what’s the best replacement?

    Past experience would have me searching for a NOS Philips as this was IMHO the best sounding ECC83 but these seem to be going for quite high prices now. :eek: So which of the current new tubes can give me this mix of classic tube sound and quality. Ei Elite gold has been suggested as perhaps the closest to the Philips.

    Opinions/suggestions most welcome.

    Paul
     
  2. howesey

    howesey
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    Try asking over at TNT Audio, they should be able to help.
     
  3. Paul Williams

    Paul Williams
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    Hi howesey

    Thanks I'll have a look, however, I think I've found a reasonably priced Philips NOS (JAN) replacement. So I'll give that a try - but if anyone has found a good low gain variant to try let me know.

    Paul
     
  4. D-man

    D-man
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    My Mesa/boogie guitar amp uses 12AX7's to deliberately produce overdrive.
     
  5. Paul Williams

    Paul Williams
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    Hi D-man

    Yes (I believe this is the all time most used type of tube) and I'd whole-heartedly recommend the ones fitted to my tube hi-fi amp as great for guitar amp use!

    Paul
     
  6. Paul Williams

    Paul Williams
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    OK - 3 x JJ-Tesla ECC83's on there way, one for pre-amp and a matched pair to replace the phase splitters. Plus an EI Elite 12AX7E to compare - more fun than trying cables :rotfl:

    Paul
     
  7. Paul Williams

    Paul Williams
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    Well as there seems to be a distinct lack of advise based on others experience of the 12AX7’s they’ve used, I’ll just add my findings after 20 hours with each of the ones I’ve ordered so far. However, before you read on just a quick word of warning. Firstly, I'm a non-technical person, well in this area at least, with no great level of experience or knowledge of tubes and their usage in amps. Just had a few and know I like them. :smashin: Secondly, the tube amp that I’m using doesn’t conform to the usual tube sound that most would expect. Indeed this was one of the reason it was of interest, having previously owned some EAR 509’s, which delivered, for me, the best elements of solid state and valve sound. So, it is not warm, limpid, soft (add whatever anyone usually uses to describe a valve/tube amp) as might be expected from a valve amp but quite forward and tight.

    First in the socket was the three JJ’s – produce of the Slovak Republic. These are a matched/balanced pair to replace the CVC ones being utilised as phase splitters and one for pre-amp duty. Now compare to the CVC’s the look far better made internally and very different. They also have a larger (thicker) glass envelope and cost £8 (+£2 if required to be balanced – still not sure if this is necessary) plus VAT. This tube was 100% non-micro-phonic with the volume at full gain and the envelope being tapped. In use, instantly there was a noticeable change in the sound, with some elements better, but others worse. The sound took on what I can best describe as an architectural grandeur. The soundscape blossomed and all the instruments were given their own space within this soundscape. There was a clearly delineated area of air (not the right word as in reality the use of ‘air’ would indicate something being there, blackness would not be right as it didn’t feel dark) around the parts. At the same time the music maintained the cohesive nature of a band playing together. The bass registers took on a formidable degree of precision and speed, with the overall sound swinging, not in the way that Naim amps add an element of artificial pace, but just providing a high degree of the truth that comes from the natural rhythm and timing that the musicians can bring to the performance. If you are into drumming technique then this would have been a delight with the added bonus clearly being able to ‘see’ where on the cymbals or the drum skin they were being struck. Differing techniques were laid bare and I found myself listening to the decaying notes of the cymbals and being amazed at how long they lasted deep into the mix. Whilst all this is well and good there were some bad points. Both male and female vocals were reproduced in a way that only valve amps can, however, with the JJ’s these had lost some warmth, which was not what was expected at all! The overall sound had developed a hardening, which added to all those elements above gave rise to a clinical precision that would have shamed some really high-end solid state gear – again not what I expected at all. I suspect this would be quite glorious in a softer sounding KT or EL output amp. The degree of this hardness did lessen as listening continued but after 20 hours I decided to swap out the JJ in the pre-amp socket and substitute the Ei Elite.

    Now the Ei Elite (12AX7E, non-gold version at £6.45 from Yugoslavia) looks cheep and badly put together. Within the envelope, nothing was square and this made the JJ look like a precision made product in comparison. All that aside, I did have high hopes of this tube as it does come with quite a reputation. I’ll state right now, that in my amp this is an awful tube and worse than the CVC, it provided higher gain, the treble was screechy (violins were torture at high volume) and it was quite micro-phonic. :( The bass had even more power than the JJ’s but this combined with the treble response made the sound of my system sound like those very early metal dome tweeter equipped speakers. The mid-band and vocal elements of the mix were good but these were destroyed by the emphasis being placed on the extremes. One quite amazing element though, was the precision with which percussion was reproduced was even better than the JJ’s. :eek: To be honest they did have their 20 hours, but what a relief it was to put the JJ back in, perhaps it should have been the Ei Elite Gold after all?

    The next stage will be to put back the CVC’s for phase splitting and re-listen again to both the JJ and Ei tubes in the pre-amp section.

    Other suggestions that have been made are a Groove Tube 12AX7(yes the guitar amp one) as this is as close to the original Mullard sound as you will get(?). Replace the CVC 12AU7’s in the amp with the much, much warmer and mid-emphasised JJ version, although I’ve not seen these advertised for sale in the UK. Or the lower gain ECC83/5751 G.E although this I’m told will emphasis the top end of the frequency range and finally – throw away the 6L6WGC’s, use EL34’s and live with the reduced life expectancy (I assume he was talking about the tubes). :D

    Paul
     
  8. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    Ah tube rolling, my favourite subject :)

    Well sorry I have seen this until now. Each tube will perform differently according to the operating characteristics of the amp and the tube constructions (many different sorts).

    Re general advice.

    My favourites are:

    Telefunken. Flat plat or ribbed. It really doesn't make much difference to me. A beautiful smooth sound but rare to find Now.
    [The EI are copies of the genuine Telefunken item (diamond on base). Batches are variable however, especially re hum and microphony (some are BAD in this respect especially eary 90s production (still being sold)). There is onely version of this tube despite claims elswhere. The EI are mile behind the Telefunken.]

    Mullard. My personal favorites and loads of variants here. Don't be put off by colour of printing (white vs yellow), it is an irrelevance loved by audiophiles NOT in the know ;)

    The box construction gives a very high quality sound (probably labeled CV 4004 (military spec)). M8137 is a special selected version of this miltary valve. This is probably the most easy so find and a great standard tube for HiFi. [This box construct is likely to ‘copied' by your JJ Electronics elite, their terminolgy if ‘iffy'. JJ I think calls them ECC83S. The S stands for spiral wound (in the box) which means lower hum and microphony. The JJ is one of the best of the current ‘crop' but WELL behind the true item. Silver vs gold is irrelevant here.]

    Mullard also did ladder anode type constructions. The longer one originally (my all time favourite ECC83) and the later shorter ladder anode (still excellent). The former is rare [as I have them all ]. Both are excellent.

    Any of the above are pure class whether for guitar or HiFi.

    The JJ I prefer over the current Russian outputs. The Russian 7025 isn't bad but like many of the Russian / Chinese / Eastern European, they are often relabeled bog standard coded with codes that represented the premium Western Eurpoean / US production (which are premiums). China I am no fan of. The Russians are now at least experimenting with Spiral winding, more rugedised construction etc etc. Watford valves seems to be better than most in separating out all these variants

    7025 is a hum (?) and micrphony reduced variant that many be of use to you. RCA made some good ones but I am getting ahead of myself.

    European number is ECC83. This represent standard construction / quality / hum / micrphony etc. The standard is VERY high quality/. 12AX7 is the US number. 12AX7A represented a small tweak (small) as did 12AX7B. Both probably made for ease of construct and reliabilty as opposed to sound quality. The W in 12AX7WA / WB means a ruggidised construction (largely for the military) are are built better. ECC803 / ECC803S are the premium mainland European variants (Telefunken / Siemens etc). In the UK it was E83CC and ones selected for noise were called E83CC-01, these most closely correlate with CV4004 (E83CC) and M8137 (E83CC-01) (the miltary designations first, domestic in brackets). In the US some were marked as Gold Brand but I doubt you will see those over here. 5751 is a lower gain variant that generally doesn't require circuit changes. [high quality again]. The 7025 is a low hum one

    I would take a bog standard Mullard ECC83 / RCA 12AX7 (rusty black plates) over any premium ‘designation' current produced. The only serious one I haven't tried yet is the new copy by Grove Tubes yet. In general if I see copy / replice I am wary but that is all many dealers have now days to sell. Manufacturer is ALL here but that is probably why there are virtually no Mullards now.

    Second hand Mullards / Telfunken make good buys for pre. Life is often 100,000 hrs, compare that with ‘realistic' figures for current production. Avoid second hand rectifiers and output valves in general.

    Tung Sol 12AX7 are a match for the RCA imho with GE, Sylvania, CBS, Westinghouse and PhilipsECG all close behind. Bare in mind there were lots of relabelling in this period in US between these firms just like MO and Mullard in the UK and Telefunken and Siemens in Germany (substitute France, italy favourite here as well). A closer look at the constructions will usually tell you who actually makes stuff though. I find the RCA / Tungsol to be excellent quality but behinf Mullard and Telefunken for Hifi use.

    Gold pins always look nice but are low on the list of important parameters. I would take a rusty pinned Mullard ECC83 second hand over a gold pinned ECC803S Tesla any day.


    http://www.watfordvalves.com/testreports.htm

    is a decent summary by a supplier. Vacuum Tube World and Eric Barbour did a great shoot out on ECC83 which covered many brands.


    ECC82 are as interesting :)
     
  9. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    re 6L6WGC I recomment the Sylvania 7581a (like STR 387). A big balsy tube that can take serious hammer. The US 5881 (6L6WGB) are also great but you need to check you disipation as the 7581a does 25W and the B less (21/3W). However proper US stock WGB (5881) often can take more than current Russian / Chinese WGC production!!! Standard 6L6 is a 19W'er.

    EL34 will need more changes and give a totally different sound (different not better per se).

    Not sure about 5751 emphasising the top however, they are a very even tube.
     
  10. Paul Williams

    Paul Williams
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    Hi Nic

    Thanks for the detailed information. The first question that comes to mind reading your response is why is it called ‘tube rolling’? :confused:

    The other issue I’d raise is that of cost – personally as with most things be it cables, cartridges, valves (tubes) and the like, I’d rather spend the money on CD’s/vinyl/DVD’s than endlessly keep on seeking perfection, so tend to put an upper limit on most things and for tubes this would be about £12. Every CV4004 seemed to come in at £30 a go (guess I should have kept those half dozen Brimar’s). So many of the more exotic/rare ones you mention are out of bounds. As I mentioned on a different thread, some years back I owned EAR amps and in conversation with Tim de Paravicini he stated that you could use any tube (that met the basic design parameters) and it would make no difference to the sound of his amps. Well over the years I did try various combinations of tubes and as predicted there was no discernable difference. So it was quite an eye(ear) opener to find how much difference these made - i was just afer a quiter tube! It’s nice to see the EAR 509 (Silver Jubilee Limited Edition) available again even if they now retail between £5 and £6k. I suspect that if I continue down the valve route, I’ll end up with an EAR/Yoshino at some point.

    But back to the current situation. I did read the shootout you mention, the info on the Watford site and this one.

    http://www.tube-town.de/info/doc/tt-report-preamp-tubes-engl.pdf

    and even though they (the latter ones) are aimed at the guitar fraternity they do pass comment on suitability for audio use.

    As you suspected the JJ’s are indeed the ECC83S’s spiral wound and were the ones recommended by Watford – who also suggested the ECC83/5751 G.E would be inappropriate. I suspect this was in response to my assertion that I didn’t need any enhancement to top end detail. I however suspect that the lower gain inherent with this tube and the balanced presentation would be beneficial. So may just try one of these and of course some other ECC82/12AU7’s and start considering a pre amp. May even just sell the lot and start afresh, now where's that EAR price list:suicide:

    Paul.
     

    Attached Files:

  11. dynamic turtle

    dynamic turtle
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    My 2 cents on the subject,

    I'm using '95 version (V3) of Paul's amp (CRDL Romulus) and am running the following tubes:

    Pre-amp & phase splitter: CVC/Chelmer 12AX7
    Pre-drivers: NOS Phillips 12AU7
    Output: Sovtek 6L6GC

    I really can't complain about the sound quality tbh. It sounds great through the frequency range, is musical & powerful. I understand the Chelmers are average quality chinese stock and could be improved upon though. I will also echo Paul's sentiments about spending large sums on supposed upgrades instead of media.

    The whole area of tube-rolling is dauntingly complicated to me and I'm really worried about spending hundreds on supposedly "better" NOS tubes and hearing little or no improvement. I have tried ECC83/ax7 tubes from other manufacturers (forgotten which ones) and honestly couldn't tell the difference.

    Oh, and we're just talking about one-third of the amplification here! Drivers & OP tubes add further confusion to the mix :rolleyes:

    I'm just going to enjoy the amp as it is from now on and stop worrying about changing the tubes.

    DT

    Nic, you know an unhealthy amount about ECC83's. Do you ever get a chance to listen to music in-between tube rolling!?!?!?
    Paul, re the de Paravinci, I'd expect it to iron my shirt for £5k!!
     
  12. Paul Williams

    Paul Williams
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    Hi dynamic turtle

    Yep - three more tubes and I'm finished, but as a point of note I would always purchase a spare set of tubes anyway. The supplied tubes would normally be used for about 2 months, then taken out and put to one side, as known working spares - then the new tubes would be used. No point in having it on the shelf only to find that when you come to use it, it’s not working. Just like the spare on a car, no use finding its duff when you've got a puncture.

    When I've been assessing the tubes its for a 20 hour period - 4 hour sessions over 5 days usually between 21:00 to 01:00 the next morning. I have three standard LP's (Joni Mitchell - Wild things run fast, Joe Cocker - Sheffield Steel and Led Zeppelin - 2) which curtain tracks are used as a benchmark, then the music is varied with whatever I fancy, just looking to have the pleasure bumps tickled. Also been using the amp with the DVD/projector and finding the quality so much better than my Marantz/Kef set-up I could almost get rid of the 6.1 and just use the Romulus for stereo AV.

    Paul
     
  13. dynamic turtle

    dynamic turtle
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    Paul,

    I guess that's sensible. I do have a complete set of spares in case of emergency (provided by previous owner)!

    I'm sure you've read the posts about those of us (myself included) who have ditched 5.1/PL2 in favour of stereo for movies & tv. The practise seems to be gaining momentum......

    DT
     
  14. Antpink

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    Cannot add too much here, other than to say that I recently replaced my 12AX7's from Chinese brand to Mullard, under advice from the local tube guru in Singapore. Admittedly a lot more expensive than the other options, this guy does seem to know what he's on about as the sound improved a great deal on tightening things up - one of my complaints was a less than solid bass (I think the term I used was "woolly") - as well as making more subtle improvement across the range. I must say I am very happy with the change.
     
  15. Paul Williams

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    Hi Antpink

    All contributions are useful as it adds to the subject. :smashin:

    The thing is, the sound is actually solid and tight across the whole range, but the tube itself is very microphonic and has a very high gain factor - this I think is affecting the sound. Overall the presentation is very good, its just that I know it could be better - I feel there's a better sound in there. I'm not interested in subtle changes, now the JJ's provided a dramatic change at little (relative) cost - less than half that of a single Mullard for all three 12AX7's. But of course there was a down side. Currently I'm back to listening to the CVC's with a Golden Dragon Tube Ring over the Pre-amp valve, and as if to prove the point, its no longer microphonic and the sound is better.

    Loads of options, plenty of time to experiment - but I've just had to buy a new battery for the bike, with which I could have got a couple of Mullards, so this months 'tube rolling budget' (still need to know why its called that) has gone. :thumbsdow

    Paul
     
  16. alexs2

    alexs2
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    My own personal favourites would be Mullards or failing that,Telefunkens,but in general,any NOS tube compared to new ones.

    My favourite supplier is Chelmer Valve.....superb selection of NOS tubes,but not always the cheapest.

    www.chelmervalve.com
     
  17. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    Don’t know why it is called tube rolling, it just is!!

    Re the price of these tubes now days I think are ridiculous. I collected these babies when they were 50p to £1 each for Telefunken and box plate Mullards, thought they were good at the time so stocked up a little, have almost 400 ECC83 and variants ‘in stock’ here :)

    I have an interest in all hardware, but my passion is valves, not because I claim they are any better (or worse) but just because I like them. I build valve amps for fun (keeps me sane but time is a big issue now days with twins) and just play but yes I do listen / watch to as much as I can. Despite popular opinion, I actually change my systems less than most around here, still use a 1986 CD player, and have large collection of the software we all use. So I am more balanced than the hardware posts might indicate….honest gov

    I still think for the majority of valve amps, quality NOS will bring changes, most of which are beneficial, particularly with signal tubes. Tim P generally uses his tubes a little differently so no real surprise about limited changes there, to be expected in my book.

    DT I have cover only a fraction on ECC83, this is a subject I can bore for England on :). This is what we do on cold winter evening in Cumbria though my local valve mate is currently in Iraq :(

    Don’t forget you can damp (rubber ring) these signal tubes to minimise microphony, some of these are ‘expensive’ but I have used an item from the suspension of a VW for this for years, about 10p each.

    A quick peep on ebay showed several decent tubes you could try, well worth keeping an eye on but most were rubbish types. Never done this myself but might be a cheaper source of tubes.

    There are a few Chinese / Russian tubes I have always thought brilliant. Russian 5881 is excellent, as is their EF86 and ECC88. Svetlana has always made some class kit like 6L6GC / 6550C. China are now starting some interesting 300Bs and some other odd balls, hell even Russian 2A3 looks decent with a ‘single plate’ structure. There are also the Russian ‘unique’ tubes, the three nipple 33 and the new ECC88 super plus variant that have no competition so all is not bad just with ECC83 you will be hard pressed to better a box plate Mullard. Why, they are built better and have lower distortion…..Russia / china just on the whole not done too well with 6L6, 6V6, ECC81 –88, GZ34, 5U4Gs……

    Rectifiers is a whole new ball game, some stunning NOS rectifiers that make current production sound rubbish.

    Hifi world did a recent article on all this tube rolling as well, some info was ‘iffy’ but the basic conclusion was buy Mullard!!

    Re is a £30 ECC83 Mullard box plate worth the cost re gains in sound quality? No brainer, the difference is generally worth MUCH MUCH more, sounds daft I know, but it is the reality of the situation, and if anyone knows my posts on this site I am not easily swayed by fashion, fads and false upgrades…

    Always happy to answer any questions on this subject but there are a few others on this site with good info / knowledge as well.
     
  18. alexs2

    alexs2
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    Hi there Nic.....got to agree with so much of what you've said there.....

    Some bargains and some gems to be had on ebay,but only really for those who know what they're after,as there's so much used rubbish about.

    As to rectifiers,again they can make a huge difference,esp with some of the new copies being a bit marginal on output,and some excellent NOS ones still around,but with the prices rising rapidly.


    Some of the NOS Svetlana rectifiers are very good for the price,but as you've also said...no substitute for the real things
     
  19. Antpink

    Antpink
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    Paul,
    Funnily enough, too much gain was a problem for me, and the Mullards cured this a little (but not much), and one other thing I noticed was the weird occasional popping and scratching noises all but disappeared - I'm assuming this was microphonics from the original installed tubes. Mullards are expensive, and I have seen online prices that are quite scary, but I bought mine from a local dealer who handpicks, tests and matches (where appropriate) all his tubes and sold me 6 Mullards for the equivalent of S$60 each (or GBP20), so find a friendly valve shop who is in it for the love of the game rather than the money to be made.

    I wish I could buy a bike to put a battery in - since moving here my wife has categorically refused to let me do so on the grounds that our children need a father!
    Cheers
    Antpink
     
  20. Paul Williams

    Paul Williams
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    Hi Antpink

    The friendly valve shop option (no such thing around here) has made me think and I've emailed a local valve amp repair specialist to see if he has some stock, or a suppliers - I'll wait and see. It may be a useful contact as I may wish to have the unit looked at with a view to upgrades later.

    Nic/Alexis2 – any views on the Brimar ones as these are about £30, the Mullard’s I’ve seen about £60? May have to work up to one of these and will probable try the ‘ECC83/5751 G.E’ first.


    Hmm, motorcycles. I've not owned a car for the last 20 years, that’s what my wife has. Indeed, my wife contributed to my current bikes purchase and hopefully I've had my quota of brushes with the grim reaper, having escaped with the scars to prove it - but that's another story and probably of less interest than an ECC83 debate and one which I indulge in, in another forum.

    Paul
     
  21. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    Speak to Jim Fish on 01484 654650 and explain what you want, he is always my first port of call, though I have spoken to him in ages (no need to buy any valves!!).

    Brimar at £30 sounds a bit steep, Langrex were always 'good' value. I am sure we can do better....
     
  22. Paul Williams

    Paul Williams
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    Hi Nic

    Thanks for the link - it is quite tantalising to think there made be a good improvement in the sound of an already very good sounding bit of kit. Unfortunately, no pocket money left this month (& its only the 5th :rolleyes: ) for indulgences, so it’ll have to go on hold for a while.

    Unless I can shift some of the stuff in the classifieds - Exsposure 2010S anyone?

    Paul
     
  23. alexs2

    alexs2
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    Hi Paul....As Nic rightly says,the prices you've been quoted do seem a bit steep.

    I'm quite sure that you should be able to do better than that for single valves,and if Nic's supplier is unable to help,do give Chelmer Valve a call,as their prices and service have always been good.
    The owner is extremely knowledgeable,and he has a huge stock of NOS valves.
     
  24. Paul Williams

    Paul Williams
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    Ok - things are selling in the classified so I'll start casting around for a Mullard ECC83 (CV4004/M8137) and report back on the results.

    Paul.
     
  25. Paul Williams

    Paul Williams
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    Well, having had a good look/search it would appear that the going rate for a Mullard M8137 is about the £40 mark. Although there was a mint pair on Ebay with a starting bid of £65 that ended unsold without a single bid being placed.

    In the end I’ve settled for something more ordinary in the preamp slot, a standard circa’ 1969 Mullard ECC83/12AX7 – yes you were right Nic far better than any modern tube I’ve tried. :smashin: I have however, a pair of Telefunken ECC82’s in the pre-driver role (mind you, still don’t have a price for these yet) and have left the supplied CVC 12AX7’s in the phase splitter role.

    The reason for settling on the less esoteric Mullard in the pre role is that I’m expecting a stand alone pre-amp to be delivered on Tuesday, so bypassing the onboard pre-amp section. This is a valve design, and uses the more common/cheaper ECC82/12AU7’s – although an approved upgrade is to replace one of these with an E80CC – so the search now starts for a NOS version of this. It is also a valve rectified unit using a 6X4/EZ90 – more tube rolling (still like to know how the name came about) here we come. I wonder if there is a self help group for tube-a-holics. :rolleyes:

    Paul
     

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