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Tube reviews seeming pointless and futile

Discussion in 'Glowing Bottle Tube Amp Forum' started by CV Jee Beez, May 4, 2017.

  1. Andy B

    Andy B Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

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    As far as differences in sound or tone go, when asked, I would have certain customers bring their guitar in & play through their amp swapping V1 & the PI for them to hear the difference between tubes. That way they left with what they thought sounded best.
    The favored V1 preamp tube seemed to be the TungSol RI 12ax7 with the Mullard RI CV4004/12ax7 second. PI favorite was the Sovtek 12ax7LPS or a NOS 12at7.
     
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  2. mad dog

    mad dog Friend of Leo's

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    Not being an electrical engineer, I cannot directly prove or disprove this. Still doesn't make sense. Too many questions. What is "clean sound"? This tone you say does not change ... what is it? There is subjective tone (how a sound sounds to me, character and timbre) and objective, such as one acoustics related definition I found:

    Tone, in acoustics, sound that can be recognized by its regularity of vibration. A simple tone has only one frequency, although its intensity may vary. A complex tone consists of two or more simple tones, called overtones. The tone of lowest frequency is called the fundamental; the others, overtones. The frequencies of the overtones may be whole multiples (e.g., 2, 3, 4, etc., of the fundamental frequency, in which case they are called the second, third, fourth, etc., harmonics of the fundamental tone, itself known as the first harmonic). A combination of harmonic tones is pleasant to hear and is therefore called a musical tone.

    Even thinking of tone only in this simple vs complex vibration way, would not adding, subtracting, or changing frequencies (by adding/lowering volume), change the tone?

    Practically, the answer doesn't matter. Such definitions may be interesting in terms of science, less so in terms of experience. My hearing and musical sense is completely subjective. Tone to me is the character or timbre of sound. Swapping tubes can in some cases dramatically change the character of what I hear. Those tubes that sound better in a given amp (to me) are the ones I want to use. Even the most reductive definitions of tone doesn't change that. It's heuristic, learned through trial and error.
    MD
     
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  3. Wally

    Wally Telefied Ad Free Member

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    Biasing is a big factor, and cathode biased amps still present this difference. Without taking the measurements, one cannot know everything one needs to know in order to make comparisons. In a fixed biased circuit with an adjustment circuit, one can set the bias for all tubes being compared so that plate dissipation is equal. In cathode biased circuits, one would have to buy tubes that had very similar operational parameters...."grades"...so that the plate dissipation factors were similar and then the comparison has merit. That is imho the only way to accurately compare power tubes with regard to sonic qualities. This can be proven by simply adjusting a fixed biased adjustable circuit from say 68% of max plate dissipation to 43%. There is a world of difference in those two situations...enough to make someone think that you replaced the tubes with some other brand.
    I don't pay much attention to power tube comparisons if the biasing is not a part of the process.
     
  4. CV Jee Beez

    CV Jee Beez Tele-Holic

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    Reviews said JJ were better than the stock tubes in a handwired AC30. I found that to be true. Bought a set of TAD's but haven't put them in yet.
     
  5. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Telefied Ad Free Member

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    I gotta say that my personal experience with comparing tubes is vastly different from most of the popular repeated statements made by tube retailers.

    At the same time there are bits of truth to be found in the internet gab about the "tonal" attributes of different tubes.

    One problem that dabblers in tube options might have is comparing the small sample found in current production tubes.
    Tubes have been produced for a century, and the advance of the tech ceased decades ago, meaning that current production is neither the best nor the most representative of tube tech.
    Comparing a new Chinese tube to a new Russian tube in your amp in hope of getting a handle on the range of tonal variation between various preamp tubes would IMO be like comparing a Big Mac and a Whopper hoping to learn about beef.

    IME there are certain vintage tubes within common types that have no equivalent in current production, and represent some of the more distant areas of the sound quality range.

    Re: the suggestion that samples vary just as widely as design models, IME many of the outstanding design models through history sound far closer to each other than to anything else.

    Compare ten good working 50s black plate Raytheon 12ax7s to ten good working 50s gray plate Tung Sol 12ax7s and you will find that the variation between samples of the same model is very small compared to the obvious difference between the two design models.

    At the same time there are a lot of vintage tubes that I really don't notice a difference between, because they don't have any really extreme sound characteristics to my ear.
    IME and to my ear there is an EQ to a preamp tube, there is a degree of clarity, which may not linearly follow the EQ, there is an amplification factor, and there is a distortion characteristic, which again may not follow the EQ.
    When I say the clarity and/ or the distortion characteristic may not linearly follow the EQ, I mean that one tube might have clear highs and wooly bass, while another tube might have soft highs but firm clear bass, along with more or less output in those frequency ranges. So the amplitude and clarity of a frequency range may not both be the same.
    Obviously we can adjust the EQ on the amp, but there is more going on than just the relative amplitude of highs mids and bass.

    For that matter, treble is a very broad term.
    Compare the treble of your amp with the more bright 50s Raytheon and the less bright 50s Tung Sol in the first stage and try to EQ them for the same treble "sound".
    IMO this will not happen, and the EQ of the tubes is not as simple as the EQ range in the tone stack.

    The difference between shunting treble from the pickup to ground in the tone stack versus allowing more treble from the guitar to get through with preamp tubes that have either less treble of more pleasing treble is just not going to end up the same.

    Treble and clarity tend to go hand in hand, but it's not entirely that simple.
    I like both, and the Raytheon has both in spades. Too much for my ear in most amps. Playing Esquires.

    It might be reasonable to say that the "perfect" tube would have no outstanding characteristics, but instead be balanced in tone and clarity.

    IME it is hard to hear outstanding characteristics from a perfectly balanced product, unless comparing it to another product that distinctly lacks (or has too much of) a specific characteristic that I'm paying specific attention to.

    If comparing one tube to another, which specific characteristic are you listening to? None in particular? A change from "modern' to "vintage"? A change from "Fendery" to "Marshally"? More "bluesy"? Maybe hoping for a more "chicken pickin" sound?
    Before we can be certain we didn't hear a difference we kind of need to decide what difference we're listening for, since sound is hard to diagram or qualify.

    If "your sound" is something you hear obsessively and feel a need to dial in to minute detail, then IMO you need to learn about the range of tube variety.

    But if you just think you might be missing something because you read about it on the internet, I'd suggest skipping the whole can of worms and buy whatever seems to work.
    No need to take on the obsessions of others.
    If I was able to adequately express myself musically through singing and/ or songwriting, I might not be as obsessed with my guitar sound.
    For that matter, if I mostly played distorted sounds, or Strat neck pickups, I would not have as much trouble nailing sounds that really made me happy.
     
  6. Count

    Count Friend of Leo's

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    Just as a matter of curiosity; if there are so many possiblities for variation between individual tubes how do amp makers like Fender ensure conformity?
    They are sourcing tubes from manufacturers in other countries by the thousands and they also have to produce their own product to meet their own criteria within designated limits. By my reasoning they must have some way of ensuring that each tube meets their criteria. They can't afford to try tubes in every amp they make until they find the ones that are right.
     
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  7. koko1

    koko1 TDPRI Member

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    We talk about a range of maybe 20% or less in tubes "tonal" difference. That may be in the Fender range .. The "tonal" base of an amp is set by the circuit, the speaker and cab construction of the amp.
     
    Last edited: May 5, 2017
  8. perttime

    perttime Tele-Afflicted

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    Perhaps the tubes get plugged into a tube tester somewhere along the line. Perhaps not.
     
  9. radiocaster

    radiocaster Poster Extraordinaire

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    TAD is Tube Amp Doctor, a German shop, which rebrands various tubes.
     
  10. bpr103

    bpr103 TDPRI Member

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    I sincerely doubt that they do, when it comes to tubes. The sound of the amp is largely determined by the circuit and the speaker/cab; I think we can agree on that. That makes the tube a small consideration, an afterthought, once you've got those right.

    Not if the tube is such a small player in the sound, nor if the consumers aren't particularly discerning. In either case the Fender cabinet with a subpar tube will likely fall within their designated limits. Most folks are conditioned to buy based on brand name alone. It takes years to develop (or corrupt, if you're used to subpar sounds) an ear. Decades to develop two.

    It's very hard to hear differences so subtle as tubes, especially when not A/Bing directly, which is impossible in a retail setting, where it's pretty easy to see a logo and assume it's good or bad.

    As many have mentioned, the performance of a particular tube is dependent on the manufacturer's tolerance as well as the amp in which it is used. The job of Shuguang and JJ is to make sure that those tubes fall within their specs; the job of Fender and Marshall is to make sure that their circuits fall within their specs.

    The cabinet configuration, the speaker(s) inside the cabinet, the room in which that cab sits (bedroom, Guitar Center, or Massenburg's studio), the angle at which the cone is hitting the relevant diaphragm, as well as whether the diaphragm is inside the ear canal or a microphone all play a larger part in sound than the tube, right?

    Marshall and Fender just have to make sure their circuits are right and that the logo is visible.
     
    Last edited: May 5, 2017
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  11. fjrabon

    fjrabon Tele-Afflicted

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    They just don't worry about it.
     
  12. goonie

    goonie Friend of Leo's

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    Yup. I change tubes when they wear out. Changing them in search of 'tone' is a waste of money.
     
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  13. codamedia

    codamedia Poster Extraordinaire

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    There is a lot of hyperbole and contradiction when it comes to tubes...

    How many times does a thread pop up saying "I'm going to put 6L6 tubes in my EL34 amp because I want better low end and less mids"! Aside from warnings of possible incompatible wiring and a re bias... this is immediately debunked by the tube purists (as it should be) that the amp will still sound the same - it's the circuit, not the tubes. YET.... Buy a new amp and those same tube purists will tell you to buy new glass for the amp so it will sound better... no change in tube family, just new tubes. Hence.... the confusion begins and/or continues for most :confused:

    Used within spec and presumed healthy (not noisy or microphonic) I doubt many will ever hear a difference between a cheap Chinese and a quality NOS.... but we guitar players are not known for obeying limits. It's how a tube reacts when it is pushed beyond it's specs that really separates the quality. Some head into creamy warmth while others may drift into nasty artifacts and harshness. Certain brands begin to become known for their characteristics... that is where the recommendations and generalities are coming from.

    Myself... I never push the power on an amp so I don't worry much about the power tubes... Sovtek, JJ, GT branded, etc... it really doesn't matter to me. However I am more particular with the first preamp tube.... that's the one I am likely to push the hardest with my guitar, boosts and/or overdrives. All the others just need to be healthy.

    Just my 2 cents...
     
    Last edited: May 5, 2017
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  14. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Telefied Ad Free Member

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    I agree that it is very hard to hear subtle differences between similar sounding tubes.

    However, not all tubes are similar sounding, and if you compare 12ax7s that are at the more extreme ends of the sound spectrum, the difference is not at all hard to hear IME.

    I'll add that there are players who can hear more subtle differences than I can hear, which I guess means that they have more developed listening than I have.
    I'm not sure if it's hearing ability or listening ability, but a really good recording/ mixing engineer working a board has skills I cannot even approach.
    I will presume that they developed their listening ability, rather than that they have special ears. Listening is a skill just like any other.

    That said, I also guess that some people have poor hearing, and I know for certain that my hearing is pretty bad.

    If I swap between ten different brand vintage 12ax7s in the first gain stage, I might hear six as sounding pretty much the same, and the other four as clearly different. Sometimes I need to play for a few days to notice something I missed at first listen, like a nice warm sounding tube starts to sound more muddy than warm as I play louder and miss some detail I should be hearing.
     
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  15. Wally

    Wally Telefied Ad Free Member

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    I doubt very seriously if Fender is concerned too much about this aspect. I can't see them sitting around 'rolling tubes' to decide which tube they install. Perhaps in the Custom Shop they are more particular about tubes, but the bottom line still dictates what they buy..and sell.
     
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  16. fjrabon

    fjrabon Tele-Afflicted

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    As far as replacing my brand new Chinese stock tubes go, I look at it this way:

    I want to have backup tubes anyway, so in case of failure I'm not using a backup amp for 3-10 days while I wait for new tubes to arrive. Well, if I'm going to need backup tubes anyway, I might as well use the stock Chinese tubes as my backups and replace them with something slightly nicer that really only costs a few dollars more.

    So, when I buy an amp, yes, I immediately order a set of decent quality replacement tubes. I don't go NOS, except maybe V1 and the phase inverter, maybe. But I'm not throwing those Chinese tubes away, I'm keeping them as spares. I'd need spares anyway.

    Yes, NOS tubes are better, for the most part. I have a $2000 headphone amplifier (for music, not guitar) that I put good NOS tubes in. Sitting on my desk like that, pumping out at most 500mW, those things will last forever. But in a combo guitar amp that I'm shoving in my car? With a speaker pumping out 90-100 dB inches away? To be played in a smoky bar to a bunch of drunks? At levels of gain well outside of the specs the tubes were designed for? On a class A amp that's notorious for burning through tubes (AC15)? Nah. That ain't getting NOS tubes. No how, no way.

    If I ever record an album, maybe I'd put NOS tubes in my amp, as it just sat in a studio. But regular use? LOL
     
    Last edited: May 5, 2017
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  17. Wally

    Wally Telefied Ad Free Member

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    Replace a Chinesse 12AX7 that is sitting in an input preamp stage, and you will hear a huge difference. An amp will come to life...more lows, more highs, more harmonics.... I have yet to hear a Chinesse 12AX7 in a tone processing stage that had any positive musical quality to it. I keep them for trem circuits or phase inverters, but I never use one of them in a tone processing stage.
     
  18. Wyzsard

    Wyzsard Friend of Leo's

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    New band name !

    Toney Glass and the Rectfiers
     
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  19. cabra velha

    cabra velha Tele-Afflicted Ad Free Member

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    I kind of think the variability in old (and new) tubes is gravy, there is something comforting in no two being identical. OTH the way NOS tubes are marketed and the prices they often demand smells a little hinky. Some of this is due to the HIFI boys, who are in general notorious for creating expensive rabbit-holes.

    I get great satisfaction risking $20-$30 on a tube I've never heard before, plugging it in and discovering it sounds dandy, but I avoid the big NOS merchants and so far have payed almost no attention to reviews.
     
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  20. waparker4

    waparker4 Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    I have... the TAD 7025wa
     
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