A COMPLETE Tube Virgin!

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by latheofheaven, Sep 11, 2021.

  1. latheofheaven

    latheofheaven My Pants are FULLY Analog... Thread Starter

    Basically that's about it :)

    I just got a new Little Bear t11 phono preamp. In over 40 years of pretending to be an Audiophile, I have never tried any tube based components. I thought with my setup, perhaps the best and simplest (and not too terribly expensive) way to start would be to try a total tube phono preamp instead of using the phono inputs on my Sherwood Newcastle discrete preamp/amps, which I have been running kind of like a Dual-Mono setup, one amp for each channel running only the high frequency dipole line-array towers in my system. I've had it set up this was forever (well over 20 years) So, I figured introducing a complete tube phono preamp early in the signal chain and leaving pretty much everything else alone might give me a good idea how this 'tube stuff' sounds. I have a 3rd amp, a Crown 400/side running just the 15" open dipole woofers, one a side. So, I GUESS what I'm really doing is just replacing the phono sections in both the Sherwood amps.

    Unfortunately, due to convenience, I just had a stray low-grade Monster interconnect to throw on there as I 'burn' the phono preamp in (I guess that would also include the unused auxiliary input in the Sherwood amps too, since I'm no longer using the phono sections, and I guess the interconnect too - I'm gonna give it about 20 hours) I have a really old but very nice Randall interconnect that I need to put new RCA ends on and then I will switch to that which I'm pretty sure will sound quite a bit better that far up the signal chain.

    I have NO bloody idea if I'm even going to like the damn thing, but I sure am keen to find out :) TBH, even though my components aren't super expensive with the Dual-mono phono sections (which were known to be pretty decent at the time, over 30 years ago) have always provided a very nice, detailed, open soundstage. So, what I'm trying to get to in my tedious, long-winded way is that I've read that the stock Chinese tubes that come with this unit are 'Okay', but pretty much everyone replaces them with something. So, what I'd REALLY love to have are some suggestions and input about the tubes, since there are about a MILLION different types out there. And also, where would be a nice, low-price place to start. The 3 tubes in the front of the unit are 6n2's, but there is a switch if I want to use 12AX7's. The back tube (the rectifier???) is a 6Z4 and is smaller. Now, knowing absolutely NOTHING about this, I stumbled across for example these seemingly very low cost tubes which I THINK will fit and replace the 6n2's. They are Russian made and called:


    Russian 6N2P-EB / 6AX7 Audio Tubes - www.thetubestore.com

    Now, should I try these as inexpensive replacements for the 6n2's OR should I consider instead getting 12AX7's of some kind instead...? I really have no idea which is which. So, that would be first. Second, after deciding whether to replace the same type that I have in there (6n2's) or trying new 12AX7's, are there some low cost choices for that type also. And, if you'all DO suggest keeping the same type of tube that's in there (6n2's) is the inexpensive one I linked to above a good place to start for about $10 a tube, or would I be better served to try a different version? Also, lastly, should I try replacing all 4 at once, or should I try just the front 3 6n2's first, or should I try replacing only one tube at a time first, and which one...? (I've read about V1, V2, V3, but I don't have a clue as to what it means)

    I REALLY appreciate any input, thoughts, and kind suggestions that will help me in this TOTALLY blind endeavor of mine.

    Thank you all kindly! :tiphat:


    PS: Here's my system if anyone wishes to check it out. There are detailed comments on the lower right corner of some of the pictures. Thanks!

    enfield and timind like this.
  2. DaveyF

    DaveyF Forum Resident

    La Jolla, Calif
    The Mullard 12AX7 reissues are a very nice sounding tube for not that much money.
    latheofheaven likes this.
  3. latheofheaven

    latheofheaven My Pants are FULLY Analog... Thread Starter

    Thank you! I was beginning to think that people were put off that I'm a virgin! :D

    BTW, after burning in the unit for over 20 hours, I did indeed replace the awful Monster Cable with the vintage (read: old) Randall interconnects after I replaced a couple of the RCA's on them. And WOW!!! Holy Smokes did the sound take a huge leap upward! So, even with the stock tubes, I was damn impressed when I demo'd a well known reference album that I'm very familiar with, and I heard detail, depth, and things in the soundstage, AND the soundstage that I'd never heard before. MOST impressive for adding just this little guy. Honestly, I've always thought the phono sections in my vintage discrete amps were very detailed and provided a nice image, BUT... this is truly a very surprising step up! :D
    bloodlemons and Rick58 like this.
  4. Ham Sandwich

    Ham Sandwich Forum Resident

    Sherwood, OR, USA
    I'm only put off that your thread has caused me to have Madonna songs run through my head. Like the very first time. And I don't own any Madonna songs or particularly like Madonna songs.

    Tubes are a different thing. My system has hybrid tubes for amplification. And that's different than solid state. I've heard full tube systems for amplification and pre-amp and phono. And that's a different level and different experience. I haven't gone there yet to full tube land. I plan to go there eventually. But would prefer to go there with some experience rather than diving in like a virgin.
    latheofheaven likes this.
  5. latheofheaven

    latheofheaven My Pants are FULLY Analog... Thread Starter

    Hey, appreciate your reply mate! C'mon... we all KNOW that you sneak into the closet and listen to Madonna every chance you get! :D

    Well, as I mentioned above, this is my first experiment, and since my system is kind of unique in its design and the way I have it set up (link above) I truly didn't know how a tube component would make it sound. I THINK from what I've read and seen review wise that for the amplification, unless I learn otherwise, I probably am going to prefer the detail of the solid state amps, especially since I've always liked the design of my older, sort of semi-classic discreet ones and how I have them set up, one running the high-end of each channel. BUT... so far I think my guess is right in introducing the total tube phono stage prior to the pre/amplification, thus replacing the Dual-Mono phono stage setup of my 2 amps that I've been using for many years. I was quite surprisingly blown away by the sound when demoing it yesterday. Now, I still need to hear what more aggressive stuff sounds like, but the really separated, detailed soundstage of what I listened to was truly amazing, and much better than what I THOUGHT had been pretty good before.

    But, again, that is with my setup. I think I will probably just leave it at that since the improvement was so amazing. Like I say, I have a feeling that with my particular setup, going for any tube amplification is not going to be well matched with it. BUT... with that said, I do think with what I've heard reviewed and such that with MOST people's more traditional setups, especially with 'normal' speakers, I do get the strong impression that some of these really well reviewed tube amps/preamps, such as the Primaluna, would probably be great!
  6. KT88

    KT88 Forum Resident

    Getting a higher quality phono preamp would be a good idea. It doesn't have to be tube to provide surprisingly better results. In fact, I find that solid state is the way to go with phono preamps until you get over the $1k price point. Tube preamps, especially cheaper ones, tend to have a lot more noise and distortion than SS preamps. You will definitely hear a more 3D soundstage with tubes, but that is usually accompanied by 2nd order harmonic distortion and a higher noise floor, lowering resolution. So, if it sounds better to you, that's good, but I think that you have just scratched the surface of what is possible in terms of overall sound quality.
  7. Classic Car Guy

    Classic Car Guy Analog to the Next Level

    Northwest, USA
    Oh man. you just posted the right thread title.. "A COMPLETE Tube Virgin!"
    I'm gonna get my snack and watch this threading get swarmed by millions of bees...:-popcorn:
    jonwoody, hi_watt and latheofheaven like this.
  8. Ham Sandwich

    Ham Sandwich Forum Resident

    Sherwood, OR, USA
    Millions of bees? 300B's are plenty.
    jonwoody, gakerty, ti-triodes and 2 others like this.
  9. latheofheaven

    latheofheaven My Pants are FULLY Analog... Thread Starter

  10. latheofheaven

    latheofheaven My Pants are FULLY Analog... Thread Starter

    Appreciate the input Bill, thanks! Well, my system certainly is not in the neighbourhood of some here, that's for sure, but I think if you check it out in the link above, you will see that the setup is rather unique with 12 drivers a side completely open baffle dipole line-arrays, and the fact that I'm running it Dual-Mono already. Believe me, I may not be the brightest 'Tube' here :) but, in over 40 years of doing this, I can wholeheartedly promise you that the sound took a huge leap upward with this all tube phono amp (now, you could argue that my existing discrete Dual-Mono phono sections in my amps weren't that good, but for quite a while I had thought that the sound, resolution, detail, and especially with this speaker setup, the imaging and soundstage have been quite good)

    But, I think this leap will be good enough for me for now for the reasons I mentioned above, barring of course any other wild discoveries! :D

    And again, the primary reason for this thread is that I'm asking all you really tube savvy guys about the stock tubes that I have in my phono amp which honestly sound amazing, and what small step options for TUBE REPLACEMENTS that are available and that you would suggest.

    Cheers! :tiphat:
  11. doctor fuse

    doctor fuse Forum Resident

    You started your tube journey in the EXACT reverse direction as me. I started with a tube power amp, then tube preamp, and then last year finally replaced my SS Benz Micro LOMC phono reamp with a free Zero Zone clone of the famous EAR 834 tube phono preamp (the ZZ is the best bargain in new audio, IMHO). With the addition of a SUT, I now have an entirely tube signal chain for my LOMC cartridges (except for a sub, which is very low in volume, barely audible) and I love it.

    To give my potentially-incorrect answer to your question: I was under the impression that rectifier tubes did not have that much effect on sound, but that small signal tubes like your 12AX7s have the greatest effect.

    If I were you I would listen to your new phonostage for at least a few weeks, stock. Unless you run into some sweet deal on 12AX7s (old portable tube reel-to-reel recorders often come up in my area, for free or under $20, complete with almost mint Mullard and Brimar tubes inside.

    Enjoy your journey and enjoy your excellent system!
    latheofheaven likes this.
  12. latheofheaven

    latheofheaven My Pants are FULLY Analog... Thread Starter

    WOW! I bet that is a great sounding system mate! Thanks kindly for the nice reply (I really like your Avatar - Canuckistan :laugh:) Yep, I think I will indeed follow your advice. It honestly surprised me in how much better it sounded that I'm sure I will be perfectly happy with it stock for now. Probably in order just to be more SURE of the total sound, I will need to listen to some strong, rock'n stuff to see how that comes across. But, with the layered, detailed, and amazing sounding image for really well recorded lighter stuff, it is seriously very good. The unit came with stock Chinese 6n2 tubes; I have NO idea what the effect would be replacing them with the 12AX7s. That's why I was kind of curious as to IF I ever wanted to try other tubes, if I should try OTHER 6n2's or go with 12AX7's. But, for now it's great!

    I can imagine how your total tube system must sound... It must frigg'n lift you right up to sonic Nirvana I bet :) I would hazard a guess that there isn't a SINGLE harsh note to be heard in that system.

    Thanks again Bro! :cheers:
    doctor fuse likes this.
  13. doctor fuse

    doctor fuse Forum Resident

    Oh, somehow I got the impression you were waiting for the amp. The design of the EAR 834 is such that you don't have to match tubes (there are three 12A7s) and the third one doesn't even have to be that good quality. Which is nice, since I can just roll whatever I have in my tube collection. I guess then I would just say wait until you can find some good used tubes for free or cheap, like in old consoles and tape recorders (still the last bargains in tube gear). Luckily, 12AX7s are everywhere, so if you start looking now I bet you will have more than a few, for little $$$, in a year or so.

    Just listened to the Stones, side 3 of Hot Rocks. Nothing better than listening to an analog LP of a rock band using tube amps, on my tube system. But even dissonant, dense 20th century orchestral stuff sounds incredibly detailed AND pleasing to my ears, very life like.

    Cheers! :)
    latheofheaven likes this.
  14. latheofheaven

    latheofheaven My Pants are FULLY Analog... Thread Starter

    Sounds excellent! Thanks kindly again for the suggestions!
  15. saturdayboy

    saturdayboy Forum Resident

    Good luck on your journey! IMO, tubes in pre’s are a great addition to a system - but not a substitute for tube amplification
    latheofheaven likes this.
  16. latheofheaven

    latheofheaven My Pants are FULLY Analog... Thread Starter

    Thanks! Yeah, like I mentioned above, from what I've been able to understand, MOST 'normal' systems would likely benefit from tube amplification. And, maybe in the future that might be true for my system. But, with the way my system is designed (link above) I have a feeling that like Joe at Zero Fidelity said, I think to compliment the kind of openness and large soundstage created by my kind of unusual type of dipole line-arrays, I think that as I understand it I may need the more 'precise focus' of the solid state for the amplification. But perhaps at some point I might actually find out :)
    saturdayboy likes this.
  17. head_unit

    head_unit Senior Member

    Los Angeles CA USA
    Eh...many wild suggestions come to mind...

    More seriously, if nobody re-iterated it already, I liked what someone stated in another thread that don't expect cheap tube amps to be good. In particular, tube amps need really good transformers.
    latheofheaven likes this.
  18. Lowrider75

    Lowrider75 Forum Resident

    Philadelphia, PA
    I agree that you should live with the stock preamp for a few weeks.
    What genres of music do you listen to, forgive me if you already commented.

    Some tubes are inherently noisy and some phono preamps add noise to the audio signal. I would try a simple test; with no music playing and your volume control set to your typical setting, listen to your tweeter section for any tube hiss or noise being introduced. If the background is the same as always, you've got yourself a nice starter setup. If there's hiss, you may want to order some low-noise tubes.
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  19. latheofheaven

    latheofheaven My Pants are FULLY Analog... Thread Starter

    Hey, thanks for the comment!

    Pretty much all kinds. Zeppelin, King Crimson, Goth, Industrial, Brian Eno, Dead Kennedys, Gary Numan, KMFDM, Jethro Tull, Funkadelic, Miles Davis, Eddie Harris, Grateful Dead, you name it :)

    Yep, already did that... Let me put it this way. BEFORE I placed the tube phono amp in the system and just had my Cardas tonearm cable running to the two Dual-Mono phono sections of my semi-vintage Sherwood preamps/amps (each amp running one channel of my two tall high-end open dipole line-arrays) and with vintage (read: old) Randall interconnects going out of the tape out of the Sherwoods to a Crown 2502 400/side which runs the two 15" open dipole woofers, I had MORE hum then. After I added the tube phono section, I was shocked that the hum almost completely went away. So, so far as noise goes, it's really not an issue.

    But yes, I will indeed take most of this month of the 'return window' to listen as much as possible. I've probably burned in the tube phono amp with actually playing vinyl through it about maybe 25 hours already. BUT... I do turn on the tube amp around noon and leave it on until I go to bed (which should have been like 2 hours ago :D) So, does just leaving the tube amp on continuously like that during the day still add to the actual 'burn in' hours that the tubes need, as stated by the guy who runs the Primaluna outfit, or does actual sound hafta be going through it all the time?

    Thanks kindly for any suggestions or ideas!
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  20. Lowrider75

    Lowrider75 Forum Resident

    Philadelphia, PA
    Yes, tubes will burn-in simply by leaving the power on.
    A component will break-in by leaving it powered up but also needs to play music or a test disk. That's my experience.
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  21. latheofheaven

    latheofheaven My Pants are FULLY Analog... Thread Starter

    I'm sorry, but I'm a bit confused (my normal state...) But, it kinda sounds like you are saying both :)

    Basically, in this case, the tubes ARE the component, right? Sooooo..., sorry, but can you explain?
  22. Lowrider75

    Lowrider75 Forum Resident

    Philadelphia, PA
    Sorry, inside the component are many electrical devices, capacitors, resistors, a transformer or two, wiring. It takes time and supplied voltage for the caps to form. When new they are stiff and need to be heated. This is what happens during the breakin period. An amp may need 200 hours.

    New tubes only need the component to be turned on.
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  23. Lowrider75

    Lowrider75 Forum Resident

    Philadelphia, PA
    Your small phono preamp probably has been fully broken in.
    So, when you install new tubes, they only need to have the power on.
    latheofheaven likes this.
  24. rcsrich

    rcsrich Forum Resident

    My first outboard phono preamp was one of those facepalm moments ..the realization after years if listening to vinyl and wondering why my CDs sounded better that the majority of built-ins stink.
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  25. latheofheaven

    latheofheaven My Pants are FULLY Analog... Thread Starter

    Gotcha, thanks!
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