Slight Rant- No More NOS Tubes

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by avanti1960, Jun 9, 2018.

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  1. avanti1960

    avanti1960 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Chicago metro, USA
    Lately the sound of my system has been slightly noisy and less dynamic, something missing.
    First thing I noticed was that one of my Tung Sol KT120 tubes on my Rogue Audio CMII is dead! Won't bias- zero.
    Received the new set and things are sounding much better.
    Decided to swap in my never used new production Tung Sol 12AX7 just for kicks and wow, the detail, treble extension and bass is much better than the somewhat new NOS Amperex 12AX7s that I paid a huge premium for. The Amperex sounded great at first but rounded off in a hurry.
    Then I noticed that my prized 12AU7 Amperex Holland Treble Clef logo from the 50's is microphonic and noisy like a mofo! I paid a small fortune for that one!
    Swapped in the stock $10 JJ and the sound is much more pleasing- clean, extended, dynamic but a little dark.
    Since I like the Tung Sol sound so much I ordered some new issue 12AU7s to replace the JJs. Through the whole exercise my amp is telling me that NOS tubes are not worth it any more- for sound or longevity. Very surprised by this.
  2. Abbagold

    Abbagold Working class hero

    Been there done that. I always go back, kinda like a junkie! Either by reading a thread on here or stumbling across a nos in the wild.
    TimB, Paully, Fitero and 1 other person like this.
  3. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    I often find that swapping in fresh, unused tubes (of any vintage), can be surprising. And no doubt there are are lot of new tubes that are quieter than old tubes, even previously unused old tubes (though sometimes it takes some weeding through the new production tubes to eliminate noisy ones). But there are qualities of some old tubes I've never heard any new tubes reproduce -- like the tactile timbre and midrange presence of Blackburn Mullard EL34s. And I've had plenty of new tubes go noisy and microphonic on me after use too. Tube world is not a perfect world.

    FLEMKE Forum Resident

    Contact Andy with Vintage Tube Service. Look at the website!!
    Vintage Tube Services - High End Audio & Guitar Amplifier
    G E, avanti1960 and juno6000 like this.
  5. allied333

    allied333 TUBE AMPLIFIER REBUILDER - inquire

    I get better sound with NOS vs new so far. So, I will not have 2nd best sonics.
  6. Rolltide

    Rolltide Forum Resident

    Vallejo, CA
    Even as a NOS junkie I acknowledge here are some new tubes that are surprising. And it’s not really tied to any price hierarchy either, cheap JJs can be great.
    saturdayboy, Helom and mike catucci like this.
  7. Never been unhappy with JJ tubes yet. Even when I worked Groove Tubes (2003-2004) I would go through big batches of JJ tubes and would always be surprised at the unit to unit quality. In the end they stood up well to most NOS.
    mike catucci and Rolltide like this.
  8. Strat-Mangler

    Strat-Mangler Personal Survival Daily Record-Breaker

    Never liked the way any JJ sounded. Ever. Cold and rather bland.

    As for NOS tubes, it's best to just get them from a reputable dealer who will test them for microphonics and can be trusted they truly do test as NOS.

    Unfortunately, most so-called dealers (referring to people on eBay, USAM, Audiogon, etc) are just regular people with a tube tester who think they know what they're talking about and use the acronym "NOS" interchangeably with "old/vintage" when the "N" stands for "New". Most of the tubes marketed as NOS don't fit that description whether we're talking about actually being never used, ever, or even testing as new.

    As for sound, my personal experience is I've never heard a tube type that didn't get its best sound quite easily and handily via a true NOS tube as all current production tubes sounded adequate or terrible. My latest experience goes back a couple of weeks, too.

    I also have never had an NOS tube go bad on me. All tubes which did were current production. One was a JJ 12AX7 which strangely burned a hole at the top of the glass dome. Never seen anything like it or since. Swore off JJs after that which resulted in my introduction to NOS tubes.

    There are few tubes that are very good, such as the EL34 Winged Cs I use in my Marshall amp. They are also used commonly in stereo amps and deliver a beautiful sound. However, plenty of people with more cash to burn in that area than I who have tried NOS Mullard XF2 EL34s stated it wasn't even close.

    Sure wish most current production tubes dethroned the usual NOS suspects but in my experience, it is very rare.
    krisjay and Linto like this.
  9. TarnishedEars

    TarnishedEars Forum Resident

    Seattle, WA
    I have also found some found the current tube offerings to be shockingly good sounding. I have nothing against genuine NOS tubes. But these days what some resellers are call "NOS" I have very serious issue with, since many of these tubes actually have thousands of hours on them.

    Personally, unless a tube is being represented as NOS by a trusted dealer of the highest integrity (such as Kevin Deal), or it is a JAN type for which I know there to be thousands of NOS tubes still in existence, I am extremely skeptical about any sellers giving tubes this designation.
    krisjay and Paully like this.
  10. jkull

    jkull destroyer of cookie cutters

    It depends on the tube. There are certainly tubes that modern production just does not match, sonically, to older makes, for instance the 12AX7.
  11. TarnishedEars

    TarnishedEars Forum Resident

    Seattle, WA
    I agree that it is extremely difficult, and sometimes even impossible, to find newer tubes which sound identical to many old-stock tubes. But it is often possible to mix and match various newer tubes together in such a way so as to achieve the sound that you are looking for anyways. However this can take a lot of rolling to discover what the magical combinations of tubes are for any given piece of equipment. And this process can be time both consuming and expensive.
    Kiko1974 likes this.
  12. Guitarded

    Guitarded Forum Resident

    Tubes are like women.
    When they are new to you, they are interesting and engaging.
    When you've had them around for a while, they suddenly seem less impressive and more bland.
    Eventually, they will get noisy and need replacing.
  13. allied333

    allied333 TUBE AMPLIFIER REBUILDER - inquire

    Hickok tube testers have a life test for NOS tubes. It reduces the filament voltage. Preamp tubes & tetrode or pentode power tubes will not drop readings during the life test. For tube testers without the life test, reducing filament from 6.3 to 5 volts simulates a life test. Ask the seller to perform the reduced filament test and publish the readings. Old NOS direct filament triode power tubes will drop readings during reduced filament voltage so the test is not valid for NOS direct filament triode power tubes.
  14. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    I was just wondering about this. I haven't bought new 12ax7s in a long time and I need some new ones and NOS tubes have gotten crazy pricy. I mean '80s JAN surplus 12ax7s are selling for like $70. Those used to be almost give-away tubes and they were the tube that everyone said, "Oh, they don't sound as good as the old ones."

    I used to think the Sovtek 12ax7LPS tubes were pretty good sounding but I haven't heard one from a new production run in yearss. I know that there are some tubes the sound of which don't appear to be available in current production -- like true pentode Blackburn Mullard EL34s and their tacitle timbre and midrange presence. And I know the durability of some of these new tubes leaves a lot to be desired. Those old EL34s could dissipate way more heat than was spec for an EL34; the new production tubes, almost none of which seem actually to be pentode EL34 but tetrode 6CA7s or KT77s, will red plate if they get within sniffing distance of spec maximums.

    But most of the new product tubes I have heard are very low noise, lower noise than most of the old tubes I've heard. And I've heard some great sounding new tubes, like the Russian 6N1P-EB, which are great sounding 6DJ8 subs, and dirty cheap.

    I know we're down to very few large scale new tube manufacturers -- New Sensor, JJ, Shuguang, Psvane -- so competition isn't that fierce. And probably most of the tubes are sold to guitarists who are looking for different things out of a tube than hifi enthusiasts. But I know all these producers have their super premium lines now too.

    I'm looking for some new 12ax7s, not Mullard-y sounding ones with that touchable timbral quality, but more Telefunkeny sounding ones -- clean, precise, super quite, deep and wide soundstage. Are there really none like that?
  15. Otlset

    Otlset under western skies

    Temecula, CA
  16. mreeter

    mreeter Forum Resident

    Midwest, USA
    Rogue Audio used to ship all of their gear with new production JJ's installed. It stands to reason that the Cronus would sound good with the JJ's back in place.

    I've found that the best sounding, new production tubes in my system are from Gold Lion. At one time I had sixteen small signal tubes in my set-up, keeping high end NOS tubes gets expensive, I keep the Gold Lions in the less critical positions, and get by just fine.
    Robert M. and juno6000 like this.
  17. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    Blackburn Mullards were special, and you know, because we always seem to like the oldest, harder to find ones better, I liked the XF1s best of all (probably someone will come along and say, "Yeah, but what about the metal plates? Those were the bomb."). I'd never use 'em in a guitar amp. It's a waste, especially now that they're $1K a quad IF you can find 'em. In guitar amps, even when we're playing clean, we're playing with so much more distortion than in hifi; and we're expecting so little in the way of bandwidth: I mean the lowest fundamental on a guitar is circa 80 Hz and the speaker output tops out at what 4kHz, 5kHz? AND you're operating 'em in all kinds of adverse conditions -- with bar and nightclub noisy electrical systems, in environements where no one is hearing the nuance, in very hot temperature environments, and in and out of cars and trucks. I'd keep the great vintage hifi tube home, for use in full bandwidth systems.

    The Winged Cs were good sounding EL34s; so were the '70s Teslas. I heard the RFTs are good too but I've never heard them. There are good sounding guitar tubes today -- I've used the TAD 6L6WGCs in a Fender Bandmaster and they sound great and they're pretty durable, OEM Shuguang-made I think; the Russian 6P14P-EV sold as the Sovtek EL84M is a great, beefy guitar tube (but I've had reliability problems with them). Never owned an EL34 amp, though.
  18. Just Walking

    Just Walking Forum Resident

    Abingdon UK
    I have heard it said that most remaining NOS tubes were actually factory rejects (microphonics, low emission, cathode/heater leakage, grid leakage or poisoning etc; the 1962 RCA tome on Electron Tube Design has chapter and verse on these mechanisms). If that is true it is little wonder that it is a bit of a lottery when buying high ticket price NOS tubes.

    I think that the key is to buy from someone who knows about how to test a tube. This is not a recommendation, but this guy seems to know a thing or two about testing audio tubes Laboratory • Vintage Tube Services and his tested tube prices reflect that.
    Helom likes this.
  19. harby

    harby Forum Resident

    Portland, OR, USA
    I find that unlikely. If it is in an RCA box with the tube number on the end, it came out of the RCA factory like a normal tube. If anything, it is the subsequent treatment of NOS by dealers opening tube boxes, testing them, selling them as matched pairs, marking up the "better" testing ones, that has made getting unmolested ones a minefield (let alone those dealers calling used tubes "NOS").
  20. macster

    macster Forum Resident

    San Diego, Ca. USA
    For my needs I'm in agreement with the OP. I'm new production all the way. As a matter I'm about to try some new production CV4004's from the Tubestore.

  21. juno6000

    juno6000 Forum Resident

    Pembroke Pines, FL
    I only buy my NOS tubes from him at this point. Its a crapshoot anywhere else, with a few exceptions. Never been disappointed with anything I've bought from Andy. For new stuff I usually go with the tubestore.
    Helom, G E and FLEMKE like this.
  22. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    Prices too rich for my blood (and for my wallet)....those are the kinds of prices that have me looking at new production. I already went to new production for my power tubes and for my guitar amp tubes....the degree to which I push those tubes or go through them just made buying these high-demand old production tubes prohibitively expensive for me.
  23. jkull

    jkull destroyer of cookie cutters

    Telefunkens are my very favorite in my home stereo application. I've compared a NOS pair of smooth plate tele, Blackburn mullard, and highly regarded RCA's. All are great, with the telefunkens being the most natural, clean, pure etc. Just perfect. I expect these to last me many many years as they have been 'said', in ideal conditions, to hold up for up for 40k hours. We'll see. I think I'll get at least 6-8 years out of them.

    For my guitar amps, I'm not as particular. Just a totally different situation. I play in high gain style bands.. Modern production tubes do fine in that application

    Fwiw I use eBay sellers for my NOS tubes. Have never had a bad experience. In fact I bought the mullards and RCA's to compare to the tele's. After about 2 weeks of ruling out the tele's as surely my preferred of the 3, I returned the other two pair, no hassle what so ever. That's what you have to do, to find what tube brand or build you like the best in your application. I be sure to return them free of even a new crease in any box, or of even a fingerprint smudge on the glass. Try to be respectful about it, but it is honestly what I do. Did the same with 12AU7's for my DAC. Did the same with the rectifier tube.
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2018
  24. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    Yeah, everyone says that about the Teles, I want new production with those characteristic. I may just pony up for some Teles at this point -- I've never had any. Had a lot of USA 12ax7s of various vintages from the '50s to the '80s -- RCAs, Sylvanias, Westinghouses -- and an array of different Blackburn Mullards, both short and long plates, from the '60s, over the years....but no Teles.
  25. FLEMKE

    FLEMKE Forum Resident

    Give VTS a call. He is not trying to retire on each sale. He has been very good with price.

    G E and Helom like this.
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