Fri Mar 07, 2008 9:01 am
All week I've been buying and experimenting with tubes for my amps. I ran a test of 7 new (and NOS) 12ax7 preamp tubes.
It's been really interesting to go through the sales pitches and reviews of sellers, buyers, guitar geeks, and ham radio geeks (and I use the word geek as pros). I've looked at test charts. 1200/1800, 45/36, 86/92. 2117354/987997, 47873648/908734064. On their Hickocs and Eico's and every tube sounds great, and you just can't live without their brand. Russian, American, Chinese, Brittish, Military stock, medical stock, NOS, NIB, Octagon letters, unlabeled, sourced out, Triple micas, black plates, curved black plates, grey ribbed plates, Cryoset, D getters, O getters, Halo getters, tilted square getters, pu**y getters !!!!! AAAGGGH!!! I just gotta hear it for myself!!!
I mean, HOW MUCH DIFFERENCE CAN IT MAKE!!! Some go for $12, some go for $50, $100, $500.. Obviously I can't buy them all.. I'm just a blue collar guy with a tax return. I just bought 10-12ax7's, 4-5u4's, 4-6l6's, and a 12bz7 and I still ain't done..
But tonight I tested these 12ax7's with my own ears, through my Marshall Valvestate which only takes one. I picked these tubes based on the evaluations, reviews, and sales pitches of all sorts of people and their tests, some close friends, some strangers, and 3 results were really surprizing to me.
First let me show you how I rated them in my opinion. But before I do, I want it to be known that I don't have the money for Genalex, or Telefunken's, or other extremely expensive tubes. And I tested these tubes in distortion only. Generally I've found that if a tube sounds vibrant when distorted, you'll be fine with it in clean channel.
This is how I stacked 'em up after switching 'em up bracket style.. Head to head as well as process of elimination. It literally took me a couple of hours to do this with 7 tubes. But it was definitely worth it.
1. RCA- nos
3. Sovtek- LPS (cryoset)
4. Groove tubes
5. Sovtek- WA
Ok.. So lets get to the ones that didn't surprise me first.. The National Union, the GT, and The Sovetek-WA didn't surprise me.. The WA comes stock in a lot of stuff, and the GT is pumped HARD by Guitar Center for the masses. Both sounded flat and without any vibrance to me. But I knew the National would test high. The Sovtek "cryoset".. Ok let's move on. It was just middle of the road.
Now the surprises..
This is a three way tie in different ways.
The Mesa was really surprising.. It was arguably the best value 12ax7 of the bunch. I was told that these were heavy on the bass side, "not too bright, not so colorful".. Complete BS!! This tube hung with both NOS tubes in straight-up balls and sound-color. I couldn't tell the difference between the Mesa and the National. I bought it for $16 at Guitar Center, and it was a total baddass.. Screw GT. This is a stock tube with a NOS sound, and that's why I listed it just above the National. Phenominal result for the price..
The Tungsol.. What a total POS!! The output was 1/2 of the others, flat, not even worth being in the test. And if anyone wants to say "maybe you got "2" bad tubes", then I would say to Tungsol, "be more consistent. I could accept 1 out of 2 being bad, but not 2 out of 2. They suck. Period. Both of your tubes went right in the trash right along with my $25 bucks, I'll never buy your crap again."
The best tube by far was the RCA-nos.. MY GODDD!!! I knew it would be good, but not this good. This is heaven in a 1" glass tube. My jaw dropped to the floor and I just stood there staring at my amp for the next 5-minutes... I always wondered why some people swore by NOS tubes, and now I know by my own ears. Most people would've stopped at just this tube, but I spent the next couple of hours evaluating 2nd, 3rd, and so on.. It wasn't even a close second. The National and the Mesa were miles behind, and I bought this tube for $50 just to see for myself if the myth was true.
It kinda sucks because I spent the money on sales pitches and charts, and reviews, and Hickock readings, recommendations from friends and peers, and a ton of crap.. But sometimes you just need to listen with your own ears without all the explanations you read. I can now only imagine what the Genalex and Telefunken tubes sound like. If they are really miles above this RCA, I would probably go into a coma!!
Anyway.. That's my geek review. Take it or leave it. Make of it what you want.