NOS versus new production tubes

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NOS versus new production tubes

Post by øøøøøøø » Tue Dec 28, 2010 10:11 am

I've got some great info to share.

The backstory: I've been kicking around the idea of building some more microphones-- namely a "U47-inspired" mic. The U47 used a tube called a VF14 which is nearly impossible to get. They only ever made about 25,000 and most aren't good enough for mic use-- but to even "roll the dice" will cost you about $2,000... then you may or may not have a usable tube. Ouch!

This led to researching alternative tubes, and then tubes in general, from the audio engineering side of things.

Turns out there are one or two guys (one guy in particular) with such a passion for audio tubes that he knows literally more than anyone I've ever seen on the subject. His name is Oliver Archut and he's very well-respected in those circles, as the man behind TAB Funkenwerk, one of the most respected restorers of vintage microphones.

He has, in my opinion, the definitive answers about the "why do NOS tubes perform better and last longer?"

I always heard that it was foremost a difference in materials grade (I'd always heard 'laboratory grade' in the old tubes versus 'industrial grade' in the new tubes) and general build quality. Turns out that is pretty much right, but it gets deeper.

First of all, according to Archut, Mike Matthews/EH/New Sensor are generally pretty responsive to his criticism and feedback. Their tubes have improved a bit, but most still are not there. However, JJ is very stubborn and will not listen to any criticism of their tubes, and will deny all shortcomings. This is interesting to know.

After some of the new EH/New Sensor EF806 failed his 10,000 hour lifetime test, Archut wrote the following:
After the lifetime test I took all tubes apart and checked what went wrong, and aside that everything was made sloppily and not right looking, compared to a real EF806 as well as measuring, the biggest joke is the filament. The historic Telefunken EF806 had a double helix filament were the Russian samples had just a spiral one, resulting in a higher noise floor.

Even the gold plated first grid cannot make up for the sub-standard of the raw materials..... The designation EF806s is given wrongfully.

As a manufacture of mic pres I use at least 600 EF86/804/806 a year, and I have had hoped that Mike would come up with something that is at least better than the EF86 made in East Germany, but quite frankly this tube is just plain old not useable in a mic, nor mic pre, etc.
And then he goes on, with even more "meat:"
Over the last 10 years I talked numerous times with Mike, JC and even Irushka in Russi

There are two big factors with Russian tube manufactures why their tubes never can live up to old Western specimens:

the production steps they CAN NOT DO and the production steps they DO NOT WANT TO DO. Aside of that, the raw material' situation is quite poor and even tough I supplied Mike and JC with the companies' names which still make some of the material they needed, nothing happened so far.

The problems in detail:

One of the biggest problem with Russian tubes is the cathode/filament and then 2nd is the chemical procedure that applies the active coating to them.

The noise Klaus talks about is a barium coating that gets deposited onto the first grid after about 200h. This makes those tube too noisy even for simple applications with a 3 Meg Ohm grid leak; using a gold plated first grid won't help that problem- in fact it makes it even worse.

The 2nd problem is the isolation coating of the filament that deposits small traces of magnesium onto the entire tube electrodes.
When disassembling a used tube you can see those problems for yourself just by holding the grid(s) into a flame and seeing how the color turns greenish. A new tube that you take apart and subject to the same test won't show those colors)

I am still hoping that the remaining tube factories will notch up the quality so that those new tubes are useable in studio gear... But I do not see that it has happened so far.
Many of these things can and will apply to the tubes we use as well.

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Re: NOS versus new production tubes

Post by AWSchmit » Tue Dec 28, 2010 10:44 am

Though, some of this is Greek to me. It was still very interesting. Thanks for sharing.
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Re: NOS versus new production tubes

Post by Professor Plum » Tue Dec 28, 2010 2:58 pm

interesting. thats cool reading. if anything ever happened with the tech tubes guys, i would have said to try to get them connected with this dude... but at this point even the techtube website is dead.

on a side note, one of my biggest studio gear lusts is the V72S pre that he builds. :? :? :? i dont have anything else recording-wise that would make a pre of that caliber worthwhile but of the stuff that would go in my dream studio setup its near the top.
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Re: NOS versus new production tubes

Post by sookwinder » Tue Dec 28, 2010 7:04 pm

Brad ... great thread ... where did you read these comments by Oliver Archut ?
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Re: NOS versus new production tubes

Post by øøøøøøø » Tue Dec 28, 2010 9:19 pm

More insight from Oliver:
Ei has lots of the original Philips/Mullard and Telefunken machinery and their tubes are far from NOS ones.

GT provided over the years an incredible service for pre-screening tubes, their warranty policy is absolute the best, but even they can not remake the entire tube raw material support industry.

And that is the biggest problem to make tubes, the raw material, companies like "International Nickel" here in the US, Hoesch in Germany do not make the needed special alloys anymore, and this is one of the biggest secrets of NOS tubes.

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Re: NOS versus new production tubes

Post by alfal013 » Wed Dec 29, 2010 12:49 am

Brad, you never cease to amaze me with your general knowledge of pretty much everything. This was a great read. Thanks for sharing.
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Re: NOS versus new production tubes

Post by zhivago » Wed Dec 29, 2010 4:12 am

AWSchmit wrote:Though, some of this is Greek to me. It was still very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

hmmm...I dunno...I'm fluent in Greek, and still didn't get it! ;D
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Re: NOS versus new production tubes

Post by zhivago » Wed Dec 29, 2010 4:17 am

joking aside, I have purposely stayed off the NOS tube "dance" as I just can't afford it...I've been pretty happy with normal production tubes...

...the only reason being, I have avoided being spoiled forever by playing a good set of NOS tubes...especially in something as a tweed deluxe, which is my main amp, and also a circuit very sensitive to tube changes.

for what it's worth, I prefer the sound of Tung Sol ones to JJs, for some reason that I can't really explain.


what is the best new production tube at the moment?
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Re: NOS versus new production tubes

Post by Joeleo » Wed Dec 29, 2010 3:32 pm

Do you recommend any places online to find NOS tubes? My Twin is due for a retube, and i wouldn't mind at least checking out prices.

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Re: NOS versus new production tubes

Post by sookwinder » Wed Dec 29, 2010 6:34 pm

zhivago wrote:joking aside, I have purposely stayed off the NOS tube "dance" as I just can't afford it...I've been pretty happy with normal production tubes...
I was like this, but then I did "hear" the marked differences (improvement) when I used NOS 1960s 6V6s in my Champs. Now NOS 6V6s can be bought readily cheaply on ebay if you wait (RCA, GE, sylvania) so I put them into my PR and DR and woooooww what an improvement.

I also managed to source a bunch of NOS preamp valves which will last me "a life time" and are the "sound" I want.

But unfortuneately 6L6s and EL34s are not as cheap as 6V6s these days on ebay, but then again for me I don't have any high powered amps that require a bank of EL34s or 6L6s
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Re: NOS versus new production tubes

Post by jgs61 » Thu Dec 30, 2010 4:32 am

Interesting thread Brad. Thanks for posting!

I actually just got some JJs that I plan on trying. I'm not too happy to hear they might have digressed, but at least they were really cheap.

I will add that I like all the Tung Sol 12AX7s and 6V6s I've played. I'll be interested to see how long they last. NOS is still the way to go when I can afford it.

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Re: NOS versus new production tubes

Post by øøøøøøø » Thu Dec 30, 2010 6:18 am

If Oliver is to be believed, expect 200-500 hours of good sound from those tubes. They will probably still work after that, but the magnesium and barium contamination on the other electrodes that Mr. Archut observed happened around that time, according to his threads. Of course, he is using the tubes in high-end microphones and mic preamps, which are very sensitive applications. Maybe he's a lot more discerning than most guitar players.

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Re: NOS versus new production tubes

Post by jgs61 » Thu Dec 30, 2010 6:59 am

øøøøøøø wrote: But what would happen if many of us--not just the microphone folks-- started demanding better tubes?
And manufacturers willingly cater to our demands and a superior product is made at an affordable price?!? That would be a perfect world. :w00t:

Seriously though, it would be nice to have better tubes out there, but I would imagine that most tube users don't put too much thought into it. Maybe I'm wrong. I know a bunch of other guitar players very well and I'm the only* one that cares enough to learn about this stuff. Not that that makes me a better person (or musician!), but I think most just don't really care about the minutia of their sound and gear. They just want a tube amp.

EDIT: * I should take this back. I do have a cousin who is into boutique amps. However, I think he mostly just uses whatever tubes are in the amp from the manufacturer. Although he probably burns them quick since he's in a really active band. I'll have to ask him about that next time we talk.
Last edited by jgs61 on Fri Dec 31, 2010 3:13 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: NOS versus new production tubes

Post by Jaguar018 » Thu Dec 30, 2010 7:11 am

Before I dig my little hole, let me say that I'd really like the new tube builders to get some more of the vintage-correct elements right. I suspect some of the rare earth elements are getting siphoned away to computer stuff... but still.

The hole I want to dig: I feel like there are zillion more elements that affect guitar amp 'sound' which are not present with the vintage tube microphones. For the mics it's just voice to microphone, and with guitars you have stings, wood, pickups, cable, amp wiring (caps, tubes, etc. ), cabinet construction, speaker age & type, and a slew of other things I forgot to think of. [Clearly an amp has its own sound regardless of the guitar one plugs into it, but one needs to have something plugged in to get a sound.]

If one wants to drill down to the minutia of tube composition, what about all the other little bits? The correct alnico combinations? Instrument and speaker cables are made much better these days, as are strings. I have fully succumbed to the truth/hype/myths/GAS. I have bought the fancy cables, strings, NOS tubes, speakers, guitars, pedals and everything else I could waste my money on... but I don't hear that dramatic of a difference with specific components. I mean, I guess it is there, *somewhere* because cumulatively, my setup sounds really nice, but NOS tubes are only a small component of it all.

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Re: NOS versus new production tubes

Post by bdm » Thu Dec 30, 2010 7:12 am

if nothing speaks to the quality of vintage tubes then check this...

i've been steady gigging with a DIMED mid sixties silvertone 1482 for the last 5+ years on the original power and rectifier tubes and have had zero issues whatsoever! 45 year old tubes pushed to the limit and still giving the goods!

meanwhile i'm on my third modern production power tube in my mercury so far this year!

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