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I'm on a budget - I need 4 AU7's to go with my 4 KT88s in a small push-pull integrated.
My old, nearly expired JJs I have now sound much better than the Electro Harmonics I recently purchased and tried.
(the EHs made the soundstage disappear to between the speakers, sharply etched out all the individual sounds and inner detail but at the loss of slam and musicality).
I should say I like the JJ sound because it is sweeter in the mids and highs, has fuller base, especially in the higher bass octave and they throw a wider deeper soundstage - I thought the EHs sounded awful.
But this is for my system and my ears.
So, any thoughts on a sweet wide sound for under $20 ea other than the JJs?
Seems like only RCA, Sylvania, EH (ugh) and very few others exist at that price point.
What about Chinese?
Edits: 05/07/09Follow Ups:
If you can find some old Baldwin or Wurlitzer 12AU7 tubes they have worked great for me. Some may be noisy, but they tend to share a common trait, neutral and musical.
JAN Sylvania, GE, RCA, Raytheon 12AU7WA, 6189's, 5814A, 5963..., used RCA clear-tops, there are plenty of them out there that are good for < $20.00. EBay(be careful), Asylum Classifieds, Audiogon, etc. Just gotta search a bit. You can contact me and I may be able to point you in the right direction. Jim McShane, TubeStore, TubeWorld, me, other Asylum Dealers/contributors have nice stuff. Learn, compare and ask plenty of questions before you pull the trigger - you'll be happier in the long run! Just remember opinions are based on their experience with their equip - not yours.
Good luck on your hunt!
Someone suggested 5963s. Not a bad sounding tube, but they tend to be very microphonic. Be careful of any 5963s that you buy unless they are noise/microphonics tested if you plan to use them in a sensitive application.
You can pick up used but fully tested Brimar 13D5's, which are direct subs for 12au7's, on ebay. They should be within your price range for a pair with a good amount of life left and not too much more for a pair testing as NOS. In my system, and to my ears, they are the best 12au7 I've tried and have a clear, articulate and balanced tone. They just barely surpass the CBS-Hytron 5814-also a fine tube but probably outside of your price range. Opinions vary on the Brimars, as they do with every tube brand and type. If you like the JJ's, then you may want to look for a pair of strong testing Amperex 12AU7's. The JJ's sounded dull and lifeless in my amp and it is not a dark sounding amp to begin with. As always, YMMV.
Try these.I own them and they far surpass any other American tubes from the '50's that I own.
There are so few in that class that I find listenable, and they aren't cheap. Amperex 7316s ("o" getter from 1959-60 only) may be the best. CBS 7318s are interesting-wonderful tone. Early Tungsols are OK too.
None of which is under $20.
Why not a new set of JJ's?
I would try to find some amperex long plates even orange globe series or CBS 5814A 15mm black plates.
I use 6 12AU7's in 5 pieces of gear, all vintage. The reason I mention that my 12AU7 use is all vintage is that I believe I tend to choose tubes for vintage that counteracts the slowness, darkness and warmness that I love so much.
My favourite 12AU7s:
Philips/Amperex/Valvo 7316 / ECC186
Siemens triple mica 5814A / E82CC
CBS 5814A- blk plate- stirrup getter (1957)
These are the three 12AU7 models that I bought enough to place everywhere I use 12AU7s- plus two spares!:
12AU7  1, 2, 2, 1 TOTAL: 67
Philips SQ/ by Siemens 5814A -3 mica- DE- NOS
Brimar ECC82 cleartop- GB- NOS
Sylvania JHS 12AU7WA- 6189- NOS 66
HP/ Amperex-- NOS
HP/ RCA- cleartop- NOS
RCA- 5814A- black plate 2 mica- NOS
RCA/ Textronix 2-matched prs cleartop NOS
Valvo/ Philips ECC82- dimp disc-Holland -NOS
Valvo/ Siemens E82CC- NOS
CBS 5814A- JHS blk plate- stirrup gtr- NOS 57
RCA cleartop- USED
Amperex Bugle Boy 7316- Holland- NOS 64
RCA “Command” 5814A- NOS
CBS 5814A- blk pl- sq gtr- NOS/Used?
Sylvania 5814A- USA- c.1970
National by RCA- 5814WA- black pl- US- NOS
Siemens- E82CC/6189- 2mica, halo- DE- NOS
Siemens 5814A -3 mica- USED [25
Valvo 6189- RTC- France- db gtr sup- NOS (17,17)
Valvo ECC186/7316- Holland- 1965- NOS [21
Siemens/H E82CC/6189- 3 mica- DE-NOS [13
1. The Philips 7316: is for me the solver of all 12AU7 problems- it does everything really well and like the Siemens has a great, transparent bass- you can hear detail and sounds differentiated far into the bass. Very quiet.
2. Siemens 5814A/ E82CC: The premium Siemens tubes I find consistently energetic, dynamic and punchy. The Siemens, like the much-discussed RCA "cleartop" might, in my view, be too aggressive in modern equipment, but certainly can help wake up a McIntosh MC240. I also use the triple mica E82CC in the MPX section of a McIntosh MR67 tuner.
3. The CBS black plate 5814A is in the fairly wonderful category, and like the 7316, I can imagine working well both old and new stuff. A bit "fuller" sound than the 7316.
Unfortunately, the 7316 and Siemens triple mica 5814A were discovered to be wonderful and/or wonderful by the guitar amp crowd so they're expensive now- $75+, but I think that with a little patience, you will find good CBS 5814A's under $20, and I'd recommend trying for those first.
RCA 2- mica "Command" 5814A: After the CBS, firmly within the $20 category is the very good RCA 2- mica "Command" 5814A: well-made, articulate, smooth, quiet. The "Command" designation I believe was the RCA version of the Amperex "Bugle Boy" brand- selected tubes that tested above standard- matched triode sections, gain, and low noise,and etc. Very nice, and if I weren't putting a pair of the CBS 5814As in a Scott 330D tuner (mono, 1958), I would use the RCA's. I think the last 4- NOS RCA "Command" 5814A's cost $20 all together in about 2005. These are so good, it's difficult to believe they are cheaper than current production. In my view, RCA small tubes- except the 7025 and I think some of power tubes- are sometimes overlooked as to their high quality as many people rush for Telefunkens and Amperex.
Happy Hunting! Let us know what you end up using.
I second the CBS/Hytron 5814A and I got all 6 of mine for an average of less than $10/each last year and a half. Four were NOS and the others tested like it.
I also have a sleeve of NOS RCA Command 5814A - and these pale by comparison in my phono stage. They seem slower, thicker and generally dull to me.
"Its better to have online friends than no friends at all."
Antique Electronic Supply has 6189s for $9.41 each.
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