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Is there any other group of pre amp tubes that are on par or better than the 12AX7/5751s?
Is it fair to say that, in general, the 12AX7/5751s "family" produces the best sounding tubes?
I know it depends on the equipment and the specific tube but if I switch pre amps I want to make sure that I have decent tubes to select from.
I usually don't respond to posts like this, however there's been a lot of similar posts along this line. It's been my experience that topology has a lot more effect on sound than any particular tube type.
The only way you could make a generality about a tube type is to compare them with similar topologies. That of course doesn't work, unless we are comparing tubes of the same pin out, with very similar RP, mu,and curves, in the same or very similar circuits. Any competent designer will choose operating points, that allow a chosen tube to operate in the most linear part of the plate curves, so often people are comparing apples and oranges.
Any perceived difference is also dependent on personal preference, which further muddies the discussion.
If I was going to choose a preamp/line stage/driver tube tube, the usual suspects, such as the 12AX7, 5751, and 12AU7 (among others) would be far down on my list. There are far more linear tubes out there.
"Is there any other group of pre amp tubes that are on par or better than the 12AX7/5751s?"
Yes, but it all depends on a)implementation and b)personal opinion.
"Is it fair to say that, in general, the 12AX7/5751s "family" produces the best sounding tubes?
In my opinion no. See my answer above for why I say that.
"I know it depends on the equipment and the specific tube but if I switch pre amps I want to make sure that I have decent tubes to select from."
You are asking a question that does not have an answer other than personal opinion. So you will get a wide variety of replies to your question - none of which are authoritative, they are all opinions. There is no "best" tube, best family of tubes, best shape of tubes, and so on. Once you get to a certain level it simply becomes a matter of personal preference.
I'd be more interested in availability of good quality examples over anything else. It doesn't matter how great a tube is if you can't get any!!
I could roll off a very long list of tubes better than 12A*7 for a line stage. Almost none of them would be commercially available, though (26, 4P1L, 2C22, 10Y, etc etc). The best you could hope for in a commercial line stage is probably a 6SN7.
If by "preamp" you mean a phono stage then 5751 makes sense since you'll need a lot more gain.
As this is and always amounts to personal preference when it comes to sound/tone/musicality etc. I also vote for the 6SN7 my issue with them is their propensity for microphonia. That said I still love them and have collected a ton of them. If you don't pound them with a finger or pencil eraser the way I have seen some tube dealers do, very few will feed back or squeal etc. in Hi Fi amps. I can't say what might happen in a instrument amp.
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