As mentioned in my last post, Audiogon stalwart and all around amicable fellow Roxy54 suggested that I procure an original RCA 6SN7 driver tube for my ANK Kit 1 amp. He replaced the stock, Russian Electro Harmonix 6SN7 driver tube in his 10th Anniversary Kit 1 C-Core edition and was mightily impressed with the results. Andy Bowman of Vintage Tube Services sells these gently used and fully tested tubes for a mere $46 (plus $10 shipping) and for that kind of money, I figured I’d treat myself and venture into the audiophile sub-hobby of “tube rolling.”
Some Useful Terminology
If you’re reading this blog, chances are you already know what “tube rolling” is. For the uninitiated, it simply refers to experimenting with different kinds of tubes in hi-fi tube gear, particularly amps and preamps, in order to change (and hopefully improve) the sound. This may mean upgrading to a better version of the stock tube. For example, the Chinese tube manufacturing giant Shuguang makes several lines of tubes of increasing cost and (presumably) higher quality and performance.
Tube rolling may also mean substituting a different but compatible tube for the stock tube. As an example, I’m running a 274B rectifier tube in place of the stock 5U4G that normally ships with my Kit 1.
Finally, there is an entire sub-universe of tube rolling mania that revolves around the hunt for vintage tubes from the golden age of American and Western European tube manufacturing, anywhere from the 1940’s up to the 1960’s or so. Vintage tubes from sought after American brands like RCA, Tung Sol and Amperex and European brands like Germany’s Telefunken can fetch gasp-inducing prices, depending upon the model. For example, there’s currently a pair of NOS (“new, old stock” – another bit of tube rolling jargon – referring to unused vintage tubes) Western Electric 300B tubes (WE was the originator of the 300B) selling on eBay for – are you sitting down? – $6500.00!! That’s more than the purchase price of any one of my audio components!
Andy of Vintage Tube Services is an amicable fellow who seems to know just about everything there is to know about vacuum tubes. He discourages communication via email and urges customers to call him for a personal telephone consultation.
There were a number of purchase options for the 6SN7 tube, but I opted to stick with what had worked so well for Roxy54 and get a used but fully tested 1940’s RCA tube.
Andy mentioned that he’d soon be on vacation when I placed my order, which was fine since I had plans to be out of town anyway.
Just after my return, Bill, our long time mail carrier, handed me a priority mail package and said, with a wink, “Somebody sent you an empty box.” He was joking about the fact the package containing the tube and packing material seemed to weigh next to nothing for its size! But I knew what was in there and I was eager to open it.
Who doesn’t like unboxing photos? Okay, here you go:
As you can see, there’s no way anything bad is going to happen to that tube in transit:
You’ve got to love the retro graphics on the tube box:
Packed in the zip lock bag along with your tube, Andy includes some photocopies of cool tube advertisements from a number of magazines from the 1950’s. They’re really fun to read:
Here, for comparison, are the two tubes, side by side. The vintage RCA, which is substantially shorter than the new, stock Electro Harmonix tube, is on the left. Note that the RCA’s glass is coated from the inside. I have subsequently learned that this is one of the so-called “grey glass” RCA 6SN7, and that it is highly prized by tube mavens for its sonic qualities. Who knew?
I’ve been spending a lot of time with this new tube since installing it last week and I look forward to telling you how it is working in the Kit 1 in Part II of this post!