Before commenting on the sonic qualities of the new RCA “grey glass” 6SN7 driver tube from Vintage Tube Services, I wanted to mention a couple of things I inadvertently omitted from Part I of this review.
First, Andy of VTS emphasized that one of the benefits of the vintage tubes he stocks (and extensively tests) is that they are far more durable than the cheap stuff coming out of Eastern Europe and China. I’ll have to take his word for this, but I felt it something to pass along as a possible, added benefit of the tube rolling endeavor.
Second: Subsequent to posting that last entry, I found this thread on HeadFi.org. It’s an amazingly comprehensive reference on the 6SN7 tube, including a guide to how to identify different makes, what they sound like and so forth. Very cool, indeed.
I first warmed up the Kit 1 and listened to “Chan Chan,” the opening track of the Buena Vista Social Club CD, with the stock, Russian, Electro Harmonix 6SN7 tube installed. It sounded fine. Too impatient to let the amp cool down completely to swap tubes, I switched it off and, using an oven mitt (!) I gingerly unplugged the very hot stock tube from its base and installed the RCA “grey glass” vintage tube.
My jaw quite literally fell open.
The sound stage had swelled to fill the entire room, and I felt as if I’d been transported to the recording venue, that’s how clearly I could hear the reverberant ambience of the space in which the musicians were performing. Furthermore, the sound of the various stringed instruments – the pluck and the ringing – was startlingly real and “correct.” I was blown away.
As trite as this surely sounds, I started eagerly pulling out favorite, familiar music to see how it would sound. Over and over again, I was shocked at how this one, small tube had enhanced the sound of my Kit 1.
Soul Vaccination is a very well recorded concert album by the legendary R n’ B band with horns, Tower of Power. I’ve always loved the opening of the chorus on the hit tune, “You’re Still A Young Man,” when the band members are harmonizing, “You’re still a young man, baaaaaaaaaaaby, oooo-oooh, don’t waste your time!” This part of the song has always sounded great to me, but with the RCA 6SN7 in place, it was stunningly realistic: the many voices spread across the center of the soundstage, blended and yet exquisitely distinguishable from one another, to a degree I’d never heard before. Another thing I noticed on this track was a subtle and very pleasing change in the sound of the trumpets. This tune features very loud, very high, very exposed trumpet lines. At times in the past, especially with my older, Manley amps, I found myself playing this cut at lower than desired volumes because those brass parts were just too harsh and piercing, almost painful. But that RCA vintage tube did something magical to those horns: still steely, high and loud, but the abrasiveness was gone. Now they just sounded like trumpets! (As a former trumpet player, I was especially pleased!)
I could give a lot of other examples of the remarkable effects of this single tube rolling adventure, but I’d be repeating myself. I am extremely happy with the advice I got from Andy of Vintage Tube Services. If you are in the mood for a little tube rolling yourself, do give him a call.
Until next time…