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Notably warm non-Mullard ECC82/12au7 valves?

Discussion in 'audio' started by Dave***t, Sep 30, 2021.

  1. Dave***t

    Dave***t Revolutionary relativist

    My amp uses 6 ECC82 valves in the preamp stage. I've read various people saying, and had recommendations here on pfm, that replacing the stock Chinese-made valves with alternatives can shape the sound a bit.

    I'd like to take the edge off the top end if possible - hi-hats can be a bit too prominent and so on. And it's almost universally observed that vintage Mullards optimal for this. But they're £100+ each nowadays, which is daft. I've tinkered with just substituting a couple at a time (currently sporting 2 Brimar 13D5s), but I'm thinking going the whole hog will be more productive.

    So does anyone know if there are alternatives - specifically actually available ones from the likes of Langrex or Watford Valves - which might tame the top without breaking the bank?

    I've seen mention, for example, of RCA 5814A black plate triple mica being a direct equivalent and at the warmer end. But don't know if that's true, or how to spot the right version if so (only square getter are currently available, whatever difference that makes).

    Or am I on a hiding to nothing?
  2. flutteringwow

    flutteringwow Platinum Ears

    Is this for a Prima Luna? Those original tubes are pretty nasty on the top end. It's a shame, as the PL is a monster of an amp.

    I've tried many, and nothing came close to the Mullards.

    The RCA's I found to be void of body and just sounded fairly empty.

    The Brimars sounded clinical, but do tame that fizzy top end somewhat. They are smooth but without that Mullard midrange magic.

    JJ's sounded not much better than the originals, but are a little less fizzly at the top end. They were better than the RCA's thats for sure. Go for the Gold Pin ones.

    PS Vane sounded ok, still a bit too holographic for my liking, but two broke down within a weekend and didnt give me a chance to investigate properly. Unreliable and expensive.

    The new issue Mullards just sounded like plastic.

    One thing I did find is don't mix and match (if this a PL). Yes the sound will change with just the two signal diver tubes but it always sounds a bit awkward doing this. When I replaced all six with the same brand, the magic happened.

    I tried Mullards on their own and they were really nice, but the Cryo ones from Watford Valves are a huge step above as the OEM Mullards can sound a bit gloopy but you may like that. If seems this is consistent of the idea of 'good' Mullards, 'bad' Mullards and 'fake' Mullards. Bastardly expensive though.

    You can piece together six Mullards reasonably cheaply if you keep your eye out on eBay.

    I do have 2 x Mullard 1960's ECC82's for sale in the classifieds, and I have two Brimars ECC82's as well if interested.
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2021
  3. Dave***t

    Dave***t Revolutionary relativist

    Yes, it's a Primaluna Dialogue Premium HP integrated (so more or less the same as the Evo 400 I believe you have?). This is off the back of not being able to eliminate the last bit of fatigue when auditioning, and subsequently having to reluctantly turn down, an Aqua La Scala, which I know you will also understand as a reference point.

    Watford have stopped the cryo Mullards, or at least they're not on the site any more. And yes, stupidly expensive.

    I'd be happy to bear yours in mind if you want to pm me with a price for all 4.

    But really I was looking for a more realistic alternative from what's more easily/cheaply available (but still good). Perhaps no such thing exists.
  4. Vinny

    Vinny pfm Member

    All flavours of NOS double triodes to European/NA designs have soared in price over the past 12-18 months. Even the very good RFT/RWN/Erfurt valves which sold for peanuts 2 years ago are now a few £10's each.
  5. flutteringwow

    flutteringwow Platinum Ears

    Oh thats a shame they have stopped the Cryo Mullards, as I do need to replace one of mine which is occasionally a bit windy. Hopefully its temporary, as the Cyro versions are a huge improvement over the standard Mullards..

    It's possible that the Cyro company they used went out of business in Covid? I only know of one, Frozen Solid, and they are a nightmare to get hold of at the best of times.

    I was looking for a different amp at the time of buying the Mullards tbh as of the top end fizzle, and I nearly sprung for one when the Mullards came up on eBay for a bargain price. They solved my annoyances a fair amount, more than any other valve had before. Those with the inclusion of an Aqua La Voce and Auralic G1 I've never been happier with my Hifi, and not wanting to change a thing for the first time I began messing around.

    Another good additional was Cardas Golden Cross cabling, if you do a little research on those, you'll see why I sought them out.
  6. Elephantears

    Elephantears Trunkated Aesthete

    What power valves are you using in the PL? Any advice about the preamp valves needs to be in relation to those.

    Generally though I'd recommend starting with modern Tung-sol EL34s and then working from there. You can get away with a modern and neutral sounding preamp valve, like Tungsol ECC82s. But if you're using KT120s you may want warmer preamp valves like Mullards.
  7. Elephantears

    Elephantears Trunkated Aesthete

    I really like the RT ECC82s that Watford Valves sell. However I don't remember trying them in the Primaluna; they happen to work very well in my Unico Preamp. It really is all very relative.

    I wouldn't mind trying those RCA 5814 that Langrex have, but like you I feel I need more info - Langrex were pretty clueless when I asked for more. I have a set of 6 of the double mica and they can work well in the PL depending on what power valves you are using. But in the wrong context they can seem to be lacking body. I too have heard that the triple mica have more body, but I'm not certain enough of the provenance of the ones available at the moment.
  8. flutteringwow

    flutteringwow Platinum Ears

    I never got involved with swapping the power valves as 1, I need 8, and getting 8 NOS Mullards is also a mortgage in itself, and 2, I spoke with Kevin at Upscale Audio and he said the general sound is not affected in swapping different EL brands, and only when swapping to a different type of valve like a KT120 etc.

    What did you find with swapping EL's?
  9. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    Black plate 5814As were by far my favourite ECC82 type when I had a Prologue 2 partnered with Sovtek 12AX7LPS, which beat a lot of very expensive tubes to my ears. FWIW I much preferred it with EL34s to KT88s (‘Winged C’ Svetlanas and vintage brown base Teslas being the best I tried). I don’t need much power though.
  10. Elephantears

    Elephantears Trunkated Aesthete

    I don't want to say anything, because I'm currently selling a Dialogue Premium with the stock EL34s!

    But since you've forced my hand, I think the Tung-Sol EL34s are much better all round than Primaluna's own, which I find somewhat clinical. Fortunately the Tung-Sols are pretty affordable. I'm also told by a dealer that I trust that the newer JJ EL34 II are hugely better than the old JJs, which were known to lack grunt and body. Those JJs are an absolute giveaway, so I'd probably recommend anyone ditch the PL EL34s and get a set of them, or Tung-Sol.
    flutteringwow likes this.
  11. Elephantears

    Elephantears Trunkated Aesthete

    I think it's system dependent too. So for you with big Tannoys I can see that the RCA 5814 would be perfect, since they are nice and tight and clear. For me, with smaller monitor-like speakers, I need warmer valves, or a mix of the RCA and something else. But yes, they are very good.
  12. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    I found the RCA 8514As really deep and powerful here, not lean at all. Some RCAs are though, e.g. 12AU7 clear-tops with grey plates. The type of 8514A I had were black-plate dial mica and I think round top getter, they weren’t the really expensive triple mica. Fantastic sounding valve IMO, and in combination with the Sovtek LPS gave the best bass weight and control of anything I tried.
  13. flutteringwow

    flutteringwow Platinum Ears

    Thanks, yes clinical is a good word to describe the PL valves. It's a shame, as the PL is such an amplifier, nothing compares, if they only sorted some better tubes.

    I'll keep it in mind if I see 8 Tung Sol's come up..Im very happy with my system, but always curious :)
  14. flutteringwow

    flutteringwow Platinum Ears

    The ones I tried were

    1950s RCA 5814a Black Plate 3 Mica

    and just were not very nice for me. I don't know much about valves, so maybe these were not the pinnacle of RCA's?
  15. earlofsodbury

    earlofsodbury Wastrel.

    First - heartily endorse FW's observation: don't touch Psvane with a bargepole - shortlived, deeply unreliable, and fail-mode tends to be of the catastrophic variety.

    Second - tread very warily around vintage Mullard: First, there are tons of fakes, dress-ups and downright liars out there, you need to be 100% sure of source, or you will be bent-over. Second, there are a LOT of different variants from Mullard - some are as mediocre as hell, sorting the wheat-from-the-chaff is beyond me, though others will claim to reliably distinguish them. Best of luck.

    If in doubt, and real Mullard's are out of reach (you can blame the never-actually-play-it guitar brigade for the silly costs) buy NOS milspec variants from other makers instead - they last well, won't be microphonic unless faulty, and while lacking the golden euphonics of some variants, will sound better than the Russian/Chinese stuff.
    flutteringwow likes this.
  16. flutteringwow

    flutteringwow Platinum Ears

    What are the codes for the miltary-spec Mullards? I'll keep an eye out.
  17. The Bish

    The Bish pfm Member


    I've got a lot of 50s/ 60s USA ECC82s (Sylvanias, tungsols, RCAs, raytheons and some 5814s etc) you could try out if you like and buy them if they work and send back if not. Drop me a PM if you're interested. My experience in Primalunas is that the organ spec sylvanias and raytheons lean warmer so might be worth a try.
    Salamander likes this.
  18. earlofsodbury

    earlofsodbury Wastrel.

    Ah, no, I meant non-Mullard milspec. Cheaper, more widely available. I'd assume the various M and CV prefix variants (e.g. M8136) will have come out of Mullard plants at times. I've not given much thought to valves in a while, but there's bound to be a nerdpage somewhere geeking-out on all the thousands of subtle variations of Mullard ECC82s &c.
  19. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    With Mullard the etched type and date code is where to look. You have to learn to read them and be able to identify construction types. Some great info here. I don’t know their ECC82s well (I’ve way more experience of the ECC83 of which I have 15-20 or so of different vintages from 50s long-plates onwards). The Mullard ECC82s I tried in the PL were fairly late (early 70s I think, not even sure they were Blackburn factory) and were nothing special (rather warm and soggy, as they tended to be by that point).
  20. flutteringwow

    flutteringwow Platinum Ears

    Ah got ya, yes I remember reading similar about the Brimars when I investigating myself.

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