Of Tubes and Men

Of Tubes and Men

Written by Dan Schwartz

I got new tubes! No, really!

“Why is he telling me this?,” you wonder.

It’s where I got them and what they are that’s not insignificant, although a couple of you know this already.

First, a rewind: back in the Mesozoic era of the mid-to-late 1990s, my pal and yours, Harry Pearson aka HP, told me that whatever I did, I had to hear this gizmo from Genesis Technologies called a Digital Lens. It went between a transport, disc drive or digital output from a CD player, and a D/A converter.

The Genesis Technologies Digital Lens.

A call to Paul McGowan and one was on the way. And there things get…confusing, sort of. You might know by now that the Lens (practically; it’s of course not technically a “lens”), corrected errors in the data stream coming from a CD transport or player.

I couldn’t hear much, if any, change. I asked Paul about it, who suggested that the tubes in my EAR G88 preamp that was in the system were old. (If you’ve been reading my columns you’ll know that I had Theta Digital gear in my system previously.) They didn’t sound like they were past their prime, but being a good audiophile, I started hunting around for tubes (12AX7s for the phono and 6DJ8s for the line section). Someone, maybe even Frank Doris, put me in touch with Andy Bouwman of Vintage Tube Services. [Possibly; I don’t remember for sure – Ed.]

Now, I’m a skeptic, and typically need a few experiences with something in order to overcome that. I don’t dig my feet in, but I do remain an Eastern-European-Ashkenazi-Missourian by type. I know that anybody can say anything, and they quite frequently do – so show me. And with tubes? You can’t be serious! Selling vintage tubes is an area ripe for false marketing and hucksters.

Andy was quite nice to deal with, though I can’t say he gave me a price break. I bought old New Old Stock Amperex “Bugle Boys.” And godd*m if they weren’t a significant improvement. But that’s not all they were. [For those who might not know, “New Old Stock” or NOS tubes are vintage tubes that have never been used. Since the internal workings are literally encased in a vacuum, they can be well-preserved if undamaged. – Ed.]

Cut to the present:

A few months ago the factory-supplied 7DJ8s in my PS Audio BHK Signature preamp started spitting. Time to replace them! But with what? I dug into my stash of tubes (or chubes, if you prefer), found a pair of the original NOS tubes I’d bought from Andy and installed them.

They were almost perfect.

Dead silent after a decade’s usage (I never turned the G88 off), sitting around for over a decade – and how old were they when I got them in the first place? But they were almost perfect. The very top end seemed a touch rolled off – image dimensionality wasn’t as obvious – but no noise, at all.

So I called Andy again, over two decades later, discussed the situation, and he told me he had a pair of NOS Valvo tubes from 1961. I’d barely heard the name Valvo, but I bought them – again, not cheap (but still less than $100 each) but, you know – quality. And despite my earlier experience, I was STILL skeptical.

A Valvo ECC83 tube. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Olli Niemitalo.

But I’ve had them in the BHK now for about two weeks, and da*n – same as 20 years earlier: a beautiful liquidity, ambience for days, and silent as the grave.

Time to start putting a few bucks a week aside to do my amps. And maybe my healthy skepticism can take a little break.


Header image courtesy of Pixabay/Ingo Jakubke.

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