Note: Note, this page is also linked from the Emission Labs factory page, and in that case we only refer to such amplifiers that can use the Emission Labs tubes, like 2A3 and 300B, etc. For other cases, this page also gives information about other tubes than Emission Labs, like KT88, 6550, etc.

List of amplifiers that need special attention
(Last updated: 14-Mai-2016 17:40 )

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If a problem happens, most of the time we see tubes with signs of overload. The root cause of the problem can not always be concluded from optical observations, or diagnosed by email. Even more difficult, you observe something, and things "look" like this or that, but searching for the root cause does not work that way. I have to admit, I try this sometimes myself, but in the end you can not change the root cause to what you expected. You have to take the rooz cause for what it is.

For instance, somebody has broken tubes in a 220V amplifier connected to 240V mains, and he never had a problem, until he replaced the tubes. Logically he will say, 220V, 240V, was never an issue. When we analyze this, it means he expects tubes to work fine in a 220V amplifier, which he connects to 240V. He feels this should be possible, because it never went wrong before. This is proven untrue, because he experienced how this went wrong right now.

If you care about lifetime, the key is do things right. Keep apart things that you are doing with small signal tubes, and with power tubes. These behave quite different. With power tubes, you have something like power management. It is more important as with small signal tubes. Any errors with power management will reduce lifetime a lot. No matter if the tube is low quality, or high quality.

Please understand under which view this article is written. Amplifier manufacturers find Statement #1 very important, and tube manufacturers find Statement #2 very important. The end user is advised to look at both.

  1. A tube which works not in all amplifiers is not a simple tube.
  2. An amplifier which works not with all tubes is not a simple amplifier.

This following is a quote by Jean Claude Verdier. (Yes, who runs the amplifier factory VERDIER in France). It is almost the same as which I wrote above here.

..... Satisfaction is most often based on a simple criterion, explained as follows: "Some years ago, I bought an amplifier, it is good and it works well" -or, unfortunately: "The amplifier I bought is not good, because it always fails." Read the Original article here

So what we need to do in problem cases. We must look at all possible factors.

Wrong conclusions: In case you see a particular problem with one tube of a pair or quad, the normal reaction is, you will try this tube in other sockets. If you do so, it may happen the problems shows still with this one tube only. Now you may observe "the problem follows the tube", and you draw the conclusion "it must be the tube". This can be a bad mistake! It can happen, that three tubes of a quad will forgive an amplifier problem, and one tube will not. There is no "must be" that a tube has to forgive amplifier problems. There is a hidden and wrong expectation, if brand "A" forgives an amplifier problem, and brand "B" will not, that in such a case brand "A" is a better brand. If you use the tubes the right way, perhaps brand "B" will perform better.

To treat this careless, is the most common mistake by amplifier builders. We see this with great brand names, and with less knows brands as well.

In some cases an amplifier can have extremely high in-rush current during switch on, like four times average current can happen. In-rush current with a cold tube must be avoided under all circumstances. Specially with KT88 it can happen in such a case that one tube out of a quad develops a spark inside. And of course, the experiment is repeated by the owner many times, under "careful observation". (whatever that means). It will be always that one particular tube, and it is plugged into all the sockets. If he has more amplifiers than one, the tube will be passed around those other amplifiers as well. Of course the problem "follows the tube", but it may well be you are step by step destroying a good tube. After 20...30 times, this tube will self-destroy, and by this damage the other tube of the pair as well. Latest by now, the owner gets upset, puts back in the old tubes (that worked fine always) and will refuse to accept his own behavior as a mistake. Specially since amplifier manufacturers never admit a mistake anyway.

However when I look into a problem in great detail, the situation reverses often.

When we suspect an error with the amplifier design, specially then, we get send no schematics, and no support. Well, we are used to it. Luckily the internet is full of schematics. Not always problems have obvious explanations.

A good diagnosis requires some experience. My honest judgment is, that with amplifier tubes 50% of the tube problems could have EASILY been avoided by better amplifier design. I think manufacturers should make more effort, to make it difficult for people to do stupid things. With rectifier tubes that percentage is even higher. Reason is, rectifier tubes schematics are so easy, but choosing the right values is so hard. Yet even with wrong values it initially works. Even when a mistake is obvious, like using a capacitor that is 5x too large, they do not admit it, and simply continue making the product that way. Another classical risk cause, is mixing tube electronics with semiconductor electronics.

EXCHANGING TUBES LIKE EL34, KT88, etc in PUSH PULL AMPLIFIERS

When replacing tubes in such an amplifier, it may damage the new tubes if there is an adjustment procedure for the amplifier, and you don't use this.

To find out if there is a procedure, only ask the manufacturer, and nobody else. If such a procedure excists, and you fail to use it, violent destruction of the new tubes can l be the result. The tubes can short circuit with a bright blue or white spark from the inside, with or without speaker damage. Even so, not all amplifiers are short circuit proof, and need a repair afterwards.

If the amplifier has hand control of the bias, for each tube, we sometimes see the following mistake is made:

MISTAKE: The user replaces all tubes, switches the amplifier on, and starts to adjust the tubes one by one. When such an amplifier has 6 or even more tubes per channel, you may be too slow adjusting, and one of the tubes will damage before you have a change to adjust it. So at least, you need to set the bias for the tubes to a lower value, before you begin, and use the old tubes for this, to see how it works. Some amplifers can damage when you set all regulators to minimum, because the internal voltage may become too high. So this is no advice how to to the settings.

GOOD ADVICE: Please get the official service procedure from the manufacturer, and do not experiment without it. Be alarmed when the procedure is not handed out, and it must be done by their "service". Sometimes they only want to sell tubes to you, sometimes there are some curious things inside the amplifier. Better is, when you ask for it, they give it.

AC Heated amplifiers

These all have a problem with the mains voltage. Today, quality of the mains voltage is terrible. The electricity companies try to increase the mains voltage secretly, and also officially. The higher the mains voltage the more power you use. 1% higher voltage is for them 2% more profit as fixed costs do not rise. Also the higher the voltage, the less loss they have in the power lines. There are more reasons, but whatever the situation, they LOVE to increase your mains. So 220V was officially and unofficially increased to 230V, and 240V is coming up soon. In my house I had 243 Volts already at several moments. The problem is, tube heaters can take maximum 5% voltage tolerance. So your good old 220V apparatus, at 243 Volts is overheated by 10% which makes it a real tube destructor. Better set it to 240Volts at the back.

DC Heated amplifiers

These l have the same problem, when the heating is unstabilized. The the best way is really to have stabilized heaters inside the amplifier.

 


 

Application Note AN07. AN07-How-to-bias-DHT-tubes-without-mistakes


 

The following table, is some personal experience, how to best deal with this model amplifier. We write it here, to make sure you use the products in the best possible way. The Amplifiers are in alphabetical order:

AIR TIGHT ATM-1

A problem is, the schematics were not available. I was given a hand made schematic by a person, who helped himself. Imagine, he is not the only one with that problem, but perhaps the only one that draws the schematic before he begins. Later I was given this Schematic here

From this schematic it gets clearer what you need to look at. There is a phase reversal stage in here, with two ECC82, and it has an adjustment potentiometer. Adjusting this stage is "overall" so it also affects the EL34 stage, which is drives. I would say, the best way is adjust this with an oscilloscope, so the El34 output stage is driven nicely symmetrical at full power. You need to do so, after bias adjustment. Now comes, what I think is important to know. These ECC82 tubes are Electro Harmonics tubes with the Air Tight logo stamped on it as well. Generally speaking, Electro Harmonics tubes have larger parameter variation than other tubes, and their ECC82 seems to draw less current than an average ECC82. So I would say, EHX is not an ideal tube for this. However it was chosen, and since the amplifier is adjustable it doesn't matter any more. Since the adjustment of the amplifier is an adjustment for the individual set of tubes, the best way is to have the amplifier re-adjusted after a tube change. Furthermore, since two random ECC82 can be quite different, you should never exchange those amongst each other by mistake. Needless to say, this can happen quickly! So the recommendation is, when you have those ECC82 replaced, you should always take what is called a balanced, matched pair.

Something similar applies for the EL34. Each channel ( Left and Right) has it's own balancing potentiometer, so in the end you'll end up with different settings for those two potentiometers. Once that is the case, you can NOT exchange the EL34 amongst each other. So the moment you pull them all out, you should mark them carefully 1....4.

This said, it is obvious, you can not just replace the ECC82 and EL34 by "some" tubes. The EL34 (Left and Right Channel, are controlled by the SAME bias voltage, so for that reason you can only put a matched QUAD in this amplifers, and not two pairs.

Overall this is a really very good schematic, and once adjusted correctly, the EL34 stages should work ultimately good. Apart from what others say or do, my opinion is, best results will only come from a proper adjustment by using an oscilloscope.

Disclaimer: This schematic was hand drawn from an ATM-1 and it may have mistakes in it. So no guarantee for the drawing being correct.

BOTTLEHEAD PARAMOUNT

The issue is, sometimes a tube can violently spark from the inside.

This amplifier is DC coupled. With such concepts, you always need to understand which tubes warms up first, and what this does to the bias of the next tube. A good designer make a worst case design. Like try things with a very weak, but "just ok" 12AT7, and a 2A3 of which he knows it is a very strong one. That will sure "spark" a surprise sometimes, since the bias voltage of the 2A3 depends on the plate current of the 12AT7. What happens at warm up, the 12AT7 tube heats up slower than the 2A3, this can not be changed. The result is, the grid voltage of the 2A3 for a few seconds higher than normal, totally undefined, and even POSITIVE in many cases. So you are only lucky if your 2A3 is not working yet at that moment. Most of the time though, the 2A3 will already be able to pull current. The better quality and the newer the tube is, the more current. Some tubes will draw so excessively much current at POSITIVE grid voltage, you blow off a chip from the filament, and the tube will "fire" with a white spark.

1) Amplifier Version with without the soft start.

  • A white spark is always (no exception) an amplifier issue. So the problem we see here, is not related to "EML tubes only" though we heard some amateurs say this, because "El Cheapo" tubes seldom fire. Even so, tubes that do not fire, still a suffer a lot. I would say a NOS Western Electric probably will fire as well. Even some vintage Osram and an RCA data sheets mention the "firing" as a amplifier problem. If you fire a Western Electric 300B, it is just as bad for this tube as for an EML.
  • A positive note, this firing is only bad when you repeat it too often with directly heated tubes.

2) Version with soft start option. This basically solves the spark issue with this amplifier, and this is a good, and mature product. However if you want to switch the amplifier off an on again, you need to wait 20 minutes in between (or DAMAGE will occur). Don't forget this! Actually this is normal with many products. The only thing is, here you need to wait 20 minutes which is a long time, when you are waiting.

Conclusion

  • Guarantee on EML tubes if used in the Paramount without soft start option:
    No.
    You need the upgrade kit for this, to add the soft start. (Also read the next line).
  • Guarantee on EML tubes if used in the Paramount with soft start option:
    Yes. (Thanks Paul Joppa from Bottlehead for the good support)

Note from EML: We recommend to retro fit all paramount with the Soft start kit.

General link to EML factory page about what causes a white spark: Read more here and here

CARY

good and much recommended amplifiers. They push the 300B or 2A3 tubes close to the limits, which is of course possible, but you need to be aware what it does to the tubes, and lifetime in general.

We recommend following:

  • Use EML 300B-XLS for the amplifiers using 300B
  • Use EML 2A3-S for for the e amplifiers using 2A3
  • If you want to use EML 2A3-mesh, you have to use those that are selected by us for a grid voltage not more negative than -47V.(So a tube of -48V should not be used). This is the voltage that is written on the outside of the boxes. Please ask for such a tube, and you are fine with the CARY. We supply this service to you at no extra cost.

Kondo (Japan): Model KSL KEGON

The issue is, the Parallel Single Ended output Tubes are hard wired in parallel, without a way to check and adjust the bias for each tube individually. This is very unwise to do, it assumes things about tubes which are not realistic.

This amplifier hard-wires two 300B tubes in parallel. (see schematic) So, without any precautions whatsoever, the terminals of the 300B tubes are connected in parallel, and that's it. This is dangerous with random tubes. Since this method was used here, we need to see how we deal with this. It means, this amplifier will only work safe on a pair 300B tubes with special selection methods, and definitely can NOT work on unselected 300B tubes, and also not on just any matched pair. What you need here is EML 300B tubes with factory tested grid voltage from -56V.... -60V, by the Emission Labs test method.

So how is the Adjustment done? Well don't ask us, ask the manufacturer! From hear-say we expect you could measure the DC voltage over the Output transformer primary, and derive the plate current from that.

Click here for a large picture. In the picture are the instructions. No guarantee on anything. So here is only how I would do it myself if I would have a KEGON here.

We give only guarantee when you use EML tubes like this. Another method, or another brand, it means guarantee will void. So please take care of the above, and you will love the results and the wonderful sound of this amplifier!

WARNING I have seen a 1991 circuit diagram without bleeder resistors on the High Voltage Caps. (!!!!!). This is extremely dangerous when you open the amp, even when "off" the power supply caps can be charged still. This is against "CE" regulations.

All together this amplifier is regarded dangerous, and a potential problem maker. It should be serviced only by experienced people, and it needs special help tools to check the bias of each tube INDIVIDUALLY. We talk here about the JAPANESE KONDO, older version.

Kondo (Japan): Model NERO

This amplifier hard-wires two tubes in parallel. This is generally the wrong way to do this. We need to deal with some difficulties. It means, this amplifier will only work safe on a pair 2A3 tubes with special selection methods, and definitely can NOT work on unselected 2A3 tubes, and also not on just any selected quad, of which the seller says they are matched very tight, but in reality he did not measure grid voltage at the NERO settings. So ask him for these values of the table below here, and if he can not give you this, these tubes are not what you want.

IN THE NERO, you need a quad of matched EML 2A3 tubes with specially tested grid voltage. First, you need to measure the gird voltage of the tubes, with a voltmeter. Voltage is measured against ground. This is in the working amplifier, with the old tubes inserted, presuming they still work. If so, do the measurement and let us know. For legal reasons we must say: Do such a measurement only when you are sure you are qualified for it. If not, let a good technician do this for you.

We use the following table:

Tube grid voltage tested with DC Heating.
Amplifier setting
40,75... 41,75
42,5
41,25... 42,25
43
41,75 ... 42,75
43,5V
42,25 ... 43,25
-44V

42,75 ... 43,75

-44,5V
43,25 ... 44,25
-45V
43,75 ... 44,75
-45,5V
43,75 ... 45,25
-46V
44,75 ... 45,75
-46,5V
45,25 ... 46,25
-47V

There are a few strategies to replace your tubes:

1) The wrong way is: Just replace the tubes, and check nothing else. This may work well by coincidence, or damage the new tubes. This will particularly go wrong, when the previous owner increased the tube settings, in order to use partially worn out tubes, or use badly selected tubes in this amplifier. The new tubes will be overloaded by the increased settings, sound good for a while, but soon wear out, and you are back to where you started. So this amplifier is NOT Plug & Play when you replace tubes.

2) You measure the amplifier grid voltage, so we know the grid voltage you have, and we can send just the right tubes. This is the best way. You don't need to change the amplifier settings, and also you can swap with your old tubes too if you like.

3) Suppose the amplifier settings are outside of the of range of this table, it means somebody adjusted it for a curious set of tubes. In this case you can order a quad of normal, good tubes with values from this table, and you have to re-adjust the amplifier grid voltage for these values. After the adjustment, you can not use your old tubes any more, only the new tubes.

4) You want to adjust the amplifier for unknown tubes. This requires a measurement of the plate current, which is not provided in this amplifier in a logical and normal way. It can be done, but it is no do it yourself job. After the adjustment, you can not use your old tubes any more, only the new tubes.

5) If you don't have the technical skills, or just trying to learn this, you should not practice this on your own. Bring the amplifier to a tube technician, and give him this procedure.

For the NERO we recommend EML2A3-S because this tube is very forgiving with accidental overload. If you want to replace the tubes by NOS or by EML 2A3-Mesh, you need to make sure you understand the above procedure very well.

We give only guarantee when you use tubes under the above conditions. Otherwise, guarantee will void.

So please take care of the above, and you will love the results and the wonderful sound of this amplifier!

Manley 300B Preamplifier "NEO-CLASSIC"

this is not a complaint or a problem about this very nice pre amplifier. It is just we want to point out here, you can not operate this amplifier with EML 300B-Mesh tubes. The mesh tubes are recommended to bias at Maximum 28 Watt, and it seems this amplifier runs the tubes above. It is a bit high for a pre-amp, but fair enough this is Manleys choice. So we recommend normal EML 300B, and since this seems an pre amplifier on "steroids" also the 300B-XLS is a good candidate.

Mastersound 300B-SE

this is one of the best 300B amplifiers I know. They are build around a decades old, very mature schematic, and the output transformers are great quality. The later types have electronic regulation for the heater voltage, making this amplifier very universal. This deals better with mains voltage variation, and allows other tubes than classical 300B only. However, they do need tube adjustment when you replace tubes. Failing to do the adjustment, may cause problems. You can check here, for some more information, about tube exchange.

Mingda Meixing

this amplifier loads the 274B tube with an insane value of 100uF capacitor. This is absolutely not allowed by any tube data sheet. The 274B data sheet says maximum 4uF. Then, after the choke comes ANOTHER 470uf, and after this via a 2k resistor ANOTHER 470uF. So you see we put a big question mark behind this, Sure the second one charges via a choke, but it DOES charge also, and also the third one charges via the resistor. The current adds up one way or another, and cold start current of the 274B is heavily exceeded. This can cause the tube to spark, and may cause tube defects sooner or later. You can check the amplifier's schematic at www.4tubes.com, this is an external link.

SILBATONE Acoustics, KOREA

Issue: Some of their amplifiers use these metal rings which are positioned too high. We have seen socket contact problems result from this, as tubes do not go inside as deep as they they should.


"Just not" glass to metal contact
Here you see glass to metal contact

 

Also the glass contact to the chassis is a potential problem. The customer who owns this amplifier contacted the manufacturer, and the reply was, there is no support. Reason is, as they say, there is only one reference tube, and that is Western Electric. Too bad for them, Western Electric is out of production, and the glass shape close to the socket was never specified. So let Silbatone deal with this issue as they like, we just report it here.

What follows is how the customer solved it himself in five minutes.

GLASS CONTACT to the chassis is definitely a problem. This leads to mechanical stress in the weakest spot of the glass bulb. The glass is already stressed because of the sharp bend. Then, the getter was flashed on the glass with great heat, and then the socket was connected with a thermal glueing process. This is normal with all tubes, but fact is if you do have a crack it starts often here. So glass to chassis contact must be avoided. For this you can remove the 5mm distance holder, that you will find at the inside of the amplifier. This will bring up the tube socket 5mm higher. The ring can stay, and the problem is gone.

VAC 30-30

Good amplifier, but it does put quite some stress on the 300B tubes.

We are in contact with the manufacturer to see if the 1.5 Ampere 300B-XLS tubes can be used here. Probably the answer is going to be yes. We are waiting for a confirmation. Please ask them yourself if you need to know.

VTL 185

Adjustment range is not very high, and (good) new KT88 tubes may draw not enough current. When replacing with Svetlana S-logo, Sovtek or EHX, it is recommended to use KT88 that show test values much above 60mA, by the factory test method. For other brand tubes we don't know the limits, but you need the higher current ones here as well.

VTL. Model: ST 150

Adjustment range is not very high, and (good) new 6550 tubes may draw not enough current. When ordering Tung-Sol 6550, it appears you need tubes that are tested above 60mA, by the factory methods. The same values apply for EHX 6550.

Welborne Apollo

First let us say here, this is an excellent amplifier, much recommended!

The issue we see often, users replace want to replace the original KR842 tube, by another type. Please take good care when doing so, because different tube numbers always indicate the tubes are indeed different. So by ignoring this you can have problems with the tubes or the amplifier.

1) Running EML520B-V3: (not EML520B-V2)

This amplifier can not run on EML520B-V3 without changes, or at least verify the result. You need to take care of the following:

  1. This tube draws comparable filament current to KR842. So the filament circuit needs no changes.
  2. When replacing by EML520B-V3 you need to verify if the voltage over R20 is 100V +/-5Volts. You need to change R20, such that you get this value.

2) Running EML320B-XLS:

This amplifier can not run on EML320B-XLSwithout changes, or at least verify the result. You need to take care of the following

  1. The filament current of EML320B-XLS is closer to KR842 than EML300B-XLS. Though still not exactly the same. So the one can only replace the other, if the filament voltage is at least checked by the user, and adapted if needed. In the Apollo, the filament circuit is unregulated, which is fine, but it means the EML-320B-XLS would perhaps run at too high filament voltage. This should be adapted to exactly 5V by changing Resistor TR1
  2. When replacing by EML320B-XLS you need to verify if the voltage over R20 is 85 Volts +/-5Volts. You need to change R20, such that you get this value.

3) Running EML300B-XLS:

This amplifier can not run on EML300B-XL without changes, or at least verify the result. You need to take care of the following

  1. KR300B-XLS and EML300B-XLS have another filament current, so the one can only replace the other, if the filament voltage is at least checked by the user, and adapted if needed. In the Apollo, the filament circuit is unregulated, which is fine, but it means the EML300B-XLS would perhaps run at too high filament voltage. This should be adapted to exactly 5V by changing Resistor TR1
  2. When replacing by EML300B-XLS you need to verify if the voltage over R20 is 85 Volts +/-5Volts. You need to change R20, such that you get this value.

Important Note:

In the first place, you need to use the EML tubes within the specified data sheet limits. Also the amplifier technical limits may not be exceeded. If the above raises any questions to you, please don't go for this. In that case have it done by someone who has more experience.

 
 

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