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The best triode of it's kind, is by no doubt Telefunken ECC803S. I have no numbers available, but I know first hand from an ex TFK employee living in Ulm, only very few of those were ever made. So you can stop searching for those sleeping lots in old warehouses : That never existed. He told me, the initial buyer was an equipment company Wandel & Golterman in Germany. For them this tube was constructed, for their test equipment. I know this company, and sure in the 1960's they were small. Realistically speaking, today most of that is destroyed. So changes on a "like new" tubes from unused equipment are very low.
Later, Telefunken sold the ECC803S on the market. Any HiFi purpose was not intended, and the tube was too expensive from the beginning. So things stayed as they are, very few were made, and it is the remains of those few that we are all looking for. So a large demand, and no supply. That explains the price. Technologically, the tube is superb. TFK ECC803S has lowest noise, lowest microphonics, at high gain, and a balanced and matched tube out of the box. It is matched so well that two random tubes, you put them together and you have a matched pair. And all of that is guaranteed for 10.000 hours. And they means with that not maximum 10.000 hours, but minimum.
So the say TFK ECC803S, it is the ideal tube. Well.... it is indeed, but prices are crazy. I have seen them for 1200 Euro already, while I write this in 2011, and this doesn't seem the limit.
Some basically very good web sites, describe the search for the -Holy Grail- Telefunken ECC803S as pure nonsense, and advise you to try out new made JJ equivalents because they are so cheap and also good. Well I did so, and I was disappointed as could be. First thing that wonders me, is the JJ ECC803S datasheet. There is only basic information in there, even less as with an ECC83. For me, that is no ECC803S, as all the typical things that make this tube, is not specified in the JJ datasheet. Thenm, when testing them, the JJ tubes showed largest differences between the two triodes, and started to drift on my tube tester already after several hours. So yes, I stay with my opinion, the old quality of the Telefunken tubes was never reached by any factory. Not even in the days of full tube production it wasn't .
As far as the sky high prices are concerned, personally I can understand it when you have a 3000 Dollar phono amplifier, a 4000 dollar Yamamoto amplifier, and 15.000 Dollar Avantgarde speakers, you plug in all kind of ECC83, an only with that one Telefunken ECC803S, or genuine TESLA E83CC the noise is reduced further as no other tube will offer you. Then it is up to you if that is worth 150 dollar for a NOS Tesla, 350 dollar for a used TFK ECC803S, or even 1000 Dollar for a NOS TFK. With NOS TFK I recommend you to buy only such that DC parametric tested.
WARNING FOR ABUSE OF THE ECC803S PART NUMBER * DON'T LET ANYONE FOOL YOU *
To be as qualified as the Telefunken ECC803S, a new made ECC803S must at least show these things:
Let me explain here what a frame grid is, and what's so nice about it. Perhaps you have opened up an old radio tube, and removed the grids one by one. When you touched them with your thick fingers they were damaged. Specially the very fine ones. Well not so with a frame grid! With a normal (none-frame) grid, the grid wires are used to keep the grid bars in position, right? This may seem kind of natural, but there are other ways to do it. A non-frame grid needs a minimum diameter (=strength) of the grid wires. If they get too thin, the grid would get too sloppy. However for miniature high gain tubes, you need thinner than thin wires, and for high transconductance you need them closest to the cathode. Here is where frame grids come in. So they make first a FRAME from hard metal, mostly Molybdenum. The frame stays inside the mica. Around this frame the grid wires are wound. This method allows extremely thin grid wires. You will think: "So what?" Well.. for HIFI something very very nice comes in, and THIS is why people like frame grid tubes so much. Frame grid tubes have a very interesting kind of microphonics. Look at a guitar... the thin strings give the higher tones. And of course more tension makes the tone higher... and shorter strings have higher tones too. Now in a subminiature frame grid tube, like TFK or TESLA, all these things come together. The wires are so thin, and tension is so high, and they are so short, that they have a resonance frequency above 20.000 Hz. This makes when you knock on the Audio frame grid tubes like TFK ECC803S, you hear not "dingggggggg" as only any regular ECC83, but you hear only a dumb noise like "zmb" and that's it. The tube will never environmental noises, no matter of the gain is 100x. Once you experienced the difference, you will ask with any tube: "Is it a frame grid tube". Well unfortunately the answer is "No" with most of the tubes. And now you understand why I say, some manufacturers feed this hype with non-frame grid tubes.
6922 Frame Grid (Spanngitter)
So, to reduce the confusion, here is a nice overview of what is available. Always keep apart the CONSTRUCTION and the BRAND and the part number, as these are different things, and you CAN get confused easily. .
We are only interested in the construction here, not so much under which brand it was available, and not what great part numbers they stamp today on regular standard tubes. The brand is only on the outside, but the thing to find out, what we have on the inside!
FRAME GRID extracted from a 6022 tube
First there is the Philips Long plate. I always use to say, the child called "success" is claimed by many fathers. You see this tube on position 5 and 7, in the picture below. Because it's so successful, it is found in the family of Valvo, and SEL, and Siemens, and many more. Telefunken had a similar baby, but from their own production. These are on position 1 and 2. It's a good tube, but no frame grid.
The Telefunken ECC803S is a special tube. It is a FRAME GRID tube, in German called "Spanngitter". This is where the "S" comes from. The FRAME GRID allows extremely thin grid wire, and extremely small distance between grid and cathode. Besides the grid dimensions are very precise. Ideal to make a high gain miniature audio tube. Only making frame grids is not everybody's business, and so far I have seen this technology only at TFK and TESLA.
You can recognize the frame grid tubes by the typical shape of the plates, and of course by the frame grid. The plates of frame grid tubes reach go extremely close to the grid, and this is done by the "pit" you see stamped in the middle of the plates. So the plates are kind of boxed always, and there is a put in the middle. Look at position 3, this is the TESLA frame grid version. So it has those short, cubicle shaped plates. You think you see a large plate distance, which is not true. The real plate distance from parts of the plates in the middle which actually come every close to the grid.
Frame grid tubes are more precise, and more expensive. Normal grid can be made with thinnest wire of 100u. Would you use thinner wire, you get unstable constructions. For manufacturing a frame grid tube, first a frame is made, and around the frame a 10u wire can be wound. Note, that this is thinner than the human eye can see. First time you open up an old frame grid tube, you only see a gray opaque layer. These are the wires actually which are too thin to see, but they do fragment light rays in all directions.
This ECC83 picture was placed here with kind permission of my friend and customer ALEXANDER KRIEGEL.
Comparing ECC83 Tube brands and reading data sheets
Telefunken ECC803 Data sheet
What you should do is look at the following:
1) Text description
Read at the first page about Reliability, Long Life, Tight tolerances, Vibration and Shock (both!), and the special cathode. So they do not just say "Vibration proof, but they say you can apply 2.5g acceleration at 50Hz vibration a the tube works normally. Also with reliability they do not say say "high", but they guarantee a failure rate of 1.5 per 1000, per 1000 hours. This is INCREDIBLE GOOD. It means after 10x 1000 hours, still 985 tubes are within specifications. (See next part). Those that are not within specifications are not necessarily dead, but just is outside one of the very tight limits for ECC803S, and may still test "good" on any tube tester.
2) Minimum and maximum values
Here is something which will make you realize better what I mean. Compare the Telefunken ECC803S Data sheet, with the (new made) Tung-Sol ECC803S Data sheet
The JJ ECC803 Data sheet (New Production)
The Tung-Sol ECC803 Data sheet (New Production)
If you can find it, let me know! Tubes that I have tested, were plain ECC83.
Valvo E83CC Data sheet
Conclusion: A secret tip! Totally underestimated tube, full 100% compliant with the TELEFUNKEN DATASHEET.
Now TESLA did something strange and a bit silly, and everybody is still today confused about it. They REVERSED the part numbers for frame grid and normal grid tubes. It is crazy. So they even put the "S" on a normal long plate tube.
There is the LONG PLATE TESLA VERSION, which is NO frame grid, but called ECC803S.
Frame grid tubes are more precise, and more expensive. Normal grid can be made with thinnest wire of 100u. Would you use thinner wire, you get unstable constructions. With a frame grid first a frame is made, and around the frame a 10u wire can be wound.
TFK ECC83: LONG PLATE ------- TESLA EQUIVALENT ECC803S
So at TESLA they REVERSED the TELEFUNKEN PART NUMBERING.
Everybody is (still) so confused by that.
Note the somewhat flattened part of the dome, best visible with the last tube. The getter is darker colored as with JJ.
Here is a nice detail, and very interesting! In many cases, the TESLA pins are a little smaller diameter than normal, it can be 5....10%. You need a fine micrometer tool to measure that. I do not know the reason, but I have observed it many times. It is additional proof such tubes are not JJ. This diameter deviation if you want to call it such, I have also observed often with TELEFUNKEN E88C which is almost identical construction as TESLA E83CC. Now, tube bases (the lower part, the "coin" ) were normally bought from special suppliers. So most likely Telefunken and TESLA used the same vendor for this. It proves the close relations between TESLA and TELEFUNKEN.
ORIGINAL BULK PACKS for TESLA E83CC. This is the normal way they were packed.
WARNING FOR FAKE TUBES. DON'T LET SOME HONG KONG EBAY SELLERS FOOL YOU WITH SO CALLED ECC803S, THAT ARE FAKE. NOW THAT YOU KNOW TO LOOK AT THE CONSTRUCTION ONLY. LOOK HERE FOR SOME PICTURES.
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