Tube Rolling My Nighthawk MK3
I ordered the Nighthawk MK3 a few weeks back and have about 250 hour on it now. I’m not sure if it’s fully broken in, but it should be close and I’ve been anxious to roll a few tubes just to see if it can get any better. I ordered it with a few upgrade tubes; 1950s Brimar 13D9 in row 1, Philips JAN NOS 12AT7WC in row 2 and RCA Clear Top 12AU7 in row 3 and from the get-go it sounded spectacular to my old ears.
I’m not exactly a tube rolling novice as I’ve been rolling preamp tubes in a number of hybrid headphone amps for several years. I have a decent inventory of 12AT7 and 12AU7 and their equivalents and have picked up a few of Dave’s recommendations. Needless to say, I have enough to keep me busy and entertained for the next year or so.
Tube rolling is time consuming – it’s not like you slap in a new pair of tubes, give them a quick listen, then slap in another pair – it just doesn’t work that way, especially if we’re talking NOS tubes which maybe haven’t been lit up for 30-40 or more years. They need some burn-in time for them to settle down and show their real character. I personally like to have 50+ hours on them before I really start to judge how they sound.
Being a long-time retiree, I pretty much listen to and enjoy music all day every day – for me, tube rolling adds just another dimension to that enjoyment and it appeals to some and for others not so much. I know from experience, that quest for the perfect pair of tubes or combinations of pairs can quickly become a deep and dark rabbit hole that is difficult to find your way out of ….. but like they say, it’s the journey.
So, back to reality – at about 150 hours, I rolled in the following: 1950s Mullard 3 hole CV4024 in Row 1, Amperex NOS Red Globe ECC81 in row 2, and Raytheon Black Plate 12AU7s in row 3. After about 50 hours, I can’t honestly say it was better, what I can say is: it was different, a bit smoother and more liquid. I would attribute that to the Raytheons and maybe a bit goes to the Amperex. Out of curiosity, this morning, I reversed Row 1 and Row2 and put the Amperex Red Globes up front with the Mullards in row 2. Maybe Dave could explain it, but that made an immediate and marked change – primarily enhanced detail and separation.
I’m going to live with this for a little while and enjoy it before taking another roll in the Nighthawk.
As the Raven folks have already said; as long as you follow a few basic rules – NO 12AX7s and only 12AU7s in row 3 then the possibilities are endless and quite fun I may add.
Yep, it's not only about the tube pairs you choose - but what position/row you put them into and what other tubes you team that pair up with. This is also about your room, your speakers, your sources and system placement within any environment. We have several RavenHeads with the incredibly 50's era Brimar 6060 Yellow T's which are considered some of - if not THE very best 12AT7 tube on this planet. But they like them better in row 2 that row 1~! So this is a very common thing in the Raven Audio amp and preamp world.
The Brimar Yellow T's (or the Brimar black plate CV4024's, and Mullards etc.) teamed up with German tubes such as the Valvo, Seimens, and Telefunkens are the best matchups that I know if. I personally prefer the angled getter Telefunkens, or the Valvo and Seimens E81CC's with the Brimars because the German tubes are more dry and delineating and just a tad clinical compared to the nice warm, thick, and unusually bold British tube types. My preference is the Brimar black plates over most Mullards - but it depends upon your speakers. And there are some really great Mullards out there believe me. The Three-Hole Mullards are fabulous. I am not a great fan of the copper/charcoal plates but there are other people that LOVE those.
The Amperex on the other hand are kind of in-between the Mullard/Brimar and the German tube types. So if your speakers are really high end and well-designed, you will immediately be able to tell the difference in your system if you use the German/UK tube combo over regular street-level tubes. The difference between great old antique tubes is rather large IMO. With the currently available and manufactured tubes like JJ's, Electro-Harmonix, any Chinese or Russian tubes actually, there is not a single one of those tubes that can touch an authentic German or British tube from the 50's and 60's, OR most USA made tubes like the fabulous RCA, Philips, Raytheon and Sylvania black plates. NONE~!
The closest currently made tubes that can compare to these great antique ones is probably the Gold Lion gold pin B739 (ECC81/12AT7) and B749 (ECC82/12AU7). I DO NOT TRUST ANY CHINESE TUBES IN MY AMPLIFIERS... there, I said it. I don't give a rats ass is they are the bees knees according to anyone else... I will NEVER recommend the use of Chines tubes in a Raven Audio amplifier. It's like putting cheap gas into your fine Italian sportscar! I have just had too many go dead.
The quality control over in China is non-existent to bullsquat. They will never care enough about what is going to be shipped to the USA for me. Not for now anyway. I and many of my customers over the last decade have had literally DOZENS of expensive Chinese tubes either outright fail, blow-up, or test so poorly from the start that I will NEVER trust them. And for the money they charge you can usually get a great pair of wonderful antique NOS or slightly used old USA and European tubes. So why on earth anyone would ever want to buy a Chinese tube and put it into a really high quality American made amplifier is just beyond me. OK, sorry... but I just had to get that out there and off my chest.
The same goes for Chi-fi amplifiers~!!! Why in the heck would ANYONE EVER put a wonderful high quality antique tube into a cheap Chinese POS amplifier?!>?! I see this all the time too. On the tube roller groups I see literally dozens if not hundreds of guys buying these $200 Chinese POS amps off of Amazon or Ebay only to drop a beautiful Mullard or Brimar or RCA tube into it and waste that great old tube. You are never going to make that amp sound great. Even though they go on and on and on about how much better it sounds... yeah, and you don't know what a real amp sounds like... so PLEASE do not waste that great old glass on such crappy electronics. You might as well plug those tubes into a cow paddy or dog pile. Maybe it will make it smell better???
Now, back to the subject.
The 1950's era RCA black plate 12AT7, and 1940's especially, and even the 50's era Philips shiny plate 12AT7's and 12AU7's are all just friggin' wonderful. Raytheon, CBS, Sylvania, as long as they are black plates they are almost always wonderful tubes. I have them here in stock now. Just let me know and I will send you on a trip that you will thank me for, for the rest of your life~! It is important to know which tubes will be best when teamed up in rows 1 and 2 in your Raven Audio amps, so know that I am always available to talk about this.
Dave, I have a pair of GEC A2900s / CV6091s - would you put them in the Mulllard/Brimar class, or more like the Telefunken/Valvo tubes? I haven't tried them yet and not sure what I should pair them with.
The 1950's era "Yellow T" 6060 was Brimar's answer to the famed British GEC A2900. I personally like the Yellow T's but the A2900 is no slouch. These two tubes are the best ever made along with the Telefunken E801CCS rounding out the top three. Since you already have a Raven Audio amplifier it will depend upon your room and speakers which tube you will like better. The A2900 is warm yet lively and offers a highly delineated soundstage with nice tight bass and fabulous upper end extension. The latter is where the Brimar is better in my opinion, but both are so close that it is going to be about your own perceptions and interpretation of how they sound in your system and only you will be able to decide which one you may like better.
Teaming two British tubes together in my opinion is not always the best idea. However as I said previously it will be about how your speakers are able to interpret their character, and of course it will also be about the source and music chosen. If your speakers are a tad towards the sibilant, then these two tube types may indeed be able to work together to tame that problem. But that is the only time I would use British tubes in row 1 and 2 of your Raven Audio Avian Series amp.
If your speakers are highly accurate it is going to be better to use either the GEC A2900's or the Brimar 6060 Yellow T's teamed up with something German like Seimens, Telefunken or Valvo to clean up the soundstage. German tubes are always a little bit more towards the clinical side which makes them the perfect team for the warmer bolder British tubes.
In the same sense, using a pair of USA made Philips shiny black plates, or the rarer 90 degree wing plates with the Brimar or Mullards also works very well, because they too are somewhat clinical in comparison. They are a wonderfully clean and excellent all around world class tube that i would put into the top ten any day. The well-known and loved RCA black plates from the 50's and 60's are more on the warm side, similar to the Mullards and Brimars. So a Philips/RCA team is going to be similar to a Mullard/Valvo team... or a Brimar/Seimens team etc.
One thing for sure is... the GEC A2900's are absolutely among the top ten greatest 12AT7/ECC81 tube type. They may be in the top 5 - but that discussion is going to be more towards the opinion side than actual science. Once you hit the top 10 of any tube type you are in rare air and your speakers and system are going to take over. It's then all about how those "best in the world" tubes react within your system and room. I will say this... I have never had a single person dispute the opinion that the 1950's era Brimar 6060 Yellow T's are the best tube on this planet. Ever. This tube is just so darn good that coming second to it is still going to normally cost you $500 or more. And the Yellow T's are getting as rare as the A2900.
They are all going away and every year the prices will keep going up. Tubes like this are extremely valuable and collectible. Some people collect wine or art for the increasing value - but these types of tubes are going to always be in the same category. They were made over 60 years ago, and they are unduplicated since. What is now worth $500-$600 per pair will be worth a grand in another five years. I've seen it going this way for decades. I am glad I got in early.
And by the way..... if you do not absolutely love those GEC A2900's and want to round out YOUR collection, PLEASE give me the first chance at them. I only have one pair now and would love to own another just for the coolness factor and to round out my collection. You will probably be surprised and extremely happy at what you will be able to end up with - in trade for them~!
Thanks Dave, got it. I have a pair of Valvo 6201 pinched waist that I could pair with them and possibly a pair of the Philips shiny black plates. When I get my hands on a pair of the Yellow Ts, it will be fun to compare them.
As a comparison to your A2900 photos, mine are the military version and marked CV6091 and don't have the GEC stickers on them, but have the GEC markings.
Hi Dave have a question you have your favorite tubes to listen to.At some point are you going to sell tubes on your website that maybe we can buy some of your favorite tubes to listen to with are raven amps thanks chuck.
I remember you well Sir!
You need to go ahead and call or email me direct. What Raven amplifier do you currently own? I remember you had a Nighthawk MK2 once. What speakers? That way I can start to recommend which tubes to try out first. Because of the rarity of the tubes I collect, I ONLY sell to RavenHeads.
Thank Dave I sent a email with the information of my amp and speakers.
Can I put the Gold Lion KT66 power tubes in my Raven Nighthawk?
Following is a link to Brent Jesse’s writeup on 6L6 and equivalents
I would not recommend putting Gold Line KT66 tubes in the Nigthawk. These reissue tubes have a higher heater current of 1.3A as compared to 900mA of standard KT66 tubes.
I see some different power tubes in the Nighthawk in Axpona 2019 photos that are kind of rounded. What are they and why did you use them at the show? And, by the way, my Nighthawk is completely transformed into an amazingly realistic music reproducer. The timbre sounds so natural and like-like, distinct unbelievable separation of voices and instruments, and the sound stage has escaped the confines of the speakers. (Klipsch LaScalas)
Also, curious to know if Raven Dave has any Telefunken 12AT7 E801CCS for sale? I have a Nighthawk with Brimar in row one, Phillips (Army Navy) row two, and RCA clear top row three. Thinking to try Telefunken in row two instead of Philips stock. Advice? (Sound already exceeds my wildest hopes. Actually didn't imagine a set up could ever sound this good. Other than multi thousands spent)
I would HIGHLY suggest that you not look for a pair of tubes like that - they are rare, and extremely expensive. Sometimes authentic Telefunken E801CCS can command prices of between $400 and $600 - that's for the real ones. Ebay is FULL of fakes and misrepresentations with regard to that tube type, and though there are Siemens of the same version numerically that are very good, excellent even, they are nowhere close to the old authentic Tele's.
So, let's back up a bit. Those Telefunken E801CCS are wonderful tubes. They are second or third on my "best ever" list, but with them being so difficult to get large batches of, I usually just don't carry them. I do however have several tubes that are so close that you could put them side by side with those Tele's and you may not care as much about which one you get... as long as you get one or both of them. This leads into pricing.
The authentic rare and exotic sounding Tungsram - the Austrian designed ones, not the RFT which are not even close or the Siemens versions, which are good but just regular Siemnens - are the ones I would suggest getting first. Going that direction also has its caveats though... as Mullard, RFT, and a rash of other manufacturers also made tubes for Tungsram. The structure on the tube I am talking about is completely different, with large heavy triangular getter supports. THOSE are the special ones. I do have a few left and I would rather own those than paying triple for the Telefunken E801CCS, any day of the week because of the cost vs. sound quality.
I have a very few left of these and I will be more than happy to allow you to get a pair. But after looking worldwide for months now, I am unable to find more right now. Eventually I will. I hope...
I also have some Siemens Halske that will knock your socks right off (another brand that now has many fakes going around that are just regular Siemens in fancy boxes) and putting a pair of those with the Yellow T's is heaven, especially on speakers like yours. Email me and I will be happy to accommodate you right away. There are a few others that work incredibly well with those Yellow T's - but as a rule, stick with German or maybe even a pair of Amperex for the bliss you are looking for.
From here it can get very confusing - or blissful for those with the budget. Other tubes that fit well with the Yellow T's (and I mean "take-your-breath-away well) are the extremely rare and sought after European or Japanese made slanted getter Philips, the ones that normally come in the European yellow red and blue boxes.
Heck there is even a Brimar 6060 Yellow T that is from the 60's instead of the 50's era ones that I have in stock (I never carry/sell the 60's era ones because I do not like them much - I bought a few pairs once that I have put into a corner and will not sell even for $60 per pair because I feel like I got took on them - a website in Canada is all I will say about that) which actually look ALMOST exactly like the earlier ones - that are very middle-of-the-road sounding... similar, if not the same as the White T Brimar 6060's. They are just kind of: "meh... what else can I put in there" is always my reaction.
Most of those Yellow T's from the 60's has a newer decal with a straight top instead of the slightly dipped one from the 50's. Nobody has ever really given me a reason for this other than an old man from the UK that used to work for Brimar that I spoke to at length one time - that told me the vacuum is MUCH better on the older 50 stuff because the plate gaskets on the machinery was starting to lose its quality, which lowered the build. At the time the Cold War surveillance equipment they were using was getting better so they still made them by the thousands weekly and they still passed the military inspections. But he swore to me that the older ones were MUCH better because of the cleaner inside environment. That's just a story I have passed on, which may or may not have merit. All I know is there is a HUGE difference between the older Yellow T 6060 Brimars vs. the newer ones.
Finally, you absolutely MUST try the Hytron 12AU7's in row 3 on those speakers. They will be a game changer over the clear tops. RCA black plates are also a GREAT tube pair, of which I only have a few left. But the Hytrons are an absolute must. I now have military white print versions which are just shockingly good. The 12AU7 row is VERY important when making your amp into the best possible amplifier it can be.
As usual, I will do all I can to help... even sometimes sending a bunch of tubes out to try out, allowing you to pick from the batch, and return what you aren't bowled over by. But I will warn you ahead of time... sometimes - or even most of the time I do not get those tubes back. If that occurs I will work with you. It is very important to have extras to play around with, because simply listening to any great old tube for a few hours will NEVER allow it to reveal itself. Why is that you ask?
Because of the infinite possibilities possible when you switch them around with other teammates. With the Yellow T in row 1 and a pair of these incredible Siemens Halske in row 2 and the Hytrons in row 3 - your world will change. Then one night you may get bored and want to go swap those tubes around - then you will find out what this whole affair is all about... putting the Siemens or Valvos in row 1 with the Yellow T's in row 2 will COMPLETELY change the amplifier!!! And sometimes, depending on your room and speakers - it will be MUCH better that way. On Horns, this will be completely different than conventional speakers, and even more different on panel speakers like Maggies.
Now it's time to get in touch with me. Please call me after 5-6pm because we are over-the-top busy right now. But I will eventually be able to change your world. And it is a dangerous thing to experience. This will possibly become an addiction or obsession that will be infinitely fun and life-changing. Owning a dozen pairs of the best tubes ever made in history will keep you busy for the rest of your life - even if you are 30!
Then... there are all of the great old 6L6GC power tubes to ponder - while they still are around... but that is yet another EXTREMELY DANGEROUS subject. Especially for YOUR speakers. Going to RCA black plates is going to change your world again. Unfortunately those are getting extremely rare and expensive. But you simply MUST experience them, especially with those speakers.
And speaking of power tubes - I also have other possibilities that are MUCH lower priced that may actually work with those horns. I have to thank Scotty for doing the research and finding out what they were. Mainly because I got them from my supplier in the UK and he didn't know what they were - he said. Some had altered labeling, but some did not. Everyone knows I normally HATE and COMPLETELY DISTRUST many, if not most Chinese tubes... but these are pretty wonderful. They are nice and warm and full, and though some of the printing was altered (I sold those off immediately) the rest have 6L6GC Made in China printed on them. Had I opened all the boxes I would have noticed this before I started asking around about them.
I got them for a really great price - especially after complaining that some of the labels were obviously scratched off. Anyway, I love them... they are also extremely beautiful... see the attached pictures - along with what a REAL authentic Telefunken E801CCS actually looks like (hint - always look for the top clear plate and the little angled getter rod) but I really think these beautiful coke bottle envelope power tubes will surprise you. They are very full and warm, which is usually quite perfect for horn speakers.
Maybe Scotty will chime in here and put his two cents in, because he listened to them and especially knowing about your speakers, may be able to express an alternate opinion. The immediacy of horn speakers are a very special match for the great old RCA black plates, and these are very nice and warm also, for a quarter of the price. So I think it may be worth the chance... and I will always take them back if you simply HATE them. Give me a chance to own my own pair... because once you use them for a few hours or so, they aren't really NOS anymore, and I cannot sell them as such.
Whew... there I go again, writing a book of a forum response. But this is my job and I am passionate about it~! So there!!! And this is a subject that we all need to know as much about as possible. So without actually jumping right in and buying something so expensive as antique tubes actually always are, they are jumping up in value every few months now... and they will NEVER EVER AGAIN be manufactured. So these are all very finite stock.
Have a great day everyone.
And contact me when you can: firstname.lastname@example.org