Dave's Favorites - For All Avian Series Integrated Amplifiers - and Preamplifiers
1.) "The" Brimar 6060 "Yellow T" Black Plate - You don't know how lucky you are to be able to touch and handle a tube as rare and high quality as this, much less OWN a matched NOS pair of these valuable and rarest of tubes.
Made in England in the 50’s - this 1954 batch was obtained last year, released by the British military (supposedly delayed because of its apparent value as an analog electronics backup which could have been used by British Special Forces in case of an EMP situation – which has now been solved in other ways by other devices) last July.
I bought all of them~! Brent Jessie sells these for $300 up per matched pair - some slightly USED!!! Yours are absolutely 100% untouched, unused, purchased in a special 100 Count Box. They are in exceptional shape, some with near perfect decals, others with heat-baked decals out of storage in Australia – and most with fair white screen printing, which is very soft and powdery after all these years unfortunately.
Bottom Line Here.... This is the Holy Grail of 12AT7 preamp tubes~!
This tube is my choice for "THE BEST 12AT7 EQUIVALENT - DUAL TRIODE ON EARTH~!" You will find that this pair of tubes is exceptionally sensitive with huge deep tightly accurate and revealing bass, and an extremely clean, clear, crisp high end, and the best mid-range frequency response I have ever heard.
With human vocals it has such a lifelike resonance, so completely real that it seems almost holographic in every detail, and as such is very emotionally tying on well-recorded tracks. This tube allows the human emotional response of really great jazz, singer/songwriter and small ensemble recordings to come flowing through the listener’s emotional system. It can bring tears to the eye and cause the hair on your skin to move… or whatever that is~!
On wooden instruments and brass, it sometimes is able catch the listener completely off-guard, often startling the listener by placing guitars and vocals out into the room unexpectedly. Sometimes eerie and very live-sounding to a degree that you may swear that person seems to actually be THERE! This is why this and a very few other really exceptional tubes are always considered to be among the most revered on earth.
Only the Seimens E801CCS and the Telefunken ECC801S have ever been listed as being anywhere close, yet even those tubes are not better than the "Yellow T - 6060". They are different. They are not quite as fleshy, full and real-sounding, yet in their own right they can also be considered exceptional. With tubes like this, a really great tube-based sound system can make the final entry into perfection. I know of no better tube on earth.
No other tube does what these do in a preamp, phono stage or ultra-high-end headphone amp. Not with the intimacy of this one. None~! The closest I know of that can be compared across the full spectrum might be the next one listed. $220-250 per matched pair – NOS.
BEWARE – NOW BEING COUNTERFEITED OVERSEAS~!!!
2.) Brimar 13D9 Black Plates - These are also special, and were exceptionally rare, almost mythical status until recently when a few thousand or so were discovered at an airbase in Britain. These 1950's era black plate dual triodes were designed as a highly ruggedized valve for special forces high sensitivity field surveillance radios and post WW2 piston-engine airplanes which were still being used worldwide, especially in Korea, and later Vietnam.
These tubes were never released for general public use, and therefore considered among the rarest of mythical beasts. Some knew they once had seen them during their military service – and they knew how good they were – so while missing were often spoken of reverently, sometimes with secrecy, and even then - only within the smallest of veteran tech circles.
Since they were never seen past their military service, many thought they possibly may have been an anomaly, or possibly never really existed, especially since they were never really seen by anyone other than aviation, shop technicians and special forces radio maintenance techs for well over half a century - virtually unknown before the mid-2000's when suddenly a few boxes got re-discovered in a warehouse in Great Britain. It took another decade for them to be released.
They were apparently small batch, only made for very special secret military radio use. They belong on the top-25 list of the best 12AT7/ECC81 variants on the planet – but of course there weren’t any around until recently. Once the top choice of M5 and CIA European field radios, and black site radio use.
[The very best version of this tube type - is known as the incredibly rare "Brimar 6060 Yellow T" (see below) of which there are very few left untouched/NOS versions in the world.]
The 13D9 in the right equipment, can perform about 80-85% of what that tube is capable of when in high end HiFi use. $60 per matched pair - NOS
3.) Valvo ECC81 - A German military twin-triode tube built in the late 50's until the mid60's, this tube is also in the top-25 best 12AT7 equivalents in the world. The tube is nicely warm yet very clean at the same time. A very well-known and searched-for tube, with dwindling stocks it has become expensive lately, and starting to get rarer with time. This tube is best when teamed up with a nice British tube such as Mullard or Brimar. $100-120 per matched pair – NOS.
4.) Seimens ECC81 - Another great well-known German military triode, built from the early 50's until the late 60's, landing square on every 25-best list ever made. This tube is also nicely warm yet not overly like the British, very realistic, yet never sibilant unless it is teamed up with something too harsh. Best teamed up with British tubes - Brimar or Mullard. $100 per matched pair – NOS.
5.) RCA 12AT7 50’s Era Flat Single-Wing Black Plate - This tube is known worldwide for its accuracy, warmth, and clean soundstage delineation – and as such is considered to be among the best American made Hi Fi tubes.
Warm, clean, with nice thick articulate bass, depending on the circuit it is placed within, it is a perfect blend when used with GE or Phillips tubes - which can sometimes be overly clinical sometimes when they are used alone.
The RCA flat single-wing black plate are sometimes perfect when blended with more clinical tubes, or when teamed up with European tubes such as authentic Valvo, Seimens, or with some of the Tungsram branded tubes made in Germany. $60-70 per matched pair – NOS.
Variation - RCA 12AU7 Shiny Tiny Ladder Black Plate – very close to the same sonics, yet a tiny bit tighter and cleaner. This may be the better choice for headphone amps and preamps with single-ended power amp sections or separates. A later variation on the old favorite, this is usually a late 60’s on through the 70’s version.
6.) GE 12AT7 Gray Plate - This tube is NOT MY FAVORITE WHEN USED ALONE! But can be exceptionally revealing, clean, clear, crisp and defined – sometimes almost too much, and therefore can make a sensitive preamp, headphone or integrated amp somewhat sibilant, especially when two are used back-to-back – or alone! Therefore this is the best tube for older tube based amps like Fisher, Marantz, Eico, or anything soft and romantic sounding that needs a little "cleaning up."
It can be the very best choice when choosing to wake up a preamplifier circuit that might be a little on the muddy or overly warm. This 50’s era tube is best when teamed up with any warm, thick and fleshy, yet high-quality tubes. Best when used with Brimar, Mullard and 50’s era USA/RCA black plates. $40-50 per matched pair – NOS.
7.) Phillips 12AT7WC Charcoal Plate - These fabulous, affordable, and ruggedized and resilient tubes were among the very last military grade radio tubes made. Made for the US Navy and Air Force, they are exceptionally clean yet still nicely warm, and have a clear-as-a-bell sonic texture. They were highly ruggedized tubes, made for the last of the tube based field radios. They were kept in service due to their ability to not be susceptible to magnetic wave blast failure. $25-30 per matched pair – NOS.
8.) Raytheon 12AU7 Shiny Black Plate - Exceptionally high quality low-MU output dual triodes, made until the mid 60's, these tubes are beginning to become somewhat rare, yet stocks still remain because they were made by the hundreds of thousands, also used in old Conn, Thomas, Leslie and other tube organ amplifiers. Excellent frequency response across the board, one of the better "12AU7's" that came out of the 50's glory period. Wonderful tight clean bass, excellent midrange vocals, clean crisp highs, especially when teamed up with GE or European tubes. $50-60 per matched pair – NOS.
9.) Toshiba 12AU7 Gray Plate - Another great low-MU dual triode tube with full acrossthe-spectrum frequency response, this tube is somewhat unknown and a bit of a rare bird. Made in Japan on Mullard equipment during the mid 50's triode manufacturing heyday, these tubes will soon be highly sought after for their clarity and realistic response.
Mine are perfect, untouched since the 50’s, purchased in a 100 count box, I was extremely lucky to find an unopened box in the back of an organ store in Crockett, Texas last year! $40-50 per matched pair – NOS.
10.) CBS 12AU7 Shiny Black Plate - A real gem of a tube, overlooked and somewhat unknown so far, this tube was also made in the 1950's in the USA, for the military AND for electronic organs and Hi Fi equipment. This tube is another gem, with excellent midrange warmth, clean clear deep bass response, and nice clean highs. Best when teamed up with European tubes such as Mullard, Tungsram, Brimar, Seimens, Valvo, and Amperex. Can also be excellent when teamed up with GE or RCA gray plates. $40-50 per matched pair – NOS.
11.) Sylvania 12AT7 Shiny Black "Broken-Wing" Plate - One of the oldest and very best quality - late 40's WW2 era shiny black plate tubes, the military had just started to convert field radios to "9-pin miniature" tubes after a couple of decades of octal based 12SN7's of which this is the miniature version. The green lettered ones were the very highest quality and had a 90 degree turn at the end of the wings on one side of each anode plate. They are rare and exceptional... especially in this condition and I still have a couple pairs
This tube sometimes should be teamed with Brimar, Mullard, or an RCA black plate, or clear top 12AU7 because every now and then they can be somewhat clinical. But that is also where they shine. They have HUGE bass, fabulous midrange, and still manage a crisp high end, and that is what makes them so clean sounding. They are a rare tube completely without heavy warmth. Perfect for classical and chamber music and large complicated movie sound tracks. $80 per matched pair.
12.) The RCA 12AU7 “Clear Top” – This tube has been famous for a long time. Made by the millions for Organ companies back in the 50’s and 60’s, they are sometimes labelled “Conn”, Baldwin, Thomas, Leslie etc. They are just fabulous, and are still around in some numbers. Mine are all tested, matched, and will last a long, long time. $40 per matched pair – NOS.
(To Be Continued...)
No I wouldn't put Brimars (any other tube) in more than one row. With the Brimar 6060's in row 1 or 2, I would in the opposite row, install Seimens or Valvo ECC81's, 50's 12AT7 GE gray plates, Telefunken ECC81's, Phillips 12AT7WC charcoal plates, or even possibly Amperex Bugle Boys, as long as they aren't the Mullard made ones - those always have 3 holes in one of the edges of each of the two gray plates.
The Brimar 6060's are going to be extremely nice and full, yet still remain exceptionally clean, very large sounding, with a nice warm and comfortable character about them. So following or teaming that style of tube (Mullard is also this type of tube) with a much cleaner, even somewhat brighter, more open type of tube is what you will want to do.
Audiophile tube choices are all about mixing, the stew if you will. So I would never recommend mixing two of the same or similar type in your preamp section. If you do expect the amp to start taking on the characteristics of that tube style. If you ever mix similar tube types, mixing Seimens, Valvo, Tungsram, Amperex or maybe even Raytheon or RCA shiny black plates from the 60's. At least those tubes aren't too overly warm.
Warm tubes are the British tubes like Brimar* and Mullard. I have seen Amperex Bugle Boy, Valvo, Tungsram and several other tubes that are actually Mullards many times over the years. You can take pictures and send them to me and I will help you figure out what you have if you question them.
*The Yellow T 6060's are the most open and clean of the Brimars... and by far the best - in my opinion. But even they will always benefit being teamed up with the German and some of the more delineating of the USA tube types.
Also, one can never tell if the Brimar needs to be in row 1 or 2 so ALWAYS try both positions. This is all about the entire combination of your speakers, speaker placement, room anomalies, cables, and even things like the size and placement of your TV, curtains, wall art, furniture and its placement and density in the listening room. The exact same system will always sound or react completely different in a different room. And tubes are the same way.
It takes patience. And this is why sometimes after taking your new Raven Audio amp home, you can get in touch with me and especially with the more expensive tubes, I will be more than happy to send you several pairs of tubes to try out and when you make the choice and finally figure out your favorites, most of the time I can take the ones you don't like back.
In the end though, if you can put it into your budget, it might be best to just keep as many tube types as you can, put them in a drawer and when you have time try them with different types of music. Most of the time heavy and complex multi-instrument classical and movie recordings usually benefit from using less warm tubes like the German and European tube types and jazz, singer songwriter easy listening and old rock and roll is best on RCA Black Plates, Phillips shiny black plates from the 40's and 50's, Mullard and Brimar tubes - mixed with European or GE gray plates are the best.
If you love your speakers but sometimes you find them a tiny bit sharp or sibylant, Mullards and Brimar can usually be a full cure. If they are still to lean and sharp, that is the ONLY time I might mix Brimar with Mullard or RCA black plates.
I am always here to help, so let me know if you have any questions. If I can't answer you - we will experiment until we find what will work~!
Thanks for the response Dave.
So when I place my order for the osprey or blackhawk ..I’m going to choose the the yellow 6060s for row 1.
what options should I choose for row 2 and 3 to properly balance with the 6060s? Would it be ok to leave row 2 and 3 as the default options? Or should I choose an upgrade option? I don’t seem to see the tubes you recommended in your post above in the ordering options.
my listening is mostly rock, metal, classic rock, broadway shows, vocal contemporary
Once you get your new Raven Audio amplifier/preamp home you will more than likely suddenly be stunned by its performance. I know of nobody that is new to Raven Audio that has not called me within the first few hours to tell me how shocked they are that their new amplifier is so good. This includes the unbelievable Nighthawk MK3, all the way up through the Elite Series. From people that have owned some of the best amplifiers in history, from the most famous brands in history - to first time tube amp owners the reaction has always been the same... nobody can believe how good the Avian Series amplifiers sound. And... how could it possibly ever become better - when it is so great with the stock tubes I have now!?
The truth is, these amplifiers are so good - because of their extreme sensitivity. There are no other systems crammed into them, so they are all and only about one thing... making music! So they are also EXTREMELY sensitive to different choices of tubes, especially the preamplifier section tubes, but also power tubes. We do not believe in adding headphone outputs, DAC's, streamers, phono stages etc. into our Avian Series amplifiers. These amps are for amplifying your music ONLY. And they are quite brilliant about doing so. Those that are new to tube amps will suddenly be walking into a realm that they will find themselves captured and captivated within - literally forever. The addiction has now started.
Now... that is quite a claim, but it is easily explained.
Why would you ever want to be trapped into the sound of any amplification product - ever again???!!! Why would you EVER want to buy a hugely expensive product - and find yourself literally stuck with that one sound - forever~! That thought would alone keep me from EVER buying that product. The ability to have a multitude of endless different experiences - well to me that sounds like "the true spice of life itself!" And it really IS what tube amplification is about too. And the more sensitive your amplifier is - the more you can get out of it by experimenting with all the millions of different tube combinations you can find! And tubes have been made since the 1920's, and by the billions, possibly the trillions! Now as yourself this... doesn't THAT sound incredibly interesting in itself?!
You are living in a time when millions of those tubes are still sitting around in attics, warehouses, people's homes, businesses, hidden away in closets and bins... the possibilities are literally endless - because if you find 6 or 8 pairs or really great, but totally different sounding tubes that you can swap around in your preamp - just think of all the fun you are going to have when you start swapping those tubes into the different rows of this highly sensitive instrument! And then... one day you find another rare old tube pair that may have been sitting in untouched boxes in the back room on an old aircraft carrier, or in a military warehouse up in one of the old decommissioned Alaska Dewline storage rooms?!!! NOW YOU OWN a true piece of United States military history too, and it is going to be incredible knowing that you can plug that into your new Nighthawk MK3!
What you own now is a chameleon of an amplifier with literally an infinite amount of slightly different "finishes" or "sonic changes" are now at your fingertips - that you can have fun with and experiment with - literally forever! THAT IS WHAT OWNING A RAVEN AUDIO AMP IS ALL ABOUT!
When you purchase a dull cheap simple Chinese tube amp, or a solid state or digital amp (even the best of them!) you either are stuck with what you buy (solid state or digital) or - as you will find with most Chinese or foreign tube amps - you have to really work at it with tubes that are drastically different to hear a bit of change. The Raven Audio Avian Series amplifiers are EXCEPTIONALLY sensitive in comparison to EVERY OTHER AMP out there. This is just the truth. I guarantee it~!
The only downside that you will EVER find to this may be - if you have poor grade power coming to your listening room. In this case you may hear all the other electrical or electronic devices hooked up to that circuit... or you may pick up a slight hum. But in 99% of those cases you can simply play the music and not hear anything but the music. And it will be SO good - that I guarantee that you will immediately forget about anything else.
You know... Raven Audio has a guarantee about that. If ANY amplifier you purchase from us doesn't cleanly outperform any other brand or type of amplifier up to and sometimes well beyond double or more the price! Simply call us. We will take it back and give you ALL of the price of the product back.
In all the years we have been selling the little Nighthawk... any of them, the original, MK2 or MK3... we have taken back 3. Out of hundreds of amplifier sales - all Raven products - only 3! And I know for certain that those guys were NEVER going to keep the amp anyway. They just wanted to have it for a while so they could hear it, and experience it. This is unfortunate, but this is where our show amps came from. We do not resell anything that is returned. We simply take them to the audio shows nationwide. That way the prototypes can be retired and we end up showing actual amps that were in someone's home. That is about as authentic as you can get right there.
I also know one more thing... there would have been many more of these returns. I am SURE of that. But as soon as they finally heard what a Raven Audio amplifier really sounded like... even guys with cheap $300 speakers and 16 gauge cheap speaker cables and $3 interconnects... the difference was so profound that they simply couldn't return it. A few of those guys I worked with over the years and they never thought that they would EVER own high priced audio equipment. In fact they HATED the thought that there was audio gear out there that cost so much and they just KNEW it was all hype and bullsquat. So over time I carefully helped them into real music systems that changed their lives. Those guys are now a part of the audio forum population that will tell you their stories. I LOVE that. I love that as much as I love to say.... "welcome to the Raven Audio family"