John's Valve Page
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I bought my first Hi-Fi system when I was 17, and
upgraded it over the years. Then in 1997 I bought a flat in London, and went shopping for
a whole new system for it. I'd heard that valve amplifiers were making a comeback, and
thought I'd better check them out. I was blown away by what I heard - not only did I buy a
valve system for London, but I could no longer stand listening to my transistor amp at
home in France, and had to upgrade that as well. But once I'd started, I wanted to know
more and do more
a pair of Atma-Sphere M60 transformerless (OTL)
power amps, and wrote an article about them as well. I
also built a Hi-Fi World KLPP1 pre-amp,
but I never got round to writing about it and now there isn't much point since
the kit is no longer available.
read all the books and magazines I could find on the
subject, and there are plenty of them.
I did some analysis of different
approaches to heater operation: constant voltage, constant current, and in
I got seriously interested in the theory of valve design and operation,
including what it would take to build Spice models. I wrote a long
article summarising the theory from a modern, audio perspective.
one time I had a big project using the amazing 6C33C-B Russian power triode. I
bought a large quantity of them then didn't get round to the project, so they
are now for sale.
a look at my systems.
Suppliers for valve and audiophile components.
My Hi-Fi Systems
I ended up with three systems, one
I bought for London, one I assembled in France, and a third (partial) system which I built
for someone in the family who turned out not to want it. Since moving to California, all
of these systems have been combined, mainly on the basis of what still worked after the
move! I have not yet got round to reassembling a workshop that will let me give serious
attention to fixing things. The systems were originally put together as follows.
Conrad-Johnson PV10A pre-amp and phono stage
Golden Tube SE40SE power amp
Classe CDP-5 CD Player
Resolution Epic speakers
Nottingham Analogue Hyperdeck with Nottingham
Analogue arm and Benz Glider cartridge
Solid silver interconnect and speaker cables, with
This system is very transparent and very agreeable
to listen to. It is more involving when playing vinyl than CD. I spent a lot of time
auditioning the power amplifier and CD players. In the case of the power amp, I also
listened to the Unison Research Simply 4, the Gamma Rhythm (211), the Simply 845, and a
couple of others which I now forget. None had the clarity and transparency of the Golden
Tube. I did change the 6SN7s from the supplied Sovteks to RCA (actually some Italian
valves made under licence from RCA), which made the system more involving. Although the
system is improving as it runs in, I do sometimes find it a little sterile.
- Hi-Fi World KLPP1 pre-amp and phono stage, heavily tweaked
and improved (actually there is little left of the original kit, except the hardware and
- Atma-Sphere M60 transformerless monobloc power amplifiers,
- Theta Data Basic II CD transport
- Audio Crafters Guild X-DAC 3
- Spendor BC1 speakers -
old but still much-loved with no change planned.
- Acoustic Research AR-1 vinyl deck - due for
replacement some time, but I listen to very little vinyl here
- Kimber 4TC speaker cables, home-made silver/PTFE
I love this system and the Atma-Sphere amplifiers. It is incredibly involving. The
Theta Data/X-DAC combination is very sweet and lives up to expectations, although dealing
with the Audio Crafters Guild requires a lot of patience.
The Third System:
- Welborne Laurel 300B power amp, using VAIC VV30B output tubes
- AudioNote Pre-Amp, built from kit including copper paper-in-oil caps and other expensive
I built this system for someone in my family, but things
didn't work out so it is not currently in use. I like the Laurel a lot, although in the
end I find the Golden Tube SE40SE more transparent. The AN pre-amp is not a success. It
has a strange boominess in the bass, although this doesn't show up in measurements. As
built, with Ei tubes, it is unbelievably microphonic, and has cheap, nasty industrial
elctrolytics in the signal path (plate decoupling caps - some may not consider these in
the signal path but believe me, they are). I have the parts to do a major upgrade to the
caps and put some decent (Mullard) valves in it, which may make it better if/when I get
round to it.
What I'm listening to now is:
- The Hi-Fi World KLPP1, still hevaily tweaked
- Atma-Sphere M60s, by now very heavily tweaked, including all the recommended factory
upgrades as well as increased gain stage B+ voltage (600V) and current (7mA per phase) and
6BX7 driver to the output stage.
- Classe CDP-5 CD Player
- Resolution Epic speakers
- Nottingham Analogue Hyperdeck with Nottingham Analogue arm and Benz Glider cartridge
- Solid silver interconnect and speaker cables, with PTFE insulation
These are the suppliers of systems and electronic
components that I have dealt with in putting all this together.
- The London system comes from The Audio
Consultants. This is a small outfit in North London (Camden Town)
specialising in valve systems and also leaning heavily towards vinyl. The owner, Stephen
Harper (no relation), keeps a good selection of valve amplifiers and preamps, as well as
CD players, speakers (valve friendly, naturally) and vinyl players, the latter mainly from
Nottingham Analogue. I would strongly recommend them for anyone interested in buying valve
equipment: call them on (+44) (0)171 380 0866.
- Another London dealer that merits honourable mention is Hi
Fi Experience in Tottenham Court Road (TCR), the heart of the West End. As a
recent Stereophile article pointed out, TCR is mainly full of large, noisy shops selling
low- to mid-range music systems by the truckload. Hi Fi Experience is the exception.
Located in a basement, they have several good listening rooms (disturbed only by the
passage of trains on the Northern Line) with a wide range of mid- to high-end equipment. I
found them helpful and auditioned quite a few silicon amps before deciding to go for a
valve system. Find them at 227 Tottenham Court Road, London W1, (+44) (0)171
Electronics have an excellent selection, all described on their web pages, including
silver wire at a very good price, a good selection of Hammond transformers and chokes, a
nice range of capacitors including Relcap Teflon and Cerafine, and a good selection of
Holcos. They accept orders by e-mail (with a credit card), and give prompt service.
- Audio Links is a UK supplier from
whom I have bought quite a lot. He has some very nice hard silver wire (a delight to work
with and ideal for making up cables, although significantly more expensive than from
Handmade). His service is excellent, but he doesn't take credit cards and is therefore
awkward to deal with if you are outside the UK. He is at 7 Fairmont Crescent, Scunthorpe
DN16 1EL, UK, phone/fax (+44) (0)1724 870432.
- Welborne Labs are
best known for their kits (such as the Laurel 300B stereo amp which I built), but they
also have a good range of components. Their catalogue is not available on-line.
- Michael Percy has a tremendous selection of
audiophile parts, better than anyone else I have seen. For example, he keeps the full
range of RelCaps, even 1uF 200V Teflon if you don't mind spending $160 on a capacitor.
Unfortunately he does not take credit cards - which is a problem if you don't.have a US
bank account. He is at 11731 Stillwater Creek Road, Nevada City CA 95959, (+1) 530 470
8650, fax (+1) 530 470 8651.
- RS Components aren't
specifically an audiophile supplier, but rather a general supplier to the electronics
trade. Their six-volume catalogue (all available on-line) covers far more than just
electronics: tools, pneumatics, office supplies, metalwork... it goes on and on. They are
mainly oriented to company buying, but I believe they will now supply individuals. They
have subsidiaries throughout Europe; I have bought a lot from RS France, but beware that
the subsidiaries have their own catalogues and their own part numbers. Mostly they carry a
smaller range, but there are some surprises, for example RS France carry mercury-wetted
relays that aren't available in the UK.
- And of course Maplin,
the best known "hobby" electronic supplier in the UK. As well as a decent range
of general components and semiconductors (though not audiophile stuff) they also sell some
valve amplifier kiits which have had good reviews.
Valves (or Tubes)
Last revised: 27th December 2002.
- Ned Carlson (Triode
Electronics) is a well-known figure, with a big range of new and NOS tubes. He gives
excellent service, and his ever-expanding web site is full of information.
- In the UK, Wilson Valves has a
very wide range, especially of European types (the only supplier I have found for the
ECC84 and ECC85 used in the Leak Troughline, for example). He takes credit cards, and can
be found at 28 Banks Avenue, Golcar, Huddersfield HD7 4LZ, UK, phone (+44) (0) 1484
654650, fax (+44) (0) 1484 655699.
- New Sensor are the
distributors of Sovtek (in fact, they own the brand: Sovtek is sourced from a variety of
factories in Russia and the former Soviet Union), and also have a lot of military-surplus.
If you buy large quantities, you can get a trade account with favourable pricing.
- PM Components are the people behind the Golden Dragon brand.
They very kindly supplied me with a boxful of dead power tubes
(300B, 2A3, 845, etc) for my vivisection experiments: Selectron House, Springhead
Enterprise Park, Gravesend, DA11 8HD, UK, phone (+44) (0) 1474 333762, fax (+44) (0) 1474