Apr 142018
 

Tung-Sol 6L6GC-STR (left), GE 6L6GC (right).

I decided to bite the bullet and order two matched pairs of the increasingly rare & expensive NOS GE 6L6GC’s for my vintage MC30 monaural amps, so I could compare the fresh new GE’s to the new production Tung-Sol 6L6GC STR’s.

MC30 with Tung-Sol 6L6GC-STR’s.

I have found certain aspects of the Tung-Sol’s musical & sonic performance to be very endearing, like their gorgeous mid-range and spooky presence, but I also found that even with more time they were not smoothing out to the extent that I like (and need) in the upper mid-range and high-frequencies to be a good match to my Tannoy Westminster Royal SE loudspeakers.

Tannoy Westminster Royal SE loudspeaker.

The result was there was too much emphasis on surface noise and sibilance with the Tung-Sol 6L6GC STR, except on those few extremely well recorded LP’s, to make listening to music as rewarding as I know it can be.

In order to make the Tung-Sol’s work, I pretty much came to the conclusion I would have to put some really mellow & warm caps in the MC30’s (and maybe the MX110Z too) to get the sort of tonal balance that sounded like real music does.

As you know, I’m not opposed to rolling caps, and if fact I enjoy it quite a lot, but I’d rather just plug in a set of tubes that will provide the musicality that I know my MC30’s & Westminster’s are capable of.

GE 6L6GC vacuum tubes in vintage McIntosh MC30 monaural amplifier.

I ordered my GE 6L6GC’s from the husband and wife team, Tyler and Chelsea, at TC Tubes, and they arrived today by USPS. (Hint: they have two matched pairs of the GE’s left, tell them Jeff sent you).

The Johnny Smith Foursome – Volume II – on Roost.

I’ve been on a tear ordering from Discogs lately, and one of those albums was the The Johnny Smith Foursome Volume II on Roost (above).

I’m a huge Johnny Smith fan, and I adore the tone Johnny Smith got from his Gibson, being rich, warm, and achingly beautiful.

Royal Roost’s Johnny Smith Foursome “Volume II” on the CTC Garrard 301.

Except that with the Tung-Sol 6L6GC STR vacuum tubes Johnny’s Gibson sounded too lean, with the surface noise of my “very good” rated album sounding excessive, and the Tung-Sol’s just robbed Volume II of the “big tone” I knew it was capable of.

NOS GE 6L6GC vacuum tubes.

I put the GE 6L6GC’s in the MC30’s, and even cold out of the box with no time on them at all they sounded fantastic on Volume II, with the beautiful tone of Johnny’s Gibson coming through in spades. I could still hear the surface noise of my less than pristine copy of the Volume II, but it was now in an acceptable range that wasn’t a distraction from the music.

I didn’t realize how tired my old GE’s were before they let go, and putting in a fresh set is rather revelatory in how good they sound compared to anything else in my experience.

The fresh GE 6L6GC’s absolutely crushed the new production Tung-Sol 6L6GC STR’s, and it wasn’t even close.

Tung-Sol 6L6GC-STR (left), GE 6L6GC (right).

Ok, that’s not the result that many of us were hoping for, that the Tung-Sol’s would be able to go toe-to-toe with the GE’s.

In fact, the disparity was so huge between fresh GE’s and the new production Tung Sol’s that it made me kind of sad, because that means as the GE’s run out that few will be able to hear the level of musicality it brings to the MC30’s.

As far as I know, there’s no new production 6L6GC vacuum tubes that can even come close to the level of musicality the GE’s are capable of.

I’m not sure why new production tubes like these Tung-Sol’s can’t come any closer to those fine old vintage GE 6L6GC’s.

Actually, there’s probably quite a few reasons current production don’t sound as good as these GE’s, with probably the first reason being that manufacturers aren’t actually listening to these new production designs long enough during the design phase to get the design sorted out enough to compete with the NOS tubes like the GE’s.

Richard & Sue at Sophia Electric are among the exceptional few that seem to be able to coax that level of vintage tube musicality out of new production tubes, but as far as I know they’re not in the 6L6GC business or plan to be.

The Sophia Electric Aqua 274B rectifier is in that rare category of a new production rectifier that is beautifully & compellingly musical, for sure, but there is no blue-glass ST bottle-shaped 6L6GC from Sophia in the works either now or in the future, unfortunately.

All I can say is that you better get your GE 6L6GC’s while you can, because once they’re gone it’ll be “the day the music died” in the world of 6L6GC vacuum tubes.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and may the tone be with you!

 Posted by at 1:29 pm

  8 Responses to “GE 6L6GC vs. Tung-Sol 6L6GC STR: The Day the Music Died!”

  1. Hi Jeff,

    Your conclusion is pretty much the same as mine regarding the comparison between the Russian Tung Sol 6L6GC tubes and the GE 6L6GC tubes, when they are played in the MC30 amps. To be fair to the Russian tubes, though, I have to say that I’ve tried other U.S. made 6L6GC tubes, and none that I have tried have had the magic that the GE version provides. To my ears the GE version is the darkest, richest, and most musical of the bunch.

    Interestingly, the Russian Tung Sol 6L6GC tubes, played in the new deHaviland Super 40 monoblock amps (affordable and wonderful) sound surprisingly good driving my Altec A7 system with the big subhorn. Kara Chaffee of deHaviland has wonderful skill at voicing her products. The Super 40 amps produced a lovely, delicate, nuanced, and super clean but not overly bright sound that visitors to my listening room thoroughly enjoyed in the couple of days the amps were in the system.

    In my Altec A7 system, with the MC30 amps, the GE 6L6GC power tubes are a little dark in their magic; some would say euphonic. Abetted by the 29 foot long Monster in the Attic subhorn (20 Hz cutoff), the bass is sometimes spookily rich; clean, but verging on grotesque; however I love it. Sometimes, on some music, I find myself thinking I’d like to hear a little more sparkle; but every time I go there, I can’t wait to get back to spookily dark, with weight and nuance not provided by other 6L6 tubes I have tried. But: different strokes for different folks. Some folks want and need a brighter sound.

    I have been buying old stock GE 6L6GC tubes with good measurements. I have not bought any new old stock units, so don’t know what I’m missing. I’ve been satisfied with used old stock tubes with good measurements, and don’t seem to find a shortage of them out there. So maybe we will get by for a while yet. The dwindling stock of GE 6L6GC tubes is more of a problem for a young person than for an old person like me.

    Best Regards,

    Pete

    • Hi Pete,

      Thanks for the great comment – I always enjoy reading your comments! 🙂

      Tube lore has long ranked the black plate RCA 6L6GC as “the best” vintage 6L6GC. Maybe the RCA is “it” in certain application, but I have found the musicality of the GE 6L6GC to far surpass it in the vintage McIntosh MC30 monaural amplifiers, and any other new production or NOS vacuum tube I’ve tried (quite a few!).

      I did hear Kara’s new Super 40 amps with the Tung-Sol’s at your place when she was visiting, and like always, Kara has done a superb job voicing her amplifiers. (For those out there reading this comment who are not yet familiar with Kara’s new Super 40 amplifiers, they might find it interesting that they were inspired by the vintage McIntosh MC30’s, but with the typical refinements that Kara is known for. The Super 40’s are not up on the deHavilland web site yet, so you’ll have to send Kara an email if you want to find out more.)

      Your Altec A7 loudspeakers assisted by your awesome Monster Horn sub is capable of some of the most naturally musical performance I have ever heard, having a creamy, rich, dark, colorful, and utterly captivating presentation – I love it! You always seem to get the best out of any loudspeakers you put your hand – and crossovers – to, but my favorites have been the A7’s. I too like your A7’s best when they’re at their most laid back, without the “sparkle”.

      I don’t think you are missing a lot going with the used GE’s (as long as they’re within normal operating parameters), and in fact the ones I have been using these past years were used as well. They do deteriorate over time and some harshness / hardness will creep in as they near their end of life phase. That’s what happened with mine. Then when I put the “new” GE’s in I was rather astonished with how much difference there was between my very tired used ones and the “new” ones. Just more of that GE goodness everywhere!

      All the best to you, Pete!

      Kind regards,

      Jeff

  2. Jeff,

    I just ordered two pairs for my mc 30’s. I said Jeff sent me! I currently may be using rebranded black plate RCA’s they are like butter if they are. I love both sounds though. Well as far as preamp tubes go I haven’t heard both these in 6l6 form. I don’t think may have in guitar amps but didnt’ think to much about it. Congrats on your retirement I haven’t chimed in here in awhile. I haven’t been doing much to my stereo lately just enjoying the music for once when I can, and not obsessing so much. It took sometime to get there. Still thinking though how to fine tune it ever so often of course. 🙂 Thanks for the heads up I literally was thinking of getting some tubes lately for back up as well to hear if mine are tired out.

    Cheers,

    Bill

    P.S. back to 5u4 rectifier for juicy tone.

    • Hi Bill,

      Thanks for the mention! 🙂

      I think you’ll really enjoy the GE’s in your MC30’s, the GE’s outperformed my RCA black plates musically in my MC30’s by a significant margin.

      You’re right on about enjoying the music for its own sake, and you’ve reminded me of the “so true statement” on Yves Beauvais’ website that says:

      “While the selection and fine tuning of exhilarating-sounding vintage audio equipment is an exciting, often life-long search, let’s not forget it’s ultimately the music that matters — mankind’s mysterious mastery of making air move in esthetically & emotionally thrilling ways. Most importantly, remember to ask yourself the age-old question: Can I dance to it?”

      Nice to hear from you, Bill! 🙂

      Jeff

  3. Jeff; I give you a very warm recommendation on the blue labelled Philips ECG 6L6GC tubes; they are getting scarce nowadays but they show up from to time to time.
    For me, still the best 6L6GC`s in my setup with the MC30`s and our beloved MX110.
    Try to find a quad and test `em ; I am anxious to hear your thoughts.
    Claus

    • Hi Claus,

      Thanks for the mention of the Philips tubes. I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to try them or not, but it’s is always nice to know about good options!

      Kind regards,

      Jeff

  4. Hi Jeff,
    Did you try 1614 tubes in your mc30?
    Did you try old GEC kt66?
    Regards,
    Alex

    • Hi Alex,

      I’m probably just stick with the GE 6L6GC, because they are such a good match to my MC30’s, and overall system balance.

      It would be intriguing to try the all metal GE 1614, and I notice Radio Electric Supply has them in stock at $35 each, but I think I’ll resist temptation.

      The GEC KT66’s would be fun to try too, but they are way out of my price range for experiments.

      Kind regards,

      Jeff

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