Jun 182016
 

I have really been having a lot of fun listening to various capacitors in my vintage McIntosh MX110Z tuner-preamplifier.

Vintage McIntosh MX110Z Tuner-Preamplifier

Vintage McIntosh MX110Z Tuner-Preamplifier

At the moment the vintage Sprague Bumblebees are at the top of my list for capacitors in the C93 & C95 and C94 & C96 positions for my MX110Z for their sheer musical prowess.

Vintage 0.22uF Bumblebee caps in the MX110.

Vintage 0.22uF Bumblebee caps in the MX110.

The half a century old Bumblebees have a ravishingly beautiful combination of sonics & musicality that no modern capacitor has been able to match in my MX110Z capacitor adventure, but as I noted in my last post, you need to be very careful in your use of such ancient devices to protect both yourself & your audio gear, as they can pose a significant risk if they are not up to snuff. To be on the safe side you should test them to make sure their capacitance & ESR have not drifted up, and also you should test the Bumblebees for DC leakage current to make sure they won’t turn your cherished audio gear into a fireworks display.

Eric Clapton playing Blackie in 1978. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Eric Clapton playing Blackie in 1978. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

I’ve been hanging out at electric guitar sites reading up on what is favored in vintage & modern guitars and guitar amplifiers, and you probably wouldn’t be surprised to know there is as much diversity of opinion on the merits of various tubes, wire, capacitors, and resistors, as there are for enthusiast audio.

However, the electric guitar guys are way ahead of audio guys in their appreciation & understanding of vintage tone, which is an established genre in the guitar world, whereas in audio it still resides in an under-appreciated realm of sonic & musical performance.

They realize that substituting a tonally incorrect resistor or capacitor for an original vintage one in a cherished guitar or amplifier will completely destroy its tone, and thus destroying its musical character.

0.22uF Red Astron style of capacitor by Jupiter Condenser.

0.22uF Red Astron style of capacitor by Jupiter Condenser.

One capacitor that kept popping up in recommendations for restoring vintage guitar amplifiers was the Red “Astron” style capacitors offered by Jupiter Condenser Co.

Guitar guys say they sound articulate & warm, and that they come closer to the vintage Black Beauty / Bumblebee capacitor tone than any other contemporary capacitor.

As you can imagine, I was intrigued by this assertion, and I wanted to try a pair of these vintage tone Red Astron style of ‘guitar capacitors’ in my MX110Z to see how they compared to my actual pair of vintage Sprague Bumblebee capacitors.

It would be very newsworthy if there was a new production capacitor that had vintage tone that rivaled the vintage Sprague Bumblebee capacitors.

Top to bottom: Sprague Bumblebee, Jupiter Red Astron, and AZ capacitor.

Top to bottom: Sprague Bumblebee, Jupiter Red Astron, and AZ capacitor.

If you consider the materials that vintage Sprague Black Beauty / Bumblebee capacitors are constructed of, kraft paper & mylar & aluminum foil, you would think that they would be very similar sonically & musically to the Blue & Green Cactus Arizona Capacitors, which are also constructed out of those materials, but they’re not, they sound quite different.

Red Astron by Jupiter Condenser.

Red Astron by Jupiter Condenser.

The Red Astron style of capacitor by Jupiter Condenser are constructed of mylar & tin foil instead of mylar & aluminum foil. Here’s how the Jupiter Condenser website describes them:

“Tinfoil and Mylar 1950’s construction, warmer tone. Modeled after the legendary Red Astron Capacitors, our capacitors have similar style to the vintage capacitors to give a very authentic tone and look, yet with a high reliability and longevity. This phenolic case potted tinfoil and mylar capacitor yields a uniquely vintage tone perfect for guitar amplifiers and vintage audio amplifiers alike.”

Now notice that Jupiter is not saying that the Red Astron style of capacitors have similar tone to Black Beauty’s & Bumblebee’s, they’re comparing them to the original vintage Red Astron capacitors. However, the builders in the field are saying they have similar tone to Black Beauty’s & Bumblebee’s.

Jupiter Condenser 'Red Astron' style of capacitor.

Jupiter Condenser ‘Red Astron’ style of capacitor.

I was intrigued enough I ordered a pair of the Jupiter Condenser Red Astron capacitors from Parts Connexxion to try in the vintage McIntosh MX110Z capacitor adventure, and they arrived today.

I want to listen to the Sprague Bumblebees for a while longer before I swap them out for the Jupiter Condenser Red Astron capacitors, but you should be reading about that experiment here in the not too distant future.

It is my hope that one of these days I’ll find a current production capacitor that I can recommend that will have as good as tone as a vintage Sprague Black Beauty or Bumblebee. Could the Jupiter Condenser Red Astron be the one?

Stay tuned, there will be much more to come!

 Posted by at 5:06 pm

  7 Responses to “Today’s Fresh Catch: Red “Astron” Style Capacitors from Jupiter Condenser”

  1. I’d put in a vote for also trying out the 716P Orange Drop… that is if you’re up for up for adding another capacitor candidate to the tone mix. 😉

    • Howdy Josh,

      I’d like to try the original Sprague Orange Drop. Manufacture of them has changed hands twice, first going from Sprague to Vishay, then from Vishay to CDE. What I’m not sure about is if the ‘recipe’ changed when the Orange Drop manufacturing changes hands, so I’d probably want to search out the originals. I sure would like to see Sprague restart an exact reproduction of the Black Beauty / Bumblebee series. I suspect not everyone would love them (not audiophile-like tone with peaky highs, more for music lovers who like smooth natural highs), but I think a whole lot of people would!

      Cheers,

      Jeff

  2. Howdy Jeff,

    The red Astron caps are sleepers in the audio arena. I’ve used them paralleled with a small value Vitamin Q before. Quite good.
    Going to put the same combo in my present amp soon.

    Regards,

    Les

    • Howdy Les!

      I’m with you, I consider the tin-foil Red Astron’s to be a real find, they’re working great in my vintage McIntosh MX110 preamp-tuner, and they have a tonal balance that reminds me a lot of the Duelund DCA16GA wire. Good stuff!

      Kind regards,

      Jeff

  3. When comparing the Bumblebee, Red Astron and Arizona Capacitor together, the are all fruit, but apple, pear, and an orange. The materials are different, the constructions are different and the impregnants are different. Having dissected and reversed engineered the bumblebee, I state 100% accurate that only one company is currently making a close equivalent.

    • Hi Daryl,

      Nice to hear from you!

      Each of these cap’s indeed are very different in their construction, but very nice sonically & musically in their own ways, which will make them a nice choice for someone in need of what they can do in a circuit.

      I liken capacitor performance to a guitar, where the strings are tuned to a particular vibrational frequency (just as a cap is “tuned” to a particular capacitance), but even though the strings are tuned to the same frequencies, different guitars sound dramatically different from each other because of their overall design and the materials they are built out of, and so it is with capacitors – fortunate for us!

      I haven’t heard a new production cap that sounds like the Bumblebee yet, but would love it if someone was producing a nuevo-Bumblebee.

      Since that post, I’ve moved on to using the Duelund CAST tinned-copper capacitors in my MX110Z, which are a truly remarkable sounding capacitor in so many ways, and are by far my favorite cap at this time. Frederik at Duelund has really done something special with the Duelund CAST Sn-Cu cap’s.

      If you get a chance check out the Duelund CAST Sn-Cu 100V capacitor review out at Humble Homemade HiFi, it’s a good read.

      Kind regards,

      Jeff

    • To those of you who are reading this, I want to let you know some more interesting background on what Daryl is talking about with Bumblebees (you might remember Daryl as being one of the principal designers at Arizona Capacitors).

      Daryl is no longer with AZ Cap’s and is on to further capacitor adventures, of which I can only tell you a little about at the moment (more coming when Daryl gives me the ok).

      To quote Daryl, “I can tell you where to get the reversed engineered Bumblebee’s – Fender! I personally reversed engineered their current offerings from the vintage parts. I worked with their engineering group to produce the line they now have. They are produced using the same dielectrics, impregnants, and construction as the originals. I get nothing from this, as Fender is a Arizona Capacitor customer, but just wanted to let you know as an FYI.”

      I find it very exciting to hear that the famous and historically important Bumblebee capacitor is available again! There should be cheers all around the world at this news!

      Daryl has some other exciting capacitor news to share as he is able to disclose the details, and when the time comes I’ll interview him and tell you all about it – stay tuned!

      Kind regards,

      Jeff

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