High Octane Fuel for The Pan Am: A Tube Roller’s Notes

High Octane Fuel for The Pan Am

Methodology & Reservations

Even though other amps such as Darkvoice 3322 and Little Dot III can use the same driver tubes, it does not mean that the results obtained with those amps are automatically transpose-able on The Pan Am. Or the other way around. In several cases during my background research I stumbled upon “Tube Rolling Guides” for Little Dots/Darkvoices, and yes I can agree with several people and see correlations to some extent. However, I can’t and won’t promise anything other than what I hear when used in the Pan Am/Passport from an iDevice/CLAS out through HD800/LCD-3. I chose only using the HD800 and LCD-3’s since they are by far the most revealing headphones in my collection and they pair well with The Pan Am/Passport + iDevice/CLAS. LCD-3’s give a smooth and relaxed nuance, whilst HD800 are fantastic at analyzing all the micro-detail available. Yes, I know. They most certainly sound better from a Eddie Current Zana Deux or Cavalli Liquid Fire, etc. But I try to find the best possible transportable combination. That is most certainly the bottleneck for me, but hey, “life ain’t perfect and we can only strive to do the best possible with what is given to us”-ish. So which tube is the best for [insert other headphone than the previously mentioned]? Hopefully using the rating standards I’ve chosen, you could draw those conclusions for yourself. But you won’t know until you try it. And the best part? Even the pretty expensive ones don’t cost more than 30-40 USD a pair. So there’s room for “error” with your specific phone. If you wish. Otherwise I’ll offer 3 solid tips. 2 of them both very accessible and cheap. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

All tubes were burned in for a minimum of 24h’s before listening. A minimum of 20 hours has been spent with all pairs. Mixed playlists, but all have been through my playlist of 25 reference songs that I almost listen to every time I make a change in the equipment. See the end of the review for details. They are either (1) song’s that I like very much (thus know every detail by heart) and/or (2) very high quality recordings emphasizing bass/mids/treble, clarity; imaging; sound stage etc. And last but not least. No, I am not a fan of Rebecca Pidgeon – Spanish Harlem.

Note that I have not purchased all tubes possible, since I found the sound I was searching for. Enough is enough. Please note that this is not a guarantee that there aren’t some super-sweet ultra tubes hiding in somebody’s grandfather’s cellar waiting to be discovered. So if you’re on a spending spree. Go nuts. Maybe you’re the one to bring some light on hidden gems?

Scoring

  • 5 = I don’t think any better is possible from this little tube
  • 4 = Very good
  • 3 = Good/average
  • 2 = Well… At least it’s there
  • 1 = Horrible
  • Sound stage – It’s size – depth, height and width
  • Detail – Imaging, separation, speed and clarity in the sound stage
  • Bass – A mix between the extension, quality and quantity in the lower end
  • Mid range – A mix between the quality and quantity in the mid range
  • Treble – The upper region, extension, quality and quantity in the upper end
  • Other factors: If needed, whatever these may turn out to be.
  • Total: The sum of the above
  • Value: The above total score split by the median price (eBay-wise, from respected sellers) for a matched pair
  • In short: Just summing everything up –  the quickie – for the anxious non-speed reading dyslexics out there. 😉

 

 

Continued on Page 3, The challengers fighting for the prestigious title – The Best Pan Am-tube

4.2/5 - (4 votes)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR Valentin is a mid-20’s multi-tasker. Played a lot of instruments from the age of 5-6 and onward. Grew his hair, experimented with 4x12” Mesa Boogies whilst growling in front of a mic. Cut his hair and DJ’d electro beats at clubs. Grew a moustache and people started calling him Dr. Hogea. Has ravaged through all genres you could imagine. A playlist with Warren Zevon, Dissection and Dead Prez is the daily diet. Preferably in a transportable manner. Life is too short for a desk.

39 Comments

  • Reply December 22, 2012

    Nathaniel Nguyen

    Beautiful piece. Found it very informing and concise.

    • Reply December 22, 2012

      Valentin

      Thanks Nathaniel! Hope it helps you in your future tube rolling!

  • Reply December 22, 2012

    L.

    Great review V!

    • Reply December 22, 2012

      Valentin

      Thx L! By far the most time-consuming so far. Note to self: “No more tube rolling guides!” 😉

      • Reply December 22, 2012

        Trent_D

        Nice to know that ALO is selling some great tubes to use with the Pan Am!

  • Reply December 23, 2012

    Yago Vázquez Montes

    Great review Valentin, I always wanted to try the Pan Am with my HE-400.

    Fantastic music too, I just download some of your albums 😉

    Bests.

    • Reply December 24, 2012

      Valentin

      Hi Yago! Thanks! The Pan Am is a convenient little thing. It’s portability is it’s favorite trait in my book.

      Mind sharing what you liked?

      /V

  • Reply December 24, 2012

    Steven Quan

    Hey Valentin, thanks for the article. Really helps with first timers looking into tube-rolling. Getting ready to purchase the Pan Am and wanted to know if you had the chance to try out the Telefunken Tubes ($49/pair) that they offer. Thanks again!

    • Reply December 24, 2012

      Valentin

      Hi Steven! Great that you found it informative. It really puts one to the test. To stay objective, thus avoiding what one thinks they would sound like. The answer to your question is yes and no. I have a pair of Telefunken, but one of the tubes has a crack so the getter has turned all white, meaning it’s a no-go. I understand that you’re curious since they sell the tubes from stock. All I can say is “try”. However, at 49 USD, if I were you I’d buy the 9 USD Voshkods and pick up a pair of Mullards. It should end up at aprox the same cost.

      Just because it says Telefunken and costs 49 USD doesn’t make it fantastic.On the other hand, I have no substantial proof it isn’t. I’m just saying. Either take a chance and/or play on a safe bet.

      /V

    • Reply December 24, 2012

      Gary Saville

      Nice and clean sounding, but lack body and bass. I wouldn’t recommend them.

  • Reply December 24, 2012

    Minh Duc Nguyen

    Should do a tube rolling for WA6 as well XD

    • Reply December 24, 2012

      Valentin

      Hahahaha… Not this decade! 😉

  • Reply December 24, 2012

    Gary Saville

    Thanks for the review. Where did you order the Mullard tubes from?

    • Reply December 25, 2012

      Valentin

      I’ll have to check it out. From ALO Audio’s facebook, I get the impression that they’ll try to get a hold of a supply of Mullard’s to have in stock. So maybe from them? 😉

  • Reply December 25, 2012

    Ken Stuart

    Your survey is very sophisticated in terms of sound qualities, but somewhat less so in terms of the tubes. Some additional info that may be helpful:

    * – The “brand name” on the tube (or box) does not reliably tell you
    everything, since all the various manufacturers – from time to time –
    made tubes for the other brands (in other words there are “G.E.” brand
    tubes made by Mullard, and Mullard tubes made by other brands, etc)
    * – So, you need to use the tube manufacturing codes, which tell you the date and the actual manufacturer.
    * – Amperex is a US company who did not make tubes. Most Amperex tubes
    were made in the Phillips plant in Holland… but not all of them.
    * – Date matters somewhat. Late 50’s and Early 60s are best. 70’s less so.
    * – When buying tubes, the most important information is test results. A
    brand new unused tube in a box for 50 years can operate poorly, while a
    slightly used tube can work perfectly. Stereo tubes (like 12AX7)
    should be as “balanced” as possible.

    Information about the codes, and various manufacturers and tubes and many other things, can be found at the following link. The seller has top quality tubes that are highly expensive. If money is tight, research the info there are then check ebay:

    http://www.audiotubes.com/audtube.htm

    • Reply December 25, 2012

      Valentin

      Hi Ken!

      You are very correct regarding the information above. Several 60’s Amerex are Mullard’s. If I were unclear, that’s what I was trying to say.
      The manufacturing dates to the Amperex are mentioned in the review. I didn’t research further than that. I stopped at the “this is not the same quality found in 1980’s Mullard’s”.

      If we’re just discussing tubes in general I find it a bit generalizing to say that 50’s 60’s tubes automatically are better than later.

      All tubes were purchased NOS and I have their exact emission test data, but felt that this info was a bit too much for the review.

      I find it complicated to give a more in-depth answer since it’s a bit unclear to me if you’re discussing Amperex/Mullard or all the tubes mentioned in the article or “tubes in general”.

      Merry christmas!
      /V

  • Reply December 25, 2012

    Valentin

    I can also highly recommend this FAQ as a beginners info for tubes. It’s not the final say, but a good place to start! 🙂

    http://ken-gilbert.com/vacuum-tube-faq

  • Reply December 26, 2012

    Nathaniel Nguyen

    are you guys going to get hold of a WA7 on release? i think it would be very interesting to see how it stacks up against the Pan Am. Pan am + passport is approx the same price as the WA7 pre-order price

    • Reply December 26, 2012

      Valentin

      I can only speak for myself, and the WA7 isn’t next on my list.

      Mike has the Pan Am too, and did the official review on it, so it’s not impossible that he’ll get a hold of a review sample and therefore can make a comparative review. Let’s see what he has planned…

      • Reply December 26, 2012

        L.

        Can’t remember having talked about the WA7 with Mike…

        • Reply December 26, 2012

          Valentin

          What I was trying to say, that can be misinterpreted. I for one will not do a WA7-review. Mike who did the Pan Am-review and therefore would be able to do a comparison to a WA7, has not to my knowledge this planned.

          • Reply December 26, 2012

            Trent_D

            I bet there will be a WA7 review.

            • Reply December 26, 2012

              Mike

              I will try to do one but Woo hasn’t said anything so far.

              • Reply December 29, 2012

                Nathaniel Nguyen

                Wonder what tube rolling on that thing will be like. Apparently it only accepts 6c45’s.

  • Reply December 31, 2012

    Joseph

    Awesome Review – thx! Question for ya:

    I’m a tuby, mid-junkie audiophile and looking to get a portable tube rig for my mobile laptop rig. Choosing between the (1) Continental V2 + Cypher Algorythim-dB DAC, or (2) the PanAm + Passport. The total cost and size is about the same (the PanAm slightly larger option). For portability & noise-rejection, I’m an IEM guy, currently (suffering) w/ an old pair of Ety 4S’s, and looking to upgrade to some JK-13’s.

    Don’t need much volume or power to drive IEM’s, just want sweet tuby mids & pristine DAC front-end. Which way would you recommend?

  • Reply March 11, 2013

    Sasmit

    Hi Valentin,

    what was the source of your 6ZH1P tubes? did you get them from ALO?

  • Reply April 26, 2013

    lcamtai

    I really want to ask this question for a long time? Between The Pan Am (with Mulard) and WooAudio WA6 (with Sophia Princess). Which one is the best match for HD650? I mostly listen to Pop, Slow Old Rock, Jazz, and other vocals. Thanks and this post is really important because I am going to order one but have still not decided which one.

    • Reply April 26, 2013

      Mike

      I think both are nice. The Woo is cleaner and more spacious, more dynamic, more solid-state like in those qualities. The PanAm is warmer, fuller bodied, but less spacious.

  • Reply May 26, 2013

    Brian N

    Before people read this and go and discount the Western Electric 403B tubes, I would like to note that it appears that you had a set of 1980 Western Electric 403b tubes. I have the Pan Am and I have several sets of 403a/b tubes from the 1950’s and from that era the tubes are very good in the Pan Am.

  • Reply November 4, 2013

    BattousaiX26

    hello sir just want to ask if you already tried the siemens tube? and which do you think would be a better pair for dt990, the siemens or russian tube?

    • Reply November 5, 2013

      Mike

      The russian has a better bass impact, but more rough in sound quality. The siemens has a fuller and smoother midrange and

      • Reply November 5, 2013

        BattousaiX26

        ok i see how about between siemens and mullards who gives a more mellow/tubish sound? 🙂

        • Reply November 6, 2013

          Mike

          Not sure about the mallard. The Siemens is not mellow though. Smooth clean and full bodied but not mellow.

          • Reply November 6, 2013

            BattousaiX26

            i see, thanks very much mike 🙂

    • Reply November 6, 2013

      Mike

      The russian has a better bass impact, but more rough in sound quality. The siemens has a fuller and smoother midrange and is more spacious. I would go for the siemens.

  • Reply December 28, 2013

    Tronco

    Hi Valentin,

    I got my PanAm some months ago and initially I was was perfectly happy with the stock tubes. Now I am tube tolling and thanks to your review it was very easy to get started and to know which tubes to get.

    Just wanted to thank you for your tube roller’s notes, it has been a big help! Good work, it is very much appreciated!

  • Reply January 9, 2017

    Joe B.

    Great review.

    I roll in a Little Dot Mk III i use it as both a can amp and a preamp tp several amps I’ve rolled.
    Totally love the Voshkod and Mullards.
    There’s ALOT of history behind each make,
    The Gold getter milspec 70’s version Vokshod’s are especially good.
    Voshkods sound best with “slower” amps like vintage mid-late 70’s Luxmans, Pioneer, Marantz, Tube amps and turntables..
    Mullard’s and their more delayed, syrupy sound worked best with newer chip amp gear like 90’s-2000’s Denons, Onkyo’s, CD, streaming internet, digital and surround system music.
    There are no hard and fast rules with tubes and how they work but this is my experience so far.
    Everything works for what it is.

    Also, in the next review, throw in some Philips/Amperex Dutch Bugle Boys as I can attest they sound PHENOMENAL.
    Depth, without bloat, and natural extended but never sibilant highs run into a modest Luxman R-115 receiver and Infinity RSB speakers..

    There are others out there too….
    Baldwin Organ tubes i have liked too, especially in a 12AY7 tube preamp use…

    Keep on rolling Tubeheads!

  • Reply March 5, 2017

    Widodo

    Why u use the cypherlabs duet .. does make the sound better .. or just more powerfull?

  • Reply March 5, 2017

    Widodo

    I correct my post not cypher labs duet but solo db .. ? Of course your player i pod touch 4.. sory for miss understanding…

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