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

High Octane Fuel for The Pan Am

The Challengers

 

Voshkod 6ZH1P-EV(Stamped: V80)

  • Bass – Very thick bass with fantastic layering. A real head quake without being too boomy. Sounds like a contradiction? It feels likewise. Excellent none-the-less. 5
  • Mid range – Neutral, neither silky nor harsh. 4
  • Treble – Great extension, fast without any harshness. Depending on preference the slight roll-off can be a winner or not. In my book, definitely one of the best. 4.5
  • Sound stage -The widest of the bunch, much better than average height and depth. The best sound stage period. 5
  • Detail – I can’t imagine squeezing out more from The Pan Am, excellent. Very easy to pin-point micro-detail. 5
  • Other factors: There is a surplus of them everywhere. Buying 10-100 tubes and matching them yourself for a nickel is not a problem. Good to know in 20 years when all the fancy American tubes are history. +0.5
  • Total: 23
  • Average price:  5-20 (9) USD [There are pairs for 40+ USD too. But that sure is one good profit-margin.]
  • Value:  23/9 = 2.56
  • In short: The cheap “military tubes” from Mother Russia that can’t be good considering ALO have them in surplus and sell them for 9 USD/pair. Hah! Think again. From an analytical/technical point of view, my favorites. They offer the highest resolution of the bunch. If you want micro-detail, great mids and fantastic bass (who doesn’t?) this is the one. Considering it’s dirt cheap and can be found in excess. Go for it!  These and the Mullards are must-haves, it comes down to preference. The Mullards are silky sweet, whilst these are very exact. Which sound signature do you prefer?

 

Tesla 6F32V (Stamps, on top: 025, back: 38 UB)

  • Bass – Not as impressive as the Mullards or the Voshkods, but much better than the rest. 4
  • Mid range – Well, it’s pretty good. But it doesn’t leave a fond memory. 3
  • Treble –  Very good extension and fast decay. Really enjoy fast-paced rhythms with these. Speed metal à la Judas Priest, oh yes! Can get a tiny bit harsh sometimes. 4
  • Sound stage – Better than average no doubt. Height and width was most impressive. I actually” heard” my own door bang in MJ – Black & White. Freaked me out 4
  • Detail – Better than average, but you can have more. Mother Russia’s calling you back. 3
  • Other factors:
  • Total: 18
  • Average price:  8-12 (10) USD
  • Value:  18/10 = 1.80
  • In short: If you want a well-balanced all-rounder. These are very sweet. Not as sweet as the Voshkod’s though. But hey, they have yellow printing!

 

Shuguang (I think) 6J1-Q (stock tubes)

  • Bass – Neutral bass. I’m missing a lot of that oomph! And tabbing out bass lines ain’t exactly easy. 2
  • Mid range – Nothing bad, nothing good. 2
  • Treble – Well, they do offer more quantity than several other ones. Can’t say it sounds especially fantastic. It’s best quality though. Especially considering there are worse ones. 3
  • Sound stage – Well, this word will reappear a couple of times. Nothing more than average. It could be worse. Burning out the tube in say 500-1500 h’s and it would be a 1. Can’t torture myself to that point though. 2
  • Detail – Imaging is pretty shabby on these. The sound stage feels quite inexact. You hear details, but they’re all either to the left or to the right. Panning and micro-detail? Not really. 2
  • Other factors:
  • Total: 11
  • Average price:  ? USD
  • Value:  11/0… Oh no. We’re going to have a mathematical dilemma here.
  • In short: It was hard to give them all the hours they deserve. But sure. If you’re on a really tight budget? Keep the stock ones. However. Considering ALO sells 6ZH1P’s for just 9USD/pair. I’d rather sell a kidney if the monetary bit is deficit, to avoid these.

 

Tung Sol JTL-5654/6AK5W (Stamped front: 634; Production year: 1956)

Tung Sol 5654/6AK5W

  • Bass – Exact and fast. However a bit on the dry side. 4
  • Mid range – Neutral, a bit laid back. 4
  • Treble – Very fast, extended. Can get a bit harsh with some genres.  3
  • Sound stage – Very good width and depth. The height is most impressive. But it’s not Voshkod-class. 4
  • Detail – … And it contains a lot of pin-point detail. 4,5
  • Other factors:
  • Total: 19.5
  • Average price:  35-45 (40) USD
  • Value:  19.5/40 = 0.49
  • In short: The third of the recommended tubes sound-wise. Being the most expensive one and hard to obtain, the other two should be prior on the agenda. I would probably say that this is one of the best all-round tubes. Linear. Exact. I prefer it for for slower/acoustic music though, since the treble can get a bit harsh with rock and electronic genres. This might also be a good one for low-volume listeners, a lot of detail without having to turn it up “loud”.


Amperex 5654/6AK5W
(Stamped front: 77-18)

  • Bass – Boomy, quite inexact. Hard to explain. But it sounds like poor-EQ’ing. The bass is plentiful but the quality is horrible. 2
  • Mid range – Very forward mids. Not as liquid as the Mullards though. More detail though. 5
  • Treble – Rolled off. If you’re completely allergic to treble. However… 3
  • Sound stage – … the sound stage is quite congested… (but hey, some people like Grados. Right?)  3
  • Detail – … and most of the detail is gone.  2
  • Other factors:
  • Total: 15
  • Average price:  30-85 (40) USD
  • Value:  15/40 = 0,37
  • In short: I’ve seen several sources claiming that some 60’s-70’s Amperex are relabeled 60’s Mullard’s. That may be true. But these sure as *blipp* aren’t Mullards. And if you want Mullards, buy Mullards. (note to self: Mullards, Mullards, Mullards, a whole lot of Mullard’s in these sentences, and we haven’t even gotten to them yet!). On a positive side, I might have some use for the green/yellow box to screen for color blindness.


Western Electric 403B
(Production date: Nov 1980)

  • Bass – Average extension and quality, higher-than-average quantity  2
  • Mid range – Smoothed out mids very laid back 3
  • Treble – Extension is lacking with an obvious early roll-off, very soft recessed cymbals 2
  • Sound stage – It is so congested  and deep that it’s horrible. They give the sensation of the music being played on a ghetto-blaster placed 50 m’s inside a cave, and you’re in the opening 1
  • Detail – Don’t even get me started 1
  • Other factors: Microphonic the first 30-40 hs during warm-up, still sensitive to movements [-1]
  • Total: 8-1=7
  • Average price: 40-50 (45) USD
  • Value:  7/45 = 0.15
  • In short: Horrible, horrible horrible. Don’t know if it’s bad synergy with the Pan Am, considering they’re smaller and have a weaker heater current than the rest. Whatever it may be. Not recommended.  If I would sell my kidney to avoid the stock 6J1Q’s, then I would sell my soul to avoid these.


Mullard CV4010
(Production date: May 1984)

  • Bass – Deep, exact and plentiful 5
  • Mid range – The best mids in the bunch, marvelous! Like a satin filter softening out all impurities. 5
  • Treble – Good extension, fast and exact decay. Depending on preference the slight roll-off can be a winner or not. In my book: 5
  • Sound stage – Excellent! In all dimensions. 5
  • Detail – Soft and liquid, however still very good separation 4
  • Other factors: Very good boxes, includes pin-protections, no interference whatsoever even when amp is moved or placed on the side. One of the few that isn’t influenced at all. [+1]
  • Total: 24+1=25
  • Average price: 15-17 GBP (26 USD)
  • Value:  25/26=0.96
  • In short: And finally… The Mullard’s. Sound wise my favorite. Excellent value too. Great for basically everything. Recommended for a liquid sound. Purchase and try, you won’t be disappointed. If you want a more aggressive sound and have a tight budget focus on the Voshkod’s… but if you have a tad of audio-OCD – you’re reading this article right? – it will eventually lead you to these. Yes. I predict that British export will sky-rocket the coming months.

Continued on Page 4, Everything that has a beginning has an end

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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