After 2 weeks of extensive swapping between my 6SN7 tubes in my WA5LE, it's time to share some thoughts.
I should point out that the RCA and Tung Sols came from Woo. The RCA was a set I bought for my WA6, the Tung Sols were stock in my WA5LE. I bought the PSVanes in December, new, and the TII is PSVane's update of their highly regarded "Treasure" series.
Also-- I'm not a huge proponent of the driver tube doing all that much to the sound. Frankly-- these are all decent tubes not worthy of discarding. What I'm commenting about are nuances in their performance.
VPI Scout turntable
Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood cartridge
Clearaudio Basic + phono stage
Woo Audio WA5LE
HD800 w/Toxic silver cables
So here we go:
The PSVane, I expected to do very well in this face off-- besting the other tubes, frankly. They cost more, they have the benefit of being a modern design, big bottles will usually translate to soundstage-- so I expected big things. That, and-- did I mention they ain't cheap? I will say this-- where the PSVane excelled was in soundstage and precision. The bass comes from very specific places in the recording, and if you are a detail freak, these may be for you. Where this tube falls short is in bass quantity. The bass supports the music, but the bass lays back and never really takes it over, even at moments (like a bass solo in Thelonious Monk's "Thelonius in Action") where it really should take over. Add to this that I'm listening to the HD800-- which loves a lot of low power drive and you begin to see how the bass might underwhelm. I'd best describe the bass as "polite". The PSVane is the best of the three through the mid range. All that detail really shines here. Tons of detail-- vocals in particular are stunning-- Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years" and Carly Simon's "No Secrets" showcase the mids. The upper frequencies are rather pleasant, too. Tubular bells, orchestral-- Rimsky-Korsakov "Scheherazade" is a delight, the high end stays sharp without ever overdriving. Bright is a good word. Construction is the best of the three. Orange metal base, brass pins, ceramic pin housing, gunmetal powdercoat inside the glass. Very high marks.
The Tung Sol: these are fairly respected tubes. My expectation was for them to come in slightly behind the PSVane. The Sol definitely offers up more bass than the PSVane. It's pleasing, but less focused. Fleetwood Mac's eponymous album presented great electric bass--- the bottom -- dense and meaty, without too much bloat. The Tung is average through the mids. Not bad, but not remarkable. Hard to knock the mids-- but I can't single anything out that impressed me, either. The upper frequencies have plenty of detail on the Sol. Crisp-- maybe a touch harsher than the 181s, but nothing is amiss. Steely Dan's "Aja" presented sparkling symbols, with strict focus. Soundstage is not as good as the 181s, and nearly identical to the RCA. These are good tubes, and I can see why Jack ships them.
The RCA: two words-- PRAT and slam. I found these to be the most musical of the lot. The bass has terrific slam, the HD800 really loves them. On Led Zeppelin's "Presence" the tone is rounded out nicely-- Bonhams kicker thumps with authority. The bass is perhaps the least focused of the three-- but it's a more cohesive overall sound. On Talking Head's "Remain in Light" the bass shakes deeply through your head-- with sensational impact. Rush's "Moving Pictures" showcases this tube-- it's an aural sensation. On classical recordings-- Timpani rolls dig deep into the range. The mids come in slightly behind the 181s, but not far-- and to my ear they were perhaps a bit ahead of the Tung Sol. Breathy vocals like Norah Jones are robust but not overdone. The tube is the weakest on the high end. Great detail, but at times bright spots push into sibilance. It doesn't happen often, but you definitely notice when it does.
So where do I rank them?
3) Tung Sol
The Tung was like the RCA without the slam. It felt too restrained to my ears. The PSVane is like an expensive watch. Great to look at, keeps excellent time, but not something you want on your wrist 24/7. The RCAs are so musical and fun, they're staying in the WA5, for now. They seem to compliment the HD800 the most. I think the PSVane might win out with an ortho headphone, I'll have to wait and see how it shapes up-- but currently I'm upgrading analog components in my turntable chain, so a headphone purchase isn't in my immediate future.
Edited by reeltime - 3/14/13 at 1:06am