|Reviews of EL-84 EL-34
|July 2003 we will be reviewing the new EL84 from Electro Harmonix. The test results will be
written up in the Tube Primer.
|Scroll down for techical reviews of various tubes as they are posted
|The EL-84 output tube. Used in a lot of Class A amps such as the Vox AC series, Doctor Z,
Fender Blues Junior, Peavey Classic Series, Bad Cat, Matchless and many more.
|EL84/6BQ5 Test Report
Note- these reviews are from Watford Valves in the U.K. They are a few years old in many cases,
and there have been many changes in regard to Chinese tubes as an example. This is true for all
these WV reviews, which still contain a lot of great information
OBJECT OF THE TEST
To evaluate current production EL84 against New old Stock items interms of sound quality and reliability.
Thus enabling the working Musician to find the most suitable valves after testing in normal and the hardest
The tests were carried out in normal playing conditions using Vox amps. The test carried out by Greg Fryer
, myself and Brian May were to put the valves in the hardest of professional working situations. All valves
used in the test where pre Selected to have the same plate current and transconductance. G.E and Mullard
EL84 where used as a reference.
The amplifiers used were: An original Vox A.C 10 Twin fitted Elac speakers And an original Vox A.C4.
Guitars used where a 1973 Fender Stratocaster and 1980 Yamaha SA 2000S semi acoustic.
The second test were carried out by Greg Fryer and Brian May at Brian's home in the summer of 1998 and
in rehearsals in preparation for his 1998 world tour.
The Vox A.C30 where fitted with green backs, Vintage 30 and blue speakers and Brians Treble boost was
employed. This work led to the development of our Full drive test rig
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Greg and Brian for all their input.
The Mullard excelled in my initial test and in the tests with Greg and Brian. They provided crisp ringing
sustain and huge tight bottom end with clarity which sounded larger than life. This gave the impression of
space and immense detail. It never seemed to lose control even when the treble boost was added. Indeed it
seemed to get more punchy and dynamic. Bass, middle and treble where all in proportion. We all agreed this
was a great valve.
EL84 S.T.R HARMA
This valve has always in my opinion got as close to the Mullard as you could go without buying a Mullard.
Rich creamy mid with G.E style sound stage. The bottom end is tighter and deeper than the Sovteks. The
valve under normal saturated conditions is always in control . The treble both sweet and clear. Greg and
Brian liked these valves for the aggressive edge and musical tone under treble boosted conditions . The
Harma S.T.R comes full drive tested and matched on A.C.gain.
This is a current production valve which is used by many leading O.E.M including Laney & Peavey.
Generally we find that this valve has around half the anode current of a Mullard and the gain is also a lot
lower. Sound wise it is better and more reliable than the Chinese valves. In the regularly gigged amp we
recommend you buy two or three sets as they will wear out. It does not have a great deal of bass . When
pushed hard tends to go muddy. A great valve for repairers and hobbyists.
The EL84M is a Russian military surplus which is of more robust construction than the standard item. With
typical current draw of what we would expect for a military valve. In the amps this valve sounded fine with
good balance . Midrange was more detailed than its cheaper relation. With normal drive units the valve
sounded aggressive with deep bass. With Brians treble boost the midrange sound became very heavily
compressed. This to my ear sounded awful with the green backs, got better with the vintage 30 and sounded
aggressive and in your face with the blue speakers.
This sound did not have the refinement of the Mullard or Philips. It did push the solo right out which recessed
the bass and top under heavy distortion. It did have a unique mid range honk that Greg and Brian loved. We
can recommend this valve.
EL84/6BQ5 G.E U.S.A
The G.E valves have always been a favourite of mine and in the Vox amps showed all the virtues, gain,
balance and huge sound. With the treble boost in place the middle thickened up the valve sounded heavy
and crisp and did not lose definition. With Greg playing the famous queen runs the valve was extremely
touch sensitive. This is a great valve and sounded superb in the Vox A.C.30.
EL84/6BQ5 PHILIPS E.C.G U.S.A
In my own tests this was my favourite EL84. The valve has plenty of bottom end. Sweet clean midrange and
the top end brighter than the Mullard. When pushed with a real tube driver , ibanez tube screamer or
standard distortion unit the valve had quality and refinement. Cutting solos just on the edge of mayhem.
Which reminds me of the awsome guitar sound of the pistols steve Jones at Finsbury park.
The treble response sweet and clear with plenty of definition.
When Greg introduced the treble boost the valve then did appear to go over the edge. The change
happened in the mid range response which seemed to go wild. Please remember that the treble boost adds
huge gain at line level and is selected for certain frequencies. This will not cause any musician a problem in
any set up. Here we are dealing with a classic trademark sound therefore the Mullard, which excelled in this
area got the vote. We can thoroughly recommend this valve in all applications.
This valve was not part of the test with Greg and Brian. The sound quality is great. A cross between the
bright sweet sound of the Philips with the balls of the Mullard. This is not as high gain as the S.T.R and will
therefore gives a little more headroom . Nice rich overdrive sound with clear top end response. The
balanced presentation make this an ideal choice.
EL84 Test Conclusion
The Mullard was the valve that all three of us agreed was the best overall valve. The G.E also scored very
well due to its' big sound stage. These two valves where both considered a true reference.
Greg and Brian both liked the Harma S.T.R which in the test we called N.O.S European as we are not 100 %
sure of its' origin. This was the closest in terms of tone to the Mullard and also the closest in terms of
specification. This is a high gain valve like the Mullard.
The Philips EL84 was the best sounding in the Vox as its' rich bright sound gave the amp a cleaner edge.
When the treble boost applied the valve went into mega distortion. I loved this but the valve did not have the
control of the Mullard.
The current production items we tried the JJ/Tesla sounded brighter and cleaner in normal operation than
the Sovteks. Both of these valves showed good bass and treble response under normal distorted situations.
In treble boost mode the Sovtek EL84M seemed to handle the punishment a little better.
They did sound muddy in comparison to the Mullards but they never lost control and balance seemed better
than the JJ. The JJ seemed to go very middley.
Overall many good sounding reliable EL84 on the market which can suit all your playing situations.
These tubes are all available over the net from www.watfordvalves.com
|The EL-34 - Tube Reviews
The classic Marshall / Hiwatt sound, and used today in many American amps. These
tube reviews were done by the folks at watford valves
|EL34 Test Report
OBJECT OF THE TEST
The aim of the test was to evaluate current production EL34 against New Old stock items. This to enable the
working Musician to select the most suitable and reliable Valve for the relevant style of Music.
The emphasis was placed on current production items which should be easily attainable. The quality of
current production EL34 has greatly improved since the start of the decade. The reference valve used was
the Mullard EL34 and the same applies now as did at the start of the decade. If you want the ultimate tone,
simply buy the Mullard.
The amplifiers used were: Marshall 100 super lead & 100 super bass into 4 x 12 cab loaded with Celestion
Guitars used where a 1973 Fender Stratocaster, 1980 Yamaha SA 2000S semi acoustic and a 1980 Gibson
Les Paul Standard.
The tests where carried out to provide in real working and playing situations how the valves performed.
Valves were selected for low microphony, low noise and similar gain characteristics with the Mullard EL34
used as the reference. The pleasing thing is that the standard of the current EL34 if far superior to those that
where available at the beginning of the decade. But if you want ultimate tone, the advice is still the same -just
buy the Mullards.
EL34/ MULLARD SINGLE GETTER
The Mullard provided crisp ringing sustain and huge tight bottom end with clarity which was unrivalled in this
test. The Mullard has it all. The valves sounded huge with wide imaging and detail. When the valve was
pushed hard it sounded ferocious with cutting bite, it meant business. Power chords rocked the very
foundations and when the valve was saturated it never lost control. In history not many valves can claim the
mantle of best audio valve and best guitar valve. The Mullard still reigns supreme.
The WXT is an upgraded Russian valve which replaces the EL34G & EL34G plus. The manufactures claim a
unique grid block design which improves electron flow and gives the valve higher output, which they claim is
6% higher than the competition.
The valve has a rating of 25 watts plate dissipation and is a vast improvement on its predecessors. It has a
higher anode current draw and higher gain and is very stable. In reliability terms, again the valve has stood
the test on the road in countless Marshall amps.
In our high plate volt test of 12 hours at 500 vdc plate & screen all 24 pcs tested come through with no
The valve has good bottom end response which is nice a tight. The valve does not have a big sound stage
like the Mullard but instead a one dimensional focus which is great for lead work as it pushes the sound right
out. When saturated, the distortion had a fuzzy element to it which is great for grunge.
Top end response can go a little grainy and get hard on the ear but generally nice top end chime. I can
recommend this valve for use in all applications.
The Svetlana is the valve which is used by many o.e.m manufactures with its' biggest U.K user being Marshall.
Svetlana claim its' special plate material gives it the best performance under overload conditions.
Reliability is not a problem as this has stood the test of time. In our endurance test all valves came through
with flying colours. The thing that really impressed me was that the readings did not change. They have
defiantly got the ageing process sorted out.
The valve has a more liner performance than the Sovtek and the bass response was better defined . The
sound stage was also bigger than the Sovtek gave it more of the trad British rock sound in the Marshall.
The valve was very well balanced with the midrange in correct focus. The top end was smooth and crisp.
Great valve which again can be thoroughly recommended.
EL34/E34L S.T.R HARMA
The Harma is a specially tested/selected valve which is of European manufacture.
The valve has the widest frequency response and the highest plate dissipation ( 30 watts) of the valves
tested. The valve has a number of features such as gold wound grids and heavy grade glass which makes
this a rugged valve for road use.
The bass response is big and bold with the valve being very well balanced. The tone was bright and slightly
forward sounding. The sound stage was big Mullard style. Reliability wise these are rock solid and have been
road tested by Ben Matthew's of British rock band Thunder on our behalf over the past two years. The mid
response is clear and sweet. When driven hard the valve never loses control with rich distortion blasting
through. I really love the top end response which makes a Marshall sing and is easy on the ear. This is the
best current production made EL34 bar none.
These yugo valves failed the endurance test at an alarming rate. Red spots, instability and one valve was
showing signs of arcing. Of the ones that did come through ( 7 PCs out of 12) the valves where drawing of up
to 10 m/a less than when we started. Therefore these would need a burn in process before matching.
The valve lacked the bottom end response of the Mullard, Sovtek, Svetlana and Harma. It was light and
woolly by comparison. The valve had a nice top end response which was not harsh and easy on the ear. The
midrange response was very recessed and very fuzzy when pushed.
Overall this valve is not as good as the Sovtek or Svetlana if you want the classic rock sound. Indeed we
were not impressed at all as the valve just was not in the same league as the others. Reliability and electrical
construction was of a poor standard. Avoid these.
EL34/6CA7 E.I YUGO
This valve showed the same trait as its' slimmer brother. These ones were supposed to specially tested. This
may have been done at 250 vdc plate and screen which is totally pointless when considering use in guitar
amps. It simply does not like moderate plate voltage. So much for the testing. In the UK many hi-fi companies
fit these. All we can say is that customers actually ring us and thank us when they replace the valves with the
Harma, Sovtek or Svetlana. Some customer has also found these unreliable and unstable when they have
used them in kit amps.
The sound stage is nice and big with the valve sounding clean and detailed at low volume. When pushed
hard it simple seemed to go muddy and loose control. This resulted in a horrible nazel compression. Indeed
the distortion seemed more like a 6L6 than an EL34.
I think for low voltage hi-fi valve this might be o.k as its worst results where when it was pushed into clipping. I
would not use this valve for guitar amps therefore we cannot recommend it.
The Chinese valves have a bad name for reliability, being electrically inconsistent and of poor build quality.
Some dealers are saying that they have improved and so we thought we try them. The result, they are as
poor as they ever where. These are the only valves to have ever blown more than one fuse on my test rig.
When you find some that work they have absolutely no top end, sound dull and unrefined.
All I can say is that the box and the printing is possibly worth more than the valve it self. Don't bother with
EL34 Test Conclusion
The general standard of EL34 has certainly increased since our first tests which where carried out at the
start of the decade.
The battle ground comes down to three valves all of which have their own virtues. The Three valves are the
Sovtek, Svetlana & the JJ/Tesla with other valve manufactures not being able to currently compete.
The best sounding valve is the JJ/TESLA which we sell the selected Harma S.T.R version. This I found the
closest to the Mullard in sound quality and soundstage.
The Svetlana valve also has great Mullard bottom end but is not as involving or as forceful as the Tesla.
The Sovteks are great blues valves which overdrive nicely and push out nice fierce solos. They can sound
grainy at the top end but I don't mind that , after all it is rock and roll.
The Mullard is still king of the pile followed by the Siemens in the top rankings. The gap is definitely getting
closer, however I do not feel this valve will ever be bettered. The prices will continue to rise so if you require
the ultimate then it will pay you to buy now. If you do not wish to break the bank then the Harma/JJ Tesla,
Sovteks and Svetlana are all good choices which you can try until you find your favourite.