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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Tube of the Month : The 211 / VT4C


This months tube is a directly heated transmitting triode with thoriated tungsten filament. The famous 211, also known under it's military designation VT4C.

This is a very early tube development as the 4 in the VT designation tells. Only two VT numbers preceded this one, the VT1 and VT2. A VT3 was never assigned to my knowledge. It was widely used in the C revision. I never came across a VT4A or VT4B, not sure if these got manufactutered in significant numbers.

The 211 was developed for transmitters for the AF modulator stages where it mainly was used in Class B service. It was also used for Class C RF amplification. And of course it is also intended to be used in Class A amplifiers both single ended and push pull. A Class B Push Pull amp with a pair of these can deliver 260W. In single ended service up to 20W can be achieved from a tube in Class A1. With an appropriate driver whith low output impedance and the capability to sink the grid current which occurs in Class A2, up to 50W are possible. However this will be associated with significant distortion. A good compromise is an amp which mostly runs in Class A1 and which can drive the tubes grid slightly into the positive region. This way 25W can be easily obtained. An example for such a circuit can be found here. Photos of a finished amp based on this schematic are here. The tube has a 4 pin Jumbo base. The pinout is shown on the left. Being designed for AF amplification the tube is remarkably linear, which allows it to be used without any feedback. The linearity of the tube can be esily seen in the set of plate curves from the datasheet:

This is an impressive set of plate curves, but how well does this hold up to reality? Below scope screen shots of actual 211 curves taken with a curve tracer:

My curve tracer only goes up to about 400V on the plates, so this is just a small area of the curves. As can be seen, the datasheet doesn't exagerate. These are some very linear curves. The set on the left is taken with 5V per grid step, on the right 2V per step. The X-axis is 50V/division and the Y-axis 2.5mA/division.

The 211 is a serious tube, not only due to it's physical size. It is about 20cm high with a diameter of 6cm. It requires high plate voltages. To get full power it needs 1250V. It is also demanding in terms of filament power: 10V at 3,25A. The maximum plate dissipation is 75W. With the 32.5W filament power this means it will produce over 100W of heat. The filament is of the thoriated tungsten type. These operate at temperatures of about 2000 Kelvin, about 1000 degrees hotter than oxide coated filaments. This produces a bright white glow, rather than the dull orange known form more conventional tubes. This is also why such tubes are called bright emitter triodes. The 211 is not easy to use in an audio amp due to these properties. In order to sound best it needs very clean filament voltage. Preferably DC. While AC operation is possible, controlling the residual hum becomes an issue due to the high filament voltage. It needs 150V peak to peak drive voltage which should be low distortion and low impedance for the best possible sound quality. Grid current can kick in way before the grid crosses 0V. If the driver tube is not up to the task, the sound of the amp will be dominated by the driver and not by the output tube. The plate resistance is rather high at 3600 Ohms, which requires a high impedance output transformer. 10k are quite common as for example with the excellent Tango X10S. Higher load impedances are better. This can be obtained with the X10S for example by using the 4 Ohm tap with 8 Ohm speakers. Another alterantive is the Lundahl LL1691B a 20kOhm transformer which is used in the circuit linked above. If all the difficulties associated to this tube are properly adressed, it will sound wonderful. very detailed and musical with enough power to also drive less efficient speakers. I have tried the 211 in various configurations. So far it sounded best, when dirven by a second 211!

The 211 was produced by various manufacturers.While the 211 is also available from current manufacturers, mostly from China, I prefer old stock american made 211s. They are far more rugged and reliable and sound vastly better. Availability of old stock tubes is still quite good today. Most commonly from General Electric. Here a collection of GE 211s:

These tubes all have the same internal construction but have slightly different markings.

Here a pair of General Electrics in brown military packaging:

They also came in blue and orange boxes. Often the spec sheet was included. Note also the soft wrapping which ensured safe storage and transport:

The plate structure of the GE:

The GE 211 is easily recognizable by the cross shaped ceramic supports:

Here a pair of 211s from RCA:

RCA 211s are much more diffucult to find. They have a different internal construction. Here a close up showing the ceramic supports:

The plate structure:

A close up of the electrode assembly at the bottom:

The base:

A pair of Amperex 211s:

The Amperex 211s have brass bases:

Plate structure:

The bottom part of the assembly:

The 211 from United Electric:

The ceramic supports:

The base:

Thanks a lot to Jürgen, who provided the photos of his United electric 211!

As mentioned above the tube needs the 4-Pin Jumbo socket. While such sockets are available from current manufacture, again the old stock sockets are superior. Most commonly known is the 211-socket from Johnson:

A 211 in a socket:

Now let's have a closer look at the internals, by dissecting a dead tube!

A 211 with the glass dome removed:

The glass is quite thick and rugged:

With the glass removed it is easier to take shots of details of the construction. Here some close ups showing the grid:

Some more details of the construction:

The plate removed from the assembly:

The grid assembly, part of the filament is still there, it broke when the filament tension strings got removed:

Close ups of the grid, showing how it's welded to the support rods:

The filament tension springs:

A closeup of the hook whoch holds the filament which is arranged in an 'M' shape:

A segment of the filament:

A closeup:

A section of the filament which was held by the springs:

The filament lit up, this photo shows how the filament is held by the tension springs:

A 211 in all it's glory, shot in the dark:

I have another pair of 211 monoblocks in the making. Here a photo of the metal plates rigged up for assembly:

These will be based on the same circuit as linked above. Stay tuned for an upcoming article about these!

Best regards



  1. Excellent tube porn, Herr Mayer...

  2. I think the 211 was designed as 100w dissipation, not 75w. There were VT-4B's made, I have at least a couple. Western Electric made them with that designation, with a graphite plate, as opposed to their more common (but still rare) metal-plate versions. There are/were probably more versions of 211 than any other transmitting tube in that size and perhaps any size. Everything from metal-plate UV-211 from the 1920s through later diathermy-oriented ones, and many other versions, including european made (Tungsram) metal-plate, oxide-filament versions. Of course Western Electric had at least 3 or 4 versions of their own.


  3. Hi Ed,

    thanks for the infos regarding this tube. The plate dissipation is rated at 100W for Class B and C. For Class A a max plate dissipation of 75W is given in the datasheet.

    Best regards


    1. Just a note: as you know better than me, Sir, those 75W quoted in the 1950 RCA datasheet (the only one still available on the Internet) as the absolute maximum for the plate dissipation, are to be regarded as the CCS rating. I may guess that the ICAS value (the one we should look at, nowadays), although formally unknown (since the class A service wasn't usually quoted on TT manuals), is - more probably that not - substantially higher (just for example, since 1933 Western Electric stated a plate dissipation of 85W for class A service with reference to the WE242).

      Warmly, Marco

    2. Hi Marco,

      you can trust me on this: you don't want to run a 211 in a single ended Class A amp higher than 75W. It will start to red plate.

      Best regards


  4. Nice picture of detail.

  5. How the 211 compares to the TFK RS-237? I mean sonic differences. From the construction point of view, I think the TFK was far superior, its structure is more rigid and, above all, much lighter, that for the business of war was very important.


  6. Hi!

    I never tried this tube since I don't have any. I never saw an issue with the rigidness of 211s. These have been used for military purposes as well. The GE211 are very sturdy and well made.

    Best regards


  7. Hi, Thomas
    Have you tried to drive the 211 by a VT-25 or even by a
    2A3? And if you did, what's your opinion with the results?

    Nice Job to your S.E.'s


  8. Hi Angelos,

    I have used the 801A as driver for the 211. It is an even better choice than the VT25 since it allows a higher plate voltage and has more headroom. I also used another 211 as driver which gave the best results. The 801A comes in second. The 2A3 would provide less headroom as a VT25 and a lower mu which requires another gain stage. With a VT25 or 801A a 3 stage set up with inout transformer can give enough gain.

    Best regards


  9. Hello Thomas,
    Very nice piece of work on the 211 Tube. I have one of Toshi Kurashima's 211 amplifiers that just arrived here in NY. This amplifier uses a Western Electric 310a pentode to drive the 211. The plate voltage measured by me with this amplifier is 950v. The output power with amplifier is conservatively rated at 12 watts. Listening to it as I write!

    Best Regards,

    George Lenz

  10. Hello Thomas,

    Did you compare sound quality between metal plate and graphite plate of 211 ?



    1. I now only use Elrog 211 which have graphite plates

  11. Could you tell me how sound of graphite plate is ?

    Thank you.

  12. See here:


    and here:


  13. Hi Thomas,
    Thanks for a very informative post.
    I have a push pull amplifier based on the 211 tube with el-34 as a driver. The manufacturer says it is in class AB1(?). After having this amp for a year and changing all tubes to NOS (GE211) it still lags far behind my el-84 based amp in terms of resolution and immediacy. I tried the 4 ohm tap but I lost the highs. Any idea what can be done to improve it?


    1. Hi!
      Not knowing anything about your amp, it is impossible to comment. Best to ask the manufacturer, but he might not be delighted if you tell hi that the amp is not good. I am wondering why you bought it in the first place if it doesn't sound good? Usually I discourage people from tweaking amps. You can rarely change the character of an amp by modifications unless they are immense and then it is better to build a new amp from scratch. Sorry if my comments are not helpful, but the question is also kind of generic

      Best regards


  14. Hello,

    Do you take an Interstage transformer for 801A in role of driver ?

    Does power tube run fixed bias ?

    Thanks and best reagards,


    1. Hi!
      I mostly use interstages in my amps and cathode bias