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Sunday, March 29, 2015

The ultimate 6CB5A amplifier


In this post I will show the single ended 6CB5A power amp which was built to be used together with the recently shown Octal Preamplifier Mk2.

This amp is built based on the same circuit and similar parts quality as the 'no compromise 6CB5A amp' presented in 2013. Instead of the Tango transformers in the 2013 amp this one is built with Hashimoto interstage and output transformers.

The external power supply is built in the same design as that of the preamplifier. It also uses a pair 816 mercury vapour rectifiers in conjunction with two 6AX4 TV damper diodes. This hybrid bridge arrangement givse a nice blue glow in operation:

The power supply has panel meters to monitor B+ voltage and total current through the amp. The same style on both amp and preamp. The latter now also in it's final housings:

Like the preamp, this type of power amp is a smart choice if maximum sound quality within a given budget is the goal, rather than forcing the use of a certain tube. The budget which is saved on the output tubes went into the parts quality of the rest of the amp. The result justifies this approach. Even with the rise of the Elrog 300B, I still love the 6CB5A. This amp represents the ultimate level of the 6CB5A concept. While my entry level 300B is 50% more expensive, this 6CB5A amp uses even  higher quality interstage and output transformers.

The matching preamplifier and power amplifier combo:

No directly heated triode anywhere, yet super smooth sound with tons of tone colors. High resolution and very quiet operation. I have been listening with this combination for a couple of days now and am amazed how beautiful it sounds. No urge to switch to a 300B amp or 10Y line stage.

Of course a DHT power amp and line stage do provide more resolution, even more tone colors and a separate LCR phono stage does improve on articulation of voices. So if the budget allows, DHT and LCR are the way to go. But rather than forcing the use of DHTs or LCR RIAA into a certain budget, the Octal preamp and 6CB5A power amp give much more satisfactory results!

Top views of amp and PSU:

 Mercury glow:

I cannot repeat it often enough that the tube type alone does not guarantee good sound. It is always the entire concept and the balance of the quality of parts and circuit. Yet many audiophiles just want a 300B or must have a directly heated preamp or a LCR phono. It is important to understand that DHTs need high quality surrounding circuits to perform at their best. While indirectly heated tubes don't require a lot of attention in the heater supply, DHTs are very sensitive and need the best possible filament supplies. That's why I recommend to use the 6CB5A over the 300B below a certain budget.I'd rather listen to a max'ed out 6CB5A amp like this than a compromised 300B.

Best regards


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Tube of the Month : The 816


In the previous post about the latest build of the Octal Preamplifier, I showed a power supply with a hybrid bridge which uses two 816 mercury vapour rectifiers. Since this was the first time I used these, it is a good opportunity to write a post about the tube.

The 816 is a smaller version of the 866A with less voltage and current handling capability. The 866A is way oversized for most audio projects so the 816 is a good alternative if you must have that magic blue mercury glow.

The 816 has the same pinout as the 866A. An UX4 base, of which only two pins are used for the filament. The plate is wired to a cap on the top. While the 866 has a medium size cap, the 816 has a small cap. A pair 866A can deliver 500mA when used up to it's peak inverse voltage limit and a whopping 1A at peak inverse voltages up to 2500V. A pair of 816 'only' handles up to 250mA (125mA per tube). Still plenty and more than enough for the preamp it has been used in. The peak inverse voltage rating of the 816 is an impressive 7500V. The big advantage of the 816 over the 866A is the filament current. It 'only' needs 2A at 2.5V while the 866A uses 5A.
This makes the use of the 816 a lot easier compared to the 866A. You get the same beautiful blue glow from the 816 but in a much smaller bottle. Which in turn can be an advantage since it does not need so much chassis space as the impressive 866A. The ST12 bulb of the 816 is about 10cm high and has a diameter of about 4cm. The dimensions of the 866A's ST19 bulb are 50% bigger. See the photo below for a size comparison between these two mercury vapour rectifier tubes. For further technical specs of the 816, please refer to the datasheet.

Both the tubes above have been made by RCA. They used to package their mercury tubes very careful with soft padding inside the box:

This one contains quite a lot of mercury.

The mercury is plastered all over the inside of the tube. This is the reason why they require a special conditioning when used the first time in a power supply or after they have been transported. Running only the filament for 30 minutes vaporises the mercury which then condenses at the base. After such preconditioning the tubes can be used with high voltage. This procedure prevents that any mercury drops are still inside the electrodes and could create a short.

The base of an RCA 816:

Another RCA 816, labelled as JAN type for the military:

General Electric GL-816:

The base:

There seems to be much less mercury in this one compared to the RCA shown above.

The mercury deposited on the metal stems:

Close Up:

More GE 816s:

These have a warning label on the base regarding X-rays. However such tubes only produce X-rays when operated close to their peak inverse voltage rating. At the typical voltages in audio amps this is not of concern.

Raytheon RK816:


United Electric:

CBS Hytron:


Due to the mercury content, I am not going to open a tube to show the internals. Here a close up showing some mercury condensed on the inside of the glass:

Instead some photos showing the beautiful glow:

The intensity of the blue glow depends on the current drawn. At low current it is very dim:

Becoming more visible as the current goes up:

At medium current the glow starts to fill the entire bulb:

Full current:

It should go without saying that such tubes ought to be handled with utmost care. Mercury is very toxic. Only use these tubes if you know what you are doing.

Best regards