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Tube Rolling – 12AX7- Tung-Sol Gold Pin

September 11, 2018

Question: What is tube rolling?

Answer: Tube rolling is the process of trying out a number of tubes in the same spot in an amplifier and selecting the one that sounds best to you. This can be very helpful in optimizing the tone of the amplifier. Tung-Sol

Several years ago I got into tube HiFi gear. It was a game changer. Tube amplification is gorgeous. It is tender on the ears and gives music a unique character. Sound reproduction always adds an opinion. So you want an opinion that will enlighten you and not annoy you. Tubes make music smooth and soft. There are no sharp edges. If you think about pairings (a meal and drink), tubes are the perfect complement to LPs (vinyls as you kids call them). It’s an analog on analog love affair.

My first exposure to tubes was with an ancient guitar amp I bought. It never helped my guitar playing, but the tone was sure cool. I instantly understood why real guitar players would dig tubes.

My real tube experience came when I got a Jolida Glass FX 10 integrated stereo amp. It’s a 7 by 8 inch cuboid of 10 watt goodness.  I have had lots of stereo equipment over the years, but this is the most life changing piece of gear I have every owned. The sound was nothing short of amazing. It has been a solid foundation to my rig for several years now. My only complaint is that it doesn’t have a headphone stage.

My next tube addition was a phono preamp. I chose the Bellari VP130 Tube Phono Preamp because it was tube based, reasonably priced and as a bonus it has a headphone stage (as noted the FX 10 did not – so this filled a big hole in my rig).

When we moved into a condo with a very open concept the headphone amp on the Bellari became a key feature in my listening.

I have been wanting to upgrade my equipment, but it is not in the budget (and not really necessary) so I thought maybe I should do an inexpensive upgrade – roll the tube on the Bellari (a single 12AX7).

I went to the Needle Doctor and picked up a Mullard. I swapped it out and my system sounded instantly better. Brighter without being harsh. A bigger sound stage. Overall lusher.

After a month my right channel got quiet – about 75% of the volume of the left. I started to diagnose and to cut to the chase it was the Mullard tube in the Bellari. For the last few weeks I have been back to the stock tube. I returned it to the Needle Doctor and they accepted the return without hassle. I decided to take it up a notch and bought a Tung-Sol Gold Pin.

I listened to the new Paul McCartney (Egypt Station) album with the stock tube and then replayed the McCartney via the Tung Sol. Sounds amazing. Super lively. Like the Mullard, it has a bigger sound stage than the stock tube. What a fun way to upgrade your rig for less than $50. Per Tung-Sol:

The Ultimate 12AX7 enhanced with Gold Pins. Big, warm, and musical. High Gain, ultra-low microphonics, and superb linearity with a dynamic 3-D sound.

Tubes are not for everyone. They are not without hassles, like the Mullard going bad after a month. But this is why you work with reputable dealers like the Needle Doctor.

I don’t know much about the esoterica of tubes. Both tubes I rolled were manufactured in Russia – which is where things like this still get made. Sometimes it helps to be a backwards country. Maybe someday I will be more knowledgeable, but I have a feeling you don’t need to know much. Rolling tubes is like trying on walking shoes. Keep trying until you find something that fits comfortably. So far the 12AX7- Tung-Sol Gold Pin is feeling pretty comfy.


From → Audio, Spending

  1. As a totally non hi-fi person this is a whole new world to me. How damned cool though.

    • I am barely HiFi person myself. I like to think of myself as the humble audiophile (aka cheap) It has taken me years to assemble my rig. I believe you can have quality equipment on a budget. You just have to patiently build it one component at a time.

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