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Tube Rolling – Vintage Amperex ECC88 (A-frame and dimpled disc getter) + TC Tubes

August 4, 2019

I am reviewing a vintage 1975 Amperex ECC88 tube with an A-frame and dimple disc getter from Holland that I purchased from TC Tubes.  I have no idea what all that means. I am a pretty uneducated audiophile, but I love tube equipment and I have personal experience that rolling tubes can make a difference.

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.

My rig is a Croft Acoustics Integrated Phono (integrated amp) and a Schiit Vali 2 (headphone amp). Both are tube-based.

I recently rolled the Croft’s tube that supports the phono stage with the tube that used to be in my Bellari phono amp (a Tung-Sol Gold Pin 12AX7). It was a noticeable improvement. The Croft already sounded great, but now the sound is even fatter.

Ever since I picked up the Schiit Vali 2 I have been meaning to roll the tube because the stock tube was low quality (an unlabeled tube that probably is worth $3 new). I finally got around to it. I checked in with my analog audio expert @cellphono at the Needle Doctor (a fellow Schiit Vali owner) and he recommended:

Swapping the tube out in the Schitt made a huge difference for me. There is a variety tubes that work in that circuit, but I had the best luck with 6DJ8. If you get one from TC Tubes, or somewhere else that tests them, ask for one with “matched triodes.”

I reached out to TC Tubes for a recommendation:

I recommend this Amperex ECC88 (European version of a 6DJ8). Make a note when you check out that it’s for a Schiit headphone amp and we’ll be sure to select one with balanced triodes and very low noise.


I love the “mom and pop” retail vibe of TC Tubes. Per their website:

We are a small midwestern business founded by a husband and wife team (Tyler and Chelsea). After collecting vacuum tubes and tube related gear for more than a decade as a way of supporting our hi-fi audio hobby, we have decided to take it to the next level.

Note the handwritten message on the invoice:

I got solid advice and high quality service from TC Tubes. The tube was shipped safely and quickly. The tube was tested and judged “phono grade.” I will be a repeat customer (I need to roll the preamp tubes on the Croft and would like to play around more with the Croft’s phono stage too).

Well enough with all the background, how does it sound? The short answer is that it is a major upgrade and it sounds great.

First, my preference is to run the Schiit switched to high gain (louder), but I had been avoiding that because it was noisy. With the tube upgrade, it now runs quietly at high gain.

Second, the sound is more vivid. The old tube had warmth but at the expense of sounding muddy. Now I have tube warmth, yet there is a clarity that was not there before. The goal of every audio upgrade for me is to “hear more.” I am instantly hearing more nuances in my reference recording: Robert Plant’s Record Store Day 2019 vinyl reissue of Fate of Nations (originally issued in 1993). Side 2, which is more acoustic, especially shimmers.

I moved on to the recent Black Pumas self-titled release. The production is more three dimensional. Again, I am “hearing more.”

I can’t compare this vintage Amperex to other similar quality tubes as I don’t have the experience nor access to inventory to compare. What I do know, is that if you have tube audio components, tube rolling is the cheapest upgrade you can buy/trade to improve your gear. This vintage Amperex was $65 shipped – a pretty inexpensive audio high.


From → Audio

  1. Erich permalink

    Nice article! If I go with a tube amp like the Vali, I just might give TC Tubes a go. I, too, like supporting small businesses with my money where possible.

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