Black Label Telefunken Real World Tube Review

MartyStrat54

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Okay, all the reviews are in and it is time to post them.

Just a quick overview. The Black Label Telefunken tubes are made by JJ. They are identical to JJ's except for a cyro treatment and longer burn in time.

The tubes tested were the EL34's ($29 each) and the ECC83/12AX7's ($42 each).

Micky:

On initial observation, the Black Plate Telefunkens have a slightly smaller base than the TAD's.

The do not fit tightly in the metal base clamps unless I squeeze the clamps a bit tighter. They are also a bit taller and narrower than the TAD's but fit nicely, even with a larger speaker.

Put 'em in, and let 'em heat up for a few minutes, they appeared normal and pretty even, no red plating.

Flipped the standby on and the bias voltage jumped to 45mv, but easily adjusted down to 36mv on both sides. They settled in exactly at 36mv, and were really quite stable at that point.

I plugged in my USA Tele. I think this guitar has the widest frequency response of all my guitars. It has an American Tele bridge pickup and a Fender Enforcer humbucker in the neck position. It is also equipped with the S1 switch which allows various coil-splitting combinations. If any guitar is gonna be bright as well as muddy, this is the one.

Starting with the Clean on the Classic channel, it is obvious these power tubes are darker. I can turn up the treble all the way now without the ice-picky fizz I had before.

This also may have to do with the speaker choice but so far these sound like typical JJ's. Great mid-range depth as well as lo-freq response, these are very accurate and not muddy.

Switching to Classic Crunch, I started to love these tubes! Again, the Black Label EL34’s are very accurate, not muddy or fizzy at all. These tubes sound great in this mode.

Switching to the Ultra Channel OD1 mode with the gain down was similar to Classic Crunch with the gain up. Beefy, clear with lots of thump, all the EQ controls worked well within their full range.

OD2 unleashed the gain in this beast, and again, these tubes felt clear and accurate.

The Tele pushed the limit on the bridge pickup in OD2, a metal player’s heaven.

All these modes were all using the MV at well over 6, which is quite loud. The dog ran for cover...

I found it difficult in my amp to tell the difference between the preamp tubes. I do believe the new JJ/Tele gold-pins were very low noise, because I heard a couple crackles with the NOS Teles but it may have been electrical interference. None of the Tele pre’s would be considered dark by me, maybe if anything 'less bright' than the OEM chrome-plates. Very similar to the other NOS set that Marty sent me a while back, very full and rich sounding, where the OEM tubes were very lacking in lower range.

And I like the EL34's a lot. The TAD's are still fizzy in the Ultra channel if the treble and presence way up, but it is controllable. The Tele EL34's are maybe not as bright with a lot of thump in the bottom and definitely not as fizzy, maybe better controlled as I can turn up the treble and presence more with them.

Sct13 (Vic):

Equipment used:

Marshall JMP 50 watt 1987 circuit ~ 1968 (Plexi Panel) Canadian Export
Tesla EL34 Marshall Logo (circa 1990’s) with a plate voltage of 465VDC and biased at ~ 36mv using the formula; [0.7*25/465 = 37mV]. I bias a bit lower than 70% {baseline setup}
2x12 Celestion Greenback Speakers, mounted in a 4x12 cab (other speakers not hooked up)
Gibson Les Paul R8 2014 with Wizz PAF Clone pickups, Audio taper pots (non-stock)
D’Adario Strings, 10’s
Jim Dunlop Pick .88mm
Amp settings throughout the test as follows:
Guitar plugged into Channel I on the top input.
Presence 6, Bass 4.5, Mid 5, Treble 6
Channel I Volume 7.5
Channel II Volume 0

I measured the plate voltage with each set using formula above, I used a bias tester I bought a few years ago that is capable of switching between two tubes. It plugs into the meter, the meter reads out in mV.
First I did a listen and a warm up to “baseline” my ears. I felt it was important to have a fresh memory of what the amp sounded like with that guitar and those particular settings, with those particular tubes. No pedals were used…ever.

I then installed the Vintage Telefunken 12AX7’s and WOW! The amp breathed fire, they were a bit noisier. I was pretty impressed with the Vintage (West German) ribbed plate 12ax7’s with that setup. The detail jumped out, the harmonics were much clearer, the pick attack was the most prominent change. They are very nice tubes.

I had some JJ tubes lying around. One set (that came from a matched quad) from about 12 years ago were Groove Tubes and their construction matched up exactly with the newer Telefunken’s. I also had a set of JJ’s from about 2008, and these were barely used. These also matched up exactly, the same tube construction from roughly three different periods, just labeled different.
The first set tested were the older JJ’s from GT. Biased at about 36mv with a plate voltage of 450VDC, using the two vintage 12ax7’s The amp was a little darker with plenty of gain and good bass response, muddier than the rest, the tone was woody and responsive and would remain so with all the other sets. (No video with the GT’s) I almost left these out of the test because they were used extensively and over biased for years. But still sounded great with the NOS 12AX7’s.

The 08’ set: 455VDC Plates, biased to 36mV. They were a little brighter but not by much, and just a bit squealie. The bass was very good and the treble was demanding, overall. However they were a good sounding tube. They were richer in harmonics and nowhere near as dark as the GT’s . They compressed well and crunched when they were asked. The cleanup was ok but some shimmer was lost, you may hear it in the video. However they are still a good power tube. I would like to compare these with a good set of NOS Mullards or the like and see where they stand. Workhorse or Thoroughbred?

On to the Cryro treated Telefunken RI’s, Plate voltage was 454VDC and they were biased to 37mV I can honestly say that there was a difference in two things, brightness and crunch. They broke up much easier and displayed a few harmonics I did not hear at all in the GT’s. Bass response was very good and the treble would get away from you if not careful, it was squeal city up close to the amp if I went past 8 (see video).

Overall the newer Telefunken labeled tubes were sonically richer, more powerful, broke up better and displayed more harmonic overtones than the other tubes. Cleaning up with the guitars volume knob was typical for an EL34/Les Paul. They just can’t achieve Fender cleans in a Marshall 50 watt. The good treble response was aided by the great attack and detail provided by the 12ax7’s they seemed to really complement each other.

They compressed well (not sure of correct terminology) as I went past 8 on the volume and stepped away from the amp which is not on the video. Controlled feedback was more apparent and the guitar seemed to be more responsive. I don’t really have a down side to these, I can’t expect them to behave like the Kt66’s in the JTM 45 (which is clean to dirty heaven). Also I can’t speak to the Cryro treatment either. It just doesn’t fit in my physics knowledge base. (Which is pretty good) I just don’t have the metallurgy or the knowledge of what the plates are made of or what they are coated with. I need more data to come to a rock solid opinion on that issue.

I tried the Reissue 12Ax7’s and they don’t hold a candle to the NOS tubes. They do sound very good, bright and articulate, but that attack and harmonics was just not there. They are a pretty good tube but the feeling was a bit deflating after the NOS trial.

The videos are in order. Apologies for the crap mic, but I don’t have the setup for miking with that cameras input.
1)Baseline (as above)
2)Baseline / vintage Telefunken’s V1 and V2 RI TF in V3
3)08’ JJ matched pair / vintage Telefunken’s V1 and V2 RI TF in V3
4)Telefunken Reissues power tubes/vintage Telefunken V1 and V2 RI TF in V3
5)NO Video for the GT’s, not sure what happened…

I would like to thank Marty for this wonderful opportunity. It was lots of fun. I wish I had more time to really take these to another level. The only way to do this right is to take this stuff to band practice or gig with it and come what may.

Johnfv:

I used my Ceriatone handwired 2204 clone for all tests, I played through my ’68 1960A that is loaded with early ‘80s Celestion G12-80 speakers. I set the amp for a good tone turned it around to face the wall for easy access to tubes. The settings were never changed.

I primarily used a Gibson Custom Shop non reverse Firebird, but also my 335 with Lollar Imperials and a couple of my Strats. I also tested the tubes with my Orange VT1000. It showed the output tubes were well matched. For the preamp tubes one of each (vintage and RI) were slightly higher in gain.

Probably what surprised me the most about this test was that the output tubes seemed to make more of tonal difference than swapping the V1 position. I started with my “stock” setup and began testing preamp tubes first.

Stock setup for my 2204 HW is V1: vintage RCA labeled Mullard, V2: vintage Baldwin labeled Raytheon BP, V3: CP Chinese. Output tubes are TAD EL34B-STR. I started by swapping V1, also tried V1 and V2 with the Telefunken pairs.

Tubes I compared:

1 - Vintage Mullard. Nice mids and presence. A certain richness and dimension that I describe as "3D". Is it harmonics? voodoo? my imagination? I dunno. Nice sparkle but never harsh. What a Marshall should sound like.
2 - Mullard RI. Proving again why this is my favorite CP tube, this held up respectably to the vintage tubes here. Nice mids and presence, not the magic 3D tone of the vintage but still quite good.
3 - Vintage Telefunken. A very pleasing and well balanced tone, but more "neutral" in frequency response with less aggressive mids and sparkle compared to the vintage Mullard.
4 - Telefunken RI. Frequency response seemed pretty similar to the vintage (relatively neutral and well balanced). What it lacks is that "3D" magic that the vintage tubes seem to have. It sounded a bit lifeless in comparison, still seems like a good CP tube.
5 – JJ, the CP tube of choice for many people. Good mid centric tone, but I would say the darkest tone of the test. They lack the sparkle and dimension of the vintage tubes but still not bad.

Output tubes:

My plate voltage is 476. I biased for 40mA (as close as I could get the pair). My 2204 HW has external probe points and trim pot so pretty easy to setup.
1) TAD - still my current favorite CP tube. Good balanced tone that features the mids and presence in a very pleasing way. They have a bit of that rich "3D" quality that makes your Marshall sound more like a Marshall.
2) Telefunken RI EL34's - I was a bit surprised at how much of a difference these made. "HiFi" tone with noticeably more lows and highs. Pleasing chunk in the low end and the additional top end was smooth, perhaps a bit harsh when I switched to single coils but I think a slight change in amp EQ could solve that easily. Although I do prefer the mids of the TADs, these sounded quite good. They reminded me a bit of a good 6CA7, although I did not do an actual comparison. I suspect these could be a great choice for metal fans, also for HiFi amps (wish I still had that old Dynaco ST70).
3) Electro Harmonix - These are a bit dull sounding compared to the others but still good balanced tone that features the mids. Not a bad choice for the money.

Conclusion: this hand wired 2204 sounds pretty damn good no matter what tubes you put in it.

New Religion aka David Hopkins:

I have used JJ pre and power tubes in the past and still do the power tubes as they are up to par IMO, but I dislike stock JJ 12AX7's as they seem too high gain, brittle and buzzy with artifacts.

I had trouble hearing any noticeable difference between the vintage and Black Label Telefunken’s. My amps are high gain, but shit tubes stand out like a sore thumb and the Black Label EL34’s and ECC83’s passed my requirements.

I like the cryo treatment/burn time as they seem smoother than the usual JJ pre's.

I like the Black Label 34's. Not often do I have issues with those other than they run a bit hot and could get into bias issues with some amps. But the BL EL34’s sounded good.

For what it's worth I like EH 12AX7's less than JJ's. Just seem to be missing depth or the ability to cover all freq's and bloom a bit, I guess sterile is a good answer.

I think $58 is a great price for a pair of EL34's like those in a cooler capacity. Not sure a lot of guys will be willing to pay $42 for a 12AX7 though.

pedecamp:

I tested the Telefunken RI preamp and power tubes in 4 amps with my trusty faded Gibson SG. This guitar is equipped with a 57 Classic Plus bridge pickup and 57 Classic neck pickup. The cabinet was a home made 2x12 loaded with Celestion G12T-75's. These are my findings:

Fender Bandmaster VM (6L6): This amp had Mullard RI and Tungsol 12AX7 preamp tubes. The Telefunken RI in comparison, I didnt hear anything better or worse between these sets of tubes. I was left underwhelmed.

Vox AC15 (EL84): This amp had JJ and Sovtek 12AX7 preamp tubes. The Telefunken RI in comparison, I didnt hear anything better or worse between these sets of tubes. Again I was left underwhelmed.

DSL50 (E34L): This amp had JJ E34L power tubes and JJ 12AX7 preamp tubes. The Telefunken RI in comparison I did notice the distortion to be a bit spongier, overall tone a bit brighter and possibly overall a bit hotter/gainier. Most of these differences weren't anything I couldn't dial in with presence or EQ (except for spongy), so again I was left underwhelmed. Visual observation: The Telefunken RI power tubes look identical to the JJ E34L power tubes.

2204 (EL34): This amp had GT EL34M power tubes and GE 12AX7 preamp tubes. This amp showed the biggest difference with the Telefunken RI tubes. In comparison tone was brighter, a bit crunchier and a bit hotter/gainier. But in addition to these characteristics, tone was also a bit clearer and articulate. So to take this test a step further to find out where the tonal difference was coming from I did some tube mix and matching. I reinstalled the GT EL34M power tubes and tried them with the Telefunken RI 12AX7 preamp tubes – I didnt hear that much of an audible difference, maybe a small bit. Next I reinstalled the Telefunken RI EL34 power tubes and the GE 12AX7 preamp tubes – I heard a bigger difference with this combination. Then I reinstalled all the Telefunken RI tubes and with this combination I heard the most difference. So it seems that the Telefunken RI power tubes make more of a tonal difference than the preamp tubes in this amp, I was expecting the opposite. So lastly I compared the set of Telefunken RI tubes with a set of Shuguang tubes in this amp and my finding was that I probably liked them equally.

Conclusions: I'd like to start by saying I liked the Telefunken RI tubes but also note that in my findings they are not that different tonally than a lot of other run of the mill current production tubes, but do deserve to be lumped into the group of better sounding tubes. I liked the Telefunken RI best in the 2204 but again other tubes were not far behind tonally. Overall in my opinion, as much as I liked the Telefunken RI tubes, their difference in tone is not enough to justify the premium cost they are currently being sold at. So in conclusion, they are good tubes, overpriced, and maybe will get a bigger share of the market if priced the same as other current production tubes, I certainly would buy them but not at 4 times the cost of other equally as good tubes out there.

MartyStrat54:

I installed the Telefunken EL34's and ECC83's in in my TSL602 and 2204. Both of these amps are running NOS sets.

The 602 runs right at 500PV with the Black Label EL34's. I've used and heard a lot of tubes over the years and I have to say that the Tele RI ECC83's are probably good enough for most guys, but not for $48 each. There are too many other good 12AX7's for much less than these. The Tele RI EL34's are more reasonably priced and if you like JJ EL34 power tubes these are worth the extra money and they do sound better than a stock JJ EL34.

I have always been negative about the cyro process, but I do have to say that there is a difference between the Tele RI's and the regular JJ ECC83's. The RI's are smoother and do not sound as dark as a regular JJ. Again, they are good sounding tubes, but they are not worth $48 each.

The RI EL34's performed well in the 602. Not on par with the Mullard xF2's I use, but a solid performer at $58 for the pair. Above average tone with good detail. The midrange is punchier on these than the stock JJ.

I tried using the Tele RI ECC83's in various positions and I felt that the best combo in the 602 was one in V1 and the other in the PI (V4).

The Tele RI EL34's worked well in my 2204. Good tight bass and a little warmer than the NOS Sylvania 6CA7's. The overall sound improved when they were matched with a Tungsram in V1, Raytheon BP in V2/V3 and a Sylvania in the PI. This is a modded 2204 with an extra 12AX7.

The 2204 sounded really well with the two vintage Telefunken ECC83's. I will never have anything bad to say about "real" Telefunken tubes. They were some of the very best ever made and their ECC83's are probably the most sought after V1 tube among the HiFi crowd. The real Tele ECC83's are very neutral and you will find your tone controls settings much different when using them.

The Tele RI ECC83's worked best in V1 and V2 of the modded 2204. I thought they sounded similar in overall tone to a Mullard RI 12AX7. They are definitely not as bright as a Tung-Sol or Shuguang 12AX7.

I would say that the Tele RI's have above average gain.

I don't have anything bad to say about the Tele RI EL34's. They preformed well and if you want to tame some brightness in a single channel amp these will work well. I feel that a stock JJ EL34 is a little edgy. The RI's are cleaner and more detailed sounding than the stock JJ's. I guess this is due to the cyro treatment. I don't know what else it would be.

The tonal change was more noticeable in the 2204 versus the 602. As you guys can see, these tubes responded differently in different amps. This is why a tube you don't like in one amp will sound good in another. This is due to component values and operating voltages.

My final assessment is that the RI EL34's are a good tube and are smoother and more accurate sounding than the stock JJ. These are priced in about the same range as the TAD EL34 which is my favorite CP EL34. The TAD's are about $4 cheaper than the Tele RI's.

The Tele RI ECC83's would get a favorable nod from me if they were in the $20 range. These tubes are not as good as a TAD 7025WA and the WA's are only $18 each.

Both the Tele RI EL34's and ECC83's have an improved tone over stock JJ's.

I believe Vic (stc13) will be posting some videos or sound clips of his testing.

If any of you guys would like to ask any of the reviewers a specific question, please feel free to do so.

I want to thank the members that participated in this review. I appreciate it very much.
 
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pedecamp

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A very good and thorough evaluation by all. Good job!
 

sct13

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Yes I read them all, all very good assesments.

I will have my vids up soon. There is NO stellar playing, just some noodling. The volume in the room is pretty loud, but I have the camera mic turned down quite a bit to keep it from clipping, otherwise I would have narrated as well.
 

sct13

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Video 1 baseline

[ame=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FVDjVF0wb2Y&list=UUuD88R3VlzWJhEUB9m7LHkQ]Tube testing #1 Baseline - YouTube[/ame]


Video #2 Just the vintage preamp tubes with existing Tesla EL34's

[ame=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YY9915jy8p0&list=UUuD88R3VlzWJhEUB9m7LHkQ]Tube Testing Video 2 - YouTube[/ame]


Video #3 JJ EL34's

[ame=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FckBb4p1mBU&list=UUuD88R3VlzWJhEUB9m7LHkQ]Tube testing # 3 - YouTube[/ame]


Video #4 Telefunken EL34 RI

[ame=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuc5f9XhGH8&list=UUuD88R3VlzWJhEUB9m7LHkQ]Tube Testing # 4 Telefunken Power Tubes/with the vintage preamp tubes - YouTube[/ame]
 

sct13

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IMG_9717.jpg



IMG_9718.jpg
 

RickyLee

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Good review fellas. Thanks for putting this together Marty.

Where is the best place, well best price, to get the EL34's?
 

flyingskull

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Great work, very helpful review.

Interesting as well that CP tubes survived all that traveling in the mail system.
 

MartyStrat54

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Yes and everyone used the same USPS Priority shipping box. It looked like it had seen some traveling.
 

MartyStrat54

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freeknout

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Great review guys!

Question for Marty, would you consider these a suitable CP replacement for my NOS Sylvania 6CA7's? I tried the EH 6CA7's which are ok but little brighter for my tastes. Like you I am a fan of the TAD EL34B-STR's but I do like the tighter and punchier bottom end of the 6CA7.
 

Adrian R

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You can buy direct here:

TELEFUNKEN-ELEKTROAKUSTIK.COM | TELEFUNKEN Elektroakustik™ - Vacuum Tubes

Or here:

https://www.tubedepot.com/t/brands/telefunken-black-diamond

Both places are $29 each for the EL34's and $42 each for the ECC83's.

Hey Marty,
Did you compare these new RI EL-34s to a good broken set of Tung-Sol EL-34Bs or to a pair of Shuguang EL-34Bs? I think both of these tubes sound far more EL-34 like then any pair of JJs...I use to love JJs...until I heard a real Tesla EL-34 and the other aforementioned tubes...which imo sound ALLOT like Teslas..

The Chinese tubes are dirt cheap, and the Tungsols are reasonable..
 

ampmadscientist

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The Black Diamond Telefunken is the same as JJ?
Except cryrogenically treated, burned in, lab matched tested? (and triple the price)

That's what I gathered, anyway. Maybe I missed something.
 

sinner 13

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Whelp, not an official tester but I purchased a quad of these about the time you all got yours from Marty.

Mind you there is Bias:)naughty:) here as my Tubes I replaced were the OEM JJ's

I put these into my 2005 HW 1959 SLP
(disclaimer: I am NOT an amp tech, I had these swapped in by my amp guy
So therefore you will get no magic amp mumbo jumbo numbers from me...:lol:)

I paired them with a trio of Sovtek Long plate spiral filament 12ax7s'
(Gotta agree with Dan the price on the TF pre's are ridiculous, and the LPS's sound amazing too...But I digress.)


Got em in, no initial issues, other than the pins were a little tight going in.

I like that they are indeed a little darker, and it does help keep the inherent high end issues at bay.

I like em fine, they work well for my application and I would buy them again.

As Johnfv said, it's pretty hard to make the CP HW Marshalls sound bad, you REALLY have to work at it.
 


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