EL84 review/comparison: Gold Lion, JJ, and TAD

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs' started by strtdv, Apr 15, 2010.

  1. strtdv

    strtdv Member

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    I've been doing a bit of tone searching with my Laney Lionheart recently, trying out different current production EL84's, and I thought I'd just post my thoughts.

    (Disclaimer: this test was all done subjectively, obviously with a small sample size of tubes, and all done in a single amp, so as always, YMMV.)

    A little about the setup I'm running: All tubes were tested in my Laney Lionheart L20H head and matching 2x12 cab. The head is a British vintage voiced parallel single ended class A amp (4xEL84), and the cab is a closed back 2x12 with Celestion Heritige G12H-30's. I have a NOS Mullard in V1 and NOS Brimar in V2 and V3. I use Klotz AC110 cables throughout. Guitars used were a Fender Strat with BareKnuckle Irish Tours and a Fender Tele with Bareknuckle Blackguard '55 Stagger pickups.


    The tubes:

    TAD EL84-STR:
    These are the tubes that come stock with the amp. TAD offer a range of EL84s, mostly rebranded sovtek and JJ tubes, but the STR's are a bit different. They're shorter and a little thicker than most EL84's.
    Sounds wise I felt they sounded really unlike what you'd expect from an EL84. They have lots of bass and mids, and less sparkle in the treble than most EL84s, quite a punchy sound that really hits you. Clean they're clear and defined, but like I said, a little lacking in treble sparkle.
    Overdriven they have an unusual raspy quality that's quite like a 6v6 in many ways, but sounds really musical.
    The tube sounds great at lower volumes, but is let down by how it sounds when at gig volumes. No matter what I tried I felt I was getting lost in the mix in a band setting.

    Value for Money: 7/10
    Cleans: 6.5/10
    Overdriven: 7.5/10


    JJ EL84:
    Widely recommended by many makers of EL84 amps, this tube has a good reputation for having a lot of everything a good EL84 should.
    Sounds: lots of chime, really nice treble, but still with clear mids and enough bass (slightly less than the TAD, but plenty). This tube gets great clean sounds and cuts through in a band setting really well.
    The overdriven sounds are good too, punchy enough, but they keep that nice EL84 chime, but things can get a little mushy on the neck pickup.
    Another plus point for them is they're cheaper than either of the other two tubes I tested (JJ's cost about £38 for a quad, compared to £48 for a quad of TADs and £80 :cry: for the Gold Lions)
    My main gripe with them is that they didn't last as long in the amp as the TADs before starting to sound noticibly dull.

    Value for Money: 8/10
    Cleans: 8/10
    Overdriven 6.5/10


    Genalex Gold Lion RI:
    These are made in Russia by electro-harmonix, but they're very different from EH tubes. They have black plates and heavier construction than EH tubes. I'd read that they were meant to sound great (several were calling it easily the best current production EL84, and some were saying it sounded better than a lot of NOS tubes), so I thought I'd give them a go.
    I was reluctant to fork out £80 for a quad of current production tubes, but I figured they might be worth it if they really did sound so good.
    Sound: balanced and full. They have the EL84 chime there, but it's all just a bit more refined and balanced than the JJ. It's difficult to describe, but there was just a little extra detail to chords and a little more responsiveness to the amp using these than there was using the other tubes. Overdriven they were clearer than either of the other two tubes, but sounded really lively and solid at the same time.
    I've yet to decide if these tubes are worth the money, I'll have to see how long they last before going dull, but they definitely sound better than the other two tubes.

    Value for money: 5/10
    Cleans: 9/10
    Overdriven: 8.5/10

    Anyones experience with these or other EL84's, and feedback, would be appreciated.
     
  2. slipbeer

    slipbeer Supporting Member

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    I use TAD EL84's in my Bogner Metropolis.

    I'm not really going for chime so I don't miss that but you're right, they get me a more mid-rangey tone which is what I am looking for.

    I have not experienced the "getting lost in the mix" issue with them but I play in a 3 piece with a singer/harp player so I'm not competing for tonal spectrum.
     
  3. Les Paul Lover

    Les Paul Lover Member

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    Did you only try each new set of EL84 after the previous set had been used?

    My point being, if a set went dull, any new set after is going to sound extra super duper.
    Well, I assume anyway. Hey, what do I know? :)
     
  4. FAC

    FAC Member

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    I had a similar question...how long did the JJ's last before they apparently went dull?

    Thanks.
     
  5. strtdv

    strtdv Member

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    Good question.

    I changed them round while each set of tubes was fresh to give a fair comparison, but I have used both JJs and TADs in the past, and JJs have started to get noticibly dull around 3-4 months of light use, compared with 6 months + for the TADs. I have yet to see how long the Gold Lions will last (this will probably be the big deciding factor on whether I buy them again)
     
  6. Les Paul Lover

    Les Paul Lover Member

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    Interesting.

    I have yet to play with my vlaves, though I'm very impressed with the JJ 6V6s in my rockerverb - had it a year (I rarely play above 1 volume wise, terraced house.....!!!) and they're still going strong.
     
  7. GT100

    GT100 Member

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    3-4 moths is exactly what I have experienced with the tone lifespan of the JJs too.

    I have not tried the "Gold Lions" but I do use the "Mullards" from the same factory and your review sounds similar to the "Mullards" -my favorite sofar.
    The "Mullards" have that wicked distortion when pushed that the JJs don't have much of...

    Lloyd
     
  8. Rick330man

    Rick330man Member

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    Thanks for taking the time to post this review. I have a small warehouse of EL84s as a direct result of having numerous amps that run EL84s. My EL 84 collections includes Ei, JJ, Sovtek, RCA, Tesla (not JJs), Gold Lions and NOS 6P14P-EVs. My EL 84 amps include Crate Vintage Club 50 head (2 of them); Crate V33 head (2 of them); Crate V5, Epiphone Galaxie 25 and Crate VC 508.

    The Sovtek EL84s have a reputation for being very reliable but sounding bland. I've experienced both characteristics, but found that they actually sound pretty good when pushed. The Vintage Club 50 (VC50) heads run at plate voltages in the 390 range - well beyond where an EL84 should be driven. This is where the Sovteks sound best. They have also proven incredibly reliable. By comparison, I've had an Ei EL 84 and a JJ EL 84 die in that environment.

    JJs sound great in the V33 heads and in the little 5 watt V5 and VC508. The JJs have a more aggressive midrange than most EL 84s but keep it very musical. In the VC 508 and the V5, I dare say that the JJs sound almost as good as anything NOS I have ever used.

    The Eis are very clear sounding and well defined. They do not have the midrange bite of the JJ, but they sound beautiful. Their bottom is clear and detailed, but not overbearing.

    The Tesla EL84 sounds excellent. It is a little bit on the bassy side, but not in a bad way. They are my favorite EL84 in the little amps. I don't run them in the VC50 head because I don't want to risk having them die prematurely.

    Gold Lions sound fine, but I do not hear anything that justifies their cost. Maybe they last longer? Maybe they've done some great marketing. They deliver more detail than the Sovtek. They do not have the midrange of the JJ, but that is not a negative. They sound a lot like an Ei with a little more treble. A good sounding tube which has yet to convince me that it is worth twice what other EL84s go for.

    RCA - more presence and detail than anything else I have ever heard in an EL84. The midrange really comes through - like the JJ - but with the bottom end warmth of the Ei.

    6P14P-EV - sound really good in my Vintage Club 50s. They handle the plate voltages just fine and the they deliver a very nicely balanced tone. I have noticed that they do an excellent job of taming out of control highs.
     
  9. ReginaldBisquet

    ReginaldBisquet Member

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    I'm running a quad of JJs in my Mesa DC-3. I had previously used TAD EL-84STRs in the amp, but the amp's bias was set a bit too hot for the tubes. I have a set of the TADs in the Orange Dual Terror and I found they impact a little more grit/grind when pushed... which I like... over the JJs.

    I'm considering a quad of EHX EL84s for the Mesa as I've read they can take the heat like the JJs. Especially after reading this from 2003:

    http://www.aikenamps.com/JJ_EH_tube_tests.html

    And yeah, the bottle of the TADs are a bit shorter than your average EL-84:

    [​IMG]
     
  10. gillman royce

    gillman royce Member

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    The OP may care to search through previous threads on this site as it appears almost monthly (LOL! )
     
  11. GT100

    GT100 Member

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    3-4 months (max) of good tone is exactly what I experienced with JJs (EL84s) in my Guytron.

    Lloyd
     
  12. Rick360

    Rick360 Member

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    Howdy,

    JJs sound slightly more..musical in my Carmen Ghia than Sovteks (EL84s). If Sovteks can be found cheap, heck..I'll take a pair.
     
  13. Gretsch&Vox

    Gretsch&Vox Member

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    This is a great thread. I appreciate everyone's input.

    I want to try the Gold Lion EL84s but three different retailers have said that they don't hold up (e.g. early failure) in the high voltages of VOX AC15/30 amps. So, I rely on JJs for endurance an tone. At one time, I used Ei exclusively but I had some issues with (regular/non-Elite) EL84 reliability and with the Gold Elite 12AX7s going "micro".
     
  14. std22

    std22 Member

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    I tried two different sets of the Gold Lions in a Gainstar and the first set had one that red plated immediately and the second set kept shorting out. I have heard that they may not work in Matchless type amps so maybe that is the issue. The reissue Mullards sound great and the amp is a marvel
     
  15. ken374

    ken374 Member

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    I got prb have around 8 months on my vox with JJ's power tubes. Play heavy once or twice a week but I been playing the amp twice a day for a hour or so each time.
     
  16. dinglehopper

    dinglehopper Member

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    I've got an aiken tomcat that I've tried different el84's in. Gold Lions sounded really good, but both pairs I tried failed within hours. the first one red-plated. the second put on a lightning show and conked out. currently using an assortment of NOS from ebay. they all sound a little different, don't know that any sound better, per se. FWIW, the Gold Lions sounded as good as my NOS until they went kaput.
     
  17. Davo17

    Davo17 Member

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    I really like saratovs.
     
  18. Doug's Tubes

    Doug's Tubes Member

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    Fyi, the Ei "Gold Elite's" were not factory branded or special Ei manufactured tubes, they were just "regular" as you put it Ei tubes that were remarketed, repackaged and had gold plated pins. This was done by one of their customers, PM Components in Europe. Many folks found out the costly way there was no special screening process with these and the bottom line is you can't put lipstick on a pig as they say......
     
    Dr.Picklebottom likes this.
  19. Gretsch&Vox

    Gretsch&Vox Member

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    Doug:

    I defer to your expertise but when I bought Ei Gold Elites, I was under the impression that I was getting a tube:

    1. That was prescreened for quality (i.e. microphonics, general tube failure or tubes that didn't pass a quality test) --> The Elite part of the merchandising.
    2. Gold: Gold pins for better conductivity and tone.
     
  20. gilmutt

    gilmutt Member

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    I've bought into a set of the Gold Lions EL84s and have had a pair installed in a Trace Elliot Velocette for the last two months.

    I would agree that they do sound wonderfully rich and chimey in contrast to the JJs and Harma valves I have previously used ... at this stage I would say that they've been worth the money.

    Given that I play the Velocette pretty much 90% flat out and roll off the guitar's volume they have work faultlessly and have have maintained their initial tone ... but with the reports on their failure rates I still don't have the confidence in them yet and keep waiting for them to go wrong.

    If they stay working they'll be my preferred option for swirly, chimey goodness in the little green velocette.
     

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