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When purchasing tubes from some reputable dealers, I have noticed that you are given the option for balanced triodes--sometimes at a much higher price. How does a tube with balanced a triode effect the tone of the amplifier?

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I can see why, in an esoteric, strictly technical, way it would help, because having the tubes pushing/pulling equally should create better sound. The question I have is, how far out of balance can the tubes be before the sound suffers?

When I started playing, way back when, we'd replace tubes by grabbing some from the electronics store shelf and stick them in. If the amp sounded good we were happy. It wasn't until boutique amps were starting to become popular that I remember hearing any mention of balanced tube sets. Maybe that came in from the high-end home-stereo world where they'd stress over things like that, but for regular playing it didn't seem to matter.

I figure, the guitarists who had the sound I wanted to imitate wouldn't have cared; Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Freddie King, early Clapton, Beck, Page, Hendrix... I can't imagine them freaking out because they couldn't get a set of balanced/matched tubes.

Or maybe that's what they meant about living the blues - not having balanced tubes?

  • I noticed a pretty big difference between my balanced NOS Mullard 12AT7 and my unbalanced one. I guess it just depends on the tube. – Jduv Feb 7 '11 at 2:21
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    The way I look at it is, some companies are lower-quality than others and their quality control is all over the map. Others are very high quality, with tight quality control. A matched set from the first is probably more important because there could be a pretty wide range of output for a non-matched pair. For a company that has tight quality control, the tubes should be putting out close to the same amount of power, matched or not. It's like everything else, we get what we pay for. – Anonymous Feb 7 '11 at 3:41
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Well, it's not just a gimmick, there is truth to the idea that balanced tubes will maximize an amplifiers capabilities, and if that is your concern then it might be worth your money. Balanced tubes will probably outlast a set of badly unmatched tubes because they share the work of amplifying evenly, as opposed to one tube doing most of the work in an poorly matched set. That said, amps have been using unmatched sets since the development of electrical amplifier circuitry and audiences have enjoyed music played through those same amplifiers, so it comes down to each individual to decide for themselves if the investment is worth it. I'll just add this, I have 5 different guitar amps and they do all have matched output tubes, and they are not boutique style amps.

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