January 21, 2021

The Best 6SN7 Tubes - Buyers Guide and FAQ

Here at Star Bright Music, we are big fans of vintage tube amps. It is hard to argue that their overall tone is much more natural than solid-state amps. Even though solid-state technology has improved significantly, amps driven by tubes such as a 6SN7 are our favorites.

Analog amps saw a resurgence in the '90s and haven't gone away since. People are desperate for the warm, rich tones you get from a tube amplifier. This tube type was a popular choice from as early as the '40s and is still used by those of us that are after a creamy and classic tone.

If you have landed on this page, it's likely you agree with this opinion and have an interest in finding out which are the best 6SN7 tubes. Let's dive into our favorites.
A Quick Look At Our Favorites
Tung Sol 6SN76GTB
The Best Value
Tung Sol - 6SN7GTB
  • Impressive low end
  • Clear tight and rich sound
  • Low noise
PSVane 6SN7 Tubes
Superior Low End
JJ Electronics EL34II
  • Good stock tube replacement
  • Sparkling highs
Shuguang CV181 - z
Unrivaled Clarity
Shuguang Treasure Cv181-Z
  • Excellent clarity
  • Crisp mids and highs
Electro Harmonix 6SN7
Budget Option
Electro-Harmonix 6SN7 EH
  • CHEAP
  • Decent for their price
Sovtek 6SN7GT
Burly Mids
Sovtek 6SN7GT
  • Highly responsive midrange
  • Budget-friendly

Reviews

Tung Sol - 6SN7GTB Preamp Vacuum Tube

Tung Sol 6SN76GTB
TL;DR
These tubes improve the tightness, fullness, and boost small nuances. They are among our favorite 6SN7 tubes for this reason.
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The American brand Tung Sol acquired New Sensor a few years ago. They were a Russian manufacturer and as such were one of the few places where 6SN7 tubes were made. Post buying out, these high-quality tubes are under the Tung Sol tube umbrella.

I'm not sure if you could still technically call them a Russian tube but they definitely have the quality you could expect in assuming that they are.

These preamp tubes are incredibly close to those from the '40s. As with most tubes, they need to be burnt-in. Once they are raring to go, expect the hairs on your neck to stand up in delight with the tone. Pure vintage brilliance from a newly manufactured tube.

If you are switching out from a stock tube pair you will likely find an improvement in your low-end response. Yet, for the break-in period, there could be a slight increase in how muddy your amp sounds. Your high-end could be a little lost but after a few hours of careful use, you will have a full and detailed sound.

The beefier low end makes for an overall vivid and resonant listening experience.

These also provide improved sharpness when compared to most standard tubes. The low-end will keep its richness while any dullness disappears. The high-end shouldn't lose any detail after burn-in and the overall textures of the audio will become enhanced.

They sell these as a matched pair and are best used in this configuration. Check out some of our other picks if you only need a single tube.

We love these tubes and could even be so bold as to say to go out and buy them. However, we know that tone choice boils down to personal preference so take a look at our other top picks. You will be able to find something that suits you.

Psvane UK-6SN7 HIFI Series Vacuum Tubes

PSVane 6SN7 Tubes
TL;DR
An amazing sounding tube that has a very long burn-in period. Not great for users that need their amp to sound good NOW.
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China is by far the biggest manufacturers of vacuum tubes. So, it would make sense for them to be one of the few countries still building 6SN7 replacements.

Psvane is a semi-premium brand rumored to be to Shuguang as Lexus is to Toyota. A premium offering for a higher price.

Psvane tubes are not built in the same factory though so it's hard to pin down the relationship of the companies. If you have any insights on this let us know in the comments.

These tubes look and feel deluxe with premium features such as gold plated pins, an anodized bronze base, and smoked grey glass. These are not the most expensive series of tubes from Psvane so it is nice to see these inclusions.

You could get even more extravagant features from their T-Series line but we find these tubes to be the best cost to benefit ratio.

Just like our best value pick, these bad boys have a required burn-in period to get the best tone from them. You may need up to 300 hours of use before they start to reach their best. It's a long time.

Keep that in mind if you are thinking of choosing these tubes. They sound a bit airy until they reach their peak usage but once they get there, your ears will be in for a treat.

As the burn-in period for these tubes is particularly lengthy, you can expect some pretty wild fluctuations up until that 300-hour mark. Some days you will the tubes will blow you away with their tone, the next day could sound a little trashy.

In spite of its only setback, this tube has absolutely amazing prowess once it is ready to go. You can expect a densely packed low end coupled with bright and crisp highs. If you pair these tubes with a capable vintage amp you won't be disappointed.

This is not a tube that is perfect to use matched but is capable enough for most applications. It is better used as a single tube but won't disappoint either way.

This likely isn't the tube for you if you were hoping for a plug and play experience. If you're patient and have a lot of practice to do at home before your next gig, this could be an excellent choice for you. It truly is one of the best sounding 6SN7 valves on the market.

Shuguang Treasure Cv181-Z Vacuum Tube

Shuguang CV181 - z
TL;DR
Not a perfect replacement for all amps with an incompatible power amp. A quick burn-in period of 50hrs.
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As we mentioned before, China is the biggest manufacturer of vacuum tubes. Shuguang controls a huge portion of that market so they are therefore the biggest player in the proverbial game. They build reasonably priced products while maintaining an above decent level of quality. It is for this reason that they produce some of the most popular tubes on the market.

These aren't technically a 6SN7.  This is because a 6SN7 draws 0.6A of power and these pull 0.9A. Still, they are worth considering as a replacement if your amp has blown a valve.

This small increase in power consumption can in some cases cause the insulation to fail and overheat. This is extremely rare but is worth noting.

It can also at times impact audio quality negatively. This is not ideal for a replacement but this isn't always present. The lower cost of these tubes could be a reason to overlook these potential problems but that is up to you.

Let's assume you have avoided these problems - in which case the sound quality from these tubes is actually amazing. It has crystal clear bass with enough thickness to find a footing in the overall mix. There is minimal muddiness between the frequencies with a crisp and present mid-range.

The burn-in period of these is much shorter than a lot of the competition. You will have a great sounding tube amp in as little as 50 hours! Still, as with most tubes, the Shugang needs to be burnt-in. You will get the most of it after some 300 hours, but it already sounds great after 50.

Shuguang also manufactures a very similar product called the CV181-T. The T is actually better than the Z as it is more easily matched and a little more precise sounding. We chose to review the Z over the T simply because it's cheaper. If you are considering these tubes to replace a 6SN7, price is likely a paramount consideration.

Electro-Harmonix 6SN7 EH Preamp Vacuum Tube

Electro Harmonix 6SN7
TL;DR
A bit harsh-sounding. They are on par or just a little better than a stock tube or set.
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You are likely familiar with Electro-Harmonix if you are a guitarist. They build a bunch of great pedals and a few other bits and bobs. If you are here as a Hi-Fi enthusiast with no live music experience you can rest assured they are a reliable brand.

This is by no means a premium pick like our top two selections but they still do a pretty decent job. Considering you can get a matched pair for way less than a single tube from some others they are definitely worth considering.

If you compare these directly with the Psvane tube or Tung Sols prepare for disappointment. They have a little bit of a harsh-sounding edge, but for the cost, you can't argue with their overall quality.

These have tough construction and are should improve the overall sound of your amp. This is especially true if you had sub-par stock tubes before these. I wouldn't replace your expensive tubes with these but they are comparable to standard included tubes.

The bass and mid-range are all of acceptable clarity and presence. On the very peaks of the treble is where you may notice some blurring and harshness.

Overall these are decent but if you have a bigger budget you should pass on these. Only consider them if you need to save money.

For the price, you can't complain. The perfect vintage sound is expensive and these tubes offer a good bang for the buck.

Sovtek 6SN7GT Vacuum Tube

Electro Harmonix 6SN7
TL;DR
Possible hissing issues, great sound for the cost, heavy on the mids.
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Sovtek is another Russian brand that produces valves. These are not quite the same standard as the Tung Sol tubes but they will do a pretty decent job considering their price point.

Given that these are gas driver tubes they take a long time to burn-in. It is likely that when first installed the highs will be hyper present and the lows almost not there at all. The frequencies will balance out over time. Of course, settling in completely at around 300 hours.

Where this option shines is its beautiful mid-range tones. The lows and highs will get there eventually but these are a tube that you want to "meet in the middle".

Something to keep in mind is that these can sometimes be prone to an -almost unnoticeable- hiss. Most users won't even clock it, but if you can see this bothering you these are not the best choice for you.

These are another budget option and as such are not going to be the best sounding if you compare them with the premium picks. They are still a solid choice for the average user.

Special Mention RCA 5692 Red Base Or Black plate Models

nos-5692r red plate
TL;DR
Hard to get a hold of as they are no longer manufactured. Worth getting if you have a reliable supplier in your town
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RCA built some absolutely fantastic tubes while they were still around. If you can manage to get your hands on some don't pass up the opportunity. They are among the favorites for classic tone purists.

These are great sounding tubes but are vintage. This means they are much harder to come by. You will have a lot of trouble finding a pair or a single from a music store or a large online retailer. That is not to say you can't find them at all. You will have to find a smaller retailer somewhere that collects them.

There are less and less becoming available as no more are being built. RCA doesn't even exist anymore. If you come across them you can have a piece of American history plugged into your amp for approximately 10,000 hours. How fun!

The Best Sounding 6SN7 Tubes FAQ

 

What are 6SN7 tubes used for?

Well if you are on this page in the first place I hope you are looking at them for audio amplification. Otherwise, these descriptions have been useless. That in mind, these tubes were also used in televisions, radios, and early computers. I guess you could also have landed here if you're restoring obsolete tech.

These aren't super popular for use in a guitar amp but there are a few that use them. You could also use them in a custom build. Yet, these are mainly used in amps for record amps and Hi-Fi systems.

They are preamp tubes and as such are designed to increase the strength of the signal coming into the amp. They deform the sound from that signal making it warmer and richer. Perfect for use with vinyl. You would then use a power amplifier to boost the volume further.

 

What's the difference between 6SL7 and 6SN7 tubes?

These are similarly designed tubes as they are both octal dual-triode designs. They also have a similar metal base on the bottom with matching pins. That does not mean that they are interchangeable.

The primary distinction between the two is the gain. The 6SN7 has a gain of 20 while the 6SL7 has a gain of 80. So to interchange these two tubes you would very much be risking a sizeable drop in sound quality. There is also a chance the tube will fail.

Long story short, even though they look similar avoid using one in lieu of the other.

 

What About NOS and NIB Tubes?

NOS stands for New Old Stock and NIB is New In Box. Both of these are ways that old tubes that are no longer in production are sold. A NOS tube is usually in its own packaging while a NIB is often reboxed. Some of these types of tubes are real standouts and may even leave our top picks in the dust according to some audio buffs. These are much harder to source, which also means their cost can be outrageous.

If you would like to have a look around for these types to replace your 6SN7, RCA 5692 red base models are very popular and, for good reason. There are not a lot of red base models left though.

You could consider a similarly designed black plate model as they are sought after too. We think the standard of new premium builds is just as good but a purist would argue otherwise.

 

Final word

It is sometimes difficult to tell between different tubes. To an untrained ear, they can even sound similar. If you are in this boat you could definitely opt for one of the cheaper options.

On the other hand, if you want the best of the best, you will need to fork out a little more. Remember that listening to your Hi-Fi system and finding what sounds best to you is a personal experience.

If you have an extremely high budget and a lot of time you could even try several tubes out. This is called tube rolling but that's an entire topic on its own. Take your best bet with our recommendations and it's unlikely you will be disappointed.

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