January 20, 2021

The Best EL34 Tubes For HiFi - Buying Guide & FAQ

There are two ways we could have approached this guide. Just writing purely about EL34 tubes, or focus on the "EL34 family" which includes KT77 and 6CA7 tubes as well.

We decided on the latter to give a bit more tonal variety to my top picks. Feel free to chew me out in the comments if you were looking exclusively for EL34 tubes.

This type of power tube is very popular in guitars as the drive from some of them is phenomenal. However, for a stereo system, you don't want overdrive. You want crystal clarity with plenty of headroom and only the slightest touch of harmonic distortion. This will make the music sound as natural as possible. It is for this reason, we have created two separate guides.

It's a very important distinction to make, especially if you are on the audiophile side of the equation.

A Quick Look

Item
Why We Love It
Links
Our Favorite
Gold Lion EL34 Matched Pair
Genalex Gold Lion KT77
  • Soft and detailed highs
  • Plenty of headroom
Great Value
Mullard EL34 Matched Pair
Mullard EL34 Reissue
  • Excellent quality for the price
  • Detailed mids
For bass lovers
Shuguang 6CA7-Z
Shuguang Treasure 6CA7-Z
  • Non-standard aesthetic
  • Superb bass response
Budget Pick
JJ KT77
JJ KT77 Reissue
  • Bargain price
  • Comparable tone to much more expensive tubes

EL34 Tubes For Audiophiles

Genalex Gold Lion KT77 Reissue Vacuum Tube

Gold Lion EL34 Matched Pair
TL;DR
One of the clearest and most neutral options. Saturated mids and dry bass notes make for an interesting listening experience.
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I have to say, this is an absolutely killer piece of audio engineering. Especially for a new tube. These are comparable to a NOS Mullard. More so than an actual Mullard reissue. Keeping in mind they do cost twice as much though.

These tubes have close to ZERO noise. They are not fussy in what amp they're placed in, what musical genre they play, or how loud they go. These create plenty of breadth and width in the soundstage for your amp.

There is ample headroom in a Gold Lion KT77. You won't have to worry about pushing these tubes too hard unless you want to make your ears bleed.

 

Tone

The highs are incredibly detailed while still maintaining soft edges. The definition drawn in these frequencies is a strong suit for this Gold Lion KT77.

The tube has a saturated midrange which lends itself perfectly to hard rock and complicated orchestral numbers.

Multi-instrument jazz may find itself a little lost in detail. If this is your main listening goal perhaps this is not the best tube for you.

The bass response is crisp and dry. It lacks a little edge and warmth but is almost perfectly neutral. No booming or muddiness at all. It's hard to fault the lows unless you are chasing a richer and more saturated tone.

 

Mullard EL34 Reissue Vacuum Tube

Mullard EL34 Matched Pair
TL;DR
The highs roll off and the low end is nothing special. However, the overall warm and welcoming tone produced by these makes them a great option for inactive listening.
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It is hard to go past this Russian brand when it comes to quality. These tubes are sturdy and sound amazing. This is especially impressive considering their relatively low cost.

This is a mellow tube that would suit an amplifier whose primary purpose is to radiate music throughout a house. They still have plenty of detail but are not my favorites for active listening.

 

Tone

The high end is a little rolled off. This avoids any harsh notes but also prevents instruments from portraying their characteristics. You'll be happy about this if you listen to any older music that was poorly recorded. Say goodbye to glassy highs that give you a headache.

The mids are where these tubes get their warmth from. You won't need a fire in winter, you can just melt into the frequencies emanating from your amp.

The lower frequencies are neither detailed nor particularly energetic. They do a fine job but are nothing special. You may want to fiddle with the EQ of your amp to improve them.

Shuguang Black Treasure 6CA7-Z

Shuguang 6CA7-Z
TL;DR
A great-sounding tube comparable to the Gold Lions. Go for this one if you prefer richer bass and a less saturated mid-range.
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To be completely honest, just the aesthetics of these tubes get me excited. The black glass and varied envelope shape make for an upgraded look to an exposed stereo if nothing else. They do offer high-fidelity listening to boot though.

These are similarly priced to the KT77 Gold Lion tubes. They also offer a correspondingly awesome sound. The black treasure even outshines them in terms of powerful listening and bass response.

These can have a slight problem of taking a long time to settle. This is likely due to their unorthodox shape. Once the tube is burnt-in you shouldn't have to worry about this issue anymore.

 

Tone

These tubes handle treble frequencies similarly to the Mullard tube. They are slightly less rolled though. Your amp likely catches these frequencies anyway. They is plenty of detail present without being piercing.

Mid-range frequencies are less saturated than the Gold Lions but still clear and objective. They have a particular eye for detail in this range but without overdoing it. This makes them great for active listening and chilled background music alike.

The bass associated with these tubes is one of the best in the bunch. Offering more warmth than the Gold Lions at the expense of their dry edge.

As these are highly reliable tubes, across all the frequencies they're a smart choice if you're unsure what you are after tone-wise.

JJ KT77 Reissue Vacuum Tube

JJ KT77
TL;DR
Decent tubes, especially considering you can sometimes get them for under $20 each (usually closer to $30). Not as good as some of the more expensive options though. They are 6L6 like in nature when it comes to tone.
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The overall tonal output of these actually feels a little closer to a 6L6 tube. So, if you've recently switched over from that type of tube amplifier, and miss it, this could be a potential option for you.

JJ tubes are often on the very budget end of the price spectrum, but that doesn't mean you should discount their value. They sound great for the cost and although they may not quite measure up to premium tubes, they are perfectly fine for most listeners.

They would definitely be an improvement on a stock tube in most cases and not a huge cost to consider if not. The JJ EL34 is also pretty decent. I personally prefer the KL77 though.

 

Tone

You can expect a more generic balanced tone from these tubes than other top picks. That in its own regard is nothing to be sneezed at. Perhaps that is what you are looking for from your power tube. If not you may want to consider a different tube.

These are pretty decent in a guitar amp too. If you have a valve stereo and guitar amplifier you could consider interchanging them.

FAQ

 

Who Makes The Best EL34 Tubes For HiFi?

There is no definitive answer to this. Personally, I like the Genalex tubes but others may like another tube better. Audio is a deeply personal thing that we all experience differently. To make a blanket statement about which is "best" would be wrong. That's why we gave a few different options.

 

Should I Be Using Matched Tubes?

If your amp has space for several EL34 power tubes then you definitely should use a matched pair, quad, or 8 pack. This will help avoid problems arising after a few hours of use such as overheating.

 

Are KT77 Tubes Better Than EL34 Tubes?

This is about taste again. They plug into the same hole and to be honest can sometimes sound VERY similar. Two KT77 tubes made it into the top picks because I tend to like them. From my perspective, I guess they are.

 

Can I Place A Different Amp Tube Into My System?

Yes, If you have an EL34 amp you can use KT77 or 6CA7 tubes too. Don't modify other tubes to place in your amp though. That is asking for trouble.

 

Should I Invest In An EL34 Tube AMP If I Don't Already Own One?

We love tube amps at Star Bright Music. You don't necessarily have to get an EL34 model. Your listening experience will go through the roof if you switch to a tube amp from a solid-state amplifier though.

 

Final Word

Any of the choices we discussed would be a fine addition to most amps. We wouldn't stress the decision too hard if you're still scratching your head. Take the dive and it will work out.

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