What's the best EL34 tube?
Well, this is a question we get asked a lot. There is no true one answer, but some EL34 is better at some things than others. It depends on many things, and most importantly, on your equipment and your own taste.
Since everyone's gear and taste is different, we have put together this information in the hopes that this will help you make an informed decision.
Want to see all the EL34 choices right now? Check out our EL34, 6CA7 KT77 catalog page.
Related links: EL34, 6CA7, KT77 Difference?
EL34 in Audio Amp
EL34 tube in audio amps produce that signature velvet-smooth-mids. EL34 particularly excels at reproducing horns and female vocals with that silky texture that comes from the best of reed valve instruments.
EL34 in Guitar Amp
In guitar amps, EL34 produces smooth highs and pronounced but pleasant mids. When pushed, EL34 starts to take on good amount of crunch. And when really over-driven (i.e. turn up to 11), EL34 starts to produce that wonderful quintessential classic Marshall tone that is instantaneously recognizable. It's what classic rock is made of.
Amp manufacturers often ship EL34 tubes that are low cost alternatives to keep the cost down. You may want to consider upgrading the power tubes if you feel like your stock EL34 tubes are lacking bottom end depth or high end clarity.
Our Go To EL34
Our go-to tubes for upgrading is Mullard EL34. It has good tight bass, with smooth high end to balance out the beautiful mids. For guitar amps, another top choice is Tung-Sol EL34B which also provides good body and nice high end with good definition.
Until recently, KT77 was all but lost in vacuum tube history as an esoteric but supreme audio tube. Today, tube manufacturers brought back KT77 with faithfully reproduced design and sonics.
KT77 in Audio Amp
Gold Lion KT77 is a classic KT77. As with all Genalex Gold Lion tubes, Gold Lion KT77 is built to the highest standards, with meticulous precision that stands above all other tubes. It retains smooth mids of EL34, but fills out the lows and the highs, adding the dynamics reminiscent of more powerful tubes like 6550. It manages both classic and contemporary materials very well, effortlessly handling modern dense recordings. Gold Lion KT77 can literally transform your EL34 amp.
Another KT77, JJ KT77 deserves a consideration at lower cost point. JJ KT77 provides good bottom extension, punchy dynamics and pleasant sizzle. Sound imaging is quite good. If you are wanting to hear what KT77 offers without paying the premium, JJ KT77 is a good choice.
KT77 in Guitar Amp
In a guitar amp, KT77 provides good amount of bottom end. If you are yearning for more hammering heft from your power chords, KT77 is the choice.
The added bottom end also makes KT77 noticeably clearer than other EL34's at low volume . This makes it a good choice for practice amp or for gigs in small space. If you are looking to attain fuller, heavier tone in your EL34 guitar amp, Gold Lion KT77 and JJ KT77 are definitely worth a try.
In guitar amps, 6CA7 has fuller fatter tone than EL34 with more bottom end. It sounds heavier and darker than EL34, but nicely controlled with very little mushiness.
6CA7 has more headroom which makes it harder to push, but once you go into overdrive, it takes on aggressiveness that makes it suitable for hard rock.
ELECTRO-HARMONIX 6CA7EH is a faithful reproduction of American fat bottle 6CA7. It is a mature design that has proven rugged and quite reliable over time. 6CA7EH sounds full and heavy, and clean tone comes through without clipping early. If you are looking for more defined bass from your EL34 amp, 6CA7EH is definitely worth a try.
JJ 6CA7 is a new design that is completely different from their E34L or KT77 offerings. We have seen JJ EL34 listed as EL34/6CA7 at times by unknowledgeable retailers which can be misleading. 6CA7 JJ is a completely different new tube from their existing EL34 line.
JJ 6CA7 is a true beam tetrode design, and it sounds a lot more like 6L6 than an EL34. It has good amount of crunch and punch you expect from 6L6, but perhaps with little less sizzle at top. It is very much a great classic rock sounding tube for guitar amps.