Those rare NOS Mullards

Feb 3, 2012
G’day maties!

From down unda, where the grass is green and the soil is red… and of course Melbourne- the best city in the world!

Been a while since my last post, cannot even remember when, feels like a year or two.

This is a dedication to mostly Conrad Johnson specialists, and to those who have used or acquired NOS tubes along the way.

Since departing with my beloved CAV45 (the most wonderful well-balanced tube integrated amp I’ve ever had the pleasure of owning) and venturing back into the pre-power config, now using the Classic 60SE once again, I was on the look out for a preamp that can match the sonic qualities of my previous ACT2.

Looked far and wide, over the hills and through the woods, and after trying quite a few superb preamps, I eventually settled for a beautiful PV15. This was the last “PV” series made by CJ just before their launch of the “ET series”, and the reason for choosing this particular preamp to match superbly well with the Classic 60SE is of many reasons:

1. This PV15 still has that golden glow of yesteryear that CJ was known for-musicality at its best. Call it coloured, caramel affect, who cares, the musical combination with the Classic 60 is marvellous!

2. Fitted with a pair of GE M8080’s which were well over used, required changing. So temporarily I fitted another pair of GE’s whiles my special order for the original Mullard M8080 was being processed by CJ (took a while but was worth the wait).

3. Final reason: simple circuitry, minimum parts (line stage only, no phonostage), easy to handle remote, and does have balance control- for those quick sound checks and finer adjustments… does make it handy.

Based on the above 3 points, most of the newer CJ pre’s don’t have much of that golden glow, neither do their latest power amps. However, after careful listening and trying numerous combinations, I figured if you were to try out an older pre with the power and finesse of their newer power amps, this combination just might provide a wonderful balanced sound of musical bliss, and that's all she wrote!

I must say, the ET5 was a superb combination as well as the ET7 would provide that very high quality sound. However, for me at this moment in my life, I have come to a point where this so called “high-end” audio industry must be justified by price vs performance factor. This is basically from the many experiences I have had through the decades of owning top end gear and eventuating into simpler forms of systems that not only give far more musical satisfaction but also help you save a whole lot more for finer things in life, such as family, building a home, and upgrading your cartridge.

Referring to point 2: this was the most amazing musical experience I have had to date!
CJ shipped across some very rare NOS Mullards, paid a pretty penny for this pair. It was like unwrapping something from the Raiders of the Lost Ark… The tubes came in an old white box, where each tube was covered in some very old type of paper that virtually crumpled whiles unwrapping. Checked the dates, looked like somewhere between 1976-78, the lettering was so faded, I think it was probably 1980. Anyway, I placed these in and thought what’s all the fuss about NOS… wow! Now that’s what I call “musical justification!”

Points as follows:
1. The holographic imaging is deeper and wider, has a superb sense of space along with the right sense of scale.

2. The transient response is smoother and has greater control coming from the power amp. There is no sense of “forced transients” or “overblown” impact, rather a sense of more natural tones, and when called for in the music, does deliver the impact only when needed. This is what I refer to a well-balanced sound, which allows you to relax and listen and most of all enjoy your music, rather than always be on edge…

3. The greatest factor, which leads to the most significant experience, is the noise floor. It’s extremely quiet, far quieter than the ET5 or the ACT2. I also tried the ET3SE, although a wonderful design in its own right, does not have balance control, only found on the ET5, ET7 & upwards. Therefore, describing the sonic attributes as above, considering the percentage of performance, this has gone up by around 60-70%, actually closer to 80% I would say.

In the past, what I have noticed from changing preamps usually amounts to a small factor of performance, somewhere between 10-20% in sonics but certainly not these Mullards! The whole presentation is truly remarkable, and delivered through Martin Logan stats, that level of transparency is highly revealing!

Do I miss my ACT2? Yes, sometimes, then perhaps an ET5 or ET7 would be the answer… unfortunately these preamps in Aussie land are priced in the upper region, which I will not spend on, although very accessible. If I was to out-class this performance by quite a margin and be able to justify the performance factor in that upper 70-80% region, that would have to be the GAT /GATS2.

Therefore, the point I’m trying to make is for those who have quality preamps, and are trying to venture towards upgrades or that ultimate one, don’t stress! You never know what you’ve already got, until you provide it with the best. Some careful listening and critical placement, and choosing the right tubes, may actually get you to a level of performance that you thought was only accessible if you had the extra funds, definitely not so!

Another PV series from CJ that I have enjoyed in the distant past was the PV12. It had all of that glorious golden glow, and partner this beauty with one of their newer designed power amps, will definitely provide that finer balance. Call me old fashion or whatever… but when you here this combination, you will recognize it straight away, and there is something very nostalgic about this sound. Whether it is “accurate” or not, I wouldn’t know but one thing for sure is “it just sounds right” indeed!

Cheers and all the best to the remaining PV series, Vintage at its best!
Mar 28, 2012
I bought 4 NOS M8080 Mullards from CJ, same as yours in white box with paper. I paid about US$50 per/tube. Unfortunately, 3 of the 4 developed a rustling sound within a month. CJ refunded my money, no problem. I then bought 10 from a UK company on eBay for US11 each. They were identical to the ones I bought from CJ, same white box, same paper. Out of the 10, two had noise issues, and the rest are fine. I just think that even if CJ tests them, and burns them in, some are going to get noisy real fast. Given the $50 price, it makes sense to buy via eBay.
Feb 3, 2012
G'day bg..
OK understand your issue and the minor noise problem with CJ's tubes. I agree, some of their tubes do have noise issues, and so does ARC, VTL & Manley, which I've all owned in either stereo amps or monoblocks.

Your suggestion to buy from eBay or cheaper places, points noted.

However, let me ask, if you had a problem with tubes from eBay would they refund?

CJ will because they are a highly reputed company that has been around for a while. And they did this for you.

I've been dealing with them since the early 90's and my dad has been dealing with them since the 70's. That's covering a good 40years in solid customer relationships. So far the only hiccup we ever had was caps failing in a PFR preamp and the transport unit failed in our DV2B CD player, mainly due to excessive humid conditions in tropical climes. They were replaced brand new even though one was out of warranty, brand new caps sent all the way from VA to Colombo via FedEx, only the shipping was paid for at our end.
That's what I call top of the line customer service.

If eBay suits you, that's fine as long as you're happy. That's the main thing.
Cheers mate, have a good one.
Mar 28, 2012
Glad you're enjoying your PV-15. I love my Classic One SE Preamp, which uses two Mullard 8080s. I had an ET-5 for a while, but found I preferred the Classic SE, just a bit more "golden" CJ sound than the ET5, which is a seriously fine amp and I would say "better" overall than my little Classic, but not quite the sound I wanted. I agree with everything you say about CJ being reputable in every way. I think my real point is that the with a high MU tube like the 8080, no matter how much testing and burn in CJ does, a fairly high amount are going to get noisy, and fail rather early on. So I prefer now to buy cheaply in bulk -- if even 2/3 of them turn out to be bad -- which they won't -- I still come out ahead in dollars and cents. I noticed that when CJ introduced the Classic 2, they switched to a single, lower mu tube (I think the 6922). I suspect part of the reason was that they were having the same problems with their M8080s. In a way, it's a shame, as I've found the 6922 to be a rather less dynamic tube in other applications. I think the old Mullard8080s are exactly as you describe -- just wonderful. In fact, CJ offered to rewire my Classic One to a Classic 2, but I declined, so I could keep using those wonderful 8080s. I will say, my current pair now has over 1,500 hours, and is still quiet as a church mouse! I'm a happy CJ camper.
Feb 3, 2012
Bg mate, I had no idea that you tried out an ET5!
I must say, if you really preferred the overall sound of the Classic pre, that is a very special type of musicality that is heard and recognized by pristine ears... Call it coloured, caramel, whatever... That form of musicality from those M8080's in a CJ preamp for me is all I would ever require from a fine preamplifier.
Hence, the reason why, just like yourself, didn't go for the ET5. I'm not saying that the ET5 is bad or anything, if at all it's a glorious preamp. It's just that golden glow of CJ's DNA is lacking in it, and so is the ET3 as well, regardless of SE version or not.

Again this is only a personal preference, for those who own ET5's & ET3's, they are top performers and you probably know that by now.

In all my audio journey with numerous brands, going back towards CJ after having ARC, VTL & Manley, plus other types of SS amplification, I must say that this combination of the PV15 along with the LP125m's by far has been the best amp config I have ever had to date!
Of course the others have excelled in certain area such as dynamics, lower tighter bass and forceful mids. Having said that, the musicality factor with this current combination out-classes all my previous systems by a FAR margin, even though some of them were up-to three times more in price!

So far in terms of the latest offering by CJ that really captured my attention, a sort of "stop the train" moment, was when I first heard the ET7. It seems like there is something extra special going on with this particular pre, and not only does it match extremely well with similar top line CJ power amps but brings out pure music in the most magical way I have experienced from a pre at this price point.

I still regret trading off my Classic SE pre for an ACT2, it had all that is ever required except balance control. After I got used to the ACT2, then an ET3se and now the PV15, I do find the balance control does come in handy when testing out channel balance & output status for each channel, that's about all I would use this control for.

I am very passionate towards simpler systems, as I feel they bring out more of the music, hence the main reason why I have been trading off most of my higher gear...

Perhaps the ET7 is out-classed by the GATS2, but the question that always sits in my mind is by what margin and for how long?
At the end of the day, obviously according to your finances and overall wealth, I have learned (the very hard way...) that by careful listening and selection of your type of sound you want to achieve, you can put together a system of very high value that doesn't necessarily have to cost a fortune.

Enjoy that Classic pre Bg mate, it is far more valuable than what it looks like!
Cheers and many hours of musical bliss to your listening sessions.
A very loud woof! RJ

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