7 Best Tubes for Preamp

Best Tubes for Preamp

Quick answer:

Genalex Gold Lion 12AX7/ECC83 – One of the most popular options around the world, known for being reliable and producing a good sound.

Mesa/Boogie 12AX7 – Affordable but still of high quality vintage sound.

Only the best tubes for preamp could bring some new life back to your vintage amps and preamp. We took an in-depth look at some of the best options available on the market, and noted our experience with them, which will help you narrow down your choices and find something that is worth your time and money.

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Table of Contents


About Our Top Choices

Genalex Gold Lion 12AX7/ECC83 Gold Pin Preamp Tube

Genalex Gold Lion 12AX7/ECC83 Gold Pin Preamp Tube
See price @ Amazon / @ Sweetwater

More details…

One of the most popular among users all over the world, probably because of how well-engineered they are designed. Especially since they are capable of producing a clear sound without any feedback.

Pros
  • Well-balanced
  • Top-quality
  • Great-sounding
Cons
  • May cause preamp to produce a brittle sound
  • Not exactly-budget friendly

Mesa/Boogie 12AX7 Preamp Tube

Mesa/Boogie 12AX7 Preamp Tube
See price @ Sweetwater

More details…

The best cheap option among other tubes on this list. But don’t let its price give you a wrong impression, these tubes will provide you with a balanced tone and high gain.

Pros
  • Vintage-sounding
  • Affordable
  • Bright high-end
Cons
  • Not that accurate-sounding

Top 7 Best Tubes for Preamp

  1. Genalex Gold Lion 12AX7/ECC83 Gold Pin Preamp Tube
  2. Mesa/Boogie 12AX7 Preamp Tube
  3. JJ 12AX7/ECC83 Slovakia Preamp Tube
  4. Mullard 12AX7 Russian Preamp Tube
  5. Groove Tubes GT-12AT7 Preamp Tube
  6. Electro-Harmonix 12AU7 Preamp Tube
  7. Tung-Sol 12AX7 Preamp Tube

Best Tubes for Preamp Reviews


Genalex Gold Lion 12AX7/ECC83 Gold Pin Preamp Tube

Genalex Gold Lion 12AX7/ECC83 Gold Pin Preamp Tube

Pros
  • Well-balanced
  • Top-quality
  • Great-sounding
Cons
  • May cause preamp to produce a brittle sound
  • Not exactly-budget friendly
See price @ Amazon / @ Sweetwater

Genalex Gold Lion 12AX7/ECC83 are top quality tubes, and one of the most popular among users all over the world, probably because of how well-engineered they are designed. Especially since they are capable of producing a clear sound without any feedback.

Best features and specs

This tube, produced by an acclaimed manufacturer, would make a great choice to upgrade a vintage amp. Some features include meticulously built gold pins, designed to be resistant to any feedback, and gives you unique clarity, and is powerful.

User impressions

Users like that the Gold Lion eliminates annoying high frequencies with ease. Also, users add that this tube has a very long lifespan and sounds really pleasing.

What we think

This is a top quality manufacturer, and they haven’t disappointed their customers with this product and remained consistent in terms of build and sound throughout the years, and to us this is one of the most important things to endorse this so highly.

Bottomline

Genalex Gold Lion 12AX7/ECC83 is a great choice for someone who is looking for a top-quality, well-balanced, and great-sounding beast of a tube that is capable of refurbishing and making classic amps great again.


Mesa/Boogie 12AX7 Preamp Tube

Mesa/Boogie 12AX7 Preamp Tube

Pros
  • Vintage-sounding
  • Affordable
  • Bright high-end
Cons
  • Not that accurate-sounding
See price @ Sweetwater

Mesa/Boogie 12AX7 is the best cheap option among other tubes on this list. But don’t let its price give you a wrong impression, these tubes can provide you with a well-balanced tone and high gain.

This is considered to be a pro-quality, reliable preamp tube that, according to the manufacturer, offers you a smooth and balanced tonal response and high-gain output.

User impressions

Users like Mesa/Boogie 12AX7 for having very good build quality, being able to change the tone, and being easy to use. Users also add that they like how well both low-end and high-end sounds when this tube is placed in the amp.

What we think

Even though there are many good user reviews, we have also noted that you might get the impression that this tube isn’t that much accurate-sounding that you want. So that’s something to keep in mind.

Bottomline

Mesa/Boogie 12AX7 is a great choice for someone who is looking for an affordable, vintage-sounding tube that has a very bright high-end.


JJ 12AX7/ECC83 Slovakia Preamp Tube

JJ 12AX7/ECC83 Slovakia Preamp Tube

Pros
  • Affordable
  • Neutral sound
  • High-quality
Cons
  • Maybe too neutral sounding
See price @ Amazon / @ Sweetwater

JJ 12AX7/ECC83 tubes are known to have a certain warmth to them while remaining neutral. That said, they are pretty high quality and would be a great choice for anyone looking for tubes for their preamp.

Best features and specs

In terms of sound quality, it is said to be considered a modern classic, with a balanced tone and rich harmonics.

User impressions

Those that have used it say that JJ 12AX7/ECC83 is a versatile tube, with a tone making it softer than most, but preserving jingle in the high-end and emphasizing the low-end just for a bit. On the other hand, some users pointed out that to their taste, this tube isn’t enhancing the tone that much, rather makes it bland.

What we think

We think that this would make a great tube for someone looking for versatility. Having a neutral tube is great if you want flexibility. You’ll get the same kind of warmth with a clear low-end, no matter what you put through them. But at the same time, it may clearly be unsuitable for certain types of styles of audio.

Bottomline

As mentioned, the JJ 12AX7/ECC83 may be a good choice for someone who is looking for something with a more neutral sound that can be flexible. Also, it’s pretty affordable, and will easily provide the warmth that your audio would need.


Mullard 12AX7 Russian Preamp Tube

Mullard 12AX7 Russian Preamp Tube

Pros
  • Balanced bass
  • Low-noise
  • Good-sounding
Cons
  • May sound too warm
  • Isn’t suitable for heavy metal
See price @ Amazon / @ Sweetwater

The Mullard 12AX7 is produced by Electro-Harmonix, which has a great reputation in the world of music producers and sound engineers.

Best features and specs

These tubes are said to offer a large soundstage with lots of detail, low microphonics, and overall low noise.

User impressions

The users that like the Mullard 12AX7 say this tube does exactly as it’s described. Some even say that using this tube caused their amp to work better. We’re not sure why but we leave that up to you to speculate.

What we think

It’s good when a manufacturer strives to recreate equipment that has the same top-quality as an original one. And we like that the Mullard 12AX7 is known to perform great when placed in a phase inverter and used in a rackmount gear or a tube amp. Note that this tube might not sound that good when placed into the preamp section of the guitar amp.

Bottomline

The Mullard 12AX7 is definitely considered a good-sounding, low-noise tube that provides balanced bass and works the best when placed into a phase inverter section.


Groove Tubes GT-12AT7 Preamp Tube

Groove Tubes GT-12AT7 Preamp Tube

Pros
  • Affordable
  • Long lasting
  • Compatible with the majority of amps
  • Bright-sounding
Cons
  • Too bright or too warm depending on your taste
See price @ Amazon / @ Sweetwater

Groove Tubes GT-12AT7 are considered to be great quality tubes. That’s been their reputation for years, and so far it doesn’t seem like they’ve fallen off it. They are used in the majority of well-known amps, among which is Fender. So that should give you some cause to feel secure if your decide to purchase them.

Best features and specs

These tubes are known for their longevity, being durable, and pro-quality. This tube has a 9-pin triode design and is consistent with high output power.

User impressions

Users agree that Groove Tubes GT-12AT7 gives you quite balanced sound with powerful low-end and jingling high-end. Also, they review that these tubes are really low-noise and open-sounding.

What we think

We like that the GT-12AT7 preamp tube, being long lasting, means you can just put it in your amp and forget about it for a long time. Who loves having to be constantly changing tubes anyway?

Bottomline

Groove Tubes GT-12AT7 is a great choice for someone who is looking for something long lasting, with a bright-sound, and is affordable and compatible with a majority of amps that are produced in the USA.


Electro-Harmonix 12AU7 Preamp Tube

Electro-Harmonix 12AU7 Preamp Tube

Pros
  • Affordable
  • High-quality
  • Warm-sounding
Cons
  • May give a slightly buzzing noise
See price @ Amazon / @ Sweetwater

The Electro-Harmonix 12AU7 offers a high quality tube that, as they say, is meticulously engineered to be on the same level with the industry standard. This tube is vouched to give you a warm tone.

Best features and specs

This tube features great linearity and low microphonics, which should result in having pleasing-to-ear sound.

User impressions

If you read the reviews of the buyers, you’ll find some positive things like, the way their amp sounds after installing these tubes. Or, how their amp became easy to tweak. Also, some users add that they achieved the overdriven and clean tones that they have always wanted.

What we think

The Electro-Harmonix 12AU7 tubes come from a very respected manufacturer with lots of experience in the business. They produce other guitar and amp related gear so we don’t expect less from them here as well. Note that this tube is good to use in mic preamps, headphone amps, and effects sections.

Bottomline

Electro-Harmonix 12AU7 is a great choice for someone who is looking for an affordable, high-quality, and warm-sounding tube.


Tung-Sol 12AX7 Preamp Tube

Tung-Sol 12AX7 Preamp Tube

Pros
  • Good for high gain amps
  • Reasonably priced
  • Compatible with hi-fi equipment
  • Good-sounding
Cons
  • Too bright or too warm depending on your taste
See price @ Amazon / @ Sweetwater

Tung-Sol 12AX7 is a preamp tube that is designed specifically to be a perfect addition for amps that run on high gain. This tube gives you a chance to experience a 3-dimensional sound and great linearity.

Best features and specs

Tung-Sol 12AX7 tube is an upgrade of the legendary NOS Tung-Sol 12AX7. This tube is compatible with any hi-fi equipment, offers 3-dimensional sound, has outstanding linearity, and almost doesn’t have any microphonics.

User impressions

Users like Tung-Sol 12AX7 because it sounds good in the V1 slot. Also, some users say that they like the way this tube sounds when they play metal and heavy metal. Users add that they don’t notice any noise or microphonics, which makes them pretty happy with their choice.

What we think

What we like the most about Tung-Sol 12AX7 is that this tube is considered to be the absolute top choice when you need to upgrade the amp and change the tubes. Also, this tube easily replaces any tubes that you have in 12AX7/ECC83-loaded guitar amplifiers.

Bottomline

Tung-Sol 12AX7 is a great choice for someone who is looking for a thoroughly built tube that is a recreation of a classic unit and is good-sounding and quite reasonably-priced.


Tubes for Preamp Buying Guide

What is a tube for a preamp?

A tube for preamp is a tube with a vacuum chamber, which allows electrons to move easily. It’s placed into a preamp segment in the electronic device to help increase incoming level signals of an instrument or a mic to line level.

Why would you need a tube for a preamp?

You may need a preamp in case a previous tube isn’t satisfactory to your taste, or it doesn’t give you the sound and tone you need. Also, if you have a vintage amp that needs to be upgraded, having one of the newer tubes lets you use it a few years more.

Important features

When choosing a tube for a preamp, pay attention to the type of tube you’re getting, and its affordability.

Type

On the market, you can find 3 types of tubes 12AX7, 12 AT7, and 12AU7. There are a few differences between all of them, while the most significant difference is the amount of gain that each one of the tubes can give you.

The tube that gives you the most gain is 12AX7. Also, this tube is usually much smaller than others, has a long life, and typically gives you a warmer sound.

12AT7 tube can replace the 12AX7 tube if it’s necessary, but it gives lower gain and lower volume, and much more headroom.

12AU7 tube has the lowest amount of gain and a lot of headroom. That’s why mostly these tubes are rarely used for preamps but are more commonly used for effects sections and mic preamps.

Affordability

This is the point when you need to decide for yourself, are you willing to spend extra and buy one top-quality tube, or you’re on a tight budget and will buy a few that gives you a bit lesser amount of gain?

How to choose the right one for you?

When you are choosing the best tubes for preamp, you should focus on which type of tube you really need, knowing how it affects the sound. While giving thought to that, you should consider your budget options and choose accordingly.


FAQ

Are more preamp tubes better?

If you have more preamp tubes, this means that you have more tonal choices, but whether it’s better or not depends on the music idea that you have. If you have extra tubes but not actually using them, then you’re wasting energy and money.

Do preamp tubes affect tone?

Yes, they do. You can affect a guitar tone when you engage overdrive on the tube, and it produces a richer tone. If you roll off the gain, you get a cleaner tone.

Do preamp tubes need to be matched?

No they don’t, because each preamp tube is self-biased, so you don’t have to have a pair of them to make it work.

How long do preamp tubes last?

No one can give you a prediction of how long your tube will last, but if, by estimation, you play around 13 hours a week, then most likely, the tube would be in the perfect condition to use during 2-3 years. But if you play less, it might happen that the tubes will be working for up to 5 years.

How long does a 12AX7 tube last?

Its lifespan depends on how much you play. It can last from 2 years up to 5. In some rare cases, it can be even more than that.

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