Vacuum Tube Testing
Preamp Tube Curve Tracing
For critical preamp vacuum tube positions, in-house computer testing and matching ensures best possible tube performance.
Tubes are tested at real world high voltage conditions as they would be in the final circuit. In these instances, the tube testing report is also included with the shipped product.
We test our tubes across their 4 key parameters:
Rp (plate resistance
Ia (plate current)
These parameters give an indication of the tubes' overall heath and are the key parameters for matching. We often match to 5% or better across all 4 parameters.
Since these parameters are tested at a static point on the tube's operating range, we also curve trace these tubes to look for performance anomalies. With curve tracing we can visually catch bad tubes that would otherwise pass the static conditions above.
Also, with our curve tracing capabilities, each section of dual triode tubes are traced simultaneously allowing a visual comparison of matching conditions between sections as well as numeric parameters listed above.
Example Tube Curve Trace
Power Tube Static and Dynamic Testing
Curve tracing has proved to be extremely accurate while also providing predictable performance and near perfect channel balance for our preamp products and preamp stages in our power amplifiers. However, power tubes are different.
The high power dissipation capability of power tubes requires them to heat soak at high static power levels to get a true measurement of their performance.
It was this need that led us to purchase, refurbish, and put into continued service, the Hickok Model 700 (later sold as the R&D 1700) tube tester.
To call the model 700 a "tube tester" is a bit of an understatement. This this a vacuum tube analyzer designed and sold to vacuum tube manufacturer's product test and R&D departments with the most stringent of standards.
Therefore this unit was/is exceedingly expensive and rare with estimated very low numbers produced. Not only is this unit rare, it is in my opinion the absolute best vacuum tube tester built during the heyday of of tube development (possibly outside of tube manufactures own homebuilt custom test equipment).
Hickok Model 700
All tube element voltage are user adjustable, allowing testing of nearly any tube type
Testing conditions can be set to the standards defined by the tube manufactures data sheet, and the test voltages held at static DC levels for high continued power dissipation.
True regulated plate and screen power supplies, which maintain the desired test voltage under large variations in tube current. This leads to very high repeatability and accuracy.
Testing Parameters Setup:
Plate voltage: Up to 300V
Screen Voltage Up to 300V
Plate Current: Up to 200mA
Screen Current: Up to 100mA
Grid Bias: Up to -100V
Adjustable Filament Voltage
Selectable grid voltage AC level level for gm test to match with tube type sensitivity
Measurement Results Provided:
Filament Current - To check filament health
Gird Current - To check for gird current issues
gm - True Mutual Transconductance
Hickok Model 700 Power Supply
Here we see the massive power supply with vacuum tube regulators hard at work. The regulators maintain the output voltage settings at the tube under test, so even if plate or screen current change dramatically between tubes, the test conditions don't.
This allows for precise and repeatable measurements without the need for readjusting of the applied voltages.
With the Hickok 700, we can measure datasheet parameters directly and compare them to the factory test values while the tube is biased at the datasheet defined operation conditions.
We then capture and match power tubes across the following parameters:
gm - Transconductance
Ia - Plate Current
Is - Screen Current
With power tubes matched in this manner, we find the output stages in our power amplifiers exhibit lower distortion and higher output power due to both matched static bias conditions and matched dynamic AC performance with the audio signal swing.
KT88 tested at Datasheet Conditions
Vp: 250V Vs: 250V Grid Voltage: -15.0V
Results: gm = 12.25mA/V, iP = 138mA; Is = 6.0mA
Notes on Other Testers:
Nearly every other transconductance type tester uses pulsed AC bias, rather than DC bias, set at arbitrary voltage levels which "should" provide "representative" performance results. Depending on the tester, these results may then be scaled by the tester's meters in an attempt match to the published datasheet gm values, even though the tube was not tested at the bias conditions specified by the datasheet.
Hickok actually invented (and patented) "Dynamic Mutual Conductance" testers as an inexpensive way to make commercial tube testers without the need for DC power supplies. They use the AC from the mains wall voltage with a rectifier to pulse power to the tube's plate and screen. While they do test dynamic mutual conductance (aka transconductance - gm), the operating conditions are not held at DC and somewhat random. This leads to better test conditions for some tubes and a terrible test conditions for others. Many folks outfit these testers the ammeters to measure plate current for tube matching, which again is plan wrong since this plate current is pulsed.
This is why no two dynamic mutual conductance tester models will ever give the same results, and in fact each model will have it's own lookup table for acceptance values for each tube type. This makes these testers useless since the results cannot be verified on another tester. This also leads to some nefarious practices by tube sellers.
A tester of this type can only make comparative measurements with itself, rather than absolute. Calibrations are also somewhat meaningless since the meter readout is simply adjusted to match a known good tube. With the Hickok Model 700, calibrations can be made regardless of the tube under test because the power supplies and AC grid signal itself is calibrated in absolute terms to bench top measurement equipment.
A label with the tube ID and test info is added on the box
See the Model 700 In Action