‘Blog’ Category

Limitations of cheap DPM’s and DMM’s

©2011, Bob Putnak.  This post examines the performance (directly related to the input impedance) of low-cost meters; specifically, I explore a common multipurpose Colluck PM-128E DPM (digital panel meter) and a bargain-priced Cen-Tech #98025 multimeter.

Limitations in the design of these low-cost meters can severely affect measurement accuracy.  First of all, I prove that the input impedance of the PM-128E is 1-megohm, not the 100-megohms or 10-megohms that is specified by the manufacturer and most vendors that sell this DPM.  Second, I demonstrate that the input impedance of the Cen-Tech #98025 multimeter is also 1-megohm.  The conclusion is that either meter will not accurately measure high-impedance circuits, and both perform poorly at measuring low AC voltages.  They can be suitable for other types of measurements, though.

Explanation from a very old Supreme radio course

First a little background –“Input Impedance” as it pertains to a meter — is the load that the meter places upon the circuit being measured.  Ideally, a perfect meter would have no loading effect, but all meters have some loading effect on the circuit they are measuring.  For example, early analog VOM’s had an input impedance of 1000 ohms per volt, which meant that when the meter was set on the 500v range, the input impedance was 500k ohms.  This input impedance (sometimes called ‘meter sensitivity’) is the exact same as placing a 500k resistor across the circuit. Newer analog VOM’s had an input impedance of 20,000 ohms per volt; therefore using our 500v range as the example, the 20,000 ohms/v meter would only load the circuit at 10-megohms.  VTVM’s (vacuum-tube voltmeters) and TVM’s (transistorized voltmeters) commonly had a fixed loading effect of 11-megohms or 22-megohms, regardless of measurement range.  Most quality modern DMM (digital multimeters) have a fixed input impedance between 10-megohms to 11-megohm.  The higher the input impedance resistance, the more accurate the measurement.  Input impedance is a serious issue when measuring high impedance circuits.

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TubeSound TTM-1 Tube Tester & Matcher

Meet the TubeSound TTM-1:

  • Testing of almost all amplifying tubes (triode, tetrode, pentode, beam power) from antique 4-pin (such as a #10, #45, or #50) through 9-pin novar (such as a 7868).   Socket configuration — 4-pin, 5-pin, 6-pin, 7-pin medium (aka 1625), 7-pin miniature, octal, loctal, 9-pin-miniature, and 9-pin novar.
  • All tests use exact tube operating parameters found in any “Receiving Tube Manual”
  • 5 digital meters (each better than 1% accuracy, as verified with two Fluke DMM’s) continuously monitor the tube operating parameters.  1 meter for each plate voltage, screen voltage, grid voltage.  1 meter for plate current, 1 meter for heater voltage.
  • VR (voltage regulator) tube testing throughout its entire operating range.  VR tube voltage drop continuously monitored, and starting voltage is easily observed
  • Mutual Conductance testing via grid-shift method
  • testing of tube Amplification Factor
  • Plate current matching at any single operating point, or you could plot a set of curves.

Design specifications:

  • regulated plate voltage, variable 0 to 500 VDC (0 to 410 continuous)
  • regulated screen voltage, variable 0 to 500 VDC (0 to 410 continuous)
  • regulated grid/bias voltage, variable 0 to -100 VDC
  • plate current up to 200 ma
  • heater voltage accurate within 0.1v.

My intention was not to replace any vintage tube tester, but instead, to supplement functionality that does not exist in traditional tube testers.  For example, transconductance testing is certainly much easier using the dynamic test of a B&K or Hickok.  Likewise, grid leakage sensitivity is best tested in a Mighty Mite or similar machine.  But none of those machines recreate the static operating parameters that a tube will see in an amplifier, therefore they do not meet the needs of some tube buyers who want their output tubes matched for idle plate current at the operating parameters of a real amp.  Moreover, no standard tube tester will properly test a VR tube and allow you to monitor its performance over its entire operating range.

Photos below show testing of a new Sovtek 5881/6L6WGC using two different receiving tube manual examples from 6L6GC “Typical Operating Conditions, Class A1 Amplifier – Pentode”.  The third photo demonstrates testing a new 0A2 regulator tube.




I have a few cosmetic issues to finish, but otherwise the first model is complete (for now). I have ideas for other features that I may add in the future. The TubeSound TTM-1, in combination with our classic tube testers, covers a wide range of tube analysis that will meet the needs of sophisticated customers.

PR: new hiring of Chief Technical Consultant

April 1, 2011.  TubeSound, a worldwide vendor of audiophile tubes & test equipment and service center, is pleased to announce the appointment of Snickers T. Dogg to the position of Chief Technical Consultant.

“Snickers will be a valuable addition to our team by growing our service center in a valued-added result-driven manner.  He is a strong strategic fit with our core competencies.”

Snickers brings a goal-oriented approach to servicing.  “The endgame is simple — get it done.”  As pioneer of the Spray-and-Pray service technique, he has been proactive in driving down the cost of repairs.  “I once stepped on a can of WD-40, and the rest was history.”  This user-friendly servicing technique has empowered millions of technicians worldwide.

Never satisfied with the status quo, Snickers has leveraged the synergies of spray & service to expand the effectiveness of his Spray-and-Pray methodology.  “If the spray don’t work, you can whack it with the can.”  His outside-of-the-can thinking will allow unparalleled speed-to-repair.  This is a win-win scenario.

“The one thing that impressed us the most was Snicker’s 24/7 customer-service mindset.  His proactive networking creates a strong foundation of trust.”

Snickers also brings to the table a rare ability to find bad transformers without need for any test equipment or powering-on the equipment.  “I must have a nose for it” quips Snickers.

Competition to land Snickers was fierce.  In turning down a position as a jukebox technical consultant with a Pittsburgh-based music distributing company, Snickers explained “I can’t be associated with nothin’ lame.”

Snickers also plays a mean game of “Bullshit Bingo” and feels that he will have many opportunities to play here at TubeSound.  In fact, he is barking “Bingo” right now.

Tube Matching with a Tube Tester

Copyrighted by Bob Putnak, all rights reserved.

“Sometimes output tubes must be selected which will provide a satisfactory balance adjustment.  A tube tester usually will indicate whether a pair of tubes have reasonably similar characteristics.” – Robert Middleton, 101 Ways to Use Your Audio Test Equipment, Howard Sams Inc.[1]

“Tube matching” is a controversial and complex topic, and there is no consensus regarding “what is best.”  In fact, some people even feel the whole topic is a waste of time, arguing that matched tubes “kill the mojo” of what makes a tube amp sound special.

People ask me about tube matching using a tube tester.  In most cases, they just want to do a reasonable job at matching tubes for themselves, and they have reasonable expectations.  Others are not satisfied unless some guru tells them they need to spend big bucks buying “matching” gizmos that will magically take care of it.

I will try to provide an simple overview of the tube matching topic vis-a-vis a tube tester.  Since the topic has no absolute answer, no conclusion can be offered…only opinions.  It is important to remember that this discussion has nothing to do with the importance of a tube tester as a diagnostic tool.  As a diagnostic tool, tube testers excel.  The question is whether they also do a good job at tube matching.

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when E283CC tubes are actually a 12AX7

This is one of many examples where tube testing requires experience to properly evaluate any tube.  In this situation, using a tube tester would yield a completely wrong answer.

12AX7A tubes - incorrectly factory marked as E283CC

12AX7A tubes - incorrectly factory marked as E283CC

These tubes were factory marked as E283CC, but are actually 12AX7A tubes.  Hence, if you tested them in your tube tester using E283CC settings, you would have concluded that the tubes were shorted and defective, and you would have discarded valuable NOS 12AX7A audio tubes.

The fact that these were not E283CC was readily apparent to anyone with experience.  E283CC is a “special quality version 12AX7 for audiophile” with three distinguishing characteristics: (1) different pinout than 12AX7, (2) only a 6.3v heater, (3) a shield between triode sections that terminates at pin 7.

A shield between triode sections would be easily visible, and these tubes do not have a shield.  Hence, they are not E283CC.

Since E283CC is a “special quality version of 12AX7”, that was a logical place to start.  Experience shows that they look like Amperex 12AX7A tubes, and testing them as 12AX7A verified that premise.  In fact, each tube is well balanced between its triode sections, and they are quality audiophile 12AX7A examples.  (Tube #1: Triode #1 = 36, Triode #2 = 36.   Tube #2: Triode #1 = 31, Triode #2 = 30.  Test scores from my professionally calibrated B&K 707 mutual conductance tube tester, and also without shorts or leakage.  For 12AX7, scores of 22+ good, with scores in 33 range considered typical new).

Lessons: (1) experience matters, (2) tube tester results MUST be interpreted based upon experience, and not blindly accepted as gospel, (3) you should have the experience to recognize when a tube does not look correct as marked, because blindly inserting a wrong tube into your equipment may cause serious damage and/or fireworks.


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