I have been itchin’ to try a different quad of power tubes in my Jolida 502 integrated amp. Currently, I use Electro Harmonix KT88’s. The EH’s are highly regarded as an overall great performer. The major criticism is that they sound like solid state. After doing some Internet research for several months, I decided to try a set of inexpensive Chinese tubes – the Shuguang KT88’s. [NOTE: Shuguang makes re-branded tubes for Groove Tube, Ruby and Valve Art, to name a few.] According to what I’ve read, they are preferred by many Jolida owners and are supposed to sound very “tube-like.” This comes primarily from informal feedback of Jolida owners as reported by the folks at Response Audio who modify Jolida amps.
My Shuguang KT-88's arrived last week. Since the EH KT88's are the only power tubes I've used thus far in the Jolida, I don't have any other basis for comparison. The first thing I noticed is that they have better bass than the EH KT88's. Otherwise, they sounded equally as good as the EH's right out of the box. That was a good sign. After a while I noticed that they are not quite as analytical as the EH's. On some music the head bobbing and toe-tapping increased. I should mention that, with the exception of the bass, the other differential characteristics I am describing are very slight.
The level of detail is about the same, but the vocals are more forward and natural sounding on some recordings with the Shuguangs. Eventually I realized the Shuguangs have a slightly larger soundstage and, in general, are a bit more musical. However, the build quality and aesthetics are not as good as the EH's. The EH’s are also a bit more refined and produce more a tad more clarity with instruments such as piano and cymbals. Nevertheless, I prefer the Shuguangs over the EH KT88’s, primarily because of the better bass and overall musicality. I can’t fully describe it, but the Shuguangs simply have a different presentation than the EH’s that I find more pleasing.
It took me two years to finally try a different set of power tubes and I’m glad I did.