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    Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister 36 - still worth?

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    Ogrus

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    Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister 36 - still worth?

    Post by Ogrus on Wed Jul 13, 2016 1:39 pm

    Hey mates, good afternoon!

    First thread/post here!

    Just to clarify, I've already read a lot of threads about this subject... however, I'd like a "more actual" point of view about it, as this amplifiers are already being rocking for a while!

    In the next November, I'll be going to Germany on vacation... I'm looking for a small package, portable and moderately low power head (~30W), to accompany my Laney TI-15 and open up more possibilities of tonality and recording! My limit is about €750,00, and I'm really thinking about an European amplifier (cause it'll probably be cheaper than an amplifier "made in US" being sold in the EU)... my main idea 'til now is get a Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister 36... I know what to expect about its sound, but what are the opinions of the users of these amplifiers, especially in which concerns its reliability?

    I'm asking it cause, let's be real: not everyone who buys a piece of gear and becomes satisfied with it makes a postage/review praising it, but a lot of people who takes a glitched gear usually create threads in foruns, which means that eventually our searches end having a response that may not be the true of the whole set...

    Thanks in advance!

    Cheers
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    bordonbert

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    Re: Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister 36 - still worth?

    Post by bordonbert on Fri Jul 15, 2016 7:55 am

    I have a TM36 I bought secondhand around 2 years ago.  While I moved up and use a GM36 for my main amp now I have had no prolems with the TM36 of any sort.  It's a very usable and versatile amp when partnered with the right speakers and the usual setup issues are dealt with.

    As an engineer who has done that job for many years, I can confirm it's a very well designed and built unit.  The "issues" you will read about on the internet are either industry myths and not worth considering in the light of proper engineering knowledge, or they are overblown.  As just one example, "they are packed in and overheating must be a problem because valves are hot and they have a power soak".  Bollocks!  We have people who have done quite extensive experiments here on that issue and proven it is in fact a non-issue.

    As to reliability, there is not a single piece of electronic equipment made in the world which does not have faulty units come off the line.  It is the proportion of these and the response when you get one that may be a problem.  The H&K gear is all well made and fault levels are very low.  When they do occur we have always found here that H&K are very helpful in dealing with them if you are sensible in the way you deal with them.

    Try one out and if you get on with the sound you couldn't buy a better amp.  One thing, make sure to get the version which is relevant to the country you are going to use it in.  I believe that is a point in the H&K guarantee.
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    Ogrus

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    Re: Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister 36 - still worth?

    Post by Ogrus on Fri Jul 15, 2016 4:21 pm

    Awesome! Your post was very helpful!

    At the same time that I didn't see any of them opened in real, not even a hi-res photo of its circuit, I'm an engineer with some background in tube circuits too, and the lo-res photos that I saw of its little brother (TM18) seems to be a bit above average... even because, nowadays, is pretty normal to see some tube amps that are being made in China (but not only there) using SMDs... my TI15 is made in this "fancy" way! Not against, I just don't like SMDs, specially if it requires some service!

    Yes! Electronic circuits could be tricky, and every component can shows to be a failure point! We need to live with that... however, I was a bit skeptical about them, as I saw a lot of negative posts about... but, as I said, not everyone happy with something begins to write about this something, but the ones who bought something which presents some failure, as soon as possible starts to write about it, and not only the best of the words!

    And, just to clarify, which kind of amplifiers with accepts better? A mixed pair, a more focused pair, a mora scooped pair? I'm stepping in the dark here, excepts when remember all the the written and recorded reviews!

    static

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    Re: Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister 36 - still worth?

    Post by static on Wed Aug 03, 2016 8:45 am

    I bought a new TM 36 Combo last year for about $1000. I really like this amp. The versatility is fabulous, I make extensive use of all three channels and the power soak. It is extremely loud, just amazing for so small a package. I use it at 5watts when rehearsing with the band.

    No regrets going with the H&K over a Peavy, Blackstar, Orange or EVH.

    I will advise immediately replacing the Chinese tubes with a JJ retube kit - which has been the only negative so far.
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    Ogrus

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    Re: Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister 36 - still worth?

    Post by Ogrus on Wed Aug 03, 2016 10:39 am

    static wrote:I bought a new TM 36 Combo last year for about $1000. I really like this amp. The versatility is fabulous, I make extensive use of all three channels and the power soak. It is extremely loud, just amazing for so small a package. I use it at 5watts when rehearsing with the band.

    No regrets going with the H&K over a Peavy, Blackstar, Orange or EVH.

    I will advise immediately replacing the Chinese tubes with a JJ retube kit - which has been the only negative so far.
    It's really awesome to read something like this!

    At this point, I'm very inclined to choose one within a "top 3" that seems to be the best choices so far:
    - TubeMeister 36: good output, good amount of features, reverb (digital)
    - TubeMeister Deluxe 40: slightly higher output, good amount of features, lacks the reverb but has a better RedBox, seems to has most refined channels, probably improved built quality (if they heard the buyers about the "flaws" in the earlier generation), the most expensive
    - ENGL Ironball 20: less output, less features (only two channels, with unique set of EQ), probably not so incrusted of SMDs (more easy to do some service inside), most expensive than the TM36
    Neutral
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    bordonbert

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    Re: Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister 36 - still worth?

    Post by bordonbert on Mon Aug 08, 2016 12:10 pm

    Interesting comments guys.

    Re the cheap valves.  H&K do say they ship them with a generic but reasonable set in there knowing that this is very much a personal choice and the buyer will probably swap them out within a short time.  Why put in an expensive set putting up the sale price when the chances are that these would be thrown away for some other favourite make?  They can shave a little off the price doing things this way and, given the amp is not cheap, you still get a heck of a lot of amp and features for your money.

    Also re SMD devices.  This is now modern best practice and you should get used to it and have faith in it!  I have worked in this field all my life until recent retirement, through all phases of electronic design and production, and I can say I am always amazed at the s**t that is talked nowadays about this aspect of things when it comes to guitars and their amps.  Modern PCB builds are far superior to hand wired in terms of reliability and there is absolutely no downside in terms of sound quality.  Why do all of the top quality hifi manufacturers go down this route if it compromises sound quality?  And as to reliability of PCBs and SMDs, if I had a penny for every time I have laughed out loud at people posting their success at reflowing every joint on a board as they strive to find that "dry joint" I'd be a rich man.

    The dry joint is nowhere near as common as everyone NOT in the industry believes.  It takes a lot of force to damage soldered joints on a board, far more than is ever prevalent in a reasonably treated audio amp even around loud speakers, and the modern oven or bath soldering processes produce far more reliable joints than a techy type with an iron.  Think of how many pieces of electronic equipment produced by these methods are working all day and every day for years in the most hostile of environments with never a complaint.  That's TVs, radios, washing machines, car electronics, communications equipment, aeronautical equipment, military equipment, and of course my own final field, seismic exploration equipment which was yanked along in the water with massive explosions going on nearby every 10 or 20 seconds for 72hrs at a stretch.  Every one of those is based on SMD builds and only lets us down in the most rare of circumstances.

    Your average "techy" type knows his amps and where the common weaknesses in different models occur, but they understand very little in depth of the design and processes which go into making them.  What generally happens with the "dry joint fix" is that, in messing about with the board resoldering every joint, they disturb other things which corrects the fault, often only temporarily.  One simple common example is simply to move and remake a bad contact in a wiring connector.  But of course it was the board joints which were the problem!  I know because I resoldered them and it worked!  Well the truth is that this just plain is a very rare issue.  Damage to soldered joints is usually due to unreasonably heavy abuse such as dropping onto the controls or sockets and damaging that type of through hole component joint, or just plain hamfistedness while working inside.

    And there is no servicing required for soldered parts on a PCB.  The associated myth that you are maybe thinking of is that electrolytic capacitors need changing out every year or two.  That's also bunk!  They don't "dry out" unless they are physically damaged and leak, which of course means a fault which would require a change.  The reality is that they eventually use up their electrolyte through rebuilding themselves internally if they suffer damage from being overworked too close to their limits.   They last for 10s of years when selected correctly and treated reasonably well.  You replace them if and when they fail with maybe a couple of other highly stressed ones at the same time.  To change them all in a blanket exercise is rank amateur and frankly stupid.  (But it makes some people a lot of money from the "willing to believe" set. Look at the emperor, isn't his new suit remarkable? Razz ) Over many years I've designed and built many amps from many fields and levels of stress and I've never yet had to swap out a faulty capacitor.  Yes, it does happen very occasionally of course, faulty components do slip through, but it isn't necessary to use that sledgehammer to crack the walnut.

    Don't sweat it, trust the modern approach, the old fashioned alternative is rubbish in comparison!  Fault statistics and blind listening tests prove it.
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    Ogrus

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    Re: Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister 36 - still worth?

    Post by Ogrus on Fri Sep 02, 2016 4:35 pm

    Damn man! I read, and completely forgot to answer!
    =/

    CHEAP VALVES: I just don't know if this "economy" is really that interesting. The "reasonable set" seems to not being so good, as almost everyone says that the first thing to do to make it better is a tube swap. I don't know if upgrading it with a JJ set (or another brand) from factory would do a great difference in the final value. Don't know, maybe am just thinking a bit higher here!

    SMD DEVICES: OK! I agreed with everything you posted in the first paragraph! You almost can't go wrong with a good layout, a good PCB design, good components... MY point, when I talk about SMDs, is the not-so-easy on-the-fly maintenance. I have some background in electronics (Electrical Engineering degree), can work inside a tube amp (at least, know how to do it safely), however, I never done that before, and I don't think I have the knowledge, neither the tools for that! I would need to specialize in this "new approach" to feel comfortable working with it!

    Just to make it clear, I'm struggling with a faulty Laney TI-15, that insists in vary the output, sometimes cutting the audio almost completely, for a while (however, if I put the volume knob near the end of its rotation, the holy grail 10, normally the sound comes... and, of course, extremely high... and gradually returns in the "normal volume operation")... and, guess what... the PCB is fully populated with SMDs, which drive me nuts! I really want to get rid of this problem, as the amp, per si, has a good vintage feel and growls superbly (without counting that this is my main - and unique - gig amplifier)!!

    "Don't sweat it, trust the modern approach, the old fashioned alternative is rubbish in comparison! Fault statistics and blind listening tests prove it." Good advice! I'm really thinking about the H&Ks TubeMeisters! However, I cannot let the difficulties aside, as to find a tube tech here in Brazil is not so easy, specially in my place... imagine finding one that could works with the "tiny ones" SMDs... this is what worries me more! And this is why I definitely am thinking now in "re-learn" electronics (soldering, specifically saying)... if I can just resolve the fault in my Laney would be great, and an amazing step!

    Cheers mate!
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    bordonbert

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    Re: Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister 36 - still worth?

    Post by bordonbert on Fri Sep 02, 2016 7:15 pm

    Firstly, the valves.  You got it right when you said:
    Ogrus wrote:...as almost everyone says that the first thing to do to make it better is a tube swap.
    Yes, they do.  These are the same people whose first response is to instantly say:
    You've got some sort of a problem and I don't know what could be causing it.  It's a dry or cold solder joint!  Reflow everything until you get it.
    Just because it's what everyone says doesn't make it right.

    With your Electronics Degree you must be aware of how myths and legends are started by people who don't really know much about it and are hailed as gurus by people who know even less about it.  Magic diodes, mythical tone capacitors, everything electronic was better in the 60s, it's all Billy Bullshine.  The first thing to do is not to make a tube swap as the benefits of that are subtle, if there at all.  The changes you get from a speaker change are much more obvious, but the problem with that is that you have to try a lot of speakers to get the one you really like.  With cheap existing valves any change is an improvement.  Beware "common knowledge", it's just as likely to have come about by "common ignorance" as by genuine experience and good engineering analysis.  All information (including mine) should be questioned until any truth behind it is made plain, or its ridiculousness becomes obvious.

    And as someone who has worked SMD devices by hand for many years I can tell you that it isn't the ultra difficult field you may think it is if you have experience of general pcb work.  It's only ultra difficult to those who don't really have any standard soldering experience yet.  There are simple techniques to successfully soldering SMDs which you just get used to very quickly.  They are scary to start with as they are always fiddly but if you have solder wick or a sucker and use it every time, a magnifier and tweezers so you can place them accurately then pin them down while you tack solder one end to fix them, then you solder the other end fully and then the tacked end fully, you won't have too much trouble.  The difficulty usually is in diagnosing the problems on a SMD board where components may be packed together and the PCB may be more difficult to trace.  (No, it isn't always a cold joint or even a fractured one through using lead free solder Very Happy).

    Now one last thing about the H&K gear.  They are clever guys.  They have done a logical thing in their design.  There are digital boards in there which are SMD and these will not be user servicable or repairable.  They have to be nowadays, you can't produce those sorts of chip infested boards with through hole and you have to accept that.  A digital control board pops and you replace it.  You couldn't diagnose the issue on it anyway.  However, the boards associated with the actual amplification, which is the bit you would most likely associate with in use damage, are made from good old through hole.  Here is a thread where you can see pictures of the bottom of the TM18 with the main amp board on show.  The other models in the TM/GM ranges all have the same build approach as far as I know.  TM18 Guts  Not a SMD is sight.  It maybe isn't as bad as you would think.

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