Posts Tagged ‘Tube Life’

Does Plate Dissipation Affect Valve / Tube Life In Practice ??

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

In general, the obvious connection between higher anode dissipation and shorter tube life holds good, however,  many other factors affect tube life, including accuracy of heater voltages and the efficiency of tube cooling within amplifiers.

The tube leaves the factory with a known amount of cathode coating material which is the source of all the electron emission. In use, this material is used up as it emits electrons when heated by the filament and plate current is drawn.

If plate current is drawn before the cathode is at operating temperature, the surface of the cathode can be damaged (so called ‘cathode stripping’).

This is why the Standby switch should be off when the amplifier is warming up. If, however, the tube is operated for long periods with the filament hot with little or no plate current being drawn, then an oxide-like coating can form on the cathode, effectively blocking the emission of electrons even when normal operation is required (known as ‘cathode poisoning’). TubeSync takes care of this by automatically controlling the bias at both start-up and run conditions.

vacuum tube EL34 valve

Plate dissipation is generally quoted by the manufacturer as a maximum value which, if exceeded could cause damage to the tube and should not generally be used for ‘normal’ operation. The relationship between tube life and plate dissipation follows an exponential curve. Tubes operated correctly at around 30% maximum dissipation can have lives in the region of tens of thousands of hours and can last several decades of years. This figure decreases rapidly as the dissipation increases, in some cased down to hundreds or even tens of hours as they approach or exceed their maximum plate dissipation rating.

Cooling is extremely important as running tubes very hot also increases the risk of arcing and a condition known as thermal runaway, which can instantly destroy the cathode material, making the tube useless. Conventionally biased tubes are most at risk when biased towards ‘Class-A’ operation, as they experience maximum power dissipation when no audio signal is present.

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