5881 Vs 6L6: Which One is the Better Power Tube?

You’re using guitar amplifiers for a while. Now, you’re considering making a tube change in your amp.

You find two good options, 5811 and 6L6. However, you’re confused between the two.

So, which one to go for: 5881 vs 6L6? 

The 5881 comes with an output power of 23 Watt while 6L6 has an output power of 30 Watt. This enables 6L6 to handle more voltage and gain. The 6L6 has a thicker plate than the 5881 and has more headroom. It’s also more rugged and durable than the 5881 in terms durability.

That’s the summary of what’s next to come. Spare us a few minutes and we’ll go through every difference in detail.

Let’s start-

5881 vs 6L6: Quick Comparison 

Before we jump into the head-to-head comparison, let’s have a look at this table-.

Output Power 23 Watt 30 Watt 
Plate Voltage 400 Vdc450 Vdc
Durability Risks of breakage More durable and rugged
HeadroomEarly BreakageMore clean headroom 
Price $60-120 per pair$50-150 per pair

Now let’s head to the main discussion.

5881 vs 6L6: Detailed Comparison 

Differentiating between the two can be confusing. You’ll see many places where people will say 5881 and 6L6 are equivalent, Just like the 12ax7 and 12ax7a. It may almost seem like comparing 6l6 with EL34 or the 6L6 with 6V6.

You might be thinking, are these two tubes actually interchangeable? 

No, they are not the same. There are some key differences between the two. Don’t think straight away that you can replace one with the other one.

5881 and 6L6
Source: ultimate-guitar.com

Hence, we’ve gathered all the necessary information to make a detailed comparison. That’s how you’ll not mix up between the two and choose the one that fits you.

Output Power: 

The main difference between the two tubes is the output power. More output power means louder sound. Less output power means less sound.

The 5811 valve has a power rating of 23W. On the other hand, the 6L6 has a power rating of 30W.

This makes the 6L6 more powerful than the 5811. The manufacturers used thicker plates, thicker grid wires, grid cooling fins, and special ultra-black plate coatings. 

Thus the 6L6 can control higher voltage than 5811 tubes. However, not all guitar players recommend going with 6L6 just because of the power output.

You can choose 6L6 if you want higher voltage support. However, don’t put 5811s where 6L6 was used. The valve might break down early due to high voltage.

Winner: The higher voltage tolerance makes the 6L6 clear winner.

Plate Voltage: 

Another key difference is the plate voltage. It means the potential difference between plate and cathode. It is directly related to sound quality.

Plate Voltage
Source: diyaudioprojects.com

Higher plate voltage results in clear crisp sound. Lowering the plate voltage will distort the sound and make it noisy.

So, what’s the difference between 5881 and 6l6 in plate voltage?

The 6L6GC tube is a 30W-rated valve. The 5881 valve is a 23W-rated valve. So that’s a big difference in terms of power.

The 5881’s less plate voltage makes it prone to breakdowns. Although, the 5881 should be okay with 6L6 plate voltages. 

But there’s no guarantee that the 5881 will blow up due to voltage problems.

Winner: Again, 6L6 tubes are better suited for longer usage due to its plate voltage conundrum.


Perhaps, this is the most important thing to consider. You’ll want a durable and reliable valve for your operation. 

Nobody wants a broken valve in their crucial time. 

The 6L6 comes with thicker plates and grid wires than the 5811. It also has grid cooling fans and ultra black plate coating.

6L6 tubes are better
Source: sweetwater.com

Even some versions of the 6L6 are built for military-grade operation. 

However, the 5881 has less durability due to its thinner plates and grid wires. It can blow up on high voltages and is prone to breakdowns.

Winner: The 6L6 clearly wins the battle of durability.


Headroom is another important aspect of a valve. The 30W power rating gives it more headroom. It’s less prone to breakdown. The plates are also more durable.

On the other hand, the 23W power rating of the 5881 gives it a bit less headroom. It can also break down if used the wrong way. You should be careful when setting it up.

Be careful putting 5881 in an amp designed for 6L6GC as you’re downgrading the valve.

Mind that you are risking the tubes in some cases. This happens if you use the lower-rated tubes in a higher-rated amplifier. You need to understand the specifications of power output first before doing any changes.

Winner: 6L6 tubes provide better headroom and sound signature compared to 5881 power tubes.


And, finally, the price comparison comes. The tubes are placed in a similar price range. 

The 5881’s price varies from $60 to $120 per pair. A good pair of 5881 will cost you around $90 to $110. Psvane HiFi Series 5881 Vacuum Tube is a good one if you want bang for the bucks.

There are many manufacturers manufacturing the 5881. So, you’ll have many options to consider.

On the other hand, the 6L6 is priced between $50 and $150 a pair. Products like JJ Electronics Amplifier Tube or Tung-Sol 6L6 “STR” Power Vacuum Tube are very well-made.

Winner: There’s no clear winner in the price battle. Both are closely priced making it a draw.

5881 Vs 6L6: What We Think?

You’ll be good at swapping out 5881s and replacing them with 6L6GCs. That’ll be an upgrade in valve power rating and plate voltage.

However, you should be careful putting in 5881 in an amp designed for 6L6s. There’s a chance of burnout in that case. Thus, matching the correct power tube is important.

You should always bias your amplifier whenever you change the valves as recommended by the manufacturer. This is so you don’t damage your transformer or burn out your valves.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What Tubes Can Replace 6l6?

The KT66 tube can be used instead of a 6L6 tube. Even though this is okay in some situations, it’s not a direct replacement. The heater filament in a 6L6 tube type uses about 0.9A of electricity. The KT66 uses 1.3A, which is about 50% more than the KT66.

Can I Replace 6l6 With 5881? 

No, you can’t. In many cases, 6L6s can be safely substituted for 5881s, but not vice versa. However, if you’re using a 5881 with good voltage tolerance, it can be used. Although it’s not recommended.

Which Amplifiers Use the 6l6 Tubes?

The 6L6 is mostly used in high-power amplifiers. It has a support of 30W power which enables the tube to handle higher powers. Fender Twin Reverb and Fender Dual Showman are examples of such amplifiers. The tube delivers a loud, glassy clean tone.


That’ll be all from our side regarding 5881 vs 6L6 tube valves. Although they are almost the same in configuration, there are factors that set them apart.

The overall winner will be the 6L6 valve for its superior power, voltage, and sound quality. 

Have a great day, see you soon.

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