A sad tale of tube problems...

Before I tried tubes, I was warned that they are a pain, can be expensive, can fail, will develop hum issues, etc. Well, I had no idea how bad it was going to be. I have tried repeatedly over the past couple of years to get some tubes into my system, and everything has failed. If only they didn't sound so good I would just commit to solid state. Here's my tale of woe...

1. As my welcome back to the audiophile world, I bought a hybrid integrated - got a terrible buzz through the right channel. When I turned the balance to the left, the buzz through the right channel got louder. Never got it solved and went to a SS integrated.

2. Got into vinyl and thought a tubed phono amp would be great. The first one lasted 5 minutes and the right channel dropped out completely. Replaced the tubes, still no luck. They sent me a new one, but I was getting significant distortion. Turns out even the lowest gain setting was too high for my integrated amp. Went to a SS phono amp.

3. Tried a single ended tube integrated. Had a hum problem that was audible from 30+ feet away. Shipped it back for repairs. Came back to me and broke down within the week. They sent me a new one - hum was still there although not quite as bad as the first unit. Went back to my SS integrated.

4. Tried another hybrid integrated. Lasted a week before a loud pop caused horrible distortion. Had to send it in for service. Went back to my SS integrated.

5. Bought a SS power amp (worked great) and used my integrated's preout. Then decided to try a tube preamp. Got significant bleed through on one channel, and when the volume was off I was still getting sound through the left channel. Went back to using my integrated as a preamp.

6. Gave one more shot at a tubed preamp. There was some tube rush through the right channel, so I bought upgraded tubes. Put them in and got a terrible hum through the other channel that I couldn't get rid of.

Counting the replacement components, that's 8 tubed products - and not one has worked. I guess I'm doomed to solid state...:(

Just had to vent...

p.s. I have tried with and without power conditioners and an Emotiva power strip to stop DC on the line. Didn't make a difference.

You don't say what the brand or model integrated and preamps you have had problems with. I am curious. I have noticed that some people do seem to have endless problems with tubes while others seem to have very few. I am not sure why that is.

I have had tube equipment for decades without much trouble. Ever since I heard my first tube amp. I have no hum or tube noise even with my phono preamp. I do use balanced cables which great cuts down on any possible hum. And I buy high quality tubes from a very reputable tube seller. He screens tubes for noise and microphonics. This is very important especially with phono preamps. I also stay away from inexpensive tube gear that uses cheap transformers.
Bummer, Smrex. I've used a push-pull integrated for six years without one single hiccup. I Replace the power tubes every two years or so ($80) but expect the small ones to go a decade.
Your story is unfortunate, but not at all surprising. There's a big difference between buying tubes, for the sake of buying tubes, and buying the right component for your system.

"Counting the replacement components, that's 8 tubed products - and not one has worked."

That's probably not true. Some of it looks like poor matching.

"They sent me a new one, but I was getting significant distortion. Turns out even the lowest gain setting was too high for my integrated amp. Went to a SS phono amp."

Tubes had nothing to do with that problem, or your integrated amp. It was a mismatch between your phono preamp and your cartridge. Blame that one on your dealer, and find a new one. A mistake that simple is inexcusable.

" Tried a single ended tube integrated. Had a hum problem that was audible from 30+ feet away. Shipped it back for repairs. Came back to me and broke down within the week. They sent me a new one - hum was still there although not quite as bad as the first unit. Went back to my SS integrated."

Probably nothing wrong with it. An SET shouldn't have been your first tube amp. You need to match your source and speakers very carefully. If not, its easy to get a hum.

As for the rest of it, there's no way to tell what happened without more info. Most likely the products were either low quality or mismatched.
I have used tubes in my systems for about 28 years. At one point, I had 64 tubes in my system. Very few if any issues. Had to try solid state to be sure, and had multiple issues with Rowland, and issues with Levinson.

I wonder which brands of tube gear you are using. I believe well designed tube gear, using good parts, is no different than anything else.
I have been using tubes for 55 years. Had one problem with one product which had a bad reputation for reliability. Like someone else said you don't tell us what products you used. Many inexpensive Chinese tube amps are prone to failure. I have many friends who have tube systems who have no problems.
Well I understand the poster and know first hand that tubes are indeed MORE of a hassle than SS. We seasoned Aphiles know this. Yes, they do tend to have more hum, buzz, noise, ground issues etc... They just do. Yes, tubes age and the sound changes with time. Yes, tubes themselves can fail and make noise.

No, you can't leave them on 24/7. Yes, because of this one has to wait an hour or so for warm up and the best sound, Yes, tubes can be expensive and great sounding ones are becoming more and more expensive.

Sorry you had all those issues. Some are component matching issues as mentioned and some not. Tubes are not for everyone to be sure. They do require more attention and what is one person's hassle is another's joy. You just need to decide which person you are.

I tend to look for gear that has that tube magic without the tubes. I also look for tube gear with less tubes. I like SS rectification over tube rectification so that removes one tube from the equation. I like SET amps and they have fewer power tubes. I also like hybrid tube amps that only use two signal path tubes that can run trouble free for decades sometimes.

Fair enough - I realize that not all of the problems were caused by tubes. And some of it was just bad luck with a defective product. And some of it was probably caused by living in an apartment where the power can be dirty. And some of it was poor system matching. For the most part the components were very well respected brands - some new, some used. In any event, I just needed to vent a bit. To me, tubes sound so much better than SS that I will keep chasing the dream :)

Tubes are trickier but that number of issues is surprising. Gotta ask what gear Specifically? There are good products and bad of any ilk. Same goes for tubes themselves.
I know what you mean. A few years back, I went through a bad batch of EL34s and low-voltage tubes that kept humming, arching, dying, and imploding like the fourth of July (yes, every one of those issues), and after $1500 down the drain said to hell with it and went back to a SS amp...been happy every since.
how about finding a dealer who carries, and has lots of experience with, tube equipment, then taking components home for try-outs before buying? a good dealer will do this, and it would've saved you all the above problems.
I've personally used tubes for 20+ years (dynaco, audible illusions, CAT, Cary) with almost no problems. in fact, in some ways, tubes make problem-solving easy, since most issues are just a bad tube, easily diagnosed by switching out tubes. sorry to hear your tale of misery though!
"For the most part the components were very well respected brands - some new, some used. In any event, I just needed to vent a bit. To me, tubes sound so much better than SS that I will keep chasing the dream :)"

There's no reason why you can't have your dream, instead of chasing it. You just need to alter your approach. If you choose to share some more detailed info, I'm sure we can you make better choices.
Now I know why I have had such good luck with tubes...You've been getting all the faulty tube gear.
(Just joking, that's a lot of problems)
As some joker recently said, what attracts us to the hobby is the expense and inconvenience. Feel free to depart.
Hi Scott,
I'm sorry that you've had such failure and frustration with tube components. It's as if my experiences with tube electronics has been the polar opposite of yours (for whatever reason). A former push pull amplifier would occasionally blow a resistor due to a bad output tube (6550/KT88). Another PP amplifier (el34) is still performing flawlessly in a secondary system in my out of town apartment, this amp I've owned for 20 years.

My main amplifier is a 300b SET and is unquestionably the best sounding I've ever owned (tube or transistor). This SET has a very simple circuit with a low parts count. It is utterly reliable and has required hardly any maintenance at all. I agree with you in that I do find tube amplifiers better sounding if they're well implemented/designed. Scott you situation is an unusual string of bad luck it seems.
Scott, I'm curious, which of the issues you mentioned did you have with the Audion pre?
There is no reason to feel pressure to continue to use tubes in order to attain premium sound. It is fallacy to think that one needs tubes for the best sound.

Remember: The quality of the system is not determined merely by the presence or absence of tubes. I have on numerous occasions replaced a review piece of gear implementing tubes with one completely SS, and the SS unit sounded more liquid, rich, etc. than the tubed component. I have on numerous occasions built systems with all SS gear that were, again, more liquid, rich, more "tube-like" if you will, than ones with tubes.

FORGET the supposed need to have tubes in order to attain SOTA sound! :)
If you like the look of the glowing orbs, then fine. But, it will likely continue to cost you in terms of maintenance and potential problems.

Having said all this, I am not anti-tube in my selection of gear, but merely dispelling the persistent misnomer about tube sound.
I have had some expensive tube equipment and similarly priced SS gear. I have been a hobbyist for over 40 years and tube gear sounded better for the first 25 years or so. The last 10 to 15 years have seen SS equipment getting dramatically better to the point where the best SS equipment actually seems to better the tube gear in performance across the entire frequency range.

I suppose there will always be a 'perception' of esoteric superiority with tubes for some folks. For them I say go for it, but please NO WHINING about the cost and problems that comes with the territory.
It doesn't seem to me that Scott is operating under any misnomer regarding tube products. He expressed an opinion based on his own listening preferences which have led him to conclude that he prefers the sound of tube components. This is no different than if someone expressed a preference for solid-state components, it's all subjective and individual choice. If some people have found solid-state to be as good sounding or even better sounding than tube components I say more power to you. Thus far this has not been the case for me and apparently some others. By the way I am not anti-solid-state by any means, i'm just reflecting on past listening experience over many years.
I agree with Douglas_schroeder, Brauser and Charles1dad.

Some audiophiles are not “meant” for vacuum tube amplification gear. Just as many people are not meant for owning and caring for house plants or pets. Vacuum tubes are finicky and temperamental.

However, Scott, that absolutely does not mean you should be sad or ashamed that you must now settle for solid state. In this regard, I agree with Brauser.

Moreover, as Brauser has said, “No whining.” When I started out, I had no one to help me with vacuum tubes. I relied instead on audio magazines, articles and books. Today, you have the Internet and access to thousands of posts and forums, as well as the locations of nearby tube-centric audiophiles, something I never had. Go out and ask for help from a tube guy or gal to choose and install a tube component for you.
FWIW, you have to be very careful of the vendor if you are buying NOS tubes. If you don't have access to a tube tester, you are quite likely to get hosed unless you deal with the usual audiophile approved suspects, like Jim McShane or Andy @Vintage Tubes Services of Brent Jesse or Kevin Deal.
OP here. Thanks for all the responses. A couple of quick answers to question posed:

1. The closest dealer is about 5 hours away, so taking products home for the weekend isn't a possibility.

2. Actually, the Audion worked pretty well - no major problems.

3. I'll start a new thread on this forum to seek some advice.

Thanks, everyone,
Guess what? Real sound uses no tubes or transistors. Go figure. It also sometimes impresses and sometimes disappoints.

I guess my point is that tube or SS alone means little. There are many factors that go into good sound reproduction. Even more go in to do it reliably day in and day out over the long haul.

Tubes are glass half full or empty for me. Tubes will tend to not last as long as most other parts, but are easily replaceable when they do. Might cost a small fortune to do so though nowadays in that quality tubes are in demand and in relatively short supply compared to years past. That's the part that keeps me away for the most part in that I like a lot of tube gear but do not find them a critical part of my overall listening enjoyment.
Compared to the inflation in the price of gear, it seems to me that high-quality tubes from vendors such as Gold Lion and Tung-Sol are fairly priced, and total maintenance cost seems reasonable if you do not exceed four output tubes.

But if re-tubing went over $1000, I'd find a transistor to love.
Just to update my journey. Bought a lightly used Modwright LS100. Hooked it up and got a lot tube rush out of the left channel. Turned the volume up, and the woofer moved in and out violently. Switched tubes right to left and got a very loud hiss out of the left channel (but not the woofer issue). Tried to power it down, and when I hit the power button the balance control came on. Couldn't shut it down without unplugging it.

I'm finished with tubes. I'm cursed :(
Scott you seem genuinely sincere but for the life of me, other than some obvious mismatching, I am mystified at all the hiccups you've had concerning tube gear. I DO agree that some SS gear can be quite satisfying and the gap between the best of both technologies is negligible if even notable in a great set-up BUT you note tube gear to be more preferable to you as it still is for some of us.

Your last example with the Modwright is simply hard to believe, I would give Dan Wright a call, I'm sure he could help you identify the problem. I doubt highly it was caused solely by his preamp, THAT is a nice piece and all his products are highly dependable. You just need to get more educated it seems to me. There is simply no unknown reason for anyone to have such a continuation of problems using well designed tube gear, there just isn't, unless there really is a tube gremlin god that frowns on some. I for one am a non-believer.
Yeah, it's really quite funny to me at this point. Some of the issues were obviously just due to my own mistakes on mismatched gear, but the Modwright seemed possessed. Underwood HiFi and Modwright handled it very professionally and refunded my money no questions asked. No harm done. I'm going to use my SS integrated for a little while while I have my McCormack amp upgraded and tuned up. Then, I'll seek everyone's advice on a preamp from there.

Thanks, Scott
Best of luck, Scott :-)
Should I see your thread soliciting tube recommendations,
I would have two for you.

Scott, it would be interesting to hear what Underwood HiFi finds wrong with the pre-amp when they get it back and check it out.
Scott, I recommend you take up golf instead. Just don't hit any squirrels ;)
Ernie - you just have to finish off the squirrel with the first shot. I'm pretty sure Scott was over par on dispatching the squirrel :)
Well, at least I can now say that SS lets me down, too, LOL. My McCormack DNA-125 dropped the right channel a few days ago. Can't figure out what's wrong. Back to my little integrated. For my purposes I think an integrated is probably the most efficient and cost effective way to go. Every since I've switched to Harbeth speakers I have been quite satisfied with most amplification.

Back to the music...
There has GOT to be something wrong with your AC, or you have gremlins, or your house is haunted, or...

I'm trying to think of all the failures I have had over the past 20 years:
A new CD player that had the transport replaced under warranty
An old (15 year old) CD player that stopped reading discs
A TT I broke the wire on
...That's about it

There must be more to your story
Well, I think it's a combination of some iffy used equipment purchases, a couple of truly defective new purchases, a mismatch or two between amp and pre. I really would like to find a higher powered tube amp for my Harbeths, but they are probably better off being driven by a SS amp. So far, I haven't had any reliability issues with any of the SS integrated amps that I've auditioned.


Yes no tube problems for me! I've had four Conrad Johnson Preamps in the last 10 years, a pair of CJ lp140's a CJ Premier 140' a pair of Manley Neo Classic 250's and lastly A Manley Steelhead and have had zero issues. I would highly recommend any of the gear listed above or Audio Research as well thank you.
In order to make tubes work, one must make sacrifices to the tube gods. Much like the Aztecs sacrificed virgins in order to get rain, we tube lovers must also sacrifice by choking down two martinis in the evening instead of one. It seems to mellow out the tube gods and eliminate all of those quirks. Just be sure to use a high quality vodka and two olives.
That's the problem - I'm a gin guy. :)