First, you need to know that there are two completly different worlds in the tube universe. Single ended and Push pull. They are so different that you would never believe it unless you heard it for yourself! I do not want to give my strong oppinion about the differences here but before you buy anything please listen to both. Your oppinion is all that matters. For a great site to read up on this topic look at the triode guild site- just do a search under triode guild.
Although not an expert, let me attempt to summarize my perception of consensus view mixed with my own experiences...
Push-Pull is far more common, easier to implement than single-ended(aka S.E.T.), because you don't need super-efficient speakers.
Many folks go "toe in the water" by using a solid state power amp with a tube preamp. This makes sense for many because the smaller tubes in preamps are cheaper, last long, don't need to be biased, and often commonly found. For example 6922 & 6DJ8 are differnet names for compatible tubes that are common in preamps.
Power amps aren't difficult to bias, but it needs to be done. Some amps like BAT do it automatically. Most require the turn of a screw while a wire or clip is connected to a jack or slot or some type on the amp. You get a common meter from a Radio Shack type store, and turn the set screw while watching the needle on the meter. When in the proper range, you're done. With many amps, once a year or so it all you need(total 15 minutes). Others need monthly adjustment.
Tubes wear out slowly, not suddenly. They usually don't stop one day. It's like dust on your computer monitor...at some point you realize it's time to clean it.
All in all, it's worth it, unless you tend to go for low sensitivity speakers. Those requiring very high power & current will need big tube monoblocks that will cost quite a bit.
I've sold Spectral amps to go back to tubes, they just sound more like music to me. If you can live with 50-60 watt amp, there a plenty of fine choices. If you want SET, someone else is going to have to guide you, as I haven't lived through that one yet...Cheers, Spencer
Buying tube gear instead of transistor gear is like buying a horse instead of a car. The horse may be a more interesting means of travel, but it isn't as practical, and will take a great deal of care and patience on your part.
When I got into "HI-FI" everything was tubes, and you grumbled if a power amp cost more than a dollar a watt. Tube equipment needed continious tweeking...hum, microphonics, distortion...and the list goes on. If your hobby is fiddling with electronics, rather than listening to music, you will love tubes. Nothing wrong with that..I went through that phase myself. The "gassy" output tubes of one amp that I had began to glow, pulsating with the music with (strangely) little audible effect. It was so beautiful that I didn't replace the tubes for a long while!
Eventually I was happy to give up tubes, and be rid of all their difficulties. Solid state may not be perfect, but on balance I think its pros outweigh the cons.
If you do get tubes: (1) Yes tube technology is more appropriate for a preamp. (2) Get an old Dynaco power amp to play with. Don't jump into a multi Kilobuck (Kilopound)
power amp that you are afraid to tweek. You will learn more from the Dynaco.
Did anyone read this post? The gentleman is asking about a preamp and CD player to use with a SS amp and the answers concern PP vs. single ended. This is misinformation at its worst. Line level devices, as opposed to power amps, operate tubes in single ended configuration, only valve power amps, which the gentleman has said that he is not considering, operate either as single ended or push pull, so the issue is moot. To answer the questions, the tubes that these components use are very inexpensive, on the order of $20.00 each. They are in current production in a number of countries in the Eastern Block and Asia. Finer new versions of these same tubes made in domestic and European factories decades ago are also plentiful, but for a bit more cash. Generally, preamps do not need any maintenance or biasing. It is very easy to change tubes as they are designed to be changed. No capacitors need be changed when the tubes are changed although valve preamps operate at higher rail votages than SS and may have more problems long term. Unlike SS where failures are often catastrophic, problems in tube gear can generally be remedied rather easily. The Sonic Frontiers gear may pose a problem in that the company was sold to Paradigm which ceased production of the high end tube units. The SF gear is generally more complex in it's power supplies than comparable products. Tube life varies, always have a spare set around. Hissing or popping noises usually signal that it's time to change tubes. You should get a couple of years use easy. Some tubes can last a decade or more. I say go for it.
Complete tube is the best resolution rather than going half tube and half SS. Sonic Frontiers is more close to solidstate feel. So I bet you prefer to have good dynamic movement in music, and also fast bass response.
My suggestion is to have SFCD1 (about US$1000 to US$1500), depends on condition. Then go for a solidstate pre power combo.
If you made the will to go for full tube gears, considering your high efficient French speaker (96db), why not go for a 300B tube integrated amp like Consonance Reference 5.0?
"I'm seriously thinking of getting into tubes" "I'd appreciate ANY advise on what I'm letting myself in for" Sounds like a general question on tubes to me?? Mabe my response should be go ahead and buy this stuff- you might like it, you might not but thats ok, it's your money not mine. I say go for it! Ya right. uhg
Sincere thanks to each who's posted a response (5 at the time of writing).
There must be many who've benefitted from these answers (I previously hadn't found all these answers on these forums - simple though they may be, but VERY informative to a novice).
Each suggestion/information has genuinly been helpful to me ... 300B's, Eldartford's experience, Sbanks explanation of the tubes and biassing, the TriodeGuild site, and Viridian's excellent to the point explanation of my particular situation.
I feel that I may be able to tackle the tube buying/replacing fear, and cope with the biassing (not so confident). I'm hoping I may be able to get away with doing minimal maintenance with the tubed pre & CD, and may even look into SF's own power amps (SF80..?).
Meanwhile I'm going for the SF tubed pre & CD (They look so good together I can't separate!).
Many many thanks!!!
Mahandave, maybe it was a general question on tubes. Issues on changing/buying tubes + biassing were answered, as well as other suggestions. I didn't find those specific comments/explanations elsewhere. Opinions were welcomed - sarcasm was not.
Viridian has it right, and the SF components are well-regarded, so I think your decision to go for it will prove fruitful. If your previous SS digital source and preamp were on a par with the $700 SS amp you propose to buy, than I suspect that the SF gear will be much superior. If the pair was retubed only 18 months ago, you won't have to worry about new tubes for at least that long again (barring a faulty or damaged tube). Enjoy your new gear!
Your choice of a preamp is fine - very high quality stuff and should last a long time if its in good shape. You mentioned the SF 80 tube amp. I have had one in a second system for the last 8 years - this is an excellent choice for the prices i see them going for on the internet. The choice of small tubes and power tubes available will allow you to dial in the kind of sound you want from detailed to warm. Its an absolute snap to bias new tubes and is good for a beginner to expirement with. Good bass - lots of power. Sounds more typical of older tube amps than the later models. However, be sure that you have a good local repair facility - if you need service you don't want to have to ship this to canada. Enjoy...