Buy tubes from Audio Research or not

I need to retube my amp and I'm having trouble deciding whether I should buy my tubes from Audio Research or buy them on the open market. If you have any experience with this I'd appreciate your help.
I have done it both ways..I guess I would say if you love the way it sounds now and just plan on changing to new tubes go the cheapest way out and get the same tubes..Personally I like to experiment and prefer going to a realible tube supplier and try different NOS tubes.............Either way is fine..Plenty of good realiable tube suppliers out there..
Taters...i think you end up paying 2x what you can pay from a decent tube supplier if you purchase from ARC. What amp do you need to retube?

I seem to recall that ARC had some provision in their warranty that stated that the use of non-ARC tubes may void the warranty. I recommend that you check it out before doing any tube rolling.

Good Luck!
I'm only interested in re-tubing my amp. I'm not looking at tube rolling.
Kurt/Taters...i have checked with Leonard at ARC and he said the use of tubes (non-ARC supplied) will not void the warranty (assuming that Taters unit is still under warranty) which it is probably not since the VT-100mkIII was discontinued in 2006 and typical ARC warranty is 3 yrs. But anyway, just thought I'd let you know that use of non-ARC tubes does not void their warranty.
I'm not under warranty. I just need to know if it is worth spending 300.00 more to buy the tubes from ARC. A tech I spoke to today said he will not guarantee tubes bought on the free market. He only will give a warranty on ARC installed tubes.
Fortunately Cmalak confirms that you do not have to buy directly from ARC. What I would have done if they would void your warranty is buy the tubes from a someone other than ARC, but keep the old tubes, so if you have a problem, you can return your amp with the ARC tubes. I don't think this is nearly as underhanded as the prices that these equipment makers are charging their customers.
Buy from the open market, but from reputable, well-established tube vendors. Flea-bay is a real crapshoot w at least a 50% not as advertised rate, IME.
Check out TUBEDEPOT SED SV6550C. Just order matched quads or better yet 8 matched tubes!!
it is sort of like the way my dad likes to buy cars from his local franchised car dealer. he ends up paying more, but to him it is worth the peace of mind.

with your amp-ARC uses the sames tubes available around the internet, but for the price you pay, they are hand-selected by them and fall within the parameters suited for your amp-----you may end up at the same end result with an aftermarket source, but there is always the chance you may end up with some issues.
Taters if you're worried talk to Howard at Audio Specialists in Studio City he's a great tech, repairs ARC and will know what does and doesn't causes problems.
Do more research. I could be wrong, but I remember there being problems with retubing and biasing VT-100 amps. Unfortunately, I don't remember which version of the amp. What I do remember of the discussion was that Upscale Audio would no longer sell tubes for the amp because of the problems buyers faced installing them.
Tater, with ARC I think you are pretty much going to be stuck with the brand they carry. I'm sure they choose what brands to choose on the basis of reliability
and price points. The sound quality may be good too, but what they have may not be your preference for sound quality. If you checkout the Tubedepot or The Tubestore, they have a pretty good selection as well as some sound descriptions of the tubes. I'm thinking about tube rolling my ARC REF 5 with some NOS tubes . Good luck.
I re-tubed my VT100iii w/matched winged "O"'s and 6H30's from the Tube Store and biased them myself. Leonard at ARC walked me through the process before I did it, even though I did not buy the tubes from ARC. No problems and fine results. I don't agree with Cyclonicman's suggestion to keep ARC tubes around in case of a problem, to deceive ARC. There's right and there's wrong and that aint right.
The VT-100 series was the model that Upscale Audio will not retube anymore.

Here is the thread:
Tater...if you are not familiar with tube biasing then sending it to ARC to do the retube is the easiest (but most costly) approach but you will be guaranteed a good result. Alternatively, if you can find an audio technician or a dealer with an onsite tech who is willing to do the work for a nominal fee than you can save some money. The most cost effective is to order 6550s from The Tube Store or similar outfit and do the tube replacement yourself and it seems from 77jovian's remarks, ARC will walk you through the process anyway. So I think it is a matter of what you are comfortable with and how important the cost issue is to you. Good luck and let us know how you make out.
After posting the referenced link above, I started to reread some of the responses and realized that "Tater" was the one was asked the same question a year ago...almost to the day.

So Tater, did you retube a year ago and need another retube, or did you just never do it?
Buy winged C 6550 tubes from a reliable tube dealer here on audigon or from one of the recommended sites and save 30-50%
The VT100mkI and mkII are much more tricky to retube due to the driver balancing issues. The mkIII is much easier and shouldn't be lumped in with the earlier versions.
I don't know any onsite people that can do the job. The 2 techs I talked to were both authorized ARC and they will only work with ARC tubes. I can't afford to pay 978.00 for tubes plus 150.00 labor. I'd be happy to buy the tubes and have someone put them in but I don't know anyone. If you know someone that can do it I'll be happy to pay them as long as they know what they are doing.
You really need to get to know your equipment better and learn how to do maintenance for yourself.It's very rewarding and also saves you a lot of money.Changing tubes and biasing them should not be that much of a challenge,unless your amp is some kind of weird/exotic design.I can't imagine an ARC amp fitting either one of those discriptions.Good luck.
Taters check this description with pictures!!
This is from The Tube Store SED Winged "C" Tubes page.
I own the VT100mk1 and there is NO individual bias setting on each tube, you can only ajust the whole channel at one and that is why matched tubes are very important.
My dealer said that ARC keeps a data base of each amps bias settings when it leaves the factory. When you order tubes you need to give the serial # of the amp, and they sell you tubes that are marched close to your amp and you don't really need to worry about bias settings when you put in tubes. ARC will mark each tube to tell which socket it goes in. IS THIS TRUE, CAN ANYONE THAT HAS REALLY DONE THIS VERIFY? thanks in advance.
There is a reason ARC charge as much for the tubes as they do - they measure their tubes, burn them in inhouse for 48h, measure them again - and then throw away those that up to specs. As much as 30% tubes gets rejected this way. No other independent tube supplier I'm aware of does offer this kind of service.
"There is a reason ARC charge as much for the tubes as they do - they measure their tubes, burn them in inhouse for 48h, measure them again - and then throw away those that up to specs. As much as 30% tubes gets rejected this way. No other independent tube supplier I'm aware of does offer this kind of service."

I'll be needed tubes for an ARC sp16 pre-amp at some point.

My impression is that the QC service ARC provides as described is worth a premium.

Anybody know how much of a premium to expect to pay for tubes from ARC versus other likely internet sellers?
Unless I am mistaken, Upscale Audio also burns in their output tubes. Not sure what their rejection rate is. However, they've given up on re-tubing the ARC VT-100.
Audio Research provides the most value for the money, especially since they burn. Stick with them unless you have a hi end tube tester and are prepared to return the dud's to the seller.
Elberoth2, et al- Read these procedural descriptions, and see how they compare with ARC's: ( ( Then compare the prices on a matched set of tubes. I've been buying output tubes from Kevin for 16 years(NOS and new production), and have yet to have one failure, or disappointment.
I found a tech today that can retube my unit at a cost of 650.00 which include labor. That is 400.00 less than the ARC techs. What would you do?
Depends on the tubes.
The tubes are 6550 that have been matched and run for 24 hours. ARC matches the tubes and runs then for 48 hours. My guy buys the tubes right from the importer. He doesn't go threw a middleman. My guy can also get the tubes right from ARC but I'm going to have to pay 400.00 more. He says it's not worth spending 400.00 more and that if I did the sound would be the same. It sounds like the logical thing to do is let him get the tubes and Install them and save the 400.00.
Do you see anything wrong with this scenario?
Yes! If "your guy" only buys 8 tubes how can he get two matched quads, he doesn't have a big enough inventory to choose from. Is he supplying SED Winged C 6550's ?
Taters what about the (4) 6922 input and the (4) 6922 driver tubes? Are they still good? This appears to be the more difficult area of VT 100 Mkll tube replacement.
Samhar...I believe Taters has the VT100MkIII which is easier to bias than Mk I and II (see Davemitchell's comment above).

Taters...I agree with Samhar that you should be a bit more careful that this tech guy is going to put in appropriate tubes. There is nothing wrong with getting him to do it as long as you know he is getting 2 sets of matched quads or a matched octet of 6550s. I would also agree that yo want to make sure the 6922 input/driver tubes (especially the driver tubes) are up to spec. So I would tell the Tech guy that you want to be present when he retubes your amp so you can learn how to check and maintain it going forward. And if he says ok, then you want to make sure that he tests the tubes in front of you and explains toyou that the tubes are testing well and that he then shows you how to check bias measurements and to adjust bias after retubing the unit. If he is ok with that, you then can personally verify that things are being done to spec and you are learning how to do it for yourself going forward. My 2c worth
Just a couple of comments about retubing a Mkiii. It uses 6H30 tubes not 6922's. The 6H30's don't need to be adjusted like the 6922's from the Mki and Mkii's, you only need to bias the 6550's. If you have a multimeter and the Audio Research bias tool(looks like a screwdriver with a small blade and wooden handle) its a straight forward process. Although i install my own tubes and bias my VT100 Mkiii, I still buy my tubes from ARC. They are more expensive but if a tube fails, Arc has a 90 day warranty period and would cover appropriate repairs. Its just a risk decision on how much you trust your local Tech or yourself.
Boneman thanks for the clarification Mklll.

You might ask how much to bias your tubes, two matched quads from Tube Store or Tube Depot. Tube Depot marks each tube in the quad with it's value.
He's getting the tubes from the actual Importer. They are going to match the tubes for him. Then he will install and bias them. He has retubed ARC gear in the past so I believe he knows what he is doing.
Via con Dios !
Samhar...what tube tester do you use in your set up? Are there any current suppliers of tube testing equipment or does one have to buy an old used unit?
Samhar...I just saw you are using the Hickok 539b from your System thread. Is the manual sufficient to walk through a complete newbie like myself on how to use the unit and what to look for when testing/measuring tubes? Thx
Yes I think so, I'll send an e-mail.
He's getting the tubes from the actual Importer. They are going to match the tubes for him.

This could be hit or miss.Buying from a reputable vendor that does their own matching,in my opinion,is a safer way to go.The bottom line is this...If you feel comfortable with your guy,it's your money,spend it as you see fit.I still think you should get to know your equipment and do your own maintenance.It's very rewarding and will save you a ton of money.Good luck.
I would really like to do my own maintenance but I'm afraid I'll screw something up and it will cost me more money in the long run.
My recent experience with non-ARC purchased tubes... I bought a used REF110 last summer. I then ordered a matched "octet" from Upscale Audio which I, foolishly, put aside in storage until I chose to retube in February. Well, the octet was not well matched at all, and Upscale Audio has a 7 day return policy and offered no understanding. I'm OK with that as they have their policy online and I was the one who never thought for a moment the "octet" should be verified.

I ordered more tubes from Upscale and then I really messed up. I'm pretty careful but, just as I was finishing the bias proceedure, I dropped my voltmeter probe on the circuit board and shorted a pair of resistors. I sent the amp to ARC and they fixed it for a modest sum, and they even upgraded a number of parts for free.

So, I get the amp back and ARC found one of the tubes I provided (the ones from Upscale) to be way out of spec so they sold me one to match. So I get the amp started back up and an hour later a tube blows, taking another resistor with it. So I check the box from Upscale, order another one telling them the specs they originally put on the box, and the tube they sent doesn't come close to matching. (I had the local ARC dealer perform the repair this time so I didn't have to send the amp all the way to ARC.)

So I called ARC and ordered 3 6550s to match the one they provided with the original repair. I can't say I won't consider other tube vendors in the future, but I sure won't buy from Upscale again.

The tech at ARC might have been blowing some smoke but he said careful matching (at the loads seen in the amp) is essential for the ultimate in resolution and imaging. I can't speak to this, but with all the marketing hoo-hah in the audio industry, this at least makes some sense to me.

I guess for me there is at least confidence in knowing ARC tubes are tested to their standards, not some arbitrary test point chosen by another vendor. My REF110 runs at 65mV, Upscale tests at around 53. I'm not an electronics guy, but it makes sense testing at the same loads as the tubes will be running at.
One more data point(FWIW):

I've re-tubed my VT130SE with ARC tubes and my Prima Luna 7 monos with KT88s, Kt66s, and EL34s from Upscale. Zero issues across the board. IME, both are excellent sources for re-tubing.

If you needed a catalytic converter on your 5 year old Porsche, would you get the parts from Porsche, or would you find the cheaper parts made for Porsche?
A catalytic converter is a catalytic converter. Either it works or it doesn't. However, that is for cars. For electronics, if one doesn't have the money, you do the best you can and take your chances. Just make sure the supplier has a good warranty or return policy. Audio Research supplying the tubes will warranty the tubes and if their tubes blow prematurely and damage their equipment, they will stand by their products and repair it for minimal costs or free. I purchased a set of tubes for my VTM 120 monos and my PH3 phono stage and one of the 6922s from the VTM blew and took out the fuse also. Well, I replaced the fuse and put an older 6922 in to see if the amp was okay. It was. But, I called Audio Research and told them about the failed tube and they mailed me a replacement. I don't know. dealing with companies that stand behind their products mean a lot to me and eliminates a lot of grief. But, it does depend on your price point. Audio Research supplied tubes are more expensive.

There are many tube companies out there like Newsensor. In fact that may be wear audio research is getting their tubes from. They own the Sovtek tube factory in Russia. No difference except Audio Research tests the tubes they get.
I just re-tubed my ARC D-70 Mk2 and I bought a matched quad set of winged C 6550's from Antique Electronic Supply. I also bought NOS GE 6FQ7's and JJ 6922 from them as well. I installed the tubes( probably easier to do than on a VT100mk111) and had my tech do the biasing. He discovered a bogus 6922 and so he replaced that at the time. ( I bought a couple of spare 6922's for this purpose)
I think the biggie with these amps is the biasing procedure, IMHO that is definitely NOT for the faint of heart.. ARC seems to think that the layman can do this procedure, to which I say they are NUTS!! Not only are you dealing with lethal voltages in the amp, but the various points to determine where to set the meter are not even marked, at least in my amp. ( and you need somespecial tools to do the job)
In regards to whether it is better to buy the tubes from ARC, i am of two minds on that... OTOH, I like to support ARC for their loyalty to their customers, OTOH, I think their pricing is not really reasonable and in my case
I wanted to tube roll, which they really don't do.
If you go with SED 6550's then I think that the odds are great that these tubes will work well in your amp and can be bought from any respectable supplier.
Buy "Perfect Matched" sets of Winged "C" (SED) 6550C tubes from The Tube Store (Canada).

They are just as good as ARC's EXPENSIVE sets.

I have used both in my ARC D125 power amp.