Is it common for tubes to outweigh the cost of the amp or preamp?


I just got my first tube (headphone) amp and was wondering if it is common to spend more on the tubes than the actual cost of the amp. The amp was $599 with stock tubes. I just ordered NOS driver tubes that ran $640 for the pair and the power tube upgrade I'm planning will be another $300. That has the tubes sitting at 1.5 times the cost of the amp itself.

I don't find the total of $1539 for the amp and upgraded tubes unreasonable but considering the next model (amp) up is $1199, it has me wondering what would be better... a lower cost amp with superior tubes or a higher cost amp with stock tubes?
samiamnot
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I'm always chasing better sound in one component or another.

I got these 1959 NOS Siemens Halske CCa's from Tube Museum for $640 after the ones I originally purchased were not in stock. Fingers crossed.

https://www.tubemuseum.org/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=SH_CCA-1959
WOW!

Doesn't it seem too good to be true?
Just purchase a lower end tube amp, replace the tubes with expensive NOS, and it magically is transformed?

If so, proceed with power cable, headphone cable and special fuse. Now your total purchase will be $2500. 

Nevermind there are actual units that are possibly nicer sounding for $1600, right out of the box.

It's your wallet....carry on
@tablejockey I was never under the impression that I was buying magic. I'm just looking for moderate to good improvements in sound. Will I get that? I don't know.

I have gotten big improvements in sound from speaker cables, turntable cartridge, and speaker isolation. Improvements from interconnects have been negligible for me.

Headphone cables do make a difference but not enough to justify the price for me. Power cables are something I'd only upgrade if I didn't know what else to upgrade and had excess money lying around. And I don't know anything about fuses. I've seen people do crazy things like hang a string of beads from the ceiling or place a cello in a room to improve room dynamics. Keyword "Crazy". And I'm against pricey digital cables because... digital is digital. If I was going to buy all that stuff to bring the total to $2500 then maybe that attempt at an insult would have hit home. Sorry to let you down.

Of course I will be disappointed if there is no improvement in sound but that's a gamble I'm willing to take.
you can't go wrong with vintage tubes from the US or from Europe; even 80's era East European tubes are far superior to what is coming from China and Russia, which is what you find typically in even high end gear. Maybe the best way to describe vintage tubes is to look upon it like cooking; an old family recipe or institutional fare. 
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One way to save a few $$ is to buy ugly tubes and pairs and quads that were all manufactured the same but we're labeled for various companies.Sometimes a couple of new production tubes alongside of a couple of NOS sounds good too.
I don’t know about that but I did spend more on Herbies Tube Dampers than I did on tubes. 
samiamnot-

No insult intended with my post. 

The intention was to raise awareness  that perhaps one might consider  starting with a substantial "box" before additional expense-especially if it exceeds the value of the actual box.

I use tubes in my system-amp,tuner and phono. Using NOS tubes that cost more than the equipment, won't ensure anything. Since it's a headphone amp, I would be more concerned using QUIET tubes. 

If you do find it improves your experience, that's all that matters. It's all subjective, YMMV and all that.

Considering tubes that cost more than the equipment, would be a reason to reevaluate my original purchase, and perhaps upgrade to a better unit.
That doesn't sound like a good investment. 

Changing tubes can have a positive effect on the sound or it may sound worse.  Or those expensive tubes might go microphonic in a month or few. 

I personally have found tube rolling in different devices to make relatively small differences in the sound signature, much like cables.  To me, it's worth doing, but in moderation.

I would have been inclined to buy a better amp than to have spent that much on tubes for a relatively inexpensive amp.

The difference when tube rolling isn't typically revelatory, which is what I would want expect if I spent as much as you did relative to the cost of the amp. 

I don't know what headphone amp you purchased, but even if it was used and you got a great deal on it, you shouldn't expect too much for what you spent. 

I hope you have an option to return the tubes.  My guess is you're going to be disappointed.
samiamnot
Power cables are something I'd only upgrade if I didn't know what else to upgrade and had excess money lying around. 

Okay, let me get this straight. So there's no misunderstanding. You are using the cheap stock factory power cords that come with your components????????????!
I would have stepped up to next model before investing in those CCa’s. Having said that, you did buy a very rare variant of 6922 tube. Those Siemens are excellent tubes and going to last you a very long time. 

If they don’t work out with current amp, hopefully you can use them with $1199 amp 😊
Cheap ---- with nice light bulbs won’t be a diamond when dressed up, just better looking. But a quality amp and these exotic tubes you are getting raped on...no, it is not common. It’s frickin stupid! Plus what happens when you toast one? You’ll never find another pair. Then you’ll be crying the blues once again!
The Siemens gray shield CCa tubes are considered by many to be one of the best 6922/E88CC ever made. That doesn’t mean that you’ll like the sound they make in your headphone amp or that you’ll hear how good they can sound in a top tier component.

I’d say hang on to them if you plan to own a top tier component one day and experiment with good but not top tier tubes in your headphone amp. This will tell you how good your headphone amp is at conveying the sound of different tubes and how good you are at hearing the differences between tubes without spending big $. If after experimenting a while you think your headphone amp and you are up to the task of appreciating the best, roll them in and enjoy!
My amp cost around $900 all tubes included. A replacement set of the power tubes is around $360. IMHO the power tubes are insanely overpriced garbage. The preamp tubes that came with it cost about $9 each to replace with the exact same ones. I've made tremendous progress by getting cheaper power tubes and vastly more expensive pre's. If you have the money, go for it, you only live once.
I do believe that the law of diminishing returns applies in all situations, yours included. The $700 tubes are likely only marginally better than some that can be had for 1/4 the price. One example being telefunken 12ax7's for $500 each vs a similar vintage rca or mullard that can be purchased for about 10% as much. IME the differences are minor.
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samiamnot
Is it common for tubes to outweigh the cost of the amp or preamp?
Depends where you get your tubes from, have you tried here?? Even cheaper if you login.

https://www.newsensor.com/

Cheers George
Almost any (moderately priced) used Sylvania or RCA 6SN7 will outperform any Chinese or Russian 6SN7. So, give me a break.
I don't know how a tube headphone amplifier can be made for only $599.00... so with a cost that low, it stands to reason that some nice NOS tubes might well be more expensive. Normally not the case though.
As fate would have it that’s exactly how much I paid for my Woo Audio Class A all tube headphone amplifier about 5 years ago. Very classy, a sweet sounding amp and perfectly capable of driving my Sennheiser 600s. I used twin Sylvania 6SN7 Badboys and one WWII Tung Sol rectifier, total cost for tubes $300. I used two (count em!) Herbies Tube Dampers per tube, one on glass, the other on the base. Total cost for Herbies Dampers $300.
I appreciate all the feedback :)

I will chime in after work on the replies.

FYI the amp is a Woo Audio WA3. I've been using a Centrance Hifi-M8 for years with my HD800's and I've loved it. It was only recently when I picked up HD820's and plugged into my friends Bottlehead Crack that I realized I've been depriving myself. The OTL with those cans sounds so nice. Since I'm too lazy to build a kit amp I decided to go with the WA3 since it was similarly spec'd. I'm very impressed given the price.

And then... I googled "tube rolling". Whoops. So yeah, I got caught up in the hype. But if it's not hype and I do get a noticeable improvement then I'll be happy.

Thanks for the dialogue, folks!
300B tubes can often exceed the cost of the amp. 
Viva tubes

https://www.vivatubes.com/search.php?search_query=kt88&section=product

Thanks for that link.

Yes even better on some of the equivalent brand, but if your can prove your in the industry and join/login I think you'll find "some" are better from New Sensor. 

Cheers George
go with the flow man.
I always wondered if Uncle Fester on the Aadams Family could light up a tube like he could with a light bulb by putting it in his mouth. I expect he could but the visual effect would not be as apparent. sigh
Ahhh....one of the beauties of owning tube gear is upgrading or rolling in new tubes. Enjoy the adventure!!

I own a variety of tubed audio equipment: AI Modulus 2B, Modulus 3A and Modulus 3B, BAT VK50, Juicy Music BlackBerry Extreme, Hurricane amps, a Response Audio-modded Ming Da preamp and personally hand-rebuilt Dyna
ST-70’s and Dyna MkIII mono’s. All have suffered the tube rolling endeavor. Lol
After some listening I am very happy with the purchase. From minute one, before any warming up or burning in, I noticed a significant improvement.

The new tubes have added so much detail to the highs and tightened up the low end which is resulting in a much bigger soundstage. They've given my HD820's a soundstage more comparable to how my HD800's were sounding with the stock tubes while still retaining the more full sound of the 820's. I'm also not experiencing the listening fatigue with my 820's like how I was with the stock tubes. I can listen to them for hours without a break now like I could before with my 800's.

Were they worth $640? For me, yes, and here's why. They are rated to last up to 15k hours so that comes to $0.04 per hour of listening. My turntable cartridge cost me $600 and is rated to last up to 2k hours which comes to $0.30 per hour of listening. So even if the tubes died after 2133 hours, that'd come to the same $0.30 per hour cost as my turntable cartridge. It was totally worth it for the improvement in sound I got when upgrading my cartridge. The improvement in sound from the upgraded tubes is just as significant and much cheaper when it comes to dollar per hour value. 

I look at tubes in the same light as my turntable cartridge. Better cartridges/tubes equate to better sound, and both wear out and need replacing so you're essentially paying by the hour with stuff like that. Considering it comes out to pennies on the dollar, I'd rather have a superior listening experience than pinch pennies and get subpar sound.
I would NEVER spend more on tubes than the amp cost. There are plenty of modern tubes that sound perfectly fine. The real issue is with driver and preamp/phono amp tubes and that is noise. RAM Labs has super low noise versions of many of these. I have his super low noise 6922s in my Audio Research PH 3 SE and boy are they super low noise.
Very impressive. He goes through 100s of tubes and hand selects the ones with the lowest noise. His tubes have easily half the noise that my NOS Telefunkens did which I have already sold so don't get horny.
@samiamnot- KUDOS, on your experimentation and learning experience. Now- simply enjoy the fruit of those (listening pleasure) and ignore the noise of the naysayers/cheapskates.
@mijostyn Thanks. I'll look into those tubes. I'll be moving the NOS Siemens & Halske' to the WA2 next year when I do that upgrade which will leave two empty sockets in the WA3. Might give the RAM Labs a test and shelf them for when I upgrade. It'd be awesome if they sounded almost as good or even better at 1/3 the cost.
@rodman99999  Thanks. I think I'll have saved in the end by going for the gusto from the start and nixing the upgrade bug. The worst is doing a moderate upgrade and feeling like you've sidestepped more than stepped up and just kind of wasted your money.

If it's within a comfortable budget and I know I'll most likely end up there anyway, might as well go big vs stepping up the tube upgrade ladder and spending money on tubes that'll be shelved long before their life is up. Like if I have superior tubes, I can't see myself being like "hey let's swap in those old tubes that don't sound as good for nostalgia sake."

I feel like I can consider my new tubes a good "reference" pair. They exceeded my expectations. Now I can get a cheaper pair and REALLY see/hear if they are just as good. I'm not sure that everybody who says the "holy grail" tubes are a waste of money have actually heard them because I am blown away. It curbed my craving to do a quick upgrade of the power tube right away at least.

@jtcf 
One way to save a few $$ is to buy ugly tubes and pairs and quads that were all manufactured the same but we're labeled for various companies
I was originally going to pick up 3-4 pairs of those to experiment with because they were so cheap. They were called "Butt Ugly Tubes!" on the site I was looking at. Unfortunately they were all out of stock.
@testpilot 

300B tubes can often exceed the cost of the amp.  
WOW! You aren't kidding. The manufacturer of my amp has a pair for $2k, FOR THE PAIR! Insanity. I'm feeling like I got off easy now.
Good to hear that you are enjoying your purchase.  At the end of the day, that's all that matters.
Thoroughly enjoyed. But now wondering what these tubes will cost in 2050. I've got another 40 years of listening left in me. Longer if I download my brain into a robot.
When I bought my grey shield/plate, early Sixties, Siemens, they were just over $250 a pair(average). My CDP takes six, in it’s analog section. The player’s original cost was just under $5000, so I wasn’t upside down. The diff was remarkable, so- I bought six more, for spares. After about ten years, I thought I might compare the spares to the used. No apparent/appreciable difference (boy, was I glad!). I’m hoping the CDP will outlive me. You apparently enjoy the clean, wide open, extended sound of the CCa’s. If you’re ever in the market for 6SN7 types, the bottom gettered, 1940’s era, Sylvanias and Ken-Rads, offer the same presentation and are very close to the performance of such as the Tung-Sol round plate, or Sylvania 6SN7W(tall bottle/metal base). Much less expensive than them, too. 
Just for anyone who is interested, there is a difference between shields and plates. All Siemens 6922/E88CC have gray plates. They made a chrome plate 12AU7 and you can’t mistake these, but as far as I know they never made chrome plate 6922s.

What the gray shields are are two vertical strips located beneath the getter supports where the supports attach to the top mica. The gray shields look just like the gray plates.

Siemens 6922/E88CC made after 1964 or 65 or so have silver shields and gray plates. A silver shield can be seen on the tube on the left in the picture in this ad from ebay. The M in Siemens is printed right over the top of the silver shield.

https://www.ebay.com/itm/E88CC-CCa-6922-6DJ8-Siemens-Matched-PAIR-NEW-NOS-SILVER-SHIELD-Strong-/182403712807

Why care? Back when I was buying tubes it was said that the gray shields were a far superior tube to the silver shields. The silver shields were described as being bright and sounded terrible compared to the gray shields. Even CCas come with either gray or silver shields.

Opinions change as stocks of the most desirable tubes disappear, though. Silver shields may be considered good quality tubes now. I don’t know. Anyway, if you’re buying Siemens 6922s you should know that there’s a difference between gray and silver shields.
@samiamnot I'm glad you're happy with your new tubes!Check back from time to time on the ugly tubes if you're curious to try something different sometime without investing $$$.Enjoy!
@tomcy6 - Also of note- The silver shields all had an internal, stamped date code. All the early, grey shields, had screened, external date codes. I can attest to the(slight) brightness of the silver shielded Siemens. They’re not bad, just not CCa’s. I’m certain; they would sound beautiful, in a lot of systems. Still have a great pair of middle Sixties E188CC’s(silver), just in case.
@rodman99999 Are date codes kind of like serial numbers for tubes?

My new tubes are date codes 262990 and 262928. I don't know the significance of the codes but I assume it's good that they're close in number.

They're also rated:
16.8mA/15.8mA & 15.8mA/15.8mA

I don't know what those milliamp ratings actually refer too. I'm a total newb her. Still learning.
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@samiamnot- Not exactly, "serial numbers"(though some use the term), as that would be specific to just one tube. Typically, date codes indicate a week, month, year and sometimes a location/plant, for every tube in that time frame’s run. Your seller can probably provide more data, for your specific tubes. https://www.tubemuseum.org/SearchResults.asp?Cat=24 6922s are dual triode(two separate circuit/channel) tubes, like most other, commonly used for audio, miniatures & octals. Basically, two tubes in one. The closer the measurements(hence, "gain"), between two separate, paired tubes, the closer your channel balance will be, when listening. Regarding tubes in a push/pull circuit; one wants the individual triodes balanced, to achieve the most accurate(least distorted) sine wave(signal) reproduction.
20 years ago I could buy NOS (real new old stock) Siemens & Halske Cca 6922's grey plates  for $40 each.  Bought a dozen for back stock and wound up selling 4 of them for $800 a year later and then 2 more for $500.  Now, any of them that moves the needle close to the good indicator is sold for NOS at $400 and more, much more some times, each. Real NOS is unobtainium.