primer on buying vintage tubes?

Dear all-

I recently started to tiptoe into tube rolling--replacing the 6922 stock tubes in my headphone amp etc.

I am curious as to why vintage tubes are often preferred to the new ones? Why would older tubes sound better?

And even more pressing, I'm curious about best practices for buying vintage tubes. I recently came across a pair on ebay that were not labeled NOS but the seller did say the had been measured on a tube tester and had 100% emission. If this a safe bet? Is it better to buy NOS? Is it better yet to deal with a vendor like Upscale Audio?

Thanks for any insights! Margot
In the days before solid state, electronics devices needed tubes to perform their various functions. There were many factories around the world manufacturing tubes, the quality was high, and the sonic signature of each brand was different. Germany, Holland, England, USA were very high quality tubes due to the fact that the military was a main purchaser for their electronics.

Now to modern times, there are very few manufacturers of tubes left, mostly Russia and former Soviet bloc countries (who have always made tubes for their military), and the newcomer for worldwide distribution; China.

That is why audiophiles in general prefer NOS for certain applications. NOS = New Old Stock, but don't start thinking these are brand spanking new tubes sitting on a shelf since 1940 or 50. It just means they had minimal use and were put back in the box for resale. You should only buy from reputable venders, and that usually comes from "word of mouth," who measure the specs of each tube in their inventory. These tubes usually have high quality readings and a trusted vender will have a warranty (usually 30 days to try the tube).
I talked with Kevin Deal of Upscale Audio at the recent T.H.E. Show in Irvine CA, and found him to be VERY knowledgeable on the subject of tubes. He has an enormous inventory of them, so I would definitely give him a call.
Welcome to the dark side. Choose wisely. ;~)

There are some excellent new production tubes,
particularly power tubes like Gold Lion and Valve Art.
For smaller tubes like 6922 and all of the 12A*7
varieties, most people prefer older production.

The upside of dealing with someone like Brent Jessee or
Upscale or Jim Cross is that you will probably never get
a BAD tube. The down side is that you will pay top
dollar for every tube. There are plenty of reputable
individuals selling tubes here and even on eBay.

Use the same guidelines that you would if you were buying
a piece of hardware, check feedback and explore multiple
options. Google is your friend. Do searches on whatever
tube you are looking at.

Joe's Tube Lore on is dated, but has good
information on the types of tubes that it covers.

If you can, make friends with somebody with more
experience. That's how I got in so deep.

You can contact me if you think I can help. The main
thing to remember is ENJOY THE MUSIC.
Ebay sells garbage Vintage Tube Services sells the best and Andy is very honest.
The good thing about 6922's is that they have really long lives in the scheme of things. Usually 5000 to 10,000 hours. We all have our preferences but most prefer NOS. I agree with the comments about ebay.
Buying from here or audiogon is usually safe. Other good dealer such as upscale are and Sometimes echohifi has good buys. Some sites are fun to peruse but are way too pricey such as
Thanks, guys! And how do you know if you got a bad tube? Is it obvious?

Cheers, Margot
Another excellent source of tubes, both vintage and new production, and great advice about any of them, is
JIm McShane.
All his tubes are thoroughly tested and he stands behind them.
Margot, the most common way a tube goes bad is to die a natural death. It happens over time, and you'll notice that the highs in your system aren't as bright or the music isn't as dynamic as it used to be.
Very often, the tell-tale signs of a tube gone bad are; the channel is dead or the sound is cutting in and out. All of a sudden there might be hissing or crackling coming thru one of the channels.

If a tube has become microphonic, it means the tube is unstable and vibrating; you may hear unusual overtones in the music.
Thanks Lowrider and everyone. This is all extremely helpful! I am excited to get started.... Cheers, Margot
I've dealt with Kevin and Andy. Both are knowledgable and sell good products.
The difference, IMO, is Andy talks to you and Kevin talks down to you.
Get tubes on ebay if you like buying crap try Andy at Vintage Tube Services if you want wonderful tubes.
Jim McShane, Brent Jesse, Andy Bowman, Brendan Biever and Doug's Tubes are all great tube vendors. I've also had good luck with larger vendors like Tube Depot. I would never recommend Upscale Audio. My experience with them has been terrible. Others have had problems with Upscale as well.

Not only will you get bad tubes from Upscale but it's likely the service will be even worse. With all the good tube vendors mentioned above, there is no reason to consider Upscale.

I like Brent Jesse. Mullards last a long time, my 6922's are good after many years, and the good thing about NOS tubes is they don't sag, meaning lose their sparkle, while current production tubes lose their sparkle in a hurry.

There's no doubt about it, after taking longevity, plus high performance into account NOS tubes are economical; it's just that high up front cost that's a nail bighter, but after enjoying them for a few years without loss of performance, you'll know you did the right thing.

My advice is never buy a bargain NOS tube from Ebay, stick with the "Tube mongers".
Thanks, guys. I had a very good transaction with Brent Jesse, and also a nice exchange with Jim McShane. I did reach out to Upscale Audio (twice) and never heard back.

What about the Tube Museum? Any experience with them, positive or negative?

Thanks! Margot
Also if I am buying from some place like tube depot, which of the options do I want to check (and pay a few bucks more for):

balanced triodes, high gain, low noise, matching.

Well, I know I probably wanted matching and low noise. But the other two?

This is for my Schiit Lyr 2 headphone amp. Thanks!