So where should the tubes be?


Source, preamp, dac, amp? Or should they be in as many components as possible? Does anyone subscribe to such a system where there are tubes everywhere?  Base answer on acceptance of tubes somewhere.
jpwarren58
They "should" be wherever you can access easily for maintenance.
Or not
I first added components designs using tubes in my Preamp and Phonostage, the CD player… then finally amp and DAC. The final switch to all tube equipment moved the system significantly to the musical end of the spectrum. Having all tubes just increased the realism and rhythm and pace so significantly… very synergistically. Highly recommended if well implemented.
Tubes should only be used where you want it to sound like music.
For me as it stands now:

Tube DAC
Tube phono stage
Tube integrated amp (had a tube preamp AND tube amp)

Don't let anyone tell you that too many tubes makes a system too "tubey" or too "warm" or "too (insert negative adjective here).

If the components are chosen wisely, tubes can be just as revealing and transparent as any SS counterpart. And you get what most SS can't give you, the emotional connection to the music.

And before you solid state guys start jumping up and down, I said "most". Some are better than others.

So tubes everywhere is a good thing.


Oz



Tubes should go where they sound good to you and work well with your other components.  It's really about your listening priorities.  I personally enjoy tubes in all my components and have speakers that respond well to tubes.  Some people really like the dynamics of SS components while others enjoy a mix.  There is no "right" answer and it's a question mainly of personal taste once you get past some general compatibility questions.  Don't let anyone tell you that only tubes sound like music - there is an entire market who only enjoy SS components and they are not "wrong". Such blather is ridiculously off-putting.
If you want to get into tubes you should start with a tube phono preamp. That’s were the rubber meets the road. I have tube phono, tube preamp and tube amp. I have owned a lot of solid state gear but there is something about tube gear that just sounds right to me!

You might find this article interesting!
https://medium.com/collectors-weekly/could-an-old-school-tube-amp-make-the-music-you-love-sound-bett...
Never talk a man out of a tube phono stage. Especially not when Decware and Bottlehead make such excellent and reasonably priced tube phono stages.  

Yogiboy is right about they just sound right. I was at a show one time, the same system was being used to demo different tables, platters, and phono stages. They all sounded different but they all sounded great until one, it had this uncomfortable edge to it. Wasn't sure at first but after a couple minutes I turned to Chris and said what is this solid state? Yeah not completely but yeah not all tube.   

So there you go. Use tubes wherever you want music.
Preamp or phono stage.
Where tubes make the biggest impact on the sound is the amplifier.  But, good tube amplifiers also represent the highest cost in making a switch (good output transformers are particularly expensive and important to the sound), so that might not be where one would start.  Also, the matching of a tube amplifier to the speaker is critically important, so you will need to either have some experience or some help in that area (e.g., a good dealer).
I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me:
in the past.
I have an all tube system now—preamplifier, phono preamp, DAC, and amp.  It sounds super. 
Only downside is diagnosing where the “bad tube” is when it happens. It’s 25 total tubes!  Better than it has been here but still lots of tubes to roll and monitor!  
I prefer them in the pre and phono stage at minimum but extend it into amps with speakers that mate.

The only thing I don't like about tubes is the generalizing characteristics the unwashed put forth as fact ...
Tubes are still a very good choice to appreciate the music end of it that most fire bottle users focus on.
I left tubes when I had a slew of little ones with curious minds and hands. When I slowly got back into tubes again I realize now I stopped the revolving door that SS brought. Just my experience, not an enditemant  on SS as both can mimic the other to some margin. For me, for whatever reason others may claim for me, I simply find the music for tone and timbre more real to my ears and how my bit of grey matter deciphered it all.
Modifying an old Conrad-Johnson slogan: "Tubes Just Sound Right."
Tube - lets you listen to music.Solids - focuses attention or the greatness or failings of the gear.
Use tubes throughout, but keep the chain as short as possible. ;
I've 21 tubes in a record player only system. Can't get enough of 'em.
@millercarbon

Tubes should only be used where you want it to sound like music.

Would you kindly elaborate?

Wouldn’t one generally want it to all sound musical (unless perhaps for pro audio mixing)? 
Tube "sound" is all about the design and engineering of the electronics.  I have heard very neutral tube equipment, not warm, lush or thick.  Don't have that "tube sound" or "solid state sound."  Just music.  

Tubes belong wherever they sound right to the owner.  
I like either an all tube front end which is at least amp and pre amp for a tube system, but it will all be up to money and maintenance cost, the more tubes in the chain , the more up keep on the entire system. The one thing i can say is that most tube phono stages and tube tuners require a lot more care to keep quiet and aligned than there solid state counterparts. A tube phono stage can also be a little noisy on high efficiency speakers, especially when run in a balanced configuration.
Wherever you want. No rules. It’s up to you. Impedance matching between components where tubes are involved is strongly advised however. If you go about it randomly it may sound ok but not best. 
I've been running tubes in my system for over 35 years now. Amp, preamp, phono stage, headphone amp and CD player. I always had tube friendly speakers and the music has been glorious- to my ears. But it's time for a change. Just this week I switched to a Luxman all in one integrated and CD player. I know it's going to take some time getting use to SS, but so far I'm impressed. Now I have a boatload of gear to unload, 2 boxes full of IC's and PC's as well as a tube collection. 
All tubes or just one tube, it's all good if matched properly. For very high power systems tubes get a bit pricey and generate a lot of heat. I use solid state for high powered systems. 
Class A ss amp. Tupe pre amp and phono amp. You could also add tube dac. That’s what works for me. 
Isolid state has evolved a lot ,fet, mosfets have several characteristics 
like tubes no more bright sounding ,thst being said a tube preamp is my favorite 
spot , too much tubes a bit too soft on leading edge . I prefer SS the dynamics control and current delivery have their advantages especially to control 
In Bass  drivers . I have used tubes for 40 years , I no longer feel tubes are necessary for detailed Rich , natural sounding music , but in the preamp section 
I feel the best position with a Solid State power amp .
my New Coda SCIB integrated with VH Audio Odam capacitors in the class A 
preamp section ,it sounds very natural sounding ,with the Bricasti dac-Streamer front end a very balanced sounding system.Everyone has their own  preferences .
Started with a Yamaha A-S501 solid state integrated amp. Good sound.
Put a Xiangsheng 728A tube preamp in front of it. It was a firm change from the good SS setup to a setup that had musicality, if that means anything.
Dropped both and went to a Quicksilver Audio Integrated tube amplifier. I cannot imagine more musical reproduction. I can imagine more of a you-are-there sound, more separation of instruments (as if I ever cared about that in a club or concert hall), but not more musicality. And then I'd need a new listening room and new speakers, too (Focal Aria 906's throughout the above).

I like tubes everywhere 19 total in my system, Dac, preamp, and amp. To me the big aha moment was my first tubed preamp so I would start there if I was dipping a toe into tubes for the very first time.
So there you go. Use tubes wherever you want music.

some of your audio idols like Fremer and Lavigne love their SS amps and believe they actually produce music.  Why so polarizing and disenfranchising of so many people at every opportunity? (rhetorical question)
Three Easy….he doesn’t know a FET is solid state
21 tubes in my reference system and 19 in the condo. i do know where all the FETs are…

to the OP phono stage or DAC would be my first pick.
21 tubes in my reference system
Snap.
Please don't look past Rogue Audio's Ares (Magnum) tube phono preamp.
My phono preamps are all tubed, I own three...tavish, ear 834, and pro-ject tube box ds2.
Also, my border patrol dac has a tube rectifier in the power supply. My opinion is solid state amp, preferably pure class A, and a tubed phono preamp if your into vinyl. Otherwise, a tubed preamp. Pair all this with something along the lines of a wharfedale, harbeth, spendor, or tannoy speaker. To me, this combo works magic.
@tomic601   

Three Easy….he doesn’t know a FET is solid state

Even his beloved Herron phono stage has a FET-based MC gain stage.  It's a great phono no doubt but probably the least tubey one I've ever heard.  Amazingly the Herron still sounds like music even when playing MC carts!
few have tuners these days, but tube tuners are wonderful if you give them a strong enough signal.

good tube equipment is noise free, many accept a bit of noise, I encourage fixing or changing to have noise free tube equipment.

tube phono eq, like tube tuners, are wonderful.

my old 2 track stereo tape player’s heads relied on tape eq in the tube preamp. typically tube receivers, thus tube eq and tube amp. same warm involving non-fatiguing sound.

Now, 4 track Tape Deck includes internal SS tape eq, sends line level to tube amp.

any other line level source, into/thru a tube preamp (any preamp), is really a line switcher, and volume pot, which is why you want a tube amp for line level sources to hear tube sound for all sources. the tone controls, filters, ’loudness’ are all tube based of course.

try and find efficient speakers you love the sound of, thus keeping power requirements lower, thus less: heat; weight; cost; and more flexibility for placement. that makes it much easier to try tubes now, someday, many more choices in moderate power levels.

buy thee a simple tube tester, gives you answers, confidence in your tubes when/if problems occur
I was on another forum and a guy that identified himself as honcho at Bob Carver company stated that the place to start with tubes is the amplifier.  This was different than the opinions of many here that the preamp is the place to start with tubes.  

I don't like fiddly or expensive, so I decided to start with pre — awaiting receipt of a Schiit Freya now.  I will keep the SS preamp for variety and when the Freya is down temporary while I await tube replacement.  
Tubes should be where you amplify an analogue signal. 
" but extend it into amps with speakers that mate."


Say what?
@pauly

"I prefer them in the pre and phono stage at minimum but extend it into amps with speakers that mate."......

I am simply saying when the choice of speakers mate with a tube amps ability to drive them I will extend tube use and introduce a tube amp into the mix.
If speakers too demanding, SS is used for the amp. Sorry, thought mating speakers and amp was pretty basic needed thinking...

@three_easy_payments well played sir!
@has2be 

I was just busting your balls as the term “mate” is often used to describe the activity that results in producing offspring. Matching is a more political correct term. 

I have  2wpc SEP and  3.5wpc SET amplifiers so speaker matching is something I am very familiar with. Many people don’t have appropriate speakers for their tube amps and then conclude tube amplifiers to be inferior.

Regards


.



@pauly 

"I was just busting your balls as the term “mate” is often used to describe the activity that results in producing offspring. Matching is a more political correct term"

Politically correct term...lmao..now thats funny to me. I however stand by my terminology...mate... 
If you do it wrong your still screwed , right?  
hopefully the OP is still around and getting value..
In the 50's and 60's were they were the best we could do.
… and in 2021, tubes are still the best we can do. 
i have tubes in my speakers... 🙊🙊🙊🙊🙊
Just lurking and learning. Why do the number of tubes in a component vary so greatly? 
#of tubes? Depends on what the amp is doing and how it’s configured. A power amp could have a single power tube (SET) or it could have 8 paralleled push-pull output tubes. A phono amp could have only 2 tubes for gain and equalization or it could have an output buffer, tube regulators and rectifiers etc. You can see the 11 tubes in my phono amp here
It depends on a lot of design considerations.  If the component has AC from the power outlet converted to DC by a tube rectifier, that is at least one tube.  Some gear also use tubes to regulate voltage.  At earlier stages of amplification, most, but not all, use tubes that are actually two tubes in one glass envelope doing two functions.  Different circuit designs will require different amounts of tubes even at early stages of amplification.

As for the output stage, both design type and amount of output power determine the number of tubes.  A single-ended amp can have as few as one output tube per channel.  Push pull amps will have at least two tubes per channel, and the specific amount of tubes will depend on the amount of power the amp is designed to supply and the amount of power delivered by the specific type of tube chosen (different tubes vary greatly on output, my push pull amp with four output tubes per channel delivers only 5 watts per channel, a different design might deliver 100 watts).  Then there are output transformer less amps that typically have many output tubes because they utilize many tubes in parallel to instead of a transformer to deliver the power in the form that can be used by the speaker.
op

Why do the number of tubes in a component vary so greatly?

function of the item and its design
More tubes = better sound for me. Components with tubes:
CD player, Preamp and its separate power supply (tube rectified), Monoblock Amps. Every component except my speakers and subwoofers.
For me it is easier to count where tubes are not.  Uhm, CD Transport, power conditioner.