To tube or not to tube...

I'm interested in upgrading my preamp and have been considering going to a tubed preamp coupled with SS power amp. I hesitate because of the reliability factor. You see, I grew up in the era of tube television sets, so it was a periodic chore to unplug all the tubes from the TV and haul 'em down to the local drugstore's tube tester. We'd wind up replacing a handful of tubes, and then be amazed at how much better the picture and sound was. A year later the drill would repeat. What's the situation with tubed preamps? I see a lot of discussion about trying this brand of tube or the other... I'm wondering how much of that "improvement" is due simply to replacement of weak tubes with fresh ones. What kind of life can one expect from the tubes in a tubed preamp? How much does the sound deteriorate over time as the tubes wear out? Are tubed preamps intended only for those who want and like to fiddle with the innards of their equipment?
Tube equipments are the only way to produce music-like music. Tube equipments are like a high performance sport cars. It needs pamper and a lot of attention. But its pay big time when you treated it right!!! If I were you, I will use a tube power amp. too. It might change your audio life! By all mean go for the tube preamp. It is a good start.
In term of reliability, I'm using a tube power amp. which is from the year 1957!!! Finally, I would like to change the title of this thread to "To tube and not to ss..."
As a newcomer to tube world, I can only offer a limited perspective on your query. FWIW, to answer to your last question first, I suspect many of us attracted to tubes do enjoy being involved with the innards of our equipment. Tubes offer you the chance to "tune" the sound more to your liking. There are indeed sonic differences between tubes that are attributable to things other than the performance decline aging brings about. Comparing the brand new RAM labs tubes in my preamp with NOS Amperex does reveal diferences. The differences, to my ears, are not of the magnitude some listeners claim to experience. While the NOS sounds better, the RAM labs tested Sovteks sound pretty good. Life expectancy of tubes varies from design to design. Many Audible Illusions Modulus owners say they retube every 6-9 months, as this design drives tubes hard. Others may only require retubing every few years. Listen to some equipment and then decide.
Hi 1439; tube pre-amps are definitely worth it, and except for tube replacement they are just as reliable as solid state. I use a Sonic Frontiers Line 2 pre-amp (six tubes), listen 3-5 hours a day, and have the pre-amp in standby the rest of the time. I've found that I need to re-tube about once a year. As the tubes age, eg near the end of life expectancy, the music quality gradually becomes "harder/brighter and more fatiguing". I experienced that after between 16 and 18 months of use, I then decided to re-tube every 12 months. BTW, I preferred the stock Sovtek 6922s (about $15. each) over an exotic NOS set, but preferences vary. I use this pre-amp with a McCormack DNA-2DX solid state amp and think the combination is great. Good Luck. Craig.
I purchased a Herron audio Phono Pre, and it is not tweaky. People tell me the tubes should last for years. Keith Herron is very specific about not playing with the tubes he choses. I am very happy with the sound of this unit. It does not sound "tubey", and it is detailed. On the other hand it can bring something avilable in solid state only in very expensive equipment.

I agree the tube changing in some gear can bring different and sometimes better sound. For most pre amps tube life is longer than for amplifiers.

For tube equipment that sounds almost, but not quite, like solid state try BAT.

Let your ears be your guide. Try before you buy
TO tube it is the right choice,even with solid state amps tube preamps sweeten the sound.tubes last qiute some time over a year and in some cases longer.I use a tube pre and tube amp on top with solid state on the bottom.Best of both worlds.Sweet highs delicate mids and slamming bass.Cheers.
Concur with the previous posts. Tubes are not as big a deal in terms of involvement, maintenance or cost -- as some ss yo-yo's would have you believe.

With regards to the AI being hard on tubes -- pure nonsense. Even with the Sovteks, absolutely no need to re-tube in a few months. Even less of an issue with good NOS tubes (microphonics may be an issue with some tubes, though). I've had NOS Siemens 6DJ8's in for two years now. The select Sovteks were in for three years and are still good -- I just decided to upgrade.

I especially agree with going for the whole enchilada. Tube power amp, too. A tube pre and ss power amp will only get you so far. But some tubes -- even little ones -- are better than none. Reliability of tube gear is strictly a non-issue -- don't waste your time or energy on this. Good luck.

I tried a tubed preamp for about 2 years, with McCormack SS amps. IT was nice. I highly recommend it. I've recently gone ALL-TUBE, and can say that the differences in a good ss amp (McCormack DNA .5 and DNA .5 Rev A) and a good tube amp (old Audioprism Debut) are many. There is a realism that tubes allow that is unbelievable. Start with the preamp. I guarantee that the occasional barely audible tube noises will not be enough to make you want to go back to SS.
Good Luck.
I have tried tube preamps with solid state amps - tube preamps with tube amps and solid state preamps with tube amps. Tube differences definitely exists and tubes and the equipment can be fickle. I prefer the solid state preamp with the tube amp setup. I have an EAR 834 amp and it is very versatile and does not require bias adjustments. When I put the Mallards (tubes) in place of the Sovteks it really put a great touch on the sound to my taste. These tubes were not easy to find. Happy listening.
Well designed tube equipment should not sound substantially different that well designed solid state equipment. That is assuming the designer is trying to produce a neutral sounding product. I have had a number of different pieces of tube equipment (Sonic Frontiers, Audio Research, Counterpoint, Moscode and Quicksilver) and some are low maintenance and some definitely not. My advice is not to buy a preamp because it has tubes, but to buy a great sounding preamp regardless of whether it glows in the dark. Once you have narrowed down your choices, do another post asking for reliability feedback for that specific product.
Hi 1439bhr: Don't be afraid to take the plunge into tube gear. In particular the tube preamps of today are highly reliable. The tubes will last anywhere from 2-5 years depending on use. In additon, Preamp tubes are relativly inexpensive ( about 20.00 ea). Most linestage preamps only take 2 tubes. Most phono's about 6 in total. Sonicly in my opinion the are far superior to S.S. About three years ago I replaced my S.S. ARC LS3 with a C.J. PV-8. The C.J. absolutely blew away the class"a" rated ARC in every way. Since then I've replaced the C.J with a Joule Electra LA-200 (awsome). I was so impressed with the tube preamp sound I decided to replace my Threshold T-200 with a C.J. Premier 11A. Again realizing what I would describe as a huge sonic improvement. No reliability problems to date. I don't think I could ever revert back to S.S. after now being spoiled by the wonderful sound of tubes.
I switched to tubed preamps about 10 years agon and then all tubes about 6 years ago. I use VAC electronics, have never had a failure and tubes last for years. The sound of these tubes are so good that I cannot stand to listen to SS equipment for very long. I always long for the realism only presented by good tubes. VAC makes seriously good equipment that is hand made and lasts for ever.
Recently bought a pair of VAIC (not VAC) 52B SET mono-blocks and used them in combination with my z-systems digital preamp/equalizer. No pre-amp/amp combo has ever taken me more directly to the original musical event. Half tube/half digital.
TUBE! Once you tube you'll never untube (pardon my english). I've had a CJpv10 for 6 years and had the 17ls on loan for a month, driving a ss classe amp. The pv10 is a giant killer in terms of performance vs price, smooth, warm, and crystal clear. The 17ls is in another league, all of the above with more detail and refinement and 4 times as expensive. I replace tubes about once a year. I'm not a big tweaker, the cj stock tubes work for me. The only time I'm bothered by tubes is when I'm burning in something like cables, 200 hrs sometimes, the life of a preamp tube is about 1000 hours, YMMV. Lots of people upgrading - you can get one for around $500 used and resell if you don't like, good investment. Good luck.
I totally agree with Onhwy61 on this one. In the right system, tubes can be a real treat and in the wrong set up it can be a real disappointment. The same can be said with solid state gear. I happen to own a tube pre amp but I purchased it because I fell in love with the way it presented the music in my audio system. Purchase the gear that is going to present music the way you want to hear it. If you have never owned any tube gear, perhaps now is a good time to listen to some. Gear hunting can be a daunting challenge. Enjoy the process and best of luck to you.
I've owned SF Line 2, First Sound Presence Delux, and Golden Tube SEP-1SE tube preamps, EVS passive attenuator, and the Aloia solid state Inductive Power Supply preamp 14.01. Nothing compares to the Aloia in terms of transparency, soundstaging, neutrality and low end definition (IMHO). Some tube preamps roll off the top freq, some has tube preamps have thrush, etc. The tube preamp is only as good as the tube it employs. Good solid state is more consistent sounding. Best of luck.
I agree with Sagger, once you listen to good tubed gear it is impossible to go back, just don't forget that there is bad tube gear just like there is bad solid state gear. At least try the tube preamp. I use tubed preamp with solid state amp here in the southwest as a powerful tube amp makes so much heat as to make the room impossible to stay in during the summer months.
I have had ONE tubed preamp and loved the sound, hated it breaking down twice. After I bought an Adcom 750 job... I am happier (and since the dealer took back the broken doorstop Counterpoint 2000 as a trade on a used behemoth Elite S2 LD player) with the solid state. Love the sound forget the problems... Up to you/tradeoffs.

I'll try to explain my case again...
Starting from your last question:
1)No tubed line stages (preamps) are NOT just for people that like to fiddle about with the insides of stereo equipment.There's just something more "right" with valves in the signal path IMHO
2) THe sound DOES deteriorate over time. But you'll likely not notice. (read on)
3)Small tubes likely to be in a line stage (12AU7, 12AX7,etc) are GOOD for approximately 10000 hrs, which is a little more than 1 year. So, you could leave it on all the time and you would wanty to swap out tubes every year. THe sound of a nonmicrophonic tube that needs to be replaced is hard to identify. Often, tubes lose dynamics, bass, highs, sound flat, too relaxed or recessed, or just plain bad when they have passed their prime. However, it is a gradual process, something that in all probability, you'll never notice, until you decide to replace them and then "WOW!!! THat's how it's supposed to sound!" SO you'll want to have a rough Idea how old your tubes are. I'd say since they are so cheap, and most line stages use very few, I would replace every 1 to 2 years, which is a littl epremature considering how much (or little) the average persion is likely to use the preamp.
4) The "improvement" is there, pal. Tubes sound different. New tubes sound different than old tubes (sometimes) and Czech tubes sound different than Russian tubes or Brit tubes (again, sometimes). In my previous post, I suggested that this method of "creeping" into tubes is great, because there's not as many of the intimidating tubes in a typical preamp as a typical amp. I think that tubes is the way to go, and no, I wasn't born a tube head. From my first "system" to my current one, there has been a progression toward higher fidelity, and then later toward more realism, independent of the recorded information. Since purchasing the tube amp, I and my solid state buddies, have all noticed a more "correct" sound of music ocurring in real space. True, the possible hassles are increased by using tubes vs solid state, as to HOW MUCH extra hassle, that's purely dependent on the particular component in question. For me, it was worth it to get the tubed preamp, even during the first few minutes that it has been on, when it doesn't sound it's best, and when it sometimes chirps or rings a little. The amp, on the other hand has been dead quiet. Both pieces are over 6 years old, I am the second owner of each, and the previous owners were very careful and loving "parents" to my amp and pre. So, Again, I would suggest that you try it. IF you've got the money, and are ready to get jiggy, audition something in your system. GIve it a couple of days. I for one, never went back....