Total cost of ownership - how to reduce it


Audiogon members love their music - but I am not alone, I think, in finding that the requirements in terms of cost and time for keeping the system running at optimal, can become too steep. Can we help each other out?

Today I have spent two hours trying to find a failed tube in my system. Two months ago I had a bad episode with a repair service that did not repair and did not return my stuff. Some weeks ago, I blew a speaker driver, I am still waiting for the replacement. Thinking, I need a tube tester, since my system has a lot of tubes - I got the tester, but it blew tubes, not "dead on arrival" but "over-excited" - and has to be repaired. I am perhaps especially unlucky. But I ask myself, how much is enough? When such experiences accumulate, I can understand people plugging into Mp3, it is simple and it works.

I have thought about my situation and diagnosed two main types of problems - maybe, relevant for other Audiogon members also.

The first is where you buy a thing used and then get it upgraded by the manufacturer. You pay quite a lot for this, and you would expect the whole thing is checked - but it is not. In two cases now, I have experienced that even if the upgrade works fine, the box as a whole is not checked, and develops problems a year or two after the upgrade.

The second case is where you pay for an upgrade that is more like a new build (e g of a speaker) or rebuild (of a cartridge). Now, there is no lagging wear and tear problem, but it turns out that the upgrade parameters were not fully developed, things have to be changed or checked afterwards (speaker drivers dont work optimal, needle not quite in place, etc).

I would be the first to recognize that some of these costs (time, mainly, but money also) should be accepted. I have paid local repair costs without complaining, and have used many hours of my own time. As an advanced user, I accept some extra costs.

It is just that, sometimes it gets too much.

I would like other Audiogon users' thoughts on this dilemma, and especially, what can we do to reduce the total ownership costs.

Your thoughts and experiences welcome.
o_holter
Start by moving to solid state. Follow that with a complete abandonment of any and all thoughts of mods or upgrades. Then look to buying and using pro gear.
Forget about the myth of miracle tweaks and awesome accessories. Consider how you can simplify. And, above all, give up on the fantasy of some absolute sound. The easiest and most effective change you can make is your own expectations. Stop listening for weaknesses and start enjoying your systems strengths. This is supposed to be about satisfaction and fun -------- not frustration and disappointment.
You sound like the poster child for Murphys Law.
You can still do it with tubes if you have reliable equipment. SS won't help other than it being less work. Anything can break down at one time or another. I've been very fortunate to have only a cold solder joint that had to be repaired on an amp. Keep one or two full sets of tubes as a back up. There are a few things you need to do to keep everything running right, just like maintaining a car. I also agree with giving up the fantasy of absolute sound (if it even exists) you're just padding someone else's wallet. Good luck.
If you care about TCO, keep it simple.
Solid states upkeep is cheapest. I spent once to build and did not upgrade for more than 15 years so my TCO is $few/month.
You have what looks like a great sounding system, but anything that is finely tuned will require regular maintenance. You have to determine the balancing point between how finely tuned you want your system and how much maintenance effort you want to expend. That point is different for everybody and can change at different points in your life. I eventually came to the determination that reliability was the most important quality of a component when I started stockpiling "backup" components. Reliable and good sounding components aren't hard to find.

Regarding you specific situation. A good tech is hard to find. Unless your tube tester has been completely rebuilt by a knowledgeable person (not just some random tech), it's probably junk. Plus using and understanding the results of a tube tester has a learning curb. Many times an "upgrade" is a fix for a reliability issue. In a properly designed and spec'd loudspeaker blowing a driver is always the user's fault.
" but anything that is finely tuned will require regular maintenance. "

That is true, but not all approaches are created equal in this regard. Some require more periodic tuning to maintain over time. Systems using parts that wear out or deteriorate faster will be the most prone. Its generally a larger part of the overall equation when tubes are involved. But not even all tubes are created equal in this regard. Some gear is easier on tube life than others. Its something to consider for TCO especially if one must have tubes.

Phono rigs are the other common part of a high end system that tend to require more periodic maintenance in order to maintain fine tuned performance.

So you have to be somewhat dedicated to the maintenance and cost aspects with older technologies like tubes and phonos, especially if keeping things well tuned matters to you. An inherent investment in time and money is required. That is an aspect that proponents will tend to gloss over given the chance.

The good news is that if you just want to make an initial investment and spend time listening, there are better ways available via more modern technologies. TCO and reliability is a major driving factor for new technology and the main reason why older ones might no longer cut it.
Get a great solid state amp i can't deal with tube amps always had problems.I use tube preamp and solid state amp MUCH less problems with great sound.
I would call the Audiophile Hotline
Tube preamp + good matching Class D amp (and speakers) is a very viable lower TCO solution to tube amps and all that goes with that.

A tube output stage on a DAC is a very low TCO option if one must have a tube or two in the mix.

No tubes at all may be best from a TCO perspective.

I use a tube pre-amp with Class D amp in my system and could not be happier. Effortless music at any volume level.

I use a DAC with a single tube output stage in my second system with SS preamp and amp and this is similarly good at most reasonable listening levels.

I have other listening options at well at home with very good sound quality, mostly involving headphones, and no tubes at all.
Sacrifice something to the audio gods. They can be very fickle.
Heat is the enemy of electronic circuits so, all things being equal - and they never are - class AB solid state amps should be less trouble prone than valve or class A solid state amps. And it would seem to follow that class D amps would be more reliable yet.

I would also agree to skip the upgrades. If it worked and you liked it, then it sounded good. If you have extra cash, sell it and buy something newer. Resetting the clock, so to speak.

Very few companies actually rebuild cartridges. I believe that Koetsu does and you can have several Ortofons factory rebuilt, but the rest give you trade in value. Soundsmith does not do rebuilds, they just graft on a new cantilever.
"Sacrifice something to the audio gods."

That seems to be a common practice in these parts. Almost a right of passage when plain simple good sound alone is just not enough.
I would never pay for updates from a manufacturer. Add the shipping costs, possible damage and the down time without equipment. Even after the updates doesn't guarantee it will equal the sound quality of the current model.
For all you tube naysayers, I have had very good luck with tube gear. I have owned 14 tube amps over the years and only one of them had an issue worth mentioning. Yes, tubes will need to be replaced periodically and sometimes go without warning. And the without warning part is pretty infrequent.

It's a small price to pay for the sound quality achieved. Something that most comparably priced SS amps can't boast of.

Shakey
Obviously you don't own a Range Rover, Mercedes, or BMW. Buy one of those and your audio repairs will fade into the background. One of those fine vehicles will illustrate the frequency, severity, and cost of ownership.

I have mostly tube equipment and the only boxes that have failed beyond repair were solid state. Tube equipment is easier to repair and worth more over the long haul. Solid state hits the recycling bin.
Lots of people are happy with tube gear. TCO can be lower case by case. It all depends as is usually the case. The devil is always in the details.
One other factor to consider in TCO is how much power is used. Power bills for Class A and even Class A/B amps, SS or tube, even running idle, can be quite high. Class D amps are the most efficient available and the best for keeping TCO down as it relates to your power bill.
Tubes are wonderful enjoy!!
I agree to stop the tweaks and the upgrading of your gear.
Buy new, demos or used stock gear.

You have a very nice system; not sure which components are giving you trouble or if you're happy with the spkrs. You obviously enjoy the tube sound, so why not take one component (perhaps the preamp or the amp) and build a new system around it, but keep it simple. A blown tube is the price to pay in a system that you really enjoy.
They are some great and reliable tube amps VAC PHI 200 is wonderful.
tube gear w/less tubes & more efficient speakers, done.
04-08-15: Rhljazz
Obviously you don't own a Range Rover, Mercedes, or BMW. Buy one of those and your audio repairs will fade into the background. One of those fine vehicles will illustrate the frequency, severity, and cost of ownership.
Not my Mercedes but agree with Range Rover and BMW. The key with BMW is sell before bumper to bumper warranty expires.
"tube gear w/less tubes & more efficient speakers, done."

True in many cases but larger speakers needed for full range at higher volumes in a larger room off a smaller tube amp might turn out to be expensive.

Its mostly a matter of scale. Almost anything can work well if room is smaller, lowest octave does not matter, and listening volumes will not be high.
You're right about the BMW warranty.
The other problem can be diminished to a degree by using headphones although if you insist on using a super expensive source you may not save a ton. If you do what most of the current hedphiers seem to do which is use a computer source and then use a combo integrated DAC Amp you will be ok. My headphone amps have 3 and 1 tube each. I will say this these guys buy the most expensive and exotic tubes they can though. Like buying B65s (MOV/GEC 6SN7) for up to a grand a pop. My headphone output tubes are 6080/6AS7G but will take Tung Sol 5998s and WE421As if I want to use them.
04-08-15: Rhljazz
Obviously you don't own a Range Rover, Mercedes, or BMW. Buy one of those and your audio repairs will fade into the background. One of those fine vehicles will illustrate the frequency, severity, and cost of ownership.
Not my BMW but agree with Range Rover and Mercedes. The key with Mercedes & Range Rover is to sell before bumper to bumper warranty expires.
Lower cost, today I got the following vinyl,all mint, for
the grand total of $3.96 at Goodwill in Maplewood ,MN burb of St. Paul
6 disc set of Beethoven String Qts by Guarneri Qt on RCA
Famous record of Brahms German Requiem ,Carl Bamberger N.German Radio Orch. Nonesuch
Mozart Piano Cnt 23-24 ECO Gibson EMI
Honneger Sym #4 French Radio ,Charles Munch Erato
Reinecke Flute amd Harp Cnts, Rampal-Laskine Erato
Saint-Saens Symphony #3 Marie-Claie Alain, Martinon FNO Erato
Mozart Vn Cnt 3-4 Ristenpart Sarre CO Nonesuch
Higher end equipment. Audio, cars, watches, etc. are all very expensive to maintain and when they fail, it will costs. Mid fi and low fi equipment is sometimes not even worth the trouble to repair. But, repair is repair. Whether it is tube or solid state. If it is high end, it will costs. Don't let anyone, tube or solid state fans tell you otherwise.

There is a price for playing with the big boys. You want a Mercedes, BMW, Breitling, Rolex, Pass, Audio Research, VTL, etc. be prepared to pay lots when they require work. The costs to replace the panels on my Martin Logan Monolith IIIs now is over three grand. But, it is what it is. I do most of the work on my cars. I purchase OEM, or upper quality parts mostly on line and I restore classic cars, so I know what to do. But, if you don't know how to work on cars, or work on houses, or install floors, etc. you have to come out of pocket to the ones that do. Good luck with plumbing.

I'm not minimizing your complaints, but to me, this is the costs of doing business. The cost to play with the big boys.

Auto companies make their real money on the maintenance and repair costs, not on the sale of the cars. Most people can't work on audio equipment themselves, so parts and labor are pretty high. For high end equipment, that is.

It is a decision between sound reproduction quality and reliability of the equipment.

I haven't had any problems with any of the Audio Research equipment that I have owned over the years. I do understand that my Mark Levinson 23.5's will need cap replacement some time. But, I can do that myself. I've replaced the power supplies and panels on my Martin Logan Monolith III speakers some time ago. I'm not looking forward to either replacing the panels again or going through the time and effort of trying to demo and buy new speakers when that time arises.

When it is time for work or repairs, I just have to deal with it.

Enjoy your music while you can. Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.

enjoy
Buying the best doesn't cost. It pays...at least in the long run.
That assumes one actually knows what the "best" is which is seldom the case .
"Best" is subjective based on criteria you choose. May or may not have anything to do with TCO. It all depends on priorities and what is perceived as best by each.
It is said that buying a low cost carpet for instance, that it will be the most expensive in the end. The reason is of course that you'll need to replace the cheaply made one.
First of all, have the money to be in (no matter what you buy for a hobby) or get out. Keep doing the same thing you've always been doing, and you'll get the same results. If you pay for garbage you can't expect much. There are exceptions to every rule, but I still say that quality doesn't cost, it pays. Maintaining equipment is the responsibility of the owner.
Hi all and thanks for advice. The thread takes up a common concern but perhaps the question was too broad. So answers become quite general. Enjoy what works. Listen for what sounds good. Be patient. Plan ahead. Avoid complexity – if possible – but be aware that better-sounding and larger scale systems require time and money. Buy quality, although it costs more here and now. Check manufacturers’ customer support and solidity over time. Get a good tech. Make sure that older equipment is fully checked and serviced when repaired or upgraded. Avoid upgrades that aren’t really needed. Keep backup equipment. Make it easy to test the system and locate problems yourself.
Perhaps I overlooked something, but this is my summary for now.
In general output tubes have the shortest lifespan, so changing to an amp with less tubes would cut your cost and maintenance time. Using fans should reduce temperature and greatly extend component life. The heart and soul of any component is its power supply and usually they have electrolytic caps and they are the first parts that should be changed. Here, check the brand and model and check digikey or mouser or other major supply houses regarding its specs. Electrolytics caps with better specs come out about every 5 years, some of my components are 15 years old and I have just changed these caps for the second time and each change has resulted in a huge improvement, so much so that it outperforms their
current models that have lessor quality caps. The components are very stable and tube life has been greatly extended, a friends output tubes are about 15 yrs old and still going strong. Finally the current components from this manufacturer run in the lower five figure to the mid five figure price tag, so they are not cheap.
Thank you, Btselect!
I agree - more tubes, more maintenance. But they sound better (in my case) so I accept it - it is not a heavy burden although sometimes an output tube goes bad in the MA-1 amps (28 of them).
Fans, yes, I use one, a computer fan, slowed down to absolute silent operation (with a resistor), behind my preamp.
Electrolytic caps - interesting. I am getting a tube tester, and it seems I should do some caps inspection also. I am no engineer though, not sure what to look for.
Learn how to build your own gear and you can have it all. The finest sound, upgrades whenever you want them, a system that is tailored exactly to your preferences, and repairs at zero labor cost. The biggest misconception in this hobby is that this stuff requires an expert super-genius to build...not the case, especially with tube gear. Nothing new has been invented tube circuit-wise in decades; just various refinements on the same concepts. If you have any mechanical aptitude at all you can build this stuff.

There is so much information on the internet these days, you could be up to speed in a year just from reading the forums and playing around in your basement. In addition to saving you tons of money it turns out to be a pretty fun hobby,too!
Get yourself a Clones 25i integrated for $890 new. It's the best amp I've ever had.
I find that keeping a log is a time-saver. I started making log notes for each product (in a data base) but found that it was more convenient to just have one document and use the search function. I put test results, web links etc in the log. So when I have a problem I can check, when did it first appear, what did I do to solve it.
Not much activity here, but many readers. So OK, two more rules added from my side.

Be prepared. Have a backup when your system component goes down and must be in for (often lengthy) repair.  This does not help with your cost but helps with the sorrow. Recently I had to turn in my phono preamp for repair. I am really glad that I bought a little replacement, so I can still play records.

Share with friends. Your cable is broken. Your friend has one you can borrow. Having audio friends or an audio circle reduces the total cost of ownership.

Buy from a reliable, customer valued manufacturer, which has stood the test time. 
Absolutely, agree! Is this a honest manufacturer, with good user interaction?
Check customer reports plus service and repair possibilities.

Ventilation - let your system breathe...
I have no idea of the actual statistics in this case, but here is my theory. Component failure is in many ways a function of time x heat.
The more heat, the lower the durability.
This is especially relevant in tube components, but in others too.
I now have a computer fan at the back of my preamp. The preamp sits in a rather crowded place, in my shelf, and does not quite have the minimal distance of free air above it. This fix cost me $50 or so including some resistors so I could tune the fan down to totally silent operation. Works very well. Better safe than sorry.
Reduce initial cost (but not always)

This is another way to reduce the total cost of ownership.

Example:

You see this marvellous "rocket ship" in audio that will liberate your ears and ensure a good life. It is costly but the reviews are rosy. The past will come back to you, along with sexy partners, good moms and steady fathers. You pull out your wallet - and then - too late - after some months of living with this component, discover that it wasn’t all that much. The "rocket" came a bit up, but did not really get into space.

The art is to invest in what is really needed, beyond such single-component adventures, to improve the sound system as a whole, and get away with it without going broke. Not the component in itself, but how it works in the system. Often you won’t know, beforehand. But you can make a reasonable guess, and invest wisely.

A problem in an expensive component is usually much more irritating and time-consuming to repair, compared to a cheap one. For the least amount of stress, we should all buy cheap components that are easy to replace! However we want some sound quality too...

The better you can adjust price / performance, knowing your way around the component and brand you invest in, the greater the chance that the overall cost of ownership will be low, with less stress and unforeseen events. Understanding the function of the component and how it matches your other components is the place to start.

Often, the way to go - in my experience - is to the mid-level of the branch, and then seek for good second hand / used market offers. But sometimes, I have only made things work by going to the top flagship level, with less rebate. This can be a pain for the wallet, here and now, but I have generally found that it pays off, later.