If i get this right, i think your question is:
- do i wish to be able to keep searching for better and better sound with 'tweakable' equipment...or do i wish the manufacturer to restrict my ability to tweak my unit for better sound?
In truth, if you get SS or soldered tubes...that does not mean they cannot be bettered...it simply means they are harder to tweak. If you get tubed equipment, it does not mean the manufacturer's selected tube is not great...just means you can explore...
Sometimes, when we do not have a choice, we settle in with what we have and can find it satisfying...and when provided with too many choices, we just get caught up in switching forever.
The only suggestion i can give is call Brent Jessee at firstname.lastname@example.org he is great...bought well over a dozen high-end NOS tubes from him...great warranty, always made good if i returned (which i've only done twice in 10 years). He helped me get tubes for the sound i was looking for...and i have stopped looking. good luck!!!
If you are seriously driven by a 'Quest for Perfect Sound' you are already doomed to failure. It doesn't exist, in audio or anything for that matter. You could be as happy with multiple possibilities just as much as one. It's OK to like Blonds, Brunettes, and Redheads, just remember Blonds generally cost more to maintain. But they can all work well for you. :-)
To me the opportunity to achieve the tone I want to get from my system by tube selection is invaluable. But the thing that is essential to achieving anything worthwhile is to have a sonic frame of reference in the first place otherwise you are chasing a fantasy that may not exist with your (or any) equipment. If you don't know what you want you'll never know when you have it. The clouds won't just part and the sun suddenly beams in.
If you know what you want your golden. If you don't you're going to have to get out and see what is possible for you in your home and with your budget.
LOL! Remember, different is not necessarily better, different is only different. Relax and enjoy the music.
some people in this hobby are a bit obsessive compulsive
it is fun but often a sideways step
imo ymmv of course...
More often than not a tube CD player will sound best with the tubes it was designed with. Not all tubes are equal and to really hear how these tubes are changing the sound you should bias each and every tube you try. The problem is there are no bias adjustments for these tubes, so you are not getting a true representation of each tubes effect on the sound.
Excerpt from Wikipedia on the subject of Psychoacoustics:
"Hearing is not a purely mechanical phenomenon of wave propagation, but is also a sensory and perceptual event; in other words, when a person hears something, that something arrives at the ear as a mechanical sound wave traveling through the air, but within the ear it is transformed into neural action potentials. These nerve pulses then travel to the brain where they are perceived. Hence, in many problems in acoustics, such as for audio processing, it is advantageous to take into account not just the mechanics of the environment, but also the fact that both the ear and the brain are involved in a persons listening experience.
I guess its one of those things that just cant be said too often: There is no perfect sound. There is no absolute right choice. The quest for perfection or even the "right choice" is noble, only if one takes pleasure in the rewards of the never ending journey.
Phaelon, I like your post, but if there is one thing I have noticed, when the sound is good and I mean really good, everyone agrees that it sounds good. Well, except for the people that think their stereo system sounds better than live music.
A manufacturer isn't going to have a set of $600 tubes sent out in new equipment, it's the same as getting the generic $3.00 powercord with equipment purchased.
It's up to you to purchase the more expensive tubes just as it is with the powercord
Without going into a poetic type of response, I tube roll until I find what really satisfies me. You can go on and on, and on, and not find your perfect set of tubes because you read and listen to what others have to say about your equipment. I ignore these things, and tube roll based on the characteristics that I want to change, i.e. more bass, more detail, greater soundstage, greater timber, and on and on.
One of the few companies that I know designs amps around tubes is Shindo. Woohoo, $20k or their Garrard 301 turntable, $20k for their speakers, etc. But, they researched kick-ass audio tubes and designed amps, and pre-amps around them. Hats off to them. I bet they sound glorious.
I don't have that budget, so I am relegated to tube rolling. I am still happy, though, with my system and its sound with my Siemens EL34s. For my phono tubes, I use Mullard 10M 12ax7s, line stage Bugle Boys 12ax7s, and for the driver tubes in my power amp I use Raytheon 6GH8As. The Rayteons sound kick-ass -- detailed and sweet. I also have RCA and Bugle Boy 6gh8s that sound equally as good in my power amp driver stage. The Bugle Boy 12ax7s sound gorgeous in my phono stage, as well. Sylvania, or RCA, 12ax7s sound great in my line stage, too.
I find tubes through here, or ebay. Stores tend to charge too much. I research what the audio characteristics are of different tubes, then buy them and try them.
As just an aside, an old friend of mine, Walt, a real old timer, helped put tubes into perspective for me. He had a cache of sweet NOS tubes, and he told me that he couldn't understand why people were charging so much for 12ax7s, as they were a dime-a-dozen tube. He was in his eighties, and this was in the early nineties. He would have never accepted the mystic around 10ms, Bugle Boys, or Telefunkens. However, the stories he told me of his tube amp designs and resulting mischief were fantastic. He designed an amp that put out infra-sonic waves. He and a friend drove around town blasting it and shattered the street lamp bulbs with it. He really enjoyed telling me this story. He helped move Einstein from Brooklyn to Princeton. I am not kidding. Walt was personal friends with him.
I guess I mentioned Walt because I really want to tell something of his story. But I also mentioned him because I want to try to put into perspective the value of NOS tubes, and the perception of value that you give a tube. It is not necessarily what others say its value is, it's how its performance is in your system, regardless of what others think.
Just a couple of more thoughts about your post...
I lust after a Krell KSA-50. I would change to this SS amp in my system if I could find one at a decent price. I am not married to tubes, and would consider SS if I like the sound. A friend of mine was driving some Sound Lab electrostatics with some beautiful Rowland amps. The sound was wonderful! The pre-amp I lust after is a CAT Sl-1, though. It is a tube pre-amp. The ARC SP-6B is supposed to have a great phono stage, too. So, I lust after one of those, too. Other than that, I would audition amps and pre-amps without regard to tubes, or transistors. I just don't want ICs in my amps. ICs are fine for the receiver in my kitchen system. Otherwise, I want discreet electronic components in my amps.
On tubes: I actually do believe in NOS tubes. The best tubes I have heard have been made in the by-gone tube era -- anything from the 50's through to the early 80's (although I would argue the tube era ended at the end of the sixties). I believe that tubes were still made well into the early eighties. One person I asked about NOS tubes stated that the coatings were applied much better, and thicker back then. Now tubes are made much more cheaply. He said this was one of the major factors that older tubes were much better sounding, and tended to last much longer.
I would never think that soldered in tubes are a good idea. I believe in point to point wiring. But, I would never solder in my own tubes. Firstly, to get the pins hot enough I think would compromise the vacuum seal of the tube by virtue of heating up the tube pins. Secondly, tubes are meant to be user replaceable. They are unlike transistors that last a very, very long time. Power transistors are usually plugged into sockets too, as well as IC chips. Directly soldering power transistors can easily destroy them. IC chips and op-amps are easily destroyed by heat, too. I would rather have the SS components plugged into sockets. I think point to point wiring is preferable generally because of its reducing cross talk in channels. I think the traces on pcb boards is plenty robust enough to carry the small signals inside amps, so I think it's a cross-talk issue. Point to point wiring provides better construction, provided the person soldering cares in his workmanship, or is not hungover, etc. It can provide longer lasting integrity to your connections between electronic components. But for major equipment manufacturers, point to point wiring is cost prohibitive. I have old tube amp stuff that I have modded and rebuilt myself, so most of it is point to point wired. Newer high end stuff is well designed, and for the most part the designers do take noise, and crosstalk issues into account in their designs. I would, however, shy away from soldered in tubes as replacement will cost a lot, and require a lengthy trip back to the manufacturer.
Bicycle man, When you finally get a CAT, roll in some NOS tubes...you'll really like what the preamp sounds like once you have done that..I know I did.
I have heard a lot of preamps, both ss and tubes, and with rolled in tubes the CAT still RULES, just IMHO.