There are a couple of issues at work.
First, many of the NOS tubes were made in factories that no longer exist, using machines long since gone. For tubes commonly used in audio equipment there are few to none made in the US, Britain or Germany anymore. Some feel the modern factories in Russia, China and other countries just don't turn out quite the same product.
Second, there is the rarity factor. As NOS tubes are put into use they don't get replaced. With any "luxury" item (and fine audio equipment does fit in that category), an increasingly dwindling supply of irreplaceable parts certainly lends a certain cache to the old stuff even if one argues the new production is just as good.
Consider yourself lucky that you like the stock tubes best as it just makes your life easier and less expensive.
The answer is simple.
Tubes made in the 40s, 50s and 60s were of higher quality...made to tighter tolerances than tubes made today. Why is this so? Because most of the military equipment depended on reliable, consistently high quality tubes to operate the radios, radar and other electrical equipment properly and in difficult conditions.
The high quality required for military spec tubes filtered down into the consumer tubes (which were often the same anyway) used in all the radios and TVs of the era.
Today, there is no need for high quality tubes in the quantities required before, and therefore manufacturing quality has slackened. New production tubes generally don't last as long, and the quality control suffers. Some new tubes are great. Other new tubes of the same type from the same manufacturer will fail after only a few hundred hours or less.
Also, NOS generally sound better. Why this is so is a question that has not been answered sufficiently, but any basic comparison will bear out the results.
Thus, NOS tubes are in high demand.
Thank goodness Tvad provided such a perfect response, now I don't have to reply other than thank you.
This is an interesting film on the production of Mullard Valves at the Blackburn plant.
Click on vintage film reels
Good answer Tvad! There are less than a handful of companies now producing tubes that compare with NOS in quality of materials, care in manufacture and sonic performance. Here's some info and an idea of what that quality and care cost in today's dollars:
click on "tubes")
The only company making quality small signal tubes now)
A great question and very interesting answers above.
In my experience of NOS in new equipment the results have not been that great. I have found in the valves I mainly used (power tubes 6550,KT88,and 12AX7,12AU7,ECC81,ECC82) the older valves never had the clarity in the highs or the low noise floor or transparency.
The last time I used some NOS Brimar and Jan philips in a very high end preamp they were very rolled off, dark and fat sounding, even a little metalic. The new valves with gold pins where much cleaner, extended and detailed in comparison. Maybe this is very valve dependent.
I had the same experience with Svetlana 6550C power tubes. I found the 6550c from Svetlana to be the best 6550 I could find, leaving the others sounding murky.
I can understand that maybe the new old stock valves work well in older equipment or as a tone control.
I agree with Tvad.
So, the answer to your question is a simple one - because the old tubes sound better. And, the results are not even close.
I just built a Dynakit ST70 to play around with, and I was running the stock Sovtek 7199 driver tubes. Well, the amp was OK, semi-pleasant to listen to, and I threw the, "What do you want for $600?" tag on it. But, I couldn't get past how slow, plodding, and constricted it was. It simply would not get out of the way of the music. As for a letter grade, I gave it a C Minus.
I see several areas where the performance could be upped for free, but before doing that decided to buy an old set of RCA 7199 driver tubes to establish a baseline for what the amp should actually be.
Now, I'm often here preaching the benefits of maximizing one's output and driver tubes to wring as much performance out of their power amplifiers as they can get. I'm also not much of a fan of most Russian tubes at all. Wow, even I was not nearly prepared for the transformation! I've never heard such a performance increase from a tube change in my life. Right away, the sound opened up to where you would hope it would, that EL34 magic midrange arrived in spades, and bass is more extended and tight, and incredibly much more defined. It finally sounds like a tube amplifier. The amp now grades out to a solid B. Borderline B Plus. Perfect? No, not hardly. But I could sit down and be happy long term with it now just as it is. And, I didn't even start tinkering with it yet...
My recent experiences echo Chadeffect's. I have come across a number of new-production tubes that I find superior to their NOS counterparts, or at least good enough. This has been the case for 6L6GC, 12AU7, 12AT7, EL34. The only ones that seem to be consistently better in NOS form are the 12AX7 and 12BH7.
And it is a blessing! Just as the fun-factor of hunting for NOS tubes was wearing off, I discovered the new Groove Tubes KT66C (Shuguang - the Chinese make some great tubes) is fantastic. Hands down better than the NOS RCA black plate 6L6GC bottles - and for a lot less money and risk. Similar story for the ElectroHarmonix 12AU7 and 12AT7 - they are dirt cheap but if you can put that aside, they have a beautifully balanced sound that rivals all my old tubes. The venerable NOS RCA Clear-Top is terrible in my system with rolled off highs and mushy bass. And then some of the Brimars were horribly grainy.
But then there are the NOS 5751 black plates which will never be fully replicated, IMO, as they are just about perfect. Too bad my set is about worn out. The new Tung-Sol 12AX7 is very good, so I will make do with it, but on certain recordings I will sorely miss the imaging those Sylvanias could conjure up.
But let's not overlook the fact that these comparisons will be VERY tube dependent. There is lots of overlap in performance and which is better will totally depend on the exact tubes in question, the circuit they are plugged in, and the human brain doing the analyzing....
Just one more comment from the peanut gallery. The Soviets in particular continued to use tubes in a lot of their military equipment long after the US military had moved much of their equipment to solid state. (In fact, they felt vacuum tubes were more resistant to the EMF effects of a nuclear bomb and gave them an advantage in the survivability of their electronics.)
One can get into the endless loop debate of whose military had stricter QC standards for electronics manufacturers (and the US has had its share of equipment procurement scandals over the years) but the military angle alone does not explain the differences in tubes.
Trelja- Just curious what 7199's you're using. I owned(and modded) an ST-70 for about 15 years and found the Sylvania and Phillips ECGs to be the best. Have you installed a NOS 5AR4 yet? Talk about another revelation! I used a Mullard in that position. Regarding the others' experiences with their un-named NOS tubes of unknown origin: (like everything else in this hobby) Your results will depend a lot on into what these tubes are plugged, their condition/quality, and who is doing the listening(many variables). The best NOS tubes just get out of the way of the music and add or subtract nothing, which is the definition of, "transparency", and you've removed one variable by using them. From there it becomes a matter of taste and/or what may be lacking in the rest of the gear.
Well Albert,the movies,music and entertainers of the 40's,50's,and 60's might have to be included as well -:)
Mil Spec components were usually required to be much better than necessary. That was before cost control became important. Nowadays most military equipment uses commercial hardware whenever possible, which greatly reduces cost, improves (yes) reliability and performance. Also, we have learned to make electronics whose performance is derived from the basic circuit design rather than from reliance on tightly spec'd components and trim procedures.
I am surprised that new tubes are less accurately made. A tube would seem made to order for precision automated fabrication.
I wonder what will happen when all of the nos tubes are gone? and no one will have to pay the outrageous prices folks are charging for them. Will highend audio survive?
What will we do? Lord help us!
Somewhere in this scenario sanity has taken a long vacation but again, we're talking about highend audio where some would say sanity has no place.
On a more serious (based on my post)note,I've had superb results using about six different NOS tube mfgrs,in my phonostage.
The differences in timbre and dynamic shadings have been quite audible.Costly,but worth it(almost),so I stocked up on two back up sets.
I believe there will always be good NOS types available,from some of the better dealers/sellers.
However,like anything "worthy" of collecting,from a bye-gone era,it will "cost you".
Stock up while they are "only" expensive.In the future they'll be "insanely pricey" -:)
By the time these NOS tubes have run out, either better technology would have appeared and make tubes a thing of the past for good, or electricity will be so expensive that no one will be able to afford to run dreadfully inefficient technologies like tubes without their own hydro power station!
Chadeffect, I hope you're right! but history has shown that you're probably wrong. As witnessed by the tube resurgence of the last 10-15 yrs. when obviously newer and better solidstate technologies have evolved, tube equipment is still thriving! So,obviously a lot of people still think dreadfully inefficient technology is fine.
One thing I have learned and you should've also, is that logic doesn't apply to highend audio.
Rodman99999, I'm using the RCA 7199. Sylvanias were also an option, but most people told me the RCA were preferable. Not having tried the Sylvanias, I don't know how they stack up against the RCA, but I was assured either would be a tremendous improvement over the Sovteks.
I'll need to try an NOS rectifier, based on your recommendation.
As far as new production tubes go, there are several I like, the JJ KT88 and E34L and EH 6CA7 among them, along with the Shuguang 12AX7. But, apart from those, I come down on the side that the old tubes absolutely smoke current production.
I echo all who said that they simply sound better but are at times in poor working condition. The NOS tubes are virtually gone except for the JAN military surplus made in the 70s and 80s believe it or not The occasional treasure found in a repair man's attick or tubes nobody wants.
What you find are used tubes that test well on a questionable tube tester because that too is over 40 years old. Yes I know you can get it to spec by sending it to a pro. My experience is that tolerances drift easily with these old (explective).
In essence I have learned in my collecting tubes that it is truly just a hit or miss on ebay but with dealers you get to know, they will sell you only tubes that they expect to hold to spec longer than other thus "good" tubes. There really is the occasional good tubes is all I sell dealer but that is rare.
Old stock tubes are also often superior because of they afford you variety. Tubes in their hey day came from many many brands, that had there own recipe, to actually give their tube a certain flavor e.g. "Our tube is better than ordinary tubes find out and you will only smoke Mazda tubes." (All tube making facilities secretly were and are owned by Phillips. Yes I know that all brands were not made by Phillips and please I am not bashing Mazda) thus you get different sonics with the brand you buy. So it gives you a tone knob on our very simple path amps and pre-amps.
However you still need guidance from a person who truly knows what that particular tube sounds like compared to others.
For example one can make generic statements about a particular brand such as Mullard such as " they are warm colored." Simply put this person is correct, but not all the time. I use a military variant for a 6922. This tube is made by Mullard and is a drop in sub. This tube is not warm and fuzzy it sounds very fast and very clean with a powerfull voice comparable to a German tube. ( The Mullard CV 2943s)
Trelja I have a few pairs of 7199s but all brands are made by Amperex no matter what the label is. I think so anyway. It could be Sylvania I have to find out. Non Trelja people please do not write asking for these tubes -thanks
Trelja- I gave my son my ST70 some years back for his birthday. He ended up with RCAs as Sylvanias weren't available when the ones in it bit the dust. Everything else in the system was different, but- They sounded like an excellent tube(especially the imaging and soundstage). My Cary monoblocks take 6550/KT88 output tubes(matched quads necessary), so- nothing NOS is actually an option regarding price. I'd have to sell a couple ounces of gold to purchase the EAT KT88 Diamonds right now, so- I'm using Svetlana 6550's(latest iteration, ST Petersbug plant) from Upscale Audio. I was really pleased(shocked/surprised) that they actually peformed as good as the NOS Phillips ECGs I had in the Carys. I tried some other current production tubes in them first, and couldn't get them out of the amps fast enough. Off the subject: If you want a quantum leap in the performance of the ST70- Upgrade the coupling caps to film/foil, and install a better power cord. I used a Zu Birth without having to modify the chassis in any way. Those were just two of the basic things(among a host of others) I did to mine that REALLY yielded major results as far as accuracy.
We seek out old tubes because the Gilbert Erector Sets, Tinkertoys, Lionel Trains, and GI Joes so popular in our youth are more expensive and difficult to find in mint condition.
And they're cheaper to ship.
if you speak to many manufacturers of tube amps, tube cd players and tube preamps, in production today, you will be told that replacing the tube with nos varieties will have a mimimal sonic effect. bat and mcintosh are two examples of this.
i have found that many current poroduction tube components are relatively insensitive to changes in tubes.
Mrtennis, all I can say in response to your last post is, bullshit!
Every single tube component from my stable as well as those that I owned in the past benefited from tube rolling. Selected NOS tubes were always my preferences. There ar some nice new stock tubes like JJ or GE 211 among few others but in general, NOS rules. Only my opinion.
I spoke to more then few designers and in all cases the NOS were recommended and prefered over the new stock. Lowering the production costs and difficulties in finding the right source are just some of the reasons to choose new stock over NOS.
Well designed electronics OUGHT TO BE insensitive to minor variations of components, including tubes. Perhaps this design objective is not met in some audio equipment. All things equal, an old tube should be inferior to a new one because of gas infiltration over time. Maybe gassy tubes sound good...more of that tube sound.
My guess is that, when tubes were used in everything, there were a lot of manufacturers competing, and this competition resulted in superior product. Also, we tend to now collect and praise the very best of the old lot, and in that sense, older tubes have been cherry-picked (the crap models having long ago been trashed).
In some cases, key elements are just no longer manufactured, either because the scale of manufacturing is no longer there, or the product is now deemed hazardous. There is some speculation that the Chinese have recently stopped manufacturing the 845 tube because they were relying on old stock of Thoriated Tungsten filaments that are no longer available. I have also heard that key parts of the currently manufactured Western Electric tubes are also "old stock" and manufacturing will cease when those parts run out.
Some preference for old tubes is just a matter of personal taste and system matching. For example, a lot of people covet red-base 5692s. In my system, and for my taste, they are NOT right (I like Tungsol roundplate 6sn7s). The much larger variety of older tubes (again the result of ubiquity of tube use) means a greater chance of finding the right match amoung older varieties than the limited choices of new tubes.
I personally have found a few new tubes to be very good. I am a BIG fan of EML meshplate 2a3s. These are the best sounding 2a3s I've heard, though they MUST be driven gently to survive.
As for the comment above that well designed components ought to be insensitive to variations in tubes, that make so sense at all. With good equipment, minor differences in any component, including tubes, SHOULD be discernable --if you can't hear the difference it is because detail is being lost in the muddle of crappy reproduction.
Also, the suggestion that people who like old tubes might be enjoying "gassy" tubes is completely unsupported. Where is the evidence that all older tubes are gassier than new tubes because of infiltration? Sure, some may go bad over time, but, on what basis does one conclude that those are the ones coveted by those who favor older varieties? I have a tube tester that measures for this condition. The older tubes I use are NOT gassy. As far as 6sn7s are concerned, it is actually some currently manufactured 6sn7 that measure as gassy.
Trelja, Mrjstark and Larryi: Amen and Amen!!
Larryi...The design of electronics so as to not rely on precision parts or trims is a well established practice in areas other than audio. In my area of work (missile guidance systems) we were forced to adopt this philosophy, quite apart from cost benefits, because requisite performance was not achievable simply by using more and more exotic parts. There were howls of protest from the circuit designers, but once they put their minds to it things have worked out well.
One obvious example from audio is automatic tube bias adjustment.
As for evidence about gassy tubes, I simply submit that gas leakage through glass is a function of time so old tubes can be expected to have picked up some gas over the decades. Of course a new tube might have gas from the get-go. Some large tubes, notibly CRTs, have a "getter" which captures gas when the tube is operated, and failure to turn on such a tube, or at least the filiament, for a few years can result in catistrophic failure.
I am neither an ee nor a missile designer. Does anyone know if there is truth to the notion that older tubes typically had a deeper (not sure if that's the right word) or more intense vacuum and therefore might be expected to last longer or perform better?
Does anyone know if there is truth to the notion that older tubes typically had a deeper... or more intense vacuum...?
Swampwalker (System | Threads | Answers)
Wouldn't this by definition mean they sucked more?
I hope you guys have fun with this thread and convince yourself that NOS tube are not worthy of your system.
Good is what I say, all the more left for me.
I've returned my Aesthetix to the factory for upgrades three times in the last 11 years and every time they run the tests they are amazed at the results.
The difference between my Aesthetix and the ones they deliver new? Theirs are new stock Russian and mine is 100% USA, German and British NOS tubes, the best possible for each position in the unit.
Laugh all you want, but tubes are parts too. No one seems to think it's funny to use good quality caps, resistors and cables but cross over to tubes and the funny spring worm jumps out of the can.
Well I have to second the sentiments of Sir Porter.Yet,and yet.....since we are in the "what do ya think" phase of this thread,I've got a question I am dying to get feedback on(if anyone knows at all,or some thoughts)....
For those understanding the "why" of how come the CCa variants of Siemens(or Telefunken)6922 tubes are so good....these were made for the German Govt and communication industry,so had to meet a certain critical performance spec.Very tight tolerences!
My experience tells me they are superb(so are Amperex variants,but they were not CCa level,in supposed spec(sound damn good though).....SO....The Amperex 6922 Pinched Waiste tubes have gotten an incredible rep(the price goes hand in hand with the rep,unfortunately).I'm concerned with phono tubes,where I use my three Siemens CCa's.These took top spot from my comparing about six varieties in my set-up,to my taste,but...
I've got it on good authority(other than stuff like Joe's Tube Lore)that the Pinched Waiste tubes are "that good"(I've not tried them)....Info from the very credible Jafox(I think he's a friend of yours,Albert)and Steve Huntley of Great Northern Sound....Jafox seems to be "such" a nice guy that he offered to loan me some,for my opinion.
That was very generous,but I could not allow him to do it!Yet it does tell me just how nice a fellow he seems to be!!
Steve told me he had Jafox's superb pre in for an update awhile ago,and "it" was tubed with the Pinched Waiste Amperex tubes....The pre came UPS,but the tubes came via Wells Fargo Armored vehicle(I made that part up -:)
Steve told me he was bowled over by just how good the Pinched Waiste tubes performed.....thus my intense interest(within reason)...
My question is....I know of a source who claims that he has NOS Pinched Waiste 6922's BUT "these" are ALSO CCa's!!!
Yeow!!!Supposedly(I really don't know,but am very intrigued)even better than the normal already ultra scarce Amperex Pinched Waiste variants.These are Phillips of Holland 6922 Pinched Waiste CCa's.To me,unheard of!!A Pinched Waiste tube AND CCa to boot!!!Oy vey!
The seller claims the CCa variants of Pinched Waiste tubes are about as scarce a Gold Dabloons,found in your attic,and "supposedly" these would trump any other tube,for a Phonostage,or amp.....I'd love any thoughts.
Yes,they are expensive!!
C'mon, lighten up, gang.
This is a hobby, not your 401k.
Who has a 401k anymore? -;)
In the world of audiophilia nothing is clear it seems. Many opinions and experiences with many variations of equipment all needing to addressed differently.
The only thing we can be sure of is some types of NOS are better than new versions and others are worse due to various factors.
A thread should be started stating the valve type and its number plus variants as NOS and newly manufactured valves. Just as a guide to their character. Something like the guy at Humble hifi has done with caps.
Out of interest I would love to know which age group you guys are from. Say over 30/ over 40/over 50/over 60s etc. I only say this because I am sure this is the last generation that has this knowledge or even cares!
I have been to many Hifi shows and shops and I dont see any teenagers there.
So maybe there will be many NOS valves left soon as no one will be left to buy them! I got into this hobby as a kid and grew up with it as I am sure most of you did. It seems to be only the stubborn few left.
All the kids have and will have small digital set ups. They probably wont be very interested in 2 channel sound at all in the home.
It would be a shame to loose all these experiences and knowledge for good dont you think? All those great records and recordings form a bygone era never to be heard as intended again.
Wouldnt it be great to catalogue them? Even just so someone can simulate the effect in the digital domain as physical modeling sometime in the future. This is where its all going. Its cheaper and who knows, probably just as good.
Never say never.
Sirspeedy wrote: "Very tight tolerences!"
Just a comment on a minor point. Tight tolerances has nothing to directly do with sound qualities. It only means whatever the attributes of the design, the finished product consistently meets specifications.
That could just as easily mean that the tube is consistently not suitable for audio.
I've noted there is a tendency by some to almost automatically ascribe good qualities to the old stuff. However, having lived in the 50s and 60s, I know that period of time had its share of poor and mediocre products. There is little doubt in my mind some tubes from that era are less than they could have been.
Underlying the discussion of whether this or that tube is better than another is the notion that there is an objective standard and that each tube fits into a specific spot along a worst-to-best continuum. That is hardly the case. It is a matter of the designer or the user finding a personal fit. There are so many more choices in older tubes, it is not surprising that one can, if one searches diligently, find older tubes that better fit the bill.
Manufacturers have to use readily available tubes, meaning, in most cases, currently manufactured tubes. Why go through the considerable expense of selecting NOS tubes when there is a good chance those tubes will not be the customer's preference anyway? Also, for those not inclined to try different tubes, the manufacturer has to be reasonably assured that the same tube is available many years from now to service that equipment. Just by pure odds, it is unlikely that the particular tubes chosen by the manufacturer will fit any particular customers idea of an optimal choice.
I am sure that, wholly apart from sonic considerations, certain older tubes have because of their "exotic" and rare status (people actually collect tubes, such as 300As). But, i can assure you that I would be glad to use current 6sn7, 12ax7s, etc., if they happen to work well for me. I pay a lot for the EML meshplate 2a3s I run because, they outperform anything else I have heard. In other words, I am not paying for their rarity (they are currently being manufactured), but I am paying a premium for performance.
NOS tubes are compared with new production by listening to them. It seems to me that comparitive measurements of what the tubes do to the signal waveform could lead to an understanding of what needs to be changed in new production tubes to make them sound like the old ones which people prefer. The laws of physics haven't changed, so there is no reason that tubes made today can't be superior.
Eldartford- The reasons are, I "suppose" economic. Not enough demand to support the cost of higher quality materials, tooling, and labor.
I am not sure that you can get good engineers to work on tubes these days. People are what make products good or bad. If you are an EE, will you choose tube design as your career?
They did not even teach tubes when I was in the EE program, and that was a long time ago....
Again- Info on some of the precious few companies manufacturing tubes comparable to NOS quality/transparency, and the prices they are commanding: (http://www.kraudio.com click on "tubes")
(http://www.euroaudioteam.com The only company making quality small signal tubes now-click on EAT)
(http://thetubestore.com/wesel.html) I have to agree with the "economics/supply and demand" scenario as to why more aren't taking the time and effort to produce tubes as good as those(granted- the select "Grails" and certain choice others) from the 40's through the 60's.
I would agree with you. Manufacturers need a constant supply of reliable tubes that can be bought in bulk for a reasonable price.
I guess it is up to the individual to search and test which selection of tubes works best in whatever equipment. Though this can be tedious. I spent a lot of time and money trying out valves that were unsatisfactory. Though I felt good when I finally found the best combination.
I doubt very much that a good quality valve cannot be made today. Manufacturing techniques are far more advanced now. Unfortunately we are such a small market to cater for that it probably isnt worth tooling up for these days. Even so, we still run into the problem of which ones to remanufacture? Imagine remaking the bad sounding ones!
As someone said the laws of physics have not changed (yet! Maybe CERN will change this) so in theory performance can be copied or even bettered. Who knows? We live in the age of information. Everything we need is out there somewhere.
Wouldnt it be great if the equipment just worked at its finest performance level, rather than us wasting time listening to tubes. We could be listening to music or dealing with things of real importance like which cable sounds best? Aaagggg!
The same economic issues hold for other components as well. There are tube gear manufacturers who know how to make a better output transformer but cannot make them like they used to. That is because, with the scale of production so much smaller than it once was for transformers, the manufacturer cannot order the needed specialty steel in a large enough batch.
sadly its a sign that this technology has become a bit of a dinosaur with only the select few interested. Although I see a few tube docking stations for ipods!
I know many here will disagree here, but in my experience other technologies, especially in power amplifiers, have moved so far ahead in terms of what you get for your money vs performance, and without the insecurities of knowing whether you have the best tubes from the 1950s or not.
The small magical details that we obsess over like this tube or that NOS tube bringing out extra detail here or there, can be had at the flick of a button on a remote control now without even reaching for a screw driver.
I have been trying out some of these latest generation of digital and switching amps for a while now. Some amps have room correction and a host of toys built in. The various filter settings are very powerful and have similar effects to tube rolling.
personally, ive tested A/B old NOS tubes 12au7 12at7, from GE and others vs. the new sovtek 12ax7a, and the new sovteks sound better to me.
analized the harmonics and noise floor with izotope ozone, and mda vst free plugins. with sine tone at arround 50hz.
the new sovtek ax7a has lots more harmonics, than au7 and at7.
it all depends of you like color sound or grey sound.
i like color, anyway.
I have had the same experience with 12au7.
Fantastic film. I have not seen that one before. Notice all the internal parts are selected and moved by hand, and not a rubber glove to be seen. All the salt from sweaty hands carefully preserved inside.
I will go for new valves I think...
Juanpablocuervo and Chadeffect, it's so exciting that you two love the Sovtek new production tubes so much!
OK, so that everyone is happy and sees I am not an ungenerous person, I am willing to buy 1 Sovtek equivalent, be it 12AX7, 12AU7, or whatever for each old tube you can provide me. On top of that, I'll even pay for the shipping!
Man, you guys are going to make out like bandits.
Juanpablocuervo, Chadeffect, and Trelja,
What kind of music do you listen to? I have found with these more colored tubes, it sounds great with violin, guitar, and female vocal music. However, with piano and orchestra music, less colored tubes are more desirable.
Actually to adress Blueranger's original question...
In Tennis(I have played alot,for many years)one has the ability to choose the stringing type and tension as well as racket type,which will best serve one's game.
In acoustic guitars,the same thing almost.You choose a guitar type(dreadnaught,or Concert body,or Jumbo, etc)along with the preferred "tone woods" to voice a particular style of play...or musical flavor.Strings too.
With tubes,it's almost the same thing.It is very easy to voice a particular sonic preferrence,once one becomes familiar with what's out there.
Of course this can also be done in other ways.However.....tubes "can" allow a good system,with a careful owner,to be intriguing and down right captivating if done right.If the tube type is not up to snuff,it can easily be pulled out for a better match....we hope!Seems to me that many folks like this.
I've heard as many lousy sounding tube based rigs as SS set-ups,but when a good tube system is in front of me,it's instantly obvious!!And sorry....the better NOS tubes sound much better than the new alternatives.I wish it was not my experience,but it's so!
Btw,my own set-up is a hybrid,so I'm not in any specific camp.
I would agree with sirspeedy, you need to find the right balance for a specific set up. But I think this takes a great deal of experience, time and cash.
I listen to a wide range of musical styles. From classical orchestral music and small scale instrumental music though to rock and electronic music. This is the main reason I dont go for old tubes and except in a few critical areas dont use them at all now.
My main use for tubes are in mic preamps and vintage mics these days where I am looking for color. My hifi is tuned to be neutral.
I have never found any tube to work well in a full range system although wonderful in bandwidth limited set ups like Quads etc or for a specific type of music normally acoustic small scale with or without voice.