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  1. #1
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    Question on tubes used in New Gear

    After recently re-tubing my VAC CLA-1 MKII Pre-Amp with the exact tubes that VAC uses in newer Pre Amps I got to wondering.

    Are the tubes that come in new gear the best tubes for that unit?
    Or, do the tubes they use just meet a recommended measurement and then they use the cheapest tubes that fit that requirement?

    What they set me up with was a set of NOS 12au7s and a set of Chinese 12ax7s and with shipping the cost was around $90.

    Now, they also use these same exact tubes when they sell you a new $10k or $14k pre amp so that is my confusion. There are so many different sounding tubes at many different price ranges so what do you think an MFGs process is for specifying out the tubes that will go into a new unit?

    So VAC uses $20 tubes in a $14k unit as well as a $4500 / 15 year old unit. Seems odd that the choice would be to keep the cost down in this case. What would another $100 be to someone dropping $14k on one of these awesome units.

    Any thoughts or actual reasons from anyone here in the business?

  2. #2
    RGA
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    Parts, including tubes, are chosen to meet a price point and, hopefully, for sound quality - and availability.

    Companies may very well like a given tube but if they can't get them in large numbers they probably won't use that tube - because they have to ensure that everyone buying the amp or CD player gets the same product. They'll leave the end user to change out tubes for the hard to get expensive rare ones.

    I talked to Peter Q of Audio Note about this a little bit and when they sell something they have back-up parts for every single thing in the unit. So in 20 years you need a new cap or tube you will get the exact same cap or tube that came with your amp.

    With tubes - it's more about the transformer - or should be. The same tube types should not be wildly impacting the sound of the amplifiers IMO since accuracy is the goal you don't want tubes subverting that.

    The Chinese and Russians make fine tubes - the mythos around it all is a bit silly - they're glorified light bulbs.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by RGA View Post
    Parts, including tubes, are chosen to meet a price point and, hopefully, for sound quality - and availability.

    Companies may very well like a given tube but if they can't get them in large numbers they probably won't use that tube - because they have to ensure that everyone buying the amp or CD player gets the same product. They'll leave the end user to change out tubes for the hard to get expensive rare ones.

    I talked to Peter Q of Audio Note about this a little bit and when they sell something they have back-up parts for every single thing in the unit. So in 20 years you need a new cap or tube you will get the exact same cap or tube that came with your amp.

    With tubes - it's more about the transformer - or should be. The same tube types should not be wildly impacting the sound of the amplifiers IMO since accuracy is the goal you don't want tubes subverting that.

    The Chinese and Russians make fine tubes - the mythos around it all is a bit silly - they're glorified light bulbs.
    Yeah, I get the price point and availability thing but just a bit miffed that there isn't a better tube that can be used in a $14k Pre Amp besides a simple tube with nothing other than Made in China on it that costs $20.

    By the way, the original tubes in the VAC were Golden Dragon which Kevin Hayes told me the name is now used to brand several tubes, none of which equaled what they originally used.

    I would really expect a $14k Pre amp to use a better tube, but I will say I am satisfied with the sound improvement I got by swapping out the Sovteks and JJs for what they suggested. VAC also stated that the Sovteks are one of the worst tubes to use in a VAC and in the newer models they suggest to NEVER use them.

  4. #4
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    Many companies supply average tubes in their amps as they know that most of us will roll them any way. Chinese tubes are a mixed bag.....while some are very good, many are terrible ( especially those generic signal tubes with stars on them ). There is no one tube that sounds the "best" in a given amp as it's an individual decision as to what sounds best to you - this is why "tube rolling" has become a hobby within a hobby.

    The finest tubes produced today have difficulty matching the best tubes of yesteryear. With the advent of transistors the great American tube factories were closed, dismantled and the tooling lost forever.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Poultrygeist View Post
    Many companies supply average tubes in their amps as they know that most of us will roll them any way. Chinese tubes are a mixed bag.....while some are very good, many are terrible ( especially those generic signal tubes with stars on them ). There is no one tube that sounds the "best" in a given amp as it's an individual decision as to what sounds best to you - this is why "tube rolling" has become a hobby within a hobby.

    The finest tubes produced today have difficulty matching the best tubes of yesteryear. With the advent of transistors the great American tube factories were closed, dismantled and the tooling lost forever.
    Yeah, I get that. I was just wondering how a designer of a $14k pre amp would choose a $20 tube and all the rest of the components are of higher quality and price point.

    I know it's all personal preference but it makes no logical sense to me. If someone can afford to drop 14 large, they probably wouldn't mind if it had better tubes in it from the start and cost another $100.

  6. #6
    RGA
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    And as I have noted many times - just because something is expensive doesn't mean they use good parts. Open them up and see what's inside or find pictures.

    Most tubes are inexpensive - the manufacturer may feel that the $300 tube doesn't sound better enough to warrant putting it in his amplifier and then having to charge more for the amp.

    Though yes it is irritating to see a cheap tube in a very expensive tube amp.

    Unfortunately I am fairly convinced that the vast majority of audiophiles tend to be males who shop with their eyes and are fascinated by "cool looking technology."

    This explains why plenty of stuff looks cool, is very very heavy but you look inside at the parts and the price and they don't add up. This is perhaps why kits are popular and why I gravitated to Audio Note which is basically a giant kits company that builds them for you. Looking inside some expensive SS and tube amps at many more times the money and it's pretty sad.

    But we're visual - we can "see" the tube in a tube amp and we can "see" the drivers in a speaker - yet the most important aspects of creating the best sound, to use a car analogy, is under the hood.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hyfi View Post
    Yeah, I get that. I was just wondering how a designer of a $14k pre amp would choose a $20 tube and all the rest of the components are of higher quality and price point.

    I know it's all personal preference but it makes no logical sense to me. If someone can afford to drop 14 large, they probably wouldn't mind if it had better tubes in it from the start and cost another $100.
    What make you so sure that all the rest of the components are of higher quality -- or for that matter that a higher price point is the same as higher quality?

    Lots of companies, (I'm not saying VAC), put their money into BLING. To be clear, I don't define "bling" to mean just cosmetically pretty stuff but also prestige brands of technical components for example. Where bling isn't (or can't be promoted as) a big factor, they tend to choose basic, adequate components.

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    I once bought an amp that came without a power cord. I asked the seller why no power cord was included and he said we thought people would like to buy their own. The absurdity makes you crazy but no doubt makes for a better profit margin. It's no wonder DIY audio is more popular than ever.

  9. #9
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    Audio cosmetics should be about "form fitting function" but we know it's not.

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