Can excellent tubes transcend modest amps?

I am wondering how far a good but not amazing amp design with decent parts such as Antique Sound Lab AQ1003 DT or a Jolida 302B can be improved by putting top notch NOS tubes? In other words, is it worth buying a used $500 integrated and give it an extreme tube make over for $200-400 rather than buying say a PrimaLuna or Cayin in the $800-900 range with its stock tubes?
This is just my gut feeling and may not be what you or anyone else may think..To me the better and more resolving ( or better built,and more $$$ ) the piece is the more you will gain in performance with NOS tubes..Thats not saying you won't have some benefit with NOS tubes..What I am saying is a more resolving piece ( usually better internal parts etc, )has more chance to show more than a less costly piece..So in my opinion no I would spend a whole lot of money on costly NOS tubes on your piece..There are many very good New production tubes out there I feel you would be better off for you in the long run......Hope that makes sense.....
That's kind of a good question... I think I'd rather have the better amp with the stock tubes.

I own both the ASL1003DT and a PrimaLuna Dialogue Two. I know, because I've made the comparison, that the Dialogue Two sounds better than the ASL amp when using the exact same tubes (mainly at the frequency extremes). It's more solid in the bass, a little more dynamic, and more detailed/extended in the treble.

That said, the ASL amp sounds very good in its own right. It seems to roll the upper treble a bit, which could be a blessing in systems that tend toward brightness. I don't have any experience with the Jolida amps.
Actually- The better and more resolving the equipment and system, the more you will be able to appreciate the difference NOS tubes make. I'm referring to some of the Holy Grails here(ie: Telefunken ECC801S, Siemens CCa, TungSol JAN CTL round plate, Sylvania JAN CHS/6SN7W tall bottle, etc.) and not just any NOS tube. The benefits of finding and installing a strong pair of NOS drivers/phase splitters in your amps will far outweigh the costs/time involved. The differences between these NOS and ANY new production tubes are NOT subtle either. Don't allow your ears to be ripped off by heeding the nay-sayers who, for the most part, have never listened to a system equipped with the best of the NOS valves. As far as output tubes: The prices of matched sets of NOS anything are now obscene(I WAS using matched octets of Phillips ECG 6550s in my monoblocks). I'll now only purchase outputs from Upscale Audio, as their screening/matching/burn-in procedures are second to none, and Kevin has always directed me to the right power tubes to suit my equipment and tastes in music reproduction. Happy listening!!
Not the expert, but you can put moderately priced NOS tubes in moderately priced well built amps and take the musical enjoyment up a seveal notches
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IMO, NOS is very overrated. The most important thing is quality capacitors, well built power supply, quality circuit, and a well matched dammping factor between amp and speakers. NOS is just a blip in a far more complex chain of events. Good tubes by Winged C, and JJ are as good as NOS, and even better in some cases. NOS is a good way to make a lot of money on old tubes. NOS is hard to match, and many have a lot of hours on them. I like new, but do have NOS too, I just buy new now after comparing the two. A bad circuit cannot be saved by NOS. Point to point with no PCB is great and quality caps like v-cap will do more than NOS ever hoped to do. NOS and power cords are similar IMO in that they are very over emphasized and emphasis should be elsewhere. Jallen
I owned Rogue M 150s and tried evertything aftermarket to get the top end to open up, including gold fuses, and cryoed tubes. Just couldn't compensate for the average output transformers. In fairness, better transformers cost quite a bit more. If Rogue used them, the amps would no longer be $4K per pair.

I much prefer tubes at my source and SS everywhere else. Less hassle and less money.

The newer ASL is much better made. Cayins I've heard are outstanding. I have no Jolida reference.

Replacing stock tubes with cryoed Russian 6922s in my Raysonic 168 was a HUGE improvement, but my system is highly resolving
AudioFile, let's clarify this a little. Yes, Pirelli P zeros are worthless on an Impala. However, cheap retreads are a nightmare even to that car.

Jolida sends out their amps with notoriously lame tubes. I don't have a problem with Jolida or ASL gear, I just have a problem with $2 tubes put in them at the factory. Tube upgrades even to modest priced tubes ($10 each) will make a noticeable difference.
Well I tend to agree with Audiofeil. That is not to say that the OEM tubes are WAS, just that you can usually, for just a few more dollars, get new production alternatives that will be quite suitible for you. You don't need to spend big bucks on NOS tubes to get a good result when you are using modest components unless you are seeking a very specific result and you can't find a new production tube that will get you there.
The price difference of most tube amplifiers has more to do with power supply, voltage regulation and output transformer quality than what type of tubes they use. Tube rolling is basically a tweak; so I doubt you're going to turn a $200 amp into a $1000 amp with just tubes. Also remember that amps made in China are much cheaper than elsewhere so the quality comparison shouldn't be readily assumed by a labor rate differential.
My first comment was that the better and more resolving the system, the more the qualities of NOS tubes would be appreciated. NO- They WON'T transform junk, and I fully agree that a well built power supply, quality caps, etc. ARE an absolute must for "high end" reproduction, but: Quality NOS tubes will still take a mediocre amp to higher level, and the differences will not be subtle. Incidently: A high-dollar set of Michelins WILL have more traction, and result in better stability, ride comfort and handling on ANY given car(providing said car didn't already have a better set of tires on it). Will they transform an Impala into a C6? Of course not! They WILL however make an improvement.
So a Cayin 70 0r 88 with a bit of tube upgrade may be the best of both world in the budget category?
A pair of these: (, and NOS TungSol JAN CTL/6SN7GT roundplates or Sylvania JAN/CHS/6sn7W tall bottle tubes from the 40's as drivers in the A-88T would probably satisfy your craving for a taste of the high-end pie(entry level, but solid). That would depend on your SPL needs, and the rest of the source material/system/room combination of course. Personally- I'd use Winged 'C' 6550's(the latest iteration from the St Petersburg factory) as output valves, as I know them to be a very clean tube. Slightly more power with the KT-88's, and you could well be pleased by the stock outputs. You didn't mention your tastes in music, or listening levels. Be certain to buy matched/tested/certified pre-amp grade(very low noise) 6SL7's for the piece. Finding NOS 6SN7 "Grails" that are screened for noise will be tougher, but they shouldn't be in as high a gain stage anyway.
Better tubes make a mediocre amp better but would go so far as transcending it. On the other hand, the are great amps made with so so tubes and still sound great. I would say great amp transcends modest tubes
there is no definitive answer to the question posed by kanuk. until the criterion of "better sound" is denoted, the best course of action is to listen to an assortment of tubes, where there are return privilegs , to determine ifsonic improvements can be attained.

there is a risk when buying another amp, just as there is a risk of dissatisfaction when changing tubes.

our hobby is based upon subjective evaluation, personal preference and a lack of predictability.

it is best to be an empiricist without preconceptions.
without the facility to listen to alternatives, one is left with speculation and risk.
I will add my voice to the chorus of answers above. The answer is NO! The sound from your amp is the sum of its parts. I think tube rolling has acquired prominence because it is the easiest part to tweak. After all, you're not going to be changing the output transformer in a hurry, are you?
I agree with the posts above which say that good tubes will make an improvement, but, a better overall quality of the amp will make the superior quality of better tubes even more evident. To me, the biggest determinant of quality is the output transformer, a part which also happens to be the most expensive.

Any particular preference would depend on a variety of factors, such as personal preference, system matching, etc., so experimentation is the only reliable approach to finding the right tubes. It could be NOS, it could be new tubes, it could be "cheap" tubes that will float your boat. It is hard to generalize.

In my system, I generally favor older tubes to current production, but, there are some current production tubes that are very good too. For example,I like EML meshplate 2a3 triode output tubes, but, they seem to be reliable only in amps that run them gently. Small signal tubes have even more distinct personality in my amps; I just happen to favor Tungsol roundplate 6SN7s and Telefunken ECC803S (apparently others like these too, as they are very pricey).
While I agree with a "no, not in general", I have a first-hand experience with doing exacting that: spend almost as much in tube upgrade as in the original price of the equipment. I bought a Yaqin MS12-B preamp for $200 and while decent with stock tubes, I felt the urge to upgrade to Mullard Platinum and other goodies for about $150. Result: spectacular, both as a phono and a line stage, truly mesmerizing and competing-kicking ass with some well-regarded preamp costing up to 5 times my total final cost which are noisier when they are not inferior sounding to mine.
I may be late with this response but here goes. I have or have had the Cayin A88t and the following pairs of driver tubes:
Ken Rad VT-231 (sold and looking for a nos pair)
Sylvania 6sn7w tall bottles
Sylvania 6sn7w short bottles
Sylvania VT-231 (three hole plate)
Sylvania 6sn7 (three hold plate)
Sylvania 6sn7 (two hole plate)
Marconi 6sn7 (three hole plate)
Brimar CV1985
Ratheon 6sn7 JAN
Re-issue Tung Sol
Stock of course (i believe these are eh)

The differences between each are as distinct as if you were listening to different amps (albiet the sylvanias which have a characteristic sound). Even the gain tubes make a big difference. There are brilliant new manufacture 6dj8 family and 12AXT family tubes but in this category I have yet to hear a decent new 6SN7 or 6SL7 for that matter.

Under $1000, even under $1500 is cheap for an amp. Spend the money for the Prima Luna or the Cayin and when you have some extra dough, replace the tubes. A good deal will come along. Have a few sets for different kinds of music or to compliment different speakers or just to suit your mood.

The theory that the better amp will reveal the better tubes is a good one but you'll yield about 90+% (maybe 95%)of what the tube compliment is capable of with either of the afore mentioned amps.

As far as the car metaphor goes, replacing the tubes is more like replacing the engine than replacing the tires. The theory that different amps will not realize the same benefit of different tubes because of the way the circuitry utilizes the tube is also true but not to any great degree. Most all audio circuits have very similar objectives and parameters.

Hope this helps someone.
I recommend buying a better amp and using a good quality tube. I've tried using the "best" tube in amps and preamps for which I had some fundamental complaint, and expensive tubes never resolved the issue for more than a week after the initial blush of the "best" tube wore off.

On the other hand, where I fundamentally like a piece of gear, then I have enjoyed installing better tubes. But, I continue to enjoy that gear whether it contains the best tube or a good tube.

My two cents. Jeff

ps. Of course, choosing the next amp is the fun and treacherous decision.