Over Tubing it?

I am pretty sure this has come up before, but I am wondering folks opinions on whether one can "over tube it" with integrated amp and DAC.  I have a tube integrated amp (Black Ice Fusion F35 with KT-150s) which I quite like and wish to keep.  I am now auditioning the Denafrips Ares 2 DAC and my Black Ice DAC which has tubes.  

Anyone have thoughts on whether staying with the Black Ice tube F35 amp, and tube DAC, versus replacing the tube DAC with R2R (e.g. Ares or Pontus) or other for maximum quality, paired with my tube integrated amp? (Quality meaning 3d holographic soundstage, transparency, detail and other buzz words), etc...

Put another way, what do you all think the best placement of tubes in the chain yield the best results, and is it possible to "over tube"?

I stream via roon server and Optical Rendu exclusively.

Would love to hear the community's thoughts and experiences with this.

Thanks a lot.



If it sounds good to you it shouldn’t matter how many tubes are in the chain. I just added a tube dac to my system that already has a tube preamp with a separate power supply that uses two 866a mercury rectifier tubes, it seems to sound better with every tube piece I add. 

If it sounds good to you it shouldn’t matter how many tubes are in the chain.

Excellent answer, one that I fully agree with. I have all tubes; amp, preamp, and NOS DAC. The only adjustment needed was tube rolling to achieve optimal sound. Amp and preamp were locked in, I had to find the right tubes for the Dac to suit my taste. 

You would not think of my system as tubey, it's neutral with great clarity and realism.

Way too broad of an idea. There is no such thing as too many tubes or too much solid state, you pick equipment that works with your system, design has little to do with this.

I own the best system I have heard (to me, and I luckily accidentally have an exceptional room). All my components are high end tube (~36 in total), Reference Audio Research with the exception of my streamer (Aurender W20SE). No question that there is no such thing in a high end system as “too many” tubes. In high end systems they don’t sound like tubes… they are used to enable incredibly natural musical high fidelity sound.

An all ARC tube system might sound too solid state for those who want romanticism..

I am wondering folks opinions on whether one can "over tube it"

This question comes up once or twice a year.  IMO, The question itself comes from those who have read all the erroneous claims about tubes. IE "Tubes are slow." "Tubes don't have good bass" and on and on. The so called lack of good  bass kept me from tubes for a good period. Then I tried them myself and...WOW!  I shudder to think of going back to SS. I'm sure there are some good ones but I don't have the $$$ to try and find them

So considering all the misinformation about tubes,  its little wonder that the question is asked. But it comes from a view that believes tubes to be inferior to SS. I have not found that to be true. Unlike @ghdprentice , I only have 9 tubes in amp & preamp. But I would not hesitate to put a tubed Dac in the system. It all comes down to good implementation whether it be tube or SS.

Thanks a lot for all of your thoughts on this.  Very helpful.  I am re-committing to the tube DAC for a while and just placed an order for some tubes from Brent Jesse.  I am interested in what rolling in other tubes will bring to or detract from my system.  


Well, there was a time when there was no way you could get amplification without tubes, so I don't think it's necessarily always true you can have too many.

I will say that the amp/speaker combination matters a great deal. For instance, Martin Logal ESL's often do better (but of course not always) with a beefy SS amp but the inclusion of a tube pre can be pretty magical.  Combination of a sweet little liar with a big iron hammer.

I've found my Black Ice Fusion F35 w/ KT88s, Denafrips Aries II, Tekton Lores set up with Tidal off of a Macbook to be my sweat spot. Absolutely incredible listening experience with all genres over the last year or so. Have been contemplating the KT150s though as my move from EL34s was appreciable.  

In comparison, my daily listening is through a Sansui G9000, Schiit Modi and Triangle BRO3 so I can bass up with loudness for low level listening; quite a bit different but still a very pleasing experience even if I'm only using about a third of the volume knob.

Hm, let's see--nine in the amp, seven in the linestage, six in the phono stage, and four in the headphone amp.  It is not the count that is scary, but the price of the individual tubes.  Ten of the tubes are in the $1,500-$2,000 each range, and the rest are not cheap either.  Fortunately, my tubes are run gently and do not need frequent replacement (haven't changed ANY in more than a dozen years).

Ten of the tubes are in the $1,500-$2,000 each range, and the rest are not cheap either. 




Sounds like you are running NOS western electric 300b tubes at that price.

I am running old, but testing good, Western Electric 348's (six of them) and Western Electric 349s.  I also run four Western Electric 310s.  In my phono stage, I run Telefunken ECC 803S.  The phono stage is particularly odd because it runs two 300b tubes as rectifiers.  The electrostatic headphone amp runs four EL34s (I use Telefunkens).

True NOS engraved base 300bs would be WAY above any price I can even imagine.  Who knows what 300a's go for these days?  A local dealer has an amp that runs meshplate Western Electric 252s; he was offered something like $20,000, plus replacement non-meshplate 252s and a trip to Korea for a pair of these tubes.  That is the most that I can think of for tubes.  

 The phono stage is particularly odd because it runs two 300b tubes as rectifiers.




I have a tube preamp with a separate power supply that can use 300b tubes as rectifiers, I haven't tried the 300b yet as I'm using 1616 rectifier tubes currently.


@ghdprentice said,

"In high end systems they don’t sound like tubes…they are used to enable incredibly natural musical high fidelity sound".

If there ever was a definitive statement, succinctly put, this summarizes the 'tube sound question' in one sentence.  Bravo!

I boil it down to one word - realism - when someone asks. :-)     

To the OP:

I have an all tube system, the DAC is a vintage solid state Theta, but my preamp has an interface board built in that is dedicated to its output into the pre. It is the RFC circuit* designed by Dennis Had of Cary Audio. In fact, my preamp is Cary as are my monoblocks. Sublime realism coming through the Maggies.

If I were to upgrade my DAC, the Jolida/Black Ice would be a top contender - a great sounding DAC 'specially with a tube chain and cost effective to boot. Frankly, with the Theta and the RFC circuit, the realism is astonishing.  Mike Moffit was on the cutting edge then (and still is) of digital to analog conversion.

The take-away: The right tubes when done right (good transformers are a must) = Realism (to me, anyway). No 'tubey' sound.  If so, something isn't quite right.  

*For those interested:  The RFC circuit was a Reverse Phase Cancelling circuit that stripped out the ultrasonic noise (above the Nyquist limit), which is produced by DAC chips, so the analog section does not amplify it. It was accomplished using two 12ax7 tubes. The circuit literally reversed the phase of this inaudible noise and cancelled it out. It wreaked havoc on the analog sections and made digital sound 'edgy'.  In the salad days of digital (to use Dick Olsher's phrase), this was ground-breaking. The Theta was used as the test bed for this circuit which I also bought. Going forward, this was accomplished in the digital domain and really helped tame digital. In point of fact, that patent proved very handsome...so now you know. 

On a personal note, Dennis is a very talented tube engineer.  I discovered in my first conversation he was a fellow Ham and the designer and builder of the Dentron line of tube R/F amps which he sold to start Cary, which is when I interacted with him. He custom-tweaked my Cary chain starting with the installation of his RFC circuit, which was the basis for a dedicated line preamp, and I have never looked back. 

The only other addition to the chain has been the Jolida Foz SS-X, a tube-based line level device, which I wrote about in a separate thread. I have my system in a very small room and the SS-X addressed the issue. So, adding tubes does not degrade the sound if done right~!