tutube or not tutube

I'm a little frightened (not really, just kidding). I asked a question a while back about what would be a good pre to go with my Rotel RB1090 SS Amp and my B&W Nautilus 805's (with the expectation of moving back to Nautilus 802's or close in the next year or 2). Most of the responses were in the tube area and I really appreciated the info. But as I look more into this I feel a little overwhelmed about dealing with tubes. It seems like there's so much to know and so much to be careful about. I know a lot of you are hard core hobbyists when it comes to this stuff and I'd like to be too but it's just not practical for me right now. The things that make me nervous are: how old are the tubes on the unit I might buy? How long will they last? If I have to replace them is it going to cost me a bundle and with all the tubes there are out there how am I sure I'm getting good ones? How much does varying the tubes affect the sound? I'm guessing that some of you have various sets of tubes that you change out depending on the type of music you're listening to. I read a little bit about dampeners too and that seems like a whole science in itself. All of this sounds fun if you have the time, money and patience for it. Can one go tube without being so paranoid about all the possible complications? Am I better off just going with something like the Krell krc-hr that's on here right now? Seems like quite a bargain even though it's probably over 10 years old (but so is most of my equipment). When I do this, I'll probably have about a $2k limit. And at some point may choose to replace my amp as I slowly upgrade things so I'd want to keep that in mind as well. Anyway, I'm don't mean to sound like I'm asking the same question over again. I'm not doing that. I'm just trying to figure out if I'd really be overwhelmed by going tube or if it would really be a satisfying change.
I second Elizabeth's post. I have an ARC SP-16, which has six tubes. Before I bought this pre-amp, I had the same concerns as Udo. But Audio Research makes it a no-brainer. I've had the SP-16 for 5 years now, and have just reached the end of the tube life. (I use my pre-amp for music and movies, but I turn it off when not in use.) I recently ordered replacement tubes from ARC, and although you pay a premium by ordering the replacement tubes from them, you have some assurance that you are getting quality as they test all their tubes prior to shipping. Replacement tubes were labeled "SP-16." How easy is that? The next pre-amp in their line (the SP-17) only has two tubes, which makes things even simpler.
Tube managment and worry is simply much less of a concern than dealing with them in an amp (that too can be managed). The only issue you do need to be sure of is that the output impedance is a good match with the input impedance of your SS amp. You want the ratio of amp to pre impedances to be at least 10 to 1, but the bigger the ratio the better. So if you have a tube pre with a 1,500ohm out put impedance you want at least 15kohm input impedance (must tube amps have 100kohm so it is almost never an issue).
Udo - You’re complicating things way too much. For example, I bought a used tube preamp (Tube Technology Seer) a couple of years ago. I’ve never replaced the pair of 12ax7’s it has in it. Even if I needed to, it’s pretty simple and straight forward. 12ax7’s are a very available/common tube and can be had for cheap to very expensive.

I’m sure that my Tube Technology Seer tube preamp is one of many products out there that are simple and straight forward and allow a person to enjoy tubes without a lot of headaches, maintenance, or tweaking.

To your last point “Whether or not it would really be a satisfying change,” only your ears can determine that, don’t solely rely on what others have said or experienced in their systems.
There are tube pre-amps better than solid state and solid state better than tube. It really isn't a question of tube sound vs. solid state either because each product sounds decidedly different than another, solid state or tube notwithstanding. It depends on how that product sounds combined in your system and if you like the sound. Tubes begin to lose life the moment you apply electricity to them. Same with solid state. People just for some reason think differently about solid state life than tubes. that is wrong. First, tubes and solid state's bias have to be adjusted after so long. Second, solid state do lose life and need replacement also. No one talks about that because it is much more difficult (not impossible) to replace transistors than tubes. I do it all the time. There are much better sounding and more linear transistors today than yesterday and if you find transistors that have the same voltage, current, hfe, etc. characteristics and replace the old ones, you will find an absolutely wonderful sounding amp. Unless you get into the tube of the month club as I have seen, then you should stick to the recommended tubes from the manufacturer. That is simple. Either they are matched sets or not. Either way, go by what the manufacturer recommends for replacement. There are several places to buy tubes. Some places test, burn in and measure tubes and match them for your amp, pre-amp before sending them to you. Other's, well, you are on your own. I like the Audio Research REF 3, because it just sounds wonderful in my system. I also liked the AR SP 11, and the Robertson solid state pre-amp was better than the AR SP 9 MK II believe it or not. But, the Boulder top of the line, blew all of them away and it was solid state. I'm sure the Mark Levinson and Pass pre-amps along with YBA and many others also stack up very well with Tubes. It depends on how they sound in your system and whether it makes you smile when you listen. If you find yourself sitting for hours without fatique or the desire to get up. then you are there, tube or solid state. find what works and sound good and right to you. Don't go by what other's tell you. Borrow equipment and listen at home. Also, don't trust other's ears, their hearing may be faulty and they don't know it. Happens all the time.

Borrow equipment and listen. Tube or solid state. But remember, compare within the same price range equipment. they are designed based on price range most of the time. So, compare apples to apples. don't compare a REF 3 to a $200 solid state pre-amp and say the solid state pre-amp sucks. It comes down to what you like in the way of sound from your equipment in your house and most importantly, your price range.

But, difficulty with tubes? They really are simple, not very complicated.

Listen and enjoy.
Just for some real world experience here - in my 'second system' which is composed of mostly vintage pieces - I run a refurbished Dynaco PAS-3X. The line section tubes, a pair of 12AX7s, are original Telefunkens. For the past two years, the PAS gets anywhere from 5 to 12 hours of use a day. No problems with tube life, even with the Shuguangs I put in the phono section.

Of course some tube preamplifiers will "eat" tubes faster than others - it's design dependent - but small signal tubes usually last a very very long time.
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