What's the deal with New Old Stock?

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Let's deal with the first myth: "Valves are making a comeback"

Wrong - They never really went away!

While it's true that almost every type of electronics that once used valves is now Solid State, valves have never really disappeared from audio and hopefully, never will. The high-end of audio is very much dominated by valves and that's never really changed.

These days, all of the popular audio valves are in full production... brand new, shiny, top quality valves for almost every thermionic audio component I can think of whether it's old or new.

But there's still untold numbers of old valves left over in the world – because before the Solid State era, everything – I mean everything electronic, depended on valves and massive quantities were produced for radios, TVs and even computers. God only knows how many valves were stockpiled by the military in World War II.

So, these days, we can often choose to buy new or 'new old stock' (NOS) valves.

Now, let's deal with the next myth: "NOS is better than new stock"

That's not entirely wrong – just mostly wrong!

The Truth:-
There are good old valves and bad old valves...
There are good new valves and bad new valves...

Some of the valves made in the '50's and '60's (and even earlier) were simply legendary for their quality and sound – but for every 'magic old valve' that's still floating around out there, there's at least a thousand dirty old tubes that really should have been binned a long time ago.

There's nothing inside an electron valve that gets better for sitting on a shelf for 50 years (it ain't a bottle of Scotch) so a lot of valves that were great half a century ago may not be so good today.

Generally speaking, I will recommend only new valves for a couple of reasons:-
Repeatability (if you break one, you can get another just like it),
Multi sourced – choice of vendor, choice of brands,
They're readily available in singles or matched sets,
They meet their specification,
They're guaranteed,
They sound good,
They're cheap.

From a repairer's point of view, that's a tick in every box!

Now, let's compare NOS:-
Non-repeatability (if you break one, too bad!)
Limited choice of vendors and brands,
They're rarely available in matched sets,
They may or may not meet their specification,
They're not guaranteed,
They may or may not sound good,
They're generally over-priced.

By now, you'd think I'm anti-NOS. In fact, I occasionally buy and use NOS valves myself but - I know what I'm looking for, I know what I'm doing and I can tell the difference between trash and treasure.

There are some truly excellent old valves still out there, but it's a bit of a lottery and unless you're a total tube geek (like me), you're much more likely to get a happy result from some new glassware. Choose unwisely and you could waste a lot of money on garbage and blow up your amplifier too!

To be fair, there are a few reputable vendors who sell verified NOS but you will pay handsomely for their excellent service... and there's also a lot of ratbags – my colleagues and I often have a chuckle when we see some wood-duck on eBay bidding for dirty old valves that we wouldn't hesitate to bin!

If you're into tube-rolling and wish to quest for the Holy Grail of old valves, that's cool if you're OK with the time, the money and the risk involved, but if you just want to listen to some nice music with a minimum of mucking about, stick with new valves.

It should really go without saying but if you're looking to buy a valve audio unit, you'll have a much easier ride if you pick one that uses current production valves. Yes, there are new products out there that can only use rare, obsolete valves! Unless you're into exotica and prepared to pay a premium for scarce, antique tubes, I'd suggest you look at something a bit more mainstream. Check the valve numbers and see if they're still in the catalogues (or in the museum).

But for me, the best reason to buy new valves is this:-

I like valves and I want to see valve audio technology continue to flourish and to evolve. The best way to ensure that this occurs is to support the people who are alive and making valves today instead of spending money on valves made by dead guys!

Early computers used thousands of valves.

There's still heaps of them lying around but it doesn't mean they're any good for audio use.

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