McIntosh tube upgrade - worthwhile?

I'm wondering if anyone has ever experienced Sonic improvement when switching from the mediocre JJ stock tubes used by McIntosh?

They tell owners that their tube amps are designed to perform equally well regardless of tubes used.  On the surface this seems incredibly unbelievable.

Anyone notice any changes when they upgrade the tubes? And which tubes do you like to upgrade with. Mostly focused on smaller tubes versus the power tubes which I hear overall don't make much of a difference anyway. But could be wrong.


I am using Gold Lion 12AX7 tubes in the phono section of my Mac C2500 preamp.  The other four tubes are the stock JJ McIntosh branded tubes.  The Gold Lion tubes gave my vinyl a slightly richer sound.  I bought them from Uncle Kevin at Upscale Audio.  They were rated “Kevin’s private stash” and are extremely quiet in the MC phono stage. 

Yes, I put in inexpensive NOS RCA's into my C2700 much better then those JJ's. Even better results with better tubes as the NOS RCA's are not known to be the best NOS tubes out there but better then the JJ's. I also put in some NOS Svetlana 6550 in my MC275 and that was a much bigger difference, better to me. I'm currently looking for better NOS tubes but get those JJ's out of there they are bright, lack bass and sound lifeless. For new production I like the Gold lion tubes.  

It’s strange but why is McIntosh and inclined to tell people stock power cords and stock tubes are not worth upgrading. Most manufacturers sell mediocre tubes and power cords along with their equipment because they know people are going to upgrade it all by themselves.

But McIntosh makes an emphasis to say hey we have designed  amplifiers in a manner that doesn’t make higher quality tubes meaningful. Actually JJ tubes tend to go bad more frequently as I’ve replaced many at this point after just a few months. they Buy them by the batches and they don’t quality control the tubes. Why would they quality control tubes when it doesn’t matter what they put into their devices according to them.

Very strange attitude they have. But I have a few of their amplifiers because they are built like tanks and they’re reliable for the longer term hopefully.

In the book "for the love of music" there are commentaries about tube availability and performance that Mcintosh dealt with in their design of tube-based products.  It's an interesting read if you are into  Mcintosh.

That being said, things may have changed in recent times and with current leadership.



Thanks I looked for it and actually ordered it. Any chance you could share what might've been said about amplifiers effect tubes and anything else about the depth of info they go in to about McIntosh amplifier.

The book is really The Mcintosh Story.  Mr. Kessler did a lot of interviews and covered a lot of ground, so IMO there isn't a lot of real depth about circuits or individual products.  It's more of a journey than a textbook.  It did reflect the goals and directions that the company aspired to and what they were trying to achieve when developing new products, and how they perceived their customer's wants and needs.  Lots of good pictures.

It's been a few years since I read this book and I would have to research it myself to give you detailed info.  If you have ordered it you will soon be able to read and form your own opinions which will be better and more accurate than me trying to remember.


Just to add--I am a Mcintosh owner and fan and although I quailed at the cost of this book, it turned out to be a good read and no regrets.


swapped out stock tubes for NOS from the 30's and 40's.  no discernible change to my ears, but did experience a discernible decrease in wallet thickness.  Now other tube amp?  striking difference when using quality NOS tubes.....why?  no clue.

I own a MA 12000 integrated. It has 4 tubes in the preamp section. I too wonder if swapping these tubes would make a difference! Where does go besides Uncle Kevin for quality tubes and the right ones???

I swapped stock tubes to Telefunken and the sound improved significantly. Once I swapped, I didn't want to go back to stock tubes. I sold all my McIntosh preamplifier and amplifier and I still have a pretty good inventory of Telefunken over the years.

I swapped out the original mac tubes for Golden Lions and only saw a minimal improvement in sound. It was better but not by much. 

Yes, I put in vintage medical grade Amprex 12ax7s in my c2300 and it makes a great improvement in lowering the noise floor. As for my vintage mc30 s, mx 110z and MC 240 I use vintage telefunkens in the signal tubes, and some rca black plates in the phono section of the mx110. 

You might want to check out Wathen's Cryotone tubes.  Decware is now offering them as an upgrade in their best amps.  At least one reviewer (HiFi Cave on YouTube) preferred their 300B's over the new Western Electric 300B's (which I have in my amp.)

Brent Jesse is great on NOS, though.

+1 for Brent Jessee, huge selection of hard to find tubes. He's not giving them away, but he does have a 30 return policy (with restocking fee), and he does warrant his tubes against failure for 30 days. I've had great experiences with him for 12AU7 family, 6SN7, rectifiers, and power tubes. I've found him to be honest in his recommendations (sometimes preferring a less expensive tube), and he understands which tubes might work better with certain equipment

As a reminder this thread is about whether tubes on a Macintosh amp makes sense to change.

It's not a marketing opportunity to sell tubes.

It may turn out that it doesn't really matter what tubes you use in a McIntosh amplifier.  The amplifier sounds pretty darn good with the JJ stock tubes but could it sound better with different tubes? That's all


Well, thanks to all-ya-all it did turn out to be an opportunity to sell tubes. I called Brent and have 4 new tubes on the way! Thanks guys!


Posters were giving you additional advice on where the buy quality tubes. That was an opportunity to show gratitude. In that spirit, Brent is very good, but I think Vintage Tube Services with Andy Bowman is superior. Andy knows more about tubes than any of the sellers and is more thorough testing. Andy or Brent is a win. 

Pat Hickman, Oregon, knows more about Mac amps than anyone I've ever met. He would be able to answer your question. What amp are you using? What improvement are you wanting to hear? 

The Mac I own sound great with the tube that it came with.With the prices of tunes now, no thanks....I'm on a fixed income now at 72.And need new a new heating and cooling system NOW. ..

Tubes from different manufacturers each have a unique sound but the differences can be subtle and will be obvious to a careful listener when the audio equipment is high-end  

Tube swapping is very noticeable on high end equipment to a careful listener.