Anyone else evolve beyond tubes?

Over many years of owning both solid state and tube amps/pre-amps, my most recent high end system makes me question the need for tubes at all, except at the source! My Mcintosh C46 pre and MC501's driven by an MF A5 CD player into Dyn" C4's with MIT Magnum cabling produces music of great beauty and dynamic swing. I even demo'd some of the newer tube gear available for comparison...not even close. I think modern, well designed solid state gear is superior least with a tube output stage in your source!
To each our own.

The hobby is all about our ears and our wallet.

For me there is no evolution beyond tubes. The buck stops here
I think you are de-evolving. You should listen to some high power single ended tube amps and preamps. If the amp splits the single how does it get it back together at the end??? I can't even get toothpaste back in the tube.
Just to be a contrarian.......

I've been into tubes in all applications for quite a few years and have the typical disdain for SS stuff. Well, I'm presently playing with a Wadia directly into a tube amp and my immediate impression is 'not bad, not bad at all'. Now if I can just find the 'perfect' tube amp! And the beat goes on......:-)
I'm still a knuckle dragger...

I have been a tube a phile for many years, and I am a dealer for Dehavilland, Antique Sound Labs, Manley, Cayin, Cary and many others.

With that said, my main reference amplifier is an Edge NL 12.1 and when that amplifier is properly setup, yes I do use a tube preamp, a Cary, the Edge blows away any of the tube amplifiers and is both engaging and has an enourmous soundstage. I have over the years sold and listened to all the great solid state amplifiers out there, the Edge is truly amazing!
Buy what pleases you. It doesn't matter what anyone else believes.
If tubes are bad and produce distortion, why would you want them at the front of the audio chain? I've always been a believer in GIGO.

So sending the distorted signal all the way through the audio chain and amplifying the distorted signal is "your bag"? That's great. Enjoy it.

I'm a poster child for de-evolution. I've moved to an extremely simple system (which is cool because I obviously have a simple mind). I currently run my SS CD player directly into a SET tube power amp and use single driver speakers. Talking about bass-ackwards, my CD player cost $3500, amp $1000 and speakers only $600!


"Buy what pleases you. It doesn't matter what anyone else believes."

Precisely my point.

As I stated above, it is all about "our" ears and "our" wallets.
Everyone owns a piece of gear that "blows away any of its competitio such as stated above by Audiooracle. I could say the same about my Lamm ML 2.1 vs his Edge but again it is all about me.
I've been progressively eliminating tubes from my system. First the phono preamp, then the preamp, now the power amp. If I stay the course, the only ones I'll left to deal with will be in my guitar amps. Heat has never been an issue for me, but the longer I ran tubes the more I heard them, and all I want to hear is the music. And they fail, they always eventually fail, whether by flaming out or just contributing little noises. I don't want to be distracted or even potentially distracted by my gear when I'm listening. Soundwise I don't think there's really a need these days, just an aesthetic preference which I'm weaning myself off of (and gaining clarity and control in the process). Plus I can enjoy more music more often if I'm able to leave my rig turned-on and warmed-up. Yep, for now I've pretty much had it with the 'romance' of tubes, and audio in general: I just want my system to be a dependable music-playing appliance, nothing less but nothing more either.
I agree there is some fantastic SS gear out there and you have found some of my favorites.
the issue of tubes vs solid states for the current generation of tube preamps and amps, exluding set amps is a non issue.

the differnces between the sound of ss and tubes, especially using "dynamic" speakers is very small and insignificant.

however, the older tube products, say from the 70's and 80's do offer an audible difference with respect to ss components.
Don't miss them at all, cep't for spice. I have no use for solid state either.

08-16-06: Mrtennis
the issue of tubes vs solid states for the current generation of tube preamps and amps, exluding set amps is a non issue.

the differnces between the sound of ss and tubes, especially using "dynamic" speakers is very small and insignificant.
I disagree wholeheartedly, with the caveat that one man's insignificant is another man's significant, and not having the experience with 70s and 80s tubed gear I imagine it's possible there was a more significant sonic difference between SS and tubed equipment during those decades. If that's the case, then it stands to reason one could consider the differences less today based on the earlier sound as a reference.

However, I have heard substantial differences between tubed and solid state preamps and amps on my dynamic loudspeakers. All the equipment was manufactured after 2000.
Umm but it doesn’t get rid of the tubes. So you still need them even though you’re using a SS amp. I have a T-amp and really like it for lower listening levels (bedroom system). But my main 2 channel system is all tubes. I really like it better than any of the SS amps that I have used.

What really matters is DO YOU LIKE IT? Unless you’re chasing the dog, when it sounds great to you, then sit and listen.

I really think that room acoustics far outweighs any hi end mod you can do with equipment however. I have heard some under 1000.00 systems sound better than 10000.00 systems by room arrangements and good attention to sound materials. In fact the funniest blind test I attended was a comparison between two SS amps; a 150.00 pioneer verses a Mark Levinson ML2. Most people enjoyed the smooth midrange of the pioneer!? But liked the overall detail of the Mark Levinson. It blew me away. But actually it was how the room was laid out and the materials used that allowed the lesser amp to sound well beyond its price and build range. I thought it was a SS amp pitted against a lesser tube amp.
I should have said, tubes take some credit in helping the non-oversampling DAC work sonic bliss. I don't need more. The full benefit of the DAC is amplified untampered with. tube lovers would love my system sound.
The mu-vista tubes in the MF A5 do not have haze, grain, slowness or frequency anomalies may be the best CD player my Wadia 860 and ML 390s! I recently heard the ARC ref setup with Watt Puppy 8's...ok but not great..still tube haze present! Maybe some combination of tube amp/preamp would not color the music so much. Just thought it was interesting that the Mcintosh stuff is so grain free and rich in timbre...very dynamic as well.
Eggs ackley my friend..the room, the power.. everything matters..enjoy!!
Dave_b , Well a tube in a source is virtually the same as running a tube pre.. I mean truth is you are just implementing tube sound in different component but same upstream fashon. I Say if you can get a tube output stage on a CD player with volume control, then yes it is very possible to have just as good of a musical sound sense as running a Tube pre or an amp.. I definatley believe in solid state amps being better for my taste, lots of air and punch, with power in reserve. Tube amps top out faster and the more you turn them up sometimes the softer they can get unless you can go into big dollar mono's with tons of tubes and heat, so I guess with the original statement of for the cost implemented yes solid state circuitry today especially in amplifiers can be just as enjoyable as tubes. However I still believe tubes in the chain either at the source or the preamp are a good option, and needed in many cases. I would go try a CD or Dac Tubed if I did not need a phono source, but thats why running a tube pre is still necessary in my case, otherwise I could get away with all solid state counterpart I guess.
All my gear is solid state. Lots of slam, and dunk, and hiss sort of like bacon frying, which is like napalm in the morning as Robert Duval said.
I now use a combination of both ss & tubes, a tube preamp & solid state power amp although just recently picked up a tube power amp, specifically the Nobis Cantabile which has a Fet front end based on the classic Marantz 8B driving four EL34s in ultralinear mode , what a great find for the price. I am very impressed with this tube power amp and have had some very enjoyable listening sessions with it so far. If I have evolved at all it seems I have gone back and forth between tubes and solid state each offering their own unique qualities and even mixing the two together. There is no right or wrong answer to this dilema but what works for yourself.

Not too far back there was an article in Stereophile magazine in which the reviewer stated he could not understand the resurgence of interest in tube gear when you take into account how good todays solid state sounds.

After reading Corey Greenberg's review (1992) from Stereophile magazine on the Nobis Cantabile amp, I think a quote from it may be worth repeating here as it gives another point of view of tube versus solid state:

"I dig tube amps. When all's said and done, good tube amps seem to sound more like real life than most solid-state gear, even after listening to & enjoying the hell out of musical solid state designs like the ARC D-240II and the Muse model One hundred, once I hooked up the big VTL Deluxe 225s again it's just like going home. I could go on about timbral accuracy and cleaner midrange textures but the bottom line is, music just sounds better when you shoot it through good tubes, and once most people experience that magic, they're hooked".

I just given two point of views and you can do whatever turns you on. But I will keep both ss & tube on hand because variety is the spice of life. There are no set rules and if there were, they are meant to be broken.
Geuss what...I sold my Mcintosh stuff and bought....drumroll...Krell...I had it before but forgot just how superior there stuff is compared to anything else!!
A tube pre with a ss power amp is, to my ears, the best combination. The pre-tubes are resonable in price, the ss delivers the clean highs and the tight lows. I believe this to be especially true with CD(vs. vinyl).
I've just switch from a CJ MF2500A to a Cary six pacs. With the six pacs, music just flows and has a fluidity that was not there with the MF2500A. Keep in mind that the 2500 is known for its tube like and has received lots of praise. On the other hand, the 2500 bass just kicks a** any tube amps out there and overall has better transience and attack. So the question is which is more important to you?

Also, regardless of what SS amp I have listened to, there is always this "electronic haze" that is not there in a tube amp.
Funny..I just demo'd the ARC ref 3 vs the Krell Evo 202 driving the Evo 402 into dynaudio C4's...the tube haze and overall distortion of the signal sold me on Krell...Krell is not like any bother solid state is music!! I do like my MF A5 tube output CD player so has no tube problems or haze at all!!
Nope, never gave it any thought.
I had more problems with tube amps. Constant tube failure. I owned MacIntosh, Cary,Wolcott, Manley and never had perfect operation past 3 months. 10 years of tubes and a year ago tried the Datrzeel. A year of zero problems and better sound and control.
Right now I have tube amps and a tube dac. I am looking forward to two ss amps, but I have been into even all ss before only to return to all tube equipment. I guess when you have been at this as long as I have you expect returning to tubes over and over. This is why I have nearly two hundred NOS tubes in my stash.
Most tube amp manufacturers agree that there has been lots of bad tubes. One of the tube sellers told me that he has tested over a 50% failure rate on one of his brands and not much better on some others.
09-06-06: Snook2
Most tube amp manufacturers agree that there has been lots of bad tubes.
Some hyperbole in this statement, IMO. I owned a VAC amp and never had any problems with bad tubes. In fact, I retubed with VAC tubes, and they worked flawlessly.

I presently own a Moscode that uses new production tubes, and they have worked perfectly.

Yes, bad tubes happen, but my experience does not support the supposition that there are lots of bad tubes. IMO, if one buys from a good source, then the risk is reduced. For example, I suspect buying re-labeled Shuguang KT88 tubes from Penta Labs may be more dependable than buying the same tubes directly from a Chinese supplier. While I don't have any evidence to back this up, I tend to believe Penta likely cherry picks their tubes, and if a bad tube does surface, then returning it to Penta Labs for exchange is definitely going to be easier than returning a bad tube to China.
for nearly 45 years, i've listened to tube gear (i grew up with tubes in my parents system). as an adult, i've had mac, bat, woodside, beard, cj, cary, arc, amc, vtl, manley, melos and more through my systems over the years, including several 'sets'. i've concluded that a good amp can be ss or tubes, as long as it services the loudspeaker. Amps are like restaurants in new orleans.....3000 makers, 3 recipes.
I frankly have trouble believing Snook2's claim of a 50% failure rate. I've owned and listened to tubed gear for over 45 years. During that time many many tubes have worn out. We expect that. However, I can count the tubes that have failed prematurely on one hand. Perhaps I've been lucky or don't fit the statistical model but there might be a little embellishment in Snook's figures IMO.
Audiofeil, I'd guess that the 'manufacturer' was talking about the failure rate when they screen tubes to be used in their stuff, not the failure rate of tubes in service in the field, or by dealers testing tubes prior to sale. FWIW, I've heard of high failure rates in testing, lets say EI 12AX7's, for microphonics, but the ones that passed present little problem in use in the field.
OK Newbee perhaps I misunderstood. That being said doesn't 50% failure speak to an incredibly flawed design and/or quality control process? Imagine if US automobiles (oops bad example) or politicians (oops another one) or audio reviewers (ditto) performed at that level.

Only kidding everybody.
I got tired of failed tubes and when I heard the s.s. Chapter Audio amp amd pre my questions were answered.I have since upgraded my amp to the incredible Norwegian Hegel H4A Mk2.I am in audio heaven and do not miss tubes at all,even thogh I can still appreciate them.
Well said Audiofeil...........

50% tube failure rate, I don't think so. I have been using tubes, like so many of they above posters, for well over 20 years, even when they were not in vogue, without any type of tube failures. I did have a Cary 2A3 SET amp that ate tubes for lunch but found out after the amp ate two tubes within a month the bias circuit in one of the amps had gone south and I was over biasing the tubes. Again like so many of the above, I too have had examples from ARC, cj, Music Reference, Cary, Welborne, Art Audio, Sophia, Atma-Sphere and Manley (who drive their tubes to the limit) and with the only exception of the one Cary 2A3 amp I have yet to have a tube failure. Atma-Sphere uses a 6AS7 power tube which can be problematic, two years using the same tubes that came in the amps they are running just fine, hot, but just fine. After learning of the 6AS7 tube having potential problems I even stocked up thinking I was going to need extra tubes at some point, not the case. If one is running away from tube amps because of the risk of tube failures one needs to look for another reason, better base, more dynamics, less user interaction with the amp maybe, but not tube failures.......
Michael Elliot of Counterpoint talked extensively about tubes in my owners manual and refered to them as fragile little devices. Here is part of what he had to say on the subject:

"A tubes insides are far more fragile than the insides of a light bulb. In a light bulb, all the mfg has to worry about is long life and good light output. It doesn't matter if the filament wire is leaning to one side or if the coating of the filament has some loose flackes, the bulb will work. But a tube has about 1,000 times the requirements to operate satisfactorily. Everybody knows that if you shake a light bulb briskly for about 10 minutes there is a good chance the filament might break, making the bulb useless. The same concept applies to a tube used for audio, but to a larger extent".

Further he explains that the shipping process of tubes due to vibration cannot guarantee a perfectly working noiseless tube upon receipt. So far I have been fortunate and have yet to receive tubes that are noisey or don't work at all but that could change!
Further he explains that the shipping process of tubes due to vibration cannot guarantee a perfectly working noiseless tube upon receipt.
Phd (Threads | Answers)
Then, it makes sense that the best tubes are NOS 6922PQ/7308/and Military designations from the 60s and 70s, which were developed to high tolerances, built to be long lasting and to withstand abuse.

IMO, this is a good argument against new production tubes, especially signal tubes, which do not have to withstand rugged use in military field radios, radar installations, and vehicle rader/signal equipment, unlike the 60s NOS counterparts.
TVAD, I totally agree with your statement above and makes alot of sense, very good point. By the way, I am already working on wearing them tubes out you sold me! They have proven to be exceptional in their sonic performance and at times hate to even shut the system down, it sounds that good, you really know your tubes!
Here's an interesting thread about some views on the current crop of Chinese tubes:
My info came from the gentleman who owns Vintage Tube Services. I ordered new tubes and he explained the problems he has with NOS in bulk. He checks all tubes before sending them off. Lots are failed or don't test to his standards. BTW I retubed with his tubes and never had a problem with the Steelhead. Manley originally replaced my sets of tubes twice and agreed the tubes had problems
I have had good experience ordering tubes from the tube depot and the tube store. Only one Mullard EL34 from about the last 50 tubes, I ordered from both of them, failed.

But try as I might, I still can't get those Chinese tubes, pre or power, to sound as good as the current Ei, TungSol and JJ tubes, despite long run in time in a variety of amps and phono preamp configurations.
09-07-06: Snook2
My info came from the gentleman who owns Vintage Tube Services. I ordered new tubes and he explained the problems he has with NOS in bulk. He checks all tubes before sending them off. Lots are failed or don't test to his standards.
Ha! Now the statement makes perfect sense. He told me the same thing, but specifically regarding Siemens CCa tubes. He's the best in the biz. You can take the quality of his tubes to the bank.

However, given his strict standards for tubes, I'm not convinced all the tubes he discards are junk. It'd be fun to try his rejects.
Tvad's right. Andy is OCD with his products. I'd also love a crack at the "junk" bin.
Recently I read something on here that Andy was closing up shop. I see the website is still up so is there any truth to that? Every purchase I have made from him (at least 6 transactions), save one, has resulted in excellent tubes. On the one that didn't (Sylvania 6SN7Ws) he immediately refunded my money. A great asset to the audio community.
Indeed an asset to the audio community. The most fun was his insight into amp technology and what he knows about some of the leading amp manufacturers. They differ from some of the reviewers. IMAGINE THAT I am trying to be diplomatic and not mention any names
Yes, Andy has a lot of knowledge about amp technology, as well as RFI and grounding components which he helped me with. In some ways I felt he knew more about my amp than the manufacturer did. Andy certainly knew the right combnation of tubes for it based on his knowledge of the tube circuits. I've dealt with other tube dealers and for the most part have had good experiences, but Andy is the best.

I may just have to give him a ring to see if he'll be able to get me a stash for my phono preamp and DAC.
Most people never get to hear tube amps at their best-which is with simple efficient speakers-or used to run just mid and treble with SS on bass duties.
The problem is that most speakers are built to handle SS power and as a consequence don't suit tube amps with their low damping factors and power output.
If you seek out the emotional elements in music then valve amps are still the best,although SS amps with good electrostats and a tube preamp will deliver this convincingly.
The tube versus solid state debate is all about how people listen or hear differently,not the products.If you really want to complicate the debate you need to include chip amps which have a different sound again-[their vibrancy and clarity are more SET like but with more SS tonal qualities]

I am leaning toward ss. I am currently sitting on the fence. Both my amp and preamp are hybrid. I want full range frequency repsonse, sufficient gain for mc, real bass and not have to deal with tubes.
Unfortunately both tubes and ss suffer form identity cirsis. SSwants to be tube like and vice versa. Rememberwhen Krell amps had balls?
Right now probably the all out design in tubes is the Atma-sphere. We all know they have impedance problems and tend to imitate space heaters. Probably the SS kings seems to be the DartZeel and ASR Emitter II.
When a tube lover like Harrry Pearson not only proclaims a solid state design the best but approaching the real thing that means that the tube designers need to get busy.
I for one am going to take a hard look at solid state. I was impressed by DartZeel driving the VR9SE at the show. A double Dart with matching preamp approaches $50KHMMM? I deserve it!
You sometimes incounter a problem using tube pre and and a SS power amp. Some (alot) of SS power amps have a low input impedence that is difficult for a tube pre to drive. If you have a ss amp with a 100K or 150K input impedance, no prob. On the other hand--most ss pre-amps can easly drive a tube power amp. Personally, I like tubes all around or a hybrd pre. It is really not fair to make general statements anyway and you should listed to each piece and decide----but the input/output impedance is very commonly overlooked and makes a big difference in matching of equipment.