Can tube preamps be as 'detailed' sounding as ss?


Recently I bought a minimax tubed preamp. After several weeks of listening and comparing to my Plinius Cd-Lad pre, I've decided I like some things about the minimax, but more things about the Plinius
1. minimax adds a sense of realism and increased soundstage depth a little
2. minimax added more hiss to the system
3. better bass with the Plinius
4. better details and clarity with the Plinius
5. Wider soundstage with Plinius

I really enjoyed the increase sense of realism though. Is it possible that a better tubed pre (such as Cary slp-98) would retain the clarity and details of the Plinius and add the midrange lushness? Or would a hybrid tube pre give the best of both worlds (like a Cary slp-308)?
thanks for your thoughts
rest of system, Bryston 3bst, Ayre cx-7, Audio Physics Libra
machman12000
Machman

You lose your forum cherry with the tube vs transistor argument and you nailed it, first time.
I haerd a Audio research VT100 and a Audio research pre 12. Both famous tube amps. I was not impressed at all.
Point being you have A-Z as far as sound in tube pre's.
I suggest you try a cayin pre. Can't recall the model #. that should do the trick.
Google up Acoustic Sounds, look at the Cayin SC6LS. Its a bit pricey on their site, shop around.
Also ck out Xiansheng 728. Clean looking and offers plenty of tubes at a incredible price
http://www.pacificvalve.us/XS728III.html
Check the brand of tubes being used. There are most likely better brands out there. Tube brands definitely sound different from each other.
Bartokfan...no, I'm not even gonna say anything...

Machman20000: You could make the argument that, since a tube preamp will always have a higher noise floor and a longer rise-time (slower slew rate) than a SS preamp, that tube pre's (or amps in general) can never really be quite as 'detailed'. Although probably technically true, how tube vs. SS actually translates into the listening experience doesn't seem as simple as this. But to answer your other question, yeah, it's quite likely that trying a better tube preamp will yield improved detail.
The simple answer is "no."

While I agree with Zaikesman that there may be some tube preamps with better detail than the one you tried, you have hit upon the classic tradeoff between tubes and solid state.

Now all you need to do is decide which presentation you prefer. Tubes can be smoother and more musical at the expense of being more noisy and not being as articulate and detailed at the frequency extremes. Congratulations and welcome to the real world.

I personally like having at least one tube component in my electronics chain, but that can vary with the particular recording and my mood at the time. Accordingly, I have a nice tube DAC hooked up to one preamp input, and my Rega Planet's ss analog outputs hooked up to another. YMMV.
If you like the detail and bass of the solid state preamp, I believe you might really, really like a First Sound Presence Deluxe II preamp. I owned one, and ran it at one time with a Bryston 4B SST amplifer. It created the largest soundstage I've ever heard, and the bass and treble clarity was stunning. Definitely not your father's tubed preamp.

It's like solid state on steroids.
Zaiksman, as I hear it, ss amps are a Dinosaur that is dying a very slow and most painful death. Will take decades more for the final one to be laid to rest.
Also chinese tubes amps are on their way. There is no amount of criticism that is going to stop those who know a vaule when the see one, from jumping on it.
To my eyes, the guys of any ss amp/pre are disgusting looking. Really gross. And the sound image is so un natural, so insensitive, cold, calculating.
Tubes OTOH are true beauty. The tube amps that do sound poor and ugly, I've heard a few, are uglied sounding for the ss electronics inside, poorly arrangned and/or cheap parts.
There's not any ss amy that can match even the littlest of Jadis the Orch Refer on any level.
Not even close.
>>Clean looking and offers plenty of tubes at a incredible price<<

3 great reasons to buy.
"07-13-06: Plato
The simple answer is "no."

While I agree with Zaikesman that there may be some tube preamps with better detail than the one you tried, you have hit upon the classic tradeoff between tubes and solid state."

I agree.
I'm lucky enough to own a detailed, acclaimed tube pre and also a Cary SLP-98 (F1). AND, an excellent mint SS pre fell into my lap last week. It's all about: what the rest of your system is composed of, and what YOU like to hear. I have the SS pre running with a tube amp (something I never thought I would do), and I'm really liking it.
BTW , SLP stands for Sweet Little Preamp according to it's designer. That says a lot about it's sound characteristics.
24phun: Can you comment about how your 98f1 sounds (as far as details) compared to your unnamed SS pre and tube pre? I of course am aware that we all hear things differently and our rooms and other components will differ.
The answer is absolutely YES, but not a tube preamp. Henry Ho's Fire preamp
should actually be redressed to amp status. As such, it would at least
compete with Pass Labs First Watt.

Adding it to my system has not, "Got out of the way." That seems
to have been the best compliment possible for a preamp. The Fire has
actually accentuated my H2O mono Sigs performance, as if it was a winning
relay runner handing off the baton at speed. They are an essential tandem.

It is my firm belief, the Fire preamp would stand high as a breakthrough solid
state amp.
I agree with Zaikesman, on paper the SS pre has impressive specs but upon listening to my c-j 17LS2 it sounds more involving and more like music than many SS pres I have owned or audition. People say SS pre have better bass extension but with my Spectral which boasts flat down to DC I didn't miss any bass extension and if there was I couldn't exploit it because my speaker system was not full range and yes te c-j has better midbass oopmh. This brings about another good queston, how many people out there have truly full range speakers systems flat down to 20 Hz anyways? And regards to the highs please someone give an example of missing info that tube pres can't retrieve or mask? When it comes to microdynamic life, harmony, rhythm and freeness of the sound tube pres are better and yes better mids. Poster said the SS pre had a wider soundstage which to me is less important than say having a pre sound flat, tight and not able to convey the wood, resonance and the nylon strings of an acoustic guitar. My c-j has so little hiss you have to put you ears right next to the speaker to hear a tiny bit whereas when I owned the Spectral combo I could here a hiss from my listening seat.

Here's the secret for a good pre-amp. One gain stage, using small signal tubes configured for triode, volume attenuator using selected resistors and a good power supply with film/foil caps.

Good Luck!*>)
"To my eyes, the guys of any ss amp/pre are disgusting looking. Really gross."
Well Bartokfan, you've absolutely got me there. But how can you even see me through the keyboard like that? Amazing...
The quick answer is 'yes'.

The more complex answer is that transistor preamps might sound more detailed at first blush due to the presence of odd-ordered harmonic content (at low level) which serves as a loudness cue in the mids and highs. This causes them to seem more detailed, but a good tube preamp will have actually more detail yet be laid-back at the same time.

IOW some audiophiles equate brightness and detail unconsiously- when odd-orderd distortion is what they are really talking about (this is where the term 'clinical' comes from). Often the word 'dynamics' is used to describe odd-ordered harmonic distortion too.

>>There's not any ss amy that can match even the littlest of Jadis the Orch Refer on any level. Not even close.<<

Really?? Maybe you discuss this with Nelson Pass. He may have a differing opinion.
Tubes can have more power and dynamic raw sound than solid state, you would be surprised.. Tubes virtually have unlimited bandwith in many cases vs. the solid state transistor counterparts 20-20k... Some tubes can sound More Audiophile Named "Solid state" than solid state can sound, which is normally not the goal but proof that tubes give up nothing in comparison if implemented correctly but can gain a HALO or emotionally more pleasing sound with all the detail brought forth even more so.
Ditto on checking the tubes. I have tube amps that sounded positively awful (unlistenable awful) all because they had cheap driver tubes.
I don't know the minimax tubed preamp. I think the problem with your question is that it's so general & theoretical. The only way to "really" know what you like--and what sounds good with the rest of your system-- is to buy & try some used pre-amps on a'gon or elsewhere & try them out--(that's half the fun of the hobby for some).

BTW I own both a Cary slp-98 & a C-J PF-R SS pre-amp. Both are truly excellent preamps IMO. The PF-R does have a bit more detail, but can verge on sounding slightly "bright" on the highs at times. (This may prove nothing about tubes vs. SS in general tho.....).

A good tube preamp shouldn't be adding "hiss" to your system tho--either there's something wrong with it, or it's not a very good design.

Also, if you have an urge to get a Cary slp-98, I think that's a great idea, esp. if you can get a decent deal on a nice used one. They sound great, look sexy as he*ll, & I pretty much stopped thinking about upgrading pre-amps once I got mine. (Altho I've always wanted to try a Levinson).

Just my own 2 cents as a hobbyist.....
Atmasphere: Mr. Karsten, I wish I could believe your explanation were the whole story, but to me that's the first post of yours I've seen that just sounds too pat and self-serving. I like and own both tube and solid-state gear, so I have no special agenda in that debate, and I'll be the first to admit that like most audiophiles I'm not technically competent to debate the point on your level. From what I've heard (not nearly everything, or even very much by typical audiophile standards, including none of your own gear), good apparent detail transmittal is available from both technologies. As I noted above, I don't think it's as simple as saying that SS has a lower noise floor and therefore must be more detailed, but neither do I think it's as simple as saying that SS always suffers from distortions that give only a false impression of detail and therefore tubes offer more real detail. Personally I think tubes can suffer from at least as much in the way of audible anomolies of various kinds as can transistors. But I also think painting either approach with too broad a brush is to downplay the importance of design, something I'm a little surprised to see a designer such as yourself endorse.
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The only thing a tube design will give you over SS is a higher level of distortion. Some people like it, but it's not accurate, i.e., it's not on the recording.
Bob_reynolds (Answers)
Speaking only for myself, none of the accurate solid state or digital gear I have owned has been musical, and I have owned or tried some very highly regarded, uber-spec'd amplification and preamplification.

Different strokes for different folks, but I don't subscribe to the notion that by definition more accurate sounds better, and I believe this has to do with the recording. IMO, no recording sounds like live music due to the inherent manipulations required in the recording process. So, while the goal of accurately reproducing what's on the recording is a fine utopian ideal, it falls short of the goal which most of us desire...which is an enjoyable musical experience.

Thanks, Machman12000, for starting the latest in a long series of Audiogon tubes vs. solid state pissin' contests. Caution: Aim downwind!

:)
I own a tube preamp and two solid state preamps. I love all three of them. I've been unable to come to a decision on which of them is the best. While they have different sound signatures, they all have their excellent strengths and all sound great. So, I've kept all three and use them in rotation on a monthly basis. So, for me, the debate will never end.

How can you ever choose a Miss Universe? ....they are all gorgeous. Same as a preamp, you have great sounding tubes and solid state units. You have to keep searching until you find your flavor.
Bob_reynolds, you state:
...but why spend all that money when solid state is available?
Because the sound of tubes is so much f**king better!

Go get yourself a 1980's amp with >.001 THD, and enjoy!
Basically, the conclusion you came to while comparing the 2 preamps doesn't characterize neither tube preamps nor SS ones. There are tube preamps out there that can blow you away with the detail, imaging, dynamic drive and soundstage depth and width.

Is it possible that a better tubed pre (such as Cary slp-98) would retain the clarity and details of the Plinius and add the midrange lushness? Or would a hybrid tube pre give the best of both worlds (like a Cary slp-308)?

My answer is yes. It is possible.

Some tube preamps you may want to check out for the above qualities are:

ARC(older, with 6922 tubes) LS-15/16MkI, LS-25MkI, LS-5

Sonic Frontiers

Aesthetix Calypso

BAT

Blue Circle BC3000 MkII.

If you won't be impressed with what these tube preamps can do, then SS is your game.
Bob_reynolds,

"...tube designs are inherently noisier than solid state. Tube designs start out with that disadvantage. It may be possible that the top dollar preamps can overcome that disadvantage, but why spend all that money when solid state is available?"

It doesn't take top dollar tube pre's by any means. I run a TAD150sig...not a hint of noise...black silence until the tube CDP has something say(from a CD). Same experience from a tube integrated...maybe I'm just lucky.., but neither are top dollar machines.
As has been pointed out previously, tube designs are inherently noisier than solid state. Tube designs start out with that disadvantage. It may be possible that the top dollar preamps can overcome that disadvantage, but why spend all that money when solid state is available? The only thing a tube design will give you over SS is a higher level of distortion. Some people like it, but it's not accurate, i.e., it's not on the recording.
Bob_reynolds

Ever wonder why there are so many tube based microphone and guitar amps around? It may be a shock to you but there are sound engineers who use tubes in their gear mix. Harmonic content is important to some ears you know.
i think the better tube and ss preamps try to approach the area of sound you are looking for. check out the modwright and sas in tube and the sonic euphoria in passive for example. all 3 offer astonishing windows into the music. i think the best in tube and ss technology are converging to the same area.
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There are a heck of a lot of adjectives that are applicable in the audiophile world. And, based on a previous thread, a few that are not at all relevant (such as self-effacing).

I can go with just about any description, but the one adjective I can't let pass is "accurate".

My experience has proven to me that no audio component can aspire to that description, and to paint an entire group of audio components (be they solid state, tube, digital, analog, planar, electrostatic, dynamic, copper, or silver), is something that I could not disagree with more. What one thinks is "accurate" is just as likely to be considered flawed by the next person.

I've been party to various demonstrations of a company comparing live music ala a piano or bass guitar to recorded music through their component to prove how "accurate" their product it. While I was impressed the first few times, eventually I learned that if you hand them a CD containing music in another flavor, it was soon apparent how "accurate" that component no longer was.

In all these years, I'm still waiting for someone to build "accurate".

And, for the record, in my opinion, tubes can often sound MORE detailed than solid state. Though, for preamps, I'm just as likely to be OK with a solid state as a tube preamp. Passives can be an option, but can oftentimes also not be the answer. Every preamp, tube or solid state, that I have tried has proven inferior to running no preamp.
Well I obviously had no intention to start a pissing contest. I was merely trying to find out if it is 'theoretically' possible for tube preamps to present all the detail on the recording. It seems that the answer is probably yes, and I will need to audition several of the suggested pres in my system to find the sound that I (and only I) find most enjoyable. It's interesting that people get so worked up about A vs B whether its audio or astronomy equipment (another hobby of mine) and likely other things too. I appreciate the discussion and suggestions for some models to try. I do agree that trying out different components is a fun and interesting way to enjoy this hobby.
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Zaikesman, I agree that topology has much to do with performance- that it is not just tubes/ss. There is a bit of a strawman going on in your post though, as I was commenting on the fact that audiophiles often interpret brightness as detail (although they don't always like it, thus the term 'clinical').

I admire Nelson Pass's designs as an example of the sort of work that is actually advancing semiconductor-based amplifier technology, and I've been watching the class D stuff evolve for several years too. I am also a big believer in price perfomance curves and their significance.

The bottom line is that I believe what I preach and I try to practice it to the best of my ability. In this way I stand behind my word. I hope you are not taking me to task for that, but if so I have no worries -its not as if I've been trying to hide anything- after all my moniker is atmasphere :)
Bob_reynolds, yes, my feathers were ruffled, but after a good preening, everything is smooth now :-)

As has been mentioned and implied by others, tech measurements don't always relate to actual listening experiences. Further, tonal balances can play tricks on your ears. I once tried a different isolation device on my CD player. Excellent bass improvement was my initial impression. After further listening, I realized why the bass sounded "so much better"...all the "air" of the high frequencies had been sucked out, tilting the tonal balance toward the bass end. Back went the original device, and the tonal balance returned to the proper presentation.

I have been to 3 CES shows. Other than on a VERY few occasions, I can walk into a room, not look at the preamp/amp and can tell whether it is a tube system or SS. I like a quote that I once heard, "Tubes are amplification devices while transistors are switching devices that can be configured for amplification."
Atmasphere wrote:
"There is a bit of a strawman going on in your post though, as I was commenting on the fact that audiophiles often interpret brightness as detail (although they don't always like it, thus the term 'clinical')."
Strawman? I must beg to differ. The uncontroversial sentiment about the danger of mistaking brightness for detail wasn't all you said in your first post:
"...transistor preamps might sound more detailed at first blush due to the presence of odd-ordered harmonic content (at low level) which serves as a loudness cue in the mids and highs. This causes them to seem more detailed, but a good tube preamp will have actually more detail yet be laid-back at the same time."
That's clear and unequivocal, and it's what I responded to. Taking for granted that we're talking about good SS preamps, I personally doubt anyone has solid empirical evidence correlating measured performance with psychoacoustic listener response to demonstrate that this alleged phenomenon is actually the case.

Which, of course, doesn't mean that it can't be your honestly held opinion. But then we must acknowledge the flipside of the coin, which is that many audiophiles (and doubtless designers as well) are of the opinion that tube gear might sound 'pleasing' because it allegedly deviates in such a way as to help obscure some possibly 'unmusical' elements of a transduced recording -- a position I assume you don't agree with.

In my mind, I often find an analogy to this debate in the world of reproduced moving visual images, as transmitted to my eyes via the miracle of television. Neither film nor video presentations can be mistaken for seeing real life. But although high-quality video usually seems objectively more accurate in many ways, subjectively I'd rather watch high-quality filmed material from the 'golden age' (roughly from the late 30's to the mid 60's) every time given the choice. In fact, this often 'feels' more like real life to me watching it, even if strictly speaking it doesn't really look it. However, this sensation is primarily a function of the 'original recording' -- not the transmission or reproduction gear, and again I find an analogy here with the recorded audio sound that I like best, from a 'golden age' which pretty much coincides with the filmed one.
These kinds of questions just frustrate the hell out of me. There are great tube preamps and lousy ones. There are great solid state preamps and lousy ones. Some tube preamps are detailed. Others are smooth and lush. The same can be said of solid state preamps. There are tube preamps with great extension in the low end and ones which push the midrange forward. The same can be said of solid state. Why do people always want to take the most elemental aspect of design and, with little or no research or experimentation, turn it into THE most significant aspect of achieving one sound or another. It doesn't work that way and manufacturers take advantage of this and YOU in order to make you think that there is only one way to get great sound and that is to buy their product which was designed to have tubes or solid state or Vishay resistors or XYZ capacitors or some propietary circuit or whatever. Among the thousand of design decisions involved in bringing any product to market, I guarantee you that there are many reasons why a product sounds the way that it does and the most important is to achieve synergy of design which will not come by focusing on one aspect of the design.

Those who say that they cannot enjoy ANY solid state preamp because third harmonic distortion overwhelms their senses have bought all the hype - hook, line and sinker - or they are a manufacturer just trying to sell product.

There are many ways to get to the promised land and without discussing effects of other equipment, cables, room musical and sonic preferences, but simply tubes or solid state in the preamp, we aren't really discussing anything at all.

Those of us who are not engineers, but consumers of this medium should realize that there is plenty of art, not just science in the design of this equipment and we shouldn't pretend to be engineers. Relax and enjoy the music.

Bob_reynolds, "accurate" is most definitely an adjective.

It cannot be identified by any measurement, otherwise, it would have already been created. The perfect measuring solid state amplifiers of the 70s and 80s are an example of components proven to be "accurate", and are as flawed as anything else out there.

I'm glad you're OK with people hearing a component, because we all do - even you. I can definitely hear what solid state sounds like, and I often like it. Just that it's not "accurate".
You make good points, Rayhall.
Rayhall, yes, I too appreciate your points, well stated, well taken.

And there is no such thing as "best" in this venture.
07-15-06: Rayhall wrote:
These kinds of questions just frustrate the hell out of me. There are great tube preamps and lousy ones. There are great solid state preamps and lousy ones. Some tube preamps are detailed. Others are smooth and lush. The same can be said of solid state preamps. There are tube preamps with great extension in the low end and ones which push the midrange forward. The same can be said of solid state. Why do people always want to take the most elemental aspect of design and, with little or no research or experimentation, turn it into THE most significant aspect of achieving one sound or another.

Well I sorry if my question offended you. Being a ss guy, I haven't heard much in the way of tube gear which is why I asked what I meant to be a SIMPLE question. After lots of debate here, my question has been answered. While I would love to audition every tube premp out there, I can't afford to do so which is why I came here for advise.
Machman12000:

Sorry if it seemed that my frustration was all directed at you. It wasn't. Of course, you have the right to ank any question here that you feel will help you and I don't have the right to pass judgement on it like I know everything. I have heard a lot of equipment, but, by no means, have I heard all that there is to hear. I owned a Plinius SA-100 amp about 5 years ago, and I got a lot of enjoyment from it. I have never heard the CD Lad, although it was around at that time. Here are some of my favorite preamps and linestages.

Solid state

Ayre K-1Xe
CTC Blowtorch
Dartzeel NHB-18NS

Tube:

First Sound Presence Deluxe Mk II (This is a linestage only)

CAT SL-1 Ultimate Mk I (haven't heard the Mk II)

Although some of these products are considerably more expensive than the CD Lad, they will certainly blur any lines between what solid state or tube amplification should sound like. Get your hands on any of those above for audition and you can include preamps from Herron Audio, Emotive Audio, Wyetech, Supratek as well as a new solid state preamp which I understand will be (or is) cheap from Parasound. The auditioning will keep you busy for quite a while,but I bet that you will here tube and solid state products which each satisfy.

Good luck.
Boy i have a Minimax and a VERY revealing high efficiency horn system and that Minimax is QUIET!! I do have the newer version with the latest upgrades.Maybe they improved upon this problem?I also have great bass and detail.Don't think i would want anymore.
I think so. I am amazed how much the choice of tube can impact the clarity of any piece tube gear
How about negligible harmonics that are not a product of the music?
Tubed circuits can be very fast and wide bandwidth. That is, IF they are built to do so. SS circuits can be very fast and wide bandwidth. That is, IF they are built to do so. As such, it boils down more to the goals and approach that the designer takes, not necessarily the topology.

Detail requires speed and "natural" linearity i.e. good performance without the need for gobs of corrective feedback. Both of these attributes are by-products of having a stable circuit that provides wide bandwidth.

Having said that, tubes are typically more prone towards having a higher noise floor. Tubes are typically more prone towards introducing microphonic based noises into the system. Tubes are typically less consistent in performance over an extended period of time. Obviously, these are all generalizations, but i don't think that even the most dedicated "bottlehead" would argue these points. After these factors are taken into consideration, most all of it becomes a matter of personal preference and system matching. Sean
>
Zaikesman, I appreciate that you have a level headed attitude towards the sport. If you look back at my original post, you will find in the second paragraph the acronym 'IOW', which is to say that I was indeed commenting on the fact that many audiophiles accept brightness in lieu of detail.

I have a customer now that is objecting to the idea of a 'detailed' preamp, on account of he does not like brightness. So I am commenting on a very real phenomena (although I don't think you were objecting to that in my post).

I do think you were objecting to my initial assertion that many ss preamps get identified as detailed because the high/odd-ordered harmonics that they make (in very small amounts) are interpreted by human ears as loudness cues. This does happen to be a fact, as the human ear uses the higher (+9th - +17th) odd orders to tell how loud a sound is.

One time (30 years ago) I was servicing a transistor amplifier and had it on the bench VU meter. I noticed that when the amp was distorting heavily (malfunctioning), the -30db signal that it struggled to make sounded louder than the 0 VU signal it made when it worked correctly. I later found out that General Electric had proven in the 1960s the human senstivity to the harmonics just mentioned. Oddly, many audiophiles are not aware of this study!

Admission: I didn't, and still don't, know what the acronym 'IOW' means...

About the amp thing, I play electric guitar, which as you know is often intentionally distorted, either via amp overdrive or by a fuzzbox, and think I'd have a pretty good sense of it if heavily distorted sound were actually perceived as being louder than undistorted sound measuring 30dB higher in level. I understand that the ear/brain is supposed to increasingly identify and object to harmonic distortion with increasing order. However, I don't think it's universally true that SS gear produces more of this content, although it may be true that tube gear generally produces more low-order content which helps mask it. (Although what you're alleging sounds as if it might have more to do with TIM than THD.) You are right though, I'm not aware that the ear/brain uses harmonic content to help determine loudness -- do you have a citation on this?
IOW means 'in other words'.

The 'citation' I've been referring to is the study by General Electric that was done back in the 1960s. In it, they found that people will tolerate quite a bit of even-ordered harmonics added (up to 40%), but were not tolerent at all of odd orders, objecting to vanishingly small levels. The study showed that the human ear uses odd ordered harmonics as the primary means for determing loudness.

What this means for audio design is that designing with an eye to remove this harmonic content (+9th odd orders) will result in a more relaxed presentation.

If you want to see how this works in the tubes vs transistor thing, all you would have to do is run a sine wave into a preamp, run it up to clipping and view the output with a scope- the tube unit will have a rounded waveform at clipping, the transistor unit will look on a scope like somebody cut off the top of the waveform with a scissors. This 'cut off' area is a place where odd ordered harmonics abound.

Semiconductors, even FETs, by their very nature tend to generate these harmonics more than tubes, even if not being overloaded. It is something that comes with the territory in things solid state.