Class "A" solid state vs. Tube amp.?

I would like to hear opinions, for, i am listening mostly classical and the acoustic instruments! I never heard anybody more happier, than the Pass owners? I am tempted!
I have been very happy with a Threshold Stasis II amplifier I've owned for some time. Very clean sounding, wide soundstage, good basss extension, and utterly reliable. So what's wrong? Last year, I purchased a used Audio Research VT100 MK-II through Audiogon. There is no contest on unamplified music. There is an unmistakable "rightness" to the purity and timbre of strings and woodwinds. There is a natural "bloom" to the sound. Voices hang in the air. The Pass designed "Class A Stasis" amp was sterile by comparison.
I have tried, but have never found an affordable solid state amp to compete with a very good valve amp. I listen to a lot of acoustic music and vocal music. I used to stick to solid state because of the hassle of valves, but I was always struck by the fact that at a live concert there was a certain beauty to mid-range tones and a certain roundedness to high frequencies that was not reproduced on my system. No amount of tuning could ever get it right. Then I tried a pretty good valve amplifier and I instantly heard the hint of what had always been missing. I then went on a quest of trying valve amps and tube rolling until I got what I was looking for. Since then I have tried a number of solid state amps (in fact I own a Plinius SA250 Mk IV to drive Thiel 3.6 in one of my systems), but the only ones that get close do so in a way that sounds artificial in a way that my tube monoblocks do not (but my tube monoblocks do not quite drive the Thiel 3.6, I must admit, but a bigger valve amp probably would). In the end there are undoubted downsides to tube amps, and so the choice comes down to your musical values. I can live with my beach house system (ss and dynamic speakers) for a short while, but the only thing that gets me close to the live experience is valves and panels. Curiously, I am not so adamant when it comes to CD output stages or preamps - I can put up with solid state in these departments quite easily, and I do not like the added sweetening people sometimes use valves for in low-level stages. It is in the output stages of power amps where I believe solid state is not capable of being faithful to the original sound.
A hearty Amen to both above posts. Redkiwi has it right. The conventional "wisdom" that's been floated for decades is that combining a tube preamp with a solid state amp gives you "the best of both worlds". IMHO, this may be valid if your musical tastes run heavily into rock or synthesizers and/or your speakers are power-hungry or present a difficult load. For all-around enjoyment of all types of music, rock included, my wife and I are both convinced it takes a tube amp to "deliver the goods". We've certainly had more than enough of both SS and tubed pass through our front door over the past twenty years. The only SS amps that haven't yet worn out their welcome are the Monarchy Delux 100s. These may not be the best SS has to offer, but are quite musical and a very good buy when discounted.
Like the above posts, I have had similiar experiences. I have been involved in and around music all my teen and adult life (now 55). I do have both solid state and liquid state systems at home. I have both class "A" and class "AB" SS systems with both planar speakers (Magnepan 1.6's) and several pair of more conventional dynamic speakers. I have 3 tube amps including 300B SET, 2A3 push-pull, and a larger, high powered tube amp...and the speakers required to bring out the best in each unit. While I love them all, I have to say that the most involving and evocative listening sessions are with the 300B amp, followed closely by the 2A3. While my tastes now tend to "quieter" types of music, I still like to crank 'em up once or twice a week. However with that said...if I had to limit myself to just one amp and/or system...I would sell every other piece of equipment I have, if necessary...just to keep the 300B SET in tubes!
Solid State VS Tube amps? Is this a trick question?
Sparky57 is right on! But you CAN NOT tell someone this. It can only be experienced first hand. Some people would disagree and I'm talking experienced listeners. To me it is all too obvious but then again we all hear and listen differently. What is right for one is wrong for another. Then there are the system variables and impedence matters that would all but mandate a solid state amp. There is no absolute answer to your question. My answer to you is DON'T be tempted, and DON'T take a chance. If you are willing to spend the money you will for a Pass amp, I have heard and it is good indeed, for solid state, take the time to compare tubes and solid state. When you are finished comparing, you really won't need to ask anyone because the opinion that matters the most, yours, will hold the answer. My preference is obvious and am in full agreement with all the above.
As offensive as this may sound to many tube lovers out there I find the sound of well designed solid state to be categorically better than virtually any tube amp unless your system is seriously flawed and requires tube coloring to disguise such flaws. In my experience most tube amps break-up when forced to reproduce complex passages of either classical, rock or jazz (i.e. large dynamic peaks, many instruments overimposed, etc.). The only exception are the "over-engineered" megabuck tube amps with which I have little experience but which in any event do not seem to overperform well designed solid state gear. Although tube coloring via excessive mid-bass and rolled highs is in many cases a tempting cure for poor recordings or poorly designed systems I believe there is solid state equipment out there which vastly outperforms these intricate system/tube pairings. If you want names I suggest you look at Plinius, Krell, Levinson, Rowland, as well as some less pricey stuff from such as Marsh, GamuT and Sunfire.Of course the rest of the system needs to be up to par.
The only transistor stuff that approaches the musicality of tubes is Naim. For the most part, still prefer tubes but could and have lived with Naim .Had lot's of Class amps over the years as well, but not in the same league as tubes (or Naim).
ss is the way to go BIG TIME . thats only my thoughts , listen for your self. my system consists of all krell and apogee .
Chedo: What is the rest of your system? It's a hard call because tubes really do it for popular and traditional acoustic music and class "A" is great for classical, especially if you have the power/current reserves for musicical peaks. There are also many different tube sounds to choose from depending on the size of you room, the volumes at which you listen and your speakers. Stating your budget will also allow the experienced ones at this site to make real world suggestions (I am not a part of this group assuming that your budget is a plump one). My only long term experience is with push/pull tube and class "A" and "A/B" SS amps. I am learning about SET 2A3's, 300B's and other varients using EL34 etc. tubes. Getting good results from the latter group is very system dependent, and requires careful planning, but it is worth the effort from what I have heard so far. It's a good thing that I have a moderate budget or I would never be able to make up my mind, I mean you have to commit at some point.
Joe welcome back. Well in response to your comments I am from the accuracy camp in audio reproduction. That is I want to hear what is on the recording as accurately as possible. It is really in the midrange that tubes have that presence that seems to elude solid state at least to my ears. I really don't know how much you have listened to tubes or what you have listened to since you don't give an example. Might I suggest you try a ARC VT-100 Mk2 to compare with those in your post and report back your findings. And so far as music breaking up through tubes, who told you that? It makes me wonder if you have ever listened to tube electronics at all. I have heard most of the amps you mention. A few years back I put my MC-60's side by side with a Sunfire amp in the store running through both B&W 805's and NHT's 2.5i's which I ultimately bought. EVERYONE who listened, customer and sales person alike were quite taken with the 45 year old Mac's and several commented on how much better they sounded on vocals. But maybe it is 2nd harmonic distortion characteristic of tubes, all I know is it sounds more real to me.
Tubegroover, while I have the utmost respect for ARC products in terms of delivering good sound I frankly prefer the honest straightforward gain provided by the ss amps I listed. I have done sufficient comparisons of tubes vs. ss to conclude that the sweetness in the mids is unnecessary if the source is good, and in addition the compromise is too high when the system is reproducing more demanding passages. For the money, I remain convinced that you can easily match the ARC sound or best it (e.g. the GamuT)without the inherent hassles and practical limitations of tubes. Having said that, if your preference is for small ensemble music or vocals I can understand that a good tube amp will make for a very enjoyable musical experience that could cost many $$$ in top notch ss front end.
Hi Joe_coherent. Your statements do not offend me in the least. I have the Marsh amp for back up amp or to use when using speakers that require More power than my SET amps. The Marsh amp is a fine sounding amp considering that it is ss. But it is the one that has the colorations when comparing to my other tube amps. I could not disagree with you more. Though I do disagree with you I certainly respect your opinion.
Joe it is ironic that I find the opposite to be true so far as dynamics in complex music. The power supply of the amp will dictate whether or not it runs out of gas on busy and dynamic passages of full orchestral music. The VT-100 MK2 provides in the neighborhood of 500+ Joules filter capacitance which would make it hard to imagine that it would ever run out of steam and probably would compare favorably with most 200 watt solid state amps out there. My D-115 Mk2 by comparison has a total of 280 Joules and I NEVER hear congestion or compression during busy passages. But then again my speakers are very efficient and have a very flat frequency response across the band with no serious impedence dips. My MC-60 while not as extended at the frequency extremes as most solid state amps, still deliver the power. Filter capacitance is over 250 Joules each amp, they have been modified. They also never sound congested or compressed and offer better bass slam if not definition than the D-115 Mk2. The tube amps, to my ears, offer a better rendering of the micro macro dynamic swings that are evident in live music. This is another area where they excel. The one area where solid state is generally better is in the area of bass slam which eludes most tube amps of similar power. High frequency extention and smoothness is also quite good in the best designs. That said, I still think the ARC amps are superb in the area of bass definition. It is my understanding, although I haven’t heard myself yet, that OTL amps are even better in this area. I hope to find out soon. Once again a matter of taste and preference.
Dekay i have Sony ES XA7ES Balanced! Krell cav-300, and Dynaudio 1,1! Thanks!
I sure hope a tube pre-amp and tubed player make a difference in my system. I just bought both hoping to bring the "tube" sound to my system. Would have a tube amp also but my Hales speakers really are not tube friendly. Have to stick with my Aragon SS. :<
Tubegroover: "The power supply of the amp will dictate whether or not it runs out of gas on busy and dynamic passages of full orchestral music." Are you suggesting that that is the only determinant of an amp's dynamic behavior and ability to reproduce complex passages with accuracy ? In my experience brute force is not the key issue in well designed amps, whether tube or solid state, (although I agree it is an issue) but rather a break-down in tonal accuracy which I find is better dealt with in solid state than in tubes, dollar for dollar.
Chedo: The only part of your system that I have listened to are the 1.1's and I have only auditioned them twice for a short period of time. They seemed to require a great deal of power/current to open up IMO which limits your choices if you have a large room and or listen at higher volumes. I thought the speakers sounded great by the way but I realized when listening to them that I would not want to spend the money to power them. Considering that you enjoy classical music and how full scale some of it can be I might look into the Monarchy 100 watt monoblocks if I were in your position. I would also set up a demo for the Pass gear and take the speakers if necessary in order to see if they will give you the volume and dynamics that you desire. This is also very dependent on your room size and preferred listening levels. I have never used any push/pull tube gear that I believe is powerful enough to make your speakers "sing" so no suggestions on that end. If you enjoy louder listening levels any amp that strains or restricts dynamics in your environment is a waist of money. I being frugal and practical have SS class A/B in the living room and the tube stuff that I have been looking into will go into a tiny spare room where power is not such a concern. This way we will be able enjoy both worlds (we do enjoy the SS system). The living room system is always on standby and ready to play and I do not have a problem with anyone operating the equipment, even children. The tube setup will be there really just for my wife and myself to enjoy when on the computer or when getting away from it all (and each other) in the spare bedroom.
I agree with most of the above posts. The difference really rears its head when distortion occurs. I just prefer the sound of tube distortion. I would rather have 1% of tube distortion (or whatever my Jolida JD102B is) than .001% of solid state (or whatever my Krell KAV300i is). This shouldn't matter if your equipment is adequate for the job, but I would still go tube, myself. The only solid state amp that I have found even remotely tolerable is the Musical Fidelity A3CR.
Dustych: I tolerate and enjoy a Musical Fidelity X-A1. Which is way differnt in it's sound being that it is SS. Have not heard the A series.
Yes Joe I would say if current limiting isn't a factor due to an impedence dip caused by the loudspeaker load (thiels and several panel designs), the power supply limitations would be the primary factor that would cause audible compression in a tube amp. Again matching the amp with the speaker is important. What else would cause a change in tonal character? I have heard this effect more with solid state than tubes. I’m sure a ss amp on the order of a big Krell or Classe would not exhibit these characteristics with virtually any type of load; maybe the Apogee Scintilla’s? On the other hand I am aware of no tube amp that can drive a <1 ohm load. The issue isn't brute force so much as having the reserve to provide effortlessness during dynamic, demanding musical passages. It certainly doesn't hurt bass performance either. Even when a tube amp does clip it doesn’t exhibit the type of compression that solid state does when it clips, which is most audible. I really am curious as to what tube amps you have listened to in your system? And if you still have the Silverline Sonata speakers with their 93db efficiency rating I can't imagine you hearing what you are describing concerning a tube amp, even an 20-30 watt SET if not the flea flicker 3-7 watters.
This is the typical give and take exchange from the two camps. Experienced listeners will decide for themselves. But I will repeat my often stated and unoriginal recommendation. If the goal is to replicate as closely as possible the original experience, then the criteria should be that type of experience. And to be best prepared for that process, one should listen extensively to live acoustic instruments and voices. As to tube or ss; most here are aware that there are so many mitigating and depreciating variables involved in the audio reproduction chain that generalizations are difficult and unreliable to make. Tube gear with certain ss qualities is admired. SS gear with certain tube qualities is admired. Etc., etc., etc. Once you are confident in the qualities you want to have and can reliably recognize those qualities for yourself, then complete the process by making a considered decision. It's normal to see more in what we don't have and that continued striving is a key aspect of the hobby for many. It's also clear that many of us are as much or more involved with the hardware the the raison d'etre for that hardware. That is a valid interest in and of itself. However, once you discount the hardware factor and select entirely on the basis of what you hear and not how others are impressed, I think that music will be enjoyed alot more and there will be much more funding available for software. The key to audiophile satisfaction is in not requiring external approval for what you like. Too much ambiguity for a simple question? Perhaps. Take it for what value it gives.
Waldhorner I say to you, well stated. However in matters of reproduced audio ambiguity abounds as do opinions. The purpose of this forum is to provide insight from different camps insofar as reproduced music is concerned. As to which camp is right is not the issue. What is more paramount is that the less experienced develop through the various insights a sense of what they may be personally looking for. Nothing is a better substitute than listening to live music however I could sit next to you at a live concert that we both might enjoy immensely and yet if we listened to a recording of the same event on two different systems we very well might come to two different preferences. We all must find our own path and the only way for that to be fully realized is as you said through personal experience, not external approval.
My experience with tubes has been more limited than my experience with ss, because I prefer the latter. Just to restate, at equivalent price points, I have ALWAYS found ss to be more satisfactory. Granted, a $30K Atmasphere does not break-up when reproducing complex passages, almost regardless of what it's driving, but neither does my $2K Marsh, for the most part. I fond that most $2K tube amps I have auditioned do break-up in such cases. Second issue, tonal accuracy. Yes, I do not like the sound of most tube amps when they reproduce complex passages compared to similar price-point solid state. I do not think it is a question of power in reserve alone. But there I plead ignorance to any technical explanation and perhaps my ears are indeed deceiving me. In any event I appreciate all your patience and well though arguments. Maybe one day I'll change my mind.
Tubegroover; Thanks for your feedback. Regarding tube amps driving 1 ohm loads: A recent evaluation of the Mac 2000 indicated that the big tube amp put out 107 watts into 1 ohm (although not rated for 1 ohm). If I were to consider glass amplification, the Mac would be one of the first which I would audition.(I do have old Dynaco tube gear which I occasionally use for fun. But it is certainly not my gear of choice.)
Waldhorner Leave it to McIntosh to design an amp that will do it. I have a pair of MC-60's and all I can say about them is they don't make transformers like that any more!
Dekay: the A3CR is MF's top of the line amp. It feels like it weighs 40 lbs., and 35 of them are the transformers. It has consistently gotten excellent reviews. Several of the reviews have hinted at the fact that it's secret is probably the choke regulation, which, unfortunately, very few other amps do. Some others with huge transformers might be able to match its sound, but I wouldn't was good for those days over the summer when my air conditioner was broken, and it was too hot to run a tube amp.
For the last 10 years I was a diehard tubeman. Having Cary, ARC,and Wolcott. I just tried a SS Aloia amp and got the best control and sound. It made me a believer in solid-state. Pass amps are very good but I think you will be surprised if listen to an Aloia amp. Must have the INDUCTIVE power supply
I'm not a tube expert, but have tried several, including the VT100 mkII and McIntosh mono blocks. I have also tried many SS amps, including Levinson and Krell. My current favorite is the Pass Labs Aleph 4 (pure class A). For some music some tube amps sound better, but overall for any music, I found the class A Pass amp to produce the most natural sound from very low smooth clean bass to beautiful highs.
The only bit I would like to add to this lively debate is to relate a small story. I will never forget first hearing my reviewer friend's system circa 1980. It consisted of Infinity IRS, ARC SP-10, Conrad Johnson Premier One, Goldmund Reference, and Koetsu whatever. It was the first time I had heard a high end tube amplifier. Despite Mr Coherent's assertion, good tube amps do not compress dynamics or lose control in the face of complex passages. If anything, their clipping characteristics are far more forgiving than SS units. That system possessed the most incredible ease and clarity. Large scale works like Orff's Carmina Burana would knock you down with dynamics. Many years later, hundreds of amps have gone through his system, but he still prefers the naturalness of the best tube amplifiers. Either the big ARC Reference units or one of the Jadis amps. Unlike Harley enthusiasts, I do not prefer them out of some nostalgic interest in the past. I really find SS units more practical. You leave them on all the time and don't have to worry about warm up delays, re-tubing, and heat generation. Listen carefully in your own system and make the judgement. Audio Research, Conrad-Johson, Atmasphere, Cary, Jadis, VTL, Lamm, and many others do not exist to satisfy a lunatic fringe audience.
Amen Sparky57
I like my SF Line 3 preamp. However; the generally higher intial and maintenance costs of tube amplifiers caused me to decide to go with a solid state amplifier. One of the new pass amps may be the way to go if one can afford it.
Owned both solid state and tubes. To me, it is easy. TUBES!
Rowland amps with ESL's! Dynamics with Speed & Grace!
To see what the top SS amps can do....try the newer spectral gear, easily surpasses AR, Krell, Edge, far as accurate reproduction of input material into excellent speakers. john