Tube is the sound of yesterday just like your old tube TV. and solid state is sound of today just like your new LED TV.
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Sometimes different, sometimes similar, sometimes hard to tell apart at all.
Like most things, it all depends.
In general, the sound of "good quality" tube gear is more variable than good quality SS. If you like a certain flavor of sound, tube or SS but not both may be the only option. Both are capable of very high levels of technical performance (not to be confused with what a particular individual might deem to "sound good") that tend to sound more similar than different when done right.
Tube rolling with a lot of tube gear provides a unique way to tweak the sound not available with SS gear.
Mapman gets it...I think it's an interesting part of hifi dialog that great tube amps are often described as having "SS like grip on the bass," and SS amps will be described as having "tube-like warmth and harmonic content" or some such thing. I personally prefer a tube power amp for the tube specific harmonic content driven tone AND because I like messing with tubes, but the point of all this is great sounding music and luckily you can find it in either design camp.
A lot depends on the designer and what "sound" he/she is reaching for. The range on sound differences are many. It can go from very harsh and bright for some solid state to very soft and mushy and distorted for tube. But, I have found that well designed tube equipment is both realistic and accurate and the same is true for well designed solid state designs.
It also depends on what speakers you are driving.
The real test is you. What type of music do you appreciate? Are you familiar with how instruments are "suppose" to sound? Are you familiar with sound space, dimensionality?,etc. How loud you play your music matters also.
You are going to hear/read from many about harmonic distortion and how it is different in tubes vs solid state equipment. That is well and good. However, There are some pretty good solid state designers out there, just as there are some good tube designers.
To debate and discuss tube sound vs solid state sound, one first must test both on an apples to apples scale. Pick a price point, select equipment well designed within that price point and go at it. just like cars, most electronic equipment is designed within price points that have compromises to stay within that price range. So it will be very close to apples to apples in the comparison.
You can't A/B an Audio Research REF 2509 amp vs a lower end or mid fi Yamaha solid state amp and consider that a fair comparison.
If you are talking about high end, then you will then see that the equipment is pretty darn close with subtle differences. And now!!!! is when we can have a fair discussion about the differences. Until I hear a person's reference point about comparisons, the discussion is lost on me.
Tube sound is warmer and more detailed? In reference to what???
I can tell you that I really like the Audio Research REF 250 amps. They are clean, smooth, accurate and realistic to my ears. The best I've hear so far. I've heard the top of the line Boulder amps and wow! they are nice. I still prefer the AR amps. But it may not be solid state vs tube here, but just AR vs Boulder.
Remember, every designer is different. I haven't heard the TOL Pass amps, but I bet they are really nice.
So, read/listen to what others say about tube sound vs solid state, but, it all comes down to price point, apples to apples comparison and ultimately, what you prefer.
In guitar applications tubes are still definite choice over solid state. Clean, natural, smooth and powerful distortion is only typical to the tube guitar amps while solid state guitar amps (such as Line-6) are using effects to simulate tubes with substantially more harshness and less smooth and less transparent.
In home audio applications tubes are used mostly to impress an eye of the consumer while solid states are nowdays no compromise at all.
LED tv's is for dummies. Not even for free I want a LED tv. Led
is an inferior level of tv's. Oled is superior, but only for
commercial reasons they will sell led for a few years more. This
has only to do with costs. For example in the shootout december
2013 of all best flatpannels in the world the best Led had only
a 6.9. You must be a mongol to buy a led tv.
Tubes are still hot, and they will have an important part in the
world of highend for a long time to come.
Audio is all about personal taste. Be happy that we can choose.
They biggest limitation in audio is that the % of stunning level
in quality is very small. It is my personal opinion that over
90% of all tools in audio is not worth it's money!
I feel that you can get a nice sounding, powerful solid state amp in the $1,000-$1,200 range (used) where you would have to spend double that to get an equally well built tube amp.
I really enjoyed my Classe CA-200, and I also like the Parasound Halo A21, McCormacks and Conrad Johnson amps.
My Primaluna Prologue 3 was nice but felt more like an entry level tube amplifier and not as highup the chain as my Classe CA-200. The Primaluna also ran out of steam at about 80% of the volume I wanted. It also couldn't control the bass like a hefty solid state amp.
Tube amps can require more maintenance and swapping tubes can get expensive. My Primaluna popped and blew smoke one day while just being turned on.
Also, I like to leave my equipment on 24/7 so I don't have to wait 10-20 minutes for itto warm up and sound its best; you can't leave a tube amp on constantly.
Many people say solid state amp, tube pre amp is the way to go but I have never tried this set up.
Tubes look sexy though, and they can impart a certain richness and texture to the music which can make it sound a bit more organic, but at the same time, a good solid state amp can sound rich and full bodied also.
I like both, so I use both within my system, the combo sound's great, tube's on source, and solid state amp direct!, getting ready to roll tube's very soon, mullard 12ax7 10M nos, Mullard 12au7 10M nos, and of course changing the 6z4 recetifier to Mullard nos, might need an adapter for that, the fricken tube socket on my player goes to differnt part's of the tube, wich I got sidewinded by the chinesse on that, no fear!, I will getter done!, Nos on everything!
For me once I heard the MFA d75 I was hooked on the tube sound and dove in deep; but I still do switch to solid state just for a change now and then.
Driving Nola KO's with audiovalve challenger 180 monoblocks for tube and Jeff Roland Model 6 Monoblocks for solid state; each has its own sound which I enjoy; probally the tube sound for me is a little more enjoyable but it also is seems to be determined by what type of music is also being listened to.
Go hear for yourself and then you will know.
I prefer Pass labs over all other solid state. Also over tube sound. Because it has a very musical mid, but a superior timing and speed compared to tubes. Beside this you get a more dynamic sound with more layers. This is price less. When you want a more tube sound, you can add a tube pre amp. Even listening to the best tube pre amp abd power I can audition limitations. As you know I hate every single limitation. In my world there is no room for limitations.
I do not have personal experience with tubes in my own system so my comparison is my long experience with SS versus George Merrill's set up in Memphis. It was not a top of the line Tube system but it was the most musical set up I had ever heard. Pls note , a system IMHO is more than a single component and his components were well matched. It was like live music in a well design music amphitheater. I have put together a pass labs SS class a system with a RCM Sensor 2 phono that is very similar to the sound I heard at George's place. I find the pass SS sound in my system is fast, accurate explosive, but can take on the delicacy of a musical piece like Ravel's Bolero.
I am not trying to hype or review pass labs but rather say SS on Tube systems can sound similar and great. I think it's the art of matching components as much as it's the genealogy of SS vs Tube
My take is different, there is good sound and bad sound. 20 to 30 years ago solid state amps were appalling, and the only solution was to go tube, which is what I did. Nowadays solid state amps are "ube" good, and so I have given up the tube thing.
I would say don't get hung up on the technology, listen and whether it is class A, A/B, D, and the rest of the alphabet, or tube go for the best sound.
The fundamental difference is something to do with distortion and clipping, tubes do it in a nicer way than transistors (even order harmonics). There is a hassle value with tubes, warming up, current draw and heat...and the tubes are constantly wearing out! What always amazes me is people buy exorbitantly priced tube gear, and the first thing they do is roll the tubes:)...like the designer got it wrong>
OK OK I also rolled tubes, it was fun:)
Bottom line is there are good and bad implementations of both SS and tube amps, so one is not necessarily better than the other. Historically there was a time when tubes in general knocked the socks off solid state.
"What always amazes me is people buy exorbitantly priced tube gear, and the first thing they do is roll the tubes:)...like the designer got it wrong>"
Not that he got it wrong, just that the realities of modern production require readily available current production tubes, smaller boutique brands excepted. Some feel tubes from the heyday offer better quality.
This thread seems to ignore the fact that tube amps are more fun. There is no question that good SS amps can, and do, sound fine or often great, but comparisons aside, you generally don't "Transistor Roll" to effect some tonal change because you feel like it...many don't feel like it anyway, and should stick to SS amps...my enjoyment of tube hifi is partly due to the fact that I can see the glow and mess with it for fun...although recent tube purchases are of tubes that don't glow as visibly so there's that, but I still have Mullard Flash for entertainment. SS amps just sit there doing their job invisibly, and except for meters (Pass...good idea) there's no tactile sign of life. Also, I think you can get to some great tone for less cash quicker with a good tube amp, but then I like fun.
I agree. Ube's are fun. I like listening to my system with my ubes and roasting a marshmellow on an open gamma wave from a ube. I also buy old ubes and like to put them in to see them arc up and down the glass. It is like a science fiction movie in my own man cave. And then in the summer I go down in my room in my scivies and bask in the warm(maybe I should say real warm)wafting waves of heat pretending to be in an Russian sauna box. Ubes are killer fun. I have to go now and start drying my clothes on my ubes before I go to bed tonight.
I was gone away long long ime so me girl listen to (expensive) Arcam rcvr all dat ime.
well when i come home i tink hmmm, don't sound right, so i switch back to dem ubes and we watch some shows.
den she says (unprompted, dats important): "BOY, why does it sound so good??"
I go: "baby, it's dem ubes"
I prefer Pass labs over all other solid state. [...]
To each his own, and many factors could have influenced my sonic impressions where Pass Labs gear was involved, but on several occasions with these amps, with varying other equipment, I've found the overall sound somewhat dull and a bit lifeless. Certainly highly resolved, easy on the ears and well-balanced, but often lacking a sense of "snap," immediacy and being ever so slightly too laid-back and easygoing; in a sense, too "hifi-ish." Haven't heard their latest .8 series, so I can't comment on those.
Your description mirrors mine over a 20 year period of hearing and using various amplifiers. As you acknowledge, to each their own. At CES last year I listened extensively to the Pass Labs XS stack driving Marteen Coltrame Sumpremes. Impressive in a hifi sort of way but rather flat/dull with no vibrancy, emotion or life.In contrast to my impression some listeners there thought the sound was fanstatic. Folks just hear things differently.
I had many discussions about shows using Pass labs amps with
Desmond from Pass Labs. In most situations they make different
mistakes. When you are not aware of the properties of each
tool you never will understand how the overall sound will be
You cannot make a combination with expensive tools when they
do not fitt togheter. I can explain why they don't fitt.
Because the properties togheter will create the stage,
individual focus, sound, dynamic and resolution. In most
situation the overall sound is incomplete and the sound of the
cables do not match with the sound of an amp.
I read a review of the XS-150. They did the test with a Pass
labs XP-10. For the money it is a nice pre amp. But it lacks
in details en dynamics compared to the power amp. They also
used a Oppo as a source. You must be a F. mongol to use this
with the XS-150. Why? Because it misses the full palet in
colours of the mid. freq as the best sources. You never can
get a good insight of what the amp is capable of. This kind of
amature test you see all the time. At many shows sets are
based on political choices. This has nothing to do with audio
as it should be used. This makes me very irritated!
The difference really seems to come down to distortion. Tubes make more harmonic distortion, but it tends to be of the lower orders (2nd, 3rd and 4th). These are considered musical by the human ear/brain system.
Transistors in general make less distortion, but what they make tends to be of the higher ordered harmonics (5th and up). These are considered amusical by the human ear/brain system.
The brain uses the higher ordered harmonics as loudness cues, so if they are distorted you will get two results: the sound pressure will seem louder (and IMO/IME a stereo should not sound loud even if it is) and it will sound brighter, due to the human ear's extreme sensitivity to these harmonics.
The ear/brain system translates all distortions into tonality. So it converts the distortions of tubes into things that audiophiles describe as 'warmth', 'lushness', etc.
Otherwise both amps might measure flat on the bench, but the ear has a tipping point and will often favor tonality generated by distortion over actual frequency response errors.
There are ways to design tube amps to not make so much of the lower ordered harmonics without creating more of the higher harmonics (fully differential and balanced is one way). There are also ways to design transistor amps to make less of the higher ordered harmonics, and ways to make them make more of the lower ordered harmonics (single-ended, such as some of the Nelson Pass 'First Watt' amplifiers).
Once you understand that its all about how the amps distort (and I don't mean clip or overload, rather at normal listening levels) then you are a long ways closer to understanding what the differences are between them.
One other important difference is how the two technologies overload. Tube amplifiers overload gently and resist making higher ordered harmonics until really pressed hard. Transistor amps make lots of higher ordered harmonics as soon as they are clipped- and so its usually a bad idea to overload them as the clipping is amusical and irritating.
This is why you can often get by with less power with a tube amp than with solid state. It is also why guitar players tend to prefer tube amplifiers, as they often overload the amplifier as part of their 'sound'. Some of the best-sounding transistor-based guitar amps (Sunn comes to mind) were built in such a way that they made a fair amount of lower ordered harmonics- which is why they have a certain following as they are 'richer'.
Since transistor power is considerably cheaper than tube power, to get around the clipping problem a solid state amp will have a lot more power. The clipping problem must be dealt with as music tends to have powerful transients which makes it difficult to reproduce without distortion.
I just put two Gold Lion 12AX7's (reissue) in my modest Vac Avatar and spent the weekend basking in the sound they brought to album after album, revealing new attributes and making the performance glow with life. A $70 exercise, in the direct signal path, that is not possible with SS. I had been considering a big Mc452, but I now think something would be lost regardless of how good that is. Maybe because it would just sit there with no interaction except off/on.
The only Pass I've heard at home was the Aleph0 and matching Pre. I found it boring, but could easily have been a speaker mismatch. Then they exited my price range.
The best thing about Pass amps is the meter, and I've found they sound fine mostly...I like the "first watt" philosophy as really the tonal qualities are all that matter and it's up to you to decide how much horsepower you need. Pass is one of those companies that says something like "sounds close to tubes" often and makes me even more of a tube head...I also recently installed a pair of Gold Lion 12Ax7s in my amp and they're great, along with KT150s to add a "hot pickle" vibe. Fun...
Now that's interesting Pehare. I would have said that SS is dynamic. But, I'm remembering listing to the top of the line Wilson speakers, driving by an AR REF250 and a AR REF5SE and I have to tell you, I really stopped trying to determine the "sound" and was smiling all through the experience. Whenever I visit my favorite store in San Diego (Stereo Design) I always go in and listen to this system with my music and just smile. I forgot the SS vs Tube debates and just enjoyed.
I remember years ago (many, many years ago), when I was going to upgrade speakers to the then new Martin Logan Sequel IIs. at Robertson Audio in Los Angeles. They were setting up the room and while waiting, we took the opportunity to listen to the Top of the Line $35,000 turntable, Goldmond (spelling?) top $75,000 speakers driven by Mark Levinson 23.5 amps and that was the only real time other than the AR250 experience that I couldn't stop smiling. Wow!!
When the artist steps out of the speakers and the sound stage magically appears in front of you and you are "there", the smiles just don't end. I promised myself that when I could afford those 23.5 amps, I would get them. I made the same promise with the AR REF250 amps.
I don't care if it is tube or solid state. If the sound makes me remember and smile like that again, I'm there.
Of course, I do have to be able to afford them. sign.....
there's certainly addiction to finding better sounding tubes (or ubes or toobz) all the time especially for those using tube power monsters such as VTL MB450 with over a dozen of tubes per channel or same with Atmasphere ones. the more toyz u buy, the more happier you're gonna b regardless of tube vs. ube vs. solid state becoz we can't kill our childish past completely no matter how old we r. the audio industry is certainly helping us to achieve our childish endeavors as it meant to b.
Audiolabyrinth, thanks (I think.) This is one of the joys of tubes for an audiophile...anticipation and interaction, without breaking the bank or going snake oil. I can look forward to hearing the Mullards, and there's three 12AU7 tubes in the circuit I am beginning to research...Mullards or Gold Lions? To me, there is a bliss in the right tube deployment that I've never heard in SS, although I've owned Perreaux, McCormack, and Classe, and auditioned Levinson and Pass.
Tube sound is like having sex with a whole bunch of different really hot looking women because each output tube has it's own sound characteristic and then how that tube is utilized (whether its single ended triode, single ended pentode, push pull, ultralinear, etc.) makes for a different sound as well...lastly, the brand of tube used - whether they are NOS tubes or current tubes makes a sonic difference as well. So there are lots of variables just like there are lots of different women, but all tube gear sounds great, just like every hot woman looks great.
SS is like not having a date and taking matters into your own hands.
Conclusion: tubes are just more fun and have a lot more going for them