Digital Source with Tube Amplification

For perspective, I will be turning 36 next week so I didn't grow up listening to vinyl and have never really experienced tube amplification. I am getting a Yaqin EL34 tube integrated in the next couple of weeks and my dad thought it would be fun to use his vintage turntable as a source for a true analog listening experience. Logistics will likely make this difficult as we live states apart.

This discussion made me wonder what other peoples experiences have been using different combinations of gear. On the analog end you have a turntable and tube amplifier and on the digital end you have a CD player and a solid state amplifier.

I am curious if the people that prefer the analog systems enjoy the sound of a turntable with a solid state amplifier or a CD player with a tube amplifier more. Is one combination more analog sounding than the other in your experience?

Obviously, every experience and system is different so I am just looking for general observations based of your experiences.
I think you should check out the Oppo 105 with the Modwright tube mods for CDP and the Lampizator G4/L4 or higher DAC's.
Any combo can be really good or less so. The devil is all in the details. Getting a good match first between amp and speakers matters most perhaps. Then there is the quality of the source. There is usually a lot more involved to get a turntable set up right and sounding its best than there is with a CD player. So generalizations are tough. IT can all be really good or less so. It all depends. On much more than merely if CD or record, tube or SS. Those are just two common topics that get a lot of buzz these days among "audiophiles" and that generate relatively strong opinions either way. But you know how far an opinion will get you, right?
It all comes down to the speakers one uses as to the AMP one HAS to use. SO with that said...Yes I love the sound of a Tube Preamp with my SS AMP. It is a great combo and my speakers love it. I can play Vinyl or cd's and I still get a nice rich sound that has plenty of Umph! It can take a while to get the sound dialed in with the right Cartridge with the right Phono Pre and the right transport/dac or universal player or SACD/cd player. AND dont forget about Cables! O and how a bout that room.We might need room treatments to absorb those nasty reflections. All this stuff really makes a big difference with the sound. Its a beautiful thing when it all comes together! Good Luck.
I use a SS DAC with tube preamp and amplifiers and just love the organic gestalt and deeply emotional involvement it provides ( I had used a turntable happily for many years).
Mapman pretty much summed it up.It's all in the synergy of your particular system.Personally I've ended up with all tubed components,cdp,pre,and amps.The more tubes,the more organic and enjoyable the music is for me.
Sometimes I wonder if people on this forum have too much information to filter it down to a straight answer. While everything that has been said is true, it really says little to nothing.

I have limited experience with audio equipment, but I can easily make a recommendation based on what experience I have had and It seems that it would be just as valid as anyone else because the room, setup, and listener preference pretty much renders any commonality null. An identical system in a different room might be synergistic in one and competing with Bose in the other.

Is it not possible to state an opinion without 75% of the post being caveats?
Your asked a pretty general question and were given some responses, what specifically are you trying to ascertain?
Digital has come a long way in last 15 years or so and good digital these days can be hard to distinguish from analog. The best of each tend to sound similar to me. If I had to choose, in theory, I would prefer the best possible analog source to the best current digital source available. That source would be a large format RTR tape, not phono. In most cases, with most recordings, what sounds best will vary case to case. But digital is probably still not able to match the best analog POSSIBLE with technology to date. BUt in most cases, practically, it is so close that it really does not matter in practice for most.

In general tube amps may sound similar to SS amps but some tube amp sound might be quite distinctive and hard to replicate with SS. Its a different flavor of sound, not necessarily "better" though in this case.

SS versus tube amplification is an even tighter race to call. The best I have heard of both tend to sound similar.
Is it not possible to state an opinion without 75% of the post being caveats?
No, IMO there are way too many variables involved to be able to make any generalizations that would be meaningful and useful, the variables including even the recordings as Mapman indicated. And whether the goal is to make the (sonically) best recordings sound their best, or to make run-of-the-mill recordings sound as good as possible.

FWIW, though, since you are asking for experiences, my system has evolved over the years such that I now use a solid state preamp for both analog and digital sources, and a tube power amp. I've never used an integrated amp.

-- Al
You asked for general observations. Well here's mine. it doesn't matter. Analog Turn Table to either solid state or tube phono stage (depends on which sounds better and this totally depends on the design/construction of the phono stage), to either solid state or tubed pre-amp. Again, depends on which sounds better to me, which has absolutely nothing to do with solid state or tube, but ultimate sound. Then on to tube or solid state power amps. Again, same thoughts. As compared to Digital source CD transport to DAC then to pre-amp to power amp. I have found that many times for me it depends on how the music was first recorded. If it was recorded analog to disc, I found a turn table set up sounds much better than if it was recorded analog then mastered to digital and played through a CD player/transport/DAC system The analog signal was cut up and converted to digital, thereby, some information will ultimately be missing because it is sampled to digital. There is no way to get around this fact. However, you can minimize the losses if the sample rate is really high. But, there will still be losses and therefore, the analog system will be better. Now take a recording that is straight to digital. Take that digital recording and remaster it from the digital tape to analog and play it on both the digital system and also on the analog system. I have found that they both are too close to call. The proble with having an all analog system is that many times you simply can't find all the music. Especially the new music. Yes, you can find new music in analog format (album), but not always. So, having both analog and digital equipment is best. But remember, when comparing analog and digital systems, try to listen/compare apples to apples. Analog recording on album to the digital master from the analog tapes on CD. Same recording. or Digital master converted to analog and listen to both the digital cd and the analog version converted from digital. Hope this helps.

Charles1dad - I'll try to clarify my question. I keep coming back to this forum because it's obvious that, in general, the knowledge and experience here is beyond other audio forums. Sometimes I tire of responses to questions always being conditional.

Now back to my original question.

My dad has always disliked the "digital" sound that he associated with CDs vs. vinyl. I was interested to know if it would be expected that a turntable to solid state integrated amplifier to speakers would result in a more or less appealing sound than a CDP to stereo tube integrated amplifier for someone that prefers the "analog" sound.

It seems that each combination would take the sound closer to the analog end of the spectrum.

Maybe nobody has really played around with these combinations with their own gear.

On a scale from the "analog" to "digital" sound what would you think the order of the following system combinations would be?

(1) All Analog - turntable to tube amp to speakers
(2) Hybrid A - turntable to solid state amp to speakers
(3) Hybrid B - CDP to tube amp to speakers
(4) All Digital - CDP to solid state amp to speakers

Assume the gear is all the same and the musical selectio is identical with both the vinyl and CD being excellent recordings and give me your gut feeling about whether Hybrid A or B would sound closer to the All analog sound 50.00001% of the time.

I have never had the opportunity to do anything close to this and my gut would be that source would result in the more analog sound.
Well, that makes it a little easier...

Someone who likes old style "analog" sound will probably enjoy older analog recordings remastered well to CD (there are many such recordings to choose from these days) and played through a tube amp of choice best. So my answer is c).

An extreme example, but I have some old 78s that I have recorded to CD and .wav digital formats that display the unique and most distinct analog charms of these recordings in a manner that could probably only be surpassed by playing the 78s on a nicely restored Victrola. That's on my list of audio toys to acquire someday. I have tubes in my pre-amp only. And no horns in my speakers. It might not be easy in general for someone to know I am using a tube pre-amp just by listening...though the detail and articulation with just the slightest touch of warmth perhaps in the midrange might be a hint.
In a sense I understand why you're frustration with "conditional" answers and your desire for a more definitive reply. I'm afraid Almarg is right, there's no other choice. Given the multiple variables involved it's impossible to get a direct and all encompassing answer, just can't be done. Between the numerous components (all have a signature) room effects and of course different listener perceptions , how can it be any other way? Caveats are unavoidable. CD-tube gear, ok which brand? Each is different. Turntble-transistor gear , again, which brands? What cable is connecting the multiple components? Which speaker is chosen and driven by what amp?
Ok, I'm going out on a limb here. I imagine that if I fall off I'll be on my own. So, in the most general sense, on average, hybrid-a will have the most analog sound. Sure, there are a million caveats to this. But I think that unless you are listening to the very best digital sources you will not get to a close enough facsimile of analog sound. I think that, on average, hybrid-a is your answer. Mind you, I very much prefer tube amplification to solid state and would dump my turntable in a second if I could afford an equally analog sounding DAC.


Charles1dad - What's ironic is that if I listed every aspect of my system and listening room and somehow quantified my listening preferences in an objective way we'd be no closer to being able to discuss it because unless you personally experience what I experience the list of "conditions" is endless. So where does that leave us with an audio forum?

I just don't see where stating an opinion, however much it approaches being a wild guess, is so impossible.
Charles1dad; A point of clarification. A Turntable to Solid State amplification is still analog. Tube amplification or solid state amplification is still analog. Digital is digital. But the signal driving speakers is ultimately analog. The sound coming out of the speakers is analog.
There's no shortage of opinions given on this site (thousands over the years) but definitive conclusions, no.
I'll play this rhetorical game. Of course I must begin with a caveat, ;), the recording must be of analog recording and analog mixing, because I would rather listen to a AAD CD than a digitally mastered LP.

So assuming that these recording parameters have been satisfied, I would choose 1, 2, 3, 4 as my preferred order of system combinations generally speaking.

Of course there are always exceptions to every rule, audio is a very subjective hobby, so as always, YMMV.
Not to be negative, but perhaps it's your limited experience with audio equipment that leads you to believe there is a definitive answer. There are several unproven assumptions in your OP.
This is like the scientist teasing the mice......
Onhwy61 - I absolutely believe that there's some truth in almost every caveat that is mentioned, but my point is that these types of things should be assumed and unecessary to bring up in every post.

For example:
Jmcgrogan2's post could have simply said, "In my experience I'd rather listen to an AAD CD than a digitally mastered LP so assuming that the album being used is an analog recording with analog mixing, I would choose 1, 2, 3, 4 as my preferred order of system combinations generally speaking."

I would then take this to be his general opinion and not absolute fact in every case on every system combination. I'm guessing that some of the rest of the post was provided tongue in cheek, but you get my point.

Jmcgrogan2 does bring up an interesting point that a digitally mastered LP isn't superior to the CD. I have a coworker that strongly prefers vinyl, but says he can't really tell a difference between a digitally mastered LP and the same CD.
When I record vinyl to CD or digital CD res .wav file, I am generally not able to tell that CD or digital file is now the source.

I'm not saying my vinyl playback rig is the best out there, but it is pretty good, better than most, and sounds wonderful to me, so I am confident in saying it ain't no slouch either. And I think my digital is pretty well up there as well.
10-31-13: Mceljo
Jmcgrogan2 does bring up an interesting point that a digitally mastered LP isn't superior to the CD. I have a coworker that strongly prefers vinyl, but says he can't really tell a difference between a digitally mastered LP and the same CD.

I concur a digitally mastered LP sounds about the same as a CD to me, and bad CD's too, as most of this digital mastering was done in the 80's and 90's when digital was a trendy buzz word, but not done very well at all. In this case (digital mastered LP) I would rather have the CD with tube amplifier over the vinyl with solid state. However, if the LP is mixed and mastered in the analog domain, I would prefer to listen to vinyl with a solid state amp than a CD or digitally mastered LP on a tube amp.
In keeping with the hypothetical choices/ pairing options put forth by Mceljo I'd take CD with tube electronics rather than analog record with solid state electronics. I'll skip the caveatscable.
For me, I most often listen to something close to Option 3 (CDP to tube amp to speaker); I actually use a music server to play ripped CDs. This is not necessarily a quality choice, but a practical one. Most of my collection is CDs, primarily because newer classical releases are available ONLY in digital form. Fortunately, classical CDs are recorded and mastered to sound quite decent. Even re-releases from older analogue sources sound good in digital versions (e.g., many DG recordings have been remastered to sound much better than their crappy 1970-80's vinyl recordings). I tend to also listen more to non-classical music from digital sources these days from the server because it is so much more convenient than either CDs or vinyl.

For non-classical music, my very best sounding music is mostly found on vinyl--rock and jazz from the pre-digital era usually sounds much better on the original vinyl. I don't think this is so much an inherent superiority of vinyl as it is more the case of bad/indifferent mastering to digital. With some reissues, it may also reflect deterioration of the original source that accounts for the inferior reissues--some recordings just don't sound as good in any form of reissue.

If I had to choose between digital and vinyl as a source (purely an academic exercise), it would be digital because there is A LOT more music available in that format. I have MANY more recordings available only in digital format than I have vinyl recordings not available in a digital format.

For me, the choice of tube amplification makes a BIG difference in the sound. The particular tube amps I like have no comparable solid state offerings. But, I would not generalize that tube is superior to solid state because, to me, MUCH tube gear offered actually sounds worse than comparably priced solid state gear.

Hence, I arrived at Option 3 because the CD source would make available the widest range of music, and I happen to like and use tube electronics for amplification. I use either a low-powered single ended amp or a low-powered pushpull amp (I am not wedded to either camp). Last night, I got to hear again a particular OTL amp I have not heard in a while and it might be the very best amp I've heard (one of a kind 35 watt monobloc amp).
Hi Larryi,
I have a fairly large collection of jazz on viny(from my analog past) and
they sound very good. Fortunately for me the vast majotity of my jazz CDs
sound very good also, I can't speak for other genres (I have some classical
CDs that are quite good as well). The bigger gap in my experience is with
the electronics. DHT tubes either SET or push pull just excel at the natural
realism I consider vital for my enjoyment. IMO the CD- vinyl gap is narrower
and either format works for me. Larryi I agree with you, some higher power
pentode type tube amps aren't any better than SS amps. It seems we have
similar hearing. Larryi The overwhelming majority of the jazz CDs from
remastered analog 1950-60s sound excellent in my current system.

I agree that most remastered jazz cds sound very good, as do most new jazz issues. Jazz has not been utterly corrupted like most mastering of pop and rock music. But, if you ever heard some of the original Atlantic, Impulse and Bluenotes, for example, or the Analogue Productions and other highend lp reissues, there is a little more THERE, there.

We are both not big fans of high powered pentode and tetrode amps. To me, most listeners would be better off with some of the better solid state stuff, such as Ayre or D'Agostino, if they need that much power.
Yes I'm aware of good original vinyl and own a nice amount of them. I took a few of my albums to a good friend's home today and we listened to them and some CDs. He has a Basis Debut TT and just installed his new Basis Superarm 9 with his trusty ZYX UNiverse II cartridge. This arm is definitely a step above his vector arm (and that was a good arm!). His analog front end is making superb quality sound, however he also produces truly excellent sound with his Mod Wright modified Oppo 105 as well. He has it covered in both formats and we heard some beautiful natural sounding jazz today.
One thing I can say for sure, the new tube amp makes one of my Claude Bolling CDs sound fantastic compared to my solid state receiver. It was one disk that I always wished was recorded better and it turns out that the tube amp was the key. Possibly something to do with being an originally analog recording. Very fun.
I don't think it has much to do with the fact that it is an analog recording but the pedigree of the the SS receiver as there are quite a few out there that can bring out the best in a CD. Also, the tube amp you have is most certainly imparting a bit of tube flavor to smooth out the digital artifacts of the CD that are being highlighted by the receiver.

This is not to knock the receiver but to point out what others have been posting all along: there are way too many variables involved to able to say anything definitively, or even in general, as say, a rule of thumb.

Here is something that won't clear things up but rather, add another perspective:
You don't have to read the whole review, just the first few pages to get an idea of how a CDP isn't really all that digital after all.

The deeper you go into this hobby, the more you'll come across the same tracks but from a different direction. The good thing about it is the end of the path is always were it should be.

Enjoy and all the best,
Option #3 for me.Love my Quickies!I've quit upgrading and just enjoy now.
The interesting thing about the Claude Bolling CD is that it is fairly unique in my collection because it is one that I've always wished had a better recording when my system did wonders with the majority of my music. I'm not judging all tube or solid state gear based on my two pieces of equipment, but it's becoming very clear that the Yaqin integrated is far superior to the Integra receiver.

I'm sure it's a combination of the differences between tubes and solid state, integrated vs. receiver, and a host of other factors. What I can say is that this tube amp would make my next choice a lot more difficult because I'd have more options to consider.