For anyone who moved from tubes to solid state — a question

I'm the happy owner of a fairly new tube preamp and monoblock amps. I love it and have bought new tubes. To have another option for warmer weather or possibly a second listening room, I got a very good solid state integrated. I've run the tube preamp with the solid state amp and it sounds quite nice. I love all tubes, too.

But this question is for you. Please forget the convenience factor for a moment, including the issue of tube replacement etc. Also, forget about those cases where you bought new speakers and needed more power, etc.

Assuming you had quality tube gear with sufficient power — here's the question if you abandoned tubes for SONIC reasons:

What what is that tubes couldn't give you?
What did your solid state gear do for you which was so much better that you divorced to marry anew?

I'm curious about what people list as the positive sonic reasons they love solid state (including A, AB, D, etc.).

I abandoned tube amps waaay back because they just did not give me  the very deep impact in the bass.  I am speaking about tube amps mere mortals can afford under 7K.  That was then and things may have changed but I am very happy owning a high powered SS amp with a tube preamp.  I have had this type of configuration since 1995 with different equipment. 
@stereo5  Thanks. I expect a lot of comments about bass. If you can recall that far back, was there something positive and different about what the SS offered you in midrange, treble, transients, dynamics, etc.?
+1 on

bass control and depth and slam

i assume you are asking about TUBE AMPS, not tubes in general anywhere in the chain

VERY speaker dependent
It's simple for me. I like both when there used right. I don't use valve power amp below 300, only SS.  300 and above is Valve, in the fall, winter and spring. Summertime, Class d amps in the monitor positions. I swap when the weather cools off, and it helps warms the house.. 


I've had quite a few tube amps SET, Push/Pull pentode, ultra-linear and triode.
And with all of them the better I made them sound with mods, the closer to the better high bias Class-A/B solid state amps they got.
The only tube that was up there with them was OTL tube amps, but they have problems for me with the type of speaker they are happy driving. And I can't live with that type of speaker.
Cheers George

I don't use valve power amp below 300, only SS. 300 and above is Valve

Not sure I understand. You don't use valves/tubes *below* 300 wpc? Only *above* 300 wpc is valves/tubes? I would have thought it was the opposite.
In my experience it’s all about matching the amp and speakers. When I was running Spendor D7’s and moved from a Cary tube amp to a Pass XA30.8 SS amp (with actually less watts) I realized a substantially better bass foundation, articulation, and slam.

I later made a speaker change to Devore O/96’s which are exceptionally easily to drive. I acquired a Line Magnetic 805ia SET tube amp to try with the O/96’s and the sonic improvement was astounding compared to the Pass, including the bass, as well an overall rich sound with incredible detail and beautiful nuance.

So I don’t think bright lines can always be applied comparing SS to tube amps - it’s about component matching.
In my experience it’s all about matching the amp and speakers.
^^ This!
If your speaker is of reasonable impedance in the bass (8 ohms or higher) then its no worries making bass. Some tube amps (like SETs) do have trouble making bass impact due to phase shift in the lower octave. But if the amp has the bandwidth to prevent that then bass impact is no worries.

Many solid state amps actually overdamp the loudspeaker, as amplifier technology in terms of acting as a voltage source has far outstripped loudspeaker technology in this regard- no speaker ever made needs more than 20:1 damping factor, yet there have been solid state amps with damping factors of 1000:1. Overdamped speakers tend to have a coloration often called 'tight bass'; no such thing seems to exist in real life. But audiophiles often point to tight bass as a good thing, even though its pretty obvious its an artifact and not neutral.
I always learn from your posts! As I mention to three_easy below, I'm hoping for folks to compare:

well matched amplification and speaker -- with TUBES
well matched amplification and speaker -- with SOLID STATE

If other factors are responsible for a sonic difference, then I do not have an answer to my question.

@three_easypayments said:
So I don’t think bright lines can always be applied comparing SS to tube amps - it’s about component matching.

Right -- this is not that question or inquiry. That question leads to interminable debates about "tubes vs. solid state."

My question is very specific, and it’s intended for anyone who has kept all of the variables the same except for a change of either or both tube preamp/amp to solid state for sonic reasons.

Perhaps this question is so specific it doesn’t really open a door to that many people, but given how much people swap things in and out of their systems, I thought maybe someone had had this experience.
My only case like that was when I had both a tube and SS DAC from the same vendor at the same time for comparison, a relatively simple case.

I had the tube DAC first and found it responded to rolling tubes but no 1 tube checked all the boxes. So I also acquired the SS DAC.

I found the SS DAC was the best overall and was I was rolling tubes in the tube DAC to get it to sound like the SS DAC. So I dumped the tube DAC.

That was a few years back. I am still running the mhdt Constantine DAC in my system.

Here is a review I used for reference at the time covering the two:

The differences between tube and SS amps are quite more substantial all things considered, especially when it comes to a tube amp needed to drive harder load speakers to their max. You have to take it all into consideration.

Only tubes in my system currently is ARC sp16 pre-amp with phono stage. Will be looking at going tubeless when the time comes to replace that if I can.

Just to demonstrate the reality that while there are generalities that are generally true, there are also instances where the generality isn't true:

The xenoliths have B&W Matrix 801 Series 2 speakers with North Creek crossovers.  These speakers are nominal 6 ohm and 87 dB sensitivity.  They are among the speakers that have most been referred to as needing big solid state amplification to best perform.

We've driven them with a Jon Soderberg modified Threshold Stasis 2 with about 225 watts/channel on tap for the last 17 years.  Jon described this amp as comparable to a Pass X250.  For completeness, the preamp over that time period has been first an Audio Electronics Supply AE-3 DJH Super preamp and then a Dodd battery powered preamp.  Based on the quality of sound we heard, bass included, mrs. xenolith and I have always thought that we were providing plenty of healthy power to our speakers. 

A couple of months ago we purchased a pair of custom built (they took about 6 months to build) 4 x KT-77 based monoblock amplifiers.  These amps weigh approximately 70 lbs. each and produce about 120 watts in ultralinear mode.  The bass from our big B&Ws is completely unrecognizable relative to what we'd become familiar with over the last 17 years.  Extension seems like a FULL octave lower...we're "hearing" bass notes that are so low that they are more felt than heard.  Never heard anything remotely approaching that with our Threshold.  Additionally, bass tonality is far more textured and nuanced; makes the bass through the Threshold seem one-note by comparison.  Lastly, dynamics, across the frequency spectrum, but in particular with respect to bass, are explosive compared to the sluggish "dynamics" produced by the Threshold.  The big 12" woofers of the 801s have always had great "growl", now they also have great "bite".

Anyhoo, FWIW.   
The key issue with big tube amps that compete with big SS amps is how much do they cost and how much time and money to maintain them over time.

Nominal 6 ohm speakers would seem like fair game for a good quality tube amp depending on the details though some might assert any amp, but more so most tube amps, will do better the easier the load.

Also have to consider that many good 17 year old+ amps could be challenged to compete with similar good modern ones, especially if some maintenance might be needed.

Modern Class D amps have done an effective job of keeping me off the tube amp boat to-date. I’m glad I tried them first. I love tube gear but not the overhead that goes along with it, especially for larger amps with many tubes.
I'm hoping for folks to compare:

well matched amplification and speaker -- with TUBES
well matched amplification and speaker -- with SOLID STATE

If other factors are responsible for a sonic difference, then I do not have an answer to my question.

This is always tricky! The problem is that many speakers these days are low impedance, a big difference from how it was when tubes were king.

But transistor amps make more distortion into low impedances than they do into higher impedances, and in high end audio the idea is (usually) all about getting the system to sound as real as possible; to that end low impedance speakers really don't have a place in high end audio.

But quite often people compare tubes to transistors on low impedance speakers. Its not an even playing field- if you really want to know what the differences are all about, an 8 ohm speaker (and one that is not 4 ohms in the bass) is how you would do that comparison. My speakers are 16 ohms and I've yet to hear a solid state amp that can play bass as well; if you are playing Sound Labs or Quads you'll probably find the same on them as well (even though a lot of people use solid state on those speakers).

The reason tube amps are still around all these decades on is that they make less audible distortion than transistor amps- the brightness of solid state is caused by distortion (and is as much a coloration as anything tubes do); this is why a solid state amp and a tube amp can measure flat on the test bench but the solid state amp will sound bright and the tube amp will not.

I tried tubes but never liked them I grew up with SS, perhaps that's why. I've moved to active speakers no longer worry about amp matching and whatnot.
My 4 tube (including rectifier) Dennis Had SEP needs efficient speakers unless you’re listening very near-field...plenty of clear and snappy bass (12 or 17 or something ground shaking watts depending on tube type), but supplemented with a couple of REL subs (no tube subs for me!)...the amp runs full range so it gets no relief, but doesn’t seem to need it...tubes seem to last a long time and hey, there’s only 4 of ’em. For my brain, it simply sounds better than any solid state amp or push-pull tube amp I’ve heard over the years...many many years...*sigh*...

I don't use valve power amp below 300, only SS. 300 and above is Valve
Hz not watts.
@ hilde45, You answered your question, in the last post. To many factor are responsible for a sonic difference to be pin down to one thing.  Change ss amp to tube amp, tube amp sounds better? Is it the tube, that sounds better or the tube circuit. Tube circuits are different then (ss) circuits. I have tube amps and SS amps for that reason. To many variables. And atmasphere is right about (DF.) :-)
Maybe you are right. I wasn’t sure if it was a question that even could be answered but I know that audiophiles are the kinds of people who compare things quite often and frequently try to keep track of the variables.
If this is an impossible comparison then knowing that is a positive piece of knowledge that I am open to, but it seems like lots of people here have some experience of comparison that they think is relevant.

Even an imperfect comparison gives some information -- unless, as you are contending, there are too many variables to learn anything from the comparison. it seems like you are asserting that no one can truly claim to know anything with confidence in their comparisons.

I’m agnostic about what other people think they know.

@mapman: Certain that no maintenance is needed; had the amp back to Jon about two years ago...just to check bias and evaluate overall performance.  He made a minor bias adjustment and declared it "operating perfectly."  

And remarkably, the tube amps are a tweaked Williamson circuit...a 73 year old design!

Yep, exceptions to all generalities!  Modern may generally be better, but not always!

I think it is possible to compare specific tube device A against specific SS device b, and make generalized assertions about how to best apply each type of technology, but have to be careful about generalized comparisons of tube versus SS gear in general.

The good ones are all in the same league and might win on any given day. There are more of those these days perhaps but certainly some older designs can still compete as well.

So just to complicate things even further, Class D SS amp technology is yet another whole new ball game and in general a much bigger threat categorically to tube amp technology than old fashioned Class A/B SS amps based on my experience to-date..

Class A SS amp technology is also always the other legitimate and more traditional challenger to tube amps.

Myself I would likely only consider using a tube amp with very easy load speakers to drive and high efficiency is desirable as well to be able to achieve higher SPLs from fewer watts.

Main reason is at my age I am looking to downsize if anything and keep it as simple as possible.


Then again, tubes glow and are way cool to look at. Been fascinated by them since just a kid.

Myself I would likely only consider using a tube amp with very easy load speakers to drive and high efficiency is desirable as well to be able to achieve higher SPLs from fewer watts.

Yes, this is the way to do it. Now that I’m using a SET tube amp with 48 watts pure Class A (with 300B driver tubes) paired with 96dB 10 ohm speakers I can’t imagine wanting to listen to music in a different configuration. SET tubes with plenty of headroom and easy to drive speakers. I simply never have heard anything more beautiful in terms of topology pairing, at least for my musical priorities. I really don’t get the allure of matching high powered SS amps with low impedance speakers - it feels like swimming uphill to get a good sound - and at the end of the day a sound that doesn’t stir my soul.
The reason tube amps are still around all these decades on is that they make less audible distortion than transistor amps- the brightness of solid state is caused by distortion (and is as much a coloration as anything tubes do); this is why a solid state amp and a tube amp can measure flat on the test bench but the solid state amp will sound bright and the tube amp will not.
I dont have much experience with tubes amplifier versus S.S. amplifier.... I only own a modest tube amplifier garage 1217 the Ember...And playing tubes was fun fpr some months... :)

But i can assure you that not all S.S. amplifier are made equal....

The qualities associated in all thread to tube amplifier, i feel them with my Sansui AU 7700 with no loss in bass control....

The Sansui is warm and detailed with great bass..... It is a so good amplifier i purchase another one.... :)

@ hilde45, I do think that peoples experience and comparison are relevant. What i said is i do not know the answer to your question. That is why i said i have tube and SS amps. If i say my tube amp sounds better, that is my opinion. Base on my comparison between tube amp and ss amp. Its not right or wrong it is my experience. I thought you were looking for a (fact) not opinion. That is why i said to many variables. My experience is my tube amp has better 3-d sound then my (ss) amp. I use the circuit analogy for the sake, of argument. Sorry for the confusion. :-)
@ditusa I think we're on the same page. I'm looking for an account of people's experiences under conditions they believe are reasonably controlling of variables which could preclude a fair comparison. If people are reporting their experiences accurately, well, that is fact. It is a subjective fact of experience, a report. Not fiction, not imagination, not speculation.
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hilde45 OP783 posts09-02-2020 4:32am@oldhvymec

I don’t use valve power amp below 300, only SS. 300 and above is Valve

Not sure I understand. You don’t use valves/tubes *below* 300 wpc? Only *above* 300 wpc is valves/tubes? I would have thought it was the opposite.

300 HZ and below I use Solid State, and an active 3 way crossover, with summation. Above 300 hz I use the monitor section ONLY in my speakers, and the onboard modded passive XO. I haven’t used the bass section in my speakers, for 25 years. By design my speakers split at 280-300 hz , to biamp.

It is very seldom I use a valve amp to do bass duty AT ALL. They don’t do it well, so why do it?.

"They don’t do it well, so why do it?."

Somebody is referring to generalities...  
I’ve owned and heard a lot of SS over the years, some of them really well regarded amps in great systems. Once I re-tubed my stock Dynaco ST-70, my listening experience changed for the better. It was more than just better clarity...somehow the music was more intimate, and I felt like it brought me closer to the performance in the recording studio. 20 years later, adding the VTA mods to the Dyna and upgrading the tubes took the amp to the next level...clearer yet, closer, more info, and even the bass had plenty of whack now. It’s that listening experience that good tube amps do so well, and is what seems to be missing with the many SS amps I’ve heard....tonal balance and clarity were fine, but were more lifeless. With my SS amps, it seemed like I always needed to turn the volume up to get that audio buzz, and my listening sessions were shorter because my ears hurt. With my current tube setup, I’m happy every single time I turn on the system regardless of where the volume is set, and I’m happier listening to a wider range of music than I used to idea whether that’s due to age or satisfaction with the system, but it took me a long time to enjoy my system this much, and there’s a lot to be said about that.

I can’t imagine giving up tubes at this point, but I do understand that tubes amps in general tend to have a lower damping factor so they can struggle controlling heavy woofers. Depending on the tube amp, some have great bass, so it’s not universal that tube amps have weak varies with every situation. I’m getting bass extension to about 30hz with a light kevlar woofer in a t-line....tone and dynamics are excellent, but my listening room is now quite large, so there’s not a ton of low output relative to the cubic volume of the room. An SS amp would likely be better in that range. To help that I’ve added a powered subwoofer with the crossover and gain set quite low, so I barely notice it’s playing most of the time, but it helps augment that lowest octave.

I like to keep an open mind, and maybe some of the new SS technology will mind change my mind someday, but as mapman mentioned, the glow of those tubes is just too cool. :-)
Thanks for the further comments. I have bookshelves and a good sub, but the crossover idea is really appealing. More to learn...

Small wattage SET amps (2a3, 45, 46, 211) turned me me into an audiophile, but SS pass labs xa30.8 with EAR 868 tube preamp got me off of the SET train and into beautiful hybrid heaven.
I have a pair of Mcintosh mc- 501 ss mono block amps, in my audio rig. I swapped them out for a pair of Mcintosh mc-2301 tube mono blocks. The tube mono blocks made, the ss mono blocks sound like charlie brown, amps (flat and non three dimensional.) I did not here a change in the bass, but lower midrange had more body.
But be for the swap i thought the 501’s had great 3-d imaging. That is my experience with tube/ss amps. The tube amps are less watts. The speakers are jbl 4435 monitors. :-)
I have not owned any tube equipment, but this discussion reminded me of a video by Sean of zero fidelity (see below) that reviewed the Linear Tube Audio z10.  It is said to combine the best of tubes and the best of solid state in one package.  It is mostly a tube preamp that has a low-power amplifier thrown in.  I don’t know what it sounds like, but getting an integrated amplifier with all of 11-12 wpc into 2 channels, for about $5,000 does not tempt me.  I hear that wattage isn’t the be-all for such products, and Sean said the sound was very good with some low efficiency speakers (but better with high efficiency ones), but I still doubt that such low power could really be all that great at that price.  Of course, I might be wrong.
You are probably wrong if we speak about quality watts...
It is the amplifier i dream to buy.... It is a complete new recreation of tube amplifier technology...The creator is a physicist...Not only all reviews are glowing one but the tube has a duration very long and no heat....

Think about that, organic sound tube with the detais of s.s. and can be used like a top of the line pre-amplifier...

It is the only amplifier about which i dream for the last years.... My old Sansui AU 7700 is so good i want to be sure to beat it if i buy another amplifier, and this Sansui is hard to beat....

But you are right, if i listen telepathically to you, i never listen to it....

I grew up with tubes. Enjoyed them while that lasted...

SS ’occurred’...initially, laughable. But the technology grew to a level of maturity that first matched, then blew past ’valves’ and their inherint weakness. "Rolling tubes" ought to be a clue, but it’s a hobby.

Ya gots the ’Trads’, the ’SOTAs’, and the Big Middle (or Muddle, if you like)...

The incandescent bulb begot the fluorescent begot the LED.
Each has a longer lifespan and reliabilty of service.
Tube>transistor>integrated circuts>?
Class A>AB>D>?

The one thing we can count on is Change.
Some do...Some don’t...Some like both....or all.

Each still has appeal, it comes down to what you your speakers, your home, your spouse, your f’n underwear for that matter.
What I don’t like about tubes is the high voltage supplies. If something goes badly wrong you can blow up speakers, and if you like Quad ESL's, well, you can end up a lot of KV over-voltage, leaving just about everything dead but the frame. Unless you have really good protection circuits, which aren’t really good for the sound.

So I built very clean SS amps with +/- 25VDC rails. This cannot drive my ESL’s into protection, so I was able to disconnect the protection circuit and improve clarity considerably.

Maybe there are better amps out there, but the system of amp-speaker, I suspect, is as good as anyone’s. At least, anyone who doesn’t have access to military or equivalent hardware.

It seems like every time I hear the term "tube sound" as it relates to solid state, it only addresses a perceived softer tonal balance, but misses the "view" into the recording studio that I get from tubes, so it ends up kinda dull.  Inversely, the SS amps that aren't "tubey" sound brighter but without the transparency, which sounds exaggerated to me.  Is it one of those "you don’t know what you’re missing" things if you haven't experienced it, or have SS amps really improved their transparency, (and not just test bench performance)?
It's fun to hear so many views and experiences. It's clear that it's not possible to avoid a "this OR that" conversation when it comes to tubes and solid state. That's fine -- Audiogon threads are more frequently like pub conversations than anything else, and that's fun.

Still, I'm glad that my OP use the trigger words "made in China" or there would have been a second sinkhole in the thread! Cheers!
"Made in China".  OMG! *L*  Yes, that would launch an entirely separate line of 'discussion'....

It sometimes seems like anything audio that hails from 'the Far East' (to use an old romantic phrase) is suspicious, as the Chinese are born without ears (smooth on both sides!) like proper automatons....🙄

Obviously, that renders them tasteless and unable to discern 'proper audio....*tsk tsk*  The poor devils....

It is astounding how much of the current items that drive civilization forward come from our Chinese breathern.  And that consequence drives them as well, as with nearly all other nation-states...

But, as long as there's a desire to have Ferrari performance at the price of a Yugo....
I used to be on the Hamster Wheel, running in place between all tube systems, hybrid systems, as well as all SS

I have been very happy, giddy even, with my EVS 1200 class D driven by my Oppo 105 with linear power supply, 110/220 jumper bypass, and IEC upgrades; no preamp needed. Lots of $$$$ saved

You would be amazed
Can't correct it now, but I meant that my OP did NOT use the trigger words.

One thing this forum has taught me is that there are many paths to the top of the mountain (of good sound)  -- and *also* that there are different mountains!

Let 1000 flowers bloom.

you called it right on SQ string...

best of breed tube and solid state are very close now, and ever converging, because they both provide superb frequency extension, transparency, drive and imaging - they have just come from very different baskets of strengths and weaknesses

but stuff at this level is quite expensive still for the regular guy
Anyone can buy a Dennis Had tube amp for 1500 bucks or so...bought mine slightly used a few years ago for around 1100. Score one for the Regular Guy.
I learned a lot from my thread, “Is there a SS amp that can satisfy a SET guy?”. The basic answer is no. Tubes and SS are a different paradigm. They approach producing music from different perspectives. My understanding is that tubes are a more visceral experience and SS more intellectual.
When I listen to my tube based system, I get emotionally carried away. When I listen to my SS system I get interested. For me, emotional is more true to the essence of the music.
Correction: the Matrix 801 Series 2 speaker is nominal 8 Ohms (not the 6 Ohms that I had reported).
With 3 minima of about 6 Ohms.
Perhaps this helps explain how the new tube amps sound so great with them.

Anyhoo, for the record.