Over the years I have owned tube and solid state preamps (active and passive) and amps (tube, class A and class AB) in every combination (but I never tried the ss preamp - tube amp combo). It is really a matter of preference as the sounds of each combo all have the their strengths and weaknesses. I currently use solid state for both, but had to spend serious bucks to get the sound I like. I use a Pass Labs Aleph P preamp with variable gain and an Accuphase P-450 amp, list price for the pair is about $10K. There are numerous opinions and I truly believe it is part of this hobby to find what is right for you. After 20 years, I do not feel there is an absolutely correct configuration. I have auditioned many systems and combos and found many different setups to sound equally appealing, although distinctly different. Some of the sweetest sound I have heard is from low power SET amps, but the most dynamic sound was from a pair of 500W class A monoblocks. Its all part of the disease we share to seek out our own system.
Try a used class A amp first... Krell, Levinson, Pass or Plinius for several weeks and see for yourself if the difference is something you can live with.
From tubes to solid state, what do you lose? The best explanation I have ever read on this topic said that:
Distortion shows up as even harmonics in tube gear, as odd harmonics in SS gear. Even harmonics sound musical, Odd harmonics provide a more detailed sound, but often lead to listener fatigue.
Not much, if anything with the Ayre V-3 ss amplifier.
Judit, How can adding harmonics (even or odd) add detail if the detail isn't already there? In fact, if the detail is already in the signal won't adding harmonics confuse the sound more?
What do you loose? Headaches, hassle and hernia(s). Just kidding. At the top, there's not a lot of difference between the two. At more realistic levels solid state designs tend to do bass better, while tubes typically give a terrific midrange. I, however, have decided to meet in the middle and have gone with hybrid tube equipment. Thus I get some of the best of both worlds while not realizing the best of either.
Trade-offs! I hate those stinkin' trade-offs!
I heard Judit's comments before. The explanation is not saying that you are adding harmonics, but rather the results of existing harmonics.
Brauser gives good advice. If you are hassled by a SF amp then you should back away at this point. Do the tube pre with NOS tubes mated to a SS amp and you'll be happy.
You want happy? Sell the SF and get a Supratek Chardonay pre, drop out the stock 6SN7's for VT231's, get a Pass or Plinius MkIII or higher amp and we'll never hear from you again.
Brauser "took the words right outta my mouth. It must have been while he was kissin me..." Never mind.
I tried tubes and I really liked them after they broke-in and before they burned out. That was the best fifteen minutes of my life.
There are lots of good tube amps and pre-amps. There are lots of good SS amps and pre-amps. It's all what a person is used to. I have gone to SS and will never change, till later.
I switched from a Rogue Magnum 120 to a Plinius SA100 MKIII and I do not miss it. I listened to tubes for 20 years and this Plinius has made a believer out of me, solid state if done right, is great.
I have taken Asa's suggested route by pairing a Supratek Syrah and a Plinius SA-102. You can experiment with tubes--I have been happy with either Ken Rads(black glass) or Sylvania metal base (the latter tend to be a bit quirkier with noise). I realize it may be heresy to say so, but I have heard the highly-regarded Tenor amps in an excellent system and room, and I actually prefer my combination, which can be had at a small fraction of the price. Compromise, yes, but pretty damn close to all I can imagine hoping for. I would not trade my combo for the Tenors, I know that much.
I think what Judith's alluding to is that even a tiny amount of 3rd or 7th order harmonic will add a discordant "edge" to a fundamental, thus giving it a sharpness that allows you to perceive it more easily.
Come to think of it I used to do the same thing as a kid by adding such a discordant harmonic to my Hammond organ playing by pulling out one of those upper "drawbars" to give color and definition to a melodic line. Listen to Jimmy Smith. It's that discordant upper harmonic that gets ya!
But alas not so great in amplifiers.
I use Pass Labs Alephs as a great compromise to achieve a neutral, clean, ultraquiet amplification that's regarded as somewhat tubelike, but with the advantages of only two solid-state gain stages.
Tubes act like natural compressors, so they get by with less wattage because their peaks are squashed, bursting forth with only even order stuff when clipping.
I prefer a CLEAN, unforced ss amp because of its linearity and lower noisefloor, and GREAT bass whomp, of course.
But tubes are great in a low-powered situation, like thosde great old radios of the 50s. Ahhh....
Subaru, i am still pissed-off at you for bashing the Vac Avatar, and now this!: "...tubes are great in a low-powered situation, like thosde great old radios of the 50s..." Just kiddin' dawg, i hope you are too?! Still, last time i listened Aleph 3, the bass was sloppy and midrange was recessed (is that imitation of tubes?) and it didn't sound very good to my ears despite stellar Stereophile review. Never mind the midrange, but why bass? Tubes, as tubes are might be pain in the ass, but what they do, they do it right and where matters most.
You miss nothing if you get something like a Rowland Concentra II, Pass or any of the great solid state amps out there. I have heard more glare from some KT88 equipped amps than I have ever heard from my Rowland with bad CD material. The biggest factor however is matching the amp to the speakers...tube or solid state.
It all boils down to system matching.
I have heard tube amp and tube preamp combos that made my jaw drop sonically.
And I have heard tube preamp and solid state amp that was equally amazing.
I have also heard solid state preamp and tube amp that was in the same ball park as the above two instances.
Then I have heard my all Solid State system that well does not sound much like solid state or tubes, it just makes amazing music.
Anyway, my point is this:
Too many folks generalize about TUBES and SOLID STATE. They think that all tubes sound the same or at least have similiar sonic properties, and all solid state sounds similiar ot has similiar sonic properties.
Well folks, these generalizations are not true. There is a great difference in the range of sound from tube amps, and tube preamps, and solid state amps and preamps. BIG DIFFERENCES folks! I do not know why wome folks think that tubes always add a 'magic' to a system. I have heard god awful sound from tubes. I have also heard AMAZING sound from tubes. It all depends on how a system is matched. I have heard god awful SS as well as absolutely amazing SS.
Anyway you cut it, the best SS sound can compete with the best TUBES and vice versus. If you do not think so, please go listen to some of the best sounding SS or TUBE systems. YOu might be hard pressed to tell whether they were tube or ss with a blindfold on. They just tend to sound absolutely amazing.
PS: My friend Frank has the best tube system I have heard in a home. His tube amp and preamp were made specially for him by the chief designer of a esoteric hi end company. Frank makes a lot more money than I do, and can afford amazing tube amps and preamps built for him. All I can say is, if I had tubes, I'd want his, heh heh... Frank is a 100% tube hard core guy. The first time (and every subsequent time) he hears my system, he is in total disbelief. He cannot beleive the sound I am getting is from solid state. Mine is the only SS system he likes. He covets my Ayre CDP as well... (Step AWAY from the Ayre CDP Frank! I step away from his tubes in return, heh heh...) He uses a Dodson 217 mk2 and a Mark Levinson transport, and he still covets the Ayre CDP.
Judit and Subaruguru are right about how adding odd level harmonics can increase apparent detail in the music signal. There's a whole category of pro outboard effect units call enhancers that utilize this fact. When not used judiciously they add a real grittiness to the sound.
I don't think you lose anything...there are plenty of SS amps out there that will give you "transparency, timbral acuracy, micro dynamics and soundstage".
Magic. My experience is that you lose emotion (magic), depth, timbral accuracy, depth, and general listenability with ss. Tubes must be correctly system matched to make magic. I have used very good ss with good results but never attained the magic.
you lose your heater on cold winter nights.
I wouldn't give up on the SF power 2 so fast. My original set of tubes were still good when I changed them after 5 years. The entire tube set cost $290. Not bad for 5 years.
I'm agreeing with Asa and others. There is no reason to think you are giving up on tube "magic" when you switch out the tube monster amp for an ultra clean superbly designed ss amp - if you keep tubes in the front end, or pre amp. No worry, all the friendly even harmonics will still be there in the end.
hey Asa - I bought the Scintilla.
Hi Muralman. Do you like the Scintilla better? I assume the Pass 600's are eating them up. I hope you are dizzy with FUN!
Tok, we've been dancing around about this - you have responded a couple of times to my posts where I've said that tubes are superior in the best systems by saying that there is no difference in that context, attributing any difference to system matching, ie skill in matching. I respect your posts and you, so I have refrained from responding.
Tok and others, first, yes, some tube systems sound mushy, etc. because the people putting them together are still learning (or don't have the $, or just don't want to spend that much). For instance, I can't stand 6550-based amps (although I did get a hot-rodded Jadis Defy to sound alright with 4 matched Siemmens drivers, arggh!), I dumped an ARC VT100 (Mk I then w/ the Infini caps later) in three months, and would much prefer a Pass SS or post MkII Plinius to those. Similarly, I can understand wanting a Plinius MkIII vs a Rogue. But we have to be careful of mixing contexts in search of confirming our experience.
Second, yes, everything is context-dependant, but that doesn't mean that everything is equal. Although this sentiment has that warm fuzzy inclusive feel about it - its called radical subjectivism - that's not how the world works. There are hierarchies, which is, of course, why we are talking about differences.
Third, you have to be careful when you talk about "systems" to not mix in digital performance as a support for your position. When talking about tubes v. SS at the present zenith of performance, I think we understand we are predominantly talking about pre's and amps. I tend to agree with the people who say tubes are a euphonic sauve in digital applications (if no tubes downstream, a required one in many systems).
Depending upon a person's given personality, disposable income and spending inclination, type of music, need for convenience / recoil from hassle, hearing acuity and will to become involved in the musical meaning (not the same thing...), etc, all contexts, I recommend different systems.
It comes down to what Jeffga calls "magic", which a way of expressing the ineffable in words. This deep experience of listening is ineffable because it occurs in the mind before words. At deeper levels of listening, more objective qualities of sound that are more noticebale to the mind at surface levels become less important to catalyzing the listening experience. At these deep levels, the mind is more attuned to existential discontinuities - how sound moves in space symmetrically, the continuousness between source projection and surrounding space, the simulcrum of space infusing the projection and not only bounding it, the lent perception of depth proceeding infinitely, the integration of transient, core harmonic and decay, and then, all of these integrated with each other. The result is not some-thing that the thinking mind can put into language and readily communicate, but it is an experience that exists and can be replicated with the right system and a mind willing to go there.
In my experience, while SS has made many strides - at first in terms of distortion, then harmonics, then space - it does not approach a properly matched NOS based tube system in its ability to offer an integrated simulcrum that catalyzes the mind towards this deep listening experience.
This knowledge is, of course, state-specific, meaning that while I can go on like this, if you haven't experienced this then the mind that wants to stay where it is tends to deny the existence - even, illogically, the possibility of its existence - and, strangely, even though that same mind has itself developed further and further abilities to listen deeper into the meaning of the music.
There are some very wonderful SS systems - meaning pre and amp - that are progressively allowing us to experience greater meaning in music, but that, in and of itself, is not an argument for equality in systems that catalyze the deepest musical experience.
Someone said recently here that he didn't care if a coat hanger got him there (Tok?) - matter is matter is matter - but the arrangement of matter we call a "tube" is still superior in reproducing the above existential qualities I've cited vis-a-vis SS, and to which I've alluded are inherently determitive of the ability to reach those deep levels, ie deep existential perception requires a threshold of a simulcrum of those qualities before the experience is, well, experienced.
What is equal?
We are all equal in our potential to experience music, or stereos, or flowers, or...
Yes Asa, the Scinnies are better, thanks for asking. Some quantitatively, but much more qualitatively. The Scinnies are a speaker apart.
I might do the Supra by and by. I love tubes. Thanks to the huge power reserves of the 600 I can pedal the <1ohm Scinnies to full throttle. They have reaffirmed my belief that speaker choice is the apex from which to synchronize all other components.
Don't you ever worry about the rapidly diminishing store of NOS tubes? I know new sources pop up now and then, but prices are skyrocketing. I'm having a devil of a time finding my favorite tubes. Luckily I chanced on a huge untapped personal collection of all types of tubes, that are in the hands of a friend of mine now.
Muralman, you know, I think I have an idea what you like, and I do think you'd like the Supratek. In fact, I'd think you'd love it. It doesn't have that tubey sound like many tubed pre's. I love my Joule, but it wouldn't be for you because its soft on dynamics - which I don't like myself but, personally, can live with because of other things it does and because the system is synergized with it there. The Supratek is Very Dynamic and clean - but in a good way, not sterile, but liquid, but not lush either. If you like Pass, you would love a Supratek. If you didn't like it, besides, you could easily sell it for what you paid. The wait is a bitch to get one from Australia, but that's where the cycle is right now. Bottomline: I think you'd be very happy. Glad you like the Scintillas. I would like to hear what you say more on the differences. Lots of Apogee people out there, or former ones, so maybe a thread on that?
On NOS: yea, I do worry, but much less so on a pre/SS combo. The real problem comes in when you have to match outputs on an amp, and that's where you see people balancing the ups in sound vs. the downs in hassle and glad they don't have a tube amp anymore. I see their point; my Defy was a hassle. That's one of the reasons that I have the SE amps I do, because they only have 3 tubes apiece. In that sense, I fully understand someone going the tube pre/SS amp route. Actually, on the NOS for pre's you get pretty good at scouring ebay and it turns out to be easier than you would think. For instance, on the Supra, four matched sets would probably last you well over a decade. That's a $500 investment over ten years, and given the performance increase and time span, that's chicken feed in audiophile terms. Besides, you're a savvy guy with this stuff, so you would have no problem, really. And, I would guess, would probably end up enjoying yourself.
Asa, you got it:
Also, as a reviewer, you might find the next site interesting. It holds information on all the Apogees, including reviews, user systems, and specs:
All reviews were written at a time when there were no amps as powerful nor as advanced as the Pass 600. When fully powered the Scintilla looses the few negatives one reviewer noted.