high power tube amps vs ss

I have always had low efficiancy speakers and had powerfull ss amps to power them. Now I see there are a number of tube amps in the 150 - 200 WPC range. My questions is: is there anything to be gained by switching to these higher power tube amps over ss amps?
The answer is to dependent on the actual speakers you would be using. If you tend to prefer the sound of tubes and if the speakers are "tube friendly" but are of low efficiency than the large powered tube amps might just be your cats meow. If you live someplace really cold than the added gain will be that your amps will also act as an excellent room heater.
It's important experience, but smarter to switch back from tubes.
Winggo, if you post which particular speakers you are using or have in mind, members will be better able to give opinions or advice. Some also just seem to have a personal preference of one over the other.
I happen to have ALWAYS preferred tubes by a wide margin. That goes for guitar amplifiers, as well. Some prefer SS for both. It is well worth your investigation, otherwise you will never know what you may be missing.
Hello I think most great sounding tube amps are of the 75w per channel or less type. Because these amps drive high SENSITIVITY speakers well.Efficiency and Sensitivity are words that get confused when talking about speakers.Sensitive speakers that are 93db or better are great for tube amps. The higher power tube amps like the Audio Research brand are very good sounding and that would be a real upgrade from most SS amps. But, It depends a lot on speakers to. I use a Tube Pre with a 350w Solid state amp...I like the combo for my dark low sensitive 87db Dynaudio 3.0's. it drives them loud and crystal clear. for me to switch to tube amps I would change to a higher sensitive speaker.(that's a big switch for me though)I dont like Fatigue when I listen for a few hours at hi volume.And with this system I have NONE :-)

Matt M
What is to be lost are large amounts of cash chasing after the "perfect" tube of the month, in buying NOS tubes that "test well" but are near the end of their useful lfe etc etc.
Schubert does make a point in that high power tube amps do use MORE tubes. Unless you are prepared to go with different speakers, as in very high efficency, low power amps use a much lesser amount of tubes. Then of course, some of those tubes can be a bit more expensive, tho they DO last a long time.....
Schubert, now why did you have to go and open up this can of worms!!!
Winggo, much more important than your speakers’s sensitivity is its impedance. If you have low efficiency speakers with a benign impedance, you can solve any power issue by adding more tube power. If your speakers have either too low or too demanding of an impedance curve, then tubes are not recommendable, regardless of power.

I personally do not like the sound of most high-powered pentode and tetrode tube amps. Many sound much more brittle and dry than good solid state amps. Notable exceptions to me are some OTL amps.

Most solid state amps these days do not sound grainy, brittle or thin to me--common descriptions given to tube sound in the past. Where they are often lacking is in dynamics at lower volume--compared to a good low-powered triode tube amp they sound lifeless and lacking in immediacy. There can also be a "mechanical" quality to the sound that comes from a slight artificial edge to the attack on all notes and a lack of the subtle variation in attack and decay of notes that one hears with better tube gear. With suitably efficient speakers, I prefer low-powered tube gear. For speakers needing more power, I like OTL tube amps, followed by solid state and then followed by high-powered tube gear.
Schubert, even if it's not NOS, the high-powered amp uses 6...12 tubes per channel averaging $20 each.
Agree with Phaelon, the speaker's load characteristics(impedance curve-fluctuations and phase angles) will determine if tube or transistor amplifier is the best option.

Along with Isochronism and Larryi I much prefer the lower power amp with high efficiency speakers route for the same reasons they cited.
The best amp is the one which is most synergestic tube or SS. I prefer tubes but one system I have sounds best with SS. I have tubes in other systems which are also magical. Try both tubes and SS. Carver and Manley, ASL Hurricanes are all good top fuel choices. Tubes will seem cheap to a transistor replacement and they do have a lifespan. A friend had his Krell mda 300s repaired...3k. 3k buys a lot of tubes, no free lunches. I prefer high efficency speakers. Pick your poison..... Jallen
In 48 years of using solid state amps I have never had to replace a transistor...
Total of parts was one blown cap.. in 48 years..
“My questions is: is there anything to be gained by switching to these higher power tube amps over ss amps?”

Tough question. It kinda depends on what a person wants from his or her system. Each type of amp has it advantages and disadvantages. This subject debated countless times here. Spend a little time and search the forums and you will be rewarded was plenty of SS vs. tubes thread. A seatbelt may be required.
Marakanetz. only tubes you can buy for $20 bucks are those wretched Russian "re-issue" in which case there is no doubt a good SS amp is better.
A good quad of EL-34's will set you back 3-500 hundred bucks and are ,as likely as not, fake .
I guess I ve been lucky, in the 20 years or so Tube amps have been wonderful and most satisfying.I haven`t experienced the problems Schubert and Marakanetz have.In their case solid state would be the way to go.With the DHT tube amps I use currently they last for years and years.We all have different experiences to share.
I will have to disagree with Schubert on EL34's, at least in my amp and my system I have had good success with both Electo-Harmonix tubes and the Mullard reissues. Both cost much closer to $100 a quad then $3-500. Of course my amp is not high powered, just 17 pushpull watts so as always ymmv.
The answer is a resounding 'yes'.... EXPENDITURE! Nothing more. A better question would have been...'Is there anything to be lost'... Again, a resounding 'yes'.

Okay, I've pried the lid off.
1. soft, mushy bottom end
2. rolled off top end
3. non credible 'holographism'(the practice of desperately attempting to legitimize the gross expenditure associated with the hysterical belief in what is actually 'not' possible).
4. :)
Csontos`s reply is a good example of why you have to listen and gain your own experience.His apparent outcome with tube amplifiers(based on what he posted) is the polar opposite of mine.We all can tell you anything from one end of the spectrum to the other.Nothing can replace personal listening to decide what you like best driving a given speaker.
Oh come on! Is that the best you can do? I made some serious allegations there.
after trying out several transistor guitar amps, some with plenty of watts available, i finally came up with the money to try a Fender Twin (all tube) amp.
totally incredible difference- the woodiness of the guitar clearly revealed itself, not to mention glorious overtones and that incredible overdrive distortion (problem- the volume was 3/4 of "1" and any higher would have had the neighbors complaining). OTOH, after hearing a VTL Wotan amp VS Halcro VS Rowland VS M.Levinson, etc. i have always enjoyed the sound of music on really good SS amps. i did hear low power triodes on two occasions and the results were not as impressive as i had hoped. the quality of the amps were really super though.
it might have taken several hours with them to get a different view, but their advantages were subtle to my ears.
Creating is not the same as recreating.
"Creating is not the same as recreating.”

Whoa! That’s pretty deep... and I always thought solid state guys were a kinda shallow :-)
French_fries, have you tried a good playback mono ss amp with your guitar?
I recently switched from two SS amps (Pass XA30.5 and Parasound A23) to two tube amps (Prima Luna Dialogue 4 and Prima Luna Dialogue 7). FWIW, I am very happy with the new tube amps. To my ears, the tube amps are less neutral than the SS amps. But what they lack in neutrality they make up for in personality. They may not be particularly accurate, but they are fun to listen to. At the moment, I don't miss my SS amps.

Having said that, I agree with the folks who say that you must listen for yourself. You can't take our word for it.

I sooooo want to like a high powered SS amp as much as tube, but just can't find one in the end. Hate dealing with tubes, heat etc..... Nothing sounds like a great tube amp however. The ASL Hurricanes are very special and high power. I have owned some great SS amps and hybrid amps that I thought would cure my tube cravings long term. They did not in the end.

I may need a high efficiency speaker to enjoy a tube amp without 11 tubes per side.
Jond, I'm happy you are satisfied.
Perhaps its because I'm an old man who started in audio when tubes were all there were that I became so used to the sound of Telefunken,Siemens, Raytheon, RCA,Amprex,Teslsa. British Mullard and Brimar etc that I find the China and Russian tubes so wretched.
Not that I given up on tubes entirely, I stll have 3 tube amps and 3 tube preamps.
Only 6 German EL-34's left .Down to my last dozen RCA 12AU7
and 4 50's Tungram 12AX7 and 4 French 6Bm8's.
Totally agree with Grannyring.Tube amps have soul and personality that ss can't touch.
I'd see tubes as having a low to moderate power (2 output tubes per channel) amplifier paired with efficient speakers and priced substantially bellow solid state gear. I've seen excellent vintage set ups that do not rip your wallet and sounding FANTASTIC.
I wholeheartedly agree with Charles1dad and others with like opinion who caution about amp/speaker compatibility. There's a thread running now about high current SS amps versus tube amps. Read the posts. There are some very excellent comments and much to learn. Suffice to say that the decision to invest in a quality tube amp is not just plug and play. Just read the OP. I don't have the energy to rehash all the issues again. But trust me, it's not just about tube warmth versus SS this or that. There are serious electrical issues at play.
I believe you'd really like a high efficiency speaker with a low or moderate power(but high quality built) tube amplifier. You would appreciate the natural sound.
I second the comments that have been made by several people to the effect that the answer to the original question is speaker dependent.

Winggo, I see that in a thread you started about a year and a half ago you mentioned having a pair of AR9 speakers. If those are the ones in question, given their vintage (1970s), their modest 87 db efficiency, their nominally 4 ohm impedance, and their high power handling capability, it is safe to assume that they were designed with solid state amplification in mind.

As some of the others have said, the suitability of using high powered tube amplification will be significantly dependent on how the impedance magnitude and impedance phase angle of the speaker vary as a function of frequency. I couldn't find any indication of the speaker's phase angle characteristics, but according to this review their impedance magnitude is generally between 3 and 5 ohms, with peaks of 10 ohms at 750 Hz and 8 ohms at 27 Hz. In comparison with a solid state amp, a tube amp will tend to give slightly more emphasis to frequencies in those vicinities.

Another point I would make is that IME a forte of tube amplification tends to be imaging and dimensionality. Although I have no basis upon which to be certain, my suspicion is that that is not a strong point of these speakers, and that potential benefit of tube amplification would likely be wasted on them.

My bottom line guess is that these speakers would do reasonably well with something like one of the higher powered Rogue Audio tube amplifiers, but you would be likely to do just as well if not better with a somewhat lower priced solid state model.

-- Al
Schubert point taken and the reverse holds true as well. Maybe I am satisfied because I have really not delved into NOS tubes and so don't know enough not to be satisfied. I concede that is entirely possible but I am happy, and less broke, in my ignorance. Cheers.
NOS tubes is a vast arena with different tiers, some are excellent others not so, there're numerous variables to consider. Here's the big picture, you're very happy with your system's sound and that's truly the bottom line. There're people with chronic frustration, indecision, and confusion who aren't really enjoying their systems. Be glad you're not one of them. If you always look forward to hearing music with your system, you're doing fine.
Jond, it was not my intent to imply you are ignorant, clearly, you are anything but.
Woah guys, I think my last post was somewhat misinterpreted. First of all by ignorant I just meant ignorant of NOS tubes which I basically am, so I was not being defensive nor did I take offense at anyone's comments. I am sure I could easily be spoiled by NOS tubes but as Charles1dad points out I am happy with my system as it is now. Very happy in fact. Unless anyone feels like donating a quad of super fantastic NOS EL34's to me of course! ;-)
Your point was clear.Some NOS tubes are wonderful and justify the premium cost they demand. But you can certainly do very well without them depending on the tube type in question as you have demonstrated.
05-10-13: Mattmiller
Efficiency and Sensitivity are words that get confused when talking about speakers.
That is true. But I don't think that the references to efficiency in several of the earlier posts represent unreasonable uses of the term.

Strictly speaking, speaker efficiency would be defined as acoustic power out vs. electrical power in. It would be expressed as a percentage, and would be a very small number for nearly all speakers. It would also be a number that is rarely specified, and that is not particularly helpful.

It is common, though (and reasonable, IMO), for the term "efficiency" to be used to refer to sound pressure level at a distance of 1 meter in response to an input of 1 watt. And for "sensitivity" to be used to refer to SPL at 1 meter in response to an input of 2.83 volts.

2.83 volts corresponds to 1 watt into 8 ohms. So for an 8 ohm speaker "efficiency," per that loose definition, and "sensitivity" would be numerically identical. For a 4 ohm speaker, efficiency per that definition would be 3 db less than sensitivity, since 2.83 volts into 4 ohms corresponds to 2 watts. That difference will have greater significance in the case of a tube amp than a solid state amp, because the power capability of a tube amp into 4 ohms will generally be similar to its capability into 8 ohms, while the power capability of a solid state amp into 4 ohms may be as much as twice its capability into 8 ohms.

On another note, in my previous post when I said:
Another point I would make is that IME a forte of tube amplification tends to be imaging and dimensionality. Although I have no basis upon which to be certain, my suspicion is that that is not a strong point of these speakers, and that potential benefit of tube amplification would likely be wasted on them.
it occurs to me that my wording could be taken more negatively than it was intended, due to my use of the word "wasted." To clarify, my intention was just to say that I suspect that the potential benefit that IMO tube amplification can often provide with respect to imaging and dimensionality would probably not be realized with AR9 speakers. One reason for that suspicion, in addition to its general configuration, is the comment in the review I linked to that the AR9 is designed to be placed close to the wall, which usually results in imaging being compromised to some degree.

-- Al
Al . . . you're the best! Would you adopt me?? ;-')
My goodness! What's it gonna take to convince you guys?:(
In response to Mattmiller I agree there is something magical about a well executed 75wpc tube amp. Contrary to another post, I find many modern tubes quite good. In comparing NOS 6550 GE tubes, the Winged C had much better bass and none of the shrillness I find in the GE. The KT 120 is another fine tube. The Gold Lion Tubes have many fans. In response to the original post, connect with a local audio group and see who is willing to allow you to audition their gear or a dealer with a generous return policy. Jallen
When I was using a push pull 6550 amp the Winged-C served me well.Your suggestions for the OP are on the mark.
Csontos, as to your question toward French_fries, I will expound on guitar amplification for your edification. Guitar amplifiers have always been in mono form since inception.
French_fries, Twins are high power, but what a glorious tone!!
My 58' tweed champ @ 5 watts is loud for my apartment. It does one tone only, one I agree with, and the volume goes up to 12!
Yes, I'm aware of that. Hence my reference to a mono amp, specifically one intended for music playback. I was responding to his prior comparison. I'm thinking not a lot of effort is put into ss guitar amp design.
While many guitarist swear by tubes there is a sizable group of solid state amplifiers. The Roland Jazz Chorus is a widely used solid state amp. The Line 6 DSP based amps also have a following. The blues giant Albert King used a solid state Acoutic brand amp with his Flying V guitar. Additionally, most bass guitar amps are solid state.

Guitar amps can have one or two channels. Typically the channels are not used together for stereo, but as two mono channels, one "clean" and the other "dirty". In live performances some guitarist use multiple amps in conjunction with stereo effects processors to achieve a stereo guitar sound. There are a very limited number amps that do this within a single chassis, the before mentioned Roland being one and I believe Gallien & Krueger made a few models.

I agree that music production is different in concept than music reproduction, but at one time Allan Holdsworth used VTL Tiny Triode for amplification. I'm actually a little surprised that tube high end manufacturers haven't branched out into instrument amp production in large numbers.
Wow,, what great responses!!! Sorry I haven’t gotten back to this thread sooner but was gone for a couple of days.

The speakers I use now are Dynaudio T2.5, they are rated at 6 ohms, but I don't know the sensitivity, probably less than 90db. I am looking at Tyler MM5 speakers at this time. Ty has a new version of the MM5 coming out but I don't know it's sensitivity either. The AR9's are down at my shop and I use a PA amp for those. I had been an AR fan from the early 70's.

High efficiency speakers would make life a lot easier, but I thought those type of speakers sounded shrill and thin. It may be because I have only heard them with ss amps. Over the last couple of years I’ve attended some of the audio shows and have listened to high efficiency speakers that sounded great. Most if not all powered by tube amps.

If I go with the MM5 that will have a lot to do with what I end up with for amps. What some of you have said about the advantages of smaller power tube amps compared to higher power tube amps makes sense to me. The cost of tubes, the heat generated and the time it takes to warm up are all things I need to consider, but I do love the sound of some tube amp systems I’ve heard.

If this was an easy decision I would not have ask for all your wise and esteemed opinions.
I did have a SS guitar once for a few months A GK 250ML. The cabinet was metal and built like a tank!! Very interesting little amp. It screamed!
And yes, this GK amp was stereo, 50 watts,
I believe.
I am unaware of any other stereo guitar amps, but I would not doubt that others do exist.
Okay, let me try this again. I was referring to a home stereo ss amp, preferably a mono one. I tried a Denon with my guitar years ago. It sounded pretty good.
Onhwy61 & French_fries
Also, in regard to your mention of two channels,
I have an old beat-up black face Super Reverb. When I got it my amp tech made it "healthy" and since it's condition, I didn't mind adding a toggle switch in the back.
You would play through the clean channel, the reverb and tremolo would work with that channel. Throwing the toggle would overdrive into the second channel. ALL controls worked together!!!
Many tonal combinations and MUCH power!!
It was a real sleeper. People always wondered how that amp could crank so much!! HA And the original speakers always stayed intact :)
Isochornism, I don't use it very often, but I still have a GK250. It's a wonderful amp!

Csontos, nobody does that unless there is no other choice. Impedance and gain mismatches are usually the problem.
It is currently in my "archive". I had considered getting an additional Super cab, minus amp, to use as an additional extension speaker cabinet...
ala' Super Full Stack!