I'm going back to tubes... a question for y'all

It's been years and years, but I remember the sound my old Stromburg Carlson used to put out. Also grandmas old Packard Bell. My vintage Marantz had 'the sound' also.

For some reason I just can't get it (that sound) out of my head, and here was the kicker: A week ago a buddy brought over a forty+ year old Harmon Kardon mono reciever for me to offload on e-bay. I plugged it in with it hooked up to one of the speakers, let it warm up, found a station and THERE was That Sound! I didn't say anything... my buddy looked at me and said "that sounds better than your (other stuff). The sad thing is... I was thinking the exact same thing.

Oh, the question... how many of you chased through SS stuff only to wind up back at tubes (sometimes many) years later.

I ordered up an amp from Paul at 2B audio. I'll let you know how it goes...
With poor digital recordings and lower quality digital playback gear, i agree that tubes can really breath life, body and soul into your listening habits. This is especially true if those crappy digital recordings are being played back on a lower grade digital front end AND "sterile" SS electronics.

Other than that, most tubed gear is somewhat slow, warm and soft. To add to that, most tube based amps lack dynamic impact, especially when run with typical "audiophile approved" speakers. These "colourations" tend to balance out the "hard, bright and lean" sounding digital based recordings and systems that most people have and use. As such, i can understand how this type of situation happens.

One should honestly ask themselves the following question. If it wasn't for the introduction of "digital" recordings and playback, how many tubed components do you think we would have today as compared to SS designs? My guess is, not nearly as many.

Buy and use what you like. There's no sense in spending your hard earned cash on something that you don't like or trying to please someone else that won't be listening to your system. Sean
Sean makes some very valid point. In addition, don't fail to recognize that a quality SS amp will play for years requiring nothing but occasional dusting and possibly cleaning the connectors.

I'm not sure that I would expect then same from tubes. It's the fuel injection vs. carburetion analogy. F.I. is very reliable and incredibly efficient, carbureters aren't. But there is nothing like the sound of a big ol' quad with all four barrels open.

Only drawback? You could be running second in a two car race.

It depends on the track and driver.
Which amp are you buying from Paul, the Cayin TA-30 or a classic re-furb'd tube amp? I purchased both a stock and fully modified Cayin from Paul and they are tremendous values. Plus, you get Paul! Buying a Chinese built amp from someone that doesn't personally know how to repair it is not a very good idea. I spoke with a dealer the other day that told me ALL warranty services are provide through the seller, not the manufacturer. Probably a good thing since shipping a 45 lb amp back to China would be very costly!


I just replaced my Bel Canto 200.2s with Atma-sphere M60 MK II.2s (from Audiogon, thank you Steve!). I'd had the earlier M50s and stupidly sold them to replace them with the Bel Cantos. The latter were nice and got my Von Schweikert VR-4s off the ground and were fast but I always felt I was missing something (like low level detail). I got Paul Speltz's Zero autoformers this time around, and they step up the input impedence of the speakers so that the M60s can drive them with authority. My system has never sounded better.Good luck.
Sean, you hit the nail squarely on the head. Not all material is as cleanly recorded as Levinsons Red Rose sacd. The breathy sax, the airy voices, the strings...masterful and engaging. The orchestral tracks in The Little Mermaid show off dynamics and soundstage to a fare-thee-well.

When I put on Mark OConnors 'Heroes' (and other cd and/or vinyl) and all I can think about is 'how poorly recorded' some of these tracks are, it really can get in the way of enjoying the musical intention these folks laid down.

My thought in stepping up to the 'tube plate' was based on sweetening up the system a bit, and getting back to enjoying the music. If a touch of accuracy and dynamics are lost, so be it. If it 'distorts' the recording in a positive way, that could be just peachy. If it's 'real music' and I get sucked into the performance, it will be worth it.

I guess it's feeble attempt (or a copout?) on the path of upgradeitis. I am trying to avoid replacing every cable and component in this digital system two or three times in the chase for the sweet sound of tubes. Basically just skipping the middleman and heading straight for the glow of valves. If it doesn't work out, well, back to the drawing board.

I'ts funny, I don't remember having any trouble at all with my old tube stuff, tho the S.C. did cook a capacitor once that I easily replaced. Memory is a funny thing, and maybe I'm not remembering the sweet sound of tubes at all... but the smell of Grandma's pot roast! ;-)
I'm with you. After college I lost track of my great tube system and had modest solid state systems for many years. Also discovered "perfect sound forever" and lost interest in listening for lack of time and money.

In the last couple of years I have acquired another system...this time it's pretty high end with tubes and vinyl all over the place. I spent a lot of time auditioning systems and my experience--clearly not as exhaustive as many on this site--is that tube amps are just more musical (at least at the price I can afford).

My system is well-behaved. Sure, I have to mess with biases and replace tubes occasionally but nothing catastrophic.

Best wishes,
Yes... Not only I switched to tube gear.. I'm even going back to vintage gear. If you find the right one that matches your speakers, they actually better than most of the modern tube gear.
I'm going to give the hot rod ta-30 a try. I initially was reluctant to go for the Chinese made unit. But then I figured that Paul put his stamp on it with the mods, and it felt like I was in fact supporting our local business. All indications were this modded amp was a great way to dip back into tubes, and that it had the werewithal to keep up with some of the higher end equipment.

That, and I know who to call if there's a problem!

Good call! Paul is the man! BTW, I just got my mod'd unit on Thursday and it is very good after only about 5 hours of burn-in. Can't wait to reach the 30 hour mark as Paul suggested. Man, this thing sounds BIG and WIDE. It fills my room like no other amp I've ever had in my system.

I think you are in for a treat!

BTW, where Y'all from?


Wife, Son and I live in Reno,Nevada.
I was initially concerned the wattage output of the ta-30 being a fairly low 30 watts may not be enough to drive the Dynaudio 52s. I am using an extremely nice (powered)sub to fill in the bottom end.

The most recent amp I've been auditioning has 80watts into 8 and 160 into 4 ohms. It is indeed powerful, detailed and clean, but lacks character at the lower listening levels I would just assume be listening at.

It will be interesting to see how this tube unit compares.

What other amps have you tried in your system? and in what respects did the ta-30 kick their butts out the door?

Look for Vintage Lafayette KT-550, HK Citation II and Dynaco MK III (7027a, 6550, and 6550) These out output at least 60 Watts to 70 Watts or tube power. If you have more $$$, Mac MC275 is also another high power stuff.
For modern amp, you can look for Music Reference RM-9 but the tubes will cost you a bundle.

Do they say "Y'all" in Reno? :~) I thought ya might be from Caintucky or Tennessee...

I've owned lots of budget integrated and power amps Including Antique Sound Labs AQ-1003DT, Anthem Integrated One, Anthem Integrated Two, Anthem Amp 1, Bryston B-60r, Monarchy Audio SM-70 (stereo and mono-blocked), Arcam Alpha 9 and Alpha 10, Plinius 8200 and BottleHead Paramours and I'm sure more that I've forgotten. Some might do some things better, but I think I'm going to enjoy the Cayin at least as much and possibly more than all of the others overall. It has a very musical and inviting sound. It wants to help you listen to music, not your hi-fi system!

Only issue for my system at the moment is that I don't have a great CD source. I'm currently using the TAS recommended JVC XV-SA602SL DVD/DVD-A/CD player that I bought for $125 here on A-goN. Honestly, it is very good, but it is no match for the Resolution Audio Opus 21 CD player that I recently sold. Even with this CRAP source, this amp sounds big and open, really filling my room with sound, unlike any amp I've owned. My speakers are Reference 3A MM DeCapos and might be a better match for the amp than you speakers, but who knows.

I'm borrowing a high-end CD player from a friend this weekend, so I should get an indication of what this amp can really do. Oh yeah, I only have about 10 hours on it, so it's not even broken in yet!


I had considered the Anthem Int 2 and the Plinius 8200. Can you tell me what you thought of those in relation to the ta-30? I had also considered the Unico. We live in an audio desert... there are no upper level/specialty shops here unless I go to Sacramento or San Fran.

Unfortunately, they were owned too far apart to give an absolute answer and I have different speakers. All I can say is if they were all the same price as a mod'd Cayin from Bizzy Bee, I would choose the Mod'd Cayin for my taste.

Of course the others both have significantly more power than the Cayin and with my "very easy to drive" speakers, that power is just a waste.

YMMV for your taste and your speakers, but I'm happy with mine. Of course, you can't go wrong as Paul has a 30 day return policy.

I've never heard the Unico.


Thanks, I appreciate your input.
Jamiehughburr: Atma-Sphere gear is NOT "typical" tube gear. To me, these are tube amps with an SS heart. This is not meant to put them down in the least. What i'm trying to say is that these amps are fast and offer wide-bandwidth. Most tube amps are slow and very limited in bandwidth. That's why Atma's sound as good as they do. Obviously, Ralph Karsten knows his stuff : ) Sean

PS... If i remember correctly, Ralph is also a fan of Goertz speaker cables. Hmmmm.... I wonder why ??? Must be that great minds think alike : )
Funny that Sean mentions tube gear with a solid state heart. I auditioned several tube preamps ranging from $2000 to $10,000 in my system. The lesser priced tube amps were clearly editing the music and truncating the bass. By the time I got to the $10,000 preamp, the bass was back and the mids and highs sounded much like my Pass designed solid state preamp. And my solid state preamp was $9,600 less!!!!!!
There is a discussion on tube VS solid state on absolute
sound.I found it very educating.I think its the latest
edition, Bob Harley is the referee.
"To me, these are tube amps with an SS heart."

Well Sean I don't know if I would put it like that. How about "A tube amp with the soul of tubes and the top to bottom extension and dynamics of ss." I don't get heart from ss, it misses too much low level information and MOST lack the immediacy of the better tube gear which brings music to a sense of being with you in the room. I DO try to be objective in these observations but in fact have to live up to my moniker :)

I agree that most tube gear is too rolled off at the frequency extremes with the exceptions being the OTL and top eschelon transformer coupled amps. Great transformers cost a lot but it can be done right, er close to right with the proper load. And then there is the Berning. I would love you to hear that one Sean, if you haven't already. It seems quite evident that the problem with tubes isn't the tube itself this seems what is right, better than the transistor. The problem is the transformer. How about a transistor device with the "soul" of tubes, anyone?
"Yes... Not only I switched to tube gear.. I'm even going back to vintage gear. If you find the right one that matches your speakers, they actually better than most of the modern tube gear."

Well s23chang, I don't know about that. I have a pair of MC-60's have owned Dynaco, ARC and have listened extensively to many others. It depends what you value, realism vs. coloration. The Mac's are nice amps and I really enjoy them for certain types of music. But they in no way approach what the OTL amps or better SET amps do. One thing I won't argue is they are way cooler looking than virtually anything out there, superbly designed and bulletproof. The Mac's are the only audio component I have owned over the past 15 years that continually elicit comments from most who see them. Probably because of the black and chrome contrast. Even the Supratek Syrah doesn't get the same response.
First I would say that I am going to be talking about quality tube gear versus quality ss gear. Quality tube gear does not have rolled off top and bottom end. It will probably be noisier than ss gear although if you use transistors in the ps, you can get the same quiet. Apart from John Tucker's efforts, however, I have always found such power supplies to sound too much like ss gear. I don't think it has anything to do with poor digital recordings as I do not think the superiority of tubes has anything to do with their smoothing the sound. I find tubes to have more detail and to be quicker sounding. Solid state gear, with the exception of 47 Labs stuff, sound unmusical, lacks pace, and generally cannot achieve the realism of good tube gear.

Finally, I will make one clear exception to what I have just said, namely the H-Cat P12, while ss, is un-solid state sounding. It has pace and musicality and given that I have yet to hear anything else that can even come close to its sound stage, it has realism.

I have repeatedly ventured in and out of tube gear over the years frequently because tube dacs or powerful amps were unavailable. Typically when tube gear became available or when I no longer needed a powerful amp, I bought it and was happy.

I would recommend following your ears. You will probably grow tired of vintage gear. Be confident, however, that tubes need not lose you top or bottom end and can give you greater realism. You may have to go to efficient speakers, however.

First of all, I never said the vintage gear are the all time best but definitely way better value. You'll have to spend 5 times more on solid state gear to achieve the same performance in tube gear.

Price aside, the original MC275 is far more superior to my ears than the MC60. I have SETs myself too and heard heard over half of dozen really nice SETs and they are not suitable for all music. It does have nice glow and bloom sound but lack of pace and punch and the push and pulls. You need to find an amp with good balance that can drive your speakers. The OTL is nice concept but it doesn't mean it is always better than conventional transformer amp. It's effortless sound is impressive and a bit "in your face" feel but it doesn't mean that it produces the best sound. If it is so great than every manufacture would have jump on the same band wagon. Why are we still using the transformer these days in almost every tube amp?
Because it is more popular among the listeners?

The list I gave above is just examples of good vintage gears. You really need to match everything to your ears. You're welcome to add more to the list if you like.
Too bad that you have yet to explore all the nice vintage gears. It's a matter of taste at this point so no further discussion needed.

Sorry S23chang, didn't see your list before responding to your 1st post. So far as vintage gear and value goes, I do agree with much of what you say.

So far as OTL amps, yes they do have limitations like most tube gear. Does "in your face" mean a more up front presentation? Yes I would say that is correct as well, at least in comparison with virtually all ss and many tube amps. But I don't think this is characteristic of the design so much as a reflection of the recording. OTL amps only sound in your face on recordings that are closely miked, they do have a greater sense of immediacy and yet if the recording is laid back they can sound that way as well. In fact I can clearly hear more into the recording with these amps, they seem to be more accurate in this regard. On balance OTL designs seem closer to real than any of the transformer coupled tube amps I have heard top to bottom. The reason they aren't widely accepted by audiophiles (manufacturer's follow the market) is simply that the design hasn't progressed past their intrinsic limitations, impedance matching, inefficiency and heat.

btw, the Dynaco Mk III's I am very familiar with and are superb amps. They also run quite hot and can really go through tubes, maybe there is something to this has something to do with their sound? Btw, my MC-60's are far from the stock warm and fuzzy vintage variety. They are pushing out close to 130 watts and have ss rectifiers with a beefed up power supply. Better extension on top and extremely punchy in the bass, just lacking the definition of the OTL's and ss. Again it depends on what the music is.
Thank you Tubegroover for your response. Yes, not many folks like "in your face" sound. It is not really how the recording was done, rather, it was just exaggerated overall. Too much excitement is not good either. It really make you fatigue after long listening. The OTL tend to have control issue like runaway train. Maybe with the modern microchips, the OTL might have great potential lack of general public interest. So we're back to square one with traditional transformer amps.