Is a tube amp for me?

I've been an 'audiophile' for over 20 years. I've experimented with tubed preamps unsucessfully (I should add that later I found out the problem was a ground loop hum with my cable company, which didn't affect solid state preamps). I've been a SS guy for the rest of my audio life. Reliability is of utmost importance to me, and tube horror stories have scared me off. Sound quality is also very important, but not at the cost of chronic repairs. I currently am driving a pair of Vienna Acoustic Beethovens (4 ohms, 91 db sens) with a Threshold T400 amp (300 wpc into 4 ohms). I also have a Classe CP-60 and CDP-1.
I've listened to a BAT VK-60 and a Cary V-12 at a local dealer. The dealer would not let me bring the amps home, they sounded very good in his showroom. My question to you, my A-gon friends, is, is it worth the risk to try a tube amp? Or is it all hype? Should I just stick with my old, reliable Class A SS? What do ya say? Thanks for any input.
I should add that I couldn't afford to 'try' a tube amp without selling/trading my current amp (Threshold T-400). So it's not just a matter of trying a tube amp and keeping my SS amp in case things don't work out.

You must read this post from AA, as perfect a description as I've read.

Broken anything is a hassle, but I would like to point out that, typically, when tube gear fails you lose a tube, maybe a resistor or two, a cap, fairly minor repairs and you are up and running again. Solid state gear is more prone to fail catastrophically taking out large chunks of circuit, output transistors, speakers and the like. There are plenty of solid state horror stories too. That said, from your post it doesn't sound like tubes are for you. They do demand greater involvment from the user, and they do sound quite different from solid state. It sounds like you already know the answer and genuinely enjoy the system that you have assembled.
No one can answer the question, "what is better for me".

Are tube amps all hype, maybe that can be answered, and again maybe not. Speaking for my self and 20+ years playing in this hobby tube amps are not all hype. I have had the very first generation of the Krell amps, the first Roland amps in between owning Audio Research, Music Reference, conrad johnson tube amps and I always came back to a tube based system. I am currently using a Cary V12 and a little known tube preamp and couldn't be happier. A friend of mine has a Wadia 850 running direct into a one of the Pass amps (not sure which one, but a new one) and I frankly wouldn't want that as my system. This friend of mine would also tell you he wouldn't want my system, so this debate will go on and on and on. This friend is also never happy with his system and is always trying new things. If you buy used (the Cary V12) and didn't like it you should be able to sell it for what you paid for it or close to and buy back into the SS camp. My guess is you won't.........Bob
"Greater involvement" I think that sums it up. I have both a solid state system and a tube system. The reference system is solid state, except for the phono stage which is tube based with very good NOS tubes. The other system is mostly tube based. The tube based system is fun. Rolling tubes and making small adjustments on that system is part of the hobby--just to see what a smaller system can do, and how musical (although not as accurate) it can be. I thoroughly enjoy the tubes, but my tube system is not of reference quality (there are of course reference quality tube systems). I have had some minor reliability problems (a blown fuse and had to change a cap once), but they really were minor and easily fixed. I think the real issue is do you want the involvement of tubes, and I think by your post, probably not. They aren't for everyone, and if you like your system as it is now I would not suggest the change.
I can say that I fried a resistor biasing a quad of EL34's but this was due to my lack of reading my meter correctly. I did go back to a ss amp but don't think for a moment I don't miss my tube amp(Anthem amp1). I even kept my tubes. My suggestion is to find a dealer that will let take the amps home. With your stated experience you will know what floats your boat and possibly get a better trade in with the dealer that lent you the amps. Good luck on your quest!
John, tubes do require some work. You have to figet with them. You SHOULD test them. You need to change them and if the amp doesn't auto bias, you'll need to do that, too.
Is it worth it? I think so, but we all have our interests and what we are willing to put our efforts into.
Some of the Rowland gear comes very close, in my book, to sounding "tubey". I currently have a Classe CA300 and it sounds pretty good, too!

good luck in your journey! Ain't it a hoot?!!?!
Sorry, no SS amp I've heard sounds like a good tube amp. Dimensionality is lacking and there is a "flattening" of an instrument and a loss of its body. A certain deadness to the sound.

Your dealer sounds like a selfish a-hole. Take your T-400 to his store, and make him spend 4 hours comparing the amps for you. You will ONLY know if you actually listen in the same system and make a switch. I thought my solid state amp sounded good, too, until I put a tube amp in and heard the difference. When you don't know what you're missing, you don't miss it!

As pointed out, tubes require involvement and learning. I didn't want to deal with them, either, but now I'm not as scared. And, it's worth it-----
last year, during the 911 auctions here, I bought a tube tester,a Hickok, and man o man, did we learn alot about the tubes that we bought and THOUGHT were good. Once tested and replaced, there was an incredible difference. Do most tube gear owners also own a tester? just curious -aj
Many good comments above. Your dealer should really let you borrow a tube amp and try it at home. If he doesn't, lose some respect for him.

I have played this game for about 10 years. I have owned all tube systems (Sonic Frontiers), hybrid systems (VAC linestage and SS Muse amp), and all SS systems (my current system is all McIntosh).

In my experience, tubes can deliver a sound that is genuinely invovling and engaing to the senses. But they require a little work. The "little work" I speak of is occassional biasing and replacement every couple of years. Biasing (for my SF tube amp) needed to happen once a month (it took me about 10 minutes). Replacement happened once every two years (approximately), and cost about $500 (that 's for 10 tubes in my SF Power-1 and 6 tubes in my SF Line-2). My tube gear never broke down, and even when I had tube trouble once, I just needed to replace it - no collateral damage in good tube gear usually.

Bottom line for me was, "temperment". I just did not have the temperment for tubes. I always forgot to bias, and I did not like the $500 replacement cost. I also could not live with the idea that I might lose a tube, and be out of sound until I had new tubes sent to me. Many people do not consider these sorts of things problematic. They should own and enjoy tubes. For me, I just did not enjoy the interaction with the equipment in that way, and am just more comfortable with SS.

Ask yourself, how much interaction do you want with your gear? Do you want to have to keep it up monthly and sink a little into it every 18-24 months (kind of like a car), or do you want to turn it on and off and pretty much not think about it? What is your temperment?

Good Luck,
I am with Kevziek on this one (but less upset). The next best thing you can do is drag your amp to the dealer. Don't ask permission, though. You show him who's boss.
jmcgrogan2 -

If you were not in Ogontz, rather closer to SF, I would let you borrow a tube amp that I have!!

I am an SS guy but a few months ago was in your situation and came across a fairly inexpensive tube amp with decent KT88 tubes and bought it. The sound is very differnet, more 'fluid' than the Rowland Model 7s I was running.
However, the amp I bought was no powerhouse, and when I would turn it up, there just wasn't enough power there. Surely larger tubes would handle the situation, but at great cost.

The tinkering thing scared me away (since I would probably ruin them if I had to tweak or adjust something (: ) but the sound, to me, was much greater with a tube amp. If there is ANY way to beg, borrow, or steal a tube amp, of just about any caliber, give it a try. I think you would enjoy it, I certainly did.

Going to tubes someday when I learn more about them,
good one kevz,
i should also admit that built quality is on the threshold side rather than on two amps you've just auditioned, but for the sake of a sound it's worth to sacrifice.
I think you should investigate whether or not your speakers present a uniform impedance load to an amplifier. Certain speakers whose impededance varies widely and dips low, may not "work" as well with a tube amp vs solid state. It not just a question of "91db/4 ohm" but whether this load is present at all audible frequencies and how the speaker interacts with the amp. Bottom line: "try before you buy".
I can attest that Berning tube amps are very owner-friendly. They auto-bias, so no meter work is needed. The tube life is designed to be over 10 years without changes. They don't have alot of tubes so they don't get real hot. They don't take hours to warm up. They don't have output transformers, so they are not real big and heavy. They sound fantastic, drive most speaker loads without trouble, and they have one that is in the price and power range that you are looking for. The Berning ZH270. 70 watts per channel and about $4500 new. I have seen them for much lower than that used, here in the A'gon classifieds. This is about as "plug-and-play" as it gets with tube amps. They are also highly reliable, and did I mention, they sound GREAT.
I don't know if a tube amp is for you. But, I've decided that a least for now, a tube amp is not for me. At this point in my life I need equipment that services me not the other way around. Tube fans will argue there is no substitute. But I think many will agree that some solid state amps have similar qualities. Perhaps thats the compromise for you. While Threshold makes fine products, I don't think they fall into the "tube like" category. Before you do anything, you might want to find another dealer who will let you find out if you really like tubes. The Irish have a saying, "Better the devil you know than the one you don't".
Also add Rogue to the list of friendly tube amps.

They auto-bias, and the prices are very reasonable.
MSRP on a pair of 120 Magnums is $3500. I'm driving a pair of vr4's (90db, 6 ohm) and they have no problems.

No fancy chrome, gold, or wood in the packaging; just industrial-type build and a huge power supply.

I have been going through some similar decision making (I want to say "soul-searching") about tube vs SS amps. I had planned on picking up an SS amp to drive my inefficient speakers, but I love the sound of tubes. I was looking forward to ease of use with SS too.

So now I've listened to a LOT of SS amps ranging from reasonable to very expensive, and I find few musically involving for long. I haven't decided what to do yet (probably tubes, but my "go-to" big tube amp did not have the air around instruments that I look for though it did have wonderful low end), but I must admit that I realized tubes aren't THAT much work when viewed against the enjoyment they provide. For me, the decision will be based entirely on sound...

I think you should try one of the home-audition programs direct from manufacturers, find another dealer or drag your amp in to do a side-by-side. I have never had a dealer refuse to let me home audition, so your guy is unusually annoying...

Good luck,
The conversation has got me thinking about your dealer instead of what amp you should use. If this is the level of service you get when normally they are nice (trying to make a sale), then what kind of service do you think you'll get if something goes wrong? Just a thought.

Every "audiophile" should have owned at least one tube amp in their lifetime. A demo for a couple of days will tell you very little about the truth of a tube amp (remember Plato's cave people?).

The fact that you started this thread means you are curious. Get it over with and buy Rogue Magnum 120s. The satisfaction will be more than worth any inconvience you will suffer.
it's sort-of different levels are to be compared bat and rogue isn't it, ultrakaz?

but somwhere you're probably right since built quality of bat or even cary isn't one of the best even if compared to rogue.

that's why i would recommend to buy(or audition first) vtl MB225 which gives you a high class, ss bass and undisputable built quality.
First off, it sounds like you might want to look for a new dealer. At the very least, they ought to allow you to take home a demo unit for a couple days...with a deposit of course.

I will agree with Marakanetz on the VTL recommendation. I've owned the ST-85, MB-125 mono's and currently own the ST-150. Other than adjusting bias, none of the amps have presented any trouble.

I've owned solid state as well (Bryston, Plinius), but I always come back to tubes. When you're ready to listen to the music and not the gear, to feel the emotion and artistry in the music, tubes deliver the goods.

You have been an audiophile for over 20 years and never owned a tube amp? You mean to say that you're going to the grave without trying a tube amp? Before transistor amps what were there? You want encouragement maybe?

I'm with Twl on the Berning. Low maintenance, self biasing, and amazing clarity, grain free, harmonic integrity and no ringing. 20 year estimated output tube life according to Dr. Berning who has a track record to back it up. This is one to try if you don't want the hassle of tubes but want the experience. And it doesn't have an output transformer to boot.

Thanks Killer Piglet for the link. I do think the writer of that post has got it convoluted though. A tube amp is the one more like Lassie, sweet, and lovable requiring more attention and in turn offering an involving musical experience. Oh so you have to brush her hair every now and then. Is that such a sacrifice for true love? Like Taylor/Burton, Gable/Lombard, Antony/Cleopatra, all great loves involve some degree of maintenance. A ss amp is more like the red-headed stepchild, always there when expected but one takes less notice over time; IMHO, of course :)
Tubegroover, are tube-folk more eloquent?
Great stuff!

I recently made the switch from ss to tubes. I agree with the above that tubes bring you closer to the source--music. They have a "see thru" quality that ss can't match. There are many tubes amps nowadays that are auto-biasing,built like a tank, conservatively driven that will last years without fuss. However, tube amps need alot more care with speaker matching. It is important to match the right amp with the right speaker. SS is alot more convenient in that it is "plug and play".BTW, I have found the ss amps that sound "tubey" to be warm sounding while tube amps in general to sound more neutral. Once this is done, you're in for an enjoyable musical ride. Don't be afraid to take the plunge. I haven't regretted it and am not going back to ss. I own a Berning amp and am very happy with it(basically like ss--plug and play).
Just wanted to add that the BAT VK60 you have in mind is auto-biasing and a wonderful sounding amp. It's driving my Virgos (also 4Ohm with a dip down to 3Ohm somewhere in the midbass region, 91dB) without any problems. Sometimes you have to replace the tubes, but this is as much maintenance as I have done so far. Is there no way to change your dealers mind? It would be worth the effort.
Thanks for all the great feedback. A lot has happened in my personal life since I originated this post, which currently precludes me from following this further at this time. I did listen to the BAT vs. the V-12i at my dealer this weekend and I preferred the BAT. However, he didn't offer me much on my Threshold, so I guess I'll have to sell privately. I also had the clothes dryer in my home die on Friday, the hot water heater give out on Sunday, and my wife e-mail me this morning that a power window broke on her car. So I guess I'll have to put off this quest for another time. I will look for another dealer though, as many of you seem to think it is not unreasonable to able to borrow equipment.
Thanks again for all your time and responses. It may take a couple of months, but I will let you know if and when I make any changes.

1. Get a new dealer; never go back to first.
2. Get a Berning amp.
3. Get a Supratek Triode preamp.
4. Then, forget about audio for awhile.