There is no chance of physical harm to either the amp or the speaker to use any tap on a tube amplifier, so it is worthwhile experimenting to see which sounds the best. One combination may sound good under one set of circumstances, but not another (e.g., one one combination might run out of gas earlier than another so it would not be as good when required to play loud, but, it may otherwise sound better).
If you actually do have an unusually high impedance speaker, an amp with an unusual 16 ohm tap might offer a theoretical advantage. I presume that 16 ohm tap means a smaller turn ratio in the output transformer which may mean better sound. Again, it is a "may" because you might prefer the slightly better bass control and smoother frequency balance of using the 8 ohm tap instead (higher damping factor). Again, when you have the time to make the internal switch, just try it.
Roger Modjeski of Music Reference recommends using the lowest tap that gives you enough power for your speakers (almost all tube amps put out less power as impedance descends). He calls this "light loading". You can use the 8, 4, or 2 ohm tap for 16 ohm speakers, and the 4 or 2 ohm tap for 8 ohm speakers, but not the opposite (taps higher than the speaker’s nominal impedance). The lower the tap, the higher the damping factor and the lower the distortion, generally speaking.
I'm aware of the "light loading" method and have tried it. Like most things concerning High End audio variables and circumstances come into play. My speaker's are 14 ohm and my amplifier has 8 and 16 ohm taps. When using the 8 ohm tap the sound quality is very good. When using the 16 ohm tap there is a noticeable improvement overall. So both choices are quite good but the 16 ohm tap was clearly better.
Again I believe that the results are going to vary depending on the individual components and listeners involved. When ever possible listen to all available speaker taps and decide which one is preferable.
This is very amplifier dependent!
Generally speaking, its to your advantage to run a higher impedance speaker, regardless of the amplifier you use.
With most tube amps (unless they are OTLs) you are dealing with an output transformer. Transformers are inductors and so they have certain properties. One of them is that they have to be properly loaded for lowest distortion. When you run the amp with a 16 ohm load on the 8 ohm tap, the amp is 'lightly loaded' as Roger Modjesky likes to say. The problem is that the transformer will 'ring' (harmonic distortion due to overshooting for those more technically minded) unless it is loaded correctly.
This is where the amplifier design is important- if the amp has a good deal of negative feedback (15 or more db) then the additional distortion will be mostly handled by the feedback. I say 'mostly' because' there is rarely a free lunch and this is one of those cases- I think while the bass will be OK, you may find it to be slightly brighter and harsher due to increased high frequency distortion, to which the ear is quite sensitive.
If the amp has no feedback, then the distortion caused by light loading will be obvious- and likely the 16 ohm tap will be preferred.
BTW, there is nothing even remotely unusual about a 16 ohm tap. FWIW, the output transformer operates more efficiently on the 16 ohm tap with greater bandwidth in both directions and better power transfer- so you actually gain a little power with lower distortion.
My 2 cents: shame on any amplifier company that does not have the taps available from the rear panel of the amp! They should always be readily accessible.
You’ve received many excellent comments above, from particularly knowledgeable members.
I would ask, though, if you are certain about this statement which you made in the initial post:
The Air Tight is factory-set at 8 Ohms and is switcheable to 16 Ohms but requires removing the base plate and resoldering which I’m reluctant to do — or at least not until listening at the current configuration.Are you sure that it is switchable to 16 ohms, as opposed to (or in addition to) being switchable to 4 ohms? From Stereophile’s review:
The making of loudspeaker connections was only slightly puzzling: Air Tight’s specifications indicate output impedances of 4 and 8 ohms, and the spare but decent instruction manual advises the user to "select the red terminal between 4 ohms and 8 ohms in accordance with the impedance of your loudspeakers"—yet only a single pair of terminals is supplied for each channel, and I found no provisions, inside or out, for switching. In any event, I heard no indications of a mismatch with either my 16-ohm Altec Valencia or my 10-ohm Devore Fidelity Orangutan O/96 speakers.Also, FWIW, the following is stated in the measurements section of that review, although I’m not sure I agree with the statement that the impedance measurements suggest that the tap is "optimized for a 4 ohm load."
As is usual with a transformer-coupled amplifier using a push-pull pair of EL34 or 6CA7 tubes, the Air Tight’s output impedance was high, ranging from 3.6 ohms at 20Hz to 3.3 ohms at 20kHz. This suggests that the single output-transformer tap is optimized for a 4 ohm load, but it results in response variations of ±1.1dB with the magazine’s standard simulated loudspeaker.Regards,
Modjeski's light-loading recommendation may be based entirely on implementation with his amps. I have found him to be relatively unaware, and uninterested, in what other designers are doing. Interestingly, I found the same to be true of many musical artists---they are so focused on their own art and career that they are unaware of what their contemporaries are doing.
If you are talking about using tube amps, your circumstance might be a bit more problematic than using a speaker with a higher nominal impedance. Low impedance speakers tend to be harder to drive and are more prone to having problems with frequency response anomalies when driven by amps with higher output impedances, such as many tube amps.
That is not to say that your ProAc will not work well with tube amps, you just have to be more careful and accept that some amps will not work well. I have heard other ProAc speakers, such as the D48, with tube amps and the particular combinations I heard sounded very good.
The 4 ohm rating of your speaker should be no problem with any decent solid state amp, and given the particular model you have, I am assuming something far better than decent would be used.