Well a lot of us think that tubes, whether they be in a preamp, amp, or dac, don't necessarily add colorations or distortions. Personally I think a well executed tube circuit, a la my Supratek preamp or Cary amps, is inherently more linear than SS and as an added bonus it sounds a lot better. You really ought to try it some time, you might like it. Really.
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"it sounds a lot better" That is why!
For many of us, the only reason to not use tubes is if we have large, inefficient, power hungry speakers. Even then, if we have lots of money, we still buy tubed products! Of course, on a budget, the hybrid integrateds work really well.
You sound like you've never heard the huge soundstage a good tube amplifier can provide; visit your nearby dealer (Conrad-Johnson, or even Jolida) and have a listen. If you're not impressed, or listen exclusively to R&R, then your choices are simplified.
Otherwise, there's nothing like the wonderful sound of tubes.
However, even rock music sounds great with a tube system with a little bit of cojones.
I started in the same place about 8 years ago. I had a Parasound amp running off of a Sony ES receiver. I got that Sony out and put a Conrad Johnson PV-10AL in there, and I was in heaven (for a little while, at least).
That was about the time I stopped looking at specs alltogether.
Try something in your home, if at all possible, and I'd recommend either a tube pre and a solid state amp, or hybrid integrated with ss amp stage and tube pre stage.
I had a Unison Research SR-1 hybrid integrated that was absolutely badass, however I preferred an all-tube design.
Check out the SR-1, on Upscale Audio's website here, it's so cool.
very highly recommended by me.
The Pathos Classic One hybrid gets a lot of good press, here it is:
Never heard one, but it is a Stereophool "Class A" integrated, if that matters to you.
I use a Rogue Tempest, however it has a lot more tubes to deal with, but it is an auto bias design, meaning that you don't have to fiddle with tubes as much as with some other amps. I love it. Really. LOVE.
I have listened to Jolidas and enjoyed them, but since they must be user-biased (I think, someone correct me if I'm wrong) and there is a TON of difference among sound quality of their products (Probably attributable to the difference in power tubes used), I wouldn't recommend them for a first foray into tubes. BUT, I've never owned, just borrowed, so I'm not the person to ask about Jolida.
There are a ton of rediculously inexpensive import tube amps and preamps around here, for some reason, however, I have no experience with any of it (Cayin, Consonance, Radii, others). If it were me, I'd stick to a well established company with a good service record, and a repair facility in the US that's been the same for a while.
I'd hate for you to get a bad taste in your mouth regarding reliability issues of tubed equipment solely because you might not have gotten a well-executed piece.
Whatever you decide, try to get something, ANYTHING into your house. Listen. I think you'll agree that there is something magical about tubes.
If it doesn't glow, it's gotta go! Tubes add a sense of warmth and musicality to any system, and by tube rolling you can dial in the sound to your liking. In looking at your application I would suggest something from Cayin or Opera, both very good Chinese companies.
I sold off my SS integrated at work recently (Primare) and bought this http://www.operaudio.com/Html/Opera-Products-CYBERSERIES-cyber10.htm
The Opera Consonance Cyber 10 has a toggle switch to select either ultralinear or triode mode, biasing is pretty simple as you can see by the picture in the URL. I ordered the unit with two inputs to accomodate my SAE Two tuner and heavily modded Toshiba SD3950 DVD in my office system; headphone listening is important to me seeing as I'm in an office so having the headphone jack and/or a line out to add a headphone amp was a must have (Senn HD600 cans with Cardas cable). Speakers are Totem Rokk with QED Silver Anniversary wire. How does it sound? No idea, I've been traveling throughout Asia for the last three weeks but my boss who is a big time 'phile set it up and reported back to me...
"Very nice unit and sounds good too. I connected the CDP and the tuner in input 1 and 2. Speakers are at 4 ohm. I played some Dark Side of the Moon. Good pick!"
I'll write a review once I put the integrated through it's paces and have a good feel for it's character. Keep an open mind and have some fun with tubes! Best, Jeff
You should get one for the reasons listed and stay away from one for the same reasons. You have to be willing to put in the time, money, and effort to find the tubes that bring out the best in your system. Then you have to constantly be concerned that the tubes you chose could be inferior to others you haven't heard. Add that to the fact that tubes slowly deteriorate and you have to be concerned about when to replace them. Then whenever you replace a component or tube you have to assess whether another tube would work better with it than the one you are using.
Don't get me wrong, I think that a tube system with the optimum tubes for it can be magical, but there's the rub. There are so many variables that it is easy to become obsessed with tube rolling and miss out on the music. I know some of these concerns apply to the differences in solid state gear but the variables are greatly reduced.
It boils down to whether you are willing to deal with the above or just accept what the solid state component gives you. I'm all solid state at the moment and think I can compete head on with the best. I've done both and right now I'm happy without the tubes. I miss some things that tubes brought to my system but overall I'm happier where I am.
More on Jolida - The company is pretty responsive, and those that carry them can do the biasing - which is straightforward and clear in almost all instruction booklets - I mean, these things were common in households for forty years - but requires a trip to radio shack. Have the dealer tell you how though, and if they can't explain it clearly, go to another dealer or figure it out for yourself. Biasing allows you not to fry your amp (a short answer). Also Ming Da, Cary (self biasing) and EAR make excellent integrateds, some more expensive than others - some also have head phone pre-amps if you have it in an office. And don't worry about wattages, but be careful about speaker pairings.
it get you the "tube sound" without the expense of a tube power amp. Tube amps tend to be expensive (even more so for powerful ones). Plus the power output tubes in a tube amp wear out more often and cost more than line level tubes. Hence the appeal of tube DACs, phono stages, and linestages. Costs and inconvenience aside, I still prefer tube amps over tube linestages and DACs. You get more of the tube sound that way.
I prefer tube amps, but most speakers aren't optimally driven with tubes. Which lessens the appeal for most everyone else.
Tubes on the pre amp/pre amp section=Magic!It brings an openess ,spaciousness, three dimensionality and naturalness to the sound that you sometimes only realise when you take the tubes away and go back to ss on the pre.
I have my third Hybrid integrated now,Pathos Logos,a very special amp.
Tubes on the pre usually lasts 5000 to 10000 hours.They are also very inexpensive.Can also go and look for some excotic NOS tubes which makes it fun.
I have changed the standard Sovteks to Siemens CCa from the 1960's and the Logos is sounding even better.
Tubes=Colouration,nonsense!Best voltage gain is in a tube-period!Best current gain in SState.
For your home office ?Cannot think of anything better than the new Pathos Classic One.A beautiful amp that would add to the decor and has very good reviews.See Sam Tellig's comments in Stereophile Nov 2003.Visit ukd.co.uk for more reviews and pathosacoustics.com for product description.
If you go the tube route on pre you will never go back !(I have tried and went back to the tubes)
Tube power amps:Only the very expensive push pulls or the OTL's(output transformerless)eg.Berning,Joule-Electra,Atma-Sphere.Speaker choice becomes more critical.
Those glowing tubes are special.....
Tubes are not always the key for bringing musical reproduction from any given system IMO, on one hand it softness some of the digital sonic artifacts that many CDPs bring into the signal chain but on the other it may bring some colourations not present in the original recording event.
I like tubes, and have had them for a while (currently in my CDP), but there are some trade-offs one should always consider.
My two cents