It really depends on the particular gear. Would an old Audio Research D115 power amp sound better than a current Jolida power amp? I would think so.
The main point I think is that old tube gear generally has that 'tubey' sound. a LOT of new tube gear does not and is far more neutral. Eveen new Conrad ohnson gear is less tubey than old. The biggest change from old to new I know of is Audio Research. which went for tube sound to neutral sound even with tubes.
I up graded from VTL 300 Deluxe mono blocks to VTL 450 MKII mono blocks. Huge technology upgrade with the same "House Sound". The auto biasing and fault protection features in the 450's are a huge improvement. This modern feature allows me to quickly identify a bad power tube, then replace the offender and get back to listening. With the old 300's it was a long process to locate the bad tube.
To many, an ideal dream system would be full Western Electric theater equipment.
Big passion and big wallets are needed to accomplish such a collection.
I think of Brook amplifiers and preamplifiers or full Marantz, the later of which Al has posted at times of having had and enjoyed! All should be made "healthy" utilizing original parts retaining original character, and IMO with period speakers.
I bet that I could be happy with either system for life.
I have a modern SET system that I know I can be happy with for life!
Top shelf done right is all good and timeless!!
Autobiasing was done in early 50's. Everything in old and modern tube amps based on everything built and implemented 50 years ago the latest. VTL mostly manufactures the most primitive designs of pre-WW2 era, but few was made with autobias.
I'd say that Quicksilver amps are somewhat modern with semiconductor autobias circuit. Hybrids are cool too such as Counterpoint.
Old tube equipment sounding "tubey" is not necessarily true. For example the ARC D-115 that was mentioned earlier with its matching ARC SP-8 MKII or SP-10 preamp is incredibly neutral when working properly. Regarding the VTL Deluxe 300 monos vs the VTL 450 MKII. What technology would you be referring to? Manufacturers of tube and solid state electronics alter the tonal balance regularly as they change models. A little less midbass warmth and you have better imaging and a more detailed top end. Think it's too lean? The next generation is warmed up a little. They all play this game.
Look into the Cayin/VAS line of tubes. These are all new, great sound, great value. Most of the units designs are knockoff's of the classic legacy tube units of Marantz and McIntosh. You get great old designs done in state of the art parts. I have the a Citation pre-amp, amps (2 pairs of monoblocks), integrates (2). You will not be disappointed.
I think newer tube gear in general sounds more neutral and is better geared for those who listen to a broad range of music genres and vintages. That makes it more versatile I would say! More vanilla. Older tube gear, in general, is more "flavored". Age of the item and overall operating condition accordingly is commonly probably a significant part of that in practice.
03-04-13: IsochronismVery well said, Brett!
Also, I was pleased to see Lincoln Walsh's Brook Electronics company mentioned in your post. He seems to be more commonly remembered these days for having invented the Walsh speaker driver. As you realize, though, during the early 1950's he produced what as far as I am aware were the only 2A3 and 300B-based amplifiers made by an American manufacturer for use in the home, prior to the resurgence of interest in DHTs (directly heated triodes) that occurred in recent decades, and subsequent to the use of 2A3s in the amplifier sections of a few high end radios of the 1930s.
I have a little bit of experience with the mono integrated amplifier he produced at that time, the 22A, which used a push-pull pair of 2A3s. Although it is worth far less than the very high prices that the separate Brook power amplifiers go for these days, I can say that if its capacitors are in good condition and/or are suitably replaced, it remains a worthy example of DHT magic.
I'm curious if in your opinion, the old Brook amps, assuming in good modern working order, could match the performance their more modern equivalents overall, particularly on newer recordings of various genres that are digitally mastered? I'm sure the exact kind of modern speaker used would be a big factor. Not just any would probably do.
I guess my question might be rephrased. How much better are modern SOTA tube amps than their ancestors? And also how much should/does it really cost to play that game these days?
With respect to Brook specifically, my answer to your question has to be somewhat speculative, because as I indicated I have no experience with their highly valued separate power amplifiers, and my experience was only with one mono integrated amplifier.
But extrapolating from that experience and experience with a number of other highly regarded vintage pieces, most notably several of the Marantz tube models, I would say that most top shelf pieces from that era, when in excellent condition and/or well restored, would be competitive with recent models **that are at similar price points** (asterisks added for emphasis).
Concerning speaker selection, most of my experience with vintage electronics has been with modern speakers, and I don't think the factors that are involved are particularly different than when matching modern tube amplifiers with modern speakers. 2A3s and 300Bs can't provide a great deal of power, even in push-pull configuration, which obviously rules out a lot of speakers. On the other hand, the Brook amplifiers provide 2, 4, 8, and 16 ohm output taps, so they are fairly versatile in terms of impedance compatibility.
More or less, every current production tube amplifier is a knockoff of one of the three classic designs.
Sonically, I find some of the differences in new and old are related to:
1) A lot of the older designs used a lot more circuitry
2) As people had less money back then, many older amps are biased colder to prolong tube life
3) Older designs used carbon resistors and paper in oil coupling capacitors to produce their richer sound. Modern amps generally employ metal film resistors and polypropylene coupling caps, and sound more forward and insightful