I want to start this thread by clearly stating that the purpose of this question was not to fight or rehash the battle of tube vs. solidstate as one being ultimately superior or better than the other one.I hope that besides personnal taste and the different "flavors" listeners enjoy, along with system matching, there is agreement that in the last ten to fifteen years that reference tube and solidstate amps sound very much alike and more like real music. The days of euphonic warm or detailed but harsh-bright sonic signatures are gone when it comes to world class amps.When my audiofile friends and I discuss power amps we always come back to these questions;1}With the finest solidstate amps[Pass Labs,Rowland,Ayre,Edge,etc.]sounding so terrific, why put up with the hassle of re-tubing,getting the right tubes NOS etc.,and the expense of re-tubing on a on going basis?I guess one man's "tube rolling" for pleasure is another man's pain in the butt.2}The sound of a tube amp changes over time as the tubes age, why put up with this hassle when it can be avoided? We like the fact that a solidstate amp will preform at its optimial level everytime we listen to our systems. Please you all, these questions are sincere and not an attack on tube amps or their owners.As stated already the goal was not to fight over something that is obvious ,world class amps are world class amps regardless if there tube or solidstate! We have listened to wonderful sounding tube amps[VTL,LAMM,ARC,CJ,etc.]and thought they were great, however they offered no special virtues that would lead us to put up with what we regard as "hassles" compared with solidstate amps. We would love to hear from our fellow GON members regarding this topic and what has been your experience regarding this topic.Let's not fight but have FUN sharing our opinions and viewpionts on this topic. Remember we might just be "Lazy" audiofiles who rationalize our own position on this matter!
Teajay, I admire your magnanimous post, but it's almost unavoidable that this issue will keep from becoming the Israeli/Palestinian debate of audio.
That said, I would tend to agree with you, these days it seems that solid state and tube designs are beginning to sound more alike than ever. And I think that's great because it creates greater options for audiophiles when choosing an amp.
Just a month ago, I decided to finally take the SET plunge. I opted for a high powered Bel Canto SET40 because I thought it mandatory for my current speakers in hopes of not losing all the bass my solid state BAT VK200 was capable of. I'd also read great things about the SET40's ability to display a musical soundfield. I was shocked to find that SET40 had the ability to reproduce really good bass, but also that the VK200 didn't surrender much in the midrange or soundstaging to the Bel Canto. They were definitely more alike than I had expected.
"Lazy audiophiles who rationalize our own position.....".
Perhaps. But, I don't think its that simple. You talk of tubes vs SS based on sound quality as one camp. I think there is another camp which has greater influence on the choice of tubes or SS. That is, there that there are those who like the ability to tinker with the tone of their systems. Using tube equipment the options are nearly infinite - most tube components have different designs and a different basis sonic signature. Most tubes also have a different sonic signature.
The possibilities for each component are considerable and when you have multiple tubed components the opportunity to change or adjust the tonal balance of your system seems infinite. What some see as a PITA other see as an opportunity. Integrating a new source into a tube system can be much easier, just for this reason. It isn't necessary in an all tube system to play with cables and IC's as tone controls as I see so many folks doing in the forums. I can do it with tubes easier and much, much, cheaper.
That said, I would love to hear some of the current SS and Tube components to see if they sound as identical as you suggest. I might not like any of them - what would that say about me. Tin ear, tin ear! :-)
I still have not heard a SS amp do what a tube amp can do in my system. I am not saying that the SS or tube amp was better then the other, just different. Yes there are a few of each that may come close to each other, but overall when I am listening to a stand up bass, snare drum, piano and vocals, I do prefer a tube amp but rock & roll is another story, etc. So the solution is to have system options i guess or you like with compromises. That's my $3.5 cents.
I like both. My reference system is based on solid state, Levinson Ref 20.0 bi-amped with Krell KMA 160 on the bottom. You can see the reference system here.
My office system consists of VAC auricle monoblocks a passive pre-amp, and Talon Hawks. I haven't posted this system yet, but probably should. I have a minor balanced wiring issue that prevents me from doing this easily at the moment.
I have not yet experimented with the VACs on the ML panels--could be fun though.
Both systems have their strengths and weaknesses. The Talon Hawks, while they can go pretty low (30 Hz flat), they are small drivers and just don't move that much air. They aren't the easiest load, but far easier than an ML panel. The VACs work extremely well with these speakers. I think that's part of the issue--system synergy. The reference system is very dynamic (modified bass section). Moves plenty of air and has a huge soundstage. The solid state controls both top and bottom extremely well with a difficult load particularly on the panels.
That being said, I think system synergy (already said), coupled with what you listen to and how you listen will often determine what equipment works best for you. If you want rock music really loud, well most planar speakers are just not going to do it--a horn would be more appropriate and with a high efficiency horn you can drive easily with a moderate tube amp. Now if small jazz ensembles are your thing at moderate volumes, then you would likely steer toward different equipment.
I'm curious how many people out there that own multiple systems have at least one tube based and one solid state like myself.
From my perspective, I have been at this tube vs. SS crossroad for the past few months with my own system.
I have been using tube amps (very good ones at that) over the last three years, along with tubed preamps and tubed CD players / DACs. Over this past winter, I have met some good audiophile friends who helped me form a better educated opinion on this very topic for myself. They have either SS or hybrid systems that sounded simply wonderful, and I would be happy with either of their systems as my own.
In the meantime, my own system has become too complicated to just sit down and listen! My wife wouldn't touch it, and I found myself obsessed with tube rolling and biasing, re-biasing (perhaps a little too anal about it), and spent much time "waiting" for tube amps to warm up the requisite hour or more. I just wasn't having any fun anymore, and wasn't "enjoying the music". Perhaps I lost sight of what was most important.
I decided to get back into SS amplification, while maintaining my wonderful tubed front end. A great decision that was, as it turns out. I have not given up the flexibility of tailoring the sound to what I like, and I have not lost much of the tube virtues. I have gained some needed SS attributes (e.g. less noise, better bass, less heat output, etc.). Maybe I'm just lucky with the new synergy in my re-vamped system, but I'm sure enjoying what I'm hearing now, as well as the simplicity!
I have both solid state and tube equipment. I definite lean towards tube equipment. But I really do enjoy my Gaincard amp. I leave it on 24/7 for not much expense. If I want some tunes for a few minutes it is ready to go. An I can understand words in songs better when I am in that mood. Tube equipment usually takes 20+ minutes to warm-up and it is more work screwing around with the tubes/replacement. The sound is great though. For reliability, it was the solid state Gaincard amp that broke. Toggle switch went out.
Unfortunately this thread is becoming a tube vs. SS debate rather than posts by people who have heard and owned many of the great solid state and tube amps and know very well the strengths of each. I thought the point of this thread was to determine why us tube amp owners put up with the "hassles" and not just abandon ship to SS.
Pure and simple, I have yet to hear a SS amp that portrays the decay of notes in such a realistic fashion as do some tube amps. And even more so, this is true for a SS preamp. And no, please don't blame this decay characterization as "tube distortion".
Elizabeth: 100 million dollars before you're willing to try a tube amp? Geez, I'd be willing to try a SS amp if I won only $10. Ok ok, I own SS amps too. 8-) Trying a tube amp is not like getting the measles.
As for hassles with tube amps, I have had my share of problems with solid state amps as well....those darn caps shorting now and then! As for tube replacement hassles, well yes, it can be a few hundred $$ every 4-5 years, but all you do is take the "dirty" tube out of the socket and put in a "clean" one - it's sort of like doing your laundry.
Keeping an amp on for years and years says a lot about its reliability. But I suspect the Forte does not even come close to the performance of the great solid state amps of today. So how anyone can say they are not willing to try one of the great tube amps in their system when they do not have a SOTA SS in their system does not seem to be giving the tube world a fair shake. It's all about musical enjoyment. Why does this have to be such a polar issue?
Unless I was willing to pay at least $1k for an amp on the used market, I would stick with solid state myself. For music-only, I use an all-tubed system. For a HT based system in another room, it is all solid state. This allows me to experience what I feel are the best of both worlds for two different but equally enjoyable applications.
Boy, you've opened up a jumbo can of worms. I've run the gauntlet, starting with all ss equipment and ultimately ended up with all ss with the exception of my tube phono pre. I've owned some pretty nice ss gear over the years(Spectral & Rowland) progressing to a combination of ss and tube(Rowland & Lamm & BAT) and gradually trading up to what some consider to be some of the best tube OTLs(Tenors). Each step was enlightening, moving me closer to what I thought would be my idea of real music should sound like. God those Tenors sure were pretty to look at and sounded magnificent, but unfortunately I had previously purchased speakers that were meant to be driven by more powerful amps. Let's go buy some speakers that offered a better impedence curve and were more efficient and see what happens. Done! But what if I want to buy another pair of less efficient speakers? I ultimately didn't want my choice of speaker to be dictated by my choice of amps so I traded my beloved Tenors for a 300 watt ss Boulder 1060. Does it sound as romantic or look as pretty? Hell no! It just sits there in all it's simple teutonic beauty waiting to be fired up. Does it sound as good? It's really difficult to directly compare the two, but when all is said and done, it sounds great to me. Do I miss my Tenors..yes I do, but not enough to go back. Take the journey yourself and see where it leads you. You might just end up on the other side of the fence just as happy as I am today.
1markr had a great point, too many people here dont have fun with music anymore, its a constant battle with the "Ghost in the machine"...trying to achieve audio nirvana and get so caught up in thinking it can be better...it can be better, that I wonder why some even bother, it cant be fun to think you system is never "right" and to be in such competition with nobody but some imaginary audio demon is kinda sad, I know I can do better, and I applaud those who can and do get better, but along the way alot seem to have forgotten to enjoy the music, well im outta here, gonna go listen to "Steely Dan"
It depends on what you're in this hobby for. I just want to listen to some good music on a decent sounding system without the hassle of chasing minute daily changes in sytem performance. A nice solid state integrated amp does that just fine. By day I'm an electronic technician. I remember tube equipment and the trouble it is keeping it operating within peak parameters. One more thing though, one of the finest sounding systems I can recall hearing was driven by some Cary tube mono block amps. Don't recall the model #s but they sounded great.
I owned a Pass X-250 for a good while. It was without doubt one of the finest purchases I ever made.
I now own a Cary SLI-80 Signature Integrated, driving the same speakers- Revel F-30's.
The Pass plumbed the depths with more authority, and had a crystal clear tonality, but the Cary sounds so "real" and engaging that I can't ditch it. I found biasing tubes easy, the amp doesn't get any hotter than the Pass, and like the Pass is beautiful to behold.
I'd sum it up this way. One isn't really qualitatively better than the other- they're just different. The tube gear delivers a visceral musical joy that I really dig at this time in my audio evolution.
I have never heard a solid state amp or preamp at any price do sonically what the best vacuum tube units can do. Valves are just better at amplifying and passing the music without stripping away the important nuances. That said, there are plenty of bad tube designs in the world.
Solid state can be very, very, good, even if not at the level of the best valves.
The majority of people I have encountered who claim to favor solid state at any price fit into one of the following categories:
1. They have never experienced a state of the art vacuum tube system or lived with one long term.
2. They have had a bad experience with some inferior tube gear of which there is plenty.
3. They care more about things like convenience and low maintenance than absolute sound quality (e.g. heat, cost, reliability, my kids, my dog, etc...).
When only absolute sound quality is considered, valves are still the best.
I own a tube pre (Musical Fidelity X-pre with X-PSU and RCA instead of the original Philips tubes) and a selfmade SS power amp, 25 watts class A per channel. I chose these because they sounded best with my speakers & room. If I ran into a better sounding amp (which I can afford) I'll buy it, tubes or SS. Frankly, I don't care what's inside the amp, as long as it delivers the goods.
There is one point I like to add about tubes. Measure them when they're brandnew, and they will perform 100 %. After 50 hours of use, measurements will be completely different, and the tubes will age differently, so performance will be utterly inconsistent. You won't notice, since human earing adapts easily to changing circumstances, and the human brain is capable of filling in missing information, especially on wellknown music.So (i'll probably will get banned now) tubes are not the solution to faithfully reproduce what's on your audio source. However, the distortion they add tends to be pleasant, so many will prefer a 'tube sound'.
Before someone'll shoot, my remarks about tubes measurements are not from my own experience, but from my fathers, who was a broadcast engineer who maintained equipment.
Teajay, as you stated quality amplification is just that, be it tubes or SS. My flavor of the month is a pair of Audio Note Conquest Silver Signature parallel single ended mono blocks. Matched with my 94db ANe SEC Silver speakers any "hassle" the tubes might bring is inconsequential. Soundstage depth, width, and layering is amazing, and even more importantly, tonal purity, and dynamics. These small 300B space heaters come the closest to the real thing I have heard, mated to an Audio Note "tube" M-3 preamp. Yes, I have experienced the anxiety produced when a tube thinks its the 4th of July, and lets go in all its glory and you wonder if everything downstream has fried. However, until I hear SS give me all this magic, I will not settle for the lazy audiophile's life.
Actually, Satch, tubes are very good at amplifying small (source) signals. Eg, a good tube riaa is hard to beat. But, they do need high voltages, buffering output impedances, care with noise, etc, that complicate matters. Oh well!
At this time I own CJ 8'xs (triode-only) A Dehavilland 845g, and a new toy; the Sound Valves VTA70. I also own a dead, White Audio Labs SS a100.--Which I love and expected 'it' to outlive 'me'. (dead tranny) With regards to the S V VTA--a 35 per. stereo.el34 amp-- for under $500,used--- one would have to listen; or think I'm full of it. So, even in the --under $500 category--- tubes give me more.---I'm not saying tubes are best; just best 4me. (Tubes as the main amp since '86)---As a PS; I'm in So Ca.--SF Valley-- Gotta have the ac on in the summer,anyhowz' a few more pennies to offset the tube glow/heat factor.
I just meant in general, its a bad choice of words, if we all love music, thats what this is all about, I just read too many topics that I feel are insulting to many other people, im not attacking anyone, just in general.
tubes cross over and just sound REAL. even the best solidstate cannot do that. But the best SS can sure get darn close enough. But even in the ultra high-end, price no object, you still have to use tubes to get that last bit.
My main system is SS (Naim Nait 5i and Naim CD5X).
I've recently entered the SET world via the Antique Sound Labs Head MG MK III with Grado 325 gold headphones.
At this level, I certainly appreciate the different flavors in the two cuisines. The SS system certainly has the edge on the PRAT thing and in bass grip and punch, the SETs experience is extra special on that quality of living air around the music, and the resonant quality of a note fading slowly...
Perhaps someday I'll find, and afford, the best of both in one unit; 'til then it's fun going back and forth.
I've lived with both tubes and solid state gear. When I started to get back into the hobby this year, the choice of amplification didn't take much thought at all. Solid state was the way to go. I didn't want any potential maintenance headaches, I didn't want to deal with tube rolling, and i didn't want to have to replace an expensive set of tubes. I did a lot of listening, and the pure SS systems I heard all sounded like they were missing something. On the other hand, there were some things the SS systems did right that I found really enjoyable. The fact that the SS amps give me a lot more flexibility when it comes to speaker choice is just another bonus.
After a bit of listening, I came across the ideal solution. I heard the Lamm hybrids. All of the sudden, I had the things I like about tubes and the things I like about SS in one amp. I can deal with one tube per amp. I bought them, and ended up pairing them with an Audio Aero Capitole MKII, which uses a tubed output stage.
The hybrids have gotten me to the point where I don't feel the need to worry about amps at all, and since the Capitole is running direct, my preamp problem is solved. Unless my financial situation changes dramatically, the Lamms are here to stay. Given an unlimited budget though, I'd build a system around Audio Note Kegons. I guess in the end, when tubes are really done right, transistors just can't quite touch them.
Well Chadnliz, I guess you can now call me a "lazy audiophile". I added a pair of GamuT M-250 monos to the system, (yes SS!) and I'm amazed by the tonal purity, and three dimensionality they produce. These are truly a fine example of what solid state can be. They are as close to the Audio Notes as I've heard, and yes they are quiet and run cool! It's been fun comparing back and forth. Each has it's strengths, but both get to the heart of the music. I guess we can all be seduced by the dark side.
i think it is more of a phobia than laziness for avoiding tubes. in my opinion:
1. useful life of good tubes, with average use, ranges from 2 years to 10 years. i have even read of tubes lasting 20+ years. 2. tube rolling is similar to choosing cables, which can be more costly. but tubes usually make more impact. (sorry for side tracking) 3. solid state is like tube gear with permanent, super long lasting tubes, but without the extra flexibility to fine tune and match other gear. 4. plenty of excellent auto bias tube gear available 5. some class a solid state can get just as hot as tubes
so i strongly suggest choosing gear based on sonics, and not relegate the flexibility of tubes to hassles.
Ease of use vs performance has been with humans for a long time. Its still not a good excuse though. If the goal of this hobby is to get as close to the recorded sound as possible, then ease of use issues have to be tolerated in that quest, to some degree at least.
As reliable as the tubes I listen to are, fiddling is a non-issue. It simply not something I have to do. So I get the performance without any convenience issues. IMMV, but if the tube amp is properly built, this will always be the case.
I have yet to hear a transistor amp sound better, and the price/performance curves of the two technologies indicate that the same differences we discuss now will be discussed 2 generations from now.
The only thing that might change that would be the appearance of a new technology, which is not in the marketplace yet.
Conclusion: if you can't deal with tubes- don't. If you want performance like real music, tubes are the deal- so deal with it.
The Forte Model 4's compare very favorably to just about any amp at any price, tube or solid state. They simply do not possess the dreaded transistor harshness that tube lovers hate, and justifiably so. There are not many solid state OR tube amps I like... at any price. It's all about seamlessly passing all the musical detail without introducing a harsh edge. The Forte Model 4's do this exceedingly well.
ONE BELIEF CONNECTS MOST OF US... an amp should be seen, not heard. Don't knock the little Forte until you try it. I suggest those who doubt it, try a side-by-side blind test.