search for musical s.s. yields a tube epiphany

howdy folks. i have been on a determined mission to find a solid state amplifier that my ears would consider truly musical. with great hope i auditioned varying systems of krell, mccormack, arc, pass labs, musical fidelity, c.j., mac., etc. sampled these fine offerings at some of the higher end audio stores here in san diego.

systems were tweaked by very passionate two-channel enthusiast - swapping out several different speakers in the $7-12 thousand range, amps in the $3-8 thousand range. i feel like i was listening to some of the best configurations these stores knew how to throw together {within my budgetary dreamscape}. keep in mind many of these businesses have a few decades under there belt. point being that i believe i was allowed a fair shake at how this gear was intended to sound.

anyhoot, as i settled in and did some critical listening to my dedicated tracks from jeff buckly, nora jones, ben harper, john coltrane, john scofield etc. - i kept waiting for the moment when the emotion of the artist’s intention might reach out and capture me. i’d catch a fleeting glimpse here and there of an engaging sort of dynamic that almost confused my brain into thinking that - if i opened my eyes - i would find buckly’s ghost wailing his haunting “hallelujah”. yet, these were just fleeting moments of bliss before i’d catch the sense of some electrical veil. don't really know audiophile lingo but that's how it appeared in my head.

on some level all of these systems had something wonderfully powerful and dynamic in their sonic signature. yet, all in all, my deep desire for exposure to the “soul” of my tunes was never really satisfied.

i was becoming a bit disheartened {even considered that my hearing might not quite be what it used to - daunting consideration at 36}.

i was blown away when happening upon a little $1700 integrated tube system. initially drawn more to the looks of it - i could not believe the stunning presence of nora’s silky voice or the air and decay around each instrument. how could all this magic be coming from a mere 55 wpc. i cant tell you how relieved i was to finally hear what i had been craving.

i was born at night, but not last night. i realize there must have been a perfect synergy between this particular unit, the source, connections and speakers but i didn’t really matter much to me. after all i was finally hearing what it sounds like when artist are playing something live right in front of me.

there were some serious downfalls when the music became more involved/complex and demanding on the int, amp. but again i wasn't too discouraged because something innate told me i was at least on the right track.

yes, a simple ‘rogue chronus’ integrated brought me into a brand new perspective in how i would be seeking upgrades in my future. now the ‘tube’ hook was set... what else was available? i had to begin rethinking everything. i found myself not knowing my arse from my elbow on where to start. all i really knew was that i now had my emotions guiding me into recreating that type of spiritual/liquid sound. it’s all i could think about.

auditioned better and better integrated equipment. then made the mistake of listening to ‘cary’s v-12r and slp 98 set up. dang it. i went in for the touareg and they gave me the keys to the friggin ferrari. my jaw is still on the floor. unbelievable sound!!! it seemed to be the perfect combination of what i thought the best of what s.s. and tube format’s were trying to achieve. way out of my price range in retail but i have a hunch i’ll make it work here on the “gon”.

any feedback?

will check in when the dust settles.

Welcome to the dark side! give yourself time to enjoy the journey, as the number of tubes and tube designs can leave your head spinning. Approach as you would learning another language, and remember to HAVE fun. And remember, there's no turning back!

(PS I also love Jeff Buckley on my all-tubed rig)
I am not saying tubes are superior to solid state, or vise versa, but you've discovered that, FOR YOU, tubes deliver the things that matter most. I feel the same way. But if taut and punch bass were what I crave, uber alles, or if I fell in love with speakers that can only be driven properly by high powered amps, I might have gone the other way.

By the way, I heard the Rogue at CES last year and thought it was one of the few under $2,000 amps that could compete with stuff coming out of China. There is still some hope for manufacturing outside of a third-world country (okay, Pennsylvania is almost a non-third world area).
I bought a pair of vintage 25 watt VTL tiny triode amps to play around with in a bedroom system, and WHOA was I in for a suprise. The VTL's have taken over the big rig system. I lost the bass control and slam of my solid state amp, but the mids and highs are more real than ever.
Welcome to tubes, Timhopper! What you experienced is what has kept me wedded to tube electronics through all of my journey, too.
Until recently I used the Cary V12i in combination with the SLP-98 and know exactly what you are talking about. The V12i drove my low efficiency Spendor speakers extremely well and the sound with NOS tubes was excellent. In my desire to drive my speakers better and get the most of their dynamic potential, I have switched to a custom made 225 watt solid state amp and tube preamp (Joule Electra LA-100 MkIII). I would have liked to have kept both the Cary and Joule but, couldn't justify it. The Joule performed slightly better with the solid state amp so it stayed.

You could probably pick up this combination for about $3500 used here. Right now there are 2 SLP-98s listed, one for $1625 and the other for $2000. V12 models run from about $1400 - $2200 depending on the specific model and upgrades. The Jensen oil caps are a worthy upgrade. BTW - about a month ago I sold my Cary combo for about $3100.

Good luck with your search.

Please keep auditioning SS to find tube sound. I was on the same quest but I gave up. Once you find one, please let me know.

Did you listent to Lamm hybrid SS or Darzteel?
Boy TimHopper, you really nailed your description well of what tubes, in the right synergy of components, can really do. (You will also delight in bringing your non-audiophile friends over to hear that "old vintage tube-style gear" in your system - and watch their jaw drop to the floor when they do).

I am often at a loss of words when I try to describe to my friends, both audiophile & non, just what exactly tube gear is "doing" to the sound. Best way I can describe it is that they seem to be able to light the sound from WITHIN, where as solid state, while being very good in many areas, just can't quite duplicate this gestalt of reproduction. It is especially noticable with well recorded vocal (like the ones you have listed). Is that really a surprise?, as we as humans have evolved to be especially sensitive to, what else, other human voices!

My friends who come over are still just amazed by my use of "old fashioned" tubes in so many of my components - CD Player, headphone amp, main amp, phono stage. Then the real double wammy happens when I play my vinyl M&K direct-to-disc "For Duke" on my Well Tempered rig... you should see the look of TOTAL astonishment then. "how can that be?" they'll say -- "Tubes and LP record albums for cryin out loud!" (They then sometimes need therapy.)

It's funny and ironic I guess that in a world of so many other technological advancements, high-end audio's best moments sometimes are still with 50 year old + technology.

Welcome to the organic side of hi-fi, a la tubes.
Musical SS = ACCUPHASE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!