Solid State Power Amps That Sound Most Like Tubes?

A close friend, and audio enthusiast who followed my path to tubed audio bliss has run into a situation (long story) due to which he needs to move to solid state. He has enlisted my help in putting together a list of the most likely candidates to consider.

I could use your help, expertise and experience in identifying which power amplifiers would best satisfy a former tube lover.

I've read many, many reviews, and it would seem that several of the First Watt amps (the J2) the Plinius SA 101, the Edge M8M, and certain others might work well, but honestly, I've never heard any of them, and know only what I've read. What do you recommend based on actual listening experience?

His budget is roughly $2750, give or take, and that would be considering a used purchase to maximize his purchasing power.

Part of his system mirrors mine. He is using Silverline 17.5 speakers. Which, based on personal experience can be well powered by my 18 wpc SET amp (granted my room is quite small), but tube watts are = to significantly more than solid state watts, and I'm concerned that the First Watts would be a bit light in the power category.

His musical listening tends toward rock, as well as a lot of female singers and jazz. His listening room is medium to medium large sized.

I would appreciate any help with this. I've searched a large number of threads here but most are somewhat out of date.
Electrocompaniet amps are very smooth and tilt a little towards the tube sound; I am enjoying mine after Krells for years and VAC Phi 220's.
This topic comes up every month. There's a wealth of current opinion in the threads.
Do all tube amps sound the same? Not in my experience.
Maybe it would make more sense to mention some of the tube amps he's had and liked in the past and then try to get a SS amp that sounds like one of those.
I wish I could listen to more than 3 or 4 high end amps for an extended time to really know how they ALL sound. I try, but too many amps not enough budget. :)
for solid state amplification you should go with mosfet outputs vs. bipolar. Their harmonic artifacts (all amps produce them) are more odd order then even, which is the tube characteristic which their proponents prefer.
I use an Accuphase amp for that very reason; love the sonic signature.
I think tube amps are known for EVEN order harmonics which sound GOOD or can't really be detected at all.

For SS, stick with Hexfets that were designed for audio use and not just a stock transistor that can amplify.
The sound of tubes and the sound of solid state are converging so that the best designs are indistinguishable. Ayre is solid state and should be on your short list.
Lavardin amps get high marks from tube enthusiasts.

Tvad is right, this topic has been beaten to death, take a look.
I've had some experience with Firstwatt (Pass) amplification and Plinius and while both are very good lines of gear, I wouldn't really describe them as tube-like.

I'd suggest checking out McIntosh or possibly one of the better tripath amps. I recently spent some time with a Virtue Audio TWO.2 that had some tube like traits.

I was following this thread on AA and saw the reasoning behind this being the kids/cats and paranoid fiance and I'm going through a similar thing and posted a similar post on AC. 2 cats and a five month old boy in a relatively small condo. I decided it was too unsafe to have exposed tubes and was investigating tube gear with cages/covers... then happened across a great deal on an Atma-sphere! ROFL... good luck to your friend.
Hmmm...seems like he's asked a pretty straightforward question and has said he's already checked the archives for answers so I'll give him the benefit of doubt (and yes, this topic comes up ad nauseum, but I do understand the OP is looking for some current specific experience).

I've had 3 different pairs of Silverline 17's but not the 17.5's so I'm not sure how valid my input on the 17's are here, but FWIW - I did not find them (SR17's) as efficient as claimed, at least not to the point that I particularly enjoyed using them with low-watt amps (and I tried a few, and they do sound great with tubes BTW...alas). I do like those speakers a lot (or why would I have owned three different pairs over the years). I'm not certain that I agree that tube watts are any more or less than the equivalent SS watts. The two topologies handle distortion differently and thus may make it occur that way, but watts is watts as far as I understand (which may not be very well). That said, I could only get satisfaction with a minimum of around 35 watts with the SR17's I owned. Less power that that consistently left me wanting, and in one case (see Aleph below) slightly more power also left me feeling flat. Though they sounded just wonderful with my 8 watt SET amps, they could not be pushed to any kind of realistic volume without distortion.

As far as SS amps that sound like tubes...a major trend in criticism and marketing, along with tube amps that have SS balls, and other variations on grass-is-greener siren calls...I won't bend your ear with even or odd order distortions, but I can make a few general suggestions that float my boat (I like good tube amps as well) that might make nice music with SR17.5's. If he pushes his limit$ just a bit I'd suggest a (used) Ayre VX5e or Modwright KWA100se or KWA150 (not sure disclaimer is necessary since I'm pointing to the used market, but: Dan is a client). There was a recent thread that included these amps that I contributed too, but too lazy to look it up right now. I might have also suggested a Pass Aleph, but I did try an Aleph 5 with the SR17's and it really left me flat with that amp, which surprised me. No experience with First Watt to convey. You did not mention which preamp he'd be using and that would make a difference on how any amp would perform.

Hope that helps...
I've known SS amps that have been rolled off on the bottom, a few on the top. Heard some that were bloomy and some that tried to be euphonic. None of these are particularly characteristic of all tube designs. What character does he want?
Tube amps differ in their tonal characteristics.

To ask for solid state amp suggestions that sound like tube amps is too general a question.

Define in your own words what sonic qualities your (or your friend's) tube amps possess, and then perhaps some more pertinent suggestions can be offered.

Digital amps like bel canto and jeff rowland have a tube like trait in them.
Accuphase is another one but that is not digital.
Pass labs, electrocompaniet, lamm hybrids, etc.
List goes on and on....
Parasound Halo, McIntosh, Pass, Wyred......
I have owned many different amps of all variety and in general like what tubes do.
Having said that, I just aquired a Pass/First Watt J2 and it would be very easy for me to live with this amp long term (provided it is used within it's limitations)
I would guess the new Pass/First Watt M2 would be a great choice as well.
Parasound Halo, McIntosh, Pass, Wyred......

Man, I have to say that some of these suggestions, and others, absolutely baffle me.

Could you explain two of your suggestions: I've had a bit of experience with Parasound Halo and W4S amps and neither even remotely have ever struck me as having even a wisp of tube characteristics. For that matter the suggestion of Bel Canto Class D also baffles me - those amps occur to me as linear, cool and neutral as any I've heard, especially the Parasound. I owned Ref 1000's for a few months, and have tried them with a few different permutations of associated gear as well as have heard them in my friend's system and at shows. What exactly about these amps reminds you of a tube amp?
If what you mean by tube sound is warm and inviting for long listening periods with no listener fatigue, then Electrocompaniet is what what you want.

Also Monarchy hybrid amps would work great.

Problem is all tube amps sound different. Some are very forward and "lite up" and others are laid back and a little dull sounding.

Please tell us what your friends likes about the sound of tube amps then we can help more.
I'm not a tube guy yet, but I am heading that direction (in the process of receiving some Quad II-forty monoblocks).

That said, I can give my opinion on a couple of pieces of non-tube gear.

I would highly recommend auditioning a Rega Elicit. The presentation is fast and non-fatiguing. What this amp does well will not be apparent on first listen-- a good thing. I have one and enjoy it immensely, but I thought I would also see how tubes perform, and thought the Quads would be a safe choice.

Also, I would recommend that your friend consider a Quad 99/909 combo or a Quad QC-24/909 combo. The 909 is a killer amp and emphasizes the midrange. I sold mine a while back and wished I hadn't on more than one occasion. The 99 pre has some pretty cool tone control options (I know we aren't supposed to like tone controls, but they are defeatable.) that may be helpful since they aren't the garden variety "bass" and "treble" tone controls.

I have also heard good things regarding the Peachtree Nova and Decco's driving solid-state amps. Underwood Hifi just announced a mod to the pre-amp section to make it better as well. Walter is pretty easy to deal and can provide some good advice.

One last option would be to look at Pathos gear. Something like a Classic Mkii or Mkiii should be sufficient. If your friend can locate a pair of Classic's they can bridged into mono as well, but this probably isn't necessary since the Classic already puts out 70 wpc. I have also seen other Pathos gear used well within this price range.

Hope this helps.

Right now there's a pair of Pass Aleph 60 monoblocs on Audiogon. Based on my past experience with these, I'd suggest they'd be great for these speakers. You'd get 90 watts per channel into 4 ohms, with monobloc separation.
I sold mine simply because I kept my Aleph 2s, which have more power..
The sound from various tube amps ranges the entire spectrum from very transparent and detailed to very warm, rich, and euphonic. I agree with posters who have asked what types of tube amps this friend likes in order to provide a better response.

I might be in the minority, but I don't believe that any SS amp will sound exactly like a tube amp, particularly for tube amps on the warm and euphonic side (think classic Conrad Johnson sound). There are some great SS amps, but if you like the sound of tubes, I really think you need a tube amp.

That's just my 2 cents.

The best tube sounding solid state amps I've ever had the pleasure of owning/listening to have been from Bob Carver. Currently I own Cary and Bat tube amps (2 different systems). If I had to go back to solid state, a Carver amp is what I would be looking for. A lot of power, reliablity, good looks and the pushing of the design envelope went into his products. His stuff is damn cheap in todays market.
Bob Carver Sunfire Signature amp does sound very good indeed. Lots of warmth and body. I was very, very surprised how great the Sunfire Signature 600 x 2 amp is.
What is your friends preamp/source?
He owns a Meridian G02 preamp. And after spending a lot of time with his, I was so impressed that I purchased one at a great price just a week ago on Audiogon. Great flexibility, very musical, and a just bit of warmth, while balancing details, bass and midrange are without reproach.
You can't get there from here. Manufacturers of solid state amplifiers have been trying to make their amps sound like tubes for decades. We keep hearing "it's the most tube-like yet", but it doesn't sound like tubes. That doesn't mean there aren't some good sounding solid state amplifiers out there.

The early Levinson (pre-Magrigal) amps have a big rich full-bodied sound. It's best to match amp and preamp on those and there is always those camacs to deal with.
I pretty much agree with Rrog but you can get very close;my Roland 6 mono's are very close to my Audiovalve Challanger 180 mono's;having said that I would stick with the known winners;Pass,McCormack,Krell,Belles,Bat and the hybrid Moscode 401HR.
I use a tube buffer between my source and the preamp. This warms the sound, and gives it a more dynamic presentation. IMHO, tubes on the front end, with SS for the amplification give you a great balance of musicality and control.

>>11-06-10: Stringreen
The sound of tubes and the sound of solid state are converging so that the best designs are indistinguishable.<<

I suppose inexperienced listeners like you might believe that.

However, tubes have never, don't, and will never sound like solid state to an experienced pair of ears.
Truly spoken.
Do you disagree with the first part of Stingreen's sentence, "The sound of tubes and the sound of solid state are converging..." , the second part, " that the best designs are indistinguishable." or both parts?

As to the second part, I have not heard the best designs of each, so I can't be sure they are indistinguishable to my ears, though I do highly doubt they would be.

As to the first part, I have given it some thought. Though I don't have the experience of many people on Audiogon, I do think, and have read, that the best tube amps are sounding more and more like the real thing and also that the best SS amps are sounding more and more like the real thing. Does it not follow that they are therefore converging in sound, ie, more like the real thing? Assuming that they share the same aim.

I'm not saying they sound alike now or ever will sound alike. How could one possibly know? However, can a case not be made that as both tube and SS amps improve, and by this I mean sound more neutral and less colored and more like real music, that they do sound more alike than they did before? I don't think it is possible to categorically say something like "tubes will never sound like SS." How can one be so sure of the direction of future technology and its progress?

Fire away at my naivete.
FWIW, I think the best designed tube and solid state amps are sounding closer to one another than not, but I've yet to hear a solid state amp that can be mistaken for a tube amp (although I have heard at least one tube amp in my system that could be mistaken for a solid state amp...and no, I'm not going to say which it is).
If you have ever see a price/performance curve, then you know that tubes and transistors are both mature technologies.

Barring unseen innovation, your grandchildren will be talking about the same differences. Is 'same differences' an oxymoron?
What about the numerous hybird amps(some excellent sounding)- where do they fall in this never ending debate? Does anyone walk into a room and instantly state, "wow, sounds too hybirdie to me !"
Not to confuse the issue, but I'm going to say right now, I've heard tube preamps recently (specifically BAT & VTL) that sound very close to my solid state Pass X1.
MY BAT VK31SE does not sound at all like tube preamps I've heard locally at hi end dealers over the years (most notably conrad johnson).
My BAT equalled my XI everywhere except soundstage width, and bass. I just bought a Pass XP-10 that beats them both.
I sold my X1 & soon I'll sell the BAT.
I'm continually surprised anyone would want tube maintenance issues on a tube piece that sounds so close to solid state.
I am familiar with tubes in my systems. I've owned Dynaco and Cary, and I really liked my Rocket 88 (original version) and my CAD300SEI.
A Rawson Aleph amp
Hi David, haven't seen you around these parts in a while!
hi unsound,
miss you and the good ol' daze around here.
I'm continually surprised anyone would want tube maintenance issues on a tube piece that sounds so close to solid state.

The trick is to run a tube preamp that sounds more like music that it does like transistors :)

My Pass XP-10 is the most musical preamp I've ever owned.
I must admit, I haven't heard your gear.
One of the most unfortunate effects of the current economic situation is the demise of many local dealers.
That is really true here in the Phoenix area.
My friends Bill & Marce used to be the local dealers for Pass, Cary, YBA, Exposure, JM Lab. They closed their doors.
Bill kept his Cary 805s, SLP98, and Cary CD player.
His system is one of the best I've ever heard.
We have a few dealers left now, and 1 big dealer who's not interested in letting you in the door, unless you're a celebrity or high roller. I've never been there.
When I retire, I plan to travel & hear brands that just aren't available, in Arizona..
David, welcome back!
@Danielk141: I spend winters in AZ, and I've been to the dealer you are talking about...the Tempe and Scottsdale locations. Actually really nice folks. Listened to everything you can imagine, including the $250k MBLs. Stop in and I think you will be surprised at how friendly they are. Go to the Scottsdale location...thats where the really good speakers are.

Of course the guys at Audio Video Choices in downtown Phoenix are still my go-to guys. :-)

You may be right. They do have Magico, but they floor the M5. I want to here the Mini II.
My BAT is on the consignment shelf at Audio Video Choices...

Ha! I've probably seen your BAT there. I love that place. :-)

We went up to your friend Bill's shop last winter to find it closed. Very sad to see all the independent places closing up shop.

My buddy Bill and I will surely go to the scottsdale location at least once this winter if you wanna join us. We love to audition speakers, and they have some big-time speakers for sure.

Sovereign Amps!
here's a thought. there are capacitors which can alter the frequency response, or at least alter the tonal balance, perhaps emphazing the lower frequencies and reducing the presence of treble frequencies.

replacing caps in the signal path with mundorf gold/oil or audio note copper/oil
after selecting a "decent solid state amp", even if that solid state amp is not "tube like" in the classic sense may solve your problem.

you may be able to get by with an odyssey khartago, from Klaus, at about $800 and replace caps.

as has been said, a solid state amp probably won't sound like most tube amps.

considering that i am a current owner of two tube amps, looking for a solid state amp, my criterion for a ss amp is one which is well balanced, and reasonably full-bodied, without having to sound like a tube amp in a blind test.

you might want to look at the latest issue of the absolute sound. there are a few inexpensive amps recommended. try to listen to them, or pick one and consider cap replacement. yes, i know, reviews are what they are, but if you replace some key parts you may be able to alter the sound resulting in an acceptable amp.
Mrtennis, *most* transistor amps don't have coupling capacitors.
you might want to look at the latest issue of the absolute sound. there are a few inexpensive amps recommended. try to listen to them, or pick one and consider cap replacement. yes, i know, reviews are what they are, but if you replace some key parts you may be able to alter the sound resulting in an acceptable amp.

Boy, if it were me I would certainly not be speculating on the effects of cap replacement to "alter the sound resulting in an acceptable amp". Not to mention how modifications like that can potentially harm the resale value should the amp+modification turns out not be what your friend is after. Otherwise on the used market it is certainly pretty easy to turn around a respectable product at minimal or no loss and move on to try something else.

Not to disrespect reviewers at TAS, but the selection of amps that actually review in ratio to what's actually available is very small indeed and you'd be unnecessarily be limiting yourself for no particularly good reason IMO. I don't recall any of the recommendations in the latest issue being paired off with SR17.5's or a Meridian pre.

Alan Yun, of Silverline, might be another good resource to recommend amps that suit those speakers well.

I think the OP is on the right track in seeking out some direct listening experience with the other components, especially the speakers, within the system that the amp is being considered for.

Per the course of some of the discussion here - just drop the "sounds like tubes" part of it; he knows he wants and SS amp for whatever reason - just look for a great sounding SS amp that pairs well with those speakers. A great amp is a great amp - it should disappear (along with the rest of the system) and connect you and engage you more directly with the music. There are amps of all sorts of topologies that are capable of doing just that. Otherwise it's kind of like shopping for an apple that tastes like an orange.

One great advantage that I found with those speakers (at least the previous versions that I owned) is that they are quite versatile and can sound excellent with both topologies - I had them paired for a while with a very simple Portal Audio Panache SS integrated and they sounded wonderful with that amp. That's VERY modest in comparison to what you are otherwise considering.
The best solid state amps that have tube-like characteristics I have ever heard that are reasonabl;y priced are the Clayton S40 amps (the MSRP is $2,950 & I'm sure are about half that price on the used market) and the Clayton M100 (which I have seen on Audiogon at $3,000). Tossing out the $2,750 limit, the Clayton M200 lists at MSRP $9.500) and I have seen it on Audiogon at $4,700. These are incredible by anyone's standards.

After the above I would rate the McCormack DNA-500 used and then the McCormack DNA-225. Also, the Modwright KWA-150 or the Modwright KWA-100SE, which is incredbly good.
I just picked up a vintage McIntosh 4100 integrated amp at an estate sale. The tubiest SS amp I've heard to date. I've dubbed this amp "The Vinylizer" because it makes all my digital content sound like it's coming off of vinyl. I've seen these on eBay for around $1k. Remarkable ask considering original price in the late 70's was around $2k. The 4100 allows you to bypass its preamp and go direct to its amp from any external preamp. Of course I use a Tortuga passive which sounds fantastic together with this amp.
Line 6 guitar amp has tube-like effects engaged with electronic switch.

Other than that I completely agree with Jax2.
I don't see the point describing sound of solid state home audio amp with "tube-like" or "SS-like" sound.

But hey wait! Had an experience with Creek 4330SE: Bass isn't there or even if it is, it's not on time always late and uncontrolled. Tried with more than one speaker pair. Took one home from dealer to audition and after less than week was extremely bored. Clear mids and very soft highs making this amp extremely "polite". Many tube amps have same performance...

The other my bet should be towards vintage amps that use output transformer that would basically dictate the end result.