solid state vs tubes

has anyone compared a tube amp to a solid state amp and discovered that the diffference sonically between them was undetectable. ? if so what was the tube amp and what was the solid state amp ?

the reason for the question is the basic issue of the ability to distinguish a tube amp from a solid state amp.

this is especially interesting if the components were in production during the 90's , 80's or 70's.

if the components are in current production the probability of such aan occurrence might increasea.

why own a tube amp if there exists a solid state amp that sounds indistinguishable from it ?
good luck with that!

there is no such beast IMO and my experience...
Anyone who has listened to a good tube and and also to a good SS amp should easily able be to infer that a tube amp offers much more in terms of spatial, soundstage, warmth, emotion, liveliness etc. etc..
From an engineering standpoint it simply does not matter what the active component is as far as the output into a given load (or loads). Tube or solid state - design either for the same response and the sound is indistinguishable. Keep in mind that all of the qaulities of the signal across the load amount to information. Tube amps were designed to provide a specified level of accuracy of the input information before solid state devices hit the market. Of course the two designs would be topologically dissimilar. The two types of active components do differ in their characteristics and from a practical and marketing standpoint it would not make much sense to offer a tube amp that did not sound like a tube amp. Why would anyone pay a good deal more money for such an amp, and what would be the point other than demonstrating that it could be accomplished? That being said, try listening to both driving speakers with impedance that does not drop to very low levels relative to the average and at very low volume levels . My guess is that you would be able to find two amplifiers that are pretty much indistinguishable as far as the sound produced. From that point out, it is a matter of additional design efforts and cost to extend the range over which the amps produce the same signal across a load for the same input. As far as why to have a tube amp if the solid state amp sounds the same - there would be no practical reason. Of course, the whole point in choosing a tube amp would be for the different characteristics. My suggestion is if you want a tube amp pick one that is, for lack of a better description "tubey" - one that is not what would be considered by someone interested in accurate signal processing to be a good design (which does not mean that it would not be a good design for an audiophile) - one that is going to be driven into distortion relatively early and has poor drive capabilities. It is the difference in the distortion that really separates solid state from tube amps as far as listening preferences.
It has been said that Pass XA.5 has a tube-like sound. I no longer understand what that means. To my ears, the Pass has a midrange on par with BAT, CAT, and Berning. That is, it has midrange depth, fullness, and CLARITY. Many SS amps have a midrange HAZE that everyone thinks is tube-like. To me, the essence of tubes is not haze, although there are certainly tube amps and preamps that smear the presentation. Some tube amps can also limit treble extension, and make the music sound homogenous and dull. Good tubes create a 3D, textured, plump, and clear midrange that sounds natural. They can shape the attack and decay of the note to create an increased sense of space.

However, I think the Pass surpasses tube amps, particularly in terms of low noise, bass depth, an effortlessness/relaxed presentation, and control during crescedos. I have to give credit to the BAT tubed preamp for contributing to this sound, in addition to the Tripoint Troy and supporting cables. If my system was behind a screen, I don't think someone would be able to say whether the amps are SS or tube. They just sound natural, musical, and right.

Now that this issue has been settled, I would also suggest that CD has surpassed vinyl....
Well, in 1985 there was the Carver challenge, where Bob Carver was able to set up his solid state amp so that the top stereophile editors could not distinguish it from Conrad Johnson's top amp at the time.

He did this by tweaking his amp to duplicate the transfer function of the CJ (at least when a particular set of speakers was in the circuit).

For whatever reason, that seemed to be pretty much the end of it as far as tuning solid state to sound exactly like tubes.

I've never heard of anyone trying to make a tube amp sound more like a particular solid state amp, although there has been a perpetual effort to improve tube amps where solid state has had the edge (bass control, bass/treble extension).

My short answer is No. I’ve not heard a tube amp that sounds like an SS amp in particular, nor the other way ‘round. I’ve only heard some of each amps attributes correlate to either amp despite their obvious topologies being vastly different..

I see no reason at all to buy a tube amp which sounds like a SS amp. In fact I’ve not heard either one duplicate the other. I have heard tube amps which tend to sound more SS’y than they do tubey. Ie., CJ and Cary of recent vintages… >2005.

The closer one gets to SET topology, the greater the distance between tube and SS amps becomes.

My Ultralinear configured mono blocks can be made to have a good deal of SS attributes…. OR they can be made to sound quite tube-ish… via rolling tubes, & pcs.

I‘ve not been able to make the reverse applicable…. Altering SS to sound like a Tube amp… nor do I care to find out how or even if that is possible.

Each topology serves it’s own end.

Only when or if I were to incorporate tubes into say a HT arrangement, and to lessen the disparity between those two designs, would I tend to look for more SS like tube amps… and even then I might not be so inclined to pursue that theme in those confines.
No such thing...
I erected sails on my power boat.Still able to tell it was a power boat.I also added food colour to my white wine so it would have the appearance of red wine.Still tasted like white wine to me.I've never been able to understand why people try to make things into something they can't possibly be.Laws of physics apply here.Musicnoise and Blinjim have it right.
If your question is to distinguish a solid state amp from another solid state amp then you may be able to obtain an answer from the Harbeth designer Alan Shaw. He believes all amplifiers sound the same. Go figure.
I feel my roland model 6 amps come very close to the sound of my audiovalve challanger 180 monoblocks when driving usher rw729's or soundlab m2's but the tube amps have the edge in my opinion driving my speakers.
Where do you stand on your own question I am just wondering.
Just wondering if the experts chiming in here saying emphatically that a SS and tube amp can't sound the same read the Carver Challenge? Pretty hard to refute what the conclusion was in that demonstration.

So Experts, are your ears better than the judges? I would love to hear your opinions on the challenge.
I find the post regarding the "Carver Challenge" interesting. I became a more serious audiophile in 1990, and so I do not recall this event. I have often thought of buying a 1980s vintage Carver amp. The "big kid" on my block always talked about Bob Carver and his magnetic field amplifers. This was in the early and mid-1980s.
Its a good question. I'm interested if more chirp in saying they have heard both sound the same or similar.

I have not done a/b comparison, but I know that tube amp systems I have heard helped set the reference standard I was shooting for in putting my current system together.

It uses an ARC tube pre-amp with a Bel Canto ref1000m Class D icepower monoblocks running OHM Walsh speakers.

I have heard my turntable and cart on a similar system substituting a Rogue tube power amp and PSB synchrony speakers. There are a lot of similarities between the two. Other than the distinctive soundstage of the OHMs, I think I would have difficulty telling which was the tube and which was the SS amp, though the SS Class D amps in my system have an absolute firm grip on the bass that might give it away.
Again, this concept is missing the point. A system should not sound like tubes or sound like solid state. It should sound like realistic and natural music. If you think something is tube-ish or solid state-ish, then you are not there. The amp needs to disappear.

If the question is whether a SS amp, in the proper SYSTEM, can sound musical and real, then the answer is an unequivocal yes. Ditto for tubes. If you are asking whether it is easier to accomplish this with a tube amp, then maybe. Perhaps that is why people come back to tubes - it is a bit easier to get it right the first time.
Because I like vacum tubes ...........
Well, there is no question that live acoustic music does not sound like any particular amp technology, so I am one who agrees that I want to hear the music, not the technology, in my system in general. If the technology used becomes too apparent, I would not consider that a good thing.

My opinion on tubes is that they are cool looking and they bring back fond memrories of days yore but I prefer to not have to use them because they are a pain in the rear otherwise which is why they are a niche technology these days.
Ask Bob Carver.
My understanding is that the thing that is inherently different about tubes and transistors is the manner in which they clip. You need a lot of SS power and often current in order to take offensive clipping out of the picture with SS amps, especially to drive many modern speaker designs optimally. Tubes clip in a more ear friendly manner as I understand it. Therefore, tubes as a whole tend to sound more appealing than SS, despite the fact that they are still technically clipping and distorting, just in a less offensive manner.

Once the clipping factor is addressed however, I think the inherent difference in sound between the two becomes more subtle and other factors in the amp design more determine the resulting sound. Either is capable of producing the kind of sound I like I believe if assembled in a proper manner to deliver that sound.
Oh, sure there are SS amps that sound like tubes. Just read the marketing brochures, they'll tell you all about the "tube-like qualities". Just like the digital source guys are always saying "analog-like qualities".

If you like the sound of a component, does it really matter?
Maybe have a listen to Pass labs. These could be the closest you find to a solidstate amp sounding like a tube amp.
i have a tube amp which is somewhat unreliable--the vtl deluxe 120s. i was thinking about the possibly replacing it with a ss amp.

i have auditioned and owned some and have not enjoyed the upper mid range and lower trblr of these amps.

i posed the question to find out if anyone actually compared the two types and found a ss amp that was very close in sound to the tube amp they owned at the time.

so far my short list includes a 125 1999 production plinius and an x series pass amp--the latter being on the expensive side, whiloe the former is owned by someone in my audio club.

i believe the plinius is class a, which is not ecologically friendly.

thank you for your feedback and i realize that this topic has been discusssed before but perhaps in a different way.
Yup .........cj premier 350 ........
Mrtennis what speakers are you going to be driving?
Plinius SA100MKIII came somewhat close to tubes. the midrange was quite liquid and had a 'golden' glow, still a bit 'thick' and less nuanced than tubes.

but a good choice for many I am sure
This question persists amongst us, but I tend to agree with Rtn1.
For many of us, we say "it should sound like a live, 'real' musical performance". I suppose this means decay, depth, soundstage, tonal balance, drums and cymbals, voices, etc.
Every year i attend Bumbershoot, Seattle's Art and Music Festival (check it out, one of the best in the US). I love it for many, many reasons one of them being you can stand right up near the stage at most venues. Some performers use tube amps and some use SS equipment. From Jazz, Bluegrass, Opera, Punk, acoustic, etc. So how would one say that our systems at home would reproduce that sound in our home systems?
Here's a bad example, but... : years ago, Chuck Berry was to perform at Bumbershoot. Yeah!
In his contract he demanded a certain 1960s Fender amp- different model speaker and different model brain with certain tube compliment. Fifteen minutes before his appearance, Mr. Berry noticed they did not have the specific amp head. He refused to go onstage because he would not get his "tube sound" (according to stage manager). The manager had to run around the festival raising cash money to get Mr. Berry to perform with inferior equipment, a compromise he was willing to make, (for extra $). In his heart, I'm sure he suffered. The show was awesome. So here's a great Rock and Roll artist, who argues for tube sound only. He hears, know's the difference. At least he argues for it. (Ironically, it was in the stadium which has the worst acoustics in the world. ask anyone who saw Dylan this year).
Personally I prefer tube (VAC 80/80) "sound" for warmth, and midrange. I also like the glow, man...
But, SS done well can tighten up the bass and push my speakers (Verity Parsifals) to "sparkling highs", midrange and tight, well tuned bass.
I find this thread at this time interesting because as much as I love tube amps, I will be auditioning a pair of mono MBL amps very soon. (Please, no reviews, I can barely spell, let alone articulate what I hear).
So, IMHO, it is really a matter of taste and most importantly, trade-offs.
Like Raul says, enjoy the music.
My experience is that a good SS amp (tonally - not bright) with a good to great tube preamp will yield positive results. However, this is system dependent. I use very large, current hungry speakers and a SS amp makes them sing. One must also consider that the "digital" age has made some of the negative characteristics of SS even worse....namely upper mid range grunge as well as a smaller soundstage - depth and width. I find that many tube preamps will bring the soundstage size back and mitigate some / most of the brightness (some recordings cannot be saved). I find that I get 90% of the tube magic with a SS amp and tube preamp - plus the positive attributes of a SS amp - dynamics, bass, reliability, cost etc. Here is a good example of how far SS has come...Tube Research Labs makes a fabulous amp called the Samson which is simply killer and solid state!
I posted a question to the recent TAS Golden Ear Club tele conference which RH and JV and others held last night. My question was basically "As technologies improve with both analog and digital, (and SS and tube), each of these categories is sounding more and more like real music. Doesn't that imply that these various technologies are converging in sonic terms, ie, they sound more and more similar at the highest levels?"

They discussed this question and basically said yes, they are converging, though the consensus was that they will never sound identical. I tend to agree. The designers are making progress though there is still a long way to go before the best sounds real.
I would imagine the amps are not the primary bottlenecks to recorded music sounding real, and no amount of progress in the amp arena is going to make a big difference in that direction. That is ok though, I can't listen to Coltrane at the club down the block.
Yes, I have. The situation was my office system. M&K Pro desktop monitors literally an arm's length away. I went from NAD C320BEE to a Decware Zen SET to a ATI AT602 and I never heard any difference. Well, that's not entirely true, I could hear the tubes in the Zen. It was also an arm's length away. That's why I went to the AT602. Sonically I found them all to be very smooth and easy to listen to all day long.

The power requirements were well within the limits of the little Zen, so none of the amps were ever stressed. All the products were new and owned within the last 5 years.
I am a solid state guy because some things solid state does most tube amps cant do. Also solid state is much more reliable and cheaper to buy. I have heard tube amps that I like The Lamm being one of them but they are usually prohibitively expensive. Also the newer the tube amps the more likely they will have some solid state character so it is very possible that u can not tell the difference between them.
When I got started in this hobby in 1957it was all tubes, plus mono to boot. As far as I am concerned I will never return to tubes, 20 years with putting up with the constant need for biasing, have a sock drawer full of replacement tubes, plus the cost of the tubes. Back then tubes were cheap and U.S. made , not now. Tubes made in some third world country of dubious value, no thanks. When Nelson Pass finally got SS right in 1977, I couldn't wait to bail out of tubes and I did and never looked back. But thats me and I know that a great many of you just love them little glow bottles, more power to you, as for me never again.

I go into shops now with the newer tube gear and I can't even listen to it now, soft and mushy, just as I knew from years ago, not much has changed but the price of course, gad what some of the tube gear costs now is insane. Plus the re-tube costs a year or so later, that will get you bleeding from the ears in no time.

My best advice accept SS for what it does and does not do and the same holds true for tube gear. There is no holy grail here pick the one that your ears and wallet can live and get on with the music. In the final analysis it is about the music and not so much the gear.

I guess this question will be asked forever. In my experience tubes and SS do sound different. But, I have had tube amps that sound close to SS and SS that sounds close to tubes. Having said that, I have never owned a SS amp that can give the 3D imaging of a tube amp. I have never owned any ultra expensive equipment thou. Maybe there is some SS out there that do.
I still haven't heard a SS that sounds the same.
"I have auditioned and owned some and have not enjoyed the upper mid range and lower treble of [SS] amps."

I think it's very hard to get away from that once you've heard this in SS.

I was on the hunt for almost ten years trying to find a SS amp that I could live with--and hopefully afford. Long story short: my last SS amp was a Plinius, and now I own an Atma-Sphere OTL. There is always a trade-off of one inconvenience for another, and the one that you can live with is the one that remains between the speakers.
The Anthem 225 INT Amp gets you very close to that "3D imaging" of a tube amp.
I feel tubes are getting more SS, but in a good way. The days of coloured midrange and rolled off base and treble, are becoming less common, in tube amps. They still though, for me, have that magical speed, transparency, tonal richness, I find hard to find in SS.

Where are the differences? I am sure as Mapman says, one reason is the benign clipping you get with tube amps. I am sure a SS aficionada will say SS amps do'nt need to clip as they are more powerful at a given price point.

The other reason, I believe, is that tube amps tend to have fewer components in the signal pathway. I know there are exceptions, Pass Labs Aleph series for example. I think thats one reason my Aleph 3 sounded tube like.

The nearest a tube sound I reached in SS, was the Aleph 3 and the Lavardin IT. Nothing else has come close.
Good / Bad designs of both exist. It may not be easy to compare, though since speakers won't be best electrical match for both at the same time.

Best SS designs tolerate some reactive loads better than tubes.

So, if you compare 'best-to-best', you may end up with a tube amp and a certain type of speaker...maybe a single driver, while if you audition a SS amp, you'll find a better speaker.

So, If you're thinking of using a reference pair of speakers to just go thru amps until you find the 'best', forgetit.

Comparing 'best', again, it may BE impossible to tell the difference between tubes and SS in many cases and when using synergistic components. Should that be a surprise?
Key point regarding amp match to speakers by Magfan.

For example, in my case, my system and amps are geared towards optimizing performance with the OHM Walsh speakers.

I might be more receptive to tube amps if I were gunning to optimize other speakers that are more tube friendly.

Optimizing the amp to best drive the speakers is a way more important consideration than picking ss versus tube in my opinion. That and matching speakers to teh room may be the two most important things to get right when building a system in order to best assure top notch performance.

As a corollary, if tube sound is what you seek, then start with a good tube amp and then find the right speakers that can be run optimally from that.

There may be others, but Merlin is one high end speaker maker that cleverly provides optional tweaks to their speakers that enable optimal matching of tube amps as well as SS to the same speaker (their RC network tweak, which is apparently geared to provide a better impedance load for tube amps to drive in addition to other things). It would be cool if OHM did something similar, but I do not think tube amp affectionados make up a significant enough part of their customer base to bother.

In general, I believe speakers that do not have widely varying impedance curves at various frequencies should work well with either tubes or SS, but tubes may have the overall edge here still in regards to overall tonal balance in general in that I do not think most SS amps these days are voiced for this scenario in that most speakers do not fall into this category. Many modern speaker designs do not meet this criteria and many manufacturers do not provide a lot of info regarding their speakers compatibility with tubes versus SS. They just want to sell their speakers to anyone who might like them and not make things too complicated or restrictive.

Bottom line: Top notch results can be had with either technology if the amp is matched by design to optimally drive the speakers. A great amp can sound lousy running the wrong speakers and vice versa.
Agree with Magfan and Mapman 100%. Choose the speaker you love, that will (ought to) guide you to the best amp for you, SS or tubes. Be careful of equipment reviews or opionions outside of system context, it makes all the difference.
I agree with Pubul57 100%;don't get wrapped up in reviews
and always let your ears guide you in this process.
I am yet to hear a solid state amp that really sounds like a tube amp. There are some really great solid state amp out there though.
While listening to some Avalon speakers at a dealership, I looked to the side of the room to see which tube amp was supplying the power and was surprised to see that he was using a Belles amp. That's the only time I've been close to being surprised so far.
I have NEVER bought speakers based on a solid state demo. I was unaware of this to a point, so it had nothing to do with being biased towards tubes, in fact, it is what sold be 100% on tubes and trying to get it right with SS, imho, is a waste of time- just get into the music and don't worry.
It cracks me up when someone is debating between 2 or 3 SS amps that are basically the same when they could have better sound for less money with a tube amp.
Nobody wants to talk about the problems you have with tube gear but thats all right because class D in the future will over-take tube gear with better sound...its only a matter of time !..
i am using quad esls and a magnepan 1.6.

the problem , i have stated is that most sss amps produce a treble response which sounds fatiguing at volumes exceding 85 db.

of course, the magnepan's base is optimized with some ss amps, but the quasi ribbon tweeter gets unlistenable when exceeding volume in the mid 80's.
09-23-10: Hifisoundguy
Nobody wants to talk about the problems you have with tube gear but thats all right...
What problems specifically?
Tvad, tube gear has reliability issues..bad solder joints, tubes that only last for a short time and sometimes you buy brand new tubes that are already bad, capacitors blowing out and loud poping noises that come and go at any time. Also tubes degrades very quickly (((sound wise)))
Hifisoundguy you really believe tube audio will fall to class
D amps?
Why do you think this I am just wondering;You mention tube problems and tube owners don't want to talk about;all I can say is device or tube failure occurs on both products and I don't think there is a huge % that leans toward tubes;when you own tubes I have learned that it is not a major or audio ending event;what happens when a output transistor or output module fails its part of the hobby;no big surprise in my opinion.
I have audio valve challanger 180 mono's and jeff roland model 6 monoblocks and think both products do their job extremely well but I just think in my system the tubes have a slight edge in overall system performance.
Mrtennis when you have tubes on these speakers does that treble response occur?

09-23-10: Hifisoundguy
Tvad, tube gear has reliability issues..bad solder joints, tubes that only last for a short time and sometimes you buy brand new tubes that are already bad, capacitors blowing out and loud poping noises that come and go at any time.
Bad solder joints, capacitors blowing out, loud popping noises that come and go at any time is a load of baloney. It's not an issue with tube amps, but perhaps with badly made junk of either tube or solid state topology.

In fact, tube amps are quite easy for a qualified technician to repair in the event of a rare bad solder joint.

Tubes that only last a short time and new tubes that are already bad are rare unless the tubes are already old and beyond their lifespan, or they are new production tube from a bad batch. Even this is rare, and the bad brands and models quickly make it into the forums where people can learn about them. New production tubes from China are of excellent quality as are the majority of tubes from the Eastern bloc.

Of course, tubes have a limited lifespan. It's part of the deal. If one doesn't want the maintenance involved with replacing tubes, then one should look to solid state or chip amps.

It seems to me you're making a doomsday case for tube equipment with little or no evidence to support your argument.

If you have specific examples, please share them.
hifisoundguy all the problems except tubes also occur in solid state gear as well;the tube issue is easily resolved by buying from sellers whom other members recommend or ones with stellar credability.The popping noise that comes and goes is one that I circumvent by testing my tubes on a b&k 747 tester on a regular basis;how do you test your ice modules,mosfets,or bipolar transistors;can be tough to desolder from a multilayer circuit board.I don't think a tube degrades quickly unless maybe it is a infant mortality
related;which can also, happen to solid state due to ESD or even high humidity causing leakage;leading to breakdown and failure as well.