Switching to solid state amp?


I have had tube amps for the past 20+ years and have totally enjoyed their sound in my system.  I am thinking of trying a solid state amp.  Pass Labs comes to mind but would be open to anyone who made the switch, was happy and what brand worked for you.  Btw I will still be using a tube preamp.  Who has been happy with the switch?

bobheinatz
I too have been using tube amps for a while but still enjoy a really good solid state amp in my system, with that said I have a Pass Labs XA30.5 that I just can't bring myself to sell even though physically it doesn't fit in my system but when it is just sounds right.
sound like you might want a hybrid amplifier. One with a tube front end and a solid state power output section.
@bobheinatz  Hopefully you'll get some traction with this thread. I'm curious also, and would like to learn from those that have done the same.

I don't have your length of experience with tubed systems, but they were thoroughly enjoyable. Over the past few years, I've made the switch to all solid state.

My main 2ch system rebuild started about six months ago. With some recent changes, I'm getting very close to having a solid state system that performs at a level comparably enjoyable to my best tubed efforts. 

I have been happy with the Spread Spectrum Technologies Son of Ampzilla Mk2 (the Wyred 4 Sound version). The Ampzilla 2000 Mk 2 would be an interesting option if you prefer  monos and need more power. I mention both because they don't get much play here and are worth considering should they fit your needs and within your system.

The SST was recently replaced with the Pass XA-30.8.  My preamp is the Pass XP-20.

I'm still keeping the door open for a tubed amplifier and preamplifier, but given the recent major jump up in overall performance the need isn't as strong.
david_tens  and too blue thanks for your input.  A lot sure love their Pass amps.  Keep them coming.
Out of curiosity, what is your reasoning for switching from tube to SS? Is it heat, cost of tubes or something else.
You can say I went back to Pass after owning Threshold more than 40 years ago.  In between I've owned many different SS and Tube amps.  The switch back to Pass was originally intended to downsize somewhat from tube separates.  I had the Int 30 first and now have the Int 60.  To these old ears, nothing has sounded as good as the Pass.
Hi,

Which SS amp depends on ones preffs and speakers. … and budget.

I’m guessing the big conversion would be my preffs first. Its tuff IMO to get all SS power train that is obviously compelling and involving with out spending well into the upper middle or top o line amps.

BAT SS is a good thought. Plinius is another. One of the best combos I owned was a BAT vk500 & Thor line stage pre with Silverline Sonata IIIs 93DB @ 8.

If it is all about acquiring those things SS readily delivers and a tube pre is in the mix for sure, Krell, or some ‘as’ dynamic and very well extended amp seems in order.

I’ve thought of Vitas as an option but in higher Wattage iterations, which likely is not the need here unless speakers to are being swapped. Haegle is another option. Gryphon. Halo. Bryston is always a pretty safe pick.

A very good pr of monos if used gear is not an issue would be the Bel Canto 1000 mk IIs. I’ve heard these a lot and they are IMO a great choice especially now at lower pricing. The BC 500 half the power mono versions are similar but with a much much warmer presentation. Both are very very nice sounding amps. Examining various PC with these amps is going to have obvious outcomes as both are quite receptive . to changes there.

Nagra is making a reputedly sweet sounding SS amp now. D’agostino Classic might be just the ticket too. Modright has a well received amp out there now. As does Wells Audio.

Good hunting



From Cary I switched to Ayre, which is supposed to be pretty sweet-sounding, but here I am back with Rogue.  YMMV.
Kalali,  good question.  My current amps have been malfuncting for the past year with various problems so a simplistic maintainence plan which SS can represent is very attractive to me right now.  But the question can I live long term with a SA amp?
@bobheinatz 
But the question can I live long term with a SA amp?

You know the answer regarding how you need to go about finding out. : )

If you find the right match for your system, my sense is you may be very pleasantly surprised; and if you get a few amps that don't you'll be wondering why you bothered. 

You haven't mentioned budget, speakers, your tubed pre, or room .... knowing those will help.
I owned Quicksilver V-4 mono blocks for 10 years in my system which was based around Vandersteen speakers, 5's and Quatro's. I switched to the Aesthetix Atlas from the V-4's and was very happy. If you can hear the Aesthetix I think you may find what you are looking for. The Aesthetix is a hybrid amp and uses 6SN7's for the input stage. The Quickies are great amps but once you hear the Atlas on the Vandersteen's it's hard not to make a change. This is just my opinion and YMMV.

http://www.aesthetix.net/atlas.php

Good Luck!
Budget up to $10,000 new or used.  My speakers sound great with my current 20 watt amps.  So easy to drive.  11 x 13 small room.  Preamp Deja Vu custom. Listen mostly to vinyl.   Aesthetic and Wells are interesting.

We are dealers for Electrocompaniet, whose amps are very tube like. Recently due to a stronger dollar their prices went down. They make a fantastic 250 watt beast of an amplifer the AW 250 and it is both very powerful and very open with a smooth tube like sound. It used to be $9k current price is $7,200.00 and it can drive anything with ease.

So I would add that amp to your list I am also intersted in listening to the Wells they are getting a lot of raves as well. 

As per tubes vs solid state, our reference system went from CJ ART tube amplifiers which are $40k tube amplifiers which are wonderful to the T+A solid state 300 watt amplifier which is a bit higher then your budget at $19k the T+A amp so far has consistantly sounded better than the best tube amplifiers we have tested driving our reference speaker lines, Kef Blades, Paradigm Personas, and the Polymer Reserach MKX-s.

None of the tube amplifiers ever had the slam tha you get from a good solid state amplifier, and todays' best solid state amplifiers have a much more tube like sense of imaging and midrange warmth. 

So for us, we love the new solid state gear. 

Hope that helps.

Dave owner
Audio Doctor NJ
Thanks for your opinion Audio Doctor.  I owned a Electrocompaniet Cdp in the early 2000’s so I am very familiar with their gear.  Wish I could expand my budget to look at the fine T+A  amp.
moscode hybrid, used....

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/tube-amazing-hybrid-power-amp-2017-10-03-amplifiers

It’s solid state output, one that is designed from the ground up...with that tube voltage gain front end (in the amplifier), to match your retained tube preamp.

These amps are ’tunable’.

Hybrids are always on my short list.

At the bottom of the listing is a link to a 6 moons review of the older model.

Read.

It explains why hybrids are in some important and critical ways... ’the only real choice’.
Made the switch 45 years ago with a Sony TA-3200F. Still have it, though regulated to multiamp duty on my 'B' setup. Never had a problem, sounds fabulous. In the heyday of HH Scott, Marantz, Mac etc. it was heralded by all my friends as having the best sound they'd ever heard. There is IMO no point to using tubes unless you like the visual factor. Induce some phase shift in the last 1 1/2 octaves, stay out of clipping and poof, you have that 'warm tube sound'.
As more people learn to use complementary devices (matched pnp and npn transistors), SS sounds better and better.

I say DIY. When you make it yourself, you can use the finest components and still have an almost sane budget, as long as you are prepared to test and discard popular mythology.

YMMV
It is not the point of warm or not warm sound, the point is to achieve harmonically correct and balanced sound. For $10k I would probably get Atma-Sphere preamp with phono and amp. Yes, all tubes. Unless you can jump to Nagra, FM Acoustics, Gryphon, Ypsilon hybrids etc. But even then very careful audition and match with speakers would be in order.
Stay with tubes. Here is a nice article on why many prefer the sound of tubes, including me!
https://medium.com/collectors-weekly/could-an-old-school-tube-amp-make-the-music-you-love-sound-bett...
Tubes tend to have a few disadvantages, apart from the inconvenience:
1 higher distortion, even though some like that.
2 load dependent frequency response. The best are borderline OK, but many have a terrible frequency response under realistic speaker loads. Just watch the graphs in Stereophile (and ignore the words).
3 low output power. Speakers need power, and lots of it, to move the mass of those cones. Without enough power, the sound will distort on louder signals, and be compressed. Again, some like this, but it is not a straight wire with gain.

Personally I am convinced that solid state amplifiers are a mature technology that reached sonic perfection in the 1980's. Hence, under controled conditions no differences between them can be detected. That is good news, because manufacturing technology by mainstream brands has made such amplifiers eminently affordable.
If you want to spend money on the amplifier with the best test results, look no further than the Benchmark AHB2. For some perverse pleasure in debunking audio myths: http://www.homecinema-fr.com/forum/amplificateurs-de-puissance-haute-fidelite/mesures-ampli-yamaha-p...

Litterature:
http://www.keith-snook.info/wireless-world-magazine/Wireless-World-1977/Audible%20amplifier%20distor...
https://linearaudio.nl/sites/linearaudio.net/files/Valves%20versus%20Transistors%20DCD.pdf
It's not really that people like distortion. They can't hear the distortion that tube amps might have in more abundance than solid state. We went through this debate forty years ago with vanishingly low THD solid state amps that sounded terribly compared to tube Amos with orders of magnitude higher THD. Obviously, as long as the THD is down around 0.05% it will not interfere with one's enjoyment of the tube amp's otherwise terrific sonic virtues. You know, like realism, air, harmonic integrity, bass performance, dynamics, presence, soundstage, 
It’s not really that folks prefer the distortion of tube amps as willemj suggests. It’s that the higher THD distortion of tube amps is not (rpt not) audible. But this is not (rpt not) big news. We found this out 40 years ago when the vanishingly low distortion (THD) solid state amps of the era sounded rather horrible compared to much higher THD tube amps. And while one might argue solid state amps have progressed greatly since then and even have certain advantages over tube amps, including maintenance and reliability, though I suspect even those advantages are a little overblown. I would opine tube amps can frequently be superior to solid state amps in terms of realism, dynamics, warmth, inner detail, high frequency response, smoothness, soundstaging, musicality, and - perhaps ironically - what I call "apparent lack of distortion."

geoff kait
machina dynamica

"My speakers sound great with my current 20 watt amps."

In that case, you may want to consider one of the First Watt or Pass Labs offerings, or maybe a Luxman  and save a good portion of your budget for future upgrades, e.g., cables, room acoustics, etc. In my opinion $10K is really an overkill budget for a low/mid power SS amplifier. Good luck.

marco1-
can you talk about any difference(s) between the INT-30 and INT-60 Pass Labs amps? Happy Listening!
First Watt will be a brand I will take a strong look at.   Thanks for all the great comments.
I would also recommend you take a look at Plinius amps and/or Integrated. This caught my eye today: 
https://www.audiogon.com/listings/solid-state-silver-mint-condition-2017-10-15-amplifiers

If one wanted an Integrated that sounds some what tube like.
+1 joey54I also owned Quicksilver V-4 mono blocks for many years in my system which usually had ProAc speakers. Although I had Harbeth and a few others at times. I also switched to the Aesthetix Atlas from the V-4's. I also have an Aesthetix Calypso preamp which is a great match.

My Quicksilver amps were reliable and sounded great, but did not have the level of grip the Atlas has on the bass. The change in the bass really made the sound lock in for me.

Good luck with your search and have a listen to the Aesthetix Atlas.

As another poster suggested, Nagra is also an option but the price is quite a bit higher. 
@bobheinatz , what sort of problems are you having with your current amps? Do you think they can't be fixed so they'll hold up?
There's a pair of Clayton M300s for sale here now that would be worth a look.  Thinking Class A amps might be your smoothest transition to SS.  Best of luck. 

Ralph I had my current amps worked on recently and one of them came back dead.  So not reliable. I will need to replace.
Tube amps are more fun. Other than the fact that tubes wear out eventually, and people who listen to systems in airless closets may have heat issues, tube amps allow you to mess around with tubes which keeps many unstable audio geeks from causing more trouble in the outside world. This information is based on a comprehensive study from Harvard, where it was found that audiophiles using SS amps had too much free time and could be found wandering the streets in most communities, seemingly looking for random people to harass in attempts to convince them to buy expensive fuses or cable lifters. Sad.
What Wolf said, it really is true, take my word. The truth will set us free!
@wolf_garcia 

That Harvard study has been questioned, and anyway, it's out of date.

There was an unresolved confounding factor in that study, and that was the inherent harshness of SS based systems. The alternate explanation is that SS audiophiles did not have too much free time, they were in fact escaping from their systems.

Also the study was done in the 1930's, when SS was very much harsher than it is today. I wouldn't rely on that study, if I were you.

uhm.. ss did not exist in the 30's....(well they did... but not specifically an audio thing)

(I know, it was a finger slip, but I could not resist)
Post removed 
Ralph I had my current amps worked on recently and one of them came back dead. So not reliable. I will need to replace.
'Dead' is usually something simple! If the amp was just serviced and was dead upon arrival, it could also be something simple from shipping. If I were you, if these amps have given you reliable service in the past, I would simply get the amp fixed. If you sell them and one isn't running, you're going to take a beating on it anyway.

How old are the amps?
Wooolfie - You one hard man ta troll.
I had a pair of QuickSilver M135 monoblock tube amps for 24 years.  No repairs other than 4 full sets of tubes (& a few fuses blown by over exuberance or an EL34 tube failure).  
I bought a pair of McIntosh MC501 monoblocks, and on the same speakers side by side it was VERY hard to tell the MC501's (SS) from the M135's (tube).  I really think its those crazy output transformers in the McIntosh.  Only other SS amps I've liked Bryston 28B monoblocks. (I've heard several other Bryston amps, but they sounded terrible!)
Now, the MC501's were bought used from a dealer who bought them back from his customer who bought them to replace his VTL tube mono's.  After 6 months he wanted his tubes back.
Ralph the amps are about 15 years old.  These are George Wright Sugnature amps.  Very nice when they work. QS 135 thanks for you info.  QS are quite nice.
I tried to switch back to SS amps for a while, didn't work.  I got tired to the heat and maintenance issues.  At the time, I was using VTL 300 Deluxe MB's. I tried 3 or 4 brands of amps  Bryston and Classe and a few others.  This search went on for a years.  In the end, I purchased another VTL but this one needs very little maintenance. It Fault Protection and Auto Biasing features but it still gets hot.  Then again before the I went with tube amps, I had Krell and they were just as hot.  Years ago there was a thread here titled "Cooking With Krell"  pretty funny posts,
I lived with Krell for years before switching to Classe Delta series amps. While Classe had the mid bass and high frequencies right, they lacked the low base punch of Krell’s. 

I then switched to Modwright KWA150SE for couple of years. To my ears, they had the best balance between SS and Tube amps. While attending RMAF couple of years ago, I heard one of the rooms with bi-amping setup of Tube and Class D amplification. I was literally blown away by the soundstage.  

Had to replicate that setup at home, right! So now I am running a ARC VT-80 with THOR mono’s powering up my 800D2’s. This is by far the best setup and sound I have had going back 15 plus years. 
Ralph the amps are about 15 years old. These are George Wright Sugnature amps. Very nice when they work.
George (may he rest in peace) was pretty competent and there should be no reason to think that the amps can't be refurbished properly. If you really want them to work right over time, I would consider having the filter capacitors in the power supplies replaced. While they are not really so old now to be a problem, in five years they will be.

If these amps have made it 15 years already they really should be able to do that again if properly maintained, which really should only be about the tubes once the power supplies are sorted.
"Literally blown away" seems dangerous…one can only hope for a soft landing.
Bob, if you're a real tube guy (sounds like it): Class 'A' (lots of heat also) or Hypex nCORE-loaded Class D (Bel Canto, etc) for next to zero heat.

Else, well you'll be missing that 'something'... 

BUT conventional A-B SS like Constellation is getting pretty dang good nowadays!

SS will give the dynamics and grip unavailable to bottles.

All depends what you're aching for to make the change...  ELSE DON'T!
I moved away from tubes after about 15yrs. I was looking for an amp that would keep that midrange magic but have more grip, speed and headroom. I took a chance on an Italian brand called Audiozen that is brand new to the US through Mark Sossa at Well Pleased Audio Vida. I went from tube integrated to hybrid integrated and couldn't be happier. Audiozen also makes the Lysios dual monaural power amp which is currently being reviewed by Srajan of 6moons. Keep an eye out for Audiozen. Amazing stuff and great value.
My use of tubes are seasonal.  I use an Audio Research VT100 (tubed) in the winter when I'm paying for heat in the room anyways.  In the summer I switch to an Audio Research D400 SS amp.  I much prefer the tubes, AR does have a sort of "house Sound" that makes them similar,  on the upper panels of my Infinity IRS Gamma's, but my environmental self doesn't let me heat a room with 500 watts of electricity from the amp and then remove the heat from the room with 1000 watts of A/C.  It makes a good reason to looking forward to the cool weather and shorter days!
You should listen to Ayre offereings
I used a tube amp (845). Due to high tube mortality I decided to move back to solid state camp. It took me a while to find a replacement, an amp that sounds close to what the tube amp had given me. I settled down on Karan amp. I think this the closest.