Transitioning: back to solid state....

Quandaries and time consuming frustrations...

This is a derivative of one of those tube vs. solid state amps. And, good god, I never thought I'd start one of these types of threads.

I've started some pretty stupid threads on audiogon, but this one might take the cake.

Anyways, after clicking my virtual system link, you are well aware that the centerpiece of my system is the not-so-reviewed and not-so-popular, the lowest of the low of all ARC amps, the CA50 integrated amp.

It is my first tube component, and I am in the process of replacing it. Tubes are simply a hassle for me, and, being too ignorant to know how to bias tube amps, I'd rather get a solid state. This way, I won't have to worry about purchasing megabuck NOS tubes or having to replace worned out tubes. Oh, and I'd love to leave the amp on ALL da time.

I've collected quite a lot of data in my cerebral databank about the solid state amps capable of replacing tube ones and are under $2000 used. The hit list includes Pass Alephs 3 or 5, 47 Labs' Gaincard, Bel Canto Evo 200.2, and Spectron's Troubador.

One observation I made when doing my research, besides the Spectron, Pass, 47 Lab and Bel Canto has received tons of reviews from professionals and amateurs alike with a one standard deviation of the population favoring each of these (That is about 95%). A great deal of these reviewers, including the professional ones, even tout these solid state amps as comparable or better than megabucks solid state amps and capable or residing comfortably in a tube lover's system as well.

With all this in mind, I've made the assumption/fallacy that I can replace my modest lowest end ARC amp with one of the fabulous solid state amps with improved sonic quality and ergonomics as well.

Assumptions, hypothesis, fallacies, whatever, they need to be tested, and, today, I did just that. I plopped down hard earned college tuition on one of the solid state amps that is mentioned.

What do you think is the result?
You bought the Pass, you're dissapointed, you're going back to tubes, right?

How realistic are you in describing the CA50 as "the lowest of the low of all ARC amps" and "my modest lowest end ARC amp"? Maybe you really would be better off with "one of the fabulous solid state amps".
Contact Mike Bates aka "Magnetar" on AA about the Aleph 3. He was running an all tube system and has since switched over the Aleph's. Mike is a good guy and would probably be willing to answer your questions as best he can. Sean
I'm guessing you liked the tube amp better.
The suspence is killing me. I say you are sticking with SS, probably Aelph. Afterall, it is fabulous solid-state....
The money would have been better spent on college tuiton. You were not exactly deprived with an ARC amp.
Is the college tuition money for you? Which college? For 2K you can't even buy books.
The result should be that you feel depressed since you've just realized that you will never finish college, having spent your tuition money on audio gear.
If you bought the BC your happy with it. They do take a few
days to settle/break in so it only gets better. If you did
I hope you got the EVO4 and are running it in bridge mode.

I just heard on the radio yesterday that listening to music
makes you smarter. So why worry about college? I "gragidated" and look at me! I didnt need it because Im smarter from music! By next week after i by my next piece of equipment im gonna be real smart!
Unless I missed something here, how can you replace a tube integrated with a solid state amp? Doesn't a pre-amp of some sort need to be entered into the equation?

If you actually did spend your college tution money on audio equipment I would have to question whether you have the facilities to accurately judge an audio system.
Hi everyone, really quickly while I steal a minute away from my studying for the finals, I have a digital attenuator in the Meridian 518, so this allows me to connect my cd, which is the 500/563 trans/dac directly into any amp.

I've put my cd player on repeat for the last 30 hrs. So far, it doesn't sound any better than the amp I bought the CA50 to replace, which is the Aragon 8002. One thing I am weary about is, the speakers I have are said to sound good ONLY with tubes. So, I thought these SS amps that are capable of replacing tube amps would do the trick, and so far it hasn't.

However, I have to say, the bass is plentiful. The clarity is superb when I play piano conceirtos. But the vocals sound cold. Not something that will keep me glued to my chair for hours like my system did before the CA50 was removed.

So, I might have to dip further into my tuition funds and buy another amp to compare with. BTW, I am speaking of my graduate school funds, but I am still in undergrad.

It doesn't seem like anyone, so far, has had the same transition that I am going through.

Ok, back to da books.
such disrespectful remarks about the CA50. So it didn't get reviewed by the big glossy mags, and does not seem to fit into the current word of audiophile high fashion. But I do think you sell this thing short.

It's a VT50 with a smaller power supply(the VT50 is a VT100 mkII with 1/2 the output tubes, not a bad pedigree in my mind)and a very good SS pre section similar to an LS9 as far as I know. This is not anything to apologise about or be ambarrased to own.

Tell ya what I will send you $500 to HELP you out and take that lowest of low crappy boat anchor off your hands. Think of it as a contribution to your education(both your HiFi education and your college education).I just want to help out!
Max!!!! Buddy!!!

Actually, CA50 IS the lowest on the ARC heirarchy before their new VS series came out. Everything I said is true! No where did I claim the CA50 SUCKS!

MAX, I don't want your money, however, can you put the IEC thing on the back of my CA50 incase I want to keep it? Thanks!!
I would agree with this reviewer on Pass stuff:
pass amp

Maybe the closest thing you can get to tubes without the tubes??

He also made interesting remarks about active crossovers:

Furthermore, a speaker enclosure is not an ideal environment for a sophisticated piece of electronic equipment with all the vibration and resonance. That said, passive crossovers are still a huge limitation, making it difficult to realize what a really good amplifier can do. Okay, so what I really want is a speaker with dedicated external electronics, with zero phase shift and high bit-rate digital crossovers, feeding Meitner 1-bit converters into amplifiers like the Pass X-150 - maybe then, the speaker won't be such a weak link.
OK, I'm a bit confused it seems you're frustrated with the idea of the 'maitenance' of having a tube amp. It seems like the only issue was biasing, and the cost of tubes as per your initial post. Yet you are looking for an SS amp that will give you a 'tube-sound'...or rather a tube-lovers SS amp?! You say you have speakers that are specifically geared towards tubes, but have not specified what those might be. I assume they are the Tannoy monitors, which you comment in your system profile that you LOVE. So the SS thing is purely a convenience-driven decision...yes? There are fine auto-biasing tube amplifiers that you might consider as an alternative. I don't know about your financial priorities or funds available, but it looks like you've invested in some pretty nice gear thus far. As long as you stick to used gear, you can buy and sell to your hearts content and not loose a significant amount of $ in the process (that's the grease that keeps Audiogon going isn't it?). Why not look into the tube alternatives since your known preference occurs to me in the realm of tubes (I am only inferring this by the tone of your posts)? Learning how to bias an amp sure isn't rocket science, and good tubes are pretty stable for the most part. I check my bias once a week on my work system that requires biasing, but for the amount of times I actually tweak the bias, it might as well be once a month. My 300B SET's are auto-biasing and are of the most amazing sounding amps I've ever heard. I'm not knocking SS, but my preference is clearly with tubes and I doubt I'll change. For me it's worth what small hassle it may bring, and I actually enjoy the little tweaks and changes and challenges. On another note, 30 hours doesn't occur to me as enough to break in a brand new SS amp (I'm assuming it's new since you are implying a break-in period). Give it more like 300 hours and then see what it sounds like. This stuff is supposed to be fun! If you don't like it, sell it and try something different. It's all about personal preferences, space, sound and synergy. The best you can do here is get only a hint at the latter.
Hi Viggen,
I don't feel you need to buy expensive NOS tubes to get good sound. The modern day svetlana's sound wonderful. I've heard good things about the eh's as well. It's only a hundred bucks or so to replace the power tubes in a ca-50. If you have efficient speakers, that's one of the best sounding amps out there. You want to buy a matched quad of 6550 power tubes. If kt88's will work, you might want to consider them. Call ARC about that.

See for good prices. If you want a little help with biasing check out the manual & search for past threads on this forum. It's a 30 minute job the first time, 15 thereafter. Make sure your test leads have rubber sheaths around them. All you need is a $20 radio shack multi-meter.
Sorry Viggen, I guess I wouldn't mind the lowest of the low in the Porsche line up. The lowest ARC(which I am not sure is true or even matters)is still high performance stuff.

John! is right about the Svetlana 6550c and "just say no to NOS". Svetlanas sound great in ARC VT serie stuff. The Electro harmonics 6550's are great tubes too but I wouldn't go that way in other than the new VS series amps. A friend tried them in his VT and they sounded horrid. He talked to ARC and they told him they got the same bad result when they tried them in a VT 100.
Hi again,

Thanks for all your responses so far. Sorry to draw you all in with me into my frustration.

There is one other reason that I didn't include to why I want to go back to solid state. Well, I move around in my apartment a lot. And, I sometimes forget to turn my amp off when I end up in another room. I thought if I had a solid state again, this would allow me not to keep a close eye on the tubes and eliminates the need to replace them. Furthermore, and this is being very nit picky, I hate waiting for the tubes to warm up.

Of course, I am very happy with the sound coming from the CA50, but I am looking for a best of both worlds scenario here.

And I've just struck a deal with a fine gentleman from Audiogon on another amp that I've listed in the beginning of this thread. Should get it in a few days.

Also, the solid state amp I recently purchased is used, but it probably hasn't been used in a few months. So I am, not exactly burning it in but warming it back up. Sorry for the confusion.

If this solid state doesn't work, then I might just stick with the CA50 or look into some autobiasing amps as some of you suggested.
Do you have Daddys' money or what? when I was going to school...I was lucky to have a boom-box...let alone comtemplating tubes vs. solid state advice...dont worry about it...have fun at school...dont take this stuff too serious until you land a well-paying,albeit mundane job,and have hours to dedicate to this site like the rest of us...good luck with your studies...
Man, that sounds like exactly something my mom says. But she ain't paying my bills and neither are you. Let not have bouts of senior moments and digress.
This would open up a whole other can of worms for you, but here goes: One other thing you may want to try before you sell your CA50 is to put a good pre-amp between it and your source (you said you were using it direct). Even though many players have either digital or analogue volume controls, some are just not as good as others and you may be experiencing some degradation in that link (especially if it is a digital volume control - I don't know much about the Meridian DAC in your system). Yet another consideration would be to consider sending your ARC to Steve Huntley (formerly with ARC and Wadia) over at Great Northern Sound. He does extensive upgrading to ARC gear which I can personally reccomend. I had him do his standard upgrade on my ARC LS2B and it was worth every penny! He also works on Wadia and other makes as well. Their URL is I guess you can tell, I'm just too big a fan of tube sound to give up on the idea of letting go of a good thing (though I can't say I've heard the CA50 I somehow doubt is is any slouch). It seems to me you have to pay a significant amount more $ in SS to try to achieve a similar sound. If you leave your amp on occasionally and shorten the tube life you'd be putting some of those $ towards that habbit...but you'd have that wonderful holographic tube sound, and no regrets! If you think about it the average power tube lasts around 5-10K hours depending on how hard you drive them. If you left your amp on every day for 12 hours a day that's a minimum of 416 days of life. That's over a year before you have to replace your tubes given your habit of leaving your amp on. Needless to say, I determined that small investment was worth it to me, and my amps at work stay on most of the day all day. I just hate to see you give up on tubes so easily!
How many amps are you going to but before you conclude what everyone else already knows? And what about the 518? Is there a SS amp that can tubify something like that? Last, for the love of god, please don't talk about scientific method or statistics.
Hey Jax,

I've actually been pondering the same exact thing that you've "opened," this being slotting a tube pre- between the digital front and the current solid state amp I am using. However, here is another can of worms, the aesthetics side of my don't want to go there. However, just for experiment, and when I have time to do so, I might slot the CA50 back in the system and use it as a preamp just to hear how a tube pre will improve this system. But, numerous postings on audioasylum preaches against this method claiming things from "it defeats the purpose of getting this amp," to "I've tried it with and without a pre, and it sounds the best by going direct."

And, this leads to another can'o worms; this being the scientific method, and I'd you can't leave statistics behind. Just how MANY SS amps am I going to buy before I come to the conclusion that everyone knows already? Actually, I have no idea how to answer this question except by asking this: just how many amps did all of you guys owned in your life time? I will tally all replies on a spreadsheet and find the mean and standard deviation. If the central limit theorem rings true, I should be close to the mean.
Viggen, the CA50 has a SOLID STATE pre amp in it! So if you are talking about going direct into the CA50, you are bypassing the pre amp? Just some Junior moment?
Ohala makes a very good point. Again, I don't know much about your Meridian DAC & Transport other than it is an older model, but the golden rule that Ohala is indirectly referring to: "Garbage In = Garbage Out" doesn't matter what you use to amplify it. Just the fact that the Meridian is a eight year-old 18 bit DAC tells me that there is probably (much more) room for some improvement there, far more than in changing your amp. Ohala is also right on the money regarding scientific methods and stats (you crack me up there Ohala!) - Your two ears are the best gauge in making judgments here....Use 'The Force' Viggen!
I had no idea that the CA50 has a solid state preamp. I read somewhere that it has a similar pre- section tothe LS15. But then that info might be wrong.

Regarding me wanting to go direct into the CA50's amp section, if you read that somewhere, it sure wasn't from this thread.
Viggen, Doh!
The pre is simimilar to an LS9(no slouch, nice and smooth and follows in the tracks of the well resprcted LS3) if I am not mistaken. I must have gotten the direct thing mixed up with the new SS amp and the rest of this stuff in this thread.

I will make a count of my amps and get back with you. I will count monos as one stereo unit and at one time I had 4 of the same tube Mono Luxman 3045's. I will count that as one as well.
I suspect some of you actually think I use a calculator and a spreadsheet program to evaluate what sounds good to me instead of using my ears... scary I say... very very scarry.
Sorry Viggen, I too somehow got the idea your CA50 was a power-amp and not integrated. My bad. This has become a pretty lengthy thread so I guess I missed that detail. I still stand by everything else I've offered thus far, especially the idea that you'll make a more significant improvement changing your top-end than you will changing your amp. Also, take things said here, as well as on AudioAsylum with a grain...or rather a bag of salt! Again, personal preferences, your listening room and your system synergy is going to make all the difference, and only you are the best judge of all those factors together. But there is certainly much to be gained from paying attention to the experience of others in a broader sense. My ARC LS2B (GNS modified) sounds fabulous with the push/pull amps in my work system. But it sounds too analytical when combined with my SET amps in my home system - there I much prefer my Cary SLP-50A (which in turn does not sound as good in my work system). I'm going to contradict myself here, but the single BEST improvement I've made in over twenty years of this addiction we share, was going from SS to tubes. The most profound component improvement though, was in swapping out my digital top-end to a Muse transport/DAC combo (which is still giving me much pleasure even though it is outdated at this point). That is followed closely by moving from Pentode and push/pull tube amps, to 300B SET amps (Audio Nirvana for me!). This is why I encourage you not to give up the tubes so readily. You could probably spend less than a semester's of that tuition money on an all-in-one or transport/dac combo which will take your system to a whole other level of listening pleasure. I like the Muse gear, but there are many alternatives from the likes of BAT, Cary, Audio Aero, Audio Note as well as others....well, there's a whole other thread topic there!
Hi Jax,

Actually, a few months back, I did consult with Steve at Great Northern about modifying the CA50 over a few emails. He provided me with information regarding upgrading caps and wires and such, and he asked me to give him my system and room dimensions and such, and I did, but he neglected to follow up after the long weekend. Not saying it was his fault, but I really wasn't ready to plunk down money on a modification since they don't retain their value over time.

The cost of the modification is very prohibiting, although, not entirely unaffordable. It all depended on whether I am determined to stay with the CA50 or go with a solid state alternative. If I do decide to stay with the CA50, I do intend to make a few modifications to the CA50 such as installing a removeable IEC bay such as the modification Maxgain has done for his ARC pre.

Regarding digital front end, yup this is a whole new can of worms. Personally, I've only recently upgraded from a Cal Labs' Delta and Alpha combo to the Meridian combo, and the Meridian pretty much obliterated the Cals in my opinion. That being said, I haven't auditioned any of the newer CD players. Reasons oh reasons... there are lots..

Again, I would love to shift to a solid state pending if I can be happy with one.
Yes, I think Steve (Huntley) is pretty swamped over there at times, and neglects follow-ups (or just doesn't have the time). I had a similar experience trying to ask a few questions and really had to keep trying. All I can say is that the mod was worth it to me, and Steve is a really nice guy to talk to and clearly knows his stuff. He did get the mod done on time too. You're right about the mod being a significant investment that you will likely not get much of back, unless you happen to get lucky. I guess that's the trade-off. I went with the $725 standard mod and it definitely made a big difference to my ears. It included an IEC bay and allowed me to use a premium power cord too. You can drop quite a bit more cash at GNS to get some pretty trick mods done. Well, good luck with the solid state....I hope you find what you're looking for!
Ok, Viggen, in nearly 30 years of fooling with this I have had ten different power amps. I am not one of those who changes amps like underwear. I had the amps I was using a year ago for 15 years!
Hey Max, now I just need 29 more audiophiles fessing up to how many amps they've owned because you need at least 30 respondants to form a decent sampling distribtion.

Just a recap; I've had SS amp #1 in my living room for 80 hours now. At about 77 hrs, which was 3 hrs ago, I figure the amp finally warmed back up. It sounded full and detailed with tons of bass. In fact, a bit too much bass for me. So, I swapped out the Virtual Dynamic P2 PC and replaced it with a bass light Mapleshade PC. The amp suddenly started breathing. In other words, all the good stuff happened: sound stage, air, detail, and stuff. Previously, I thought the Mapleshade was the inferior PC. This goes to show, it's all about synergy.

Anyhow, I then went into my tool box and dug out two pairs of Mapleshade ICs. I first replaced the Harmonic Tech's Silway mk2 with a pair of Mapleshade. The same effect increased as when swapping powercords. Then, I removed the Alpha Core XLRs that I use as digital between the 3 digital devices I have, and replaced them with another pair of MapleShade ICs. You guessed it, much more of the same. But, most importantly, the vocals are no longer cold. The vocals aren't quite as intimate as when played through the CA50, but now it has more air, detail and presence.

The next thing I did was remove the 518 from the chain, thus the transport is directly connected to the dac via one Mapleshade IC. Boy, the chest thumping bass reduced to almost normal. And, vocals and melody are now flowing.

I still prefer the vocals on the CA50, but, everything else, the SS amp #1 is better. I also moved the speakers 2 inches farther from the wall, and this reduced the chesty bass by a bit. But, it is still more prevalent compared to the CA50.

I'd say I am almost there. But, SS amp #2 should arrive in a few days...
If you want to leave your amp "on" all the time...opt for Class A sound...both Creek and Musical fidelity make superb Brit intergrated amps...both in your 2k range...I sold my older Musical Fidelity amp in a momentary lapse of reason...and my system is suffering for it...good luck!
Hey Phase,

I don't want to go through what you went through, selling and regretting, thus I am doing this expensive and arduous process of amp auditioning.

First off, I realize I never mentioned the first solid state amp has passive attenuator built in, which probably created a lot of confusion for a lot of people. Actually, I might have purposely left that out in case it was a too obvious of a clue for you guys to figure out what amp it is.

So far, I'd like to thank everyone for giving me constructive advices and criticisms. And, I'd like to thank the gentlemen"s" for allowing me to acquire your very good condition amps at very good prices.

I've received the second solid state amp today and plugged them in a lil over an hour ago. This amp, as described by many many many many current and previous owners, needs about an hour to warm up, and it gets very hot. I guess you guys can figure out what amp this is now too.

I don't want to say too much about the differencs between the sound between the 3 amps just yet. Main reason is, I am just too tired to do so at the moment. However, I did plug the CA50 back into my system for a few hours lastnight. And, if I am to choose my fave amp at this moment, the CA50 is the better sounding amp, or, at least, the sound the best with the Tannoy speakers I am using.

The Tannoys are has a 94db sensitivity. People on AA and Agon often claim the two solid state amps I've acquired are bass shy with most speakers. In my case, or this can be a matter of personal taste, the bass with these solid state amps are too strong. Or, on the other hand, my speakers are, as mentioned before, designed to sound best with tubes.

Anyhow, I leave it at this for now, and let the new solid state amp warm up a bit more for the rest of my waking hours.
If the bass is too strong...try pulling your Tannoys into the room a bit a small room....even a foot or so can make a big improvement...I personally like soundstage depth...but then again...I live alone...and have monitors in the middle of my living room...experiment a might be surprised....
Hi Again,

Just to let you guys know, I solved the low end bump in my system as indicated earlier in this thread.

Right about the time I was going to leave the house to get some lunch, I thought, just for fun, I'd bi-amp my speakers with the ARC on top and, oh might as well say it, the Pass Aleph 3 on the bottom.

First 30 minutes impression: with all 45 watts of the ARC driving the HF of the Tannoys, the highs has never been free-er and open sounding with mucho more detail. with all 30 watts of the Pass driving the LF, the low bass was non-existent, but the midbass was creamy smooth with lots of presence. One thing about the Pass, you instantly feel a sense of energy in the room once you turn the amp on even without any music playing.

When playing my usual favorites such as Ivy and St. Etienne, the lows were a bit anemic. Thus, I plugged the Meridian 518 into the chain between the 500 and 563. The 518 smooths out the highs a bit and makes the lows more robuts. This was needed with music with more energy. However, when playing conceirtos such as Ryuichi Sakamoto's 1996, I prefered the sound without the 518.

After 30 minutes: The Pass now warmed up and is no longer anemic. It now provides a clear, liquid smooth mid range to mid mass with just enough low bass. I am not a big fan of low bass as you can tell.

Now I can listen to St. Etienne without the aid of the 518.

Anyhow, my system sounds incredible now, so I don't think I will be moving away from tubes just yet. I will, instead, invest in some NOS tubes to make the high-mids more sexy if that is possible then go from there...

After purchasing Bogdan's silver cables, I've re-auditioned the amps I have. The Gaincard sounded less solid state. The ARC CA50 has less ear fatigue. And, the Pass now sounds incredible even without the CA50 bi-amping the HF.

Now, I use the 518 as preamp, and the dac directly connects to the Pass Aleph 3. Also, I am using a Mapleshade Doublehelix powercable on the Aleph instead of a Virtual Dynamic P2.

The Bogdan and Mapleshade combination really improved the Aleph amp so much so that I think I've successfully transitioned away from tube and back to solid state.
Viggen, glad you found something you like. Did you ever bias your CA 50?

P.S. Your buddy(MR. EL34,you know who I mean) is posting again! He must have laid low for a while.
Hey Max,

I did play around with a few borrowed voltage meter from work. We have lots of industrial engineers there that know what to do after reading your email. An amp that still uses tube technology impressed those old guys quite a bit. And, the CA50 still sounds great. And, I've been quite happy regarding my ownership. But, as for reasons I've listed all over this thread, I rather go with solid state. And, yes, Mr. EL34 has resurfaced...
Viggen, I can't remember if I told you to let the CA50 idle for about 20 minutes before doing the bias adjustment?