Tube amps... what is so great about 'em

What is so great about tube amps? Everyone says they're better, they will drive ESLs better, etc, but would someone please explain to me exactly what differences I'll hear using a tube amp over my Denon AVR4800 for my ML sequels? Am I missing something??
I'm not sure about ML's due to power requirements, but.. It's funny you should ask- I just put together a system for my girlfriend, and had a chance to substitue a nice solid state amp, (Bryston,60W), which is going into her "budget system" to compare with my Cary. All I can say is I'll never go back to S.S. It's not a masive difference, but I hear a more 3D aspect to the instruments, a better soundstage, and a certain hard to describe "body" or solidity to the sound, the mids especially, but over the whole spectrum too. The highs are also smoother than any SS I've owned. Granted, if I were playing something with a huge electric bass, there might be some power missing from the bottom end, the slam as they say, but on upright bass it's perfect. It's hard to describe but, it just seems more "right", more like "the real thing", especially on acoustic instruments, especially those made of wood, mmmm oh, I'm drooling.
Talk about kharma (not the speakers). I went to a little shop in my town this weekend which hand makes all things tube - Space Tech. The owner Albert, a great guy, played some of my music on his tube gear. I can only describe the sound as lush and placed instruments better than my Bryston B60. When he played some classical the tube sound really showed itself. I went home and listened to the same music on solid state and would say that the bass was much cleaner, the sound analytical. If I listened to classical I would strongly consider tubes.
This is a very interesting question. I could simply argue that my tube amps make the music sound more like the real thing than any silly state amp I have heard. But that would verge on rhetoric.

I suspect the reason why I perceive my tube amps to be more faithful to the real thing is something going on between my brain and the sound, that I don't fully recognise at a conscious level. To digress for a moment, some of you may have read an article recently how researchers had studied individuals tapping their fingers along with some music. They found that the individuals adjusted the rhythm of their tapping in response to very small deviations in the beat, without being aware of doing so consciously.

I believe we often make the mistake of trying to objectify everything we hear in this hobby, at a grave risk of missing the point. If you put something on and just relax into the groove, then your system is doing something right. Your cognitive skills may never catch up with what you can learn about a system by just having a crack at enjoying the music.

This is all heresy to the objectivists - but RHUBARB to them, since musical enjoyment is the only rational measure of the value of an audio system.

I also suspect that one's choice of musical pleasure has a lot to do with your choice of amp - tubed or ss. Tubed is for those that want a feeling of the real thing and ss is for those playing the sonic equivalent of a special effects movie. Man is that going to get a backlash or what - cannot wait to see the voting results.

Dacquistot - this ramble of mine is simply to conclude with - of course you won't get it, till you have heard one, and you let yourself be swept away by the music.
Well, to start with, the only solid state amps I have heard that impressed me were the Levinson 33 Reference and Halcro DM58s (wow!!!). I have heard that the very expensive Roland 9TiHCs are excellent as well as the Accuphase. These are all reference solid state amps. There are not many below these that I could stand to listen to for any great legnth of time.

I am a tube guy and always will be. It does not mean that I could not live with any of the products above, it just means that I am willing to put up with more maintenance than someone who owns solid state. The posts above are all quite correct, there is a 3 dimensionality and harmonic texture that is not as prevalent in ss amps. Yet the ss amps have their great benefits as well, they are incredibly quiet and usually have excellent control, and of course, have no tubes to screw with :)

Good luck,
I liken the sound of SS to something like the old Nintendo. Single dimensional.

Tube are more like a Sony Playstation 2. Multidimensional.
Hi There,

My two cents:

I've had home and heard in other people's systems that I was quite familiar with some very good transistor gear. In some respects the best of it did some things better than my tube and tube hybrid toys. The best of solid-state seems to have a lower noise floor which allows you to more clearly make out those tiny details (chair squeeks, subway rumbles, blah, blah...). Pretty neat.

However, I've yet to hear a s.s. amplification chain flesh out the players/singers/instruments in my room the way that good tubes seem to. Everything you do hear is much more present and dimensional. Now don't get me wrong, not all tube gear gets it right. There is at least as much badly designed tubes as crappy s.s. out there. But comparing best-to-best, tubes just seem to create a more believable sense of "thereness" for me. As a result, I'm willing to put up with their idiosynchracies (heat dumped into the room, tube replacement, etc.).

Happy Trails!
Like Wirehead I'm a fan of space-tech labs. the most simple answer to your questiong i've ever found is written by albert on space-tech's website which i'll post below. you can read more easy-to-understand comments about tube gear at

Q1. Why tube sounds better ?

Ans :

There are several main reasons that makes tubes sounds better , the following list out those points,

1. Tube is a much more linear device than transistor during operation.

2. Due to the highly non-linearity , conventional transistor amplifier must have very heavy NFB (negative feedback ) to make it work stablely, but tube amplifier can work well with very little or even no NFB, and heavy negative feedback is well known today as one of the main reason of poor sound quality.

3. Tube is a totally mechanical device, inside a tube is just some metal plate arrangements, the effective operation area is much much larger than a semiconductor (sometimes even 1,000,000 times larger). Almost every gold-ear audio engineer should knows , when music signal pass through a very small area, it will implies certain squeeze feeling to the signal itself and it is very audiable , so when a signal just pass through one transistor, you will immediate sense the compressed , flattened and hardened feeling from the music. The more transistors , it kills the easiness more and give your more flatness and hardness to the music.

4. Tube-amp has higher THD (total harmonic distortion) than transistor-amp by testing, but those THD created by tube-amp is all even harmonics which is very pleasant to ear and will not feel disturbing unless it is > 12% . But transistor-amp gives out odd harmonic distortions which is highly un-pleasant to human ear, by actual experiment, just 0.2% of odd harmonic distortion is audible and will create un-pleasant feelings even to un-trained ear.
Kubla, thanks for reminding us of Albert's great post. He only forgot one thing: Transistors don't glow romantically in a midnight session! (-: Cheers,
Agree pretty much with the previous posts and add that I like the ability to change the sound by swapping different tubes. It can be as expensive a pursuit as you'd like to make it but - the irony! - customizing the sound via tube-rolling is a bit of modernity that solid state can't touch. My experience has been that in a well designed circuit tube gear is very reliable, though not as maintenance-free as solid state. Ever notice how most superlatives heaped upon a given transistor device will include "very tubelike" when gauging the realism of the music reproduction?
I remember something Tim de Paravicini said. Tim is the noted designer of both tube and solid state equipment. He claimed that in properly designed circuits tubes should be indistinguishable from solid state, and vice versa. To back up his claim he manufactured a tube and solid state version of the same amplifier (under the EAR/Yoshino brand). At its worst, some of what people love about tube equipment is coloration. It's pleasant sounding, but it's still colorations. BTW, the same can be said about certain aspects of solid state sound (particularly the super tight bass). I've own or have owned a decent variety of tube equipment (Audio Research, Moscode, Counterpoint, Revox, Quicksilver, Sonic Frontiers) and I've come to the conclusion that tubes are totally cool, but at the same time, there's nothing magical about them.
Depends what you listen to (and want to hear). Not everybody should own tubes. If you only listen to rock, and have spent your whole life listening to it on solid state gear, chances are that you will not think tubes sound "right". On the other hand, if you listen to acoustic music (be it classical, jazz, blues or folk)tubes will open up the sound into a new world of realism and spaciousness. And I don't even own any tube gear yet (too many kids and dogs running around, and a wife that wants all gear hidden inside a cabinet). My day will come. Advice: call a good dealer and ask to have an audition arranged that will pit comparably priced tube and SS rigs using the same speakers, source and music. And please bring your own music; stuff you know and love, otherwise the test is pointless. Let us know!
Tubes are wonderful.....Measuring them you normally end up with just second and third order harmonics whereas with solid state you normally end up with higher order harmonics which comes across as brightness.....Spectral analysis actually does equate closely to what we hear.....Now with that said I will say it is a lot more fun to make solid state sound acceptable.....It ain't easy, but this can be achieved.....
Thanks for all your comments, fellas. How long do the actual tubes last and how expensive are they to replace? I suppose there are all different grades of tubes and like a previous post stated, each will sound a bit different and each will have different prices.

I think I may try to experiment a little bit with this. Get a tube amp and hook it up to my 4800 so it will drive the Martin Logans. I'm very curious about how it will work. I like to listen to all sorts of music, from jazz to light rock to some classical.

thanks again for the help. You may have just created a monster. :-)

The "magic" of tubes will come from properly matching the amplifier, speaker cables and speaker. Otherwise you may find more trouble than magic.
If your speaker impedence is uneven, if your amplifer's power supply is not strong enough, if your speaker cables are not revealing enough, etc., you could end up with results that are less than optimal and maybe not enjoyable. I am a devout tube lover (of the sound, that is) but I have speakers that are friendly to tube amplifiers and I use the most revealing speaker cables I wanted to afford.
If you're going to be "experimenting" with tube electronics, I suggest you find a dealer willing to loan equipment or some friends with tube amps.