Tube CDP/DAC sound: too "refined"?

Hi all, this is a controversial topic and I hope I will not offend anyone: imho many tube CDPs/DACs sound too "refined", too "smooth". Sometimes I would like to hear some "texture" but this texture is being smoothed over. It's fun and beautiful to listen at initially but on the long run it becomes... boring. It's like too much crême fraiche: it could be surprisingly tasty, but after a few times it won't surprise you any longer.

I think this is like a lot of things in high end audio where everything comes down to implementation. In short, I think it is impossible to generalize about how a player will sound based strictly on whether it uses a tube output stage. When a player has a tube output stage, I don't think you can assume that it will have a smoothed over sound any more than you can assume that a player with a solid state output stage will have a bright, etched, analytical sound. Some of the former will sound crisp, detailed and articulate, and some of the latter will sound warm, rich and organic. It's all in the implementation.

By the way, if you want to hear an example of a great tube design, check out the AMR CD-77. It has none of the negative characteristics you mentioned and is the most natural sounding digital source I have personally experienced.
That is a silly assumption. You need to get out and listen to better stuff in better systems. Cincy Bob sez it all and I agree with him. Hell, I bet if I did that, I might even find a SS unit I might like. Oh, I guess I already did that - :-)
Allllrighty then.....I guess you love the sound hard, edgy, crisp, detailed.........just like nails on a chalkboard, eh Chris?
Yes, I prefer smoother digital sounding players. Most ceedee players make me grind my teeth. Long live vinyl!!!

To each their own......

I have to agree with Bob and not just in terms of CD players, but amps as well - there is no one tube sound; their are many flavors of tube sound, and smooth and rolled off is just one of them. I haven't heard a lot of tube CD players, but my Atma-Sphere amps are definitely not too polite. I bet if Atma-Sphere made a CD player, it wouldn't be too polite, either.
what do you mean by texture ? and what do you mean by smooth ?
Of course this was a "trick" question meant to arouse you people. Are there other audiophiles (with solid state based systems) who want to give a response?

Smooth would probably mean lacking texture.
Honest1: yes, texture can be heard in real life, that is some minute irregularities and "noise" in music because of bouncing of the sound against the performer, instrument, surrounding walls and acoustic structures. If this "texture" is smooth over then the music becomes a bit lifeless. Pretty, but not exactly as in real life. But I'm afraid this is a "trick" statement again... I know.

Chris, you are quite right, those " minute irregularities " and some dirt and noise belong to live music and neccessarily have to be reproduced if the facsimile of the thing is to be believable. Only, you find a lack of that both in SS as well as tube gear, as was quite rightly pointed out above. Look up the concept of PRAT in these pages if you like and you'll see that this is an old topic, which has been discussed many times.
the lack of smoothness and the texture that has been discussed so far would probably be perceived as unpleasantness. why must one suffer ?

it is better to enjoy the
sound" whatever it is than worrying about texture and smoothness. after all, a stereo stsreo is for entertainment. if you want realism, listen to live music.
You are 100 % right about the "just enjoy the music, don't worry about some restrictions because they are not worth to worry about" thing. But you have also to admit that when an audio component introduces an additive coloration this could be more annoying than an subtractive one. To my overly smooth presentation is a form of additive coloration (at least it is an artificial rendering of the real life situation).

Seems we are trying to find a balance between too full and too thin. Too full and the sound looses transient information and some meaningful musical detail. This can cause music to sound a little boring and the listener looses interest - the mind wanders. Too thin and the leading edge of transients become too prominent. That causes listening fatigue and makes the listener want to turn the music off. Live music in good listening spaces gets that balance dead-on and right in the middle of the note. Stereo systems seem to always be either somewhat in front or underneath the note.

When music sounds too "smooth" I think we are missing meaningful transients and detail. However, go to far to the other side (overly prominent transients) and we gets too much etch and non-musical detail.

We are all looking for that perfect balance and everyone has a different point in that balance that sounds right to them. I find the traditional "French" sound to be too lean but also find the traditional "British" sound to be too full. Hmmm...

By the way, I can't remember how this dilemma related to the old "East coast" "West coast" sound of the 60s and 70s - Advent vs. JBL. I think the East coats was smooth and the West coast was etched...I think.
Well with my experience, most TUbe Preamps, or DIGITAL Tube based components as well have actually had more detail, and sometimes even more forward and strong so to speak.. SAme with many phono stages, a lot of the time the tubes seem to compress less, or have even more outright clarity. There are no doubt some tubes that are "Soft" sounding, sometimes its the tubes themselves, sometimes the Design of the circuit they are in.
Tom, I must say that I am in complete aggreement with you and it is one of the reasons you mention, that I don't like the run of the mill Brits speakers. Most of them I found dull and even the very expensive modern Meridians are too "rich" or "fat" for my liking. One exception to the rule though are Walker's offerings, the old QUAD ELSs and the QUAD 63s. Sometimes and with the right music feeding them, they seem uncannily "right".
Detlof...Yes, I also find the classic British sound lacking in musical dynamics to the point that I become bored or keep turning the volume up. I've owned Spendors and Harbeths and found this to be the situation. It's great to have excellent midrange but, in my opinion, a lot of speakers get that right nowadays. I hate to ruffle feathers but getting the midrange right no longer seems to be a problem.

On the other hand, I don't like the classic French (and German) sound which is too "front edge transient" for my tastes. Music becomes fatiguing quickly. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra sounds just right in Orchestra Hall here. My current system gets closer to that than anything I've had before. everything. Getting it right isn't all that easy.
"It's fun and beautiful to listen at initially but on the long run it becomes... boring. It's like too much crême fraiche: it could be surprisingly tasty, but after a few times it won't surprise you any longer."

I really enjoy my "crême fraiche" and I didn't find it boring....But I guess these are my preferences. I agree with Mrtennis and I like what Tomryan said:
"We are all looking for that perfect balance and everyone has a different point in that balance that sounds right to them."
"better to enjoy the
sound" whatever it is than worrying about texture and smoothness. after all, a stereo stsreo is for entertainment."
Tom, yes..the Germans seem to have a predeliction for what they call precision. I recall a visit at the house of an afficionado with a Burmester chain, fiendishly expensive, who joyfully pointed out to me the clinking of spoons and every cough or fart in the audience in that (in)famous recording of "Jazz in the Pawnshop". When the Sax came in, my ears went in to protection mode. French speakers I am not really familiar with anymore, but when I auditioned some many years ago I was never enticed to buy them. I went for Quad, the midrange of which came closest to what I experienced when listening to live music and yes, I agree that stereo is for entertainment, but it certainly is not entertaining if it does not sound "right". Blessed are those audiophiles who avoid being contaminated by a live musical event.(:
Cheers, D
I really enjoy my "crême fraiche"
Off topic: what's the trick to write the accent (btw, it's on top of the i in fraiche, not the creme)??

May I propose the qUote of the day
stereo is for entertainment, but it certainly is not entertaining if it does not sound "right"
Thank you, Detlof (and good to see you back more often).
Speakers that got the midrange right in my room:

ProAc Response 2.5
Merlin TSM MX
Spendor 3/1
Spendor 3/5
Harbeth C7 2
Dynaudio Focus 140 & 110

I'm now using Audio Physic Steps and getting excellent midrange. I think there are lots of speakers today that get it right. I know the Audio Physic is a German design but it gives me just the right amount of detail and fullness of tone.

If my room was big enough I'd have the smallest of the new Quads.
By the way, you've gotta be suspicious of anyone who uses "Jazz At The Pawnshop" to demonstrate a system. Check out "Organic Grooves" by Essence All Stars and "Andrew!!!" by Andrew Hill.
Detlof - How long ago did you hear the offensive Burmester system? I ask because I heard a Burmester system at CES a couple years ago, and it was one of hte most musically engaging systems I heard - very detailed and revealing to be sure, but one of the most non-fatiguing sounds at the show. If anything, it erred on the side of richness in the midbass. I'm wondering if they have had a change of house sound over the years
Honest1, honestly I don't know. When did the pawnshop LP come out? Sometime in the eighties? All I recall was that the Burmester pre was a modular thing, beautifully made, impeccable chrome, perhaps stainless steel, bright and shiny, as was the sound.....Obviously they voice their gear differently now. I've never listend to one of their offerings again.
One of the worst systems I've ever heard was at a guy's house who was a dealer. He'd set up a system in his best room consisting of Edge amp & pre-amp and Wisdom tower speakers. Bright, edgey, and restricted dynamics. On the other hand, TAS has written glowing reviews of this system.
"TAS has written glowing reviews of this system"...

And your point is 1)The dealer hasn't got a clue or, 2)TAS is 'unreliable', or 3) Both?

FWIW, after reading some of TAS's more recent reviews I suspect #3 applies. :-)
You can not concentrate and enjoy MUSIC if you are obsessed with perfectionism or .......have OCD.
Choose your priority (or side). Just like in The Star Wars.............
there is no coming back from the DARK SIDE.