I think that meeting your objectives is possible on both sides of the SS/tube line. There are a number of excellent players at step or two up the chain that will improve the midrange, clarity and sound smoother than your Music Hall.
As to your other questions, tubed players have a fleshy roundness in the tones that I've yet to hear from SS players. In fact, I personally would not buy another SS player so long as tubed players are available. I've heard or owned a number of excellent SS players (Gamut, Resolution Audio, SimAudio, Wadia, Levinson, Naim, etc.), and they have a chilling quality that I just don't like. The imaging, dynamics, clarity, and timing are often outstanding with these players, but I am constantly aware that I am listening to recorded music. I can evaluate the music, but I simply cannot lose myself in it.
Just my 2 cents, obviously.
Try and hear whatever you can out there, and you'll certainly get a sense of what suits you best.
The only tubes in CDPs that I'm aware of are in the analog/output stages of the players. In the early days of CD, the use of a tubed output stage often had the nice effect of taming some of the digital "glare" exhibited by the early players and CDs--my Analogic Designs (Scott Nixon's original company) CD player may not have had the hyper detail of the Magnavox 472 on which it was based, but it was FAR more listenable and enjoyable for music. As digital and CD players have evolved, the use of tubes in an output stage doesn't necessarily "soften" the sound (although it certainly can, depending on the design and tubes used), but on well-designed units has a three-dimensional palpability to the soundstage images that most solid-state dsigns still don't quite match, in my view. They may not quite have the control in the deep bass of solid state units, but they have good quality in their bass reproduction, and depending on the tubes used might have a lusher midrange. These are generalizations, though, and not true in all cases. You do need to let the tubes stabilize before listening to music, but it doesn't take that long, and there is a period as they warm up that the sound will continue to improve. I tend to leave my tubed DAC on for long periods, because it usually takes a half-hour or hour for it to sound its best, as with most tubed equipment I own.
If there's any way you can listen to a Shanling CD player, either at a dealer or through a friend, it would be instructive because, at least in its original version, it had both solid state and tube analog stages, each with its own set of outputs, so you could hear the difference between the two quite easily. When I heard it at my dealer's, there were some discs where I preferred the tubed output, some with the solid state output, but overall the solid state output seemed a bit cleaner. Who knows what would happen if you changed the tubes, though...
Does anybody have any thoughts on tubed CDP's in terms of pairing with a tube amp or tube integrated and getting too much of a good thing???
Another question... Would the addition of a tube buffer like Musical Fidelity's X10 or a tube preamp benefit a SS CD Player given the desired objective?
If you want the benefit of tubes, I would put a tube preamp in the system. The MF X10 is overrated and adds the expense of another pair of interconnects. If a CD player NEEDS the X10 to sound good, time to get a new CD player. It's really sub $1000 players that benefit from the x10. I'd say save the money and buy a better player.
For me, lots of average sounding players $1000 and under (used), some gems. Once you spend $1000+, things get interesting and tubes are not necessary. Tube output stages help the cheaper players, but somewhat unnecessary in better players.
For Jh2os--there is never too much of a good thing when it comes to tubes!!! :^) I use an Audio Logic DAC, a Jadis JP200 preamp and a pair of Lamm ML 1.1s with no problems, but I do note that the better tubed units and solid state units are sounding far closer to each other these days than they did 15 years ago. I imagine if you get some heavily colored tubed components they may overdo it in terms of fidelity to the signal, but on the other hand you still might like what you're hearing enough not to care.
Mdp0430: Probably yes to some extent with the preamp, particularly if you've got a good CDP. With something like the MF X10, depends on your objective, in my opinion. With the MF you're adding more circuitry into the signal path, and essentially coloring the sound. In that case, if your objective is fidelity to what's on the CD, unlikely unless you really have a poor solid state CDP. But if your objective is to tailor a sound from CD that you can enjoy musically (and I know a lot of people who have a hard time doing that), and the MF does that for you, then that's probably the ticket.
I agree with Rcprince's response as well, Jh2os. We have a tube CDP running direct to tube amps, and absolutely love the sound.
Tube output stages help the cheaper players, but somewhat unnecessary in better players.
I disagree wholeheartedly with that statement. If the sonic characteristics of tubes are beneficial in a $1000 CD player, why would those same qualities be diminished or trivialized in the high-dollar players? Answer: they're not. Solid state is solid state, and tubes are tubes. You can simile them to death, but they do not sound the same.
My current player is the Shanling T-100, with NOS National tubes to replace the stock ones. Most people buy this player for looks (and it does look stunning) but it was the sound that got me. How's this for versatility? SS output, tubed output, upsampled ss and upsampled tubed, and... the icing on the cake as a bonus - a very good tubed headphone amplifier built in. Try this with a pair of Senn's HD-600's, no need to buy an expensive dedicated headphone amp. My previous player was the great Sony 9000ES SACD DVD player. Now, the ss output on the Shanling is very, very good. To my ears however, the sound of the tubed output is just so much more open. I get better timing and pace with the ss output and a somewhat tighter low end, but the tubed output goes almost as low, but in a more ''organic'' and life-like way. It just sounds more real.
As for matching with an all-tube system, I used to have a very expensive solid state amp. Now I have this little Cayin TA-30, and I just cannot beleive the sound I'm getting from this ''budget' amplifier when paired with the Shanling. Speakers are the much under-estimated (in my opinion) QUAD 22L. Very neutral was a nice midrange and surprising low-end. It makes for a well-balanced system. You can get better, but I feel I would have to spend much more to improve on this.
Just mentionning my system in the context of your question on tubed cd players. I, personnaly, would not want to go back to a ss-only output in the context of a moderately priced system. Of course, if you have a $ 3,000.00 SS-only cd player and a pair of mega-buck monoblocks, that is another story. I did use a Sonic Frontier Line 1 (great full-function preamp) with an Electrocompaniet amp once, some ''exquisite and refined'' speakers, and an Arcam FMJ 23 - just didn't do it for me.
So, in a certain context of value, a tubed cd player with a moderately priced tube amp could be the way to go....especially if you can fine-tune your sound the way you can with the Shanling and that nice Cayin TA-30 with the extended bias option and all the different tubes this amp can take ( el34, kt-88, 6550, 6L6, KT-90...and more)
Well, boa2 you are correct. Tubes do have a sound and magic about them that is quite their own. I do not think I ever implied or said that tubes and solid state sound the same. Please do not put words into my mouth.
I suppose I should have said that in my experience to my ears with some of the better digital gear in certain system contexts, I did not feel that adding tubes either to the output stage of the digital gear or to the system as a whole would have added anything for me. So, in these instances I felt tubes were unnecessary to add to system synergy or my enjoyment of music.
In contrast, with lesser digital I have heard, I did feel that adding tubes either to the output stage or somewhere in the system would have added to system synergy and my enjoyment of the music.
Audio is subjective. I feel like tubes are good some of the time and perhaps for some of the people. I'm not of the opinion that a system is required to have tubes to sound good or that tubes are ALWAYS beneficial. And, I would never say that tubes and solid state sound the same.
I own a Jolida 100A that has upgraded Electro-Harmonix tubes and a Sony SCD-1 modded to include the super clock 2 and a transport mod. The Sony is sweet sounding, has more air, better base and a lower noise floor. I originally bought the Jolida for a second system and moved to the main system when the Sony went out for repair. The comparisons were done after level matching by measuring the voltage accross the speakers terminals. It's probably not fair to compare the Jolida to a SS player costing 5 times its price, but the Sony is clearly more musical playing Redbook CDs.
I've heard tubed players that sound wonderful, and SS players that do as well. A tube(s) in the output stage of a CD player, does not, by any means, to my ears, make anywhere near as profound a distinction as does implementation/comparison of tubes in the amp and or pre-amp stages of a system. Perhaps I have just not heard enough tubed players(?). I don't think I'd be able to blindly identify a high-end CD player implementing a tubed output stage and consistently distinguish it from a high-end player with an SS output stage. I do, however, think I could blindly tell the differences between a thoughtfully assembled SET tube system and any comparable SS system where it comes to tubes in the amplification stage. I think what is being implied by Zosima, if I may be so bold, is that the lower priced CD players are more often prone to digital glare or harshness simply because of the economy of their circuitry and transport. A tubed output stage has the ability to take the hard edges off the output signal and therefore would occur to some as making a fairly significant contribution in that case. The more expensive SS players which tend to have a no-holds-barred design do not have the same problems with digititis as cheaper players, and in fact have many strengths to offer that are unique to their SS roots. In the case of the latter those strengths may actually be compromised by implementation of a tubed output stage. In any case the differences in implementing a tubed output in the case of the latter, would occur to me to be less profound. I don't think it is necessarily a matter of the quality of the tubed output being "diminished", but rather a case of those qualities no longer having as great an advantage. In many cases the advantages of the no-holds-barred SS may win out over tubes. I don't think it is as apples/oranges as in the case of amplification.
What I read from your initial post Zosima was that in a CD player above $1000, a tubed output stage was somewhat unnecessary. What you said in your second post was that you felt that adding a tubed output stage to a better digital player would not have necessarily increased your level of listening enjoyment. Let's be clear that we are now addressing to two distinctly different issues:
1) Is there a difference between the SS and tube players?
2) Would those differences necessarily effect your listening enjoyment level?
If I read you correctly, then what you're saying is that your personal preference might happen to be a SS player, or it might happen to be a tubed player, yes? Again, if this is the case, no new discoveries here, as everyone has a personal preference. All that I was saying in regards to the first issue is that in a player above $1000, a tubed outstage would render a significant--and to some listeners, a necessary--difference in the sound.
There is no way that an Audio Aero Capitole MKII is going to sound like a Levinson 39, and IMO you would have to address the tube/SS differences between them before you could even hear the baseline sonic variations between the players. Sonic differences between SS and tube in amplifiers unquestionably applies in digital players as well. They simply do not sound the same, and despite some of the very fine SS players I have heard that do many things extremely well, they still have a digital sound to my ear, and I am certain that it has everything to do with the tubed outstage. If it did not make much of a difference, then I would have to ask why modifiers such as APL, Exemplar, Modwright, RAM, and others--considered to be producing among the very best digital players available--opt to use a tubed output stage? Again, I am still discussing whether or not there are differences (issue 1), not whether or not you prefer them (issue 2).
Have I heard every last player out there? No, but I have heard many players costing anywhere from $3K to $10K and more--including Resolution Audio, Levinson, Gamut, Wadia, SimAudio, and others, and I have yet to hear a SS player that reproduced music with the same fleshy, human, palpability that the tubed players do, particularly with voice and piano. I simply disagree with the suggestion that a tubed output stage on even a $10K SS player would not make a marked difference. Because it will. The difference is not marginal in my opinion, rather it IS more like apples & oranges, to use Marco's reference. Now, whether or not you prefer that difference is another issue entirely. That's where YMMV comes in.
My audio club did a blind evaluation last year with about six or seven CDP. There was atleast one tube CDP in the bunch. Most of us picked a SS CDP when asked with player sounded most tube like.
My wife and I recently went to a friend's home and listened to a variety of very fine audio equipment that he has in his stable. Of the three digital sources, we (my wife and I) established an order of preference. Interestingly, he could not hear a lick of difference between the three players. And they were HIS! I suggested that he keep the cheapest of the three and sell the other two.
I'm sorry, Jwin, but your 'study' is inconclusive. Some people don't hear the difference between copper and silver cables, and others could dissertate for an hour on the chasm between the two. I promise you that a sound engineer would guess right every time as to whether the player is tube or SS.
Incidentally, I was in a restaurant three days ago, with five other people, and we all overheard bits of the conversation coming from the next table. While four people guessed that our neighbors were speaking Italian, two of us recognized it as Spanish, which when spoken by Argentines often sounds like Italian. As I said, some may hear the differences while others may not. Some may PREFER the differences they hear, while others may not. Again, YMMV.
This is a good thread and I'm glad someone brought up the topic. I'm also glad to hear of the choices offered in the Shanling player. I'm interested now in checking that one out.
I use the MF Nu-Vista running into an ASL headphone amp and a MF Tri-Vista integrated. I very much enjoy the sound of acoustic music with the tubed CDP and amplification. With electronic music, which is probably 80% of my regular listening, I find that the all tubed headphone listening gets a bit too airy with the tubes. With classical, free jazz and free improv, rock, international and vocal music, the music has real presence that I don't get with SS gear. But with the electronic music, I don't need the air. I need detail. So I'd sum up my reactions by saying that SS provides the advantages of detail with the higher end players when listening to electronics, and the "presence" of tubes is absolutely essential when listening to all other kinds of music, which probably covers the tastes of most people on the Audiogon and with the public in general.
I agree, this is a very good thread indeed...One which I hope to confuse even further.
The system listed in my virtual system is the one I've lived with for over a year and a half. Just over a month ago I received a solid state Ack! Dack! 2.0 to compare to my Kora Hermes tube DAC. About two weeks ago I received a Bel Canto SET40 high powered SET amp. And just last week I received an eXemplar Exception II preamp.
In the last five years, I have had only three different DACs in my system. The two listed above and before them a Bel Canto DAC 1.1. Of the three the Kora is by far the most musical to me. Can this be attributed to the tubed output stage? That would be my guess, but different design philosophies could also be what makes the difference, and my sampling of DACs is so small I'd be hesitant to state anything concrete.
In addition to the DACs, I am currently comparing two tubed preamps, and a solid state amp versus the SET amp. I have taken care to compare each component to its counterpart in as isolated a circumstance as possible, and the shocking thing to me is that the the two components that sound the most disparate are the DACs. Almost like night and day. And the funny thing is that I like both!
The two preamps I'm comparing have a similar character, but the eXemplar just has a bigger, more musical presentation than the Blue Circle. It could just be the difference in the model class levels, and therefore less compromises being taken with the more expensive unit.
Surprisingly, the SET40 and the BAT VK200 don't sound drastically different. I definitely prefer the SET40, but to hear the differences I have to cycle through many CDs, and even then the contrasts aren't that startling.
As far as using tubes for the DAC, preamp and amp being too much of a good thing, I'm lucky to say that this isn't the case in my system. No overly soft or round sound here. It seems the strengths of tubes have been magnified by having all three components of this design. Big soundstage, great imaging and a seductive and realistic midrange. I'm still stunned at how well the SET40 does bass.
Can a solid state CD player or DAC create good sound? Absolutely, but whether it'll sound like tubes or if you'll like it more than tubes is something only you can decide.
Sorry for the rant and slight thread redirection, but I just thought it might be interesting to share that of the components that I'm comparing, the ones with the biggest sonic contrast are my DACs.
You guys are going to get me into trouble, cause clearly I need to go out and listen to some more DACs!
Glad to hear the SET40 is pleasin' ya Goombah! Sounds like the Exemplar is, well, exemplary! Where are you putting all this stuff, you ain't got no room in there to squeeze anything else? I think you ought to send over some of your surplus for me to store up here in Seattle till you straighten things out in your bachelor pad. Ping me off the list and we'll set it up!
I agree with Sonicbeauty. I am running a tube CDP Eastern Electric Minimax with a Cayin-TA30 and love the results. I would say however that depending on you listening habits and music choices it may or may not be the best for you. I listen to a lot of jazz so great mid-range is key. I alsways feel like I miss a little with rock or classical, but I definitely don't miss the palpable digititis that a mid-fi SS system might have.