Tube Newbie

I have been running a fairly beautiful 5.1 surround set-up over the last few years, and have grown a bit weary of my 2-channel quality. While I love the quality of surround sources (DVD, HDTV, ProLogic II), I tend to get listening fatigue with dynamic music. My goal is to warm-up 2-channel, making it more itimate witout wiping out the detail and punch in my 5.1 sources.

A good friend has suggested a CD player with a tubed output stage, like the Ah line carried by Upscale Audio. I am also considering a VTL 2-channel amp (around $2K) to drive the L/Rs of my system.

I am wondering how difficult it is to deal with tubes. I have read about "biasing" tube-based amps and have no idea what that intails.

My current system consists of: Gallo Reference 3s L/R, 7 channels of amplification from Parasound Halo (A52/A23), Def Tech SuperCube II sub, Gallo Dues for the surrounds and a soon-to-be-upgraded B&W LCR600 for the center channel. The Gallo Reference 3s have the second coil of the woofer bi-amped via an Outlaw Audio ICBM (hence the 7-channels of amplification). Processing is via an older Rotel RSX-1055 (using the pre-amp outs) while I figure out what pre/pro to get. The DVD/CD player is an Integra 5.3 using the analog outs for 2-channel.


When I started playing around with this stufff a few years ago I bought VTL's tiny triode monoblocks and the TL2.5 tube preamp. The little amps did not have the slam an extension of some of the huge solid state amps but they were much better balanced and sounded so much better.
I still have the set and still love them.

As far as biasing it is really easy. A 5 minute job once in a blue moon.
I would suggest a DAC with a tube output stage in conjunction with a player/transport. I used Sony DVP-S7000 is an excellent used value at 125 to 200 for a transport as is the dvp-s7700. The Cal Audio Labs Sigma and Alpha DACS are nice sounding and reasonably priced on the used market; company is out of business so beware on that account. Used Audio Note DACs are excellent values for the lower range models such as the DAC 1, 1 Signature, and 2/2 Signature.

If you have a CD player with a coaxial output get the DAC first and try it. You may decide to keep the CD player you have an use it only as a transport.
"Scott Nixon Tube DAC", put that into Google and see what people are saying. It may be an inexpensive, yet successful, solution.
Dealing with tubes is not a hassle considering some of the other lengths we go to in our systems. The easiest way to deal with the biasing problem is to buy an amp(s) that does it for you. Also, every tube cd player I've heard sounds better than SS at this end of the scale. The Ah! is nice. I have an Audio Note ANCD2. I've never even screwed with the tube in it, I like the sound the way it is. I think the Audio Note DACs should give you much of the same sound.

You have a lot of options you can try that are on the inexpensive side. Plus, you can usally get most of your money back if you buy used, in case you don't like the sound. But having a "bias" towards tubes myself, I'm guessing you just might like it.


Tube CDP's/DAC's are a walk in the park. You change tubes only when they fail or wear out. When they fail you loose a channel, when they wear out you can tell by the sound which becomes dullish. Same for tube pre-amps. Amps are a bit more problematic but only a bit if you make sure when you buy one that it has individual bias controls for each tube and a built in meter. I've owned a lot of SS stuff and tubes over the years - I've had a lot of SS failures and only a few tube failures (related just to the tubes). There is a learning curve in using and buying tubes but that can be seen as part of the hobby.