Because it's not whether a component is tube or solid state it's how it sounds and performs.
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I agree with Rwwear. However, I also think one of your assumptions may be more difficult than initially thought, i.e., picking speakers that are a good match for tubes. I also could not get around the tubes being noisy on some days and quiet on others. I didn't notice any sonic differences, so I chose solid state for convenience.
I'll also make my standard comment about integrated amps in general -- if they do not provide both preamp out and main amp in jacks, then you will not be able to insert a crossover between the preamp and amp sections when and if you ever decide to add a subwoofer.
Come on in! No need to stand out in the cold!
There is more to it than a simple tube or trans amp can give you. When you put a stereo together with $3000 components, you have to be careful what you choose to live together. Not everyone gets along with everyone else. You have to get complimentary personalities assembled and make sure they "jive," or whatever else you want to call it. It's like building a circle of friends. That is the key - not simply choosing a type of amplifying device. Hifi may look like buckets of metal but if you want music at the end of day then you have to respect the personality and character that went into each and every component. Just like a fine watch, or fine car, or fine anything.
There is no easy answer, you just have to experiment and see where it takes you. It is all relative to you so there is no need for any constraints, prejudices or biases. Just pay attention to the details and trust what your ears are telling you. That is the receipe. Good luck in your adventure.
For Bob Reynolds.
You do NOT, nor should you connect a subwoofer in the manner you prescribed. The best method is connecting it directly from the speaker outputs of an amp. This is beneficial in two ways, the most of which is not loading down the preamp section. And this is plainly audible with most preamps.
Many of us have had both SS and tubed equipment. Each offers it's own unique sound characteristics. On top of that you can alter the sound of tubed equipment by simply using different tubes. As far as I an concerned, Solid State is done when you buy it. Tubes will require replacement which is an added cost and they definitely will spark experimenting in tube rolling which is even a bigger cost. As Ncarv said, all good answers, but it comes down to personal taste!
Back to the original question of why would anyone ever buy SS when tube "sound so good". Many speakers benefit from the extremely low impedance at SS amps which causes a high damping factor.
Basically the damping factor rates the amps ability to control the physical ringing of speakers after a note has sounded. If you switch out amps while listening to a passage with lots of bass content, it'll be very obvious as you move from a low damping factor to a high damping factor or vice versa.
Vienna Acoustics, DALI and Sonus Faber are examples of speakers that are really designed to work best with a high damping factor and relatively high power.
Tube amps are sometimes described as having "woolly bass." This is probably because they were paired with a speaker that needed a much higher damping factor. Relative to tubes, SS amps tend to have higher damping factors, but they're not all equal. The Jeff Rowland 501 monoblocks have a damping factor of like 1000 into an 8 ohm speaker. That's very high (and you hear it) but a damping factor of 100 or 50 isn't unusual for SS amps.
Generally, if you hear a speaker with a woolly, ringing bass, it'll very likely benefit from being driven by a SS amp with a high damping factor.
Dave, I respectfully disagree. The idea of damping factor is mostly mythology. If you hear a differece between an amp with a 'damping factor' of 1000 and one with 50, its likely due to other things than 'damping factor'. More likely the differences you hear are due to the amounts of negative feedback required to make a 'damping factor' that high.
One would be severely challenged to actually be able to define a sonic artifact and point to 'damping factor' as its cause. Audio signals require that the power energizing the speaker diaphragm not only carry it to the limit of the signal's excursion, but also back again to zero. There are no audio signals that stop at the peak of the waveform and fall to zero instantaneously- even synthesizers don't do that.
This is not to say that the output impedance of the amplifier does not have an effect on the sound (damping factor is an expression of output impedance, BTW). For more on that see
Tube amplifiers can have excellent bass (given an appropriate load). The 'wooly' term at best is innuendo without a being a true statement of merit. There are tube amplifiers that can reproduce a 20Hz squarewave as well as transistor amps can. In the past there were older, lessor designs, but that says nothing about what is possible today.
03-26-08: Rwwear said:
"I agree that damping factor has some effect on the poor bass of most tube amps. But wooly bass can mostly attributed to the hundeds of feet of wire in the output transformer. This is not always the case but the main reason."
"Wooly bass" isn't just a tube vs. SS thing. Last week I heard a Primare integrated driving the DALI Helicon 400Mk.2 sounding unacceptably wooly. It came under control when we put in a Rowland Capri/102 combination, but it really started to shine when the Rowland 501 monoblocks were switched in.
I think it's a combination of damping factor and watts. You can have a relatively high damping factor, but if it's combined with low wattage and big drivers in the speakers, then it can still get "wooly."
Bi-amping a big speaker is a great way to get control of the woofer(s) while optimizing the "liquidity" of the mids and treble. You can combine high watts and damping on the bottom, separate the signals so they don't muddy each other and free yourself to maximize the euphonic character of the mids and highs with tubes.
I just wonder how many people go from SS to tube, or tube to SS. My suspicion is, once you have tried tubes, for most of us, there is no way back. Nor are tube amps wooly and soft, my tube integrated is lightening fast, quiet, uncoloured with deep base. It is more than $3000 though. If I was going for an integrated in that price range, I would go for a VAC Avatar, or the super later version. It would only be second hand, as sadly, VAC have no integrated at the moment. If I won the lottery, it would be a vAC Phi Beta integrated
03-26-08: David12 wondered:
"I just wonder how many people go from SS to tube, or tube to SS. My suspicion is, once you have tried tubes, for most of us, there is no way back. Nor are tube amps wooly and soft, my tube integrated is lightening fast, quiet, uncoloured with deep base. It is more than $3000 though. If I was going for an integrated in that price range,..."
As with any component I suspect the answer will vary widely depending on associated equipment, particularly speakers. I can't imagine using tubes with Vienna Acoustic Mahlers after hearing them driven by Rowland 501s or a Rowland 312. However, there are speakers that are going to sound just peachy with tubes, even low powered tubes.
BTW, I LOVE tubes with my headphones. My single-ended, class A Woo Audio WA6 with GZ34 rectifier tube is magic with all my cans. There's an example of a perfect application for tubes.
It is a well known fact that transformers roll off bass and high frequencies in most cases. This is one reason tube amps seem to have good midranges. The upper and lower frequencies are attenuated in some designs especially the single ended varieties. Some people really like the euphoric sound produced by these designs.