While tubed CDP's can bring some tube warth to an otherwise SS system, I think the closer the tubes are to the speakers the larger the tube benefit/sound - this has just been my personal experience.
18 responses Add your response
I am quite impressed with the hybrid Moscode 401HR. It uses tubes for the input and driver stages, and SS for the output stage. As far as I'm concerned, it's a tube amp because that's how it sounds. Magical. Like an outstanding tube amp.
It offers an excellent alternative to 100% tube amps, and has the advantage of having an operating temperature similar to a Class A/B SS amp, having the size and footprint of a solid state amp that will easily fit into a rack or shelf unit, and offering the benefit of listening within a minute of power-up versus the 30 to 40 minute wait required with an amp that uses tubes for the output stage. It's not the Audio Holy Grail...nothing is...but it's worth checking out.
Oh well, here I go again bucking the system of many other posts. I have been running with tube DACs, phono stages, line stages and power amps for many years.
If I had only one link in the chain that I could put tubes, this is an easy one: the line stage. Time and time again, I can change all the other components in the system and for the most part, retain the decays, ambience, portrayal of space, etc., that I worked hard to achieve. But so far only a handful of line stages out there have come through in this way....and every one of them has been tube based. Such a unit having tubes guarantees nothing, but this is true for any tube based product.
The tube DAC or tube phono stage would be my next choices. The tube DAC brings my digital playback closer to analog like none of the multitude of solid state DACs that I have so far tried. The fullness of the piano is especially impressive. And some recent passive component updates here has dramatically improved the frequency extreme performance.
All of the above options are with tubes in enclosed chassis so they should be just as safe as SS pieces.
The power amp selection depends entirely on the speakers to be used. And this is a good place to find an amp that balances out the strengths/weaknesses in the rest of your system. I would not buy an amp soley because it has tubes or not. I feel you can get a whole lot of the tube magic in the front end.
Interesting perspective, John.
More along the lines of what is normally experienced by audiophiles, I think. Again I go against the grain when I say that I'd rather go with a solid state preamp and a tube power and than what is the more accepted route. However, you are one of the more trusted members on the site in my eyes. The way we both see things is more or less different, and that's why I think this site is so interesting. We are in 100% agreement that a sympathetic speaker must be mated with a tube amplifier. Utterly amazing how often this doesn't happen.
It's funny, because one of my best audio buddies has a perspective that kind of straddles us both. Go figure!
I've never had to make a choice except for the recent purchase of a SS CDP (although I do have two SS amps about which I only use in emergencies).
After giving this a great deal of thought ( :-) ) I think I agree with Trelja.
It is probably far easier to get a SS preamp that is neutral and not subtractive, than it is to get a SS amp that will ever sound like a tube amp. Of course one would have to be exceptionally critical of the source as you wouldn't be able to use the pre-amp to change tone if it were SS. The more I think about it, if I had to make a choice I would probably use a high quality passive pre-amp and an appropriate tube amp/speakers to match the sonic's of the CDP (and/or the phono pre).
Foster_9, Sorry, I forgot to answer your question. IMHO what you seek from a tubed CDP will be lost with out the benefit of a tubed amp. With my present stuff I vastly prefer the combination of a SS CDP (Wadia) with tubed amps (Sonic Frontiers) than a tubed CDP (BAT) and a SS amp (Muse). The Wadia into the Muse was a poor combo whereas the BAT into the SF stuff was fine. I'm sure different equipment combos would produce varing results and YMMV but thats sums my experience.
"It is probably far easier to get a SS preamp that is neutral and not subtractive, than it is to get a SS amp that will ever sound like a tube amp.",
caught my attention.
I have the CAT JL-3 mono tube amps. Each of these uses 16 6550 tubes and 3 small-signal input tubes. A Rowland ss amp sounds more tube like than these amps.
I would like to point out here that Newbee runs with THE greatest preamp from the 1980s .... the ARC SP-10. The stock SP-10 is indeed a very subtractive product, but a wizard like Steve Huntley no doubt could resolve a lot of this through many component updates. But even without such refinements, I am sure that this unit's awesome portrayal of space has everything to do with why Newbee owns this. You are not going to find this in an ss unit.....I have tried and tried with no success.
I suspect that if we dropped in any number of other tube amps from VTL, Manley, Atmasphere, etc., in place of Newbee's current tube amps, the sound might be even more rich and full and "tubelike". But if the stipulation was that we could only do this if we also replaced his SP-10 with any number of ss preamps such as ML, Pass, Classe, Klyne, etc., even the super expensive Blowtorch, you can be sure we'd see a sad sad face as we walked the SP-10 out the door. I really do not think this would be so easy to do...but who knows. And if we dropped in a more refined tube preamp like the Aesthetix Io/Callisto and ss amps like the Plinius Rowland or Gryphon here, .... well, .... , you get the point. And again, the amp/speaker interface is critical.
Foster_9: I have not heard any of the latest offerings of tube DACs or CDPs. So many Sony and Denon players are being modified with tube output stages and these are getting high praise by all that hear these.
I have been running with a Manley Ref tube DAC that uses 2 pairs of tubes. This piece brings my CD playback closer to my analog setup than any other I have yet heard. The piano especially is just magnificent. The Audio Aero in my system was a bit more refined but to me lacked that last bit of magic of the Manley.
Like many of the products from a decade ago, the Manley has some problems at the frequency extremes and the ultimate in resolution. But Steve Huntley at GNSC has recently improved this unit far beyond what I ever could have expected. This would now crush such a player like the Audio Aero. I still hope to get this running again here soon.
But even with the magic that the Manley DAC brings on, the ss DACs that I have heard here such as Counterpoint DA-10, Electrocompaniet ECD1, Muse 296 and Classe DAC1, into my Aesthetix Callisto line stage would all outperform the Manley into a ss line stage. I have no idea why this is, but the line stage continues to be THE most critical link in terms of retaining the 3-dimensional view into the performance.
John, I'm amazed that you find the Rowlands more 'tubey' than your CAT's. Are you just referring to tone, that is the Rowlands are warmer? I'm dying of curiosity why you would be buying all those 6550's if otherwise. :-)
I suspect that you are using the description of the effect of tubes differenty from how many would define 'tubey' when comparing the CAT's and the Rowland, vis a vis the last sentence of your post, which is my definition of one of the effect of tubes which is for the most part missing from SS devices.
One of the reason's I recommended consideration of a well implemented passive line stage is, assuming comparable quality of the attenuator, you need only match a good (assumably tubed but not necessarily) CDP with your chosen tube amp and speakers.
In the end its all about synergy, speaking of which - While the following combination of equipment would hardly rise to your expectations on either a tonal or resolution quality basis, and frankly surprised me as well, I recently combined a Wadia 302 with a Primaluna 3, the SFM's and my Tylers. The net result was excellent resolution/imaging, warm tone, full tight bass, and totally non fatiguing to listen to. It was most impressive with a solo piano when listening to the bass/lower mid-range to hear clearly all of the impact of the piano AND clearly hear all of the decaying resonances from the sound board as well as the wooden body of piano and the acoustic. So many times what we get is either too much bloat from slow rise times, too much resonance from slow decay, or the opposite. Since putting those components together I'm seriously re-evaluating what it is that I think I need from my system beyond that sound. If it were not for the phono stage of the SP10 I think both it and the BAT CDP would be retired. Now, after that admission, no one will ever take me seriously again! :-)
Regarding "tubey" or "tube sound", I believe many of us are discussing different sonic traits. When I discuss the sound of tubes, and tube amps in particular, I mean a sonic signature that brings the music to life with a three dimensional image complete with air around the instruments...some sparkle...lack of haze, and a windowless vista to the music with natural decay of notes. In short, a realness to the sound that I have yet to hear with SS or chip amps.
I definitely do not mean a bloated, syrupy, rolled off, or pipe-and-slippers sound.
As Tvad points out there's more than one sonic attribute that we tend to identify with tubes. One of these being a more warm midrange, i.e., greater emphasis in the lower mids to portray a richer sound from what we otherwise might identify as "neutral". This is the attribute I was referring to with the Rowland amps vs. the CATs. The CATs do not at all have this sonic character; they are very tonally coherent.
Another major attribute at play here has to do with the portrayal of space, ambience, longer decays, etc. This has been THE one thing I have chased in a system for nearly 20 years now. I find that tube preamps affect this character far far more than tube amps. I have gone through ARC Classic 60, Classic 150, VT130, Wolcott and CAT JL-3 tube amps, and the only amps here that significantly conveyed these attributes were the VT130 and Wolcott. And all of these use the 6550 tube except the Wolcott.
The VT130 was the most awesome performer in this area .... and even more so when I tried KT88 tubes. But the Classic series amps were not at all. Even the hybrid (tube input, ss output) Counterpoint NPS400 has more of this than the ARC Classic series.
Unlike the ARC Classic series, the JL-3s are never fatiguing due to an overly forward projection into the room. And with these being Class-A circuit designs, I would expect them to be more similar than different but just using 6550 tubes does not imply the resultant sound will be remotely close from one amp to another.
As for why I stay with the JL-3s with all their tubes, this is easy: I have yet to hear another amp that does the dynamic contrasts and renders the leading edge of each note like this. There is a ton of detail coming through because of the response of this amp. And when the music gets complex, the subtle details in the background do not get washed out because the power supply can't keep up.
The Aesthetix pieces do the dimensionality magic like no other I have yet experienced. But they need a little bit of help in the dynamics and frequency-extreme coverage. Some recent updates to the Io by GNSC has reduced this issue significantly, and I hope to go another round on this and then perhaps with the Callisto too. A tube amp like the VT130, Wolcotts, Atmasphere, Manley and most likely VTL, would be a little too much of a good thing for me. So I match this preamp up with an amp that does the dynamics and transients like no other. And the sheer resolution of this allows the Aesthetix magic to come right through. I tend to think of this more as a balancing act rather than synergy.
Another major attribute at play here has to do with the portrayal of space, ambience, longer decays, etc.Yes. I agree. This is the primary benefit of tubes, IMO, and I have heard it every time a tube amp has been swapped in to replace a solid state amp, whether it was in my system or someone else's system. I have also heard this when a solid state linestage was replaced with a tubed linestage, but my experience here is more limited.
A warmer midrange is a secondary characteristic, and one that may or may not be present, as John mentioned above.