The only SS amps I have heard that sound tube like-and I have owned all sorts including pure Class A.Not quite as clear as a good SET amp but they do have some of the timbral qualities.
Even the very old Accuphase amps like the P300 sound like this.Why other SS amp makers can't do this is a bit of a mystery.
The Hafler Transnova series may be just what you are looking for. (Affordable too, I might add). Excellant value for the dollar. Another to consider is the Forte model 4 (but only 50 watts/channel, I am not sure of how loud you want to get, or how big your room is, or what music you listen to the most).
conrad johnson does a good job coming up with designs that are quite tube like sonically. I just moved from a CAV 50 tube integrated to their CA200 and don't feel I'm missing much in the way of that "tube" sound.
You might want to consider a Balanced Audio Technology VK-200.Rated at 100 watts a channel and very reasonable price wise here on Audiogon.
For it was well recognized by the Major HiFi publications & many Pass users like me. I suggest you check out Pass Aleph 2,4 or the current XA100.5
Luxman M800. Ive not heard it myself, but several friends/colleagues have and rate it highly.
Old school solution: McCormack DNA-.5/1 with SMc upgrades. Great match with a tube pre-.
I have a Cary SLP98P (F1 version) and it sounds great with my Cary MB 500's. Very tube like, maybe more power than you want, but they sound great. I tend to believe matching components within a company gives you the sound you are looking for, especially if you go tube to ss.
So if you go Mac, CJ, ARC, or the like, I would try to stay with the same brand.
If you really like the way tube amps sound and have speakers that are a mismatch for tubes, and I agree they are. Re think what you really want. Tubes are not represented by tube pres dacs CDPs to a meaningful extent. The only thing that gives you the tube personality the wonder and magical soundscape not fuzzy warm tone its all about the sound layering image yes tone but not rolled off slow droopy sound. they are the only thing that give you tube sonics that is tube power amps. And no no no for the trillionth time a tube pre is not able to do it.
Ditch the speakers or get an old powerfull ss amp to play them and save your dollars for amps like Consonance Cyber 800 monoblocks they are the real deal have real power and sound great. You do have to stop feeling Sinophobic. if you can swing it buy non Asian good luck.
I agree with Mechans.
Tube magic = tube amp + tube friendly speakers.
A tube preamp used with a solid state amp will not produce the same magic.
Nelson Pass makes a great sounding pure class A amplifier series with the prefix of "XA" that sounds exactly like the best tube amplifiers, but are actually solid state. They sound like tube amplifiers due to the class A configuration. Warning... they run hot as hell, because of the high bias, and your electric bill will burn a hole in your pocket as well. Their cost to watt ratio is very high with a 30 watt stereo amp costing over $5,000 and a pair of 60 watt mono blocks run about $11,000. The pair of 100 watt amps are out of sight for most of us, but go for it if you have the money. The wattage of this series can go higher than 100 watts. You can check these out if you are rich. In conclusion the XA series would be great for efficient speakers like horns, and for the rich with inefficient speakers.
Nelson Pass makes a great sounding pure class A amplifier series with the prefix of "XA" that sounds exactly like the best tube amplifiers, but are actually solid state.
I own Pass XA-.5 amps, and I have owned half a dozen tube amps. The XA-.5 amps have some similar characteristics of the tube amps (grain free clarity, liquidity), but they do not sound like tube amps, IMO.
First and foremost, the solid state amps lack the three dimensionality of the tube amps I have owned.
That's how I hear the differences in my system anyway.
Tvad: I have never owned a tube amp, but I was going to buy one until I heard the Pass XA amps. The advantage of the Pass amp is that it sounds like a tube amp (IMO), but without the hassle of dealing with tubes. Why did you switch from tube amps with their three dimensionality to the Pass XA.5 amp? Which tube amps did you have that had the three dimensionality that you liked? I have not bought a new amp yet, and I'm still up in the air about tubes vs. SS. I have Khorns so I need the laid back, three dimensional sound of tubes. What would you recommend?
Why did you switch from tube amps with their three dimensionality to the Pass XA.5 amp?
Because I could not find a tube amp that would produce satisfactory balanced frequency response on my speakers. The Pass Labs do the job.
I have owned and liked VAC Phi 110/110, VAC Musicbloc 160 and Atma Sphere M-60.
A good friend used George Wright AU-15 amps with his K-Horns. He claimed the AU-15 were the best amps he had ever heard.
Why not look for something that plays back the music the way it sounded when it was recorded?
Just a thought.
I think that's what everyone does...the "issue" is that everyones perception of "the way it sounded when it was recorded" is different.
Ya,I guess so.
No You must accept this miserable truth.
The sound of the music when initially played to make a recording, is not the sound that you hear when played back. It is impossible for your speakers to move air in the extremely complex way the combined sum effect from the waves of instruments being played simulteaneously yeilds and your mind percieves is not possible. Unless of course you have a very unusual speaker that would be a full sized orchestra of instruments arranged in the manner of the live event playing the instruments like a player piano robitically in your listening room.
Most peoples homes do not have a space equivalent to a studio recording booth and the size of live venue spaces that popular groups use only an extreme example to get ou thinking when people say . My gear sounds so nuetral it is exactly as if it is the actual thing being played live.
Please to those who think this way stop for a second and actually listen to what you say.
In order to make it possible for you to have some type of media containg the music, a disc a tape, a digital reprentation of information that is usable to remake an analog sound etc The following seems to be the only known method used. The music is played into microphones the first thing is that the receptors for the sound have a circuit some are tubed some not this information is intentionally engineered to meet parameters trhe engineer deems is desirable and I hope understands the inention of the musicians. Other criteria that is decided by the producers aiming at pleasing a specific target or demographic audience. limits imposed by other factors observed such as the presumed method of playback.
The recording engineers are coordinated with marketing and try to responding to the anticipated playback scenerios in particular the interior cabin of a car or truck with 70db of road noise and compression by the radio transmission to a dynamic range. I understand at most 10 db.
The home system uses a mastered altered version of music that has been subject to manipulation of duplication and that stereo you chose. It is not a person playing a cello like Starker or Pablo Casals or Starker or whomever is alive and willing o pop by.
It is an electronic set of devices all of which differ to some degree. The one you chose I hope was of your free will with limitations of finite budgets but otherwise I expect choices and reflect of your preferences. There is no known audio system that can play what was never put on the media you use to select the music you want to hear that can tell what the actual musical instruments and singers did and therefore be the correct system if you want accurate absolutely faithful live sound out of your system. At the same time rebuilding your listening room and seating position and so on. This applys to each time you choose a song any record recording even tracks you want to here.
I certainly hope you have had the good fortune to have made your own choices with regard to the equipment you use. I did and made some bad picks but always thought I was going to hear what I liked when I had heard that equipment while auditioning it. I know pretty much what I hope to get ...what my subjective likes are and know that what I choose makes a difference. It is silly to even argue that audio systems are different sounding. It is you who decides as I said that you can afford fit in your space or whatever defined limits exist that you had some choices, this is the case.
I am generally never this assertive I always belived there is room for disagreement. Now I say my system is colored and that was my intent. I like it that way. The holier than thou insane audiophiles who insist that there is a true better or more correct choice and the psychotic belief that they know that the system they put together is not some approximation of an actual live performance but honestly beleive it is the same as the live event. Need medication for their delusion.
Tubes are as TVAD said all about imagery the soundscape. And no SS no matter what even the adored truly nice guy Nelson Pass knows that the tube amp is wildly distorted compared to an SS amp. I know this I like this type of distortion it is the right ordered one that is pleasurable not overdriven clipped horror. I want a tube amp and if you like that sound stop being afraid of the "tube" hassle it is trivial compared to the pleasure. the investment spent in realizing that younwill need to replace the tubes or may need advice on tweaking the tone a little by rolling the same tube type is worth it if you are serious otherwise please don't ask me to validate your irrational overhyped fears anbd agree with you that you can get the tube magic from any SS amp. You can't and I would take some time listening to real tube power amps and all tube integrateds. No hybrids that is a silly joke and the incredibly ridiculously uninformed "a tube any place in the chain will make the system sound the same an all tube system . That is just plain false.
I will lend you a freakin tube amp to use so you know what you are saying by "tube amp sound". Otherwise put non your boots and do the honest thing and admit I want a tube amp because I know what they do and I like it . Or say I guess I am uncertain and spend time learning enough to say I want an SS amp that sounds like this one and stop the blather.
"A tube preamp used with a solid state amp will not produce the same magic."
What does everyone else think? I have one system with a SS pre and tube amp, but my other system is the reverse and I find they arent that different at least in terms of tonal balance, meaty midrange etc.
Having owned Pass XA (fantastic) and most recently CAT/Atma-sphere/Music Reference RM9SE tube amps (fantastic) there is no doubt Tvad is right, the Pass gear is tube-like in the way he describes it, but it still doesn't recreate space the way tube amps do, I suspect it is impossible for SS gear to do it. That being said, the Pass gear is great SS gear that is a perfectly reasonable alternative to a tube amp that you can live with. SS does things tubes can't do quite as well too, it is all choices. But I've yet to hear an SS amp that really does tube sound, if I found it I would own SS. I also don't think a tube preamp will recreate that sense of space with an SS amp, it seems it is part of the way the amp interacts with the speaker.
A tube preamp used with a solid state amp will not produce the same magic.
As what, a solid state preamp with a tube amp? My experience with ss and tube preamps and ss and tube power amps indicate a very different conclusion here. My focus has always been to assemble a system that excelled in the portrayal of space, ambiance and decays; detail and coverage at the frequency extremes were only relevant if I got the 3D issues first. And still today I have not heard any system with a SS preamp that comes close to this area like the few great tube preamps I have owned or compared at dealers. If somebody knows of a ss preamp or line stage that excels here, I'd sure like to hear about it.
The only thing that gives you the tube personality the wonder and magical soundscape not fuzzy warm tone its all about the sound layering image yes tone but not rolled off slow droopy sound. they are the only thing that give you tube sonics that is tube power amps. And no no no for the trillionth time a tube pre is not able to do it.
This is absolute nonsense. And after you have found that most coveted tube amp (with all the glorious harmonic structure and depth) to match your speakers, please drop in a Classe, Spectral, Klyne, Krell or Levinson (Madrigal) line stage. Compare this to something like the Aria WV or Aesthetix Callisto tube line stage and take note that nearly all the magic you paid for with that amp is now gone with any of these ss line stages in the chain.
Upon hearing the ARC SP-8 and later the SP-10 that I purchased in the mid 1980s, I became well aware of the significance that tube preamps play to convey the dimensionality of the music. Even in the mid 80s of a system with a Linn TT, Vandersteen II and an Adcom amp, it was very clear how the SP-10 destroyed the Krell, Klyne and Spectral preamps of that era to simply bring on the portrayal of space. Sure, bringing in the ARC amps at the time, D115 that I heard, brought on greater magic. But putting a ss preamp in the system with the D115 resulted in a most sterile and boring sound. I would have taken the SP-10 and a budget ss amp any day of the week than any ss preamp in its place with a tube amp.
Just as an experiment a couple years ago, I tried my Aesthetix Callisto Sig with one PS, first with my CAT JL-3 amps and then the budget Adcom 555 I bought back in 1987. The CAT amps are expensive for a reason, but the Adcom with the Callisto was more impressive than I expected. The Classe preamp (either DR-5 or 6) I had been auditioning at the time coupled with the CAT amps clearly had far more detail, clarity and extension at the frequency extremes than the Callisto/Adcom, but this latter pair conveyed harmonics and structures the former pair could not match. And it confirmed to me once again how destructive a solid state preamp can be when it comes to the portrayal of space. The speakers were the exceptional Talon Khorus, a far underrated speaker.
A tube preamp with tube PS's is an absolute must in what I need a system to do. The sad commentary is that only a handful of tube preamps out there that I have heard in my system or in direct shootouts at a dealer even remotely came close to the dimensional "magic" often associated with tubes. And sadly, this continues on today. The bottom line is that if you're not hearing the magic that a tube preamp provides, you've got the wrong tube preamp. If you are basing any conclusions on a preamp loaded with stock Sovtek, EH or JJ tubes, coming to any conclusion about the preamp's capability is silly at best. And from my experience, a preamp with a tube regulated/rectified power supply is mandatory to get that last level of 3D performance here.
No hybrids that is a silly joke and the incredibly ridiculously uninformed "a tube any place in the chain will make the system sound the same an all tube system.
Hmmmm........I own an updated Counterpoint NPS400 hybrid amp: 6922 input, tube rectifier and ss output stage. Compared to the tube amps I have owned ARC VT130, Wolcott 220 and CAT JL-3's, while owning the NPS400, the NPS400 is very very impressive in how it handles the 3D....and with a not so easy load like the SoundLab A1.
Mechans: I'd love to put the Aria WV5 XL tube preamp with the Counterpoint NPS400 hybrid amp or a smaller Rowland ss amp against your reference tube amp and any solid state preamp of your choice and compare the result driving anything like Magnepan series 3 or 20, the big SoundLabs or easy speaker loads like a Talon or Proac, etc. But I get to pick the music: piano, acoustic guitar, vocals. And yes, the Roger Waters "Amused to Death" LP would be fine too. Mechans, I think you'd be quite surprised at the results.
First and foremost, the solid state amps lack the three dimensionality of the tube amps I have owned.
I would not argue with this, but who cares unless you have a top-performing tube line stage in the system as well. Without this, your coveted 3D was already out the window.
Sadly, there are far too many tube amps out there that fail the 3D test miserably all on their own. And it is not always due to a mismatch of the amp to the speaker. They are simply bad designs or designed with that intended sonic signature.
There is a lot of gear out there, tube and ss, that get high ratings by the reviewers, that I have dismissed in a matter of seconds because it fails the 3D test. If someone can not experience an incredible level of depth, ambiance and decays, structure, etc., as conveyed through piano, sax, and female voice, in a system with a tube preamp (line stage) and all solid state elsewhere, there's a very good chance they don't have a top-performing preamp that excels in these areas. It's just too easy to blame everything on the remaining solid state gear.
What does everyone else think?
Obviously, quite differently here: If I wanted to keep tubes in my system to a minimum, I'd start at the line stage, then onto the phono stage and/or Dac and then finally the amp(s).
Jafox, I'll answer your questions that were directed toward my comments.
A tube preamp used with a solid state amp will not produce the same magic.
As what, a solid state preamp with a tube amp?
I general, yes. In my opinion, a tube amplifier has a greater influence on three
dimensional sound than does a tube preamp. This is based on my experience
using a few tube preamps with several different amplifiers (four solid state,
one hybrid and three tube). The tube amps, closely followed by the hybrid
amp, provided the most three dimensional sound.
I have owned or auditioned a couple of tube preamps that sounded as flat as
any solid state preamp. So, a tube preamp cannot guarantee three
dimensional sound, even if used with a tube amp.
First and foremost, the solid state amps lack the three
dimensionality of the tube amps I have owned.
I would not argue with this, but who cares unless you have a top-performing
tube line stage in the system as well.
I own an SMc Audio VRE-1 preamp. I would gladly and without hesitation
match it with a tube amplifier and expect the three dimensional magic to
There are always exceptions. I do not disagree that many tube preamps will
provide a more three dimensional presentation than most solid state
I absolutely agree that a tube regulated power supply highly desirable.
In my system, Luxamn M800a amps sound extremely close to vac phi300.1 in many aspects including the sense of space. I used different preamps and results are similar. I tried Pass, Classe, ML, Rowland, Boulder and these have their own strength but none mimic the tube sound like the Luxman.
IMHO, some SS amps can sound close to modern sounding kt88 or 6550 type tube amps operating in ultralinear or pentode mode. When I had the Vac in triode mode, the delicacy improves further and pulls away slightly from the Luxman in inner detail.
I doubt there is a SS amp that sound similar to the best of SET or OTLs when driving suitable speakers.
Conrad Johnson pretty much invented the "tube" sound as many of us know it. The SS amps they make are amazing. If you're on a budget their sonographe line is amazing! enjoy enjoy!
I highly recommend the B&K ST-202 amplifier. Sound is warm, very tube like and the power is 140wpc (DIN) into 8 ohms both channels.
I was lucky enough to pick up one of the old black with gold anodized handles versions from the early 1980s. The thing is a beast with the big external heatsinks in the back and it sounds very detailed and musical. Best part? You can find one used for around $400.
Read the reviews:
"The sound of the music when initially played to make a recording, is not the sound that you hear when played back"
It's probably not the sound those present for the recording hear either. For all that we know, the microphone might be a much more efficient transducer than our ears. Our eyes look at a symphony orchestra, and then a speaker, and our brain quite sensibly tells us that there's no way that those small circles in a box can reproduce the sonics coming from on stage. Well, maybe the box doesn't have to; what makes us think that, even at a live performance, we're hearing the sound that's emanating from those performers? And don't talk about measurements; measurements are designed to be relevant to our hearing capacity. If we're flawed, our measurements will be likewise. I guess what I'm saying in a nutshell, is that if current music reproduction technology is twenty percent efficient while our hearing is ten percent efficient, then real music reproduction might be possible.
TAD 125 monos. Read the reviews...
There is no such animal. Buy a tube amp and enjoy.
I think the more SS amps try to sound like tube amps the less they do. Yes, designers can get a soft sound but then it's neither fish nor fowl. There are a handful of classic amps that can close, but they are far and few. 1st rule is you have to have true class A to approach tubes- no exceptions.
My best finds are (all on my top five all time amp list): Threshold SA-1s (rare and expensive $3500 to 5000), Luxman M-05 (rare $1100 to 2500) and Krell KMA 160s (pricy as well $2800 to $3800).
Perhaps I'm bias since I own the Pass XA60.5. Yet to really have that body of sound, that referred 3D feel, it takes very expensive speakers. Most people would say tube amplifiers made by McIntosh and BAT are outstanding. Yet to significantly outrun the XA60.5 with my Infinity Prelude MTS using the mentioned amplifier brands (their top model), it takes speakers costing in the range of $50K and up. Without mentioning name and thus can possibly belittle a well respected speaker model, even a $35K pair of speakers just does not quite make that leap. My current setup certain has that palpable feeling as if I'm almost at the live concert without the side noise. I'm referring to that complete 3D real life effect previously mentioned by several people here.
I drove my Walsh 5's for years with a Sumo Andromeda II - beast of a MOSFET amp with a warm tubey sound - very nice.
Presently, I'm using Wyred4Sound ST-1000 power amp and the sound is every bit as warm as the Sumo, but quieter background but superior inner detail and soundstage ambiance retrieval.
I'd sell the Sumo but I'm too lazy to pack it up!
it's interesting that there are two threads whaving opooiste aims, namely this one and another , requesting ss amps which are not warm and euphonic.
it is easier to assert names of solid state amps which do not sound like "classic tube amps", than to specify a solid state amp which sounds like a "classic tube" amp.
i would be curious to hear some definitions of warm and euphonic and the concomitant ss amps satisfying such criteria.
i think an astute listener can discern the difference between solid state and "classic tube" amps. as for modern tube amps and ss amps, the differences are harder to discern.
I would tend to think that amplifier designers look for ways to be more faithful to the natural sound. Effects like "warm", "euphonic", "precise", or "sharp" should not be that noticeable in better amplifiers, tube or SS, at least the Class A solid state amplifiers.
Audio Research 100.2
Really this is a lovely amp. Discontinued due to outperforming the bigger brothers....
Accuphase is high on that list.Smooth, no grain, powerful.
I have a McCormack DNA-1 that sounds tube like in the highs and midrange. The bass has better pitch definition than a tube amp has though....
Might want to consider some of the Jeff Rowland amps, like the model 8,9,10
All are somewhat tube like in their presentation.
I have used & had a few mccormacks in the previous years. Some stock and some modded to RevA by SMC Audio.
Very good value for the $ no doubt.
But when I heard the accuphase at a dealer place & in my system, the mccormacks had to go. It sounded mechanical, grainy. It was no comparison but the price difference was also huge.
Still a happy Accuphase user....4 years & counting.
6 moons just did a review of a Wyred 4 Sound amp that might be worth a look.
Monarchy mono amps.SOME OF THE BEST SOUND FOR THE BUCK.My se 100s are 100 at 8 ohms,200 at 4 ohms.driving a vintage pair of Magnepan mg-3.power to spare.Will drive 2 ohm loads with fan forced cooling.
I've used TAD Hibachi SS monos with Ohm 100s and found that they mate nicely. There is a touch of extra warmth from the TADs that flatters my Ohms, which -IMHO- can be the SLIGHTEST bit lean sounding (ala Quads). When I added subs to the equation, that tiny tonal tic was eliminated and a warm amp became less appropriate.
I now mostly use my ARC VT130SE in this set-up. This isn't the "tubiest" sounding tube amp out there, by any means. I still prefer the ARC, but - to the extent that you prize the imaging characteristcs of tubes - you should be aware that this difference is not dramatic on the Ohms. That "3D" tube image quality is IMHO less evident with the omni-directional Ohms than with most monopolar speakers. The Ohms' imaging has been similar (GREAT!) with all amps I've mated to it.
I'm currently using an Audio Horizons tube line stage.I moved from ss amps to tube power in 2003,and since then have owned several tube amps.Personally I believe it's a natural progression in pursuit of excellence,like 90 point wine.Every once in a while I slip back into the ss camp,and lately Class D(I had a weak moment)simply because I wanted to see if I'm missing anything.Not at all.
As some have suggested SS amps TRYING to sound like tube amps are a mess....example McCormack !! They knowingly distort sound towards a flavor which is artificial. It is like drinking canned juice.
Regarding Tube amps Vs Tube Preamps, I have heard and read various philosophies on this subject.
Some purist designers say Tube should be avoided as much as possible in equipments handling low level signals such as source and as much as possible, preamps. This is because the distortion tube causes harms the low level signal the most. So tube power amps is the best bet according to them.
Then there are designers who strongly suggest against use of tubes in the power supply. Again the purpose is to avoid distortion yet retaining the tube magic.
The most popular breed is of course people who use a full tube equipment. Such equipments are either too sweet or too expensive in general. Exceptions might exist.
However there is no such rule/formula on the implementation of a tube equipment to achieve the magical tube sound, each designer has a vision and obviously a limitation of knowledge as how he close he can get to his dream sound.
The issue I seem to be picking up with the responses here is the varying ideas of what "tube sound" is. Perhaps the current trend of tube amp designers aiming for a more neutral sound, which encompasses SS traits, is what brings about much confusion.
Contemporary tube amps no longer possess the classic "tube sound", yet many would be none the wiser. As a result they will be adamant that particularly voiced SS amps possess tube-like magic. Looks like the industry is making a concerted effort to please both camps and, as a result, SET or OTL tube amp experienced users are left in limbo in threads like these.
Stumbed over my old post and thought I might actually respond/update. At the time I wrote this I had never owned a tube amp. I had only heard 2 both very high end and beyond my means. I eventually mated a YS Audio pre and also a CJ PV6 (kept rotating) to an ATI 1502 power amp. I also subbed in my old SAE 2900 pre/eq. After burn in I really have enjoyed it especially when using the tube pres. It does add a sound I like more that seems less edgy and bright as compared to the SS pre. I also at different times ahve subbed in my old Mcintosh MA5100 and old SAE pre and power amps. THe tube pre and ATI sound the best in terms of detail and some warmth. I still like the Mcintosh but tis underpowered...the warmth and color does not bother me. I am however now trying to figure out how best to upgrade as I have more $$ and the Mcintosh is showing signs of age AND I have upgraded cables and ICs for the 1st time so I seem to have the bug.
The interesting thing I saw here was the strong sometimes seemingly vitriolic debate over the sound of tubes, which noone seems to agree on, and the impact of the tube pre on SS power amps. I kind of dont care because what matters to me is whether I like teh sound or not...but it has been interesting, entertaining and informative. As somene new to higher end after not buying equipment for 20+ years it has helped so I appreciate it all. I wish on some days I didnt live in Hawaii becasue it would be great to hear a much broader range of equipment and go to true high end shops. That doesnt exist here so I ahve bought stuff unheard off the net. Dying to hear some of the big names here I keep hearing....Pass, Naim, ARC, CJ etc but generally not repped here so I will ahve to wait for a biz trip or vacation. Sitll thanx for all of you participating.
I wish on some days I didn't live in Hawaii because it would be great to hear a much broader range of equipment and go to true high end shops.
Joekapahulu (Threads | Answers | This Thread)
I live in Los Angeles. I'll trade you Hawaii for California.
Let me know...