Tubes Do It -- Transistors Don't.

I never thought transistor amps could hold a candle to tube amps. They just never seem to get the "wholeness of the sound of an instrument" quite right. SS doesn't allow an instrument (brass, especially) to "bloom" out in the air, forming a real body of an instrument. Rather, it sounds like a facsimile; a somewhat truncated, stripped version of the real thing. Kind of like taking 3D down to 2-1/2D.

I also hear differences in the actual space the instruments are playing in. With tubes, the space appears continuous, with each instrument occupying a believable part in that space. With SS, the space seems segmented, darker, and less continuous, with instruments somewhat disconnected from each other, almost as if they were panned in with a mixer. I won't claim this to be an accurate description, but I find it hard to describe these phenomena.

There is also the issue of interest -- SS doesn't excite me or maintain my interest. It sounds boring. Something is missing.

Yet, a tube friend of mine recently heard a Pass X-350 amp and thought it sounded great, and better in many ways than his Mac MC-2000 on his Nautilus 800 Signatures. I was shocked to hear this from him. I wasn't present for this comparison, and the Pass is now back at the dealer.

Tubes vs. SS is an endless debate, as has been seen in these forums. I haven't had any of the top solid state choices in my system, so I can't say how they fare compared to tubes. The best SS amp I had was a McCormack DNA-1 Rev. A, but it still didn't sound like my tube amps, VT-100 Mk II & Cary V-12.

Have any of you have tried SS amps that provided these qualities I describe in tubes? Or, did you also find that you couldn't get these qualities from a SS amp?
Aaaaahhh, ASA, it also felt good to read your fine analysis. I love my Spectral system, especially when I am after the intricacies of a given composition, letting my mind follow the musical weavings the composer wrought, analysing and marvelling at a structure, which show mastery of the craft. With the Jadis heated up, I fall into the music, let myself be carried away, forget all until there is nothing but the music....and sometimes even beyond that. It is exactly as you say and there to be experienced and difficult to argue it away.
If all tube amps sounded the same and all SS amps sounded the same, then maybe this argument would have a verdict. Actually, it is the design and implentation of these technologies that make the most difference and should be debated.

Even if you concluded that all tube gear generally sounds alike, the other components of a system (especially speakers) can dictate whether SS or tube gear is preferred. In my system, I have found even more exceptions, so unless you have the exact same system, I can't contribute much information that would be helpful.

My one possible contribution is to Kevziek regarding his initial comments. If the McCormack Rev A is the best SS amp you listened to, then your conclusions may be incomplete. I have a Rev A and it is a great amp, but it does not come close to Rev A Gold (which I also have) in delivering the virtues you ascribe to tubes. There are other SS amps (price aside) that may also challenge your assumptions about what transistors can do.
Drubin, that's what I've been saying. What cd player are you using? The Pass X amp acts as a signal magnifying free flowing conduit. According to a professional audio system designer I know, the Pass X and XA stand alone. He says, "No one combines execution and sheer circuit-inspiration as completely as Nelson (Pass)"

A group of audiophiles witnessed my system change it's stripes completely, time after time, as we inserted many of currently available cd players. The Pass just got out of the way completely. Sounds swung from warm and wooly, to steely clinical. Among the auditioners, a Musical Fidelity got the nod as the most listenable. It sounded overly lush to me. I still liked best the clean tube sound of my Jolida 100.

Kevziek, I respectfully disagree with your generalization that all amps have a sound. I don't want my amp to have a "sound." Check out the literature concerning modern amp building. There is a small group of designers, led by Nelson Pass, that firmly believe simple circuits are better. Taking that mantra to the outer limits is how Nelson has been able to create the monster X 1000 (kilowatt) that preserves the sweetness, staging, and detail of very simple circuitry.

It is with his ingeniously invisible amp, the X-150, that I have been able to preserve the very best of the Sylvania tube sound coming from my cd player.
Thank you all for your comments. Even though we disagree, lots of smart people with measured responses. Isn't that nice? You know, not so, er, "unilateral".

twl, thank you for pointing out the inherent flaws in relying completely on empiric evidence to draw conclusions.
Unsound, thank you for pointing out, that even though only a partial view of reality, empiric evidence is still valid and should be considered and not discounted.

I agree with both positions. The problem comes in when people become attached to one assumption or the other, which, by operation, negates the opposing pole completely.

Unsound, I want to address some issues you brought up; if not explicitly, then implicitly.

It always is interesting to me that people adopt assumptions without reflecting on the fact that these assumptions themselves rest upon deeper assumptions. A huge assumption adopted by 96% of post modern western culture regards "science", and the attachment to this assumption effects how you choose your stereo components (ie. what sound you conclude has "fidelity"; Unsound's implied measuring description for being closer to the Truth/Sound Absolute).

First, if we are being truly rigorous, assumably like a scientist, we should ask, What IS "science"? Well, I can't walk out my front door and point to it, so its not a thing. Its an abstraction used to encompass a set of assumptions about "reality" (like any philosophy), and like many assumptions it seems to become monolithic over time and through significant attachment to its ideas - but it is only a set of assumptions.

Then we should ask, what are the assumptions of "science"? Science assumes that all truth is derived from the manipulation and observation of changes in matter over time; we label this with the abstraction "empiric method", and it derives from the philosopher Descartes' ideas (whose worldview we call "Cartesian"). Galileo expanded this by saying that reality is like a machine and we can see the changes in matter easiest by observing certain variables of form: volume, length, etc. In other words, truth comes to us - or rather, we pull truth out of reality - if we limit ourselves to quantitative observation of physical reality (matter, or form). There are other assumptions, but these are the basic ones. The important part of this, however, is to then see that "science" has also, by implicit operation, adopted an even deeper assumption: that all ideas contrary to its assumptions are non-existent, or, if conceded, effectively non-existent because any knowldge outside "science" is inherently unknowable. Through this denial of that which is not itself -ideas not its ideas - it effectively reduces any other possible means of seeing truth (not coincidentally, the philosphy that science supplanted, medieval Judeo-Christian doctrine, applied this same assumption to science, ie. all rigid paradigms of assumptions deny that beyond itself).

Interestingly, the assumptions that "science" rests upon have been thoroughly deconstructed in the past fifty years and this is not disputed, even by most philosophers who love "science". Basically, Popper, Kuhn, Freyerabend etc. have shown that science itself can not stand up to its own assumptions. I'm not going to go into it, way too long, but essentially the reductionism used by science has led to the deconstruction of itself.

So, if scientific materialist assumptions have been shown to be partial, even using the rules of science, then why do people still cling to their attachment to them, as if they are sancrosanct? Isn't that irrational?

We can point to the relationship of capitalism (another abstraction, whose meaning is mutually reinforced self-interest, or another way, mutually-reinforced predation) and science, whereby science's power over matter results in technology. OK, yes, and many other surface symptoms, but there is an assumption still deeper in science - and that effects those who listen to mussic and who, unreflectively, adhere to its worldview.

If you look above, you'll see I said that science "pulls" truth from reality. In other words, an underlying, determitive assumption of science (as it operates in the world) is to assume that the truth it can derive is obtained (like an object) by taking truth FROM reality. This assumption is how you approach reality, namely, in an active way where the matter of reality is seen by the mind as "out there"; reality releases truth only with our minds' objectifying manipulation of it.

Now, in stereo an orientation of this type produces certain choices; you choose components that produce a sound that is congruent with you orientation. Hence, if you adhere to "science" - and all its assumptions, even if you are not aware of all of them - they produce a filtering effect on what you choose. In this case, each of the cascading assumptions described above produces a certain choice (or argument supporting that choice), namely, an adherence to the assumption on objectifying matter produces a bias torwards believing that a soundfield is most "accurate" or has the most "fidelity" to truth where objects are primary (carving out of sources as things and implicit reduction of space, even to the point where space is seen as a void, ie, non-existent, as with the above poster who said space was "formless waste"); an adherence to assumption that such truth is found by examining the soundfield with an active identifying mind that defaults towards greater detail in sources (bounding them into more easily identified objects); an adherence to "science" as the primary diviner of truth coupled with a recoil from all ideas that are not "scientific"; a bias torwards "scientific" means (measurement)with all outside of that derived knowledge significantly relegated, if not denied, etc.

It is NOT coincidental that those who prefer SS that carves out images into source-objects, who want "accuracy" through Galilean quantitainve means, who favor source-object over space, are the same minds who adhere, unreflectively, to the assumptions of science. These peoples' stereos create a soundfield "out there" as if it were a thing because they are orientated towards reality in this way.

And this effects how they listen and what they are willing to concede can be heard by others. When you sit down initially to listen, the active mind carries over from your active day (from a capitalistic culture chasing the quantitative accummulation of objects) and looks at sound as if it were "out there", seeing the detail, gauging with thinking the quantitative volume of what's produced. But, as you sink deeper and thinking fades, the concerns of that thinking mind fade and other truths of the music are revealed; with the fading of objectified thinking that which not an object (space) rises as an integral part of the music, and the other intra-related nuances noted in my first post. But the active mind, the scientific attached mind that believes it must be active to see truth fails to let go of that thinking, fails to open to the music in receptivity. In that recoil from opening to other ways to see truth (or to listen)the actively-attached mind denies any deeper levels as...non-existent.

It is not a coincidence that people who listen to SS as the diviner of truth - a technology that values accuracy of source detail over space - are the same people who trumpet "science" as the primary means to truth and any other means, or the levels of listening depths accomplished by other menas, as non-existant.

They must stay active, they must have objects of detailed sound, they must reduce all that is not a sound-object into "formless waste" of non-existence, they must apply their minds to the soundfield "out there" and rearrange and carve its sound-objects.

Above all, beneath all, they must not become receptive. Because you see, the ability to become receptive is attained not by grasping at the soundfield "out there" but by letting go of your attachment to do so.

It is very simple, actually; but not simplistic.

Thank you for your patience in reading this.