Warm, Smooth yet Transparent Amp

Hello All,
I am currently running an Arcam AVR300 for movies and music, 60/40 respectively. The music portion just isn't happening. Everything works but I'm not getting that "involved/pull you in" kind of feeling. I have gone through several pairs of speakers, Proac tablette 50, Triangle Titus 202, Von Schweikert VR1s and currently Vandersteen 1C. Since this is a wide array of speakers, I've come to the conclusion it must be the amplification.

So now I'm thinking of adding a 2 channel amp running out of the front channels "out". I don't like harsh, shrill highs, but rather a fuller, sweet sounding, yet transparent. Is this possible without spending several thousands of dollars? I am trying to keep it under 1200.00 so used but quality is what I'm hoping for. If Possible. I know that all of you knowledgeable people would have an answer.

I'm also running an Oppo 83 blu ray/cd. Dish K722 receiver for TV. Listen to FM, CDs and MP3 through the Oppo. I'm looking for all the things I have read about on these forums over the years. Good Imaging, transparency, involving. I've read good things about Conrad Johnson MF2250 (affordable used) and I just missed out on one on Ebay, earlier today. Now I'm just frustrated I guess.

Please assist if you can. Oh, I like folk rock, rock, certain new age kind of music. Examples, Dave Matthews, Eric Clapton, Sarah McLaughlin, and everything in between, *chuckle*. Any and All suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

I don't like harsh, shrill highs, but rather a fuller, sweet sounding, yet transparent. Is this possible without spending several thousands of dollars?

No, it's not possible to go east and west at the same time, no matter how much money you spend....sorry. You can look for a sound which is fuller and sweeter sounding OR you can look for a sound which is more transparent, but you cannot have it all, no matter how many dollars you throw at it. The Conrad Johnson amps that you speak of would fall into the fuller, sweeter sounding camp, not the transparent camp.

If I were looking in your price range, I'd take a long, hard look at these Forte Model 7 monoblocks. I don't think you will be disappointed. I have no relationship with the seller.

Hi John,
I respectfully(I enjoy reading your posts on this site) disagree with your
assertion that warmth and transparency are mutually exclusive. Perhaps
our definition of transparent may differ, mine is clarity and lack of a veil or
perceptional "blanket". In terms of warmth I'm referring to the
natural warmth, body and full tonality of instruments (not an added
gratuitous warm coloration). I'd argue that true transparency allows the
unmasking of artifacts and reveals more honestly the natural tonal color
and character of individual instruments. I don't equate transparency to the
thinner and lean sound that some others may do (lean and thin is an
aberration/ coloration itself).

I've found that the high quality SET amplifiers provide these desirable
attributes, they're exceptionally pure, clear and transparent. I've experience
this with various 300b, 2A3 and 845 tubed versions. The key is you must
have a compatible speaker match to realize this full potential. No amplifier
can do 'everything' at the highest level but tonal warmth and transparency,
"warmth" i believe is something to do with distortions and colorations and it's not part of precise signal delivery.
transparency is explicively part of precision and performance.
i believe that by gaining warmth the transparency is jeopardised.
i own sunfire 300 mk2 amp that i've purchased for very low price for more than 10 years and every time i was thinking of upgrade, i was thinking again to keep my amp and it's never got upgraded ever since. with tube SETs you may not achieve the desired performance simply because you don't have efficient enough speakers. the most transparent and precise tube amp i've ever heard and not only for your budget, but overall was quicksilver M60 90's model. it's extremely hard to find, but if you get lucky snatch it quick.
Give the Emotiva XPA-1l monoblock amps a try.

On sale for $599 ea, 30 return, free shipping.

They run class A up to 35 watts and A/B up to 250wpc/500wpc into 8 Ohms/4 Oms.

I bought a set here just a few weeks ago and am very pleased. They are significantly better than Emotiva's XPA series 1 amplifiers which sounded pleasant but were quite limited in the upper mids and highs.


Hi Charles, I also enjoy reading your contributions on these forums. I guess it all depends on how one uses the terminology. I know that many here misuse the word neutral, and feel that neutral and transparency are interchangeable words, this bothers me. I feel that neutral means natural, with there being no added warmth nor added treble emphasis.

I understand that you don't equate transparency to thinner and lean sound, however, you must realize that the majority of folks on this forum do interpret transparency this way. When asked for reco's for transparent cables, Nordost will always come up. When asked for reco's for transparent electronics, ARC will always come up. You get the idea? Many manufacturers will try to pursue the word transparent by highlighting the treble region artificially, thereby bringing more apparent detail to the music. While we may have a different understanding for an audiophile term than the majority of users here, when I try to answer questions, I assume the term is being used in the most common way as understood by the majority.

I'm not saying that you can't have your own definitions for these terms, and therefore feel that both yin and yang can be accomplished simultaneously. However, by using the most common conceptions of the words transparent, and warm and smooth, I still feel that these sonic qualities will lead you in opposite directions tonally.

That said, I'd love to get my hands on some high quality SET amp(s) like your Coincident's. Cheers!
Hi John,
Well you certainly understand my point of distinction within the audiophile
vernacular. Here's my example of transparency. If you were in a room and
someone is playing their instrument (no microphone) there's nothing
between you and the sound (ultimate transparency). You'd hear all the tone,
timbre, pitch and harmonic overtones that instrument has to offer. The
sound will be naturally full, rich and vibrant just as they're intended to
sound. They won't sound lean, bleached, two dimensional and
sterile(Pseudo transprency). I'm reminded of this every time I visit the local
jazz clubs (without exception).
Hello Charles,
Yes, your description of transparency sounds very enticing indeed, I would call that natural transparency. The word transparent has taken a ugly turn for me on these boards, as most will equate it with that artificially created sound where the treble region is emphasized to provide the illusion of more detail. I find that sound lean, thin, anemic, and soul-less. There are many detail freaks in the high end these days, who are looking for the ultimate in resolution and transparency, no matter how artificial it is when compared to live, unamplified music.

I'd love to visit more local jazz clubs, but unfortunately, my wife is not a fan of that genre of music. So we compromise, no jazz for me, no country for her, and we just attend live Symphony Orchestral performances (we both enjoy classical music). :)
Yes, "natural" is the key term.
Odyssey Audio builds some great amps in your price range.
You might want to try the LSA Integrated - either the Signature or Statement model. There're several available here on audiogon.
Not sure I agree with your "conclusion it must be the amplification" (without having seen your room, that is).

If you are mixing audio and video and your speakers are flanking a reflective screen and placement dictated by "where the screen is" (not to mention what your wife thinks) then changes in amplification might be dwarfed by bad room placement and lack of room treatment.

I would keep everything the way it is and borrow a better amp before spending your own money.
Hello Denon53
Like Charlesdad I think transparency comes from a lack of distortion so it can result in a more transparant and warmth of tone when those things are in the recording. I think the more transparency results in closer to the live natural sound. It's without as many artifacts that distort the sound weather in the higher frequencies or somewhere else and let the original sound come through less molested. A lot of times this allows something to stride that fine line and become more musical without losing anything at the same time. So in this context transparency won't add warmth but it will let what warmth the recording caught that the musician intended come through best. And that is not an easy feat for a lot of electronics Instruments can create a warm sound, a strident sound, a dissonant/discordant sound, ect. No doubt we are all familiar with them. So with that being said I would recommend a Belles 150 amp. When available can go for used in the neighborhood of 700.00. It is decently transparent. It can convey recorded warmth. It has sins of omission because it might be slightly less detailed in comparison to others but it had no noticeable sins of commission. It produces sounds which can be quite natural. But all components have different interactions with other components so you may have a different result than what is suggested on this thread.
Charles, your explanation is probably the closest to what I have always believed a good system should be. I'm 60 now and have always believed that the ultimate goal for an audio system is to reproduce the music as if you were sitting in the room when it was being recorded. So to now find out that most audio nuts are really trying to distort that realism, as John says, is deflating. LOL I'll live. I understand both of your explanations but Charles's is closer to what I'm looking for. I also realize it's not an easy feat, thus this thread. So far I have found that exaggerated upper midrange/treble sound which John speaks of. I'm looking for what Charles describes. Marqmike hits on it as well. No exaggerated treble, no bloated bass, but all natural like the full sound of a good acoustic guitar when all strings are strummed at once. Forte heh? Belles? I've read many good things about Belles and Forte has been around for a long time has it not Charles? I think we're heading in the right direction guys.

As for my room, it's very open. My listening area is what I believe use to be the dining room, it sits between an open living room to my left and my master bedroom and sunroom to my right. All very open. Carpet on the floor couch, loveseat to my left. I sit in a recliner in the area that is about 22' x 15' with the sides very open. I'm sitting about 15' from my system, 52" LCD TV high up on far wall. I hope this all helps. I will be using the arcam for a preamp, or did you already figure that out? lol

Any additional suggestions are still welcomed. And I thank all of you who have already written a reply. It's all good!
If this made no sense, it's only because it was a long day and I'm bushed! lol I almost forgot, I also have a REL T3 sub that is part of the system.
Warm, Smooth yet Transparent Amp

Hello All,
I am currently running an Arcam AVR300 for movies and music, 60/40 respectively. The music portion just isn't happening. Everything works but I'm not getting that "involved/pull you in" kind of feeling. I have gone through several pairs of speakers, Proac tablette 50, Triangle Titus 202, Von Schweikert VR1s and currently Vandersteen 1C. Since this is a wide array of speakers, I've come to the conclusion it must be the amplification.

12-09-13: Denon53
I will be using the arcam for a preamp, or did you already figure that out? lol

Bruce, I hate to say it, but I don't think you will find music to be "happening", or to "pull you in" as you say in your original post, as long as you are using the Arcam AVR300. You say you've tried different speakers with no luck, I don't think that trying different amps while still using an Audio/Video receiver as a preamp will help either.

Over a decade ago I tried to marry my audio and video systems with many high end Surround Sound Processors (SSP) from the likes of Mark Levinson, Classe and Krell. I never found any of them to be musically satisfying. I finally gave up on that quest, and now use a dedicated two channel system for music that is very satisfying.
I appreciate your comments and I understand what you're seeking.
Given your stated budget and solid state preference I'm sure there are
experienced people on this site who can provide good guidance. I've
migrated so completely (and happily) into the world of SET-High efficiency
speakers that I'd be of very limited use for your particular needs.
I agree with John's opinion on the Arcam as a preamp. You need
components that were developed with the priority of reproducing quality
two channel music. I've read good things about Belles and Forte
components. Would you entertain the possibly of a Quicksilver or
Bottlehead(modest priced but very good tube products) preamp with you
SS amps?
John, Charles,
I think you're both correct with your conclusions. Either I go strictly 2 channel for music or Charles suggestion of using a tube preamp. Since music is more critical of components. I'm not sure I have the cash for a different preamp and amp. I do have several pairs of speakers, LOL so that is not a concern. John are you also suggesting tubes?

Charles, How would I hook a tube preamp to my AVR300 receiver and keep both music and movie audio? Now I have to check to see if the Arcam has inputs to the amp section only. :)

Wtf, I have checked out Odyssey here on agon, haven't found a Stratos as yet. But I'm keeping it in mind. Simao, I didn't know LSA made amps, I thought they only made speakers. thanks for the tip.
I know your speakers very well. You need to make sure that you have them positioned properly. That includes setting the back tilt. Once you do that, try backing off the highs a little. (.5 to 1 db). That should help some, but you still may need to get a preamp. Tube or SS is OK. Just focus on getting the best one you can afford.
12-11-13: Denon53
John are you also suggesting tubes?

Well I have always found tubes to be more musically satisfying. You may want to look for a tube preamp that has a HT Bypass or Passthrough feature. This makes it easier to hook up a two channel preamp to a AVR so that you can use your stereo speakers as your fronts in a 5.1 setup.
Zd542, I have the 1Cs at the proper tilt for my listening position. I downloaded the instructions from Vandersteen's website a while back and I have also turned down the highs as well. They do sound better now than before.

I've always wondered about tubes but was also kind of apprehensive about going in the direction. Maybe now is the time. John, I know relatively nothing about tubes or brands. Can you suggest a decent tube preamp with the HT bypass?

Thank you both for your suggestions.

Hi Bruce:

We are about the same age with the same musical tastes. I've been dabbling in this hobby for 40+ years not that it qualifies me in any way as an expert. I could tell you a thing or two that you probably shouldn't do however. I'm also very familiar with your speakers (I owned them for awhile) and coincidentally own a CJ 2250, currently used to power my surrounds. I only tell you all this so you understand where I'm coming from with my comments.

I don't recall reading if you have a 2 channel or surround channel system? If by chance it is 2 channel, my recommendation would be sell the Arcam and buy an integrated amp. I've owned among others, CJ (tubes)and Plinius (SS). Either a tube or SS unit could match up very nicely with your speakers. There are many models to choose either new or used in your price range (particularity after you sell the Arcam). Personal favorites of mine in your price range used are the CJ CAV50, although that model is getting pretty old now so you'd have to be careful, or the Plinius 9100.

If you have a surround system, I think the biggest bang for your buck would come from a 2ch. amp. Sure the preamp makes a huge difference in music. I also wholeheartedly agree that using a receiver as a preamp leaves a lot to be desired, but given your budget I don't believe you'll find both a decent preamp and amp unless you're willing to invest more. The CJ 2250 is an amp that would get my vote and would mate nicely with your speakers. Again many others to choose from.

Hope this helps.


12-11-13: Denon53
John, I know relatively nothing about tubes or brands. Can you suggest a decent tube preamp with the HT bypass?

Well you didn't give me a price range, so I'll just assume the $1200 that you were trying to stick to for the amp. I believe any BAT preamp has the flexibility to make any input into a Throughput. Cary has the SLP-03 and SLP-2002 which both have a Cinema Bypass. Conrad Johnson ET-3 and Audio Research SP16L also has a Theater loop. That's just from looking through the tube preamps for sale currently. Go ahead, don't be shy, take a look for yourself. The Cary, CJ and BAT will give you more of the warm, smooth sound, and the ARC will be more transparent and revealing. Happy hunting.
Thank you John for the suggestions, I'll do some research to see what works best for me. As for the "shy" comment, my friends would have a good laugh at that one. :)

Thanks to everyone who contributed, I truly respect and appreciate your knowledge and wisdom of the audio world.
Hi Mark,
Thank you for the recommendations. Yes, I currently have an Arcam AVR300, 7 channels, 100w per/chan. Two of the channels can be switched to the front mains for bi-amping purposes. With all the other suggestions, I am giving thought to tubes but as many have said, I should really go all the way and get a tube preamp and amp. I can't really afford both at this time. So I the question I'm asking myself is, Tube preamp or a SS amp for the current two front channels. I'm up in the air.

Go for the tubes!CJ products are excellent as are Quicksilver.You may,as Charels1 says,immigrate over to the dark side and fall in love with what tubes bring to your musical enjoyment.
How about running an Arcam FMJ 38 as your 2-channel amp? Keep it in the family, as it were. You may be able to find one, used, in your price range.
Jtcf, yes, I'm sure CJ tubes are excellant and from what I've seen here on Agon, expensive. My 1,000 budget won't do unless a heck of a sale pops up. I check everyday. I'm also wondering, there is no "amp in" input on my Arcam. I would have to plug the preamp into the cd input which is "stereo direct". Is this going to affect the sound guality of the preamp? Anyone?

Any thoughts on the Conrad Johnson Classic tube preamp? There is on here on Agon in my price range.
I don't believe the Arcam has pre in, only pre out. I also don't believe you could go through stereo direct. I believe that input is to run a cd player direct to the amp section without processing the signal. Others who are more familiar with the Arcam can hopefully chime in. If you want to keep the Arcam, I think you've got two options:

1. Add an amp for your front two channels and use the Arcam for everything else (as you've been doing); or
2. Add a pre amp and amp (or integrated) and use the Arcam for Home Theater processing and surround amplification.
Well I didn't mention the CJ Classic in my last post when I mentioned the CJ ET-3, amongst others, because the Classic does not have a HT bypass. However, as I said earlier, you could always use a tape output to use as a HT bypass as well. The CJ should provide you with the warm, smooth sound that you are seeking, IMHO.
Get a Naim Nait 5i. It is warm and lively, has very good drive and timing. It will really get your senses uplifted, especially for the kind of music you listen to.
John, I'm sorry if I'm seeming a bit dense, are you saying to use the "tape out" on the CJ Classic and use the "tape in" monitor on the Arcam which is also "stereo direct"? I'm just trying to understand this whole HT bypass configuration.

OK, after inspecting the backside of the CJ Classic tube preamp, it has "pre out" which I should have figured. So I could connect that to the tape in on my Arcam, correct? I know, I'm a little slow on the uptake. :) I can then connect the two channel stereo outputs from my Oppo, my Sony HD FM tuner, even my Dish receiver's two channel outputs. Hmmmm, this could work out nicely. If I like what I hear from the CJ Classis, I'll consider a tube amp down the road. Once again, thanks to all who contributed.

Bruce the slow :)
Bruce, if I’m reading these posts correctly (label me “Mark on the slow”), what you’re intending to do can work as long as you know to wire the Oppo and Dish once to the new pre for 2 ch. listening and a second time to the existing receiver for surround sound.

Understand though that a tube preamp through a line level input or tape in on the receiver will attenuate the source twice and the volume controls may end up in the least linear part of their ranges. There may be a sonic impact to this, but I guess you can try it.

If you’re looking for some “tube magic”, given your existing set up and budget, I still think that adding an amp will provide the biggest bang for the buck, and in your case adding a tube amp will provide better results than adding a tube preamp.

Good luck,
"12-14-13: Pani
Get a Naim Nait 5i. It is warm and lively, has very good drive and timing. It will really get your senses uplifted, especially for the kind of music you listen to."

I had one of those on my 1C's. Not a good match at all. Maybe with another speaker, but not the Vandersteen.
12-14-13: Denon53
John, I'm sorry if I'm seeming a bit dense, are you saying to use the "tape out" on the CJ Classic and use the "tape in" monitor on the Arcam which is also "stereo direct"?


12-15-13: Denon53
OK, after inspecting the backside of the CJ Classic tube preamp, it has "pre out" which I should have figured. So I could connect that to the tape in on my Arcam, correct?

No. The key to using the preamp as a HT Bypass is so that when you are using your system in HT mode, you do not even have to turn your preamp on, and your preamp's volume control has no effect on the signal. If you use the extra set of preamp outputs on the CJ Classic, you will need to adjust the volume control to match the levels of the other channels. If you use the tape out, I think you will still have to turn the CJ Classic on, but the volume control will be out of the signal path, so you won't have to level match your channels when going to HT.

If you find a preamp with HT Bypass, I believe that you will not even have to turn the preamp on to use the system in HT mode. This can save hours of use on your tubes that you are not using in HT mode. Depending on how much of your listening is done for HT versus stereo, this may or may not be a big factor. Does this make sense?
Based on your recommendations, using the tape out on the preamp to the tape in on my Arcam will achieve the same affect as a HT bypass. The only time I would turn the preamp on would be to listen to 2 channel sources i.e. FM Tuner, Oppo CD and possibly the DISH reciever for music channels.

All HT sources have digital outputs which will never need the Preamp.

By George I think I've got it! LOL So the CJ Classic is the Ticket!

Once again, thank you one and all. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy, Prosperous New Year.

Bruce, sorry for the confusion, but I don't think that using the tape outputs of the CJ into the tape inputs of the Arcam will work. After looking at the rear panel of your Arcam AVR300 in the manual, it looks like your Arcam has only one 7.1 analog input, which will then only work with one source (Oppo?). You would need to run the analog outputs (surround, center, and sub) directly into the DVD-A input RCA's. Then run the FR & FL output of the source into a source input in the CJ Classic. Then run the tape output jacks of the Classic into the DVD-A FR & FL RCA input jacks.

Very complex, and it could work....for one 7.1 source. If you have more than one 7.1 source, or that source doesn't have analog (RCA) outputs, then you could have problems with this setup. You still definitely do not want to use the Pre out jacks of the CJ Classic though, as this would put two volume controls in the loop. I hope this doesn't make things more confusing.
What makes you think that using the tape output to tape input work? I mean, it makes sense. I'm currently using the "tape in" on the Arcam for the input of my Sony HD FM tuner. It works great and allows "stereo direct". It sounds pretty good to me. My DVD/CD player is an Oppo bdp83. I use the digital output for 5.1 and a separate two channel output for stereo music. The best of both worlds. :)

At the risk of being called some kind of heretic, I'll make a suggestion of my own. I've been unhappy with my 2 channel system, swapping out components, all to no avail. I acquired some Paradigm Signature S6 in '09 and had been trying to build a system around them. It was tough, they are forward sounding with that beryllium tweeter.

I tried an Adcom system first, nice but the pre was flaky and would send loud bursts through the system at random. Then I heard about Emotiva and the price was sure right. Bought an XPA amp, ERC-1 cd player and an Anthem TLP-1. I found the TLP to be laid way back and soulless. Replaced it with an Emotiva XDA-1. Now things were too bright with my speakers, and still no soul or synergy/magic. Swapped in an old Denon ave(3803) I had to confirm, it was warmer but no synergy.

Thought I could do better with a disc player and replaced the ERC-1 with an Oppo 95. Better, but still lifeless. I would get sibilance at higher volumes with some tracks(actual distortion in the highs). Decided to dump the Emotiva amp and got a Parasound A21. Big improvement in sound, now I could see what I'd been missing. Sibilance was gone, very nice vocals and tighter/more accurate bass. But still no holographic sound stage, or 3D stage.

Got the XDA-1 out of the system, and plugged the Oppo straight into the amp. Better, but I experienced some volume limitations which made me want a dedicated pre. Got a NAD C372(integrated from 6 years ago) and used it as a pre. Better volume interaction, but still no soundstage magic. I got tired of swapping components, and was ready to throw in the towel, maybe i was just not spending enough and I'm not prepared to spend 2-3000 per component just to get some magic in the sound.

Then I was reading and this poster I trust on another forum mentioned to someone else how changing his speaker cables to Audioquest Type 4 had made a significant improvement, and he now swore by them. I did some research, and found results and mockery all over the net. Zeroed in on the Type 4 and found it's a solid core wire design with bigger gauge for the bass and smaller for the highs woven in a type of litz design with some other design specifics. I tried them, replacing some 12 gauge fine stranded OFC wire.

The difference was immediate and not subtle. It was like the music was somewhat out of focus before, not that i'd noticed it. But there was also more detail. And this sharpened up the soundstage. I could now localize instruments much better and even some on the left side of the left speaker, meaning I guess that the soundstage widened. It was an eye opener for me.

Mind you, I had better than run of the mill IC's that I'd acquired along the way, not sure if they helped. Bottom line, with all of the component changing you are doing, I haven't heard anyone mention if the cables might have a part to play. I'd humbly suggest buying some Audioquest Type 4 if you've never tried speaker cable upgrades. You can get in on the cheap, buying it by the foot at some of the on line dealers.

Might save you some green over more component upgrades.
Hi Mark,
Yes, if I go this route, I would be wiring 2 channel into the preamp and all digital sources would connect to the digital inputs on the receiver via fiber cables. But the preamp would have to possess a "tape monitor" out which the CJ Classic does not. From what is on agon at this moment, it would have to cost much more than my budget. I was hoping to keep it at $1,000.
Your suggestion about a tube amp is what I was thinking about last night. It would make life so much easier and hopefully cheaper. :)

Any suggestions on a decent tube amp under a grand? Used of course.

Keep your eyes open for a Music Reference RM10. Original series can be had for under $1k, but they don't come up often and they get snatched up quickly. Excellent amp for the money and fits the criteria in your original post. They're also very reliable and if by chance it does need to go in for service they're not that far from you, in Santa Barbara I believe.

Hopefully others will have suggestions, but under $1k will be tough. Also, keep in mind that for a "good" unit under $1k, you're probably looking at an older model so reliability will be an issue.
Thanks for the input. I was running AQ type 4 from the beginning, when I first purchased my Arcam back in 2006. I used them up until about 5 months ago when I changed over to Canare 4s11. They seem a bit more mellow than the AQ.

I really think that going to tubes is the next logical move, whether it be a tube preamp or tube amp is still up in the air. Which is where I started. :) Has anyone heard or had any experience with Cary Rocket 88 amp? It's within my price point.
FWIW this is all about distortion. Solid state amps have a harshness due to trace amounts of odd ordered harmonics (5th and above) that the ear uses to sort out how loud a sound is. It is because of the latter fact that the human ear is very sensitive to these harmonics, and so even though they only show up in trace amounts (as far as our test equipment is concerned anyway) we hear it as harshness and brightness, even though the amp has a flat frequency response.

To get detail though you have to get rid of distortion, as the ear's masking principle means that distortion can block the presence of detail. This is why tubes are still here some 50 years on after being declared obsolete. They don't make those odd ordered harmonics in such great quantity, and so sound smoother.

You could say and rightly so that tubes more closely follow the rules of human hearing in this regard.

Now tubes can get bright too, like transistors, if you use a lot of loop negative feedback in the design (this is BTW one reason that transistors are bright- most transistor amps use feedback). Although feedback gets rid of some types of distortion, it does not do everything. This is because the amplifier circuit always has a propagation delay, a small but measurable length of time it takes for the signal to propagate from input to output.

Because of this the feedback signal is always arriving a little too late. As frequency is increased, this problem is exacerbated and results in trace amounts of odd ordered harmonics, which it is *supposed* to be getting rid of. You could add even more feedback, but you would need more gain in the amp to do that- IOW the carrot will always just slightly out of reach.

For this reason the smoothest sounding amps potentially will be ones that don't employ feedback.

When looking for smoothness and transparency, another way of describing this is linearity. When an amplifier is linear, it is low in distortion. But if it is to be low in distortion and lacking feedback, it will have to employ other techniques to keep distortion at bay.

One of these techniques is to use linear devices in the signal chain. Triodes are immediate and obvious choice. Another design feature that has long been known to be more linear is the class of operation- the most linear known is class A. Further, if the amp is fully balanced and differential throughout, it will be lacking the even ordered harmonics for which tubes are often faulted. Since these lower ordered harmonics usually have a lot more energy associated with them, they can obscure more detail although they add 'warmth'.

So there is a short list of features to look for- good luck and have fun!
Thanks Mark, I'll keep an eye out. Atmassphere, your explanation was amazing. Made total sense. Is it safe to assume that you are some type of audio engineer?

As my Mama use to say, "Try to learn something new every day" well I certainly did today. Thank you!

Denon53, yes, I get accused of that occasionally :)
Hello all,
Sorry for the delay with my reply. Had surgery on Friday and it took a couple of days to recoop.

I would like to try the "tube amp" approach for my 2 channel listening. Mark had a recommendation of a Musical Reference RM-10 and from what I've read about it, it sounds like a pretty nice amp but I think, as he said, it may take a very long time before one shows up here for sale. And the odds are it won't be $1,000 or lower. Would you please list your top 3 tube amps that might sell for under $1,000. If it's a quality amp then I'm sure this will be a used price. It would now become a "belated" Christmas present to myself. :)

Hope you are feeling better!
Thank you Atmasphere, I'm doing better as each day passes. :)
If you do not need big power, take a look at Sophia baby tube amplifier.
Wishing all Audio-Goners a very Happy, Prosperous New Year!