Of the ones you mentioned I prefer the Apollo. Tubes, properyly implemented, can help digital. Having tubes doesn't make it automatically better than a solidstate player. You have to listen.
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The quality of the analog output stage ultimately matters alot, but there are aurally successful designs from both camps in your better players. Ultimately your ears will decide, and try to listen with an open mind. Not all tube gears imparts tubiness, and the same applies for solid state. For example, the McCormack UDP-1 initally fooled me into thinking a tube was in there somewhere. You may want to add that one to your list.
The Consonance Droplet is not warm sounding. I have not heard the Raysonic. Very little current production tube gear is warm sounding.
My suggestion if you want to add some nice warmth and creaminess to your system is to try a MHDT Lab Paradisea DAC. It has toslink, S/PDIF and BNC inputs, and it uses one 5670 tube as a buffer. Really nice sound from this DAC. Sold only on E-Bay for $499 plus $35 shipping from the builder in Taiwan.
You could run your computer audio through it, and if you want to play CDs, you could buy a used Sony 7000ES or 7700ES DVD player. They are excellent transports.
An MHZS CD66 player weighs over 30#, has two 12AX7 tubes w/ LED status indicators and a window to see them without pulling the cover, balanced outputs, upsampling on the solid metal remote, and is a top loader to boot. I'm not sure how the tubes affect the output but the whole package makes for one musically satisfying experience. I found mine for less than the dac mentioned above, and have a few dollars left over for tube-rolling, although I'm not really tempted to do so yet as teh stock tubes play just fine for now. Nice to have the option down the road.
Joe, I heard the Droplet at a Zu Audio sponsored demonstration a couple of years ago. The Droplet sounded much better (smoother and more natural) than the computer hard drive source the Zu guys had previously been using. It was clean, extended and resolving. Pretty good actually. But not warm, rolled off or bloomy in the mids.
I have had a number of CDP over the last two or three years. Started with an Electrocompaniet, then went to a Wadia 861, then to a Audio Aero Capitole mk2 and I just bought an Einstein-The Last Record Player, CDP--which, like the Capitole uses tubes, but not the mini's. It uses 6922's. For me, the odd man out so to speak was the Wadia--in my system it had a lot of glare. The Electrocompaniet was very nice, smooth yet detailed. The Capitole did everything well and the new player is really a nice unit. Like the Capitole in gets you involved, very detailed but no edge. what I really noticed is this player seems to be able to put all the instuments in the correct place. I have played around with the tubes a little and you can notice the difference different tubes can make in the way this player makes music. I really like that you can fine tune the player to suit your music and your system.
Thanks for the insights, Grant!
And, I do agree most emphatically with you; I don't consider the 6H30 as nearly an attractive option than a tube you can roll - 12AX7, 12AU7, 6922, etc. Just about impossible for me to believe a Russian tube can compete with most of what was produced yesterday - or, even today.
Tubes are actually much more ideal for voltage amplification, such as small-signal in a DAC or CDP. Transistors are better at current amplification. The main disadvantage of tubes is the high-voltage and the high output impedance, along with the obvious wear-out factor. Fets can compete with tubes, except that they have temperature sensitivity. If you could keep them extremely cool always, FET's would be king I think.
The high-voltage for tubes must be dealt with using transformers or coupling capacitors. With the advent of the Sonicap Platinum and the V-cap Teflons it is possible to get excellent low-disortion results from good tubes, such as the 12AU7 6922 or cca's. When the power systems and capacitors are well-designed, you have the punch and extension that you get with transistor outputs combined with the smoothness, imaging and detail of good tubes.
Not all designs deliver this however. It's like asking if transistor amps are better than tube amps. Depends on the design and parts choices. There is more to design than just the circuit design and whether it uses tubes, transistors or FET's.