The ouput voltage on preamp and input voltage of amp.Make sure that the preamp has the same or more so it will drive your amp to full output.Otherwise nothing else to check.
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Everything sounds pretty good, but I want it to sound great!
In a way it will depend on the genius of the Designer (they are all genius, but there are differences ), there are good examples for one or the other design out there.
But, at the end of day, when a signal goes through the vacuum of a tube, something happens, no transistor can do. Most lifelike reproduction I heard were based on tube preamps.
Tube Design has a lot of differences, I would look for a design which is soft on tubes (some designs burn them really down), reliable, silent and pure in tone. In a way, a good reason to travel around to learn ....
They way to go tubes is tube amp and tube preamp. 2.. tube amp ss preamp. The tube amp will make the biggest difference, however both components being tube is better. I've tried SS amp w/ Carver C-1 pre, tube amp to the Carver, (better) ss amp to tube pre, and tube amp to tube pre. You have to make sure input and output impedences are a good match. Always get matching tubes and 1 or 2 full back up sets. It's just part of the price of better sound. Then again, if you like what you have now...
If you go the tube pre-amp route, newer ARC pre-amps are fine choices for all kinds of music, including rock and metal. I would be cautious with some tube pre-amps though especially for this kind of music. I use an sp16 with Class D amplifiers. It is hard to tell what amplification technology is used. It just sounds great! I like that!
Be aware that if you go tube pre-amp, output impedance is higher and for rock/pop/electronic music in particular to sound best, clean and dynamic, you should make sure input impedance of you amp is 30K ohms or greater. Many amps designed to work well with tube pre-amps are 60K ohms input impedance or higher. My Bel Cantos are 100K ohms input impedance. The higher the better though benefits of going too high may be marginal or not significant.
If not sure about impedance matching between a tube pre and SS amp, stick with a good SS pre-amp. I would be looking at Bel Canto pre-amps if it were me.
I also replaced an old Carver pre-amp with the ARC sp 16. Huge difference! Definitely worth a try!
In this hobby hopefully you'll eventually be able to try (own or at least audition at home) many different designs which will eventually refine your personal taste.
At my age the idea and practicality of lightweight and powerful solid state has been a hopeful search from the first 60's A/B to todays class D switchers. Underneath this silly quest was the reality of the second order harmonic presentation of tube amplifiers that I grew up listening to in radios and televisions from the fifties.
I came full circle last year and purchased a pair of affordable Bob Carver VTA 180s. Cool running, easy maintenance, and more than enough top to bottom power for todays speakers. Having rolled my third set of input tubes their presentation evolves, something that can't be done with solid state.
Don't get me wrong I'm not plugging tubes I'm just enjoying them, again. I still have a pair of Hypex nCore 400 switching amps in my studio. Nothing like a massively powerful solid state amp. Keep in mind what those people are using to make your favorite hard and heavy music.
I think you should try both designs as the old line between solid-state and tubes has been blurred. Most good designs these days are relatively neutral in tonal balance but you can still find the old "tube sound" or "solid-state" sound if you want it. IMO, it is good to get tubes somewhere in your system, and if so, tubes are much better suited to voltage gain (preamp or input stage of power amp) than they are at current gain (output stage of power amps). I have had Conrad-Johnson, CAT, and Essence tube amps and they do all of the things SS amps do. However, since you have a tubed CD player output (don't know if they are voltage gain or cathode followers), a good SS design may be just fine. I think you are correct in listening to both and see what you like best.
Again, I'm mystified by nonesensical suggestions regarding "classical or jazz" specific gear, as that assumes other forms of music are somehow less polite and require some meatier form of support. The slam of Mahler is just as intense as the slam of dubstep, and your system's limits will be revealed in either case. Do we suggest nobody touch the volume knob? It would be more apt to suggest gear based on the question, "do you always listen at quiet, discreet, mellow, or apologetic levels so as not to wake the baby or incite passion, tawdry displays of senseless emotion, or, dare I say, DANCING?" Then a mini watt tube amp or tiny speakers are for you (and I refuse to be your friend). BALDERDASH! Jazz can be insanely dynamic, acoustic pianos can really test a speaker's strengths, and classical can be as ballsy as Norwegian Death Metal, although perhaps not as tedious and adoreable. Those Norwegians!
I'm in the "SS preamp to tube amp" camp as I want the signal to be as pure as a virgin's heartstrings (!) before it's filled with 2nd order grease by my amp. Plus, most power amps have larger and therefore more engaging tube glow than many preamps where you can't even see the damn tubes! Now I'm all upset! *sigh*...OK...it's OK...whew...
Wolf's hearing is probably more acute in the higher registers because.......DUH............he's a wolf. Lol! I myself have had great success with a tubed preamp and tube phono preamp going to a solid state amplifier, but your mileage may vary. I don't claim to have golden ears but I am a guitar, bass, and keyboard player going back to when I was 7 years old (62 now), so I'm familiar with how music ought to sound live. Each of us hears differently due to age and health,our rooms and ancillary equipment are different, so you have to find what works for you, for YOUR ears. The tube pres and soild state amp gives me the combination of ambiance retrieval and trueness of timbre while also providing a deep, solid bass foundation to the types of music I enjoy (everything but country and hip-hop).
I'm not sure my SS pre to tube amp sounds better or worse than any other well assembled gear pile, but I've been having so much fun with my rig I don't care. I'd love to get a tube preamp eventually but the ones I like (with balanced outs and ins) are in the 5 grand area (that Cary SLP O5 just seems friggin' BAD) so for now I'm fine with my trusty super clean Kavent S33. If my high frequency hearing ability has diminished (playing in loud bands for decades and being a "geezer newbie"...hmmm) I refuse to admit it as the people who hire me for live sound mixing may find it off-putting. Interestingly (to me anyway) many mastering techs, respected studio producers/engineers, speaker designers, and other sound pros are in my age group and doin' JUST FINE...whew...
What is weird is I THINK I can hear fine...I dislike squeeky or shrill treble, I seem to be able to hear a full range of music, and if there is some high pitched something or other I can't hear I prefer not to hear it anyway. I do have that thing where I can't hear well when there's a lot of ambient racket and a "soft talker" is yammering at me.
"The drawback to tube pre's is that if/when a tube goes a pair of expensive speakers is probaly going with it."
I have not found that to be the case so far (knock on wood) with my ARC sp16, but that is certainly something worth considering with any tube gear. It may sound lovely, but how well protected are you when a tube inevitably fails? Definitely worth knowing an answer, if you can find it.
"The drawback to tube pre's is that if/when a tube goes a pair of expensive speakers is probaly going with it."
I have not found that to be the case so far (knock on wood) with my ARC sp16, but that is certainly something worth considering with any tube gear. It may sound lovely, but how well protected are you when a tube inevitably fails? Definitely worth knowing an answer, if you can determine it in advance somehow.
I agree with Audiolabyrinth. Tube preamp to solid state amplifier is great sounding. I own same. CODA 10.5r solid state amp mated to Cary Audio SLP98L tube preamp. Just make sure you don't combine a direct-coupled preamp with direct-coupled solid state amplifier. That can cause problems in the future. Spend the money on good NOS (new old stock) preamp tubes.
Mrmitch, the sound of music live. Actually, coupled with the right speaker systems (with subs) many of the modest systems we all own can get quit close to live sound.
The problem is not exactly with our play back equipment it's the generations of production and processing of the media we are listening to.
As a Bass player I'm in recording studios often. What I hear from the original track recordings, analog and digital, is remarkably life like. The digital files sound even better at home on my system.
Once those same files begin the mixing process the degradation begins. It takes another hit in mastering, yet again in pressing / burning, and distribution can't help.
Those high dollar master tapes you may experience at a show have, at the very least, been mixed. Even so you might be able to get an idea from them.
If you believe that a tube preamp or amp sounds better, then it will. The same goes for Solid State. Both types of electronics are a means to an end. In the end it comes down to personal preference and affordability. Its funny how in the 80s to early 90s good tube gear could be had for a fairly reasonable price that sounded as good the SOTA, very expensive SS gear- albeit with some component upgrades such as better wiring, capacitors and so forth. Now, it seems both types of electronics have comparable pricing. Tube gear has an ongoing cost that must be considered- replacement tubes. Not too bad when it comes to preamps, but big power amps can carry a significant maintenance fee for the periodic replacement of tubes.
I have actually heard a Naim amp that a friend had that we attempted to pair with tube linestages. The result, with several models was not that satisfactory -- sluggish, murky sound. Of course it might have worked well with a different linestage. As with any kind of matching, one has to actually try the particular combination to know if it will work well. From my experience, the least predictable match is a tube linestage/preamplifier feeding solid state. I am not saying it would be bad, but, I have heard enough combinations that were not good so I would say the results are highly unpredictable. The other way around is much more predictable -- the particular characteristics of the solid state linestage seem to carry over more predictably when coupled with a tube amp (this may too be a disappointment if one had hoped to somehow radically change the sound).
The other thing to consider, when going to tube feeding solid state, is whether you intend to keep the solid state amp on all of the time (usually helps the sound and is, I believe, the recommended practice for Naim amps). If that is the case, you will be switching on the tube linestage while the main amp is active. A tube amp being turned on, and some when being turned off, can emit pretty nasty noise. Some tube gear cures this problem with a mute circuit that either automatically mutes at turn on, or requires manual muting until the unit is warmed up. This is not an issue with all tube systems where it is common practice to turn the amp on last and off first.
I don't know if a tube linestage is more likely to produce dangerous, speaker threatening impulses. I have actually experienced more problems in that area with solid state gear myself. the primary maintenance issue with a tube linestage is aging tubes that will cause deterioration in sound quality (typically making the sound dull and lifeless) or result in increasing noise. I would have an extra set of tubes ready for replacement and "testing" (every year or so, try putting in the replacement tubes to see if the sound of the original set has deteriorated enough to warrant replacement). Apart from tube replacement, tube gear tends to last quite a long time and is repairable (solid state gear is more likely to become unrepairable because of unobtainable transistors and ICs).