Well this may prove to be an intersting thread, I think the answer is quiet simple(with today's technology). The SS vs. tube thread is another can of worms all together, those who have made there choice are standing there ground. So I won't get into that part of your question-for the record go tubes go! ;) As far as digital technology is concerned I don't see it being "the end" for an audiophile, my judgement on this is based on our format of software. I am willing to lay odds that a majority of the folks who have both digital and analog set ups have 2-10 fold the money into there analog rig, the reason for this?? its more emotional it contains body, more like actual music instead of reproduced sound. Though digital tech. is coming along I think EVERYONE(and that doesn't happen often) will agree that analog sounds better. I am willing to bet there are hundreds if not thousands of people who have 10k plus in to there analog front end and far fewer have that much into digital(and those who do most generally have many times the value of there CD player into there analog). I don't see anything digital being the audio nirvana that we all seek. I have tried several highly regarded ss amps in my system(which will remain nameless) and a few tube amps and I just find I have a much higher PRaT in my system with tubes, and to me that's what this hobby/curse is about. The only amp I would enjoy trying is Halcro and from what I am told they are great but a good tube amp will blow it out of the water(for how I like to listen that is). My comments are subjective of course to what I want from MY system everyone has different needs. Well maybe I didn't answer your querry at all but I added my .02.
A great example of advanced amplifier design today is the David Berning Z amplifers. High tech stuff and sounds great, does not sound like tubey tube amps or SS gear they sound more like the tonality of tubes with the bass and clarity of the better SS. This stuff uses quite an advance switching power supply amongst some other really interesting features. Berning has always been decades ahead of the pack technology wise. Tubes are his specialty and its obvious he wants to try and take advantage of them to the utmost extent. I'll be very interested to see how much better digital sources will become in the next few years, I hope we can get analog performance from the digits some day. Maybe I'm just a dreamer :)
I am really not sure anyone is trying to make solid state sound like tubes, (except for the guys at Conrad Johnson). The goal should be to make it sound real.
What is new are people like Gilbert Yeung at Blue Circle, who are taking a fresh approach and designing gear using their ears, instead of a bunch of electronic measuring equipment (helps to have great hearing). Many audio reviewers are perplexed by some Blue Circle gear, because when they hook it up to all their testing equipment, it does not spec out well on paper; which really means it does not measure against the "established norm". So they cannot not explain in a technical sense why Blue Circle gear sounds so good. This calls into question whether the "established norm" matters, or is there a better benchmark. I have read that Gilbert Yeung has said that he could make his amplifers have a quieter background, but not without sacrificing the amps musical qualities.
I guess we now call this "thinking outside the box".
Spectron seems to be doing interesting things with digital class D amplifiers. Some people seem to love it. I personally have only heard it on a low-fi system at CES and did not and do not have the expertise it would take to isolate the 'potentially great sounding amplifier' from the many 'weakest links' of the overall system.
Here is the link:
From my perspective as a software geek, this is the future. Oversampling in the multi-Mhz range, 128bit word lengths... The technology to archive and reproduce music will be perfect. The only problems will be the analog to digital on the front end (microphones, etc.) and D to A on the back end (amplifier output stage and speakers).
We will get there in time...
Purely an opinion of course, but I really think that all three types of amps (and hybrids) will continue to co-exist for a long time-- of course just in the high end community. A select sub-group of audiophiles will always swear by a pure tube approach for example, and innovative/imaginative designers will continue to experiment with all new technologies. It wouldn't surprise me to eventually see disagreements between SS "analog" amp owners and digital amp owners.
I usually agree with most of Tim's opinions, but on this we disagree on much. I love my HQ digital system and have gone to great lengths to make it musical. I use a tube pre-amp and solid state amp, and love the synergy-- the SS amp is smooth, fast, and powerful with excellent bass control, and the tube pre-amp adds-- well, some of the "magic" of tubes. Cheers. Craig
I also play some guitar as an alternate hobby (like I need one). In the guitar world tube amps rule, and are prized for their colorations and distortions. This is almost the polar opposite of the hifi view.
In recent years various guitar amp manufacturers have introduced digital modeling amps. These use lots of computer processing power to run a digital model of various classic guitar amps (i.e. various Fender, Marshall, Vox, Matchless etc amplifiers).
At first the results were like a caricature of the real tube amp sound and feel (the way the amp responds to the player's nuances). However, with faster processors and better digital modeling techniques, the current crop of modeling amps are coming surprisingly close to the originals they emulate. They even capture amp-speaker interaction.
So I wonder about the intermediate future of hi-fi amplification. Might we see an advanced version of digital amplifier modeling coupled with room modeling and a Class D output stage to give us the sound of any of out favorite classic tube (or solid state) amplifiers? Imagine being able to change amp models on the fly from a remote control to select just the right one for the music at hand.
But could we as audiophiles accept such an innovation?
Question: What determines a digital amp to be a "digital" amp? Are Tact and the amps used in Meridian DSP speakers considered "digital"? I think these amps merely have signal processors built into them?
With the half of the majority playing mp3 off discmans, portable mp3 players and computer speakers, and the other half of the majority wasting their money on home theaters, there really isn't any opportunity for growth in regards to tube technology.
Plus, eventually, even die-hard tube lovers will convert to ss or digital once NOS vintage tubes run out.
Quality of sounds probably isn't the main issue here.
Like so many buzzwords "digital amp" has several meanings:
1) A "switching" (aka Class D, Class H) amplifier in which the output stage at any moment is either fully conducting or fully off. This is unlike a conventional analog amplifier in which the output stage at any moment passes current proportional to the instantaneous value of the input signal.
A switching amplifier produces music by varying the the ratio of on time to off time of the output stage in proportion to the music signal (i.e., by varying pulse width). Typically these amplifiers use some kind of filter on the outputs to reduce ultrasonic noise caused by the rapid switching.
Digital signals (both PCM and DSD) easily convert directly into the pulse width modulation signal required by such an output stage.
2) An amplifier that uses physical modeling implemented in software to reproduce the sonic characteristics of another amplifier (none for hifi use yet) or perform room/speaker corrections.
3) An amplifier that uses both of the above techniques.
Something's going on when a first-generation product like the Bel Canto digital amps have a bunch of tube-o-philes singing their praises. One can only guess at how good the second- and third-generation amps will be...
Also, and I should say that I do like tubes and what they can bring to a system, as the new formats improve on both the hardware and software fronts a lot of(but certainly not all) audiophiles currently using tubes to smooth out the phase distortion created by their redbook CD players may start to re-evaluate the need to soften edges and fill out the midrange. I think the new formats will likewise soon send a lot of turntables packing as well(again, not all, but most).
My bet is that in a few years we're going to have some relatively inexpensive digital amps and players that will sound so incredibly good that they will relegate the tube vs. solid state debate to a distant back burner. But then again I've lost bets before.
Loads of new techie thingies, Digital switching, transimpediance modulating, Class Z+, Triple mono, Dual defractor power supplies, triple regulated digital filters, etc.
IMHO As only to SOUND, amp technology is nothing more than meaningless buzz words.
Older amps from Muse, ML, Mac, AR, J Rowland, VTL, D Berining, etc. sound just as good as most current offerings and are built better. Just my .02 cents worth and rant of the day.
I am willing to speculate that the combination of room correction and surround sound will eventually be the dominant technolgy. A new purist audiophile will emerge, considering any unnecessary analog input as an anathema. A new democratic audiophile who will embrace the idea that with digital equalization one may dial in the amount of sweetness, crispness,slam or any other favorite audiophile characteristic he or she desires.
The idea of rolling tubes,using different transistors, combining technologies or using cables to balance,modify or correct anomolies will be reviewed as a rather broad,crude and antiquated concept.
All bets are off if the greedy manufacturers (both soft and hard ware) don't get thier acts together and don't present finished and compatible products that don't evoke fears of planned obsoleteness.