what makes a tube sound the way it does?


I have a tube pre and know that tubes sound diffrent but was curious to know exactly how and why they can manipulate the sound (sometimes dratically) anyway,,,thanks
thinkinstereo
Tubes overload easily. Tubes sound nice in overload. They act like a compressor. They add lots of the right kinds of harmonic distortion during overload and this can make a pleasing sound. It can even make the music more audible to our ears/brain ( we are very susceptible to discerning harmonics)

Solid state can be more robust and play at much higher levels with better linearity = more accurate. However, when Solid State clips it sounds awful and immediately becomes much less accurate.

To get good sound with Solid State you need to absolutely ensure no clipping. (i.e. requires a very powerful amplifier and an easy load). A good linear tube amp will actually sound almost identical to solid state up until the point it clips (often this occurs at very modest levels due to transient peaks) at which point it gives that famous "tube sound".
Tubes are used a lot in recording studios for miking and also for mastering....that pleasing tube sound can improve a "thin" sounding mix...it can also act as a limiter to reduce dynamic range on a studio mix in a very elegant way. Studio miking with solid state can prove to be a challenge due to the shear dynamic range involved...as already mentioned a tube amp recording a mike will clip nicely if the sound goes out of range whilst a SS amp will sound awful as it clips....so tube amps offer advantages if you don't get the gains correct or the mike is placed too close to the instrument.
Here is some reading material, enjoy......

http://home.comcast.net/~enghenry/diy/taste.pdf

http://werple.net.au/~gnb/elec/valvedata.html

http://www.theabsolutesound.com/newsletter/147/tubes_vs_trans.html
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OTL (Output Transistor-Less)
There are scientific reasons tube based equipment will sound different to the human ear. First, a tube plays about 4 times louder per watt than solid state. A tube's harmonic distortion occurs on an even order as opposed to solid state devices where it occurs on an odd order. And yes, when tubes approach clipping, they are more "rolled off" than solid state equipment. Also remember that with tube equipment, one can use different brands and types of tubes which can affect sound quality. If you are considering a "single ended" tube amp as opposed to a "push-pull" type tube amp, you will want to consider a high efficiency speaker. Like with anything else, there are good and bad tube based equipment. Look for a well established manufacturer. There are a lot of "garage" made equipment that probably should be avoided.
I also have a tube preamp, and I have been wondering the same thing. One set of tubes can sound different than another set of the same type.

To me it seems that this happens when the internal construction is different, that is, the plate, terminals, heater, etc. are rolled or shaped differently.

These differences would affect capacitance mostly, maybe inductance also. I guess that could explain the differences in sound.

Or maybe the emitting electrode has a "terroir", the electrons having a kind of audible flavor based on where the metal came from. This seems less likely, but who the heck really knows?

As to tubes vs solid-state, compensation circuits may play a role. Transistors are very non-linear devices, and even differ from device to device. Bias and compensation circuits are used to make circuits that work the same way with different transistors, and to control the operating nonlinearities and extend the linear performance range. These circuits are actually feedback loops. And feedback can cause non-harmonic distortion that sounds bad. For example, a transistor's gain actually changes depending on the current going through it; a compensation circuit would introduce some current somewhere in the circuit that dynamically compensates in some way so that the gain looks uniform at the top "black box" level, but really there is a non-linear feedback loop in there. And there are more loops like this than you would think.

Tubes, on the other hand are already pretty linear, and it's pretty easy to test them and find matching sets. To make outstanding equipment of either kind you need to be a design wizard, but it may be that a decent transistor amp might be harder to design than a decent tube amp.

Also, negative feedback in the amp design could be a source of difference. Transistors and tubes respond differently to NFB. In particular, NFB in transistor circuits reduces the lower number harmonic distortion but not the upper, in effect emphasizing the higher distortion harmonics, which sound nastier. Tubes are more tolerant. Again, this is an area where transistors are harder to tame.

Yet another reason for differences is in the input/output characteristics at the top-level circuit. Electrons don't know inputs from outputs, they just go with the flow, and will as lief go in the out door as out the in door. Interaction between the input and output circuits is hard to eliminate or predict (given that there is no standardization of I/O circuits), and tubes and transistor have very different behaviors.

So, there are plenty of reasons why things should sound different. The more I learn about it, the more impressed I am that they sound as good as they do.
There is no such thing as the right type of distortion.

Tubes do have much lower open loop THD than transistor i.e. tubes are more accurate.

+++ Solid state can be more robust and play at much higher levels with better linearity = more accurate +++

Patently false. A transistor will turn to smoke when overloaded (I have done that many times), while tube can withstand overloads with little ill effect (I have done that many times too). Tubes are extremely robust but transistors are extremely fragile.

Transistors are totally “un” linear and measure at up to 70% THD run in open loop. They normally require copious amounts of feedback to sound linear. Many vacuum tube amplifier can run with zero % negative feedback.

+++ A good linear tube amp will actually sound almost identical to solid state up until the point it clips (often this occurs at very modest levels due to transient peaks) at which point it gives that famous "tube sound".+++

Again, patently false. I never clip my tube amps and they sound like tube amps the whole time i.e. accurate, natural and real.

I have heard some nice sounding transistor amps, but they do not sound natural or real.

Regards
Paul
Tubes overload easily. Tubes sound nice in overload. They act like a compressor.

I gotta comment here: transistors and tubes overload equally easily. Neither has any particular dynamic range over the other. The rest of the above quote is true of tubes in mild overload and is something transistors do not do.
Tube amps are voltage driven which produce even harmonics,solid state is current driven which produces uneven harmonics.That pretty much sums it up,right.
OTL stands for output transformerless
No one talks about what I believe is an important factor in the difference between the sound of tubes and transistors. Tubes have a far superior dielectric, or lack thereof, because they have a near vacuum surrounding the conducting elements. The signal is not impeded or impinged upon by anything, not even air.

Transistors or semiconductors require the signal to pass through layers of solid materials (silicon, plastic, metal) which are far from ideal dielectrics. Just as a cable with a poor dielectric sounds closed-in and clogged, so do transistors when compared with vacuum tubes.
Tube amps are voltage driven which produce even harmonics,solid state is current driven which produces uneven harmonics.That pretty much sums it up,right.

Is this true? I'm no expert. Just been reading up on tubes lately, because I'm considering moving over to the dark side from SS. I've read that tubes produce both even and odd harmonics, and in push-pull tube amps the even harmonics (all of them?) cancel out leaving odd harmonics like a SS amp. I may be off on this, like I said I'm no expert. In any event, they produce some magical sound.
Bigamp, I think the magical sound comes from the very simple circuit topologies used in tube amps. If you look at a SS amp, there is gain stage after gain stage, lots of feedback loops, all because transistors are very non-linear and require a bit of correction to sound good. And as we know, less is more.

The characteristic tone of tube amps is more due to the quality of the output transformer than anything else. This is where the harmonics are generated and is the major source of coloration.

IOW, what I am saying is that with valve amps, the transparency comes from the simple circuits, and the lush tone comes from the output transformers. Remove the output transformer, and you get the transparency but with a more neutral solid-state character (like Atmasphere OTL's). The downside is that OTL's need a speaker with a forgiving impedance curve.

The negative feedback used in SS amps has the effect of removing low order harmonic distortion (2nd, 3rd, etc) but leaving high order harmonic distortion in place (7th, 8th, etc). Studies have shown that the high order harmonics are more objectionable than low order harmonics. Listening tests show that a surprising amount of 2nd order harmonic distortion is almost inaudible, for example!

In the end, the simplest amps sound the best, but place demands on speaker selection. The more complex amps are more forgiving of speaker selection, but do not sound as good. You can get complex amps to sound very good, but then you pay through your nose. Take your choice.