When to go solid state vs. vacuum?

I am looking to upgrade my system into a good 2ch system (hopefully adding vinyl playback) but also being able to do nice HT sound.

I am currently working on new speaker considerations but it may be likely that they will benefit from a dedicated amp....how to choose which type and which one?

I have an integra dtr40.1 that has some very nice features and can function as my pre-amp, and using it that way may be a good place to start. That said, I am new and ignorant to most things regarding standalone amps. Where are vacuum tubes appropriate and where are slowed state appropriate? I have heard both and at least for music I prefer the vacuum tubes, is there any reason why they can't ideally be used for HT as well?

I realize this is a bit of a nebulous thread but I need a starting point.


It is all a personal preference...there was a time (less so these days) when tubes were most often associated with beautiful midrange magic...so female jazz vocals, Enya (spaciousness). And SS was associated with tightfisted bass...much less the case these days.

one thing i will say is that SS has less day to day maintenance involved....tubes need replacing every few years and can sometimes requiring periodic re-biasing. Personally, i have used tubes in my system (preamp and digital)...and never regretted it after nearly 15 years straight. But i moved away from Tubed amplification as i wanted more power...but did not want the maintenance of replacing 12+ tubes. (My preamp has only 2 tubes).

So i run Tubed preamp with big SS amp.

As for home theater...i use my system for both...but i remain critical for music only, and simply wish for hometheater to have clarity and good tight bass for explosions, special effects. Tubes are fine for this, providing you have good bass. Today's latest tubed amps are quite powerful in bass and should be fine.

good luck. One man's experience. Feel free to post further questions...
Tube amps are my preference by a wide margin. The best ss amp I owned (Plinius SA-102) was decent, but it failed to convey emotion the way similarly priced tube amps do. All other ss amps I've owned where disappointing (tired models from BAT, Simaudio, YBA, Musical Fidelity, Forte and a few others).

Not sure what your budget is, but a great beginner tube amp is the McIntosh MC-275 (about $3,200 used). Great sound, dependable and power exceeding it's 75 wpc rating.
I suggest you go and listen to a bunch of speakers in your price range and a few above it and a good local dealership. Select the speakers and then select an amp to drive that particular speaker in your particular room and at the volume level that you prefer. You should be able to hear the differences between SS and tubes on a good pair of speakers. Once you have decided on the speakers and know what their requirements are, you may want to ask the question again. But that is how I would start the process. It should be fun so enjoy it.
Yes. Its dependant on your taste in music and of course your ear. I run tube but will be seeking out some ss gear that's more laid back because I'm major OCD and when a output tube goes I flip. Ill keep the tubes because I don't want to miss and regret selling them. There's some ss gear out now that doesn't present that hard edge. I'm holding out to see what the new Ayre AX-5 integrated sounds like and it could be awhile before its on the market.
Choose your speakers first, then what type of amplification best suits those (1)speakers and (3)upstream components, within your budget, in your room, at the volume levels you desire, with sound characteristics that are most important to you, best fit the accommodations you can provide, with the level of maintenance you are prepared to offer, and the level of value you expect to maintain.
Tubed preamp is no problem. easy to have and maintain.
Tube amps are harder to maintain.
Then tube costs.
lus tube fear. (buying tubes is crazy, way too many choices)
Anyway, for a 'never had tubes' person, i suggest only a tube preamp.
Agree- it is personal taste. If you want great tube sound go OTL, but it will use a lot of energy and put off a lot of heat. I use Nuforce digital switching amps, Monarchy class A solid state, and Transcendent SET OTL tube amps with horns/super tweeters. I have tri-amped front end and the rest are for a surround system. David Shulte has modded most everything of mine ( Upgrade Company) and almost all of the system is XLR balanced. My phono preamp and my preamps are also tube. Tubes are fun to learn about and roll, but can be pricey. To get the really fine detail out of a full tube system is a long journey, but in the end blows everything else out to my ears. Use solid state and or digital switching technology for lows and mids, but class A tubes is the best for the highs.
If you want to try a tube amp PrimaLuna is an easy way to go. They sell integrateds which have 4 preamp tubes and 4 power tubes, not too complex but it still allows for trying different tube combinations (known as tube rolling).

The power tubes are continuously autobiased. The biggest problem with tubes for the beginner is biasing power tubes. With a PrimaLuna, and some others, you don't have to do it, the integrated does it for you. This also keeps it sounding its best, reduces wear on tubes, allows you to use different types of power tubes (e.g. EL 34s or KT 88s) and makes matching power tubes less important.

PrimaLuna has received tons of awards and great reviews, just google them. They are built to last and are not expensive.

PrimaLuna is a great place to start with tubes. Once you become a little knowledgable about tubes you may want to try something more esoteric or expensive. That's my 2 cents.
Solid state has come a long way. Tubes are tubes. The best will quickly reveal itself. They can and will be amazing.
This was posted by Atmasphere on 4/19/12 :

"Matching amps and speakers is important!

Take a look at this link:

The B&W 802 is designed to work on an amplifier that can double its power when the load is cut in half. Specifically, it has an 8 ohm midrange and tweeter, but the woofers are in parallel and so are 4 ohms. Not only that, but the woofers are 3 db less efficient than the mid and tweeter. To correct this, its expected that the amplifier will double its power into the lower impedance.

No tube amp can do this and so on this speaker, tube amps will have less punch in the bass. Now if you had a speaker that did not expect that of the amplifier, then you could get more punch out of a tube amp than a transistor amp...

Its all in the match. Of course its my opinion that tubes offer more music much easier than transistors do (I know of one transistor amp that is really musical but it retails for over $100,000...).

Another issue with 4 ohms is that the speaker cable is more critical and also that any amplifier driving 4 ohms (tube or transistor) will not sound as good as it does driving higher impedances. So if you are seeking musicality, you may want to consider replacing the speaker as well."
It depends on the speakers. Some speakers sound better with tubes and other speakers sound better with solid state. Choose your speakers according to the type of amplification you intend on using. To me tubes are for music. Who wants to burn up expensive tubes watching a movie?
Butler amps would seem to give you the best of both worlds: Tube sweetness mated to MOSFET output. And the Butler amps NEVER need biasing and they will last 25 years or more - truly set-and-forget. Check 'em out:


I have nothing against tubes , I still use tubes in my second system. My main system has slowly gone all solid state, didn't plan it that way but when I auditioned each component for upgrade S.S. just sounded best, and less hassle, no tube changes, less tinkering, more music.
There are some very good suggestions here and you already seem to understand the speaker first part of the equation.

Combining two channel and HT compromises both or at best one over the other. When I tried it I lost a good portion of the delicate two channel sound stage of the two channel and the speaker balance and location needed for optimum 5 or 7.1 HT. Its at this point were you must be honest with yourself on what your priorities are.

IMO you don't have to go high end on an HT system. A modest but modern solid state receiver with up to date codecs and decent room correction, economical matching speakers, and a good subwoofer, can be surprisingly satisfying. The same can be said for a two channel system were the setup has room for the speakers to do their best at sound staging.

On your amplification choice, if you like the relaxed presentation that only tube second order amplification can provide then jump in with both feet. There are many choices and levels of quality of integrated and separates that are easy to maintain.

You like the sound of tubes and good bass? I know I do and it ain't rocket science. There are many small subwoofers that can integrate seamlessly and reinforce the very bottom octave better than any solid state amplified system working alone.
I can second the Primaluna for tubes. It was my entry to tubes and after 5 years still in love and have added another tube system at my cabin in the mountains.

there are a number of autobiasing Int Amps out there so you have a good selection. You will need a speaker that works well with tubes.

if you dont need much power and have a good effincient speaker try something with EL84 tubes sweet sound
when you have animals (multipal cats and dogs) and smoke alot...SS seems right for the job (me).

other then that...personal preference imho, that can only be sorted out by listening for yourself.
You`ve gotten some good replies,The bottom line is it`s speaker dependent. Some are meant to be driven by by SS amps and other speakers truly come alive with tubes.Narrow your list of speaker and then learn which type of amp will mate best with it.I generally find a good tube power amp sounds better with more realism but it`s ultimately what your own ears tell you.
Best of Luck,
Thank you for all these replies!
Speaker matching? Who can do THAT these days? Unless the speakers are very inefficient or designed by idiots they should work, although tone preference is personal. You can buy a factory upgraded 60wpc Jolida for half the cost of a Primaluna, and the "EZ bias" is simple, accurate (I check this with a meter because I like burning my fingers), and makes a case for NOT having auto-bias (whatEVER). I stuck KT120s in mine with no issues at all. So for a little over a grand you get an amp that has 4 and 8 ohm taps, accepts XLR and RCA inputs, and kicks ass. If you need more juice you can run 2 of 'em in mono for double the power and turn off the heat in the listening room...maybe even use the extra BTUs for warming food or small smelting projects. Get a REL for bass...do all of this now and report back immediately. Go...get out of here...
Wolf, I don`t quite see your point regarding speaker matching. Speakers that have low ohm loads,steep phase angles and low sensitivity generally mate better with SS amps,

Tube amps will be better served with higher and relatively flat load impedance,minimal-modest phase angle and higher sensitivity rating. I understand that our experiences may just be different.
In summer I use Lamm ML2.1 because they aren't hot, in Winter I prefer the
heating from my M1.2R and I can wear shorts..... Frequencies touching the skin
give a closer connection to the Performance :-)
By what margin do you prefer tubes? If it’s by a considerable margin (like me) then create a list of tube friendly speakers to audition. Keep in mind that a lot of speaker manufactures claim that their speakers are tube friendly because they don’t want to lose that market - and yes, they will play music with tubes, and probably sound pretty good; but when you hear claims that tubes are, overly euphonic, lack dynamics or can’t do bass, that’s because they have been paired with speakers that require the amplifier to operate outside its ideal ratings - and that happens a lot. Tube amplifiers are not nearly as flexible as solid state amps, but inside their comfort zone can be just as lively. Tube watts are expensive. Take that into consideration when determining the specifications of your speakers. You can save a bundle in tubes by keeping the efficiency up. Ask Charles1dad about 300b tubes - you don’t want to need eight of those babies.

If you just kind of prefer tubes but solid state can float your boat, my advise is to go solid state - unless your a pyro.
People paring 3 watt single ended tube amps with 84db 2 ohm speakers to listen to Mahler or Norwegian Death Metal are not to be allowed out if the house without supervision. I'm sticking to what I said...especially the part about "very inefficient" (that means LOW SENSITIVITY) being pretty much the major thing you need to be concerned about with tube amp/speaker matching in most cases. That sentence had at least 2 wimpy qualifiers so I'm safe. Using my carefully thought out and scientifically absolutely accurate and appropriate guidelines gleaned from years of madly stumbling around, you are limited to exactly 126,462 speaker designs that will sound great with any reasonably designed tube amp. Don't let techno geeks keep you from trying things...tube amps are fun (involving...both musically, and by forcing user maintenance "tube swap freak" characteristics out of you...you and your tube amp are IN IT TOGETHER), don't have to be expensive, and when your friends see a tube amp in your house they will think you're cooler than you actually are.
Hi Phaelon,
What speakers are you using these days?
Hi Charles1dad, I still have the Mini Utopias. They're among that group of speakers that can be satisfying with tubes but, at times, can challenge an amplifier. My next speakers will have close to a ruler flat impedance - preferably above 8 ohms, but certainly over six. My problem has been that many of the high efficiency speakers that I find intriguing use somewhat radical solutions, and are difficult to audition. I really dislike committing to anything that I haven’t heard in my system.
“when your friends see a tube amp in your house they will think you're cooler than you actually are.”

LOL - I wish I had your friends Wolf. My friends look at me like I’m a guy who rather use a shovel than a snow blower.
The move to a higher (and flat) impedance will bring out the best in your NAF amplifier.It`s a good decision.
After reading the otherwise ignored "measurements" part of a review of my speakers, I switched to the 4 ohm tap on my Jolida amp and I think it sounds better. I do use a snowblower...have to get that thing serviced.
Yes, playing around with the ohm taps on a tube amp can make a difference. My VR-4 Gen II speakers are 7 ohms nominally, but the bass module is 4 ohms. Since bass is so taxing for an amp, switching to the 4 ohm tap produced a much better result.