I went from transistors to FETS to vacuum tubes and I now have a mix of both. My first vacuum tube preamp was the Dynaco, my power amps were Conrad Johnson's; now everything is CJ. The sound is different and you will have to decide which you prefer, it is not an absolute. I did find that moving to vacuum tubes meant I didn't leave the stereo running 18 hours a day, like I did with FETS or transistors. My home theater does the 18 hour music fills the house job while the CJ are for personal listening. Also keep in mind, it is not just the power consumption, which is like running a toaster when you turn the power switch on. Tubes have a finite lifespan and you should look at then as a phono cartridge. You know when you buy it, it won't last forever and at some point, you will spring for a new cartridge. It won't be as expensive as your Hana, but your pocket book will feel the drainage when you spring for new tubes. It takes my system about 100 hours or so to become, what I call, "steady state, vacuum tube sound". Before that, it is a little louder and brighter.
Back in the prehistoric days of Dolby Prologic, I became more & more interested in listening to music & less & less interested in watching movies. A guy at the gym I was working out at , in that period of time, had planted the vacuum tube seed in my mind, so after I bought my first piece of tubed gear (which was a Carver CD player) I started looking into a new amplifier & preamp to replace my Dolby Prologic integrated unit.
There was/is a true scarcity of better-end stuff to audition in my immediate vicinity, but I did locate a store that had a Cary SLA 70(which at the time was Cary’s entry level stereo tube amp, featuring tube rectification, a pair of 6SL7s, and four 6550s) and I thought that it sounded "pleasant", so I bought one. I don’t know that I immediately heard a huge difference, although I was not willing to admit it at the time due to what seemed to me (at the time) to be a huge cash output on the amp, better cables, better interconnects, and AV digital preamp. But as it broke in, and as I broke in, I realized that I was appreciating music more & more, and as tubes wore out & new tubes broke in, I came to recognize the sonic characteristics of both events.
In the course of owning that fore mentioned amp, I upgraded from a pair of NHT two way speakers to a pair of B&W 805s. That was a HUGE difference.
The longer I owned the Little Cary, the more I came to appreciate the attributes of "vacuum tube sound." But that little amp wasn’t making enough of it, and (for (what seemed like quite a while) I obsessed about more. When Stereophile reviewed the Mesa Baron (dual mono-blocks in one chassis, and I do not, off hand, recall the tube complement), I actually did find a dealer who had one & who let me take one home for the weekend. BIG difference: sound stage was in my face and all around, and being someone who arrives at general admission concerts hours early so I can sit in the front row in the center I liked that. But the sound had a smoky & musky quality, which I noted, and which did appeal to me in a way. Sunday night came and I had made up my mind that I was going to buy this amp, but the last thing I did before I went to bed was to hook my Little Cary back up & listen to Cowboy Junkies/Sweet Jane (again, as I had listened to it several times on the Baron) and I was blown away by the black background & the sound of the cymbals shimmering in the air with the Little Cary. The sound stage was smaller & flatter than that of the Baron, but it was so much cleaner, that I decided I did not want to make this trade off.
In ’97, or there abouts, I bought a used pair of Audio Research VTM 120s, sight unseen, from a classified ad in the back of Stereophile.6922s up front and four 6550s a piece up front. Those ARCs could do it all. They could scream when I wanted screaming, or they could whisper when I wanted quiet. I bought a better used Cary preamp in ’99, and after I got done retubing everything via Andy @ Vintage Tubes, I was happy for a while. Ecstatic on some nights. What did make me unhappy was that the ARCs had a bad habit of blowing grid resistors when they started up. I used to grit my teeth when I flipped the switches to ’ON.’ I kept a supply of grid resistors on hand & my soldering equipment handy.
It was that unreliability which led me to buy my current Amp, a Cary V-12 (EL 84s & 6922s up front and a dozen EL34s in back) and switchable between 50 watts triode & 100 ultralinear. There were times that this combination made me happy & satisfied. I am sure that I told myself that it sounded as good as the ARC based system did. In retrospect, I am not sure whether it did or not.
Regardless, I found all those tube amps (that I mentioned) that I have had in my home over nearly 30 years to have sonic qualities in common and also qualities that were, in my limited experience, to be unique to each. Tubed stuff seems, to me, to be like living beings. The tubes themselves seem to have personality quirks and some days the equipment seems to have good days, and on others, days that are not so good.
For me, the biggest difference going from a SS to Tubes is your ability to create your own sound through tube swapping. I started with a Raven Reflection MK2 integrated amp that drove Wilson and then Sonus Faber speakers. I then went with monoblock tube amps. The sound is just lush and very musical with tube amps. I like your thought on Joseph audio speakers. This is a hobby that we tend to buy and sell equipment searching for that elusive end game sound which we will never find...lol. There are so many options in the $7-10k price range. I am to the point where I have end game Amps, DAC, Speakers and Music Server. Now I am testing different Power Cables, RCA and SPDIF cables. You did not mention what cables you have but they can make a big difference in SQ.
My experience over the last fifty years has been a slow nearly inpercetible move towards tubes. First to an Audio Research tube preamp, then an Audio Research tubed phono stage, then ARC tubed amp… and finally an ARC tubed DAC.
Each step added musicality and better midrange bloom, lower noise floor, and absolutely no fatigue.
Of all the integrated amps I have heard, I like the ARC VSI 75 the most. To me it really captures the essence of what is beautiful about tubes. incredible mid range, well articulated bass. Would be a huge upgrade to your system.
I would recommend finding a dealer and listening to it. Worth a trip to a nearby city if one is not near.
Wives will frequently say they like the sound to discourage additional audio purchases. Females have much more sensitive hearing… if I thought my system was fatiguing (and I can’t tell you how intolerable that is to me) then your wife should be screaming in pain. My partner finally absolutely loved my system only when it became an all tube system. I would bring her along on auditions for her to inform me of high frequncy hash and distortion, just out of my hearing range that I would discover later.
@willgolf I have a Raven Osprey that I kept after the 45 day trial. I'm now lusting after the Reflection and have until May 23' to trade-in the Osprey for full credit.
Given your speakers I get why you went to mono blocks. I have Harbeth 30.2's with 3 REL Subs so the Relection will be a sufficient upgrade I think.
1. What were your impressions of the Reflection?
2. Did you get Raven Monoblocks and if yes, what Pre-Amp?
@jili12 I know zero about the rest of your gear but you can try some Raven gear like the Osprey (but not the Reflection which is $15K) for relatively low risk (7% and return shipping so maybe $500).
I believe there is significant value for money with Raven as they sell direct only.
I have a Rogers High Fidelity KWM-88 Integrated Tube Amplifier. Like many here I espouse what I have. There is a mint one on ebay but a phone call will save you 13% eBay takes.
The PrimaLuna Amps are all they claim to be.
I had a Hegel H160 but it’s sound pusehed me into a PrimaLuna and that to a KWM-88 for more power with my not so efficient speakers.
I don't have a lot of experience with tube amps but I have switched from SS to Tubes and don't intend to go back. I have a Rogers High Fidelity 65V2 and I thought it sounded great. I saw an end game amp on a used site and waited till it dropped into the area I wanted and snatched it up. It is the LTA Z40+ with all upgrades. However, when I got the LTA, I was disappointed in the sound. I did some research and swapped out the tubes and bingo! I have exactly what I want. So my advice is to buy the best you can because it will give you speed, bass performance and coherence. But then research and find the best tubes to fine tune your sound.
@immatthewj I use Blue Jeans Cables and home brew speaker cables. My speakers are Shahinian Diapasons and two Double Eagle Subwoofers, giving me two subs per channel. I mounted them on two steel stands filled with lead shot. As I said, the tube sound is a little compressed and a little bright with new tubes in the CJ Premier Fives @ 200W/ch, but after 75 to 100 hours or so, they mellow right out and sound excellent. They do last a long time, at least the way I use them.
I have lived with the Diapasons & Double Eagle combination now for over 40 years, although they have had factory upgrades along the way. They are the only speakers I found I can live with day after day and never tire of hearing them. I can't say that of other speakers I have owned or heard.
While we are on the subject of equipment - my main preamp is the CJ, I also have a revamped Spatial TVA-2, the last model they made but never made it into production, a Parasound preamp, and a preamp of my own design. I was on Spatial's Technical Staff, so everything they designed had my hands in it, which is why I have one. I have two other amplifiers, a four channel Marantz Class D (450 W/ch into the subwoofer impedance) for use on the subs, and another Parasound 2275 #2 that I will soon replace the Marantz unit with. I only have one of those, so picking up another one is next on the list.
Hello jiii 12. You have good gear. I think you may have a problem that can be solved by changing/upgrading cables. Here's a cheap and easy experiment: Get some ordinary 14 gauge zip cord (lamp cord) from a local hardware store. Get enough for two speaker cables. You are going to replace you speaker cables with the zip cord. Don't worry about banana plugs or spades. Just strip 1/2 - 3/4 of an inch of wire from both ends, twist the strands together, and stick 'em in the holes in the amp/speaker terminals. Tighten down on them. If you hear a difference, cables will solve your problem. All you are listening for is a difference. The lamp cord should sound worse. If it sounds better, you have solved the problem. If it sounds worse, you know your system is sensitive to cables (it should be). Now you enter the exciting search to find the RIGHT cable. See if dealers will loan you test cables to try out. You can purchase used cables on line. Don't spend more than you need to. Used cables are probably 'broken in,' but maybe not. Don't make any final decisions until the cables have been played at least 50 hours or so. Start with speaker cables, then move on to interconnects if you still seek improved sound. USB cables are very important. Is that how you streaming music reaches you? Does the problem occur only when streaming? How do LPs sound? If LPs soound better, change the USB cable, if present. Got the idea? Happy Listening!
As @boomerbillone said above, I would look at cables, both power and interconnects. Beg, borrow and demo a whole load. You have the PSM156 (great choice by the way), try their cables, the ultimate is very good.
And my standing recommendation to apply fo.q thick TA-102 tape to all your capacitors in your system. Cant emphasize enough how good that stuff is
Finally double check your speaker positioning, that can also help and is free
@op - try another speaker from a BBC influenced manufacturer like Harbeth or Spendor. That will tell you very quickly if the speaker is an issue for you. I haven't heard the Fritz speaker but I did have a pair of ProAc's which used a very similar driver combination and which were superb but did have a bit of raggedness around in the upper midrange. I appreciate that the Fritz speaker uses a different and unconventional crossover - but that makes it even more of an unknown quantity. BTW, I dislike generalisations about tube and solid state SQ as it can be very misleading in practice when it comes to individual designs.
Switching from SS amps to tubes was one of the best moves I have made in my system. I went from McIntosh 1.25kwh Monoblocks to an Audio Research Ref160S. Have not missed my McIntosh at all. Much better SQ all the way around. You may want to find a reputable dealer who will let you demo a tube amp and try before you buy. Other recommendation is cabling. Didn’t see that mentioned but I would try cabling first if you have not already done so.
good luck and let us know how you make out!!
Can the room handle larger 3 way speakers?
IF so, I recommend you 1st change speakers, 3 way, more efficient, at least 90 sensitivity.
Your existing equipment might sound terrific and NOT fatiguing. with different speakers.
Tubes are wonderful sounding, my preference, however it is a dance between speaker’s efficiency and ’enough’ power for sudden demanding bursts.
If you find a horn speaker with high efficiency you like, you can use less power, but caution, not too little.
IF your room cannot handle a bigger speaker, I have a compact 3 way suggestion based on recent experience.
compact 3 way AR-2ax, 91 sensitivity, size: 11.5 deep; 13 wide; 24 long. and fully restore them (or have them restored, or pay more for a fully restored pair. Big asset: built-in level controls for the tweeter and the mid-range so you can adjust them to your space.
I bought a pair, for nostalgic reasons, was going to use them in the shop. bought 250. ship 250, parts capacitors, 4 new level controls, 2 new tweeters 250, total 750.
They sound soo good I moved them to my office, driving with little luxman 10wpc tube amp. So good I just bought a 2nd pair for the shop, restoring them now, just need capacitors for crossover and 4 level controls. Larger room I would want at least 30 wpc, preferably 45 wpc range.
Tube amps: less needed power has many advantages: less initial cost; smaller size; less heat; more placement options; consider line of sight if remote, less replacement tubes cost (they last 10,000 hrs, for me 14 years, so if you replace them every 7 years, it’s no big deal.
Anyone going tubes, I recommend buying a simple tube tester of your own.
If you can see my virtual systems, I show the AR-2ax restoration there.
bigger efficient horns with 45wpc tubes here
Interesting, a number of you have mentioned cables. I did not mention them because I am not a big believer that they differ significantly. Possibly I am wrong about this.
For the record this is what I am using
Speakers - MIT Matrix 28
Amp- Puritan Audio Ultimate AC cord
Puritan PSM 156 - Puritan Audio Ultimate AC cord
Phono Pre-amp Morrow MA4 Interconnect 48 ssi wires
Dac - Wywires Balanced Interconnect Silver Series Cable
Dac Power - Morrow Audio Wattgate 350i
Dac to Server- Wywires USB Digital Audio cable Litespd Platinum
Server Power cable - Supplied by Manufacturer
Your thoughts on these cables would be appreciated. BTW, I am extremely grateful for the insight you have all provided.
Supply chain problems taught me a lot about acoustics and sonic performance.
I just did a project converting an unused room to a 2 channel listening room. Hegel integrated driving Focal towers. Electronics were in place first then had to wait for the room treatments to get through the supply chain slowness. First impression was that the sound was too bright in the untreated room.
Side panels arrived and were installed, nice improvement, less bright, soundstage better side to side. Then some weeks later the ceiling panels arrived and were installed, big improvement, sound stage better front to back and the brightness was gone.
The lesson learned was don't underestimate how much the room affects the sound do don't frustrate yourself swapping equipment before you get your listen room optimized.
around 25 years ago I bought a bunch of vintage NOS tubes from someone who most on this & other sites hold in high esteem. At that time he did not sell interconnects, and I don’t know for positive, but I don’t think that he does today, either. I asked him about mixing & matching brands of tubes:
he told me that was not his favorite thing, but not as bad as mixing & matching interconnects.
To oversimplify his explanation on that, if interconnect pair-A from source to preamp do sonic-thing#1 quite well but lack on sonic-thing#2 and is matched with interconnect-pair-B from preamp to amp and those interconnects lack on sonic-thing#1 but do sonic-thing#2 well, those two pairs of interconnect cables are cancelling each other’s best attributes out. Meaning that his advice was to stick with one brand of interconnect from source to amp. At the time, at least during that conversation, he did not have any skin in the interconnect game.
I hadn't even heard of Margules amps until I was at an audio show in the spring where a Margules U280SC tube amplifier was driving a pair of six-figure Raidhos. It sounded amazing, and I ended up purchasing the 30th-anniversary edition of the amp. No regrets. If you can audition a Margules amp someday, I don't think you'll leave unimpressed.
Similar to "twoleftears" above, I'm surprised that you find the Hegel sound "bright". I'm not in your listening room, nor do I have the listening experience with all your components as a group. You may want to research other issues first such room acoustics, dacs, even cables. But saying that, I prefer a tube sound. I had a Luxman R117 Receiver which has always been well reviewed and industry accepted. However, I swapped to the Rogue Audio Sphinx, then upgraded to the Rogue Cronus Magnum II, and now finally, to the new Rogue Pharaoh II. I love the tube sound. I love the ability to alter the sound with "tube rolling". Now with SS power, and a tube preamp, I'm very happy. Should you want to venture into tubes, the Rogue Audio folks can't be beat for answers and service. Find a close Rogue dealer and listen for yourself. Better yet if you can audition a Rogue Amp in your home. Ask. Very probable that can happen. Good luck and happy listening!
I don't know Morrow. May want to try NR power cables from Shunyata. A Shunyata Zi-tron digital alpha helped my system a lot in regard to top end edginess brightness and their new generation NR PC's are supposed to be even better.
Are you using stock fuses? If so may want to consider upgrading them. I've gone to Synergistic Research fuses and these helped a lot too.
Seems worth a try with these changes first IMHO
Good luck and hopefully fun with this!
I auditioned a Hegel H120 and H190 integrateds, and found them to be neutral to just a touch warm.....so I wouldn't think that would be an issue.
If you haven't treated your power, I'd definitely go there.....it's inexpensive and pays dividends no matter what equipment you end up with. Dedicated 20AMP line ($300), audiophile power outlets ($100), and a nice power cable.
As many have mentioned, better room treatments
I suggest you compare side by side at a brick and mortar Hi end store that will let you bring in your Fritz speakers. They look very nice. Compare a Primaluna to the Hegel. I compared the integrated EVO 100 with a Hegel H390. Both were great but the Primaluna won in my case with detail in Jazz, Orchastra music. I guess it depends what you like. I got the Primaluna and thrilled with it. I removed the EL 34s installed KT 77s and it was an amazing upgrade in sound. It was great before. If speakers are real bright EL 34s are forgiving. If you do not want a tube system, you could compare on Hegel or other high quality components. Nothing like direct comparisons. Good hunting!
I believe it's mainly the room.. and also possibly speaker placement. You can try toeing your speakers out slightly. Imaging may lose some focus but it should balance the HF response. You won't be able to effectively 'roll' equipment until you have these things right.
You may then also try DAC or streamer filtering settings, if it has them. This will be subtle, but can help somewhat with fatigue.
I did insert a tube preamp between my Class D monoblocks and DAC (which works great driving an old Aleph 3 direct, but my DAC driving the monoblocks direct with no preamp.. while detailed was quite fatiguing). The tube preamp worked wonders.. midrange bloomed, the soundstage gained depth and coherence.. and this made the system listenable for long sessions with very little fatigue. It took a lot of experimentation rolling expensive 6SN7's before I found the right ones however.
That said.. driving a Pass Aleph3 directly with the DAC sounded the best.. the most coherent and organic, and with the lowest noise floor.. none I could hear basically. My DAC's output stage was designed for this.
Back to the room, one thing I have also done (& my room is a disaster.. very asymmetric with boundary issues on the right and open to the left and behind), was to fabricate stepped speaker baffles out of lamb's wool panels to crop the dispersion of the midrange and tweeter and also mitigate cabinet reflections and diffraction. Basically the same thing Dunlavy used to do with his SC series speakers. It was quite effective at cancelling reflection issues and improved the sound stage immensely, and this perceptively gave the sound a more believable, more organic presentation. I could listen 'deeper' into recordings, suppose I could say. I've read these baffles should be made of actual lamb's wool, and not synthetic or felt. I used "1/4 panels for the base layer, and "3/8 for the top layer. This is great if you listen primarily in the sweet spot, but if you wander around the room while listening, large plants, curtains, rugs, etc, might be preferable.
...one more thing.. about going all tube. I used to use single-ended zero-feedback Class-A tube mono-blocks in my system.. 80wpc. The top-end finesse was refined.. silky, they imaged great, but they never had enough drive for me to believe the sound as being realistic. The sound was a bit ’slow,’ and I’d attribute this to a lower dampening factor (compared to SS) and the fact they didn’t double down into lower impedances. That said, my speakers were not particularly sensitive and did dip down to 5 ohms, and many tube aficionados here know what they like and are probably using much more sensitive, tube-friendly speakers, but with this also means other compromises like non-linearity. For late night listening with a glass of your favorite beverage.. all tube is fantastic, but I’m advocating for the tube preamp (preferably one that performs well with the fewest tubes possible) merely as a way to season the sound for the better after you sort out the room, speaker placement, etc, and once you have that, with a tube preamp you still may have to roll. Many tubes I tried (esp stock) weren’t acceptable in terms of bandwidth, sound staging and being low-enough noise. Also, many excellent NOS tubes just aren’t available anymore, and you will need a dependable supply as they wear out. That said there are manufacturers of new tubes which perform better than 10 yrs ago, but the newer 6SN7’s I rolled in my preamp could not compete with my NOS picks.
There is also the notion of going to a minimalist tube buffer stage. A simpler cheaper route.. but I’ve not tried them.