- Apr 2, 2002
Or are they not always better?
Or are they not always better?
Depends on your speakers. If they're not very efficient, or have wide impedance/phase swings, tube amps will have a hard time driving them, and it will show in the sound.
If you want to just try out tubes, investigate tube preamplifiers. That gets you some of the sound, without having to worry about the speaker matching issues.
And finally, it's all in the sound. If you like to go by specifications, stick to SS, because tube amps have much worse noise and distortion numbers than SS amps. However, if you listen to your equipment instead of measuring it, try out tubes
I'm not willing to sacrifice ultimate treble and bass extension, macro-dynamics and transparency just for a little bit extra warmth and harmonic richness (a.k.a. euphonic distortion product).
I agree, it all comes down to a person's taste in sound.
Edit: Speaking of a tube amp's ability to rock - if you think about it, rock music was born from tube amps and horn speakers
Tubes give you a unique sound/tone that SS just can't offer.
Tube guitar amps are a great example of their ability to rock, but don't confuse instrument amps and home audio when it comes to 'tone'. That tone is a result of distortion, and in a guitar amp, the goal is to produce a controlled but relatively high amount of distortion in order to get that tone. In a home stereo amp, the goal is to minimize distortion, so that the music on the recording gets through. Any guitar tone is already on the recording, and you don't want the amps to be adding anything.
Chung is right, of course, SET amps have pretty high distortion figures. Based on my memories of playing in a band and listening to live music, I find the sound of SETs to be more true, closer to what the real thing sounds like. SS amps that I can afford sound a little lifeless and sterile in comparision. Of course, this is a matter of taste. There are many theories which try to explain in scientific terms why SETs sound better to some people, some of these theories are more believable than others. While there is certainly value to trying to find objective measurable results that correlate with subjective opinions, I'm not convinced that that exercise needs to be taken to the extreme. In other words, I usually go by what I like, and don't spend too much time trying to prove why I like it.
Chung brings up one very good point - a high quality low power class A SS amp will indeed sound very good when it is used to drive appropriate speakers. However, how many such amps do you see available to the general public? For instance, I can think of a handful of tube amps/kits that are under $1K that fit these criteria, but I don't know of any corresponding SS amps. So, while in theory the tubes vs. SS comparision is independent of the high-eff/low-power vs. low-eff/high-power comparision, for all practical purposes they become the same argument. Most available SS amps are high power, and they will not sound as good when driving speakers that only need a watt or two.
Interesting - what speakers were these tube amps driving? The system I mentioned before was incredibly dynamic. I think my current 8W tube amps are more dynamic than the 50W SS amp I had before. Of course, I have relstively tube-friendly speakers, and I think that is critical to getting the optimal performance out of tubes.
I agree. Problem is, my preference in speakers lean toward the likes of B&W Nautilus, Dynaudio, Wilson... you know, those speakers that demand watts AND current to deliver their goods. Too bad I never came to terms with high-efficiency speakers, horns or not... nor the relatively easy to drive standmount designs. I have the impression that most designers that pay attention to bass extension (while maintaining tautness) always come up with a below-95 dB efficiency design. And matching my preferred speakers with tube gear always failed to impress during my past visits to showrooms.
This is why I NEED solid-state.
Problem is, my preference in speakers lean toward the likes of B&W Nautilus, Dynaudio, Wilson... you know, those speakers that demand watts AND current to deliver their goods.
That makes sense. I auditioned the Audience 52, and it was stunning. I was advised to stay away from the Contour 1.3 in the interests of marital harmony
I'm currently running 88dB monitors with 8W amps in a 15x20 room - fairly borderline, but it plays loud enough for me. Of course, there's a subwoofer in there being driven by SS watts. I intend to explore the land of high-eff/low-power a little... my current living room will not handle large floorstanders anyway, so I'm restricted to monitors (even though my bass tastes would probably be better met with floorstanders). That system I mentioned earlier had huge Oris horns being driven by a 0.5W DIY amp, and 10" woofers under the horns being driven by SS. My ears couldn't detect any discontinuities in the integration.
I'm no expert at this by any stretch of the imagination, but low power/high efficiency systems just seem more nimble to me, they seem to convey the rhythym and flow of music better. And I'm much more interested in that, than say tonal accuracy or sheer power.
Anyway... enough rambling
to compensate for vinyl's inherent Mid range boost
First time I'm hearing about it. You do have a phono stage, right? If not, I wouldn't use an EQ to compensate for the RIAA curve, and that curve isn't a mid range boost, AFAIK. Go to the Radio Shack website and get their $25 battery powered phono preamp. It's excellent, and amazing for the price. Plonk down another $25 on 2 NiMH batteries and a charger (Home Depot, Target, anywhere), and see how much better your records sound.
I've read some opinions where the SS pre/tube power combination has been described as working very well, perhaps even better than the other way round. The reason given is that the 'tube sound' comes mostly from the way a tube amp interacts with the speakers. This school of thought seems to be in the minority, and I have no first hand experience with such a combination.
Most available SS amps are high power, and they will not sound as good when driving speakers that only need a watt or two.
That's not necessarily true. Good SS power amps do not have crossover distortion. Most good SS power amps these days operate in Class A at low power outputs. I think as long as you don't overdrive your high-efficiency speakers to the point of gross distortion or damage, you should be fine with a high-power SS amp.
Nowadays most competent power amps are fairly high power: 100W or more. But if you look at power amps from 10 years ago, you will find the 50W Class A ones (e.g. Krell). I don't know why you would want lower power, though. You have more flexibility in speakers when your power amp delivers high power.
My point earlier was that it is much easier designing low power amps than high power ones, for a given level of accuracy. But even high power amps really are not a difficult thing to design anymore. There has not really been any advance in audio power amp technology in the last 10 years. The SET trend is a step backwards, IMO.
One thing worth noting is that a very clean (low distortion) amp does not sound as "loud" as one that distorts, even though SPL's measured may be higher with the clean amp. I remember reading a post by an AT&T engineer (JJ) saying that he replaced the PA system in a school from fairly bad amps to clean ones, and people were complaining that the new system was not loud enough. Measurements with a SPL meter showed that the new amp actually delivered higher SPL's. He finally placed a soft clipping circuit in front of the power amp to generate distortion, and everyone was happy after that
If you are used to the tube sound, a clean SS amp can conceivably sound "sterile" or "lifeless" at first because of the lack of coloration. But I believe that after a while, you will like the wider dynamic range, and the power and control of the SS amp more. I owned a couple of tube amps, and I found the "warm" and "sweet" sound tiring after a while. The solid state amps are much more transparent and clean to me. YMMV
I owned a couple of tube amps, and I found the "warm" and "sweet" sound tiring after a while. The solid state amps are much more transparent and clean to me. YMMV
YMMV being the operative term here System synergy is a big part of the whole picture too - I have an opamp-based phono stage, and my speakers are pretty revealing, so tubes balance that out nicely, perhaps even leaving me with an overall more neutral system. The SS amps I have owned (that I can afford) just did not have as smooth a treble.
Speaking of opamps... next up on my fiddle/tweak list is using a FET and a resistor between the opamp output and the V- supply, to act as a constant current source and bias that opamp into class A with about 2-3mA . If I can hear any difference and I like it, I'll probably try that in the analog stage of my CD player next. Your inputs have been very educational for me so far, so do you have any comments on that?