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Unique qualities of a purely tube sound

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Sa likes this and, Jan 10, 2021.

  1. Sa likes this and

    Sa likes this and Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Highland, Indiana
    What are they, if any?

    Hoping for subjective, anecdotal experiences of those who have noticed if, and what there is, unique, about having a purely tube setup.

    I've seen people refer to not having any 'sand in the chain' i.e. tube purists,


    Is there something lost by having some solid-state in the link?
  2. Uglyversal

    Uglyversal Forum Resident

    I don't think so, I like power amps to be sandy and actually powerful but I quite like tubes higher up the chain.
    Everything sounds different, you need to make your decisions based on a unit by unit evaluation and avoid generalizations as they narrow your choices and you might miss out on something you like just by saying no without trying.
  3. Razakoz

    Razakoz Forum Resident

    What even is an 'all tube' setup? Would an all tube preamp/power amp with a DAC/CD player feeding it count, or is that cheating because the source components have digital devices in them? Does an all tube system need to be Vinyl based with an all-tube phono preamp? Subjectively speaking, I find that tube based systems tend to be a bit warmer and more forgiving. They lack some of the sharpness, control, and slam that solid state has but are less fatiguing to the ears. There are a lot of drawbacks though: Increased power consumption and heat, maintenance requirements (tubes do wear out and can damage the amp when they go sometimes), and tube rolling can drive you mad if you aren't careful. Honestly I like tubes for my headphones or my 'for fun' system, while I use solid state for anything that needs to be reliable and provide me with a lot of use.
  4. vinylontubes

    vinylontubes Forum Resident

    Katy, TX
    The most important quality is the ability to tailor the sound with tubes. As each tube is different, there isn't going to be much commonality in a tube system.
    Bananajack likes this.
  5. Buisfan

    Buisfan Well-Known Member

    amstelveen holland
    Fan of valve amps since the fifties.
    Tried a solid state once, after 3 months returned to valves.
    Because valve amps have no crossover distortion and hence no transients intermodulation distortion.
    Which translates to natural sound without the always bright (fake) sound of solid state amps.
    Dont believe me, try yourself.
    Beware of modern over compressed brickwalled CD's or records, here is nothing to do about.
    Check your stylus regular, alway have a spare stylus to compare when in doubt.
    That is all. Have a ball.
  6. vinylkid58

    vinylkid58 Forum Resident

    Victoria, B.C.
    That is true only for class A.

    somnar, AaronW, jupiterboy and 3 others like this.
  7. Buisfan

    Buisfan Well-Known Member

    amstelveen holland
    Dont agree.
    Solid state have lots of negative feedback, induces lots of crossover/transient distortions. It is there, even when "unmeasurable".
    Valveamps usually have less feedback, when more than 12 to 15 dB it is a bad design.
    Valves mostly in class AB or seldom in class A, however both have no nasty distortions.
    Again, compare it yourself, dont go for hearsay.
    I speak out of experience, build and repaired lots of valve amps. And have bat ears.
    I do not say valve amps are perfect but for the real music lover they are the best up to now.
    I also tried class D amps, found them dead sounding. No nasty crossover dist. however, curious about the future of class D.
    shug4476 likes this.
  8. Dream On

    Dream On Forum Resident

    Of all the amps that I have tried, I'd say the two that were tubes (p/p) would rank at the top of the list. But my Sugden A21aL (Class A SET solid state integrated) has virtually the same qualities. If it falls short I really have to strain to hear it. So while I can't say that I will never own a tube amp again, as long as I have the Sugden then a p/p tube amp just doesn't seem that attractive. I have the tube sound now, with none of the annoyances. And admittedly, less of the fun stuff, like tube rolling, although I can roll small signal tubes that are further up the chain.

    I'm guessing any kind of true, well made, Class A SS amp (Sugden, Pass Labs, etc) will achieve the same thing.
    jfine and shug4476 like this.
  9. Mnmmt

    Mnmmt Well-Known Member

    St. Paul, MN
    I use a tube preamp, and alternate between an old McIntosh solid state and a newer ARC tube amp. I find that all tubes is slightly more clear and clean of a sound. I notice it especially on female vocals. The mc is a bit more mellow of a sound. I found the biggest improvement in sonics to come from the tube preamp. The differences between the two amps with the same pre is very minor. I have several solid state dacs that I prefer in this system over my mhdt tube dac--too rolled off on the top end with the tube dac.

    In my office I use the mhdt tube dac into a tubecube 7 and think it sounds fabulous through nht super zeros and passive nht sub. Very very crystal clear sound. Lovely sound.

    I have an nad 3020 I totally restored, which sounds good for background music, but it can't touch the tube systems.
  10. Buisfan

    Buisfan Well-Known Member

    amstelveen holland
    That is another story, class A also no transient/crossover dist. Provided global feedback moderate.
    For me valve amps cheaper to obtain, diy rules too. Valve no hassle, cheap, long lasting. Cheaper than maintaining your cartridge, most styli last not long as one thinks.
  11. jonwoody

    jonwoody Incessant Streamer

    Washington DC
    Tubes are generally speaking a bit warmer, give the sound more tonal color, while sounding just as detailed, if not more so than SS. I have tubes in my Dac, preamp, and amp and as suggested above tube rolling is a way to tailor and improve the sound.
  12. Otlset

    Otlset under western skies

    Temecula, CA
    More 'air' and presence in the overall presentation. Better sense of realism, instruments, voices, etc. sound more realistic, 3D, more "there they are!" in the soundstage space before me. I find I'm constantly more emotionally aroused by records with my all-tube system, which leads to more listening sessions producing goosebumps, chills, and memorable moments that make me anticipate the next listening session. And of course all the fun of using and swapping various tubes from the past and present to (hopefully) enhance the presentation even more.

    This is only my experience of course. I haven't heard a whole lot of high-end SS systems, some of which may produce goosebumps galore for me too!
  13. SandAndGlass

    SandAndGlass Twilight Forum Resident

    You have asked the right questions. As @Otlset describes, tubes can provide a very unique listening experience.

    An all tube chain takes this to an even higher experience, as is using vintage tubes and low power amps. Class "A" is also a wonderful experience.

    If you look under my information tab, after the equipment listing, I have put together a tour of my former audio room, you might find it to be of interest.

    There are multiple systems in the room, both "sand" and "glass". Both have their place.

    There is one major point to address in a glass situation and that is your speakers. Maybe Otlset can jump in and post a photo (or two) of his main speaker's.

    Having super efficient horn speakers will be the key to getting the crystal clarity that tubes make possible.

    I use tubes on my vintage Altec Lansing horn speakers, while I use sand amps on my modern towers.
  14. Otlset

    Otlset under western skies

    Temecula, CA
    A side view from the entry from the kitchen. At my computer at home I have better views head-on from the listening position. I notice the one in my profile is way dark, I'll have to update it sometime.

    Manimal, FashionBoy, bever70 and 7 others like this.
  15. Dream On

    Dream On Forum Resident

    I'd have to take your word for it, since I don't have room for big horn speakers. But the clarity of a tube amp is evident even with more standard non-horn speakers. So anyone who opts for a p/p tube amp that puts out 16-50 watts or more, to run moderately efficient non-horn speakers, I think it's definitely a valid choice. Such amps will generally sound better than SS.

    With efficient horns, one would probably choose a low powered Class A SET tube amp, and that I think that would generally give you the best of tubes. But IMO, definitely still worth running tubes even if you don't go all the way. With tube amps I marvel at the clarity they provide. It's hard to imagine it being any more clear. Maybe I just don't know what I am missing, but it's also fine simply enjoying a BMW 5 series instead of a Maybach.
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2021 at 3:05 PM
    SandAndGlass likes this.
  16. doctor fuse

    doctor fuse Forum Resident

    I don't think many of us vinyl nuts could afford a tube LOMC preamp that would perform as quietly as a SS phonostage.

    Having said that, I am trying to get a hum and buzz out of an EAR 834 clone I traded for, and hopefully will soon be experimenting for an [almost] all tube system [I say "almost, because who uses a tube subwoofer? And I have just added a subwoofer with spectacular results].

    What works for me now, is SS phonostage (either MM or LOMC), tube preamp, tube power amp for my planar speakers, but SS for my subs.

    The next experiment will be to replace the PP power amp with a fleawatt SET, simply because I am curious if it can drive my planars.
    Jim Hodgson and SandAndGlass like this.
  17. rpd

    rpd Senior Member

    Colored sound vs solid state
  18. Otlset

    Otlset under western skies

    Temecula, CA
    Not just colored, Technicolored!
  19. shug4476

    shug4476 Forum Resident

    I (finally) have a Sugden on its way to me this week, so this is encouraging reading!
  20. Sa likes this and

    Sa likes this and Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Highland, Indiana
    Looks like I should've mentioned I have a Class A tube power amp; I used to have a cheap tube pre-amp but I switched to an SS: Project Phono Box, and compared to a (keyword:) cheap tube pre-amp it was a huge improvement. So I know the basic tube character vs SS.

    My question was specifically about a pure tube chain vs breaking the link at some point.

    Some great answers here still, thanks everyone.
  21. saturdayboy

    saturdayboy Forum Resident

    A lot of people say they are “colored”, but I think tubes generally sound more like the real thing. Also, I don’t think that tubes upstream (in preamp, dac, or buffer) is a substitute for tube amplification.
  22. csgreene

    csgreene Forum Resident

    Idaho, USA
    Grew up with Mac tube gear. Prefer solid state.
    ggg71 likes this.
  23. Jim Hodgson

    Jim Hodgson Well-Known Member

    New York City
    @Buisfan ... just want to get with you on a few of these points:

    • Are you sure that push-pull tube amplifiers are not subject to crossover distortion?

    • Are you sure that all solid state amplifiers are?

    • And are you sure that negative feedback induces crossover distortion—and not exactly the opposite?

    Listen, I don’t mean to doubt you. I actually believe you when you say you have a lot of experience and bat ears. But, we’re all trying to learn correctly, here. Just want to double-check some of this stuff.

    @doctor fuse ... from your system details, the push-pull amplifier is probably the Conn organ amp with 7868 outputs? And the planars are the Alternate Audios? If so, and you’re working with speaker sensitivity in the high-80s, power output that qualifies as flea-watt is probably a losing bet. But, such low power is not your only option in the world of single-ended tube amplifiers. A single-ended 845 would match the power of a pair of push-pull 7868s. And there’s a whole collection of more obscure transmitting tubes that go beyond the 845 for higher power. People don’t often build with them, so they’re atypical for sure; but, so is running a pair of planars with this amplifier configuration. I’m sure it can be done, though, and that’s definitely something I’d like to hear.
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2021 at 5:21 PM
  24. James Lovell

    James Lovell Well-Known Member

    Having built many tube amplifiers I have come to the conclusion that what many call "that tube sound" is not colered but just the effect of having a very Fat Midrange Fq response that a lot of tube amps have. Not all but many. I have heard tube amps that sound identical to SS amps and vice versa. The implementation of specific tubes along with negative feedback can enhance or negate this .attribute.
  25. Dennis0675

    Dennis0675 Night flyer

    Warmer sound, sweeter midrange and less listening fatigue. Less bass definition and less high end detail. Generally speaking.

    it’s very hard to talk in generalities because all tube amps don’t sound alike anymore than all SS amps do. And...their impact on what you are hearing is going to depend greatly on the system and how it works together.

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