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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 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Highland, Indiana
    That's interesting, 3d is a term I've used to describe what I strive for in music playback. Something really, physical, present sounding about the instruments I've found through vinyl -> tubes. I listen to guitar based music, I ask myself does this playback sound like I'm at a gig. That's what I strive for.

    On my system only vinyl (more so with 70's recordings i.e analog), and through some amount of tubes really brings the instruments out in a lifelike way, in my limited experience so far.
     
    SandAndGlass likes this.
  2. Over the years I’ve had both all SS, all tube but the most satisfying SQ I’ve ever achieved is with a tube preamp coupled with a solid state amp. If I get a good opportunity I won’t hesitate to go that way again and imho the combo can be more magical than not.
     
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  3. Sa likes this and

    Sa likes this and Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Highland, Indiana
    I'm the opposite, SS phono pre to tube power amp, that's what inspired me to ask this question.

    Didn't feel like I lost any 'tube magic' by introducing that into the chain, but I certainly could be wrong.
     
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  4. jonwoody

    jonwoody Incessant Streamer

    Location:
    Washington DC
    I will say I've only heard what I would call a truly 3D effect with tubes driving really good horn speakers.
     
  5. I found a tube preamp provided fullness, warmth, depth, and a harmonic presence. Couple that with the dynamics, slam, speed and gruntability of SS and it was the most totally satisfying for me.
     
  6. Sa likes this and

    Sa likes this and Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Highland, Indiana
    But would you argue that adding tubes, as opposed to no tubes, provided a step in that direction? Seems to be my experience. More of a 3d experience, rather than possibly the full 3d experience you state, I mean.
     
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  7. jonwoody

    jonwoody Incessant Streamer

    Location:
    Washington DC
    With the caveat I haven't listened to a ton of high end SS systems I would say yes tubes do 3D better in general.
     
  8. James Lovell

    James Lovell Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Texas
    This has been done already by some engineers and heavy weights of the audio world. J. Gordon Holt, John Atkinson, Larry Archibald all of sterophile and Bob Carver of Carver amplifiers. It was called the Carver Challenge. Short story he was challenged to make one of his SS amplifiers sound exactly like a Conrad-Johnson Premier Four tube amplifier. The story is a little long but a fun read.
    The Carver Challenge

    The Carver Challenge
     
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  9. 30 ounce

    30 ounce Active Member

    Location:
    Tennessee
    I struggled with SS for years trying to get that elusive 3D soundstage I’ve heard with well set up systems. I slowly dipped my toes in with a ARC LS1 which turns out was famous for inferior soundstage. I decided last year to have Don Sachs build me a Pre and after 6 months it arrived and has proven to be worth the wait. Since then I’ve purchased and refurbished 2 ARC Classic 120’s and they have the magic to build a fully realistic soundstage. With a good recording I can hear every reverberation in a classical concert hall or the intimate small rooms of a jazz club. It’s truly amazing. I have never heard a sold state design throw a 3D soundstage like a good tube amp. And by good I don’t mean a bloated midrange or warm fuzzy distortion or anything like that. If I were to cover my equipment up and have anyone listen they would have no idea it was a fully tube system (except for the DAC) until the 25 tubes started heating the room up.
     
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  10. Sa likes this and

    Sa likes this and Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Highland, Indiana
    That was an interesting read, thanks. Seems to be a lot of skepticism in response; I see no reason not to believe the results though. I've heard of other peoples experiences with SS modeled after tube amps and they claim it's a great replication of the sound.

    Interesting also, is that is seems Carver solely designs tube amplifiers now.
     
  11. Sneaky Pete

    Sneaky Pete Forum Resident

    Location:
    NYC USA
    I believe the best of solid state class A amplification can rival tubes. I have definitely experienced that 3D quality with good recordings when listening to high end solid state systems. I remember the first time that I felt like I could reach out and touch Rye Cooder’s shoulder. It was almost eerie. To be fair I’m talking about systems that are above my pay grade.

    I remember reading years ago in Stereophile that to build a stolid state system that could compete with tubes you end up giving up many of the properties that were sold as the advantages of transistors. The gear must be big, expensive, and create lots of heat. Transistors were initially sold as cheap, light, and cool running alternatives to glass. :)

    I think tubes can give that dimensionality, timbral accuracy, and harmonic richness more easily that transistors, but it still has to be well-designed and executed tube gear. And the cost of NOS tubes has gotten crazy. I like Khorn’s approach a hybrid system with tubes in the preamp and a solid state amp.

    That said, I know our host stated once, that he thinks the best way to get the magic in a hybrid system is the reverse set up. He suggested a tube amp with a transistor preamp! I don’t know if he still feels that way, but I be curious to know.
     
  12. Sa likes this and

    Sa likes this and Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Highland, Indiana
    Absolutely, also most high end SS gear I've encountered was never marketed as trying to emulate a tube sound; rather going for maximizing the benefits of SS characteristics.

    Also yes, I think I remember reading SH say that somewhere too, when I was researching whether to get a SS phono pre with my tube power amp (can't recall if he was referring to a phono pre or not....or if you are for that matter?).

    I still haven't heard anyone knock a hybrid and claim they lost any of the tube character (assuming the replacement gear was in a similar tier of quality).
     
  13. Dream On

    Dream On Forum Resident

    Location:
    Canada
    Yes, with those speakers and the Nait XS2, I could really turn up the volume and it sounded great. Just kept turning it up and the speakers kept asking for more. The sound just got louder without losing that sense of ease. Excellent for hard rock, which is my favorite genre. But I have a small room and don't listen at loud levels usually - really, there is no need to in such a small room, since it doesn't take a lot of volume to fill the space to levels above normal conversation and beyond.

    The TB2i are not hard to drive though. The Sugden had no issues. The volume knob starts at about 7 o'clock. I never turned it past 10 or 11 o'clock because it would simply be too loud. And it plays with authority, with deep bass and a big sense of scale. It is a softer presentation vs. Naim, with a little less attack, but you gain in terms of clarity, detail, and texture. Depends what you're after I guess.

    I totally get putting some power in front of the PMC's though, since they don't lose their composure when the volume is turned up.
     
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  14. SandAndGlass

    SandAndGlass Twilight Forum Resident

    There are SS amps that are rich sounding like tube amps. After I bought a Line Magnetic 845iA based 22-Watt SET amp, I decided to buy a small, quality SS amp that I could leave on during the day, when I might be doing other things.

    As it happened, I ended up purchasing a 50-Watt Electrocompaniet SS integrated amp. I was not familiar with the brand before and the unit I bought, was a used amp.

    After my first taste of tube amps with my Altec's, back in 2013, I could bring myself to using SS amps with the Altec's anymore. They just didn't bring the qualities that tube amps have to the table.

    I wasn't expecting anything thing special with the Electrocompaniet, just something that I could get by with during the day.

    I have a small speaker/amp A/B switch box, it can be seen on top of the right LSiM707 tower in my last photo.

    I was very surprised, that after I had volume equalized the SS amp with the 518iA, the differences were very close. This was somewhat astonishing, because not only was I comparing a SS amp to a tube amp, but the tube amp was a class "A" triode.

    I have nothing against SS amps but none that I have used before this had the natural sound of the dozen tube amps I had run with the Altec's. This is coming from someone who is solidly committed to tube amps with high efficiency horn speakers.

    Another thing I discovered, as someone who previously despised CD's and digital music in general. I found that digital music being properly recorded and mastered, can compare favorably to a quality vinyl set-up.

    I think the differences exist more with the recording and mastering itself, than the physical media. I do find that older records from the 60's and 70's in general, tend to sound better than DVD's of the same album. I would attribute that to the media being all analog back in the day.

    I find that modern recordings, which were engineered digitally from the beginning, sound comparable to analog records in sound quality.

    This is without a bias being applied to either form of media, as I think there are plenty of bad records just as much as there are CD's that I find are completely unlistenable.
     
  15. SandAndGlass

    SandAndGlass Twilight Forum Resident

    I firmly believe that a true tube sound is only achieved with a tube power amp section. I would favor SS preamplification over a SS power amp section and I have tried both.

    Understand though, that high sensitive horn speakers do not need any assistance when it comes to the slam factor.
     
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  16. Dream On

    Dream On Forum Resident

    Location:
    Canada
    I think a lot of effort has been expended by SS amp manufacturers to get their products to sound like tubes...or maybe not to sound like tubes, but to have some of those qualities. And in many cases a lot of those qualities really shine through. It may not be SET amp into HE speakers level, but it's still really, really good.

    Same with CD player/DAC makers. A lot of effort has been made into getting rid of that "digital sound", and making the sound more "analog". There are lots of great sounding CDs out there, and a lot of great sounding digital playback devices, proving that it's not the medium's fault if a CD sounds bad. It's why I roll my eyes now whenever people debate CD vs. vinyl. There are great recordings on both formats - why not play both? I generally buy the one that is cheapest (most often the CD, or used vinyl), while also taking into account the quality of the mastering and manufacturing. I will pay up for new vinyl if I really want the album in that format or perhaps if there is a noteworthy audiophile grade pressing. To dig one's heels in and choose one format over another is like arguing over coffee vs. tea. No one does that because it would be ridiculous. You drink whichever one you feel like at any given time.
     
  17. SandAndGlass

    SandAndGlass Twilight Forum Resident

    I had been away from stereo for almost 20-years due to digital music. I found that I just could not relate to it any more.

    The funny thing is, that I wasn't blaming digital music (CD's), I was blaming myself for growing up. Kind of like a Peter Pan thing, growing older and could just not identify with music, the way I could in my younger days.

    As iPods flourished, I really became to hate both the digital medium and the music that people were listening to on those devices.

    It was more by accident than anything else that I was listening to some YouTube music videos through my laptop and decided to try some really cheap ear buds that I had gotten with a phone charger and carrying case for $25.

    I was surprised at how much they didn't sound bad and how much detail they had.

    This was back in 2011 and I just wanted to have something decent that I could play back the CD's I had ripped to my phone, later to a Samsung MP3 player. I wanted to be able to listen through speakers again.

    I started back in music with $200 (each) Polk towers (Monitor 70's Series II), a $49 Sony streaming box with a subscription to Pandora and a Peachtree Nova integrated amp. I could play back my digitized music through the analog input of the Peachtree.

    As I upgraded my system, I found that both properly recorded CD's and records could both sound excellent through the system.

    I also came to find out that well recorded and mastered compressed digital music can sound very good when played through a quality system.

    I have even let my guests plug in their phones through my analog input so that they could hear their music played through speaker's and a quality system for the first time.

    It is actually surprising how good a $100 phone with MP3 files can sound through a good playback system.
     
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  18. Jim Hodgson

    Jim Hodgson Well-Known Member

    Location:
    New York City
    I think there’s a lot to recommend positioning quieter gear earlier in the signal chain—and against amplifying tube noise from stage to stage to stage.

    I’ve periodically come up with hybrids as I’ve gone back and forth on tube versus solid state preamps (with tube power amps). Most recently, I moved from SS pre to tube pre for exactly the reason articulated: I had lost some really essential tube character with my prior move in the opposite direction. One thing’s for sure: sonic tastes can definitely change over time.

    I firmly believe it, too. I’ve tried to warm up to various solid state amps—particularly some of the Class A exotics—but I’ve invariably realized I’m simply trying to recreate a sound I already have. And miss. Don’t get me wrong: these were some very righteous amplifiers, which had a ton to recommend them. But, you know when you’re in love and when you’re not, right?
     
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2021
  19. shug4476

    shug4476 Forum Resident

    Location:
    London
    I had this problem but modern DACs have really come a very long way. It is no longer the roulette game it was 20 years ago when choosing a CD player whether you were getting a well designed DAC/analogue output stage or not.

    I recently got hold of a Chord Mojo for about $300 which totally decimates the performance of my ~$2k CD player from 20 years ago. I am not sure it can quite match vinyl, but the gap is much narrower than before.
     
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  20. James Lovell

    James Lovell Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Texas
    Ya gotta go where the market takes you is what he said to me when I asked the same question.
    15 years ago before I had or had built a tube amp and was only working with SS I was looking for that "tube sound" and got one of those Carver M-1.0t amps and Vola there it was. I then uped it's game by doing a MKII opt2 upgrade to it (Bob Carver approved)( Richard P designed)( 460 watts per channel into 8 ohms with 0.15 THD) and I still have it on my TT system driving my B&W 805's which love clean power. So much so that one of Bobs new 275 (75 per channel into 8 ohms) tube amps just would not drive them with justice. I love the sound of the speakers so I pulled the 275 and put in the M-1.0t rather than buying new speakers to accommodate the 275..
     
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  21. Sneaky Pete

    Sneaky Pete Forum Resident

    Location:
    NYC USA
    That's a very concise articulation of the reasoning for putting tubes later in the equation. It makes sense, thank you. Although hopefully you will be using a preamp and tubes that is designed to minimize all the negative artifacts that can come along with tubes.

    I am confident that my amp will magnify and output what it's fed warts and all. Under that theory I had thought a little tube therapy would be just as effective when added at the front of the chain. However your reasoning is sensible and sound.

    I bought a Chinese tube headphone amp and it came with tubes that were so noisy it sounded like someone was frying bacon with their tea kettle whistling in the back ground. I replaced the tubes with some NOS and things immediately improved. However, the price of those older tubes has become prohibitive and counterfeits have proliferated.

    I have constantly made the swing back and forth from a quest for honesty and neutrality to a quest for un-fatiguing musicality. As I get older the need for brutal honesty is less important than the need for musical involvement. It's always a compromise.
     
  22. fish

    fish Forum Resident

    Location:
    USA
    lost? Good heavens No!

    I listened to all tube gear for many years. One system has only 11 solder points between the vinyl and speaker with no crossover.

    Now I listen to all solid state and honestly they both have magic. If anything the SS can be more so revealing.
     
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  23. Spin Doctor

    Spin Doctor Forum Resident

    What's your impression of the 275?
     
  24. SandAndGlass

    SandAndGlass Twilight Forum Resident

    I use Oppo players for HT and as a CD transport. The transport feeds into the Peachtree iNova, which I use as the system source selector, class "A" preamp and system DAC for both the Oppo and the Sony streaming box. I also bring the front main speakers in from the HT processor on digital cables and use the ESS Saber DAC in the iNova to decode the digital signal.

    [​IMG]

    I don't use the internal power amp section of the iNova, opting for external power amps. From the preamp out, they go to the SS systems and from the line out, it goes to the tube preamp. This way, I have one main source selector for all three systems and one main DAC that serves both the SS and the tube system.

    While the digital may not have the character of vinyl through the Thorens TT and 2M Black cartridge, through the Decware ZP3 tube preamp, I don't feel that after the DAC, that anything has a distinct digital sound. It sounds quite analog to me and that is through the Altec horn speakers. I play Pandora through the streaming box all the time and it sounds perfectly analog.
     
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  25. James Lovell

    James Lovell Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Texas
    The 275 is very good. I put it against a McIntosh 275 on a pair of Hersey II speakers and it was a draw. I actually like it a little better for two reasons. One it will take a number of different drive tubes-KT88, KT120, 6550 along with a sub EQ switch. Then there is the price. About half of the McIntosh. Of course it does not have the Cachet of the Mac.
     
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