Tube Mythbusters? - Home Theater Forum and Systems -

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post #1 of 63 Old 02-13-10, 09:24 AM Thread Starter
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Tube Mythbusters?

Tubes sound better than solid state. No, solid state is just as good as tubes, perhaps even better!

I started a raging debate well over a month ago that is still going on at another audio forum, with the above topic.

First, a few quotes..............

"When it comes to my personal system, you will not find any tube gear, it's all solid state. And I manufacture VERY GOOD tube components." source - High end audio manufacturer in MN

"Had I performed a blind listening test, I would have chosen the tube amp to be solid state, and the solid state amp to be tubed!" source - Sam Tellig, Stereophile

"A few music listener's still have the illusion that.....tubed products are in some mysterious way better than present solid-state models. The overall superior performance of solid-state design has been scientifically proven.....Anyone investing in contemporary vacuum tube products will experience less than the best available performance." source - McIntosh Electronics / The Absolute Sound Magazine

Now, the above quotes ought to be enough to get anyone's blood flowing, regardless of which camp you reside in.

But wait......there's more!

In my own system you will find tube gear as well as SS. Most recently I had a pure class A system (tube pre-amp and tube power-amp), plus solid state. This made it very easy to do direct A/B comparisons.

Speakers employed were VMPS. CD source was a Samsung SACD / DVD Audio player.

The CD's utilized were various Piano, female vocal, and big band jazz samples, all of which are very well mastered and recorded.

As my listening room incorporates speaker source switching (the same speakers powered by multiple sources) it is very easy to do the A/B testing. This is not a blind test, as I administer the event and am the subject at the same time.

Now, after very careful listening (I am a trained musician), there was no discernible difference in the two systems.

Prior to the listening trial, both systems were volume matched using a hand held DB meter.

Both the class A tube setup and the class A/B solid state gear sounded very, very good.

Now, one last quote and I'll be done!

"How does it sound, you ask? I will state that all well executed and well designed gear pretty much sounds alike. So you will have to listen for yourself." source - Julian Hirsch, Hirsch Labs (Stereo Review)
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post #2 of 63 Old 02-13-10, 09:32 AM
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Re: Tube Mythbusters?

If you are looking for sprited and well reasoned debate, that is OK. If you are looking for rants and raging, you may want to stoke the fires elsewhere.

The fact is that tubes have limitations that transistors can exceed easily. That is why most systems use transistors. It is also true that tubes can sound different than transistors, and the difference, good or bad, is what lures many to them. It is well known that the distortion produced by tubes is usually different than that of transistors, and the available bandwidth/power relationship is different. If one likes the sound of tubes and is willing to make the trade-offs, I don't think anyone here will have a problem with that. It is no different than the plasma/LCD debate or many others. We can discuss the differences, the perceptions, the opinions, and still be respectful of the opinions of others. No need to rage at all.

Please feel free to state your opinion, but be careful about trolling for controversy.

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post #3 of 63 Old 02-13-10, 09:50 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Tube Mythbusters?

Controversy is not my goal. But a spirited debate on the pros and cons of the issues is what motivated my original post.

And the reason this was brought up here at The Shack is because I find the participants here more level headed, and without the air of snobbery that prevails at some of the other sites.

I am always interested in the experiences of others in this field, and looking to expand my my universe with more useful data, as we are always looking to improve upon the audio listening experience.

But since you mentioned distortion........the even order distortion character of tubes vs. the odd order harmonic distortion of transistors is what makes them so well suited to guitar amplification. People such as Clapton get their signature sound from the unique distortion qualities of the tubes they employ. This is primarily when the amps are "over-driven" in order to achieve this.

In my research on this, the statement was made that since in the home audio listening environment, the equipment is rarely (if ever) overdriven, which would be more in favor of solid state gear.

I am interested in the experiences / preferences of others who frequent this forum.

Last edited by Oleson, M.D.; 02-13-10 at 10:09 AM.
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post #4 of 63 Old 02-13-10, 11:53 AM
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Re: Tube Mythbusters?

I would chose SS for home use, but tube signal amps are still very important in the recording industry, guitar amps, mic amps, etc.

From my understanding, the best of the best can sound just as good if not better, but they are rare and expensive. Or another way of saying it might be, tubes don't automatically = fuzzy warm distortion and a 60hz hum that haters will say, its the only reason people like tubes. Its the same argument for why people like vinyl. Because deep down, we like distortion?!?!?

If I ever got the chance at getting a good tube amp by being at the right place at the right time, I would. I think they are really neat, they have the glowing tube cool factor going, they do sound nice, even if maybe not 100% proper, and SS can never look as cool.
post #5 of 63 Old 02-13-10, 12:18 PM
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Re: Tube Mythbusters?

I think Leonard said it all, although you will usually find two camps of people one who love the sound of tube and one who dont the real question here is do you have the setup and budget to support a tube system. The cost of a good tube amp is way up there and solid state amps can generate allot more reliable power to drive hungry speakers. For home theatre a tube amp is not going to work well at all as they are slower at responding than solid state.
Tube amps are also generally low powered most do not produce more than 40-60watts per ch.

Are tube amps bad? not at all. they have there place but I do truly believe that they are a niche market and the average person just simply wont care.

Home theater:
Onkyo 805, Yamaha YDP2006EQ, Samson Servo 600 amp
3 EV Sentry 500 monitors across the front, 4 Mission 762i's Surrounds, SVS PB13U sub, Panasonic BDT220, Harmony 1100, Nintendo WiiU
Panasonic PT-AE8000 on a 120" 2,35:1 fixed screen

Living room system:
Sherwood/Newcastle R972, Mission 765's, SVS SBS02's, A/D/S MS3u sub, Yamaha YDG2030EQ
Yamaha KX-393 Tape deck, CDC 805 CD changer, Panasonic BD60, Sony turntable PS-T20
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post #6 of 63 Old 02-13-10, 12:36 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Tube Mythbusters?

A couple of interesting points have been brought up.

1. Power ratings

2. Cost issues

My research indicates that with speakers of 89 or 90 db ratings, a moderately powered (35 watts) tube amp will be just fine. I am used to listening to SS amps in the range from 60 watts to 300 watts. All of them will drive my speakers (VMPS - 8 ohm & 4 ohm) with ease. The 35 watt tube amp in the experiment did equally as well, which was very much to my surprise!

As far as cost is concerned, there are tube amp dealers who will sell their products in the range from $650 to $1200, and some of these are in kit form. These are not used items on Ebay, but are brand new engineered items with first class parts quality. These particular amps get rave reviews in the press, and in many forums as well. Of course, you can spend many multiples of those figures if you choose to do so.

In a pure cost per performance comparison, SS looks to come out ahead.

But again, there is something very romantic about the warm glow of a set of EL34's!
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post #7 of 63 Old 02-13-10, 03:14 PM
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Re: Tube Mythbusters?

While it is true that most systems are not driven to significant distortion, tube amps with typically far less range are more likely to be, and in systems used for extremely dynamic music, with speakers that are not particularly easy to drive it may happen more than one realizes.

That said, for me, the trade-offs are clearly in favor of SS and tubes are little more than an interesting niche market. Even as calibration specialist, I have little appreciation for equipment with large variance in performance over time and between devices.

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post #8 of 63 Old 02-13-10, 06:26 PM
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Re: Tube Mythbusters?

I agree completely, that with reasonably efficient speakers, 35 watts can do a fine job. Lynn Olson, (, had stated numerous times that a Dynaco ST70 was a good yardstick for entry level hi fidelity. The Dynaco,(for those who don't know), is an EL34 tubed, 35 watt per channel amp designed primarily by David Hafler, sold in kit and assembled form during the late '50's and early '60's. Olson had stated that this little amp could take on, and beat, many kilobuck boutique high end amps. Not at the frequency extremes, not in power, but in midrange and transparency. Years ago, while still in the SS camp, I decided to find out for myself. I scored an ST70 on epray, factory wired with it's original Mullard EL34's.
Now, I had every intent of updating the amp, new caps, resistors, etc., but my wife said "why don't you just try it stock first?". Uh, why not? I was bi-amped using an updated NAD 2600 crossed at 150 Hz at the time. Then swap in the Dyna, , no way. Swapped the NAD and Dynaco several times. The sound stage was so 3D, my wife wasn't sure the surrounds weren't on when I said, "honey, come here and listen to this". Problem #1, it had flaws, but the transparency was unmistakable. Even at very low volumes it was, to use a common cliché', like a veil was lifted. Problem #2 was, no other current production EL34 sounded like that. I used those tubes in an Anthem Amp 1, and that same transparency came with them, but with much more extended upper end. With current production Russian tubes in place, there was no advantage over SS.
I've since moved on to different gear, but have stayed with tube, preamp and amp (+150 Hz), SS for low freq.s. Pre also. I can switch, on the fly, between my AVM30 and tube pre, the tube wins hands down every time.
A couple months ago, I was swapping tubes thinking it was kind of a pain - looking for the right combination. Then I realized, I was grumbling about something that woudn't even be an option with SS. I had a say in the matter, as to how my system sounds. With SS, you have what the design team/marketing department decided, on the quality of electronics you would get at that particular price point. So the way it sounds, is the way it sounds.
Pop open a tube amp, you can just about count the number of parts on one hand. Try that with a SS amp. That's alot of signal handling/shaping.
Are tubes a PITA? Yes. Do I believe they are better technology? No. Do I listen to technology? No, I listen to music, I'll take mine tubed thank you. Are tubes for everyone? No, then the good tubes would be even more expensive!!! I'll just hang out in my little niche over yonder.
Nelson Pass (born June 27, 1951) is a noted and widely respected designer of audio amplifiers.

Unlike some audio engineers, Pass remains vocal that listening tests remain valuable and that electrical measurements alone do not fully characterize the sound of an amplifier.

Mr. Pass holds at least seven U.S. patents related to audio circuits.

Last edited by RIKKITIK; 02-13-10 at 07:23 PM.
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post #9 of 63 Old 02-14-10, 01:19 AM
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Re: Tube Mythbusters?

I love tubes and SS gear and own both, it all boils down to pairing the right gear with other items in your rig to get the synergy. In my sysyem there are tubes in my pre and amp but have owned plenty of gear that was pure solid state.
There is no right answer and its not a competition anyway, for those who love tubes its their opinion they sound the best, yet SS guys have an equal but opposite view favoring SS. Both are fantastic, tubes have strengths SS many times cant match but SS has advantages tubes can never overcome. Smoke em if ya got em and love whatever makes you happy, just dont tell me I am wrong or this is fact and that is fact because it is an individual based hobby with many interesting theory and individuals making it fun and keeping it from being boring.
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post #10 of 63 Old 02-14-10, 07:56 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Tube Mythbusters?

Here is one more often overlooked benefit of tubes.

They also function as highly efficient space heaters!

In my recent experiment, the tube amp was located on a shelf in an audio cabinet. Dual multi-speed cooling fans were placed on the rear of the shelf to direct the airflow over the amp, to keep the amp and cabinet from getting too hot.

The people sitting in the row of seats nearest the audio cabinet are now kept "nice & toasty warm" due to the heat output of the tubes! Very nice for these colder than normal winter days.

But when summer returns................................

Last edited by Oleson, M.D.; 02-14-10 at 10:30 AM.
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