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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Tubes vs. SS...

There's an old Stereophile test CD where they demonstrate how microphone placement and your seating position determine how a piano recorded in a church will sound. Their test begs the question "what does a real piano playing in a church sound like?" The original goal of "hi-fi" was to accurately reproduce sounds. This is what James B. Lansing, Avery Fisher, and Saul Marantz were trying to achieve. It all began when Western Electric began testing multi-channel audio back in the 1920's.

DIFFERENT, BETTER, AND ACCURATE

The term 'accuracy' gets tossed around a lot in hi-fi rags. It's usually backed-up by a plethora of technical terms and engineering specs -sometimes by nothing more than "audio alchemy". I would like to take a minute to define what I mean by "accuracy": Accurate sound reproduction occurs only when the copy is indistinguishable from the original sound. That means you hear Stereophile's piano in a church exactly as they did when they recorded it. The amplifiers and speakers are acoustically invisible. In short, it's impossible with existing technology.

Today's systems are a compromise that leaves us to choose between Different and Better. The on-going debate surrounding tubes vs. SS isn't about accurate sound reproduction, but what form of distortion we subjectively believe sounds better.

Having built and re-built many tube and transistor based amplifiers I have a little knowledge in this area.

Tubes introduce a few types of distortion that some people find pleasing. Envelope delay, microphonics, and phase drift (about 15 degrees). Anything that distorts the original signal is a form of distortion. All of these can be reproduced in the digital domain. The software from Diamond Cut Productions can provide you with hours of tube amp development without soldering a single wire.

Transistors have their own unique forms of distortion. The greatest distortion of the original sound in both tube and transistor based systems comes from the transducers.

If you take a Bryston 4B-ST (transistor) and a Carver Silver Seven (tube) and test them using a pair of studio reference JBL 4412As you will hear differences in the reproduced sound. These differences are not "audio alchemy" but measurable. Is one necessarily better than the other or just different? To me they are different but not better or worse. The Bryston's will always perform better when the demand for current and power are high, but the Carver's delay and microphonics creates a smoothing (cover-up) of the errors in accuracy at lower amplitudes.

If you want to use tube amps then transducer sensitivity and impedance will play a role in how your system sounds. Tubes don't do well with high current demand and they are slow to respond to dynamic changes in amplitude. Both of these are a part of the "warm tube sound". Originally tube amps were used with horn speakers. Thus, the JBL Hartsfield and Klipsch Klipschorn are favored by many tube amp users. For subs with tubes I would consider building smaller versions of the Western Electrics used in theaters back in the 1920's. They're very efficient and can rumble the room.

In the end I chose transistors because of maintenance and transducer selection variety. There are so many choices these days that there's pretty much something to please everyone. Tube amps can provides hours of tinkering fun, and can be a very addictive (and expensive) hobby.
 

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Thanks for the info and welcome to the Shack!

I moved your post to its own thread since it seemed more appropriate. :T

I agree that neither really sounds better or worse to me... just different. I like both sounds with what I have heard thus far.
 

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Wow.
You post makes waaay too much factual sense and therefore has no place on audio forum.
Welcome :wave:
Oh com'on now AJ... we ain't near as bad here as some of the other forums. I mean yeah... there are those that have varying stretched opinions, but at least we are civil. :whistling:

A fantastic excuse to have both of (audio) everything!

Next up, vinyl vs CD.....
Got both of those too! :bigsmile:
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 · (Edited)
My post was originally a response to a different thread about choosing a tube amp. I had no idea it would become it's own stand-alone statement.

I apologize if the old engineer in me came out and hurt anyone's feelings about tubes and SS. Please consider that I've been around long enough to remember "The Magic Brick" which could supposedly through "audio alchemy" silence non-existent resonances in SS circuits. lol :D

I haven't been too involved in audio for several years. I read about REW and it got me interested again.

I just finished a complete re-build of my ancient Thorens TD126 and SME arm. Vinyl can be fun and enjoyable but I don't want to return to the days of cleaning a record every time I want to listen to music.
 

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Glad we were able to pull you out of the closet Jeff... and hope you find REW useful.

I had an older Thorens Jubilee turntable for years. I let my dad hold on to it for me for a few years and it ended up in an old mobile home used for storage. Beyond repair repair when I found it... almost cried. Lesson learned... don't lend gear to the family.

Ehh... don't listen to too much vinyl anyway, but do have an inexpensive Denon table.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 · (Edited)
Speaking of tubes... a fun weekend project is to build an old RCA RIAA tube-based phono pre-amp. (Note: it works with MM cartridges.) You can spend hours tinkering with its loading and change the sound output to your liking. It's an amazing little phono stage for very little money. And, you will have a certain pride of ownership knowing that you built it yourself.

I haven't built one in years but you got me to thinking...

I'm just learning to use REW. I can analyze both channels independently with it but haven't figured out how to write separate EQ configurations for each.
 

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Oh com'on now AJ... we ain't near as bad here as some of the other forums. I mean yeah... there are those that have varying stretched opinions, but at least we are civil.
My statement above was made tongue firmly in cheek. Don't want to use emoticons on everything....

Do remember, I have/use both.
May even add a TT, after 20+ yrs respite....
NOT because vinyl "sounds better".
 

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antoninus9,

I thought one of the key differences between tube and SS is:

SS can do everything that tubes can do and not the other way around.

For example, it is possible to take the output from SS and add distortion that you mention to create an identical waveform of the tube amp.

The other way around doesn't work. It is not possible to add something to the tube output to make it sound like the SS.

An analogy, and I appreciate a better one, would be paper and ashes. It is clear that paper and ashes are different. The key is that if you have paper, you can easily make ashes, though not the other way around.

Is that accurate?
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
SS combined with DSP offers you more flexibility and options. The debate of tubes vs. SS is more related to the psychology of the audiophile hobby than science and engineering. It could be justifiably claimed that being able to play with various types of equipment is a part of the joy of the hobby itself, and I would agree with that sentiment.

Unfortunately, there are ethical and moral concerns that must be considered. In the past Julian Hirsch acted as the gatekeeper of scientific fact vs. superstition (audio alchemy), but he passed away several years ago. Many of the claims made within the industry are misleading to the general public, and professional audio reviewers make statements about products without a clear and objective understanding of why different components have slightly different acoustic signatures.

I hate to see people's trust abused and their money spent towards things that are not what is being claimed.

REW is, perhaps, the best thing to happen to the hobby in the last 25 years. It allows virtually any person to see and understand the principles behind good sound reproduction. Properly understood, it can do more to improve your system than the most expensive audio components.

I'm not an "audiophile" but a music-phile. Listening to music is one of my favorite things. If my speakers and amplifiers could disappear and get out of the way of the music I would be in acoustic utopia.
 

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I thought one of the key differences between tube and SS is:
SS can do everything that tubes can do and not the other way around.
For the most part, yes, although there are limits.

For example, it is possible to take the output from SS and add distortion that you mention to create an identical waveform of the tube amp.
Again, within limits, yes, can and has been done. Perhaps most famously, the Carver challenge.

The DSP Antonius mentions is used by musicians (electric guitar, etc.), but also has limitations.
The interaction between an amp (tube) and speaker is dynamic. It changes with drive level.
But it obviously comes close enough for many.
And also as he mentions, the psychological impact of things like tubes, class D, etc, etc. on audiophiles is enormous (and measurable, despite their obliviousness). So really, there is no substitute for the real thing.

cheers
 
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