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Tube vs Solid State Amps

post #1 of 77
Thread Starter 

Hi guys I'm currently alternating between using a K701 and DT 990 and was just wondering what does a tubey sound or solid state sound really mean? I have a Crossroads Edge Amp and it improves my music slightly by making it cleaner and adds on to the clarity.

 

From what I've read on the forums, if I were to get a tube amp, say the Little Dot MKIII, the sound signature would be warmer while if I were to get a solid state amp, the sound would be more neutral and clearer. What exactly does this mean? Pardon me for being noob but does a warmer sound signature mean the vocals are "thicker" in a sense and that the highs are more rolled off? I'm strongly considering buying a tube amp but wondering whether it would be worth the money. As long as the music sounds good I'm not a really strong believer of neutrality; a little colouration is fine with me. I'm assuming colouration means the vocals sound smoother ( eg female vocals become huskier and thicker? ) 

post #2 of 77

Vacuum tube based amps have traditionally had two distinct characteristics (or issues, depending on your view point):

 

1. Higher distortion than similarly priced solid state amps.

2. Roll off at the limits of human hearing frequencies.

 

Even though tube amps tend to have more distortion, the distortion characteristic can be very pleasing, giving a texture to music that can be described as "rich". Tube amps also behave differently when the signal gets close to its output limits, the clipping behavior is transitional rather than a hard stop.  Roll of at both low end and high end frequencies are products of the circuit design and components used. Tube amps in the early days had pretty severe roll offs, and therefore people associate rolled off extremes with the sound signature of a tube amp. Modern tube amps can be designed to offer fairly flat response from 20-20kHz, and these amps are often described as being "solid state sounding". Therefore, many modern tube amps are still designed with a roll-off on purpose, to preserve the vintage tube-amp sound signature that listeners are familiar with.

 

In the end, tube amp vs solid state amp represents two different ways to approach sound reproduction. Tube amps aims at coloring the sound in a pleasing way, solid state aims to reproduce the music as accurately as possible. Note that many high end solid state amps also try to mimic a tube sound by having an artificially rolled off high frequency response. In the end, it's up to the listener to decide what they want.

 

Jack

post #3 of 77

Also, rolling in different tubes and changing the sound is very fun and rewarding (although it can be expensive).  It's almost a hobby in and of itself.  If you get bored after a while, roll in some different tubes and change the sound to your liking.  If I couldn't roll tubes, my tube amp would have been sold by now.  Some tubes just take it to a completely different level and breathe new life into music.

post #4 of 77

^^ Agreed, basically, but be aware that tube distortion is generally not gross - it may not be consciously notable at all.  A third important factor is that a tube amp's output impedance is generally high by solid state standards, which combines with a headphone's own impedance curve in a way that produces different results with different headphones.  Best case, you can find a pairing where the power transfer due to lucky impedance matching produces a subjectively pleasing "oomph" in the region you prefer ... often the mid-range or upper bass.  For this reason, with tubes, amp+headphones often need to be considered as a specific combination.  Solid state amps generally are less combination-specific, i.e. they maintain their characteristics largely independent of load.

post #5 of 77

But with the K701s, I have yet to hear a tube amp that pairs as well as a SS amp with them (and I'm a tube guy). With the DT990/600s, tubes are ideal. Tough call.

post #6 of 77

I know its verboten, but the Singlepower Extreme platinum, (just got mine today!) sounds perfect with the 702s.  A much cheaper alternative, (and one that has less of a chance of exploding) is the Millet Hybrid,  It sounds terrific with the 70xs and the 990s. 

post #7 of 77
There is no stereotypical tube sound. They're all different. The sound differs based on the circuit and tubes used. Some are clear and crisp like solid state and some are warm. It all depends.

I prefer tubes because there's more variation and character to them. Also, tube amps are simpler and it can be easier to find replacement tubes than chips. Now, chips can last a good long time, but once they go out of production, they can be impossible to find if you need to make a repair. Tube gear usually has plenty of NOS and reproduction tubes available. That, with the simpler circuits, means easier repairs, as well.

I should qualify that. Tube gear built point-to-point is easy to repair. Reworking a PCB can be difficult since it is easy to damage a trace or lift a solder pad. Not a problem point-to-point, though. You can replace a damaged wire in a few minutes.
Edited by Uncle Erik - 12/3/10 at 10:16pm
post #8 of 77
Thread Starter 
Oh so technically tube amps would last longer/be easier to repair? Cus I will most probably buy a used set. For now I'm leaning towards tube amps because i'm quite interested in how the warm characteristics would sound like with my current headphones. Currently looking at the dark voice 336se amp ( there's a secondhand one available to me ) would it be a good choice for pairing with either the k701 or dt990? I'm hoping for a significant improvement in the sound character or at least a distinct difference...something that would be worth spending a few hundred on.. ( keeping in mind this is my first serious amp, only used go vibe martini and crossroads edge before )
post #9 of 77
Quote:
Originally Posted by voodoohao View Post

Oh so technically tube amps would last longer/be easier to repair? Cus I will most probably buy a used set. For now I'm leaning towards tube amps because i'm quite interested in how the warm characteristics would sound like with my current headphones. Currently looking at the dark voice 336se amp ( there's a secondhand one available to me ) would it be a good choice for pairing with either the k701 or dt990? I'm hoping for a significant improvement in the sound character or at least a distinct difference...something that would be worth spending a few hundred on.. ( keeping in mind this is my first serious amp, only used go vibe martini and crossroads edge before )


All amps crap out eventually, at unpredictable times in unpredictable ways, but yes, a point-to-point wired tube amp is a definite "shade tree mechanic" proposition, whereas solid state generally heads for the dumpster.  But realistically, that only matters in the 20+ year range.  But if you choose on SQ grounds alone, then tube amps are still highly competitive - provided you're above the budget range.  For that reason, buying used is a great idea.

post #10 of 77
Quote:
Originally Posted by voodoohao View Post

Oh so technically tube amps would last longer/be easier to repair? Cus I will most probably buy a used set. For now I'm leaning towards tube amps because i'm quite interested in how the warm characteristics would sound like with my current headphones. Currently looking at the dark voice 336se amp ( there's a secondhand one available to me ) would it be a good choice for pairing with either the k701 or dt990? I'm hoping for a significant improvement in the sound character or at least a distinct difference...something that would be worth spending a few hundred on.. ( keeping in mind this is my first serious amp, only used go vibe martini and crossroads edge before )


Tube amps are much more fragile and problematic versus solid state amps due to the nature of vacuum tubes and the relatively high voltage that the circuitry works with. In terms of ease of repair, because most tube amps are fairly simple and use very basic components, they are typically easier to work on by the end user. SS amps, if designed with discreet components, can also be somewhat easy to work on of the schematic is available.  If any IC's are used, then it can be considerably more difficult to fix.  In general: tube amps are less stable, have more frequent problems, but are easier to tweak with by the end user and may be easier to fix by a good tech; solid state amps are much stable, but are harder to tweak by the end user and may be cheaper to replace than repair.

 

IMO, don't fret over the type of amplifier, just go out and listen to some of them, preferably with your favorite pair of phones.  There are some applications where tube amp is definitely superior, such as for electrical guitar use, but audio amplification/reproduction is not one of them as it really comes down to personal preference. 

 

Jack

post #11 of 77

Jack-Micca:

Thanks for those posts! (saved to the HD here as a model response....)

 

You 'nailed' the tube/SS situation very concisely and accurately.

John

post #12 of 77
Thread Starter 

Wow thanks for the many replies really appreciate you guys helping me out! :)  (many of your replies are pretty comprehensive and for that you have my sincere thanks )  I've got a few things I'm still uncertain about, how does the multiple tubes on tube amps really work together? From what I've read some tubes add punchier bass while others deliver smooth sound but since tube amps normally have at least two tubes, does it mean that a tube amp will retain the characteristics from all its tubes? I've also read that one of the tubes would be a power tube, but I don't know what exactly is the difference between a power tube or a 'normal' tube. There's also something called vintage tubes which are supposedly rarer? 

post #13 of 77

i honestly could not tell a difference in sound reproduction between my WA6 and Burson HA160

 

the ss amp was louder though

post #14 of 77

I profoundly disagree, Jack.

 

Chips are fragile and problematic.  A touch of static kills them and so does heat and radiation.  Tube gear is just fine.  If you want an excellent account of the durability of tube gear, read Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki.  Pay attention to what happens to their National NC-173 receiver and their transmitting gear.  No way in hell that some chip/PCB set would tolerate that kind of abuse without extensive casing.  Look at how cellphones die after an accidental drop into water.

 

Also, tube gear holds up well for decades.  I know - I've been working on old tube stuff for somewhere around 12 years.  The biggest problem with the old stuff is the old wax capacitors.  They melt and short, which is why about 90% of old tube stuff went to an attic, basement or garage.  Old carbon comp resistors drift completely out of spec, too.  Replace those and you have something that will last a long time.  The most "modern" old tube gear I have is probably the Conrad-Johnson MV52 from 1985.  It has modern caps and resistors.  It is still going after 25 years with the original parts.  I'll probably yank the filters since those wear out.

 

The other problem with chips is that they're impossible to find after a few years.  If you blow an output five years on, you'll probably have to cannibalize another set.  If you run tubes used in popular amps and guitar amps, those

post #15 of 77

Well there is also this http://home.comcast.net/~jafix/Mig_salley.html. Russian new how to make endurable aircrafts.  And there is still tube gear running in Fallout. Computer game for you illiterates.

 

However if we talk about service without maintenance solid states outclasses tube amps I would recon. I have yet to have a solid state amp go bad on me. As for my tube amp well it was delivered with a faulty tube that worked initially but went bad. Got spare tubes to go with it thankfully. No fancy tubes but they cost over 30$ a piece which is quite insane!

 

If your solid state die in 20 years you have saved up for a new one seeing what you saved on tubes,

 

 

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