Preferences: tubes vs. solid state
Mar 19, 2002 at 12:24 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 57

Vertigo-1

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I wanted to get some feedback from those that have heard plenty of both types of amps, of what part of music tends to sound more accurate on which type. For example, I've read reviews saying certain instruments sound more real on tubes, while others sound more accurate on solid states. So here's where I'd like to get a list of what sounds more realistic on whichever type of amp. It can be instruments (mostly interested in this), singer's voice, electronic/synths, etc.
 
Mar 19, 2002 at 1:07 AM Post #3 of 57

Ross

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I don't think it's that simple, Vertigo.

Good solid state is clearly more extended in the high and low frequencies (and therefore more accurate). However, tubes add warmth in the midrange, which can make the midrange of tube amps seem to sound richer, with more presence, and sometimes more natural. My guess (relying only on what I've heard; I'm not an engineer) is that the apparently richer midrange of tubes is artificial - though no less pleasant because of it.

Tubes also sound "bigger", with instruments being more fleshed out, while solid state usually sounds thinner and smaller. Tubes are generally smoother' solid state can sound grainy by comparison, although good solid state amps can largely avoid this.

Once thing I've found with all tube amps, without exception, is that they add a "glassy" quality to the sound - one reason why they sound smoother - while solid state amps sound more direct. Often, in very good solid state amps, the slight sense of coarseness can result from an accurate reproduction of instrumental textures, which tube amps gloss over with their slight glassiness.

Also, in addition to this "glassy" quality, many tube amps - mostly those of lesser quality - suffer from "tube glare", a kind of brightly-lit quality in the background. This contrasts with solid state, where lesser quality amps can sound hashy in the background. Good amps - both solid state and tube - should have quiet, black backgrounds.

I make these comments having owned and listened to many different amps, both tube and solid state.

I keep a couple of tube heapdhone amps (HD 83 and Earmax Pro) to remind myself from time to time why I consistently prefer solid state amps. This is a personal preference, though, and I have no issue with the many people who prefer tube amps.

Going back to the original point, I don't think it is possible to say that some instruments sound more real on one type of amp compared to the other. This is a question of taste.

Ross
 
Mar 19, 2002 at 1:13 AM Post #5 of 57

Ross

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..... to play rather than reproduce guitar music. There's a difference.

Ross
 
Mar 19, 2002 at 1:33 AM Post #6 of 57

gaineso

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IMO Silcon sounds a little more extended, top and bottom, and a little crislper.

Somehow, I think I really prefer glass for speakers and silicon for 'phones.

MO
 
Mar 19, 2002 at 1:41 AM Post #7 of 57

Nick Dangerous

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I think Ross put it very well. It's a matter of preference.

Solid state amps are in the head and tubed amps are from the heart.

Perhaps solid state amps are inherently male, and tube gear is female? Hmmmmm... although I guess this would make hybrids like the Melos a shemale.

Eh. I just woke up. Don't bug me about it.
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Mar 19, 2002 at 1:51 AM Post #9 of 57

Vertigo-1

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Quote:

Going back to the original point, I don't think it is possible to say that some instruments sound more real on one type of amp compared to the other. This is a question of taste.


I don't know about that, after all, I think just about everybody agrees tubes do voices better. I also believe most people agree that wooden instruments sound more real on tubes as well. I'm looking for more of those types of generalizations. This thread is NOT to debate the purist accuracy of tubes vs. solid states, rather just how certain things sound on either or. BTW, I'd like to throw in the idea that we would be talking about high end tube/solid states, and nothing low ended. Low end amps tend to throw in all sorts of bad stuff compared to the higher ended amps, if you know what I mean.

I know there's probably not going to be an amp that can do both sides well, so this list is to help me pick my poisons to live with, so to speak.
 
Mar 19, 2002 at 1:53 AM Post #10 of 57

Hirsch

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Quote:

Originally posted by Ross

Once thing I've found with all tube amps, without exception, is that they add a "glassy" quality to the sound - one reason why they sound smoother - while solid state amps sound more direct. Often, in very good solid state amps, the slight sense of coarseness can result from an accurate reproduction of instrumental textures, which tube amps gloss over with their slight glassiness.

Also, in addition to this "glassy" quality, many tube amps - mostly those of lesser quality - suffer from "tube glare", a kind of brightly-lit quality in the background. This contrasts with solid state, where lesser quality amps can sound hashy in the background. Good amps - both solid state and tube - should have quiet, black backgrounds.


I've heard the glassiness you refer to, but wouldn't keep a tube amp that exhibited it. It's a classic flaw, IMO. The ZOTL exhibited a small amount of this with the stock tubes, but a change of tube got rid of it. The easiest way to tell if a tube amp suffers from this is to put on some seriously driving rock, with an edge. PJ Harvey, Butthole Surfers, that sort of thing. If the impact is diminished, there's a problem. PJ Harvey is not supposed to sound *polite*. It's why the classic tube sound is often thought to be better with classical than rock music. IMO any amp worth keeping needs to be able to play any music...to me that partially defines neutrality. The three amps I have with tubes; X-Can, SHA-1 (hybrids) and ZOTL don't exhibit these symptoms (or at least not after I got done with them).

The coarseness you refer to in solid state amps is not accuracy, but crossover distortion, as an amp switches from Class A to Class A/B operation. Perhaps someone more technically oriented than me will explain it more accurately than I can, but in brief: In Class A operation, the amp is fully powered at all times. In A/B operation, peak power is generated on demand. A-A/B amps will run in Class A up to a certain power level, where they switch to Class A/B operation. The better amps will cross over at higher power levels, where distortion is minimized, as the amp is in Class A most of the time. Some of the best solid state amps run in Class A all the time...the downside being you can heat your house with them, so Class A amps are often lower powered than those that run A-A/B. This is not an issue with tube amps, which simply run in Class A, but it can be with hybrids.
 
Mar 19, 2002 at 2:00 AM Post #12 of 57

Driftwood

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I don't know that I am really a good source of information like this, but to me, (IMHO) I think that solid state is (or is capable) of being more accurate, while tubes are capable of being more musical. To me it seems that anything that has tubes will have to have some sort of coloration, and although this might subjectively sound better, and may be more musical, I think that ultimately the solid state amps are going to be the more accurate to the recording.

This is all just in my opinion, of course, none of it is claimed as fact.

Driftwood
 
Mar 19, 2002 at 2:51 AM Post #15 of 57

Ross

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Quote:

I think just about everybody agrees tubes do voices better. I also believe most people agree that wooden instruments sound more real on tubes as well. I'm looking for more of those types of generalizations.


I don't fully agree with this. There is general acknowledgement (I think) that the extra midrange warmth of tubes can make vocals and stringed instruments sound more pleasant; whether this is "better" is a matter of taste.

There are lots of generalisations that could be made: tubes are warmer than solid state; solid state goes higher; solid state has deeper bass; tubes sound good with female vocals; solid state sounds better with dance music; tubes sound better with jazz etc etc ... but these generalisations are all pretty useless - you have to listen to an amp, whatever it is, and decide whether or not you like it.

Quote:

I'd like to throw in the idea that we would be talking about high end tube/solid states, and nothing low ended.


Okay, but a lot of these comments apply to high end gear as well. For example, I would regard the very expensive Krell pre/power amps as falling into the harsh, grainy, hashy category of solid state amps, while the Audio Research VT50 and VT100 tube power amps (again, very expensive) were glassy and glarey in my system.

Quote:

The coarseness you refer to in solid state amps is not accuracy, but crossover distortion, as an amp switches from Class A to Class A/B operation.


Not necessarily. It really comes down to the particular amp - some are very coarse, while others are less so. I'm not suggesting that coarseness per se is accuracy, but that despite this solid state amps seem (to my ears) to be able to reproduce musical textures - e.g. the rasp of a saxophone reed or violin string - more honestly.

Ross
 

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