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Tube rolling

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by jiminy, Feb 5, 2013.
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  1. ab initio

    There's nothing wrong at all about that; however, just because something is fun and somebody happened to have spent multi-thousands of dollars on a fun piece of equipment doesn't somehow make it more accurate, and that others should feels as if they cannot have a high-fidelity headphone system because they cannot afford $10k for an boutique tube amplifier. One can go a very, very, very long way for under $1000 start to finish, and have a very high fidelity system.
    Tube-rolling for accurate sound is kind of like having a set of screw drivers and a bunch of nails. You can try whacking the nail with the different screw drivers in the set to see which works best at driving the nail---and you may even likely find a nice hefty screw driver that can get the job done---but the right tool for the job is still a hammer. Two things about this, 1) trying to find the best screw driver for pounding nails is stupid, 2) a nice set of screw drivers are perfect when you have a bunch of screws. A screw driver is simply not the best tool for the job when you want to drive nails, just as tubes are not the best active components to use when you want to have a highly linear, low distortion amplifier.
    I love tube amps---I just use them where appropriate. You can certainly build a very linear, very accurate tube amp---it just costs you more to do so. If you want High Fidelity sound reproduction, you don't need a tube amp (in fact, you probably should avoid tube amps). If you want High fidelity from a retro amp design, tubes are the way to go---they're very retro indeed---it's just going to be a lot more expensive to get the same fidelity performance levels that one could get from a solid state design.
    Now, if you need a high power, kilovolt-level power amplifier for a high impedance load, then tubes are probably a very attractive active component to start your design with. I just can't think of any dynamic headphones or speakers that would fall into that classification.
    To actually address the OP's question/topic, I don't think tube rolling is pointless. I think it could be very educational if approached in the correct manner. 1) do a little background reading on amplifier design. 2) do a little background, nay, history reading  on the operation principles of different types of valves. 3) tube roll and compare the change in response/distortion between different tubes---compare their data sheets--- see if you can make sense of the changes based on the circuit design and the different tube specifications. 4) learn.
    Nobody these days invents anything new by brute force trying N! combinations of some system parameters before something magically happens to just work. That's sort of how evolution works and it takes Millions and Millions of years to get anywhere with that approach. Don't tube roll blindly. Formulate a hypothesis based on established principles and systematically test in a controlled way.
    Happy rollin'
  2. Claritas
    I never had the impression that people were tube rolling for accurate sound. I thought it was for enjoying the music. The problem is when people suppose there's only right way to do that. "Laughable! Ha ha!!" -- Jesus Quintana
  3. ab initio

    Like i said in my post, there's more than one way to get a job done. But there certainly are tools better suited to certain tasks.
    I think tube rolling is more for experimenting and enjoying the process of changing variables, rather than enjoying music. if you wanted to enjoy the music, you'd stop rolling tubes and Listen.
  4. Claritas
    Listening with a tube amp, then.
  5. ab initio

    I completely agree that one may listen with a tube amp and really enjoy it. I love the sound of my tube amp.
  6. bigshot
    With a flat solid state amp and a good equalizer, I can make a million different fun sounds. And still be able to snap in a correction that gives me exactly what the people who created the recording intended.

    Nothing wrong with colored sound. I just wouldn't want to be hard wired in to a specific coloration on all the music I play. I'd like to be able to precisely adjust it.
  7. elmoe
    Natural sound gets colored by your ears (or perhaps your brain). Recording engineers creatively (read: subjectively, using their ears) adjust response during mixing to "improve" the sound. Except on many many recordings, the mix is terrible. I understand what you're telling me - which is basically that you leave it up entirely to the engineer to calibrate "the recording's EQ" for you, and that's fine I guess, but EQing your own gear to hear what the engineer heard is NOT realistic playback. It is what the engineer deems "better sounding", which is very very different first of all, from what you're hearing LIVE, second of all, from your personal preference.
    Secondly, you say they listen on "studio monitor calibrated to a flat response" - that just plain wasn't true a lot of the time. Studios buy studio gear aimed to be flat, but that's only true (and not always) in modern times (and it shows when you listen to many many recordings, particularly anything recorded pre-1980 which is the vast majority of the music I listen to).
    So if you do want realistic playback, truly realistic playback, then you do not put blind faith into an engineers' ears which are very different from yours to begin with. That being said, I wouldn't spend hours EQing every recording I own to get the "best sound for my ears" out of it, that's just not realistic - I would rather buy a tube amp and a few pairs of different headphones [​IMG] 
    And why couldn't you with a tube amp? I am hard wired to a specific coloration only until I want to change it. Then I can tube roll, or... use an equalizer. In the meantime I only have to turn my amp on to have a sound I particularly enjoy for all (or almost) my music, without having to tinker on an EQ for 15 minutes before I change an album. So in the end I spend more time listening and enjoying music than I do playing around with an EQ.

  8. bigshot
    Professional studios have a support staff whose job it is to maintain and calibrate the equipment. They don't want a client to do half of a mix, then take a break for a week or two and come back to a different monitor sound. Good studios have monitors calibrated to a balanced response. This was as true in 1950 as it is today. Capitol records for instance, maintained studios in New York and LA that were precisely calibrated to match each other. I'm sure RCA and Columbia had the same sort of thing. I've worked in many LA studios and have spoken with their chief engineers. They keep their equipment calibrated to a flat response. It's the only way they can make sure they are mixing consistently.

    It's easy to design and manufacture clean, balanced solid state amps. If it's possible to put a signal through the chain from source through the amp without any alteration of the sound, that is best because then your only wild card is the transducers. You can calibrate them with an equalizer without having any other components further distorting the response. That simplifies things enormously.
  9. elmoe
    Sorry but this absolutely wasn't true in 1950, and the enormous amount of badly mixed recordings is unequivocal on this point. Just look up some of the first album recording methods for rock bands even up to the 1970s, they were anything but calibrated, more often than not they didn't even use monitors at all. Not to mention a great many artists, even world renowned like Ray Charles, had most of their early hits recording in terrible fashion, I can give you a long long list of such recordings if you'd like to look up how they were recorded and mixed. Even the Motown studio up to the 70s did a terrible job at recording/mixing/mastering their records, and they sold more albums than any other studio out there.
    It only simplifies things if you're looking to equalize in the first place, which is exactly what tube amps prevent people who use them from having to do.
  10. bigshot
    No, you're correct, not in 1950. In the pre-hifi era, every record label had their own playback curve, although by 1950, many of them were moving towards a flat response. Calibration to a flat response became universal with the RIAA standards in the early hifi era... around 1954.

    Bad recordings don't mean that there weren't standards. Thhankfully, today, CDs are remarkably consistent, at least with classical and jazz. Contemporary rock music can be all over the place, but that's because so much work is being done in home studios now. I have my system calibrated to a flat response and there are only a few recordings I need to reach for the tone controls to correct... and all of those are from the pre-hifi era and are very rough transfers from shellac and amateur recordings. (early be bop)

    Most people don't understand what calibrating to a flat response means, because although it is taken for granted in professional studios, few home audio enthusiasts go to the trouble of calibrating their systems. It's the best thing you can do for sound quality though. Balanced response is clearer, more transparent, more focused and makes all professionally recorded music sound better.
  11. bbmiller
    Well calibrating your system. In what I believe to be one of these HEAD FI first threads on equalization the original thread starter stated.
    So if you believe that headphone audio system ear headphone impedance mismatch necessitates a good headphone audio system be equalized to your personal ears.
    Would follow that dictate and always equalize ones headphone to adjust to the year headphone impedance mismatch. Nullify what is being said on this forum about choosing a headphone to rolling combination per type of music for maximum enjoyment? Could one still do that is some logic if one always equalized ones headphone to compensate for the ear headphone impedance mismatch?
    And is it also true the chief coloration differences between one tube and another is chiefly frequency response and would it then follow that what is said in tube rolling threads about the advantages of one tube over another per genre or anything else be rendered ineffectual were we always to equalize our headphones?

  12. bigshot
    Every speaker system requires equalization, regardless of what kind of amp is being used. The odds of speaker response and room response perfectly balancing is pretty much nil, even with the best speakers in a carefully treated room.
  13. 00940
    Probably not. Most tubes amps will have reasonnably flat FR whatever tubes you roll in. You'd really have to mess up your design to have an amp which isn't flat at audio frequencies (except very low bass and the highest treble, mostly due to transformers issues).
    The differences are probably due to the fact that tubes don't exactly have the same operating curves. When you change a tube, keeping all other things equal, you can have significant differences in operating points. This in turn affect gain and distortion.
    This is over-simplified, of course. It depends a lot of the topology used by the amp. If feedback is used, for example, the amp becomes quite immune to the effect of tuberolling. Auto-biasing schemes can also help to guarantee optimal operating points.
  14. bigshot
    The best tube amps can be functionally about as good as solid state amps. They wouldn't measure quite as good, but the difference would be mostly outside the range of hearing. That said, I think that most of the reason people like the sound of tube amps is because of the slightly steeper high end rolloff. A lot of speakers and headphones have goosed treble to increase "detail". The rolloff on tube amps corrects for that a bit. But an equalizer would be a much more precise and flexible way to address imbalances in transducers.
  15. 00940
    Yes but... most tube amps discussed on head-fi are either OTL or hybrid. They usually don't have a high end roll-off.
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