Saturday, February 16, 2013

Tubes vs. Solid State

I've been a tube amplification convert for at least a decade.

That's when I bought a nice tube amplifier and preamp, an Anthem Amp 1 and Pre 2L. Tubes sounded warm and rich, easy to listen to in a way I had never experienced with solid state. To be fair, I never really owned particularly high quality solid state equipment. I replaced the 35-watt EL34 Anthem Amp 1 a few years ago with an 8-watt single-end triode (SET) 300B amp from Granite Audio that I love even more than the Anthem.

 I'm like Mr. Tube Guy.

Bryston 4B 250 watt amplifier

A few weeks ago my friend brings over his early-vintage (late eighties?) Bryston 4B, a 250-watt per channel solid state amplifier, and we hook it up. This sucker grabs on to the bass from my speakers and won't let go. Tuneful, articulate bass that lets you really distinguish every note. This is a big deal in comparison to anything these speakers have ever been handled by.

And of course, the bass from the 8-watt SET amp is not so well defined. It's there, and it's not bad, but the actual notes are a little wishy-washy. On the flip side, the Bryston cannot open up the midrange and highs with the delicate detail and finesse of the SET amp, especially at lower volume levels. Up loud, the solid state amp rocks effortlessly, and has more dynamic headroom than the tube amp.

I had become a true convert of the sound of tubes done right. And now I am equally enthralled, albeit for different reasons, with a big solid state amp.

So now it's time to put the tube amp back in and see what things sound like after living with this high power solid state amp for a month...
 Granite Audio Aspen 800 8 watt amplifier

I wrote that a few days ago, and then reinstalled my tube amp. To make a long story, er, less long, the solid state amp is going back to its owner. The midrange and treble of the tube amp have a certain magical, expansive, expressive quality that the high-power amp just couldn't match. Call it bloom, a spatial "size" of the auditory image, openness. The bass control of a muscular solid state amp was impressive, and the overall sound of the Bryston was much better than I expected by quite a bit. I liked it, and I could live with it.

So I'm less of a tube nut than before. I can see both sides of the coin, and I can understand that most people don't want to be bothered with a stereo that requires some significant measure of regular maintenance, and maintenance costs, that naturally accompanies tubes.

And my friend whose 250-watt amp had been replaced in his system with even more watts several years ago? He's building a tube amp kit in his basement right now.

More on the equipment here.

No comments:

Post a Comment