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Interesting theoretical question

4/19/2003 1:36 PM
R.G. Interesting theoretical question
Let's play thought experiments, with just a bit of an excursion into existentialism.  
There are a lot of people who can tell the difference between a tube amp and a solid state amp by listening to the amps live, right?  
OK, can those same people tell the difference between a well executed CD **recording** of a tube amp versus a same-conditions recording of a solid state amp played on high accuracy reproduction equipment? (and ... can you?)  
The answer ought to be still yes, right? That's how we hear the majority of our tube amp music, on radio or on a stereo.  
If the answer is no, then we can blame the solid state demons for ringing the tone out of a righteous tube recording to leave it a burned out husk of its former self, indistinguishable from the soulless solid state amp. Passing through a solid state power amp and all of the rest of the reproduction chain has sucked the life out of it. (Some people believe this, by the way.)  
If the answer is yes, what makes it yes? What makes a tube amps *recorded* sound like a tube amp when it's all bits on a CD, played through digital recovery circuits, analog conversion, and solid state amplification? No tube/transformer/speaker interaction here. Just razor-sharp solid state accuracy. How can we still tell?  
And the obvious questions:  
- if we can still tell, would solid state power amps work for some other way to make that same analog signal going into them?  
and the thousand others that follow.  
4/19/2003 1:54 PM

Well I have my doubts that at certain times you can't tell and I think some recordings may be SS engineered to sound as tubes. The Peavey Bandit and XXL both have the closest tube sound I've heard. Theres a program on a Yamaha MOTIF that is just a replica of a high yowling tube sqeal I think it's called Rockguitar. I've had people tell me man listen to those tubes ripping on that lead but the fact is is ain't tubes dude. Now there are some amps that definately have the warm tone that SS has yet to produce but the XXL does come pretty close it just ain't quite there yet. Theres also a little buzz that I hear on Solid State that isn't there on tubes and in reality SS can't produce even order harmonics like tubes can and they clip more squarely than tubes unless special care is taken with a series resistor to round the corners or simulate the internal plate resistance of the tubes. Anyway throw us a bone RG. I know you got some homebrew thing-a-ma-jig going on there :D,  
4/20/2003 1:16 AM
"Anyway throw us a bone RG. I know you got some homebrew thing-a-ma-jig going on there :D,"
I wish I did. This was a straight up question.  
It occurred to me that I (think I) can recognize a tube amp when the recording is played through my stereo. It's hardest to impossible when there's a lot of junk in the background, but if it's a straight ahead solo, I think I'm fairly accurate. Not perfect, but I can hear Fender-ey stuff and spot the occasional AC30.  
The theory of tube magic is that the power amp reacts with the output transformer? speakers? air loading? power supply sag? to make whatever the preamp tubes have made even more magic. But apparently we are able to can that magic on tape or CD and then replicate the tone pretty well on hifi or PA speakers.  
So we have proven existance. There is a way to make tube tone (whatever that actually is) come out of high-accuracy speakers with high accuracy power amps and other stuff in the path.  
The reproduction path does not care what made the signal voltage stream, it just accurately reproduces whatever's there. So that stream of signal voltage contains the tube magic somehow.  
Now the item of lust for many guitarists is to get the production of tube magic somehow in a smaller, lighter box. To do this, we have to figure out where the magic is made. We know it's done somewhere between the amp's input jack and the microphone that fed the recorder. But where in there?  
Right now the answer seems to be that you have to have that whole thing, input jack through air vibrations. Is the magic monolithic in there?  
4/20/2003 1:37 PM

Well I remember when I went to Mass. for a trip and a guy at Crossroads music named Tim Doolittle was explaining to me about how the air pushed out of a tube amp was a key to getting a solid recording for a great lead sound. He liked to use smaller speakers and get the air pushing hard against the diaphram of the dynamic mic to get more tube characteristics brought out. So air is in that mix. I guess it's not one single thing but the combination and quality of all the factors. If you had to single out one quality of the whole scenario I'd have to put Vacumn in that catagory as a major player.,  
4/22/2003 3:19 AM
John Culp

"So the air is definitely in the mix."  
Bet it makes a difference if the air the amp's pushing is full of cigarette (and/or pot) smoke, beer fumes...
4/19/2003 2:22 PM
There's more to the process of enjoying a recording than the amp... Freddie King's "amp" would sound different today than it did then... or different if Devo were recording with it.
4/19/2003 2:40 PM
Ray Ivers

Great topic! Speaking for myself, if I could hear a difference live between the SS and tube amps, I could also hear the difference in a recording of those same amps, in that same situation. The microphone and recording chain might even reveal more sonic clues and make the differentiation easier for me.  
If AC/DC's album Back in Black is an SS-burned-out husk of tube-amp tone, then I say burn, baby, burn! :D Seriously, though - IMO it's far more likely that the many solid-state "demons" of the modern recording studio (EQ and misc. enhancements) result in an improvement in many guitar amps' tone.  
While we're on flame topics - would the inclusion of SS amplification devices in an otherwise all-tube guitar amp turn it instantly into a POS? (Some people believe this, by the way.) ;) As far as I'm concerned, a good-sounding amp is a good-sounding amp, regardless of the technology involved.  
"If we can still tell, would solid state power amps work for some other way to make that same analog signal going into them?"
I'm not sure I understand this one. Can you rephrase it?  
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