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Tube hi-fi vs solid state?


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6/28/2003 2:01 PM
stephen conner
Tube hi-fi vs solid state?
OK guys.. time for a bit of controversy...  
 
Is there anyone out there who has A/B'd tube and solid-state hi-fi equipment? What are your thoughts on the tube sound thing? How much of it do you think is real and how much is "just" psychological? (I mean psychological as in the "I spent $6000 on this amp so it WILL sound fantastic" effect)  
 
Steve C.
 
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6/28/2003 3:37 PM
Lee M.

You really need to ask who has done this comparison without knowing which was which and who could identify the tube amp at a statistically significant level.  
 
Back in the 70s, Stereo Review did a true double blind test with 3 or 4 amps. The low end was a 35 watt Pioneer receiver and the high end was some esoteric audiophile 200 watt/channel amp. The listeners were mostly "audiophiles." They used high end speakers and a variety of music.  
 
Guess what? At any level below clipping, no one could tell the difference between the Pioneer and the high end gear at a statistically significant level.
 
6/28/2003 5:37 PM
bob p
Lee, I did my own experiments in that regard and had a different result. Back in the early-mid 80s or so, I was in a hifi club where a few of us got together in a purpose built listening room to perform blinded A/B comparisons with garden variety Class AB SS amplifiers and rather expensive Class A SS offerings from Levinson and Threshold.  
 
With the right source material (Thorens, and what I think was a VPI turntable), the right speakers (Acoustat 2+2, Martin Logan Monolith, and Time Windows), there were people among us who could reliably hear significant differences below the level of clipping in the Class AB amps compared to the Class A amps by Levinson and Threshold. The Levinson and Threshold clearly sounded better.  
 
Could this have been crossover distortion? From an electronic standpoint, I didn't know at the time WHY the amps sounded different, but there was no question, the differences in the amps were reliably discernable in blinded tests. At that time, we didn't compare any tube gear.  
 
Putting things in perspective, the differences are subtle nuances that you have to be paying strict attention to in order to hear. Concentrated, focused and attentive listening like that isn't very pleasurable -- it actually lessens the listening experience. And for 99.999% of the listening that I do, the miniscule differences weren't significant enough to be objectionable.  
 
So I guess my point is to say that you can hear the differences, but so what? Once you get to the point of having a decent sounding stereo, the law of diminishing returns applies, and most of us rarely do really critical listening anyway.
 
6/28/2003 9:58 PM
stephen conner

[QUOTE]The Levinson and Threshold clearly sounded better.  
 
Could this have been crossover distortion?[/QUOTE]  
 
Woo! I bet it was crossover distortion. I heard Class AB amps of the late 70s/early 80s were notorious for it because they used all NPN output transistors. My own Class AB design has pretty low distortion but I'd still really like to A/B it against a Mark Levinson or something. Maybe if I talked nicely to the local high-end audio dealer they would let me A/B it. Especially if I pretended I was going to buy the Levinson :D  
 
Steve C.
 
6/29/2003 4:53 AM
PH
Re: Check this stuff out!
This is the stuff!! SE tube amps and cool speakers called straight 8's.  
 
They're gonna have a vacume tube conference in October in Silverdale WA and I'm wanting to go. I have to be at a Realtors conference about an hour away just a day or two befor this one so I'm gonna try and get over to it to see what's happinin'  
 
http://www.bottlehead.com/et/et.html  
 
 
I'm seriously thinkin' about building some of this stuff.  
 
PH
 
6/30/2003 4:29 PM
Matthew SPringer
Doc Bottlehead experiences
I actually was just over at my friend's house listening to his Miles Davis on vinyl. He's got a set of the Doc's 2A3 3W monoblocks.  
 
If you've built an amp or two, you shouldn't have any trouble with one of the Doc's kits. You may want to check out the 300B jobbies instead. Doc's service is great. His designs are a little strange in that they use Soild state active load devices for soem of the VA stages, but nothin' too outlandish. Just good parts.  
 
They're really cool looking. He's got a very nice pre and turntable to go with them. They're a little hairy in the top mids, but you can absolutely hear a difference between his tube system and his old conrad johnson rig. I kinda like his solid state rig better, but the 3W tube rigs are pretty nice too.  
 
-Matthew
 
7/3/2003 3:03 PM
bob p
i had a friend who wanted to build a bottlehead kit, but he was a newbie and needed some help. we both emailed bottlehead and got no replies, and couldn't get any info out of them by phone either. we ended up passing on them and i built a 300B for him based on the JELabs design. i hope their support is better now than it was when i looked into them. their responsiveness to customers was almost as bad as One Electron's.
 

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