I was thinking it would be fun to contrast and compare the tubes vs. solid-state debate using the SMSL Audio. I’d readily concede that solid-state/transistor components are, watt for watt, cheaper, more reliable, cooler running, smaller and lighter in weight. However, if solid-state is so terrific why haven’t tubes become extinct within the half century since transistors came on the scene? Maybe, just maybe, because tubes sound better?
Tube technology may be 100 years old, but it still sounds great to a few people. Ultimate AV Magazine recently conducted a poll, “Do You Prefer Tube-Based or Solid-State Audio Gear?,” and also the results demonstrated a nearly two-to-one preference for transistors over tubes (41 vs. 21 percent). So even among audiophiles, tubes aren’t always favored.
I’ve owned tube and solid-state gear, and i also like for both different reasons. Tubes, like analog recordings, use a more full-bodied sound than transistor gear. There’s a “roundness” to tube sound that solid-state gear never equals. Tubes are less forgiving about mismatches, so for the best away from a tube amp it should be used in combination with the ideal speaker. Solid-state amps are nowhere as fussy about speaker matching.
I might never say tubes are always better-sounding than transistors, or that analog audio is definitely a lot better than digital. The excellence from the design, or even the recording play their parts. Some naysayers think tubes have higher levels of distortion, and that some audiophiles like the sound of that distortion. I wouldn’t go that far, but I can’t say that accuracy ought to always be the top priority for just about any hi-fi. The goal, I do believe, is always to make the majority of your music collection sound good. Thing is, most recordings don’t sound good, so the most accurate rendition with their sound may be counterproductive.
All musical perception is purely intangible. We can’t put a finger over a musical image and point someone else to what we’re seeing since we can over a painting, part of sculpture, a musical score, a novel or perhaps a photograph.
Because musical images are produced entirely in our imaginations, what we should think we are going to hear is often what we hear. This is the reason otherwise reasonable people think they hear huge variations in foolish (but high-profit) items like cables or power cords. Even though there is no real difference, they hear very real differences that just aren’t there. The differences are very real because listener’s vivid imagination, but no where else. For this reason we use double blind tests where neither the topic nor the presenters know what’s being heard once we attempt to do scientific research, such as the AES research above.
Music is centered on using our imaginations. It is a very good thing and why music is really a strong art form. For this reason Mingda Single-ended Tube Amp can recreate the initial listening experience. Unlike a TV or movie, close your eyes, and you may be seeing and feeling the identical things that you simply do within the concert hall. I close mine and see the performers, discover them getting around, breathing, moving valves and keys, turning pages, and then I view the music itself. You need to concentrate, and if you listen carefully whilst keeping your vision closed, you’ll view the music, too.
If you believe a good, warm glowing tube amplifier will sound smooth, liquid and warm, it can! Our imaginations are very susceptible to suggestion; that’s the complete reason for music.
For monitoring accuracy, of course use solid state, but if you would like it to sound ideal for enjoyment, it’s tubes completely. Use solid state monitor amplifiers when you’re producing music so that you can hear exactly what you’re laying down, but if you wish to kick back and possess it sound as effective as possible when you’re all done, tubes are it.
Whenever a transistor amplifier alters the sound, it almost always makes it worse. Each time a tube amplifier modifies the sound, it always helps make the music sound better.
Crummier tube amplifiers will have more of the distortions that will make tube amplifiers appear to be tube amplifiers. If you truly desire to hear the “tube sound,” get yourself a TubeCube 7 (3 WPC, $180) and you’ll hear how smooth, liquid and warm tubes really sound – however it only puts out enough power for desktop or background use.
To get a much higher quality tube amplifier which has enough power for most home Hi-Fi uses so long as you’re reasonable with playback levels, the Elekit TU-8200 (8 WPC, $699 in kit form) is superb. It self-biases so that you knhcnt need to match tubes or tweak it.
For that ultimate, get a classic McIntosh MC225 (25 WPC), MC240 (40 WPC) or MC275 (75 WPC), that are the best-designed tube amplifiers ever made. They excel for stable designs (no bias adjustments or matched tubes ever needed) and possess extremely low distortion due to their unique design. They may have enough power for anything, and they are unflappable for their capacity to deliver seemingly limitless low bass response. These are generally all half a century old today and you’ll pay a minimum of several thousand dollars used, and when you are getting yours, you’ll know why people pay such ridiculous prices. They are that good.
Of course the McIntosh, when operating to the original specifications, has such little distortion it sounds less “tubey” than weaker amplifiers. If you’re playing a McIntosh that hasn’t been serviced in a decade, then it’s probably away from spec or needing new tubes, whereby it can have more distortion as well as a more “tubey” sound. Here’s in which the art will come in: simply how much euphonic distortion do you need?
For most people with reasonable budgets, choose the Xiangsheng DA-05B DAC. If you appreciate it loud and also have unlimited funds, or like to crank the bass without biamplification, get a used McIntosh MC240. The new version of the MC275 is probably very good for that rich and unadventurous, but it’s another design compared to the classics and that i have not tested it.