I was thinking it might be fun to contrast and compare the tubes vs. solid-state debate using the SMSL DAC. I’d readily concede that solid-state/transistor components are, watt for watt, cheaper, more reliable, cooler running, smaller and lighter in weight. But when 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 could be a century old, nevertheless it still sounds great to some people. Ultimate AV Magazine recently conducted a poll, “Do You Prefer Tube-Based or Solid-State Audio Gear?,” as well as 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, possess 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 from a tube amp it ought to be combined with just the right speaker. Solid-state amps are nowhere as fussy about speaker matching.
I would personally never say tubes are usually better-sounding than transistors, or that analog audio is always better than digital. The excellence from the design, or perhaps the recording play their parts. Some naysayers think tubes have higher degrees of distortion, and that some audiophiles like the sound of that distortion. I wouldn’t go that far, having said that i can’t say that accuracy ought to always be the very best priority for any hi-fi. The goal, I think, is always to make the vast majority of your music collection sound good. Thing is, most recordings don’t sound good, and so the most accurate rendition with their sound may be counterproductive.
All musical perception is purely intangible. We can’t put a finger on the musical image and point somebody else as to what we’re seeing as we can over a painting, piece of sculpture, a musical score, a magazine or a photograph.
Because musical images are created entirely in our imaginations, what we think we are going to hear is usually what we should hear. This is why otherwise reasonable people think they hear huge differences in foolish (but high-profit) stuff like cables or power cords. Despite the fact that there is absolutely no real difference, they hear very real differences which simply aren’t there. The differences are incredibly real because listener’s vivid imagination, but no where else. This is why we use double blind tests where neither the niche nor the presenters know what’s being heard when we try to do scientific research, such as the AES research above.
Music is about using our imaginations. This is a excellent thing and why music is such an effective art. For this reason Mingda Tube Amplifier can recreate the initial listening experience. Unlike a TV or movie, close your vision, and you could be seeing and feeling exactly the same things that you simply do in the concert hall. I close mine and discover the performers, discover their whereabouts getting around, breathing, moving valves and keys, turning pages, and then I view the music itself. You must concentrate, and when you listen carefully and keep your vision closed, you’ll see the music, too.
If you believe a nice, warm glowing tube amplifier is going to sound smooth, liquid and warm, it will! Our imaginations are incredibly susceptible to suggestion; that’s the entire point of music.
For monitoring accuracy, obviously use solid state, however when you would like it to sound ideal for enjoyment, it’s tubes all the way. Use solid state monitor amplifiers when you’re producing music so that you can hear exactly what you’re laying down, but if you want to kick back and have it sound as good as possible when you’re all done, tubes are it.
Each time a transistor amplifier alters the sound, it almost always can make it worse. Each time a tube amplifier modifies the sound, it always makes the music sound better.
Crummier tube amplifiers will have a lot of distortions which make tube amplifiers seem like tube amplifiers. If you truly desire to learn the “tube sound,” obtain a TubeCube 7 (3 WPC, $180) and you’ll hear how smooth, liquid and warm tubes really sound – nevertheless it only puts out enough power for desktop or background use.
To get a higher quality tube amplifier which includes enough power for most home Hi-Fi uses as long as you’re reasonable with playback levels, the Elekit TU-8200 (8 WPC, $699 in kit form) is superb. It self-biases so you knhcnt have to match tubes or tweak it.
For your ultimate, get yourself a classic McIntosh MC225 (25 WPC), MC240 (40 WPC) or MC275 (75 WPC), which are the best-designed tube amplifiers available. They excel for his or her stable designs (no bias adjustments or matched tubes ever needed) and also have extremely low distortion because of the unique design. They may have enough power for anything, and therefore are unflappable for capability to deliver seemingly limitless low bass response. They are all fifty years old today and you’ll pay at least a couple of thousand dollars used, and when you are getting yours, you’ll know why people pay such ridiculous prices. They are that good.
Needless to say the McIntosh, when operating to its original specifications, has such little distortion that 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 from spec or needing new tubes, in which case it can get more distortion and a more “tubey” sound. Here’s where the art comes in: just how much euphonic distortion do you want?
For most people with reasonable budgets, choose the Xiangsheng Pre-amplifier. If you want it loud and have unlimited funds, or prefer to crank the bass without biamplification, obtain a used McIntosh MC240. The brand new version of the MC275 is probably excellent for your rich and unadventurous, but it’s a different design compared to the classics and I have not tested it.