Let's forget about being politically correct

I thought this would catch the attention of some of you. I have for the past 10 years used a SS amp and tube preamp. This was the prevailing wisdom with alot of audiophiles in the 90's and even today. I am look for a change in my amp/preamp, who out there is using a tube amp with a ss pre? How does it sound? What combinations have you tried?
Yes, one can hear "silence". However, one can't have "greater silence" or "blacker backgrounds" if the gear is not fast enough to fully respond to transient changes as needed. As such, i've found that very fast SS gear can be just as "silent" or "black" ( and even sometimes more-so ) than a tubed unit.

Moncrieff covered this subject and showed actual scope photo's in a very old IAR when discussing this subject. He did this using CD players as a point of reference, primarily to show that not all CD players sounded the same. He went on to explain why one sounded more dynamic ( the scope shows that it produced higher peak amplitudes, producing a wider variation in signal intensity ), had a blacker background / better inter-transient silence ( the scope showed that it had faster rise & fall times, which in turn would translate to an increased perception of whether signal was or wasn't being reproduced ) and was cleaner and more focused ( due to the improved transient response and lack of ringing ).

For the record, the cd player that was "better" than the other was an early CAL unit that ran tubes in the DAC. While one might surmise that it was the tubed circuitry that resulted in the better performance, one should also keep in mind that the measured performance of such a unit could change drastically over time and that there would be a higher level of maintenance involved with such a unit. As such, one could end up with noticeably poorer performance of such a unit IF one used lower grade tubes to begin with and / or did not stay up on maintenance of the tubed circuitry.

With the above in mind, if one can find an SS device that suits all of their needs, they are in for relatively consistent performance over a long period of time with minimal amounts of maintenance involved. If one prefers to use tubed components, which obviously some very knowledgeable and well respected individuals do, one should also count on increased maintenance and the sometimes sizeable costs involved when replacing rare NOS tubes.

This is NOT meant to slag tubes or tube users. It is only meant as a "reality check" for those that are not familiar with the various aspects of owning and operating such gear. I do recommend investigating and comparing tubed and SS gear as each has their own attractions and drawbacks. Which one you like better is obviously a personal choice and matter of preference. Sean
I often wonder why many think that tube gear means a high amount of maintenance, reliabilty problems, and poor bass response. Good tube equipment can be as reliable as good SS. The idea of changing tubes every 3 to 5 years may cause some to shy away from tubes amps. What amp would do more damage, take longer to be repaired between SS and tubes should one break?. In ten years what amp will be more likley to be obsolete. I can think of several tube amps that can suit all my needs. I may have heard a couple SS amps I think I could live with and be very happy. When comparing the better SS and tube gear I find the SS colorations more obvious and less real in coming closer to the sound of music. I admit that there can be problems with tube gear but nothing that a tube can't fix most times.
When I owned Berning, Cary, Viva, to name a few, never did I have any problems. Keeping the subject title in mind, music with less colorations IMO, will come from tube amps. Dry, flat, sometimes boring in it's lack of energy or life is what I hear much more often from SS.
Brulee: To respond to you directly, i think of tube gear as having higher maintenance due to the fact that tubes degrade at a FAR faster rate than SS devices do. As such, the decline in performance that one encounters takes place on a daily basis and is so gradual that one may not notice it until maintenance / tube swapping is done. This is especially true of power amps, where the loads, amounts of heat and power demands placed upon the output devices are far greater than in most other tube based devices.

As to having problems with non-linear frequency response, tonal colourations, poor bass performance, treble roll-off, etc... that will depend on the speakers being used with the amp. It will also depend on the load that the upstream device ( tube based source and / or preamp ) sees as it is terminated into the next piece of equipment in line. If you doubt this or would like some "scientific proof" to support what may be considered "inexperienced rambling", please visit the website that follows. Thomas J. Norton of Stereophile documents the differences in linearity / loading characteristics* between two SS power amps and two tube pieces. It is quite evident that either tube amp shows greater deviation from neutrality than either of the SS based amps.**

If one would do some further checking on the subject, they might find that the results that the Sonic Frontiers unit displays is not that different from quite a few other tube driven amps on many "well respected" speakers. Most tube amps are NOT very linear UNLESS one has a high impedance load that remains stable and shows little sign of reactance. The greater the impedance variance and the higher the levels of reactance, the more likely that one is to have a roller coaster for frequency response with a tube amp. As such, matching tube based amps to speakers becomes far more critical than it is with most reasonably well designed SS amps.

As far as performance / reliability of line level devices that are tube based, i have little problem with them. My own personal experience though is that they work best with other tube based products. Otherwise, one can run into problems with improper loading conditions / less than optimum signal transfer characteristics. As has been noted by more than a few contributors to these forums, their personal experiences show that running tube based preamps into SS based amps has resulted in less than optimum performance. As such, the general consensus that if one feels the need to "mix and match" by using a tubed preamp and SS power amp ( as was commonly accepted in the past as being the "best" path to "hybrid heaven" ), even those results may end up being less than stellar.

Like i said, i'm NOT knocking tubes. They do some things quite well and can be quite reliable ( except for tube consumption ). I'm only trying to make those that are thinking about venturing into those waters more aware of what they "may" end up dealing with.

Anybody that tells you that obtaining optimum performance ( within the confines of that system ) out of a tube based system is as easy as to do as it is with an SS based system is either inexperienced or lying. The very fact that one has multitudes of various tubes with varying degrees of electrical compatibility / fluctuating sonic characteristics from tube to tube, not to mention obtaining well matched versions of the same type of tube to maintain equal gain, noise and frequency response characteristics, is WAY more involved than simply selecting a "good" SS based system and powering it up. Since one does not have to go through ANY of that with an SS piece, the observation that tubes are "higher maintenance" would appear to come as common sense to me. Sean

* One should take into consideration these tests were conducted with only 10 milliwatts of power being produced by the amp. As power is increased, non-linear frequency response is very likely to become exagerated due to increased levels of reactance / reflected EMF from the speaker itself. As such, things only get worse under real world conditions.

** As an interesting side-note, one may take notice that even the SS amps showed high frequency roll-off into the Vandie's, which are known for sounding somewhat "soft" on top. This could explain why some people find them to sound "veiled" or "lacking air".
My mistake, Albert: insert "TOK2000" for "twl". I thought that sounded awfully odd for twl, and besides when did he go all SS with his Loewthers?! Oh well, thanks for keeping up on things, though, Albert, back there and I didn't know it...

Sean, I don't understand what you are saying. Transients, or sound projections, emerge out of silence as their ground, ie a wavefront emerges out of a ground absent a wavefront (a dimensional ground), so how can gear that is "faster on transients" increase the experience of the silence from which it emerges. You seem to equate dimensional vessel (space) with that which emerges from it. As a side note, this confusion is indicative of people who value source projection over space. When you do this, you end up biasing towards accentuization of the source projection (usually desiring the initial transient to be, er, faster, as in, contain more relative energy relative to core harmonic and decay parts of the projection). This bias towards accentuating the source and particularly its transient "fast-ness" then leads one - without even knowing it - to equate the accentuizing of initial sorce energy (transient) with spacial dimension. Although space and source are, obviously, integrally related, they are not the same. Moreover, the experience of space i9s not made by actively analyzing the energy degree in a source projection, but through receptively intuiting the "natural-ness" of space, a listening that is percieved prior to analyzation (because space/dimension is percieved deep in the mind, something Kant told us many moons ago...).

In short, you are accentuating the transient energy in order to produce a relative contrast with the "background" space, as if source quality is DETERMITIVE of spacial quality and is accomplished by this methodology. This is not correct: space is a separate quality to be accentuated in a stereo rendition. Your bias towards SS "transient speed" leads to beleive, symptomatically, that spatial quality is dependent of it. SS afficionados seek to accentuate source energy and decrease "noise" and say this produces the simlucrum of dimension, when all they are doing is reducing distortive artifacts (a good thing) that leaves a void space (which, er, doesn't exist in our dimensional reality...ie a vacuum still is dimensional) and then equating that void to dimension. But really what they want, and why they cascade into such a mistaken position, is to accentuate the source. It is an attachment to source as object, in its operation relegating dimension into a void and asserting that dimension is dependant on source energy accentuization. Its an attachment to objects.

As for Montcrieff's attempts to empirically capture dimension through material technology, well, he would be the first and, accordingly, the next Nobel recipient if he had...

Sean, I know that you don't mean to slag a choice by anyone, and further believe that people should try things out bewteen technologies - a logical suggestion that, assumably, we all do here - but that doesn't mean that all is equal. Wanting everyone to have the opportunity to talk is not the same thing as all talk is equal in relative truth.