Solid State for Rock and Tubes for Jazz, Yes or No

I love Solid State for most music but I do think Tubes are great for Jazz and Classical. Maybe we should have one each!
Tubes are usually my preference for music featuring woodwinds, brass, strings and vocals. Bombastic percussion and driving rock is often better left to solid state IMO. One each is pretty nice option!
Though there is "tubey" solid state as well and very fast extented tube designs too.
I agree with Mitch4t. An ideal situation. All the advantages of tube sound without all the heat from the amp output tubes, as well as the added expense.
Woodstock I was powered by four McIntosh tube amps.

A lot of classic rock was played and recorded through tube amplifiers.

Don't think it is as black and white as SS for rock and tubes for jazz.

My two cents.
I think it's a nice luxury to have both. I've been pondering a solid state integrated for awhile now. Might be auditioning Luxman and Ayre this weekend for my Harbeth's.
Definitely SS for rock and pop.

I might go either way for the rest depending.
Tubes can rock HARD (as mine do), you simply need the right amp/speaker match.

Yes, maybe with Avantgarde's I suspect. GOtta hear a pair sometime. I have heard some other very good high efficiency horn based rigs that I am sure can do the job, at least with the right "tweaks". I would expect speakers like those to be quite sensitive to pretty much any change and perhaps more of a challenge to get tuned in properly than others. But once you do, and it stays there, I would expect exceptional results, though perhaps different still from most of what I am used to that sounds good to me with that kind of music in particular.
"Tubes can rock HARD (as mine do), you simply need the right amp/speaker match."


Tubes rock with Zu Definition speakers too. And Klipshorns that I had as well. I could probably use a few more watts for my Zu's but 6 watts was plenty for 104 db Klipschorns.
I'm sure you can make this work with just a tube amp, as long as you carefully match it to your speakers.
Ive heard zu with a flea powered set amp fall short with rock music. More power might have done it.
I love my Tubes for Metal, Classical, Space Music, vinyl, Digital, movies and TV!
I have had both Solid State and Tube, but I love the tubes over the Solid State.
I do not understand why some people think Tubes cannot have Bass, my Tube Amps, Tube D.A.C., Tube Phono stage, Tube Pre-Amp all Rock, and Rock Hard with wall shaking bass! They will sing with the vocals, and in movies explosions can be felt! Maybe I just have all the right components to make it work? Or maybe my ears are just biased?

Who cares, Tubes Rule! Down with the Solid State!
Tubes have bass, but often characteristically different sounding than SS due to higher output impedance. More attention must be paid to matching tube gear all the way up the chain. Higher impedance speakers (true 8 ohm or higher, somewhat rare) are typically most desirable.

Also bass requires more power exponentially at lower frequencies. Large tube amps needed are big, heavy expensive, and use lots of tubes and are harder to maintain properly over time (tubes can be expensive).

The alternative is higher efficiency speakers to lower power needs. This is a good approach, But I have not yet heard a flea powered SET amp drive high efficiency speakers optimally (perhaps adequately) for rock music IMHO. I do believe it is possible, but even at shows, vendors tend to steer away from rock/pop music when demoing flea powered amps with HE speakers, probably for good reason. THis is not their forte IMHO, but I do believe it possible. Just a lot harder and maybe a lot more expensive to achieve similar results. I doubt tubes are needed to max out rock/pop due to the largely electronic nature of the music to start with, but it might make sense for fans of other forms of music and tube sound that also want good rock/pop.

Soft clipping nature of tube amps provides the illusion of better bass for fewer watts, however the amp is often clipping, just in a manner that is less offending to listeners than most SS amps.
Implying a hifi system task distinction between reproduced jazz and whatever people call rock is really weird to me. There is every bit as much dynamic juice in jazz as rock, although rock is often more compressed and "mono-dynamic." "Flea watt" amps are never good for loudness except very nearfield (or using insanely efficient speakers) regardless of musical type...but dynamic orchestral music and well recorded modern jazz kicks it just as much as any rock, and often is much MORE dynamic. John Scofield albums can be funkier than most rock stuff and will push a lower powered amp over the edge in seconds if you think you need higher dbs...or you're drunk. If you listen to thumpy dubstep or hippity hop I doubt you own a "flea watt" amp anyway, but my 60 watt pc tube amp and 150 watt sub light up my listening room fine, be it Jethro Tull, Monk, or Mahler. And I agree that a reasonable wattage tube amp often sounds better when cranked than a SS amp because it clips warmer.

I guess my point in a nutshell is that all music can be done well either way if done right. Its what it takes to do it right that matters. The devil as usual is in the details. I find impedance matching considerations most important for electronic music. Most modern electronic music should sound tight and powerful, not loose and flabby. Acoustic music is a different matter. A little looseness and flabbiness there might actually sound good to some, but I am finding what works well for electronic music also works well for me with the rest. Power/efficiency matching and needs is a totally different and equally important issue.
Yeah, I don't have a S.E.T. Tube amp, I have the brawnier Bob Carver Cherry 180M Mono blocks, the amps have 12 KT88 tubes and put out about 200 watts per channel, and my speakers are not all that inefficient, 91db.

How ever one day I would like to try out a pair of S.E.T. Amps.
I run two different SS amps in two systems.

My main system uses Bel Canto Reference 1000m Class D monoblocks, 500w/ch, with a tube pre-amp friendly 100 kohm input impedance (unbalanced), 1000 damping factor fed from ARC sp16 tube pre-amp driving large OHM Walsh speakers that are known to benefit from high damping. THe sound is fast, vivid, powerful and articulate at ANY volume with any music. About as good as it gets I would say

ONce when the BCs were in the shop, I used my TAD 125 Hibachi monoblocks as a sub in their place. THese are 180w/ch SS and designed to provide tube like sound in a SS design. These have significantly lower damping and lower input impedance than the BCs. The sound is also quite good though not as much muscle and slightly less articulate in the bass compared to the BCs. The difference in sound corresponds exactly as I would expect from the differences in power and impedance ratings. You would likely not realize you were missing anything with the TADs unless you heard them in comparison to the BCs. THey still sounded really good, but not as good as the BCs.

I also have smaller OHM Walsh speakers in my second system. These have smaller Walsh drivers that are not as challenging for an amp to get a vice like grip on the driver for optimum control, articulation, detail, etc. They work even better with the TADs.

The TADs do have a lovely tonality in the midrange that I fancied compared to the BCs, I suppose part of their SS tube sound design.

Just an example in my case of how these kinds of specs actually turned out to be useful in choosing gear that works really well together.
There are excellent versions of each system. The idea is to get the best amp you can ...not how electrons move within the circuit.
"I find my system has difficulty with Algerian Death Polka. "

That's one form of World Music that I might be missing.......
Hi Wolf,
Algerian Death Polkas are notoriously challenging material - those basslines are murderous. Have you explored Swedish Death Polka?
10-04-12: Stevecham
One good system of either type, or a mix, can do it ALL.
Stevecham (Reviews | Threads | Answers | This Thread)

I'm with Steve on this one.
To say a tube amp clips warmer is an understatement. The last time I clipped a ss amp smoke wafted from my tweaters. That was the last night I listened to Eric Johnson and did an 8 ball for dinner in the same night. Ive been clean for 15 Years.
If the tube amp is happy with the load, IME you won't find a transistor amp with more slam. You don't need a super low output impedance to control 15" woofers either! Its all about how the amp interfaces with the load.

"You don't need a super low output impedance to control 15" woofers either!"

No, but isn't damping factor the right (though still not perfect) spec to help predict relative control potential before buying? Damping does depend on output impedance, right?
I listen mostly to rock, and haven't found any solid state amp that makes me as happy as a good tube amp. Bass isn't all there is to rock - rock benefits just plenty from tonal accuracy, and to my ears a good tube amp excels at accurate tonality.

On a good tube amp, guitars it can sound like there are guitar amps in my room - I love that!
Mapman, I don't know how many times I have dropped this link but here it is:

In short, damping factor has little to do with getting bass, in fact if you have too much that is worse than having too little. And by too much: let's put it this way:

There are no speakers made that need an amplifier with a damping factor of over 40.

Its that simple- all speakers made are overdamped (not enough impact in the bass) if the amplifier has a damping factor of over 40! If there were no 4-ohm speakers, then there would be no speakers that needed over 20, the 40 figure only applies to 4-ohm speakers (because 'damping factor' is measured relative to 8 ohms).

I know this is hard to digest and believe for some who have become enamoured of the numbers on a page, but that will not change the reality. You don't need an amplifier with a high damping factor to play really good bass.

Let me give you an example. Sometimes I don't have an amplifier at home, because quite often I am playing a demo amplifier anyway. If that is the case, I have a set of adaptors that plug into my interconnect cables so I can use my preamp to play the speakers. You read that right: my **preamp**. Yes, its pretty gutsy, and can actually play a 16 ohm load which is what my speakers are. Yes, it is limited in volume but it sounds fine- no lack of bass at all. My speakers have dual 15" woofers. Point made??
"There are no speakers made that need an amplifier with a damping factor of over 40."

Maybe. 40-50 was the minimum I was shooting for for my OHM 5 series 3 speakers that seem to benefit from higher damping.

THe BC ref100m amps I went with and use have 1000 damping factor. WHen I first fired them up I thought to myself "what happened to the bass"? WHat happened was it was there as much or more than ever but also more tight, controlled, and articulate than ever as well. Definitely different than most bass I have heard elsewhere, either tube or SS. I've been running these for coming up for 2 years or so now and feel more than ever that I would not want to give up the bass I am getting now which is some the best I have heard anywhere in a home system to date.

Atmasphere, of course my system no way shape or form resembles the type of system I know you advocate in line with your products. I have heard your amps as well and they were very good all around including bass. WHich is better? I don't know. In lieu of an a/b test having heard both at different times, I can say that they are much different and both good in different ways.
Yes, 'tight' bass will be 'better' with higher damping. The issue is, best I can make out, is that 'tight' bass does not exist in the real world. Its seems to be an artifact of stereos. If you have ever turned up the volume seeking more impact then you know exactly what I am talking about. Real bass has body, definition and impact, but I never hear it being 'tight'.

I play in a rock band, and have played in jazz bands, orchestras and folk bands (string bass). I've also made a good number of recordings. So this issue of bass has been something about which I've really wanted to get right over the years, simply because I know what its supposed to sound like. One of the take-aways has been if the equipment is really doing its job, it won't matter what kind of music is going through it.

Maybe some semantics at work. When I say "tight", I mean it has body, definition, impact and I like to say it is "articulate" as well.

I find I have to test bass using recordings of electronic music in addition to all the various acoustic types because I like it all. For me, I think electronic music ups the ante a bit for really good bass (call it what you like).

When its "tight" and all the rest, bass in electronic music sounds optimal to me as well as bass from acoustic instruments. It is also most dynamic and all the rest. Its very hard to get that way and still have acoustic bass sound real I think in that electronic music and acoustic music are different beasts with different attributes.

Electronic music is perhaps "less real" than acoustic, but real nonetheless.

All I know is it all sounds great and about as good as it gets in my house these days. After hashing through the technicalities, that in the end is all that really matters.
I'm with Atmasphere,

If you are too lazy to read any further my answer to the question is NO.

For those more patient audiophiles-

Body and texture are what you would hear from a real bass in a reasonable room. That over damped thing is unnatural. Not to say electronic music cannot have it though.

The beauty of a synthesiser is you can completely control it's envelope. (Attack/Decay/Sustain/Release or ADSR). So if you want notes to be tight fast and nimble you can tell the synth to do it. Even to impossibly short lengths. An acoustic bass has a whole set of other characteristics which do not contain that kind of repetitive tone across the frequency.

To my ears and after having high sensitvity horns and all sorts of low sensitivity speakers, that over damped and very deep bass seems artificial. It can be impressive but ultimately unsatisfying.

My little SET amp with very low damping factor creates chest vibrating and very real sounding bass. It is full texture and life without ever feeling the need for tighter or deeper. Even with snappy electro music. Solidstate and other high damping amps tend to create deep bass with little texture IME.

But it's all about your system. The interaction between amp and speaker, and what you like is the ultimate test. A good hifi should play all music.

The question is too simple and the answer is more complex.
Chad, I'll agree it is a very system dependent thing.

As I outlined above, I can clearly hear the difference as others have described between the more highly damped bass (and sound overall) and less damped bass by switching between my BC ref1000m and TAD Hibachi 125 amps.

Which do I prefer?

With my main large OHM F5 series 3 speakers, I might lean towards the less damped sound with most smaller ensemble jazz, maybe not big band and similar scale classical, but for psynth/electronic music, big band large scale symphonic works, and other larger scale types of music, the high damping brings out the best with the large OHMs overall I would say.

With my smaller OHMs, it might start to lean more towards less damping.

With my smaller monitors, Dynaudio Contour 1.3mkII and especially Triangle Titus, things start to favor the less damped sound. I would love to run my Triangles off a tube amp someday to test those waters!

OF course those are just my observation and findings with my gear, but it does support the premise that whats best is very system dependent.
For quite sometime I`ve felt the amplifiers with high damping factor produced bass that seemed contrived and artificial.They just did`nt sound like bass instruments do in natural/live settings.It`s as though the normal bloom, tone,fullness,body and natural decay of bass instruments are sacrificed for enhanced tautness,tightening and 'slam'(organic vs hifi oriented traits it seems).I`ve never understood the advantage of ultra DF(ABOVE 100).Are there any speakers with Q factors so high that this level of DF is mandatory?I `ve yet to hear live bass produce the 'tightness'sound some do seek/prefer. I acknowledge it`s a matter of audio system preference like many other desires/choices.A friend and I attended a jazz club recently and listening to an unamplified stand up bass,the rich texture,warm tone and sheer density of that instrument was just beautiful. Did`nt matter if he plucked or played con-arco the full and rich sound was always present. An overdamped amplifier might just screw that up it you want that realism preserved.

My own sense of a more realistic and natural bass is just as Chad and Atmasphere described. I find that a good tube amp with the right speaker can provide a very natural and believable bass(if perhaps less spectacular at times).This is an interesting topic.
Assuming that the amp-speaker combination is basically compatible, one can get better dynamics and "slam" from tube amps than solid state. Try an OTL amp, you will be shocked at how much more lively such amps will sound than a solid state amp at the same average volume level. Solid state amps can provide a lot of power and can be made to play at loud levels, but, most sound dynamically flat at lower volume levels compared to a good tube amp, particularly OTL and SET amps (assuming the speakers are efficient enough for the very low powered SET amp).

While not reaching deep, and often not being able to do the room shaking thing, I like the bass from SET amps--it is tunefull, varies with the qualities of the particular music (does not sound generic or the same all the time), and natural. The bass on solid state amps can also sound very good. I know it is a generalization, but, I often have more issues with tube pushpull amp bass--everything seems to sound the same--punchy, but, sort of uniformly so.
Charles1dad makes allot of sense to me. But I think he paints with to broad a brush with his last sentence about tube amps. Natural and believable bass is a product of the ears and experience of the designer and how he implements those designs. I think by now we have all heard excellent and compelling bass from both technologies. It's really hard to pick a clear winner, at best, all you can do is choose the one you prefer.
Larryi's post makes me think that this is not as simple as tube v. solid state. There are topologies to also be considered. In the tube world, there is SET, push-pull, and OTL. In addition to triode, pentode and ultralinear designs (some tube amps have switches to select between these).

In the SS world, there are Class A, AB and D designs.

All of these have their own unique advantages and disadvantages, and each will work better with certain speakers than others. No one size-fits-all solution exists.
Walsh type speaker drivers might be unique in terms of how high damping
affects the sound.

If you read up on lincoln walsh's design, you find walsh drivers operate as
a transmission line based on walsh's experience withradar systems in
ww2. Also, they are mounted vertical not horizontal and gravity
becomes more of a factor. I think the high damping helps the
transmission line principle function better to deliver better detail and
accuracy overall, not just nuanced and well controlled bass.
hi tmsorosk,
Actually I agree with you, most everything we state concerning audio is just based on our individual experiences and and the conclusions we form as a result. What I wrote is just my personal account and impression of my reaction to different amplifier types and not a universal proclamation to be accepted by everyone else.

Chad,Atmasphere, Larryi and others have noted findings same as my own, so I could relate to their points .Larryi`s satisfaction with SET amplifiers is something that I discovered several years ago and would not had thought possible prior to this exposure. OTLs also work great for some with the right speaker choices.

There`s no question there are a number of paths to achieve exceptional bass. I just think some are unaware of the very sucessful method available with high efficiency speaker and tube amps with low DF.This is counter to conventional wisdom.

I do like SET amps, and I have compatible speakers and can therefore largely sidestep their biggest tradeoff (lack of power), but that does not mean that I don't appreciate other kinds of amps equally.

The amp that is currently in my system, which I like very much, is a 5 watt pushpull amp. It is a terrific amp for my system. Is it great because of, or in spite of, it being a pushpull amp? I have no idea. It is different in so many other respects from my other favorite amp (parallel single-ended 2a3 amp). In addition to being pushpull, it uses a different combination of tubes (348 and 349), it has transformer inputs (matches my linestage's transformer outputs), etc. It does have a somewhat generic sounding bass response--not as tuneful, and varied as the bass from my SET amp and not as open on top--but it is punchy and very sweet sounding in the midrange. Every choice has some tradeoff.

On top of solid state vs. tube; pushpull vs. OTL vs. SET, there are almost infinite variables of tube choice, parts choice, specific design, implementation, etc. This is both part of the fun, or frustration, depending on how you look at things. If one insists on identifying "the best" in even one category, that would be largely delusional. I just look for what sounds good to me, if there is something out there that I missed, perhaps I will find it later; that is part of the fun.
A few months back I heard a rustling at my front door, when I peered through the window I could see a group of asian fellow's that looked quite serious, to my better judgement I opened the door and let them in. It turned out to be an impromptu visit from some audio club members. One of the lads had purchased a used pair of tube amps and wanted to try them in my system before settling them in at home. Being an open minded audiophile I of coarse told him to beat it. After much banter the amps were hooked up and running. Well Larryi may be right about having compatible speakers, but this miss match of SET amp and speakers had bass to die for. They didn't have the grip of the Levinson amps they replaced and sounded a bit unmoored in direct comparison, but the Cary CAD-805A's had bass that wasn't overbearing yet had extension and a subtle yet wonderful texture and fullness. I guess my point is that even driving my Revel Salons these tiny but not lite amps gave a compelling performance that shall not soon be forgot.
I use a tube amp with a MOSFET REL sub...thus I am conflicted as to what camp I'm in. Where am I, and who are these people? I'm frightened.