Tube Amplifier Sound Characteristics

I wish there were a scatter diagram one could put together of tube amp sound qualities. The reason I say this is that today's tube amplification can range from sounding warm and romantic to cool and solid state like.
I like the sound of VTL, Quicksilver and Antique Sound Labs. I am in the market for a tube power amp and as I shop I see where more and more amps do NOT sound like tubes at all. So where would the sound characteristics of the 3 amps I mentioned be? For example I was considering the ARC Ref75SE but owners tell me it is SS sounding. Your thoughts are appreciated.
Man, I love when @atmasphere joins a discussion! I really appreciate learning the “behind the scenes” details from someone who truly KNOWS! I don’t have much to contribute in terms of what one hears as a result of electronics design, but I can say this: the only way to know what a component sounds like, is to insert it into one’s own system and listen. That seems obvious, and it is stated here often, but its importance is still undervalued. “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover” (or a component by it’s circuit), is very appropriate in audio. I’ve been surprised many times by how something sounded, as a result of my expectations suggesting one thing, but then reality showing me those expectations were wrong. And that goes both ways: expecting great, but hearing mediocre.. and expecting mediocre, but hearing great

as was said, if someone made a graph of sonic attributes for any amp, SS or glass, the author would regularly be challenged.

at least to my ears, lately it seems more and more tube power amps tend to sound similar to Ss amps.

When picking any amp it seems to me one should enjoy what it provides in its unadulterated form, first.

I want a tube power train usually as most often the outcome is more pleasing than what one routinely gets from pure SS amps, AND with Tube power one can address their audionervosa from time to time by rolling the dice and spending far more money and replacing what the designer felt were optimun tube choices at the onset of their construct.

always I want a tube amp to sound unlike an SS amp… mostly. as the result of distortion? of course not. ultrra euphonic? nope. not that either.

what I find preferable with tube power done right (IMHO) is a fuller, more dimensional more organic presentation which enlists leading edge definition and does not ignore the natural decay of tones. one where imaging is as prominent though no more so than the balance of its delivery of the entire bandwidth.

… and I like it to be a little bit wet sounding.

regardless one’s preffs this past time is about personal involvement and enjoying the music being rendered.
if the end result floats your boat, butters your bvread then all other reputed soothsayers be damned. you are the one who has to live with your rig… not them.

as for tube poewr amps that really grabbed me, they were not power houses per se. often rated at less than 60 watts per ch max, and usually less.

as for a subgjectivve account of the OP’s short list, I’fve only heard the VTL and ASL. both were in completely different set ups and different rooms. my only take away was the ASL amp array yielded a more prominent mid range whose protrayal came across as more solidly done.

there are far too many variables in compariing amp attributes let alone the subjective assignements each poster will attach to their comments to develop a valid consensus.


Absolutely tube amps and solid state amps have been converging… particularly in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. You used to be able to tell what it was instantly. Solid State has gotten less brittle and harsh and tube equipment has gotten more detailed and neutral. The difference now can be subtle… typically still there. At high levels of performance it can still be a very important difference.
Amplifier sound boils down to topology and parts selection. The two extremes of topology will give either the most cold or most warm sound:
A. Push-pull design, class B, high feedback = "solid state sound", even when it is a tube amplifier.B. Single ended class A low or no feedback= "warm tube sound" (=live, as opposed to dead) with either tube or solid state.
Parts selection - a very long story, will not attempt it in a few lines.
However, it's the parts that will define how your chosen topology will sound like:So, the shapes that take form can be (from worst to best):A. the cold sound into any of these: boring, dead, clinical, mechanical, objective, studio.B. the warm into: syrupy, colored, subjective, natural, live performance, soulful, human touch.

The choice is: man or machine. Two different roads, both can attain heights or fall into a ditch.