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.

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.
Well I own Atma-sphere MA-1s and think they are among the finest sounding amps in the world. I dont even think about sonic characteristics when listening. I think OTLs are the best tube design provided certain speaker requirements are met.

The thing to ask yourself is why Atma-sphere gets so little attention from the audio press? I will tell you one thing it aint cause they dont sound wonderful. Truly in most cases the actual sound of a product may very low on the list of reviewer criteria. 
It surprises me that people still talk mainly in terms of tonal balance when discussing tube amps.
The warm, rolled off tube sound as it were.
Forget about it! It isn’t what you want anyway. Modern tube sound is better than that.
Tube sound is now about refinement, a sound that never fatigues or is edgy. This is the main reason I love the sound of tube amps. Too many solid state amps try to sound like tube amps by rolling off the highs and detail and do come off as slightly more refined- but boring!
Along with that refinement you get an open, clear sound and excellent transparency.
This is another reason I love the sound of modern tube amps- an open engaging neutral sound.
Last but not least the better tube amps deliver a stunningly spacious 3D sound stage. Solid state cannot touch this.
So kill the idea that the tube sound is about tonal balance, warmth and rolled off highs. That sound gets old in a hurry and it is time to be put out to pasture.  Little wonder solid state amps took off in droves.  
Tube sound is now about high end refinement, lack of any trace of harshness, leans more to a neutral beautiful open, transparent presence and midrange while presenting a spacious wide, deep and holographic sound stage.
The new tube sound should have solid state lovers coming back in droves.