Tube or solid state

Do you prefer a tube preamp into a solid state amp or a solid state amp into a tube amp,which is your choice for best sound?


You can run a good tube preamp into either tube or solid state power amps, so there’s no reason NOT to run a tube preamp if you get a good one. But power amps are a different story. I’ve had more than one friend spend Large Cash on a tube power amp solution that just didn’t work for them. BIG BUX tube amps.

I see the problem as being one of matching the tube amp to the loudspeaker. Some loudspeakers are much easier to drive than others for tube amps. I saw a recent ad of a guy selling off his beloved Marantz 8B power amp which he used to drive Altec 604E loudspeakers. That’s a well-matched choice.

But some loudspeakers are a much more difficult thing to drive and a tube amp may well not be the right choice. Most tube amps have only modest amounts of power, which also limits your choice of loudspeakers. Many who run tube amps use them to drive horn systems, which is a problem right there. Horns are flared pipes and are inherently resonant and colored, especially in the mid-range.

Today a lot of serious audiophiles are getting into multi-amplification with active crossovers, or powered loudspeaker systems like the Dutch & Dutch 8c, or some of the powered KEF systems. Systems like that have already made the amplifier choice for you.

One of my all-time favorite loudspeakers, the big Avalon systems, have extremely complex passive crossovers and don’t play well with most amplifiers. Even with a big, powerful tube amp, they probably wouldn’t do well. They don’t even like many solid state power amps. Their reputation is that they only play well with Rowland Research amps and they ain’t cheap.

Lastly, tube power amps are expensive to buy and expensive to maintain as the output tubes wear out and are costly to replace.

Get a tube preamp you like and make the power amp and speaker choices a different issue.

And of course, your budget has a lot to do with this and you didn't say anything there.   My reservations about tube amps aside, one of the most magically musical systems I ever heard was a pair of late 1970's vintage KEF Calinda loudspeakers being powered by a Marantz 8B amp.

I think it's up to system synergy - some speakers match solids, while other match tubes. Clashing of egos and disappointment happens when people do not understand this, and think you can go on the dance floor in a heavy diver's gear, assuming that because it has binding posts you can hook it up to anything and live happily forever.

Also, it depends what one wants, what sort of representation: a more mechanical or a more humane view, a 3rd person or a first person observer effect.

Plus, there's fine SS and trash SS, and there's fine tubes and trash tube gear.... like the karateka or the MMA fighter will win. (The better prepared fighter will win, regardless the background.)

In addition, tastes change over time. Younger people are usually happy with solid states, and as their habits and listening skills mature they go for tubes. If the listening skills decline (hearing damage - a case for most men over 50) then solids will stay as a more wide-spread option. However, my hard-core audio friends (20+ people) have almost all made the transition to a predominantly tube system during our shared 20-30+ years of audio journey. Maybe that tells something.

"However, my hard-core audio friends (20+ people) have almost all made the transition to a predominantly tube system during our shared 20-30+ years of audio journey. Maybe that tells something."

This is an interesting comment, in that I not only went through it myself doing the gamut of cheap SS, better SS, good SS, hybrid, and ultimately on to good tubes, but my journey also mirrors the majority of serious audio guys who’s journeys I’ve witnessed. When I was younger, you would have had a hard time convincing me that lower powered tube gear in triode mode would sound better to me at some point than my bullet proof 250 watt per channel SS amp! 😉

We all have unique sensitivities that require a music system that can uniquely satisfy our tastes....and tastes do change, There’s no wrong way to do it if you get there, but there is always the chance that you’ll still morph towards a different sound. Some people want their systems to sound like a dance club, others want it to sound like a symphony hall. Neither is wrong, but we all need to pick the sound that best matches our reference, whether it be row 10 center, front row balcony, or the mash pit.

Yes, definitely tastes change over time. I climbed mountains, jumped out of airplanes, and dove below 120’ in the ocean. As I got older I more in tune with more subtle and nuanced sound. Street racing of one’s youth becomes a passion for high performance Farari and Maserati later in life… one learns. I don’t like cars… but Kurt Vonnegut has been replaced by Tolstoy and Henry James for sure. Onkyo replaced by Audio Research.