When were the best tube amps made?

And what were they?

1980's Audio Research need not apply. 


You can find great tube amps throughout the time they have been made.  There haven’t been any technological breakthroughs in recent decades that render older models mere outmoded.  One of the best I’ve ever heard is the Western Electric 59A, which is from the early 1930’s.  I also like Western Electric 124 and 133 amps.

I have heard a few good OTL amps from the 1990’s to current times and these might be considered more “recent” in design than most tube amps.  The quasi-OTL amps, like Berning’s ZOTL amps, represent a sort of modern innovation, but, I personally don’t much care for the sound of the amps I’ve heard.

Most of the parts in tube amps have not been improved much in a very long time.  The best output transformers from the past remain highly sought after because they sound better than most currently manufactured ones (e.g., Chicago, Accrosound, Western Electric).  The same with tubes themselves—many older tubes sound better than current versions.  Perhaps some newer parts, like teflon caps, are an improvement in certain applications, but, in many of the amps I really like, old parts, like some paper-in-oil caps sound very good.  Some current manufacturers make great new parts, like Audio Note, but they charge a small fortune for them.

When I was selling audio in the 70’s, I sold and delivered a new system to an elderly man.  He owned a Fisher tube integrated and a Fisher tube tuner and he gave it to me!  I had our service tech go through it ( it needed nothing) and used it for a few years.  I kept them around and used them on and off.  They had that really lush and addictive midrange.  I lent them to a friend who was between systems and he got divorced and his wife wouldn’t let him take the system, even though she knew I lent it to him.  Eventually, I got them back but I think she ran over them with her car because they were in totally damaged shape.  When I questioned her she said the moving guys dropped them out of her second floor window.  I knew she was lying.   I wish I had those 2 pieces today as I would have used it in my office with some very efficient speakers.   The tubes were EL34 I can’t remember what the rectifier tube was but I think there were something like 12 or 13 tubes in the integrated and a few in the tuner.  

How I used to lust for a pair of VT 150 SE’s when I was young. Never heard a pair, but they were all the talk in Stereophile and TAS in the early 90’s. I bet today with a LS5 they still sing. Remember around 1990 or so going to Audio Perfection and listening to a pair of Jadis with dedicated power supplies, four full size chassy’s on maybe Wilson WP 5’s and was floored. By far that was the first system I heard that had me chasing that sound to this day. My opinion, today tubes are a pain in the ass and I’m fine with my Pass. I also own a Cary tube amp that’s magical but right now she’s being difficult…








Unobtanium like vintage Western Electric aside, there has never been a better time for tube amps  than NOW. !!!!     

There's a tube Renaissance and it's right now.   So many great independent builders and large mainstream companies offering more tube gear than ever .   

Probably from 1998 or so to present by Wavac. Not a good value, but taking things to the extreme, no one else has done or attempted to do what Wavac has been doing.