Why do Tube Amps sound more romantic v SS amps

Question newbie on tube amps, why are tube amps according to people who own them say the sound is more say romantic sound vs SS amp ? 

What is better to own cost wise sound advantage single ended and push pull ?

Thanks guys excuse my inexperience on the tube issue.


According to everything that I've read over the years, it is because of the particular distortion characteristics of tubes. The experts know far more than me, but to me it also seems that when using a tube pre as I do, that I get more focus and fine detail as well as more of the sensation of depth. 

I played the tube game for awhile, and after 5 decades, settled on pure class A solid state. In my room its heaven.

Tubes are way cool and  all glowey like candlelight. The more tube glow the more romantic.  They fascinated me as a kid and still do. 

All tube amps do not sound the same and vice versa with solid state! It all depends on the amp and the speakers that you are using with them!


Contrary to what Goeff Emerick thought at the dawn of solid state recording gear. Merely a Grammy winner.



To understand the dichotomy in tube versus solid state one must start forty or more years ago. Back then virtually all solid state was lean, trebly, and hard sounding. Tube equipment was warm and rolled off the treble and was wooly in the bass. The tube stuff was like a warm fire, comfortable and romantic.


Over the ensuing decades each group slowly converged. Tube equipment got more detailed with better impact and solid state got better fleshed out. Particularly in the 1990’s and early 2000’s there was huge progress. In fact one of the real leaders Pass split his offering into two lines: the xSeries with massive power and detail and the XA Series that was lower power... .both solid state. Audio Research approached it from the tube side... although they introduced some solid state stuff... they backed off and their high end offerings are tube equipment.

So, in todays world budget stuff tends to follow the old characterization to some extent, but not always. Rouge has one tube unit commonly criticize as being too trebly. At the high end, the differences are less obvious as they have approached each other to sound very similar.

I feel the high end tube equipment has the edge and captures more of the emotional connection while all the detail of high end solid state. I have notice there are lots of old codgers like me that over time have migrated to all tube equipment suggesting to me that really well constructed tube equipment has the edge in capturing both.


I migrated to all Audio Research Reference equipment over my 50 years of pursuing high end audio.To me it demonstrates a level of performance not achievable with equivalent solid state. But it still depends on your values.


So, the generalization of "romantic" tube remains and solid state analytical, lean with better slam remain.

Now good tube gear can have it all (almost) , wide flat frequency response that was not possible in the past.   I've had all , SS.  a mix of Tube and SS, and all tube.   Itend to prefer what tubes can do in my system with my speakers.  

Like others have said, its the way they distort and the fact they sof clip when you push them.  Poor matching of speaker to a  tube amp will not be so romantic....

They sound different because they are electrically different.This provides an excellent explanation of those differences.




Yes , and you will never be able to duplicate the sound of something like a 2a3 or 300b with silicon.   

Class A SS can be just as ‘romantic’ as 2A3 or 300B driven electronics. Not all electronics (pre or amp) with tubes are romantic sounding. The key is implementation and designers pedigree in both topologies.

That is true.   Yeas ago I tried a Pass Aleph 3 and it sounded awesome.   My speakers were a poor match     Plus it ran hot as hell so at the time it wasn’t for me.  

It was purple colored it got so hot.   

Agree with @jtgofish 

Tube and SS are very different in amplifier way, so that let us understand the sound is that different. 

For me, I either go SS or go tube.

I do not want to mix different things together in one system.

I feel so happy with the tube sound, and I can continue listening over 8 hours a day.

Tube amps aren’t more romantic, unless the filament glow turns you on. Small LEDs or neon bulbs will create the same mood.


Well designed SS are superior in sound.

How can you make such a blanket statement about sound quality?   There are so many great tube amps out there that crush many a solid state amp 


Harmonic distortion. "Golden age" studio outboard has made a major comeback in the post digital era as engineers try to put back what they lost from analogue tape in terms of distortion..

Its way more complex than that but, and forgive the generalisation, but tube amps with lots of even harmonic distortion tend to sound "romantic".

While both can sound fantastic in a good system, with SS you can set it and forget it.  With tube amps, you run the risk of falling down the rabbit hole is changing tubes in the endless pursuit of the perfect sound.  I speak from experience.  I love the look & sound of tubes, I love the sound and ease of SS.  

A classic mix is a very detailed music SS amp with a natural perspective 

with the latest Mosfets, Fet, and Bipolor transistors  they have in part a vacuum tube characteristic to them , but adding a vacuum tube preamp gives you the

added bloom of a vacuum tube to create a great blend , also 

your front end is IMO as important as the Loudspeaker , a quality R2R  dac has a very analog natural character ,finally very good quality digital is as good and in some ways better especially in S/N , ratio and distortion levels vs a turntable 

turntables like vacuum tubes have a nice warm character , but not as accurate and bottom end digital is clearly better.  Records are better recorded but severely limited .  With digital you cannot skimp anywhere or it sounds thin or brittle if not a top recording a minimum of $12 k for dac, Ethernet hub , and digital cables minimum to get B+ quality Denafrips Terminator+ 12 th anniversary I have not heard but even better, and Holosprings May KTE   Are by far the best value in the $6k range and best anything out there at 2x the cost .i am not a big China fan but these are exceptions to the rule . Turntables much more variables and cost much more monies to better digital of this  quality . I just thought it should be mentioned .

Good tube amps on a transparent system are incredible. You can hear the room, and that’s really all I can ask for.

That glow in the dark factor turns into a smirk whenever the lights are dim and you’re in the middle of an audiogasm. 😄😎


Grab a tube when it's running full tilt and see how "romantic" that feels. 

Tubes have been romanticized for some reason, using terms like "warm" (any coincidence a tube is warm when it's operating?) and it continues to this day.

In the seventies, I started out with tube amps & preamps.  Then I kept the tube  preamp, but went to a SS amp. Then I went all Hafler preamps and amps. Then I went back to all tube, until last year. For the first time, I went Class AB, SS integrated and have been very happy. However, I have a lead on some PS Audio BHK 300 mono blocks and they are a tube SS hybrid. 

Not always. Right SS match is hard to beat with  tubes. I do have old Mcintosh MC-2255 with C-33 and I think will be very hard to find tube match with sweeter and romantic sound how you said. 

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A high quality tube amp and a high quality solid state amp will sound more similar to each other than different.

What is everyone's take on hybrid integrated amps? I traded in an older  McIntosh solid state integrated amp for a McIntosh hybrid.  The dealer explained that tubes were better for the preamp stage and solid state as for the power output, like getting the benefits of both.  My system sound great.  Even tube-heavy Prima Luna now offers a hybrid integrated amp.

@aseaman007    For many the objective is to reproduce accurately the original performance.  The original performance many have been 'romantic'.  If you are listening to single-ended, there will be distortion.  Some people like it but they may not be interested in reproducing the original sound.  Buy what moves you.

Distortion and visual effect.

for me the closer I get to the source material the better. Low distortion = clarity.

Tube amps like Class A are preceived 'warm' because they heat the room so nicely!


Having just spent 2 days at Capital Audio Fest and having been in the hobby for 40ish years I continue to be surprised by astonishingly expensive systems that are hell bent on detail retrieval to the point that the individual sounds are so disconnected that it is no longer music and has zero emotional impact.  I'll stay with my ole 300Bs thank you; noting that implementation of design and synergy with the balance of the system is key to producing actual music.  

"Tube amps aren’t more romantic, unless the filament glow turns you on. Small LEDs or neon bulbs will create the same mood."

WAF would suggest otherwise!


In my view, a lot of this discussion gets sidetracked by ambiguous language.

If two people sing an octave apart -- or a 5th apart -- it sounds lovely, doesn't it? Would you call that "distorted", from an aesthetic standpoint? Probably not. But compared to a single voice, it is "distorted" from a technical standpoint.

It's weird, isn't it for something that sounds mellifluous and pleasing to also be distorted? That weirdness comes from the ambiguity of the aesthetic meaning of "distorted" and the engineering/measurement meaning of "distorted." But they're not the same thing.

Is a tube amp distorted, then? Technically, "yes," and aesthetically, "no" -- if you like that kind of aesthetic effect.

Here's something useful from Tung Sol:

"The harmonic content of an overdriven tube amplifier consists primarily of 2nd order and 3rd order harmonics with some 4th order harmonics. The harmonic content of an overdriven transistor amplifier is primarily 3rd order with suppressed 2nd order harmonics. 2nd and 3rd order harmonics are the most important from a viewpoint of electronic distortion. Musically the 2nd harmonic is an octave above the fundamental and is almost inaudible, yet it adds body to the sound, making it fuller. The 3rd harmonic is a musical 12th. Instead of making the tone fuller, a strong 3rd harmonic makes the tone softer. The odd harmonics (3rd, 5th, etc.) produce a "stopped" or "covered" sound. The even harmonics (2nd, 4th, etc.) produce a "choral" or "singing" sound. Adding a 5th to a strong 3rd harmonic give the sound a metallic quality that gets annoying in character as the amplitude increases. A strong 2nd with a strong 3rd harmonic tends to open the "covered" effect. Adding the 4th and 5th harmonics to this gives an "open horn" character. The higher harmonics, above the 7th, give the tone "edge" or "bite."


Also what I have heard and read, I agree with several in this post that It’s all about the “good” distortion that tubes produce. Pleasing to the ear. 

I think it depends on your definition of "romantic" and other factors, such as personality types, venue, and where the specific "romantic" element is positioned on the classic sine wave of the evening's total love-making cycle.

I'll give tubes a definite advantage during dinner and foreplay.  After that, there are simply too many varibles to reach a solid conclusion, IMHO.  I'd use the common "thumbs up" term here for vaccum tubes but there are, most likely, other things that are "up" during this segment besides just thumbs.

The age and energy levels of participants could swing the pendulum one way or the other.  Also, whether one is an analytical chess player, or a "score right now" hockey player could be factors..  As for intensity, I can't explain why but the terms "slew rate" and "dampening factor" pop into my head, giving solid state the advantage.  And, yes, the venue.  An AirBNB is quite different than tent camping (both of which have zero chance of having a vacuum tube amplifier near by), so a solid state (most likely a Bluetooth speaker) will be the winner by default.  

In summary, I tend to be neutral on the tubes vs SS debate, and I'm sure either can rise to the occassion when called upon.

Everyone always brings up the distortion profile of tube equipment, which is generally true but triodes are also more linear that solid state devices, with simple designs fewer parts count.

Let us not forget that ALL recordings are PROCESSED and have some relationship to the actual "live" performance, but not all of it.

In the "old days," this processing took place on TUBE recording gear since that was all that was available.  When more sophisticated recording equipment became available, many times it was solid-state based.

SO, any recording you are listening to has the "imprint," if you will, of the recording engineer, the producer, the band members or orchestra director, and possibly others (marketing) in its final form. 

A simple example would be that in the 1960's, "pop" recordings were "mixed down" so that they "sounded good" on car radio speakers, which, in those days, were not exactly designed to reproduce accurate performances, but instead were going for a "sound" that would "sell."  (Buddy Holly is credited for "producing" his own music because he did not believe that a record company producer could create the "sound" that he had in his head.)

This is not necessarily "good" or "bad" but it is anything but "accurate."  About the best you can do for that is to get some master tapes, which, if modern, have been "mixed down" from 64-tracks (possibly) to 4 tracks to play on a home reel-to-reel deck.  You might also want to play some direct-to-disc vinyl recordings like those made by Lincoln Mayorga et. al. in the 1970's.  There are probably others out there as well, but this is a difficult and expensive process, so you don't get many and yes, even those are "processed" to some degree.

So, buy what SOUNDS GOOD to you IN YOUR ROOM and don't worry so much about the electronics.  For ME, personally, ARC tube HW playing through properly set-up Magneplaner speakers is the closest to "accurate" when reproducing processed music.  Everyone has their own idea of this, thus the myriad number of companies producing home audio gear.


If you want a romantic glow in your room, get an LED mood lamp to augment your SS. Won't burn your hands and is easy on your electricity bill.  https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B099WTN2TR/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title

Listening thru a tube amplifier is still partially solid state. What do you think your streamer, DAC and other components are made from? Even within the tube amplifier the signal passes thru capacitors and resistors.

The difference is a tube amplifier is usually a transformer coupled design. No solid state amp I have ever heard be it for hifi or guitar amps truly emulates a transformer coupled tube sound. In the guitar world millions of dollars have been spent trying to do it with solid state and digital emulation. But never truly accomplishing that.

The main difference I hear with solid state is compression of the signal. A flattening of the sound stage.

I suppose there can be a more technical explanation of how electrons jump from the hot element inside a tube versus how they move within a solid state transistor that impacts the tone of the signal but I would not be able to speak to that with any certainty.

A Tube and a Transistor that superseded it, both have specific role to play in a topology belonging to the signal path, there is a sonic trait that can be described as being quite similar to both of these designs when the Topology and Circuit Design is well executed.

As a result of the limits to the role a Valve or Transistor is to fulfill, there is a detection of a difference to a sonic, when compared to a more modern design that is using parts such as Semi-Conductors that have superseded both Tubes and Transistors.

The Semi-Conductor has a multi-function role, which is specified through circuit design, to more than one role in a topology. It is this multi-role that has a noticeable sonic trait in comparison to a Tube or Transistor Amplifier.

It could be said the more the Semi-Conductor is competing for the multi-function within the working circuit, the more the Sonic Trait from the part in use is noticed.    

With over 50 years in this hobby, I have had more pleasure with the tube gear I have owned than the solid state .... so that must mean something. A couple of points worth mentioning though.

#1 Tube watts seem to drive speakers better than SS watts. Most of the tube amps I haver had that were in the 40-50 watt per channel range drove my speakers better than SS amps with double that rated power.

#2 The output tube can effect the sound. I happen to like an EL 34 tube better than a KT88 in most amps I have owned that can use either and that has been consistent from amp to amp. Others may prefer KT88s but to me they can have more of a solid state sound than an EL34. Of course low powered 300b tubed amps are  another beast.

#3 Most modern amp manufacturers, because of their largish production, must rely on currently manufactured tubes they can buy in quantity and although some of them are very decent, often older tubes, made in the heyday of tube manufacturing, can elevate the performance of many modern production amps. My preamp and power amps I currently use have ZERO current production tubes in them.

Love my Tube Integrated:  X200. Listen to SS while working. Each has its nuances and qualities. Tubes are more soulful to me.  Like my tubed guitar amplifiers. 

No mistaking the sound of a V8 car, V-Twin or V Four motorcycle, Radial engine aircraft, tube amplifier, all sound so sweet!

ASR Cult follower? 

Source material played through tubed Vox, Marshall, and Gibson amps, vocals picked up through tubed microphones. 



Distortion and visual effect.

for me the closer I get to the source material the better. Low distortion = clarity.

Age old argument.

Tube or SS?  Who cares listen to the music not the gear.

Harley or Honda? Who cares just ride.

Ohio State or Michigan? GO BLUE!!!