Stereo – Tube vs Solid state amplification. Why use tubes in a HIFI stereo system?

My experience with playing with tubes in my stereo system


Simon Chan says:

Thanks for another great job on another *sensitive* topic! You basically summarized the differences and advantages of tubes and solid states perfectly for me. I feel the same way, except I do the complete opposite. I keep my front end clean and quiet with very simple solid state gears, and I rather to use tubes for the “right” speakers. Let me explain, a full range (one driver) speakers have the same kind of holographic-ness so by matching the two at the end of the chain should have fewer compromises with the most noticeable result. But I do keep the amp and speakers on the small side. What do you think?

David Parker says:

Thomas, thanks for your most informative description of the difference in solid state and tubes. About a year ago I switched to a Primaluna Dialogue Premium Integrated amp with kt-120 output tubes. I was impressed with the improved sound but could not define how listening to my system was so much more enjoyable. After viewing your video and listening to music with your comments in mind I finally get it. Thanks and keep up good work.

Lance Simmons says:

I have the best of both worlds with my Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista m3 Integrated , tube pre solid state amp along with a Musical Fidelity TriVista 21 Dac with tubes and the holographic sound you are talking about is spot on , all instruments are separated in air and timing and if you close your eyes it’s scary real .

Denis Lepine says:

Had a vt-200 and love it but got bored quickly cause its not the sound i wanted to live with, heard with the pass lab x0.2 and the ayre k-1xe, and have to say with the pass lab it was waaay to bloomy! Lots of resolution with lots of butter…. Ayre was so laid back it’s as if you had the cheapest pair of ticket for the show! Nothing missing except waaay to far back for my taste.

Mark Goldie says:

Another excellent video, Thomas! The lack of bass impact is definitely the weak point with tubes for me. But, I do love the holographic nature of tubes that you talk about. I’ve gone with what I think is the best solution (for me)….a good crossover with an active subwoofer so the tube amp (in my case a Conrad Johnson Premier 11A) doesn’t even see the bass frequencies. Obviously, there are arguments around this method (another xover in the system; needs to be a good subwoofer with music such as the JL Audio e110 I have), but if integrated well it works a treat. The tube power amp barely breaks a sweat, and I have full range dynamic sound with strong punchy bass and that holographic tube sound :-).

Gamal Borhan says:

Thanks for this great video. I have no experience whatsoever in tube amps, what would be a decent and affordable tube pre-amp/amp from your point of view? Could you please recommend one or more models (modern or vintage)? Thanks in advance and best regards, Gamal.

tom Dobyns says:

Everyone has their preferences. Mine is conrad johnson CJ-11a, Goertz speaker cable and magnepan Q1.6. Pre is Sonic Frontiers SFL-2. There’s magic in this equipment.

Sylvester Gatos says:

Thomas, what is so seductive about a good tube preamplifier is coloration. That is what you’re hearing and like!

..and, if you need proof of that, substitute the tube preamp with a good quality passive attenuator. Then, what you will hear is a pure transfer of source material
into your solid state power amplifiers. Exactly how it has been recorded and without any ‘in between’ circuitry.

In my view, a well designed preamplifier should not have a sound of it’s own. It’s main purpose should be, not the ‘dressing up’ / coloring the signal it receives, but just to provide enough gain
for the input of the power amps. Additionally, to mach the source impedance with the the input impedance of these power amps.

So, again in my opinion, the point of reference should be the passive device compared to whatever preamp you choose to use.

The more difference you hear, the more coloration it is.


Having said all this, I also like the sweetness tube preamps offer but this doesn’t alter the fact that, what I hear is coloration and not exactly ‘true’ to the source material.

Denis Lepine says:

Conrad johnson premier ten was ok , a bit old school very rounded sound no harshness at all , if you pass the 11:30 mark on the volume the sound changed, that made the low volume recordings a pain…. Audio research sp-9 mk1 was ok in sound but the rest was all over the place had no focus on stage, image .

lord darmok says:

I do like the sound of tubes.ive had a couple of tube amps over the years.back when I was a teenager.i don’t remember the brand of amp it was.i do recall it had 6l6gc power tubes,and I loved it.the most recent had el84 power tubes.driven by a single dual triode 12ax7

Taz Brinker says:

Great discussion, Thomas. I think most audiophiles come to that crossroads and start to gravitate towards tubes for the reasons you pointed out. The way you explained the holographic sound describes a sound characterist I’ve always liked, but not I’ve not had someone describe it in those terms the way you did. I found myself going back to solid state, both amp and preamp, when I went back to listening good music for entertainment and relaxation purposes rather than critical details. In this, the warmness and weight of sound was more appealing to me. It seems that the only way to be satisfied is to have gear in both tubes and solid state and a collection of speakers to match. Thanks for your good reviews.

Hasan Askari says:

How does the system with tube preamps sound to you? Agile? Fast? Alittle slow? Comparing with your own familiar music collection

leohobb leohobb says:

the holograpic thing you mention that you say tube amps have is not because it is tubes-A solid state amp with no negative feednack loops local or global have the same effeckt to and are better on parameters in areas where tubes have its drawback.Sadly most amplifier brands are to lazy to make such amps.some few expensive exist.mine is that type with very low tolerances components short signal path and total silent.the most silent amp i have heard in 45 years in audio.i use 26db senitive planar mids and amt highs and use 4 amps like this to drive direct.use a dsp active crossover dnc24rpc from ground it is a active system and for good result with drivers that are sensitive you need a amp that is silent(no hiss)and the other thing with this type is they are linear.negative feedback makes all solid state amp sound similar since color off sound change with frekvens.the same amp has or still is used by bruel&kjær mesurement company.many fkrekvens responce data sheets for div products have had their name at the bottom

Justin Hunting says:

I’d definitely go for a tube amp (with smooth tubes) and take a hit in bass punch and noise floor and depth if it wasn’t for home theatre.


A very good description; walking around the singer…. But that also requires taking your time in placement of the speakers

Laney Oswald says:

Great info!
I would love to try a tube amp sometime!

BTW, what I said in a previous post about how much I love the first gen Elac debut’s – only go for the bookshelf versions. I just tried a floor standing Debut B6 (first gen) and did not like it at all. But perhaps I did not try them with the proper amplifier yet.

moukie bengal says:

as tu vendu tes Canton ?? , t’es rendu avec quoi , as tu encore également ton nouveau mcintosh??

Dave Hwang says:

Tubes are poor power amp!

michael hayes says:

give me tubes! i love telefunken,mullard,amprex and so on.mhh32452

Richard Riley says:

I just got a Vincent SV-700 hybrid integrated amp. It uses tubes in the preamp section. I will be posting a review in a few days. I have also picked up hi quality nos tubes which I will be switching out in a few days. Part of the tube effect I describe as “sparkly” more meat on the bone. Amps that use feed back in the output destroy the “tubeiness” for the most part.

Denis Lepine says:

Pass lab x0.2 is outstanding , bold sound but very dynamic

Alexander Stephen Evi says:

Very interesting thoughts… Thanks for sharing!

Mr. Australia says:

Hi Thomas, I am in Australia and I enjoy your videos very much. I have tried lots of different SS receivers and like them very much. I meet a guy online here in Australia who built tube amps for many years and then he had an idea for a new style amp that does not use a circuit board and he said it was far superior to tube amps. I decided to buy one of his new amps and to my surprise the amp is every bit as good as he said it was and more. The clarity is outstanding and very neutral and rated at 30 watts but seems more like 60-70 watts, sorry I do not know the specs of the amp but I go more on the sound rather than what is written on paper. I am impressed with what I am hearing, on some recordings you can hear the artist breathing into the mic before the music begins. This guy only builds amps to order, he does not have a shop or website and he is an older gentleman, I am very glad to be a proud owner of his amp and I am looking into getting him to build another amp in the near future. I currently own around 20 SS receivers and I do not listen to any of them anymore because his amp is far superior and I own flagship model from Akai & Luxman and now I will sell them along with other rare models. I have this new amp playing through IMF-RSPM speakers and the sound is out of this world, no more buying gear for me as I am very very very happy with this setup. Keep posting more videos as I enjoy them, kind regards from Australia.

kamaboko1 says:

Good description using walking-around.

Vic G says:

Yes I totally agree with you Thomas. My goal until I bought the Yamaha As2100 circlotron with mossfet amp was a McIntosh tube pre and solid state amplifier which was a good compromise; Half as much holographic and twice as much base.

truth seeker says:

thank you ! this is a very useful information for me to choose what type of analog output stage for my diy dac. i’ll definitely use tubes.

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