Tubed Power Amplifiers. Are the disadvantages too great ?
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  1. #1
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    Tubed Power Amplifiers. Are the disadvantages too great ?

    Had a thought yesterday about tubed power amps. I have many friends who will never consider a solid state power amplifier. I am not one of them. I certainly understand the fluidity and “beauty” of tube gear. Nevertheless, considering the great solid state amps out there, the question stands.

  2. #2
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    Re: Tubed Power Amplifiers. Are the disadvantages too great ?

    Joe.......What specific disadvantages do tube amplifiers present that you might consider too great to own one?
    Dan

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  3. #3
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    Re: Tubed Power Amplifiers. Are the disadvantages too great ?

    simple answer Joe, it depends ...........
    Cheers ! …. Dave

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    Re: Tubed Power Amplifiers. Are the disadvantages too great ?

    Quote Originally Posted by jdandy View Post
    Joe.......What specific disadvantages do tube amplifiers present that you might consider too great to own one?
    Just simple ones, like tube degradation, low power, limited ability to handle less than 8 ohm loads, bass overhang, rolled off high frequencies, quality tube availability, high cost of power tubes, need for a vacuum tube tester, tube biasing, tube matching, sound variability dependent on tube brand or date of manufacture, total tube failure, high heat and overall reliability.

    I understand that all of these rarely apply. But every one can be a possibility and therefore a trade off. Oh, and I forgot that sometimes the tubes needed go out of production. The stock pile of NOS is not going to last forever.

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    Re: Tubed Power Amplifiers. Are the disadvantages too great ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Joseph R. View Post
    Just simple ones, like tube degradation, low power, limited ability to handle less than 8 ohm loads, bass overhang, rolled off high frequencies, quality tube availability, high cost of power tubes, need for a vacuum tube tester, tube biasing, tube matching, sound variability dependent on tube brand or date of manufacture, total tube failure, high heat and overall reliability.

    I understand that all of these rarely apply. But every one can be a possibility and therefore a trade off. Oh, and I forgot that sometimes the tubes needed go out of production. The stock pile of NOS is not going to last forever.
    Joe.......That's some serious tube phobia. .
    Dan

    STUDIO - McIntosh C1000C/P, MC2301 (2), MR88, Aurender N10, Esoteric K-01X, Shunyata Sigma spdif digital coax,
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    Sony DAT 60ES, Nakamichi BX-300, Micro Seiki DD40 w/m505A tonearm, Ortofon Cadenza Blue, PS Audio P10, Furutech Flux 50, Stillpoints Ultra Mini, PMC EB1i, JL Audio f113

    VINTAGE - McIntosh 4300V, McIntosh MA230, Tandberg 3011A tuner, Olive 04HD, JBL 4312A

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  9. #6
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    Re: Tubed Power Amplifiers. Are the disadvantages too great ?

    Quote Originally Posted by jdandy View Post
    Joe.......That's some serious tube phobia. .
    Dan: You kinda get the feeling I’ve lived with them for quite some time ?

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    Re: Tubed Power Amplifiers. Are the disadvantages too great ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Joseph R. View Post
    Dan: You kinda get the feeling I’ve lived with them for quite some time ?
    Joe.......I understand where you are coming from. I have been a tube amp aficionado for over five decades. Yes, I am certifiably old! My very first tube mono amplifiers were a pair of McIntosh MC30 mono tube amps that I bought in 1968. Since then I have owned tube based tuners, preamplifiers, and power amplifier. I can't say they have all been trouble free, but most of the issues were minor, nothing a schematic, a few parts and a soldering iron couldn't repair. Things have improved dramatically with modern tube amplifiers, now sporting protection circuits that shut down an amp in the event of a short at the terminals or a power tube failure. Manual biasing has been made simple with the advent of meters installed on power amplifiers. Some manufacturers have developed sophisticated auto bias circuits that allow you to replace or roll tubes without concern for bias settings.

    Power isn't really an issue any longer, either. If you want high power in a tube amplifier, there are quite a few prestigious manufacturers offering some amazingly powerful tube amps, ARC, McIntosh, and VAC to name just a few. The SET crowd will always be shackled to esoteric tubes, low power, and mediocre specification, but they will be quick to point out how wonderful the midrange is. Personally, I prefer full range amplifiers.

    Tube availability is not an issue to be worried about. There are quite a few tube manufacturers around the globe making excellent vacuum tubes of all varieties. If NOS is your thing then be prepared to spend some cash for tubes that have taken on transcendental reputations with corresponding prices. Yes, the sources for exotics are drying up, but there are still stashes to be found if one knows where to search and willing to pay.

    Yes, test equipment is an essential element to being a tube enthusiast. Modern well designed tube testers are available and should be considered a requirement for those who enjoy tube amplifiers. I have two that get used annually to check the state of the tubes in a preamp and four tube power amps. Knowing the state of your tubes helps avoid future problems, helps to identify problem tubes when an issue comes up, and offers owners peace of mind. Knowledge is power.

    Sound variability is not a shortcoming of tubes, it's an asset that can be capitalized on. If an amplifier is the main dish, consider tubes as the spice that brings it all together. Tube rolling is great fun, but it can become addicting and expensive if not held in check by some common sense. Unfortunately, common sense doesn't seem to be so common these days.

    You mentioned heat. Yes, tube amplifiers radiate heat, some more than others. Heck, light bulbs radiate heat, sun coming through the window, and your body radiates heat, typically between 250 and 400 BTU's. We are walking furnaces. A room full of people can raise the temperature quickly unless air conditioned. Ventilation is important for tube amps and must be factored in if you wish to play in that world.

    And finally, reliability. Tubes are still made by hand. Even with highly skilled assemblers using the finest parts available the occasional tube failure will occur. The same can be said about everything made by the hand of man. Damn near everything fails eventually. Fortunately the overall quality of the more established tube manufacturers is quite good. It is not uncommon to get 4,000 to 5,000 hours from premium power tubes, and between 8,000 to 10,000 hours from small tubes. Think about it. If you listen to music 4 hours a day 7 days a week, you can expect to get approximately 3.4 years of service from power tubes before replacement becomes necessary. Small tubes can last over 5.5 years listening 4 hours a day 7 days a week. That's a lot of listening for a home sound system. When you own tube based audio gear it is always wise to have spare tubes on hand. Buy some each year as the years go by and you will always be prepared when it is time to re-tube your gear. I have about 60 tubes standing by. It makes sense to be prepared. Buying them over time spreads the cost out to where it isn't a big deal.

    Then, of course, there's the sound, that glorious tube sound that creates such accurate and believable musical timbre, fully fleshed male and female voices, strings and brass reproduction to die for. There is much to enjoy from tube amplification. Yes, it is a bit more involved and eccentric than simply placing a solid state integrated amp on the shelf and calling it a day. Only you can decide if the commitment to the sublime musical experience of tube gear is worth it. I'm in, but don't misunderstand, I also enjoy solid state amplifiers. I have owned and enjoyed my fair share of them, too.
    Dan

    STUDIO - McIntosh C1000C/P, MC2301 (2), MR88, Aurender N10, Esoteric K-01X, Shunyata Sigma spdif digital coax,
    Sonos Connect, Stillpoints Ultra SS & Ultra Mini, PurePower 2000, Furutech Flux 50, Michell Gyro SE, Michell HR Power Supply, SME 309, Ortofon Cadenza Black, Sonus faber Amati Anniversario

    LIVING ROOM - McIntosh C2300, MC75 (2), MR85, Magnum Dynalab 205 Signal Sleuth, Sonos Connect, Simaudio MOON Neo 260D-T, Schiit Audio Yggdrasil, Aurender N100H, Shunyata Sigma USB cable,
    Sony DAT 60ES, Nakamichi BX-300, Micro Seiki DD40 w/m505A tonearm, Ortofon Cadenza Blue, PS Audio P10, Furutech Flux 50, Stillpoints Ultra Mini, PMC EB1i, JL Audio f113

    VINTAGE - McIntosh 4300V, McIntosh MA230, Tandberg 3011A tuner, Olive 04HD, JBL 4312A

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    Re: Tubed Power Amplifiers. Are the disadvantages too great ?

    Dan: I can appreciate your love of tubes. I have also lived with tubes for many years. My first being a Bogan PA head amplifier and a 25 watt Lafayette guitar amplifier. My first hifi piece was a McIntosh 240 stereo power amplifier. Every single disadvantage I’ve mentioned, I have experienced first hand. Like solid state amplifiers, I have heard great tube gear and not so great tube gear. But like omnidirectional speakers, I am ready to holler “uncle”. I think of all the distortion I have experienced, not even realizing it was slow tube degradation. Not to mention all the power fuses I have blown due to deteriorating rectifier tubes. So unlike you, I am not sure it is all worth it. As my components grow old, I am replacing them with solid state gear. I am not ready to go quite as far as an integrated amplifier, but I love the consistent sound of high quality solid state. When I flick the switch, I know I will hear exactly what I have worked so hard to achieve.

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    Re: Tubed Power Amplifiers. Are the disadvantages too great ?

    I've never owned a (home audio) tube amp so I can't speak with any authority on them. However, I have owned many hand made (boutique) tube guitar amps. I would not own a ss guitar amp, but that's just me and my ears. The only ss guitar amp I owned was a Thomas Organ era Vox Royal Guardsman (2x12" speakers and a midrange horn). It actually sounded OK as long as you kept things clean, tone wise. As you might expect from an early ss amp the distorted tones were terrible.

    I know we're talking guitar amps and not home audio. Distortion is often a very desirable thing to have with a guitar amp...not so with a home audio amp. But I can say I never had to replace a tube in any of my guitar amps except when I wanted to. It was usually because I wanted to experiment (roll) with tubes for a different tone.

    However, I would still be hesitant to own an all tube home audio amp for reasons already stated by others above. Ironically, it's still mostly a reliability issue with me. Even though I've had pretty good experiences with tubes. NOS tubes are continuing to age and they are gradually becoming picked over, making finding high quality NOS tubes a challenge. In ten more years there will be far fewer to pick from. Not to mention the cost, especially for power tubes. The last set of RCA NOS power tubes cost me $200 for two. That was almost ten years ago. When you're dealing with four to eight power tubes and the same number of preamp tubes reliability can become an issue. JMHO, but, there are currently just too many far more reliable, ss amps with outstanding sonic performance to make me want to go back to tubes. Something's wrong if we can't find a great sounding ss amp at a reasonable cost. Especially these days.

    Now that I've said all that, I'll be auditioning several amps to go with my Harbeth speakers next month. One of those amps will be a VAC integrated, if it's available at the time. I'll try to keep an open mind regarding sonic quality. Who knows? I could end up with tubes...again.

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    Re: Tubed Power Amplifiers. Are the disadvantages too great ?

    I've owned both tubes and SS. I've had issues with both, but like anything made, it will break one day and depending on the maker and their customer service repairs are usually painless and supported. I say, enjoy what you have got, Also this subject reminds me of the subject Digital vs LP's, there is never a winner in opinion. One thing about this great hobby, its personal. I don't buy gear based on what someones likes or dislikes. , I buy what I like.
    Chris

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