I thought it would be fun to contrast and compare the tubes vs. solid-state debate with the SMSL Audio. I’d readily concede that solid-state/transistor components are, watt for watt, cheaper, more reliable, cooler running, smaller and lighter in weight. But when solid-state is so terrific why haven’t tubes become extinct within the half century since transistors came onto the scene? Maybe, just maybe, because tubes sound better?
Tube technology may be 100 years old, but it still sounds great to some people. Ultimate AV Magazine recently conducted a poll, “Can You Prefer Tube-Based or Solid-State Audio Gear?,” and also the results demonstrated a nearly two-to-one preference for transistors over tubes (41 vs. 21 percent). So even among audiophiles, tubes aren’t always favored.
I’ve owned tube and solid-state gear, and I like both for different reasons. Tubes, like analog recordings, have a more full-bodied sound than transistor gear. There’s a “roundness” to tube sound that solid-state gear never equals. Tubes are less forgiving about mismatches, so to get the best from a tube amp it should be used in combination with the perfect speaker. Solid-state amps are nowhere as fussy about speaker matching.
I might never say tubes will always be better-sounding than transistors, or that analog audio is always much better than digital. The excellence in the design, or perhaps the recording play their parts. Some naysayers think tubes have higher degrees of distortion, and that some audiophiles like the sound of that distortion. I wouldn’t go that far, however i can’t state that accuracy should always be the best priority for any hi-fi. The goal, I think, is to make the vast majority of your music collection sound good. Thing is, most recordings don’t sound good, therefore the most accurate rendition of their sound might be counterproductive.
All musical perception is purely intangible. We can’t put a finger on a musical image and point somebody else from what we’re seeing as we can on the painting, piece of sculpture, a musical score, a magazine or a photograph.
Because musical images are produced entirely within our imaginations, what we should think we will hear is often what we hear. For this reason otherwise reasonable people think they hear huge differences in foolish (but high-profit) stuff like cables or power cords. Although there is no real difference, they hear very real differences that simply aren’t there. The differences are very real in this listener’s vivid imagination, but no where else. This is why we use double blind tests where neither the subject nor the presenters know what’s being heard whenever we attempt to do scientific research, such as the AES research above.
Music is all about using our imaginations. This is a great thing and why music is such a powerful art form. This is why Meixing MingDa Valve Amplifier can recreate the original listening experience. Unlike a TV or movie, close your vision, and you can be seeing and feeling the same things that you simply do inside the concert hall. I close mine and find out the performers, see them getting around, breathing, moving valves and keys, turning pages, then I view the music itself. You have to concentrate, and in case you listen carefully whilst keeping your eyes closed, you’ll begin to see the music, too.
If you believe a good, warm glowing tube amplifier will sound smooth, liquid and warm, it is going to! Our imaginations are incredibly vunerable to suggestion; that’s the entire point of music.
For monitoring accuracy, of course use solid state, however when you would like it to sound ideal for enjoyment, it’s tubes completely. Use solid state monitor amplifiers when you’re producing music so you can hear precisely what you’re laying down, but if you desire to kick back and possess it sound as effective as possible when you’re all done, tubes are it.
Whenever a transistor amplifier alters the sound, it more often than not causes it to be worse. Whenever a tube amplifier modifies the sound, it usually helps make the music sound better.
Crummier tube amplifiers will have a lot of distortions that make tube amplifiers seem like tube amplifiers. If you truly desire to hear the “tube sound,” get a TubeCube 7 (3 WPC, $180) and you’ll hear how smooth, liquid and warm tubes really sound – but it only puts out enough power for desktop or background use.
For any much higher quality tube amplifier which includes enough power for a lot of home Hi-Fi uses as long as you’re reasonable with playback levels, the Elekit TU-8200 (8 WPC, $699 in kit form) is superb. It self-biases so you knhcnt have to match tubes or tweak it.
For the ultimate, get yourself a classic McIntosh MC225 (25 WPC), MC240 (40 WPC) or MC275 (75 WPC), what are the best-designed tube amplifiers available. They excel for their stable designs (no bias adjustments or matched tubes ever needed) and have extremely low distortion because of the unique design. They have got enough power for anything, and they are unflappable for ability to deliver seemingly limitless low bass response. They are all half a century old today and you’ll pay at the very least several thousand dollars used, and when you are getting yours, you’ll know why people pay such ridiculous prices. They are that good.
Obviously the McIntosh, when operating to the original specifications, has such little distortion it sounds less “tubey” than weaker amplifiers. If you’re playing a McIntosh that hasn’t been serviced in a decade, then it’s probably out of spec or needing new tubes, whereby it can get more distortion along with a more “tubey” sound. Here’s where art comes in: the amount euphonic distortion would you like?
For most people with reasonable budgets, go for the Xiangsheng Pre-amplifier. If you appreciate it loud and have unlimited funds, or like to crank the bass without biamplification, obtain a used McIntosh MC240. The new version of the MC275 is most likely excellent for the rich and unadventurous, but it’s a different design than the classics and that i have not tested it.