I was thinking it might be fun to contrast and compare the tubes vs. solid-state debate with the SMSL DAC. 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 in the half century since transistors came on the scene? Maybe, just maybe, because tubes sound better?
Tube technology might be 100 years old, but it still sounds great for some people. Ultimate AV Magazine recently conducted a poll, “Do You Prefer Tube-Based or Solid-State Audio Gear?,” as well as 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 that i like for both different reasons. Tubes, like analog recordings, possess 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 for the best out of a tube amp it should be combined with the ideal 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 definitely much better than digital. The excellence from the design, or the recording play their parts. Some naysayers think tubes simply have higher levels of distortion, and this some audiophiles like the noise of that distortion. I wouldn’t go that far, having said that i can’t say that accuracy ought to always be the top priority for virtually any hi-fi. The aim, I do believe, would be to make the vast majority of your music collection sound good. Thing is, most recordings don’t sound good, and so the most accurate rendition with their sound could be counterproductive.
All musical perception is purely intangible. We can’t put a finger on the musical image and point another person from what we’re seeing since we can on a painting, part of sculpture, a musical score, a novel or even a photograph.
Because musical images are made entirely in our imaginations, what we think we are going to hear is frequently what we should hear. This is why 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 which simply aren’t there. The differences are very real in this listener’s vivid imagination, but no where else. This is the reason we use double blind tests where neither the niche nor the presenters know what’s being heard when we attempt to do scientific research, like the AES research above.
Music is about using our imaginations. This can be a very good thing and why music is really a strong art form. This is why Mingda Tube Amplifier can recreate the first listening experience. Unlike a TV or movie, close your eyes, and you can be seeing and feeling the same things that you do within the concert hall. I close mine and find out the performers, see them getting around, breathing, moving valves and keys, turning pages, and then I begin to see the music itself. You must concentrate, and when you listen carefully whilst keeping the eyes closed, you’ll begin to see the music, too.
If you think a great, warm glowing tube amplifier will sound smooth, liquid and warm, it will! Our imaginations are extremely prone to suggestion; that’s the complete reason for music.
For monitoring accuracy, of course use solid state, but when you want it to sound ideal for enjoyment, it’s tubes entirely. Use solid state monitor amplifiers when you’re producing music so you can hear precisely what you’re laying down, however when you wish to kick back and possess it sound just like possible when you’re all done, tubes are it.
Whenever a transistor amplifier alters the sound, it almost always can make it worse. Whenever a tube amplifier modifies the sound, it always makes the music sound better.
Crummier tube amplifiers will have a lot of the distortions which make tube amplifiers appear to be tube amplifiers. If you want to know 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.
To get a much higher quality tube amplifier which includes enough power for many 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 which means you knhcnt need to match tubes or tweak it.
For the ultimate, get yourself a classic McIntosh MC225 (25 WPC), MC240 (40 WPC) or MC275 (75 WPC), that 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 their unique design. They may have enough power for anything, and they are unflappable for their ability to deliver seemingly limitless low bass response. These are all 50 years old today and you’ll pay at the very least a couple of thousand dollars used, and when you get yours, you’ll know why people pay such ridiculous prices. They are that good.
Needless to say the McIntosh, when operating to the original specifications, has such little distortion which 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 from spec or needing new tubes, in which case it is going to get more distortion as well as a more “tubey” sound. Here’s where the art comes in: just how much euphonic distortion do you need?
For most of us with reasonable budgets, go for the Xiangsheng Pre-amplifier. If you appreciate it loud and possess unlimited funds, or prefer to crank the bass without biamplification, get yourself a used McIntosh MC240. The newest version of the MC275 is most likely very good for the rich and unadventurous, but it’s another design compared to the classics and I have not tested it.