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  1. #1
    Ajani
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    My crazy theories on Tubes, Solid State and HiFi in general

    So it's 10PM, the wife's asleep and I'm bored... sounds like the perfect time to start a crazy new thread... so here goes:

    Often we hear HiFi enthusiasts claiming that the ultimate goal of HiFi is to recreate the live experience in your own home... But is that claim true? How many Enthusiasts would actually find a truly accurate system appealing? My theory is that a stereo truly capable of simulating a live performance is probably the most boring HiFi setup available and wouldn't sell very well... simply beceause it would draw no attention to itself whatsoever... there'd be nothing to praise or complain about and it would likely just be overlooked in store auditions...

    All this led me to pondering the difference between tubes and solid state and I came up with this theory -

    Tubes are like an airbrush (I think one of the members of this forum normally says this, maybe Feanor)... Essentially they make the music sound better than it would in real life... much like an airbrush makes the model in the magazine look flawless and beautiful... My theory is that the best tubes are such masters at airbrushing that unless you did a direct comparison with a live performance, you wouldn't be able to realize that music had been touched up, sugar coated or otherwise improved...

    Solid State on the other hand, is like a magnifying glass... it peers deeper into the mix than what you'd hear at a live event... which is why it can sound harsh and overly analytical to some people... Just as the more you magnify an image, the less smooth and appealing it becomes... the same occurs with music... dig too deep and you start hearing every manner of unintentional background noise and minor distortion, instead of just hearing your favorite song...

    And while I'm tossing around my crazy theories, let me mention something I read in a cable review recently... the reviewer said that he had avoided reviewing cables before, because he found them to be little more than expensive tone controls... I find that particularly funny, especially considering how many enthusiasts would never dream of using tone controls on an amp (if they'd even purchase one with them) much less an equalizer, but will spend thousands on cables and every manner of room treatment to alter the sound to their liking...

  2. #2
    Forum Regular blackraven's Avatar
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    I agree that Tubes lend a pleasing warmth to music that most solid state equipment cant do with some exceptions like the Marantz 8001/8003 SACDP's, and the Van Alstine solid state amps and preamps that I have heard. And I'm sure there are a few others.

    And I have no problems with using tone controls and it pisses me off that a lot of high end equipment does not have them. On the Van Alstine gear you can get the preamps with and with out tone controls and on the units that have them they have a true by pass circuit so that you can take the controls out of the loop for all you purists out there. I really dont understand why people dont like tone controls. Every listening environment is different so your really not hearing the music as it was meant to be.

    As far as the live sound is concerned, thats what I like best about the Magnepans. They give the most live sound out of any speaker that I have heard with Vocals, Acoustic Music and Jazz. I'm sure there are many other speakers that can do the same but they probably cost an awful lot.
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  3. #3
    Forum Regular Mike Anderson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by blackraven
    As far as the live sound is concerned, thats what I like best about the Magnepans. They give the most live sound out of any speaker that I have heard...
    I agree, and I think it's because of the way they interact with the room. Being dipolar, sound waves reflect off the back wall and reach the ears a few milliseconds later than the primary wave. That sense of reverb/echo duplicates exactly what you hear in a live performance.

    My setup is all digital, right down to the amps, but the sound isn't the least bit clinical because of the way the speakers interact with the room.

    BTW, I get the ultimate in tone control with the DEQX unit I'm using. I like to boost the bass just a touch in the 90-200 Hz range. And of course you can do room and speaker correction to eliminate peaks/troughs.
    There's an audiophile born every minute. Congratulations; you're right on time.

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  4. #4
    Shostakovich fan Feanor's Avatar
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    Nice analogy

    Quote Originally Posted by Ajani
    ...
    Tubes are like an airbrush (I think one of the members of this forum normally says this, maybe Feanor)... Essentially they make the music sound better than it would in real life... much like an airbrush makes the model in the magazine look flawless and beautiful... My theory is that the best tubes are such masters at airbrushing that unless you did a direct comparison with a live performance, you wouldn't be able to realize that music had been touched up, sugar coated or otherwise improved...
    ...
    The airbrush is a quite nice analogy. What I have pointed out is that tubes have relatively high low-order, (2nd, 3rd), and even-order, (2nd, 4th), harmonic distortion. It is true, apparently, that 2nd order harmonics in particular add a pleasant mellowness to the sound. It is also reasonably well accepted that high- and odd-order harmics and intermodular distortion cause a very disagreeable sound. It's a fact that solid state equipment that uses relatively high negative feedback to achieve low overall distorition, produces relatively more of this latter type of distortion.

    It's my particular theory that tubes are work in a hybrid system by masking the high- and odd-order harmonics of s/s components with their own, low- and even-order harmonics.

    Tube lovers consistently maintain that tubes (a) provide a more full-bodied, "harmonically rich" sound, and (b) a greater sense of depth to the soundstage. Whereas the former quality can obviously be attributed to harmonic distortion, it's not so clear that the latter is attributable to the same cause. Anyway, I personally find this "sense of depth" an especially begiling quality; I didn't believe it until I heard it from my first tube preamp. (And I didn't hear it at first, but only after I'd done some tube rolling.) I might added that this "depth" is not an echoy sound such as you might get from a reverb device, or that can be caused by tube microphonics caused by vibration.
    Last edited by Feanor; 11-17-2008 at 06:49 AM.

  5. #5
    Music Junkie E-Stat's Avatar
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    Different take

    Quote Originally Posted by Ajani
    How many Enthusiasts would actually find a truly accurate system appealing?
    The problem with assigning the notion of "accuracy" has to do with attempting to choose which accuracy? Flat frequency response? Lowest distortion? Most harmonically correct? I'll pass on the *accuracy* of most SS pro systems.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ajani
    ... simply beceause it would draw no attention to itself whatsoever... there'd be nothing to praise or complain about and it would likely just be overlooked in store auditions..
    Exactly. The most natural sounding systems in my experience fit that description very well. That is how I would characterize mine. It does not sound *impressive*.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ajani
    Essentially they make the music sound better than it would in real life...
    Solid State on the other hand, is like a magnifying glass... it peers deeper into the mix than what you'd hear at a live event...
    Sorry, I don't buy either characterization. It is certainly true there are *warm* sounding components of either design, but I think that can easily be traced back to frequency response variations. I think what differences still exist have to do with the differences in inherent open loop linearity between the two devices. Most, but not all. solid state designs require large amounts of negative feedback to *fix* their inherent non-linear behavior. Tubes, on the other hand, do not require such. Remember Skeptic/Soundmind? He thought negative feedback was the best thing since sliced bread. My opinion is the exact opposite. It is the use of large amounts of NFB that robs music of its harmonic truth and creates harsh, dissonant distortion spectra. It doesn't require much of that at all to be audible. I'll digress here for a moment. I have the good fortune of hearing live, unamplified music on a regular basis when wifey plays her baby grand piano. She was working on a new piece of music and made a couple of mistakes. What I find interesting is that without my having any notion whatsoever as to the *correct* notes, I can immediately hear when the wrong keys are struck. They are harmonically out of place and stick out like a sore thumb. That's what I hear with a lot of SS.

    The new Ayre KX-R preamp, for example, is a refreshing exception to the SS rule. I think that is largely due to the fact that it uses zero feedback. The devices are linear and require no crutches that make themselves evident in the time domain. I do not believe that SS "peers deeper into the mix". Rather, I find that most shines an artificially bright light upon detail. I think Nelson Pass, the exceptionally talented designer of unusual SS gear, explains the distortion phenomena best here.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ajani
    the reviewer said that he had avoided reviewing cables before, because he found them to be little more than expensive tone controls... I find that particularly funny, especially considering how many enthusiasts would never dream of using tone controls on an amp (if they'd even purchase one with them) much less an equalizer, but will spend thousands on cables and every manner of room treatment to alter the sound to their liking...
    It is shame that many folks don't appreciate the notion of system matching. If the characteristics of the cables are not matched, then one will indeed get frequency response errors. The best cables will likewise not call attention to themselves at all. Many inexpensive cables sound "brighter" and detailed - such that what I hear is an artificial accentuation. Whereas the better cables tend to sound "darker" on top as compared with those. High frequencies are rendered naturally without any boosting. I chose mine for that they don't do, not the contrary.



    rw
    Last edited by E-Stat; 11-17-2008 at 06:25 AM.

  6. #6
    It's just a hobby
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    Therein lies the rub

    Quote Originally Posted by Ajani
    Often we hear HiFi enthusiasts claiming that the ultimate goal of HiFi is to recreate the live experience in your own home... But is that claim true? How many Enthusiasts would actually find a truly accurate system appealing?
    Therein lies the rub and it informs some fundamental fallacies of modern day audiophile pursuit such as "most accurate systems have the most appealing sound" and "distortions distract from appealing sound". Both fallacies tend to lead to myths bandied around in audiophile circles such as "we do not know what to measure" or its close relation "ears are the most accurate measuring instruments". Distortions may give rise to a more appealing (or in audiophile speak natural ) sound and aural memory is more likely to recall preferred sound rather than accurate sound. Its no accident that the component that generally exhibits the least distortion namely cables is the most controversial and the component that generally exhibits the largest distortions is the least controversial loudspeakers.

    In conclusion, accurate sound and pleasing sound have a very tenuous relationship and attempts to treat both as one and the same or close relatives results in weirdness as evidenced in modern audiophila.
    Last edited by theaudiohobby; 11-17-2008 at 08:10 AM.
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  7. #7
    Sure, sure... Auricauricle's Avatar
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    I have reached a point where I simply invite the musicians over to play in my living room. No worried about tubes, cables or anything. I'm still waiting word from Pink Floyd and the Acadamy of Saint Martin in the Fields.

    By the way: I'm thinking about changing a couch to something smaller. I notice a 12.5 kHz shift that starts somewhere around the leftmost cushion. Should I go with leather or something upholstered?

  8. #8
    Ajani
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    Quote Originally Posted by Auricauricle
    By the way: I'm thinking about changing a couch to something smaller. I notice a 12.5 kHz shift that starts somewhere around the leftmost cushion. Should I go with leather or something upholstered?
    Leather tends to emphasize frequencies between 10.3 khz and 18 khz. so upholstery might be a better option...

    The sad part is that some 'audiophiles' actually would change their sofa to suit their stereo, while scoffing at the thought of tone controls...

  9. #9
    It's all about the music. Doc Sage's Avatar
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    "Tubes are like an airbrush..."



    Well, what do you want to listen too? Do you want to listen to the "colouration" of your stereo equipment or listen to the soundscape that this or that artist created.

    Using an analogy, do you always want to view Picasso with rose coloured glass...or do you want to view Picasso in the same light he wanted you to view his art?

    Would a truly neutral system able you to experience all the "colours" your favourite musician(s) used by his/her choice of musical intrument(s) and recording venue?

    I like the thought that tubes are more euphoric but I do not want my music to be coloured all the time. Is there a piece of equipment that allows me to adjust the amound of "tube" sound I like?

    Doc Sage

  10. #10
    Forum Regular Gerall's Avatar
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    Both

    I have a solid state preamp and a tube preamp. The solid state has output/input for external processor, so I can hook the tube pre into the circuit, and switch it in and out at will. I find some recordings sound better on tube and others on solid state. I supposed beauty is always in the ears of the beholder.
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  11. #11
    Class of the clown GMichael's Avatar
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    I don't like music as loud as they play it live anymore. A little quieter is better for me these days. And I've never heard a system with crashing symbols even close to what I've heard live. Who would want that anyhow?
    WARNING! - The Surgeon General has determined that, time spent listening to music is not deducted from one's lifespan.

  12. #12
    Forum Regular blackraven's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Doc Sage
    "Tubes are like an airbrush..."



    Well, what do you want to listen too? Do you want to listen to the "colouration" of your stereo equipment or listen to the soundscape that this or that artist created.

    Using an analogy, do you always want to view Picasso with rose coloured glass...or do you want to view Picasso in the same light he wanted you to view his art?

    Would a truly neutral system able you to experience all the "colours" your favourite musician(s) used by his/her choice of musical intrument(s) and recording venue?

    I like the thought that tubes are more euphoric but I do not want my music to be coloured all the time. Is there a piece of equipment that allows me to adjust the amound of "tube" sound I like?

    Doc Sage

    I've always thought it was BS when people say that tubes or tone controls change the music so that you dont get to hear what the artist wanted you to hear.

    First of all, you are not listening to the music in the recording studio.
    You are listening on much varied and different speakers, amps, preamp, CDP's, etc. Every ones listening environment is different and everyone has their likes and dislikes as well as how we listen with differing volume levels.

    No matter how you listen to the music it will always be different than how it was recorded and intended to be heard. I dont care if you have a $200 system or Florian's.
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  13. #13
    Forum Regular pixelthis's Avatar
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    Cool

    Quote Originally Posted by blackraven
    I've always thought it was BS when people say that tubes or tone controls change the music so that you dont get to hear what the artist wanted you to hear.

    First of all, you are not listening to the music in the recording studio.
    You are listening on much varied and different speakers, amps, preamp, CDP's, etc. Every ones listening environment is different and everyone has their likes and dislikes as well as how we listen with differing volume levels.

    No matter how you listen to the music it will always be different than how it was recorded and intended to be heard. I dont care if you have a $200 system or Florian's.
    TRUE NUFF DAT.
    But the diff isn't as much as you might think.
    Heres why people dont like "tone" controls.
    Because I dont like my music going through a cheap filter.
    You get better results just shooting it straight through and fixing the room.
    NOW if you want to tinker with the music, the only decent way would be with an EQ, an EQ set up with a test disc and mike.
    This is the only way to "do" tone control right!

    AS for tubes , they are the worst, most regressive crap ever foisted
    on the listening public, usually by so-called "audiophiles" who know
    know nothing about the tech, or anything else.
    Tubes need a seperate "heater circuit" , which is like having a bunch of tiny space heaters in your gear.
    The anodes, electrodes, etc degrade over time, and never in a consistent fashion.
    That "airbrush" is pure distortion, pure and simple.
    TUBES ARE CRAP.
    Small wonder the hobby is dying.
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  14. #14
    It's all about the music. Doc Sage's Avatar
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    I remember years ago someone told me that listening to music on a stereo was like looking at a 2 dimentional photo of a beautiful lady...through many layers of window panes, some coloured, some dusty and dirty. Every improvement to your system was like being able to clean some or/and to remove some of the colourations but you will always be looking at a photo through many layers, never to be able see the lady in all her glory.

    Listening to music on any equipment will always be a very flat reproduction of a live musical event, it will never as good as the real thing. Yes, every part of your system and the room where you listen to this system will distort the music, add new harmonies and remove some details..but are we ever tired of looking at photos of beautiful ladies? No.

    I go to live music a couple of times a month...at local coffee shops, a small jazz club, outdoor festivals and at a beautiful church now used as concert venue (the acoustics in this venue are to die for). Sometime it's acoustic music (folk, large swing bands, classical symphonies or bluegrass) and other times electric (rock or jazz). This is my reference point. I experience first hand what a fine instrument sound like, the dynamics in the music in all its glory, I see the interaction between the musicians, etc. I hear what the church acoustic does to the sound or the small coffee shop add to her or his voice.

    I will never experience Miles Davis or The Beatles live but my imagination is good, very good. The better my little stereo system is, the better I can experience these great artists. To sudjectively add colouration to my listening experience is counterproductive but I also know that I will never be able to have the real thing in my livingroom.

    Isn't this what all audiophiles are looking for? To get closer to the live event and to experience it as often as possible?

    Doc Sage
    Last edited by Doc Sage; 11-18-2008 at 07:07 PM.

  15. #15
    Do What? jrhymeammo's Avatar
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    Added color? Of course!
    I listen to music thru many devices people would absolutely despise.
    LOMC cartridge => Direct Drive TT => Step Up Trannie => 16 valves => 2 Way Monitors. Not the most powerful, 3 dimensional, transparent, or resolving system for the money, but it is probably more forgiving than 99% of system I've heard. So I say brush away, my friends.

  16. #16
    Forum Regular pixelthis's Avatar
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    Cool

    Quote Originally Posted by Doc Sage
    I remember years ago someone told me that listening to music on a stereo was like looking at a 2 dimentional photo of a beautiful lady...through many layers of window panes, some coloured, some dusty and dirty. Every improvement to your system was like being able to clean some or/and to remove some of the colourations but you will always be looking at a photo through many layers, never to be able see the lady in all her glory.

    Listening to music on any equipment will always be a very flat reproduction of a live musical event, it will never as good as the real thing. Yes, every part of your system and the room where you listen to this system will distort the music, add new harmonies and remove some details..but are we ever tired of looking at photos of beautiful ladies? No.

    I go to live music a couple of times a month...at local coffee shops, a small jazz club, outdoor festivals and at a beautiful church now used as concert venue (the acoustics in this venue are to die for). Sometime it's acoustic music (folk, large swing bands, classical symphonies or bluegrass) and other times electric (rock or jazz). This is my reference point. I experience first hand what a fine instrument sound like, the dynamics in the music in all its glory, I see the interaction between the musicians, etc. I hear what the church acoustic does to the sound or the small coffee shop add to her or his voice.

    I will never experience Miles Davis or The Beatles live but my imagination is good, very good. The better my little stereo system is, the better I can experience these great artists. To sudjectively add colouration to my listening experience is counterproductive but I also know that I will never be able to have the real thing in my livingroom.

    Isn't this what all audiophiles are looking for? To get closer to the live event and to experience it as often as possible?

    Doc Sage

    Actually, no.
    I have listened to live music quite a bit, and its very enjoyable,
    but I prefer the sound of a properly set up audio system.
    Always have, always will.
    They are two different experiences really, "live" is something different,
    unexpected, and no matter how well planned, a bit of a surprize.
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  17. #17
    I took a headstart... basite's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pixelthis
    HOME LISTENING is usually something I have listened to quite a bit,
    I have an idea of the way it should sound.

    correction:

    you have an idea how it should sound for you

    tastes differ.
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  18. #18
    Audio casualty StevenSurprenant's Avatar
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    Live versus home audio - SS versus tube

    Live versus home audio...

    While it's true that home audio doesn't sound live, it does allow us to hear things that we never can when live. Since most recordings are closely miked, they preserve the micro detail of the instrument or voice. At home, I can hear more of the harmonics and more of the inherent beauty of the sounds of each instrument. I can also hear every breath that performer takes. This is better than live since it puts you right next to the performer. When live, I don't hear these things.

    However, live has is good points too. The dynamics are there in all its glory along with the soundstage when the performance is unamplified.

    For some reason, listening to a recording at live volumes are not as enjoyable at home as they are live, nor, in most cases, would we want to hear it at those volumes.

    The beauty of home listening is that we can listen at lower volumes and still hear all the close miked details that are missing during a live performance.

    Both have their strengths and weaknesses. Most of the time, I prefer home listening when the recording is good.

    SS versus tube...

    I've never owned tube gear, but I am swayed by the promise of harmonically rich presentation and greater soundstaging.

    In real life, I have listened to many tube sets and have heard systems that were warm and syrup and systems that were, in terms as clarity and sharpness, every bit as good as any SS gear. I've heard the 3D soundstage that people speak about, but I've heard that with tubes and SS gear.

    The systems that were warm and surpy had taken it too far and, while mildly pleasant, it detracted from the excitement of the music. On the other hand, SS gear that was overly analytical was too cold in its presentation.

    I've heard gear from both persuations that sit in the middle of these extremes and, to me, they sounded the best.

    I think that which one sounds best is more dependant on your speakers and source than on anything else. Neither one is better, it depends on the application.

    As for soundstaging, I've even heard that in the extreme. One system I listened to had so much separation that while the performers were playing the same music, it almost sounded like each was playing by themselves. The cool thing was that the space between each performer was so well defined that I felt that I could actually walk between them. I didn't like it much, but it was very impressive.

    The very best system I've heard was (I think) the Avalon ($70,000) speakers with Spectral gear (ss). It actually fooled me into thinking someone was in the room with me.

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