Been out of the audio world for a while - advice on tube vs solid state

stuartharrison

Novice Member
Hi - big birthday coming up and i have a modest budget for a new system (up to about £1k)

Ive done lots of googling and had lots of items on "about to order" but what ive settled on, and orders, so far are:
Wharfedale Diamond 9.1 (seems like for an old speaker still a bargain at about £100)
Sony PS-LX310BT - im starting back onto the vinyl route and this seems to get very good reviews for the money (£180) and included bluetooth (much of my listening will be on headphones.

This is where i then got really lost. Ive been looking down the route of hybrid tube amps - initially the chinese imports such as Nobsound (I have one of their micro amps in the kitchen) and then started looking at the Blue Aura V40.

This looks very pretty and has a matching turntable and speakers so was about to return all of the above for this but .... then found out that the amp no longer actually matches the speakers or turntable (visually) so am not sure whether to continue down that route for the full package or just the amp.

So my question is this - tube amps all seem to be rates as quite low powered. Is this actually an indication of volume these days ? Ive heard talk of sensitivity rather than anything else. The unit will be in my study so i want something with reasonable but not crazy power. Will a budget tube amp give me this ? Have i bought the wrong speakers for this approach ?? ideally i wanted something that looked good as well as sounding good. i have a big Sony AV Amp downstairs and whilst it sounds great is just a black block
 

Tactman

Member
tubes are great as long as you are ready for some weird buzzing and crackling sound -but, for some it reminds them of vinyl clicks and pops :) don't get me wrong, i have small el84 tube amp but for example it makes weird distorted sound while listening some dynamic piano music (it simply can't handle it), and more often than not you are going to be fed up with those little quirks...thing is, it is very hard to make CHEAP and RELIABLE tube amp, so my advice is to avoid such amps...since you are not planning to buy some upmarket tube amp, i'd look elsewhere...just to be clear, it is not a question of audio snobbism but cold, hard fact in my book...

alternatives are not so lush sounding devices, but you have to make some compromises...
 

ShanePJ

Well-known Member
AVForums Sponsor
My advice is go and experience some units for yourself once things open again. If you've been out for a while, you might find you prefer one sound over another and this would give you an idea of what you are after

As for valve amp's it all about the current even though the wattage is low (valve amps usually output 100% of the current 100% of the time and use a different control mechanism for volume). What you can find is that they can become unstuck with speakers which are difficult to drive (this is where the sensitivity effect happens). As for volume levels, they can still go very loud

I know I tested the Unison Research Simply Italy with my Epos ES22 which are classed as a difficult speaker to drive and they sound was sharp, crisp without any issues of driveability
 

stuartharrison

Novice Member
thanks both - my birthday is just after the UK shops open again and wifey had wanted me to have something to open on the day. I have been worrying that the cheap tube amps (well tube pre-amps in most cases) might not give me quite the sound i had hoped for. Problem is that I dont want a full sized amp in my study really. I might be better looking for a small form-factor solid state. The Denon PMA-60 looks to get decent reviews. Might see if I can find somewhere to have a listen.

The hybrid tube amps are just so darned pretty though :D

From what I have read the wharfedale 9.1 speakers aren't too tricky to drive.
 

ShanePJ

Well-known Member
AVForums Sponsor
Maybe look at something from Cyrus. The Cyrus One and One HD are very well acclaimed. It's more than the speakers can take, but it'll give them the best power they could ever want and will maximise their performance. Whats more, when you upgrade the speaker, you will not need to change the amp as it will still have enough to power the next two upgrades or maybe even more
 

oscroft

Member
I can't say anything about current Chinese tube amps, as I haven't heard any. All I can speak of is my past experience - I had a tube pre-amp once (still have it somewhere), and I've heard a number of other tube amps. And I've always placed a lot of credence in the suggestion that it's very hard to make a good cheap tube amp. Good tubes themselves cost decent money.

Also, beware of fakes. I've seen a teardown of a cheap Chinese tube amp where the tubes were not actually in circuit - they were just there and powered up to look good. You're probably safe with better known brands, but it's worth bearing in mind.

And I've seen some which just use solid-state class D amplification, but with a tube buffer stage stuck in front of it. That might add the "tube sound", but you're not actually getting tube amplification.

But, unless I had big money to spend, I wouldn't go for tubes myself - at entry level prices, you can get far more versatility (and you've got a lot more choice) with solid state amps.
 
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Ugg10

Distinguished Member
Personally i would steer clear of tubes at this level of amp and would stick to a good integrated solid state, for the fLea watt amps (I.e. sub 10w) you need speakers in the 92dB/W/m range which will be very difficult to find in bookshelf format.

For a stereo set up with those speakers and amp I would look no further than the Rega Io, a cracking little amp with a decent phono stage, minimalist style and small.

However I think I would be tempted to split the budget differently and also look at some of the Hifi shops that do bundle deals as they can save quite a bit or look for clearance or ex demo items. Look in Peter Tyson or Sevenoaks as a start.

Here’s a system I would start with for the £1k budget.

I’d put a bit more into the source with the Project T1 BT turntable at £330. This also has a much better cartridge as standard (Ortofon OM5e vs At3600) which can easily be upgraded later with different needles.


Add the Rega Io for £380


And then speakers of your choice as these tend to make the biggest difference in sound.

If you could squeeze the budget a bit then these Kef q350’s would go well with the Rega amp.


or these B grade ones


Others to look out for ex demo etc. are the Dali Oberon 1 or B&W 606 or Mission QX2.

Hope this give you a starting point to work from.

However, if you were to look at turntables without the BT transmitter and add a £50 one from Amazon for headphone use (runs on either the preout or tape loop of the amp) this may open up other options.
 

stuartharrison

Novice Member
i have looked at Rega kit but the io didnt have bluetooth (a big chunk of my day to day music will still be streamed via Google Assistant - not great quality i know).

Im also a big fan of Kef. My living room still has a trusty set of Kef 2005.2 "eggs" - albeit now with a BK subwoofer.

The Cyrus looks like an interesting option but is pushing the budget to its extreme :p
 

stuartharrison

Novice Member
is it wrong to like the Leak Stereo 130 in Walnut ? Am i a victim of style over substance :D

Im kitting out my study with hopefully a retro vibe. And if decent tube amps are out my budget range then whats more retro than a bit of walnut :)
 

Onlythesound

Active Member
I once had a tube amp (EL 34 based , I think) from the Affordable Valve Company. Cost me about £600 and drove a fairly difficult load in the form of Jamo Concert 8s until it eventually blew up about 2 years later! The sound it produced was sublime. A quick look online shows the same chaotic website that I remember. Valve Amplifiers

It was only laziness that stopped me from shipping it back to him for what would have been a reasonable service & repair.
 

stuartharrison

Novice Member
I once had a tube amp (EL 34 based , I think) from the Affordable Valve Company. Cost me about £600 and drove a fairly difficult load in the form of Jamo Concert 8s until it eventually blew up about 2 years later! The sound it produced was sublime. A quick look online shows the same chaotic website that I remember. Valve Amplifiers

It was only laziness that stopped me from shipping it back to him for what would have been a reasonable service & repair.
im a little dubious on a site where the latest headline states "New for 2013" :D
 

noiseboy72

Distinguished Member
IMHO a valve stage in a preamp gives that nice warm sound without needing valve output stages that are generally the unreliable part of the system. The thing about valves is how they handle overload, giving a much softer distortion and compression than solid state - and particularly digital where distortion just sounds horrible. Therefore, using a valve stage before a Class D amplifier should give a great sound without breaking the bank.

The Stereo 130 is a nice amplifier - I still have a Stereo 30 plus somewhere, but it really is style over substance, as there's nothing groundbreaking or innovative in there.

At the sort of budget you are looking at, I would be looking at good, basic amplifiers that just get on with doing a good job without shouting about it. Leave the valves and other goodies for when you have more budget to make your system really special.
 

English Invader

Active Member
I applaud the decision to prioritise the amplifier. It's a component that many audiophiles consider to be less important but it's the one component that can bugger up everything else in the Hi-Fi chain and can even cause permanent damage to other components. You don't want to cheap out here.

At this price point, I would forget about valve amps. A good quality Class A/B or D will do you a lot more good than a Crosley valve amplifier. Expect to pay a couple of grand for a valve related product that will actually do you some good.
 

Onlythesound

Active Member
The Musical Fidelity M2si and 3si are getting a lot of good press at the moment. One of those might suit, pushing your budget a bit though.
 

martimu

Well-known Member
Much as I love valve amps I'd echo the above. Unless you can pick up a decent 2nd hand or ex-demo valve amp to trial (maybe a Croft, Puresound A10, or Icon Audio) for a good price you'll be better off with a decent Rega or something similar.

BTW nothing wrong with a bit of style over substance. If you like the look of the Leak it's (I believe) an Audiolab with tarted-up clothing. So will be a decent amp, but you are just paying a little more for the styling - nothing wrong with it looking good in your living space!
 

Ugg10

Distinguished Member
For info, adding Bluetooth to stream from a phone to an amp is easy, just need a £20-50 receiver to plug into one of the inputs, if you want to splash out the IFI Blue will do the job very well.
 

xmb

Well-known Member
Why not embrace the digital streaming age and look at a Yamaha WXA-50?
Or go all the way and get active speakers, such as the Yamaha NX-N500 paired with the Yamaha Vinyl 500 (about £900 for both).
 

Daniel 70

Standard Member
IMHO a valve stage in a preamp gives that nice warm sound without needing valve output stages that are generally the unreliable part of the system. The thing about valves is how they handle overload, giving a much softer distortion and compression than solid state - and particularly digital where distortion just sounds horrible. Therefore, using a valve stage before a Class D amplifier should give a great sound without breaking the bank.

The Stereo 130 is a nice amplifier - I still have a Stereo 30 plus somewhere, but it really is style over substance, as there's nothing groundbreaking or innovative in there.

At the sort of budget you are looking at, I would be looking at good, basic amplifiers that just get on with doing a good job without shouting about it. Leave the valves and other goodies for when you have more budget to make your system really special.
.. except that any overload is a FAULT condition. That one type of device has a sharp knee and the other a gentle slope is just degrees of badness . To pretend or worse believe that distortion in a piece of mechanical engineering is good is perverse. Any distortion, sound effects , harmonics is the preserve of the artist..not the machine.
 

noiseboy72

Distinguished Member
.. except that any overload is a FAULT condition. That one type of device has a sharp knee and the other a gentle slope is just degrees of badness . To pretend or worse believe that distortion in a piece of mechanical engineering is good is perverse. Any distortion, sound effects , harmonics is the preserve of the artist..not the machine.
Although I don't disagree, we're talking an imperfect world here. Push a system hard and the dynamics start to suffer, with solid state and digital systems often sounding quite harsh. A valve amplifier will add warmth and slightly softened sound which combats the harshness quite nicely.

I get the whole "As the artist intended" argument, but this is just about impossible with video, let alone audio. A neutral system that provides no colouration won't provide an accurate rendition of what was recorded and mixed in the studio - as trust me, the monitoring chain there is anything but neutral! Even 30+ years after their release, the truly horrible Yamaha NS10 still hangs on a popular mixing monitor, as if something sounds good on there, it will sound brilliant on anything half decent! You might be using the £15k Genelecs for recording and a pair of B&W Nautilus for the mastering, but for mixing, you want to hear your music at its worse.

Talking of mastering, the track will be compressed and re-equalised beyond anything like artist would ever have heard. For LPs, this was particularly important to avoid overloading the cutting stylus, but even 24 bit hi res files benefit from process, as a more consistent level is preferable in anything but a silent listening room.

In short, choosing a system that adds a little colouration or that modifies the dynamics is not "wrong" or even frowned upon. It's about providing a sound that draws you in and brings you closer to the spirit and heart of the music 😍
 

Daniel 70

Standard Member
Although I don't disagree, we're talking an imperfect world here. Push a system hard and the dynamics start to suffer, with solid state and digital systems often sounding quite harsh. A valve amplifier will add warmth and slightly softened sound which combats the harshness quite nicely.

I get the whole "As the artist intended" argument, but this is just about impossible with video, let alone audio. A neutral system that provides no colouration won't provide an accurate rendition of what was recorded and mixed in the studio - as trust me, the monitoring chain there is anything but neutral! Even 30+ years after their release, the truly horrible Yamaha NS10 still hangs on a popular mixing monitor, as if something sounds good on there, it will sound brilliant on anything half decent! You might be using the £15k Genelecs for recording and a pair of B&W Nautilus for the mastering, but for mixing, you want to hear your music at its worse.

Talking of mastering, the track will be compressed and re-equalised beyond anything like artist would ever have heard. For LPs, this was particularly important to avoid overloading the cutting stylus, but even 24 bit hi res files benefit from process, as a more consistent level is preferable in anything but a silent listening room.

In short, choosing a system that adds a little colouration or that modifies the dynamics is not "wrong" or even frowned upon. It's about providing a sound that draws you in and brings you closer to the spirit and heart of the music 😍
The product of the "artistic" expression is what the combined skills, attitudes, of the Musicians, the mixing desk, the tonal response of the microphones, the reverberation of the rooms and all the gismos of compression loudness, flanging, echoing etc that are put in at the studio. The artifact.. the vinyl disc or the CD or the Digital Stream is their creative output.
You may like what they do, or detest it.. the overblown warbling of a 1920s hillbilly singer directly driving a cutting stylus ,is not my bag,..but it is someones . The reworking of classical folk music into operatic aria's will leave as many estatic and vomiting.. that's all legitimate artistic licence ..but once the disc has left the manufacturing plant it is the finished article. The machine..the player should render this as accurately as possible.
We are actually now living in the golden age of audio. Perfection in reproduction is available at remarkably low cost. Near perfect at the cost of pennies.
 

oscroft

Member
Perfection in reproduction is available at remarkably low cost.
Perfection in reproduction is still not remotely possible, at any cost. No reproduction of, say, a guitar, can in any way be confused with the real thing if you listen to both together.
 

martimu

Well-known Member
Perfection in reproduction is still not remotely possible, at any cost. No reproduction of, say, a guitar, can in any way be confused with the real thing if you listen to both together.
Exactly. While I understand why people want to try and aim for straight-line type ethos I personally found after years of selling hifi that it was not something I was going to pursue in my personal system anymore. Way too many variables for me. So every time we were at a show demoing kit I kept noting which stuff I just enjoyed most. It was more often than not valve-based systems. Once I switched I've kept the core of my system for far far longer than anything I ever did before.

However, I do very much appreciate how good DSP is getting and I'm also an advocate of speakers and room interaction being the biggest influence on getting good sound. I've heard many so-called starter systems wipe the floor with something more expensive as it just worked better in the environment.

Please don't let anyone put you off listening and trying different bits of kit. Read between the lines, understand why they don't like it. But be aware you might and, in your room, it could actually work really well. The last time I changed something fundamental in my system it was after a house move. Speakers that I'd been more than happy with just didn't work my new room. Had I only heard them in one of the houses I'd have said very different things about them!

Also, it's hard to buy a bad solid-state design, with valve there's only so much that can be done at a lower price point. They are also less straightforward to partner with speakers, valves degrade over time, do go pop occasionally, can be expensive to repair, are often bulky, take time to warm up, and not kid-friendly either.
 

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