Tube or Solid State?

A Comparison of Technologies

So, a friend asked me if I would like to comment on the merits of these two technologies.

At first, I thought
"I would have to be a complete idiot to get dragged into this debate", but then I thought about taking another approach.

I thought I would take a look at the merits & pitfalls i.e. at a VERY HIGH level, so here goes...and please bare with me Happy

First - Let me state up front - the comments below are "general" and do not apply to the very exotic designs in either camp
Second - they are for those people that have no TUBE experience and want to get some idea of the benefits/pitfalls of the two technologies
Last - both tube amps and Solid State amps are capable of producing superb musical fidelity - so what's the issue?

TUBE AMPS - the obvious...
- suck lots of power keeping little glass tubes very HOT!
- they have to warm up before they "sound their best"
- tend to be very heavy due to the output transformers and a power transformers
- can be used as a secondary heat source in winter!
- tubes are fragile - transportation becomes an issue
- tubes have to be replaced periodically - depending on the amp and usage - but generally after around 2500 hours
- When tubes fail while in use, the resulting circuit damage can be expensive to repair - but this often depends on circuit design
- some tube amp designs require regular "maintenance adjustments" (i.e. bias voltage) for optimum sound - about every 6 months

If they are that bad why are they so popular?
- The sound of a tube amp can be tailored to a person's own listening preferences (i.e. within limits), by changing the tubes
- Tubes from the various manufacturers sound different - they can sound bright, mellow, punchy or laid back
- changing tubes to vary the sound (referred to as Rolling Tubes) is a common practice and the resulting difference in sound cannot be emulated electronically
- whereas - components in a solid state amp cannot readily be changed, therefore it always has the same sound
- they are said to produce a "warmer" sound than Solid State - and also deemed much more "musical"
- This tends to be due to simpler circuitry design, reducing the occurrence of circuit induced signal distortions
- there are many new designs available that address many of the challenges of tubes, so be an informed consumer - before you buy!

- can suck lots of power keeping the circuitry warm/hot - there are exceptions - my NAIM uses only 10 watts when not in use!
- Some designs, like
Class A amps, can get almost s hot as a Tube Amp - again - my NAIM amp is an exception and always runs at room temperature - i.e. cool to the touch
- they have to warm up before they sound good - some designs often have a much shorter warm up period
- tend to weigh a lot less than tube amps - well Integrated amps do - power amps not so much and the big MonoBlock-amps often weigh much more

So what's the advantage of Solid State amps?
- They have much lower levels of distortion - i.e. on paper - but you should really trust your ears before deciding on that one!
- they have a tendency to be more dynamic i.e. they have more "punch"
- they have a tendency to be able to produce deeper bass frequencies
- they can be much more powerful, which allows the designers of speakers much more flexibility in their designs
- automated construction techniques can be applied to a large portion of their circuitry, lowering cost - i.e. except for the very exotic designs
- some people consider them to have a "cleaner" more detailed sound
- no tubes to break or replace or adjust!

So - the question - which is best? - Well, music in the ear of the beholder! - YOU have to decide if you like the sound of the Tube over the Solid State, or not.

My "tube journey" started with the purchase of a Tube / Solid State hybrid guitar amp, which you would have to pry out of my cold dead hands - Amazing!

I then purchased a Raysonic SP120 tube amp, which I purchased based on the performance of the guitar amp.
It weighed around 38 pounds and sounded very nice, especially for voice and orchestral
It was lovely to look at, with all it's polished stainless steel and gold fittings and that nice "Glow". - A work of art!
But it got very hot and after replacing a set of tubes at $250/set for the second time, I did the math and went to look at the NAIM

I find the NAIM more dynamic, without sacrificing the smoothness of the tube (note: the tubes I used were pretty bright sounding).
I like the fact that I can leave it powered on 24/365 and not have to worry about the hydro bill

The NAIM doesn't have that warm glow
- in fact it's a pretty boring little amp by comparison
- just sitting there like the black Monolith in 2001 a Space Odyssey
- pumping out wonderful music! Happy

There will always be the two camps
- each has their own listening preferences and reasons for owning the amps they do.
- each one opting to live with the shortcomings of their choices
- both enjoying some superb music fidelity

The friend who asked me to write this, is of the "Tube" fraternity.
He has a nice pair of renovated Heathkit W4 power amps from way back in time
These are a very simple design that works incredibly well and sounds great
He enjoys "Rolling Tubes" to suit the style of music he is listening to at that moment.

You can't do that with solid state!

Of course - there is the emerging
Tube-Solid State hybrid technology - which is probably the best of both worlds, but there are fewer options out there and what is available tends to be towards the exotic (i.e. $$$)