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Best measuring tube pre amp?

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Apr 28, 2021
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I was wondering what the best possible (within reason economically that is) measured performance of a tube preamp would be. I dont think my hearing is all that great for distinguishing higher resolution versus cd standard sound quality, so not only am I not looking for the impossible, but I doubt I would know it from the reasonably possible. I have seen in comments on this site that amplification with valves introduces more artifacts/noise/distortion than using tubes for line level applications. I know this is forbidden territory for a lot of objectivists on the site, but I still wonder about the best possible scenario of mating a highly resolving solid state/digital amp with very low measured distortion mated with some of the best tube driven pre amp for certain music listening. I always enjoyed tubes on acoustic and natural instruments, but obviously they have their draw backs. Anyone if know if there are tube pre amps that actually reach full 16 bit cd resolution or better? Which models if so?
 
Anyone if know if there are tube pre amps that actually reach full 16 bit cd resolution or better? Which models if so?

Not that I know of, but the Freya was pretty low noise to me with high SINAD being the distortion.

If you count CD resolution as noise and not distortion, that’s a pretty good result. I think the value of tubes besides nostalgia is adding the distortion.

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I dont know much about these theories in all honesty, and would like to know more. If you have time would you mind explaining how adding distortion somehow translates to audio value if it is at the cost of resolution?
 
I dont know much about these theories in all honesty, and would like to know more. If you have time would you mind explaining how adding distortion somehow translates to audio value if it is at the cost of resolution?
Most here think it doesn't.
 
To that end, if you want "tube sound", the measurements won't be very good.
 
Anyone if know if there are tube pre amps that actually reach full 16 bit cd resolution or better? Which models if so?

At that point, you have reduced what would typically be referred to as the 'tube sound' below where you have much hope to hear it.

That's also not going to be an inexpensive tube preamp.
 
To that end, if you want "tube sound", the measurements won't be very good.
I think I may have found some information that can explain why distortion from tubes may be more pleasant to some than others and why some people may consider tubes to be an absolute monster in the canals.

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/adhd-and-auditory-processing-disorder#whats-the-link

If some how distortion takes away some of the burden on our brain's audio processing then I can see how tubes would make music much more accessible to people with ADHD. I had been thinking there was a connection for quite a while since seeing a study that indicated ADHD can make distracting background noises harder to deal with when compared to people that do not have ADHD. For most of my life I just assumed that everyone else also had problems with distracting noises etc. lol.
 
I always enjoyed tubes on acoustic and natural instruments .......

A tube preamp of the level of quality you mentioned CANNOT BE DISTINGUISHED FROM A SOLID-STATE PREAMP. Any flaws would be inaudible, or below the threshold of human hearing.
If the enjoyment of acoustic and natural instruments that you mention was noticeable, that means that the preamp to which you listened had audible flaws. They were above the threshold of human hearing.

You are therefore conflating two incompatible ideas.

Jim
 
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I think I may have found some information that can explain why distortion from tubes may be more pleasant to some than others and why some people may consider tubes to be an absolute monster in the canals.

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/adhd-and-auditory-processing-disorder#whats-the-link

If some how distortion takes away some of the burden on our brain's audio processing then I can see how tubes would make music much more accessible to people with ADHD. I had been thinking there was a connection for quite a while since seeing a study that indicated ADHD can make distracting background noises harder to deal with when compared to people that do not have ADHD. For most of my life I just assumed that everyone else also had problems with distracting noises etc. lol.
I have the opposite of ADHD, if that has a name. And tube distortion sounds like crap to me.
 

Best measuring tube pre amp?​

Can I be the first to say that is a bit like asking:

"What is the best performing clown car"?

Or

What is the best transatlantic passenger bi-plane?

Or

What is the best chicory based coffee?


Ignore me - I'm just yelling at clouds :p
 
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Somebody like Atma-Sphere may have a low-distortion tube preamp. Ralph is a member here.
 
I have the opposite of ADHD, if that has a name. And tube distortion sounds like crap to me.
I actually thought of you guys when I read this article. It makes perfect since that if you have extremely good audio processing happening in your brain that you would HATE any artifact - as your brain would be able to fully process this sound and notice such issues with it. However, for someone with diminished audio processing capability happening in the thinky box.. tubes make a lot of sense. I brought this up because often I see the people that have no issues processing audio in the brain trot out their objective measurements and use such in a manner where they are chastising those with poorer ability to process audio. It seems true, that some people do in fact like distortion, and this article I linked lends a little light as to why. Obviously only a fool would turn down double the hearing capabilities that they already have... regardless of well they hear and process sound. No one would ask for shittier hearing and blunted processing ability. I get the angles though... we see these claims made and they are not validated and theres a ton of monetary transactions and investments in putting these products together and marketing them
Can I be the first to say that is a bit like asking:

"What is the best pefroming clown car"?

Or

What is the best transatlantic passenger bi-plane?

Or

What is the best chicory based coffee?


Ignore me - I'm just yelling at clouds :p
LOL, good one. Seriously, though, if we lesser thans ever make it to your orbiting habitat we are gonna fix our audio processing problems in them fancy medical machines u guys gots up there.
 
Sonic Frontiers Line 1, Line 2, and Line 3 likely measure low distortion and noise. That being said, I never saw a comprehensive measurement on any of them. I had a Line 3 for many years, it sounded as good and as quiet as my transistor gear. The problem is they are expensive, with lots of tubes.
 
It seems true, that some people do in fact like distortion, and this article I linked lends a little light as to why.
We have a thread here about that, with listening tests, as a matter of fact.
 
I think you've been reading too many "audiophile" websites. ;)

What are you after? Do you want' "tube sound" (distortion) or clean sound?

A preamp (tube or solid state) shouldn't have any particular sound of it's own, but if it does, it's going to sound different from any other amp and you'll have to listen for yourself to decide if you like the distortion from that particular amp.

It's not hard to make a clean sounding preamp, it's just more expensive. And unless you are using a turntable or microphone it's usually not amplifying anything. 90% (or more) it's attenuating and it's being used as a "control center".

Good tube power amplifiers are harder to build because they require an output transformer, and it's not easy (or cheap )to make high-power transformer with flat frequency response and low distortion.

If you have time would you mind explaining how adding distortion somehow translates to audio value if it is at the cost of resolution?
If someone talks about "resolution" of an amplifier (or any analog audio) they are talking nonsense. Nonsense terminology is super-common in the "audiophile community".

Technically speaking, analog resolution is limited by nose. ...It's the noise on a vinyl record that gives it less resolution than a CD but it's just "noise" and you can't make a direct equivalency to digital resolution. There is no "resolution" measurement for analog. Low resolution analog video looks different from low-resolution digital video... Amir does include something like that in his reviews but if he says "15-bit equivalent resolution", he's saying that you can't hear the "16th bit" (on the quiet-end) because of noise.
 
The problem is they are expensive, with lots of tubes.
They seem to be around $1,500. Honestly, that's not bad.
 
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I think you've been reading too many "audiophile" websites. ;)

What are you after? Do you want' "tube sound" (distortion) or clean sound?

A preamp (tube or solid state) shouldn't have any particular sound of it's own, but if it does, it's going to sound different from any other amp and you'll have to listen for yourself to decide if you like the distortion from that particular amp.

It's not hard to make a clean sounding preamp, it's just more expensive. And unless you are using a turntable or microphone it's usually not amplifying anything. 90% (or more) it's attenuating and it's being used as a "control center".

Good tube power amplifiers are harder to build because they require an output transformer, and it's not easy (or cheap )to make high-power transformer with flat frequency response and low distortion.


If someone talks about "resolution" of an amplifier (or any analog audio) they are talking nonsense. Nonsense terminology is super-common in the "audiophile community".

Technically speaking, analog resolution is limited by nose. ...It's the noise on a vinyl record that gives it less resolution than a CD but it's just "noise" and you can't make a direct equivalency to digital resolution. There is no "resolution" measurement for analog. Low resolution analog video looks different from low-resolution digital video... Amir does include something like that in his reviews but if he says "15-bit equivalent resolution", he's saying that you can't hear the "16th bit" (on the quiet-end) because of noise.
Actually, I am just a layman that doesnt read many audiophile publications. I tend to veer toward Erin's Audio Corner and Audioholics James Larson for that sort of thing, but I am focused on speakers when doing so. I have very little understanding of the electronics and have not read very much about them. I skim reviews for the electronics with hopes of finding some objective information on the piece being looked at, but there is never a hint of measurements and all of the claims are subjective. Im going to try and get a very clean sounding amplifier with lots of power and higher damping factor and see how it fairs with a tube preamp in the chain. Tube amps have pretty poor damping factor and for the pair of speakers that I have craves high wattage and dampening factor for control over the low end of the band. I think the synergy of these 2 aspects may work nice for my broken think-y box.. another alternative would be to get a sub to increase bass response and not worry about the tube gear at all, though the distortion from them may actually be welcome. Thanks for illustrating your point so clearly.
A tube preamp of the level of quality you mentioned CANNOT BE DISTINGUISHED FROM A SOLID-STATE PREAMP. Any flaws would be inaudible, or below the threshold of human hearing.
If the enjoyment of acoustic and natural instruments that you mention was noticeable, that means that the preamp to which you listened had audible flaws. They were above the threshold of human hearing.

You are therefore conflating two incompatible ideas.

Jim
Thanks for this response and taking the time to elucidate the concept so nicely.
 
I actually thought of you guys when I read this article. It makes perfect since that if you have extremely good audio processing happening in your brain that you would HATE any artifact - as your brain would be able to fully process this sound and notice such issues with it. However, for someone with diminished audio processing capability happening in the thinky box.. tubes make a lot of sense.

It’s not as simple as “my ears/brain are better than yours, which is why I don’t like tubes” :). It may work just as well to say “my imagination is better than yours so a bit of noise and distortion allows my brain to do a superior fill while others are too rigid and struggle when the music isn’t presented perfectly…”

This is one reason why some audiophiles like “hyper-real” sounds where you can hear the rosin of the bow of a violin or the singer wetting her lips between stanzas when you cannot hear that in real-life with a live unamplified concert.

I find that for classical music, extreme transparency and precision is great.

However for other mass-media recordings, the “La La Land” soundtrack for example, the multitrack recording sounds artificial with a fully transparent audio system. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are good but not great singers (obviously they are better actors). Listening to this album on a less accurate system is more enjoyable.
 
As for me, if I have to finish the music creation process by introducing distortion, I have no interest supporting those artists.
 
But you are creating your very own sound unique to you.
Keith
 
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