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Why people still use tube amps when there are plenty of tubes already used in the making of music

fin

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I saw a very expensive headphone amp looks like this recently and I don't get why people love tube amps so much.

DSC03510-2.jpg



Popular opinion is they added unique "tube sound" or some harmonic/intermodulation distortion in the music so there's more "warmth" in the sound and also sometimes because they change of frequency response. But actually there are just tons of this "tube effect" already added in the chain of audio engineering, so the "warmth" and "richness" are already there in the music, regardless of whether you are using a tube amp or not.

Take the chain in a friend's studio as example, starting from the microphone. they use tube mics like Neumann M149, AKG C12, etc.. which added some tube flavor so human voice or instruments already pass in processed from tubes. For FET mics like Neumann U87, mic preamps and channel strips like Avalon design VT-737 and some SPL tube preamps with basic EQ will take the responsibility to add tube sound. You can basically add some of these effects and overdrive with a very cheap presonus TubePre without using priced gears.

In the mixing some tracks will be sent to analog gears for processing like Teletronix LA-2A tube compressor which is very widely used, so again, tubes. There are also tons of tube simulation in the plugin as well, preamps, compressors, limitors, EQs, many can contain some emulated tube effects.
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You can manually add tube effects with plugins like Fabfilter Saturn. Just choose whatever tube you want to add and how much in the software:
saturn-2-screenshot.jpg


Let's say you've finished making your music and in the mastering, you may use some mastering EQ like Manley Massive Passive Mastering like this and guess what, tube.
manley_massive_passive_carousel_1_1.jpg

So why simply add another tube amp in the playback make the sound "warm, rich, analog" and without the tube amp it's suddenly "cold, harsh, thin and digital"? There are like numerous tubes in the music making chain so many "Tube flavors" are already there from the beginning, if musicians and audio engineers cosider use them produce better sound. Most of the time transparent playback system is the best to show music's original intension and no new layers of "tube effects" needed.
 
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kemmler3D

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I tend to agree, the music is finished when the master is done. It's not the listener's job to keep working on the mix, any more than it's the diner's job to finish cooking the meal.

That said, lots of people don't care who does what as long as they like the sound. Fair enough.

Either way, tube amps are still a bit of a head-scratcher, since the same plugins you mentioned here can be used at home to spice up the sound... often for free.
 
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fin

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I would argue there is no "tube sound" if the tube gear is well designed. To me tubes are like LP's..
fun and interesting and they can sound fine but due to many psycological factors people attach "magic" to them.
I agree that when designed properly and not driven too hard, it's actually much more difficult than audiophiles claim to discern the "tube sound". Perhaps some people prefer a more obvious effect in playback, whereas most artists would consider these levels of distortion as detracting from the details. It's like having salt and pepper on the table, allowing people to add them according to their own preference, and better be free and customizable.
 

DVDdoug

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I don't really understand them in production either. Nobody can listen to CD and tell what kind of equipment was used and nobody is going to say you used the wrong preamp or the wrong microphone.

Most tube preamps aren't driven into distortion (at least not routinely) and microphones vary a lot with or without tubes. Some people do want to use the same microphone Frank Sinatra used, etc. If somebody wins a Grammy, everybody want's to copy the setup.

Production is a lot different from high-fidelity. With high-fidelity you want "high accuracy" reproduction whereas with production you are often trying to alter the sound.

There is a fair amount of nonsense in the pro audio world and most recording, mixing, and mastering engineers (or producers), don't have traditional engineering degrees with the associated science & math, etc. But the pro world isn't as crazy as the audiophile community. You don't see pros using super-expensive cables or things like that.

Guitar amps are a special case because guitar players tend to like the way a tube amps sound when overdriven. They also tend to prefer a particular tube amp with their particular favorite guitar. I'm not convinced that a solid-state amp can't sound the same, or that they would even prefer the tube amp in a blind listening test.

If a tube amp does have a particular "tube sound" it will sound different from any other tube amp. As far as I know, McIntosh was never known for "tube sound", just high-fidelity.

Jim Lill has several interesting videos about the "tone" of electric guitars and guitar amps. He's curious and open-minded and he does lots of experiments. Recently he made one about microphones.
 

MattHooper

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I saw a very expensive headphone amp looks like this recently and I don't get why people love tube amps so much.

Well, first of all, look at that amp. C'mon. It's really cool! Tube amps come in all sorts of designs, far more varied and IMO interesting than yet another boring, square-boxy solid state amp.

And the tubes glow! That's an aesthetic plus! :)



So why simply add another tube amp in the playback make the sound "warm, rich, analog" and without the tube amp it's suddenly "cold, harsh, thin and digital"? There are like numerous tubes in the music making chain so many "Tube flavors" are already there from the beginning, if musicians and audio engineers cosider use them produce better sound. Most of the time transparent playback system is the best to show music's original intension and no new layers of "tube effects" needed.

Well, I can explain why I use tube amps, which speaks to your argument.

First, lets acknowledge all the caveats given this forum's remit: A tube amp doesn't sound different from solid state just because it's a tube amp. They can sound the same. And with sighted bias, people can be imagining things with tube amps, as with any gear. (FWIW: I could identify my tube preamp vs a solid state preamp in blind testing, though I've never blind tested my tube monoblock amps against another amp).

That said, it seems to actually address your argument we would, for sake of argument, grant that tube amps could alter the sound in an audiophile's system. And with that assumed for the sake of argument: "why would you want to do that?"

So for the sake of addressing your specific concern, and with all the caveats above FWIW, here's how I see things as a tube amp kinda guy...

I look to live sound for some of the characteristics I seek in a hi end audio system. Voices, sax, trumpet, woodwinds, acoustic guitar, you name it. But I find sound through most systems sounds artificially "tight" and "squeezed" and "harder" sounding and more "spikey" in the top end. It just sounds more mechanical, and instruments sound "reductive" - lacking in richness and body compared to the real thing. I'm talking about in neutral systems as well. I blame the concatenation of artifacts or colorations, and what is also "left behind" in the process of recording through reproduction in most average sized stereo systems.

One audio manufacturer puts it "Live, unamplified music has unmistakable presence and clarity. Yet, at the same time it also sounds relaxed and warm." That captures very well the essential character I tend to hear on live music. Whether or not others here live sources that way; that's how I hear it. So I'm trying to satisfy my own impressions. And I find my tube amplification subtely nudges the sound in that direction. When compared to either solid state amps or preamplification in my system (I also use solid state), the sound gets a little richer, warmer, rounder, thicker with the tube gear. A voice will sound less artificial, more natural and dense and human. And at least my tube amps seem to do a neat trick: they add a bit of "texture" and slight forwardness to the sound that makes instruments pop out of the mix a little more and feel more present, and cymbals can take on a bit more pop out sparkle. And yet at the same time the effect is not added brightess, but actually more "relaxed" and easy on the ears.

In fact I was just listening to a jazz piece with some piano and as the piano was doing some runs spanning the keys, some of the keys were jutting out bothering my ears a bit while using my Benchmark solid state preamp. I can switch instantly to my CJ tube preamp in the chain with the press of my remote, and I did so...and everything took a step forward in vividness, the cymbals, the piano, and yet it simultaneously got more "relaxed" and easy to listen to - those piano higher notes didn't bother my ears any more. For me the character of "sounding more vivid and more there" yet not at the expense of brighter or irritating sound, is a sort of magical kinda trick that I never get tired of.

Finally, there is the issue many raise "Well IF tube amps were adding any audible coloration, then maybe it could sound pleasing on some recordings, but you wouldn't want it mucking up actual GOOD recordings, you'd want to just have a neutral chain." And I don't find that to be the case. The tube amps just do their nice thing on any recording, including the best audiophile recordings. They too will gain a bit more body and presense like anything else.

So, that's my subjective impressions and why I enjoy using tube amps.

Cheers.
 
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fin

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Well, first of all, look at that amp. C'mon. It's really cool! Tube amps come in all sorts of designs, far more varied and IMO interesting than yet another boring, square-boxy solid state amp.

And the tubes glow! That's an aesthetic plus! :)






Well, I can explain why I use tube amps, which speaks to your argument.

First, lets acknowledge all the caveats given this forum's remit: A tube amp doesn't sound different from solid state just because it's a tube amp. They can sound the same. And with sighted bias, people can be imagining things with tube amps, as with any gear. (FWIW: I could identify my tube preamp vs a solid state preamp in blind testing, though I've never blind tested my tube monoblock amps against another amp).

That said, it seems to actually address your argument we would, for sake of argument, grant that tube amps could alter the sound in an audiophile's system. And with that assumed for the sake of argument: "why would you want to do that?"

So for the sake of addressing your specific concern, and with all the caveats above FWIW, here's how I see things as a tube amp kinda guy...

I look to live sound for some of the characteristics I seek in a hi end audio system. Voices, sax, trumpet, woodwinds, acoustic guitar, you name it. But I find sound through most systems sounds artificially "tight" and "squeezed" and "harder" sounding and more "spikey" in the top end. It just sounds more mechanical, and instruments sound "reductive" - lacking in richness and body compared to the real thing. I'm talking about in neutral systems as well. I blame the concatenation of artifacts or colorations, and what is also "left behind" in the process of recording through reproduction in most average sized stereo systems.

One audio manufacturer puts it "Live, unamplified music has unmistakable presence and clarity. Yet, at the same time it also sounds relaxed and warm." That captures very well the essential character I tend to hear on live music. Whether or not others here live sources that way; that's how I hear it. So I'm trying to satisfy my own impressions. And I find my tube amplification subtely nudges the sound in that direction. When compared to either solid state amps or preamplification in my system (I also use solid state), the sound gets a little richer, warmer, rounder, thicker with the tube gear. A voice will sound less artificial, more natural and dense and human. And at least my tube amps seem to do a neat trick: they add a bit of "texture" and slight forwardness to the sound that makes instruments pop out of the mix a little more and feel more present, and cymbals can take on a bit more pop out sparkle. And yet at the same time the effect is not added brightess, but actually more "relaxed" and easy on the ears.

In fact I was just listening to a jazz piece with some piano and as the piano was doing some runs spanning the keys, some of the keys were jutting out bothering my ears a bit while using my Benchmark solid state preamp. I can switch instantly to my CJ tube preamp in the chain with the press of my remote, and I did so...and everything took a step forward in vividness, the cymbals, the piano, and yet it simultaneously got more "relaxed" and easy to listen to - those piano higher notes didn't bother my ears any more. For me the character of "sounding more vivid and more there" yet not at the expense of brighter or irritating sound, is a sort of magical kinda trick that I never get tired of.

Finally, there is the issue many raise "Well IF tube amps were adding any audible coloration, then maybe it could sound pleasing on some recordings, but you wouldn't want it mucking up actual GOOD recordings, you'd want to just have a neutral chain." And I don't find that to be the case. The tube amps just do their nice thing on any recording, including the best audiophile recordings. They too will gain a bit more body and presense like anything else.

So, that's my subjective impressions and why I enjoy using tube amps.

Cheers.
Thanks for the detailed subjective impressions. I've heard many claimed tube amps sound somehow better with adjectives like you listed but the question in the op post is that these features/signitures are already added in the music file itself so you shouldn't worry when using transparent solid states. Look like this chains:
Human voice/instruments->tube mic->tube preamp->tube compressor->tube channel strip->tube mastering EQ->music files->playback software->DAC->tube amp->transducer
The question is why in the playback system, the tube amp is so different, that even using a transparent solid state amp will seemingly wipe out all advantages from previous tube chain? These "texture" and "forwardness" should be already contained in your music and if not, they are not intended.
 

MattHooper

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Thanks for the detailed subjective impressions. I've heard many claimed tube amps sound somehow better with adjectives like you listed but the question in the op post is that these features/signitures are already added in the music file itself so you shouldn't worry when using transparent solid states. Look like this chains:
Human voice/instruments->tube mic->tube preamp->tube compressor->tube channel strip->tube mastering EQ->music files->playback software->DAC->tube amp->transducer
The question is why in the playback system, the tube amp is so different, that even using a transparent solid state amp will seemingly wipe out all advantages from previous tube chain? These "texture" and "forwardness" should be already contained in your music and if not, they are not intended.

Fair question. And I don't think using a solid state amp "wipes out" the tube effects that may have been used for the recording. And I've heard incredibly vivid sound with plenty of systems using solid state. We are talking subtle sonic differences (if anything). But while the richness obviously varies among recordings, I still find the sound coming out of most stereo systems to sound mechanical. I suppose it's like adding anything at the reproduction end of the chain. Like, I can also get some similar effects by playing with my room reflections, depending on where I pull my curtains along the sidewall reflection points, or adding diffusion. That too can open up the sound and add some of that presence and texture, even though a recording may have used tubes somewhere in the chain (or not), it changes the sound. I get a similar effect from vinyl vs my digital source. So long as you are doing something audibly different with the sound, it's going to add to whatever was done in the recording, and may be pleasant or desirable to some.
 

Blumlein 88

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Thanks for the detailed subjective impressions. I've heard many claimed tube amps sound somehow better with adjectives like you listed but the question in the op post is that these features/signitures are already added in the music file itself so you shouldn't worry when using transparent solid states. Look like this chains:
Human voice/instruments->tube mic->tube preamp->tube compressor->tube channel strip->tube mastering EQ->music files->playback software->DAC->tube amp->transducer
The question is why in the playback system, the tube amp is so different, that even using a transparent solid state amp will seemingly wipe out all advantages from previous tube chain? These "texture" and "forwardness" should be already contained in your music and if not, they are not intended.
I've done a test where an audibly different triode amp was loaded with a non-speaker load, then tapped and fed into a good SS amp. Every bit of that triode texture is transmitted by the SS amp. Nothing is lost. The tube sound when it is real is a coloration. A good SS amp will pass that coloration onward.

However, tube preamps and tube amps are two different animals. Tube preamps don't really have that much sound if any. Now a preamp with some 12ax7s or 12at7s if transformer coupled and loaded down appropriately could be a mini tube amp for injecting that sound. Basically just make a little push pull triode amp of about 1 watt.
 
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fin

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Fair question. And I don't think using a solid state amp "wipes out" the tube effects that may have been used for the recording. And I've heard incredibly vivid sound with plenty of systems using solid state. We are talking subtle sonic differences (if anything). But while the richness obviously varies among recordings, I still find the sound coming out of most stereo systems to sound mechanical. I suppose it's like adding anything at the reproduction end of the chain. Like, I can also get some similar effects by playing with my room reflections, depending on where I pull my curtains along the sidewall reflection points, or adding diffusion. That too can open up the sound and add some of that presence and texture, even though a recording may have used tubes somewhere in the chain (or not), it changes the sound. I get a similar effect from vinyl vs my digital source. So long as you are doing something audibly different with the sound, it's going to add to whatever was done in the recording, and may be pleasant or desirable to some.
Maybe because you add tube effects at the end of your chain, which can further amplify and make these effects more pronounced. The tube effect in the original music might seems too mild for your taste. In that case, I still suggest using VSTs like the Fabfilter Saturn, which offers customizable tube effects. Many people use these in recording anyway; it's the analogy of salt and pepper on dining table that some may need more or less tube sound to suit their taste.
 
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fin

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I've done a test where an audibly different triode amp was loaded with a non-speaker load, then tapped and fed into a good SS amp. Every bit of that triode texture is transmitted by the SS amp. Nothing is lost. The tube sound when it is real is a coloration. A good SS amp will pass that coloration onward.
Yeah that's also the point in the original post which is using transparent SS amp will still keep all "tube effects" from previous analog gears encryped in the production phase if music is properly recorded and mastered.

However, tube preamps and tube amps are two different animals. Tube preamps don't really have that much sound if any. Now a preamp with some 12ax7s or 12at7s if transformer coupled and loaded down appropriately could be a mini tube amp for injecting that sound. Basically just make a little push pull triode amp of about 1 watt.
It seems some people just need more amount of these distortions or so than artists intended, so another layer of tube were introduced to further pronounce these signitures in playback chain as they tend to distort more. In that case VSTs can help further alter the sound without actually change tubes and circuits.
 

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I saw Dickey Betts' Let's Get Together album tour (~2002) with my elbows on the stage, a few feet from Dickey and Dangerous Dan Toler on guitars. This was a first-hand lesson in what tube-crunch really is. The stage Marshall amps were glowing and shaking as they were musically over-driven by these seasoned pros. My solid-state system reproduces this guitar tube-crunch just fine. It is in the recording, on the album, where it belongs. It is not something that needs to be added by the playback system. :cool:
 

MattHooper

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Maybe because you add tube effects at the end of your chain, which can further amplify and make these effects more pronounced. The tube effect in the original music might seems too mild for your taste. In that case, I still suggest using VSTs like the Fabfilter Saturn, which offers customizable tube effects. Many people use these in recording anyway; it's the analogy of salt and pepper on dining table that some may need more or less tube sound to suit their taste.

I work in sound actually (pro tools, film sound post production), and use tons of plug ins, so I'm very used to manipulating sound.

Many here have made your suggestion but it's highly unlikely an audiophile inclined towards tubes would adopt it. First, such VSTs/plug-ins are typically used for professional work integrated in to DAWs. Nobody that I know of has made a tube emulator plug in for easy integration in to a typical stereo system.

Also, even a plug in may not emulate precisely what someone likes in their particular tube amp.

Finally, your suggestion misses a big part of the appeal which, as mentioned earlier, is the physical tube amps themselves. Many find them quite pleasing both conceptually and aesthetically, as I do. They look beautiful when they are on glowing, and there's a satisfying "connection to audio history" in using such older style gear. That's part of the fun. It would be like saying "hey, you don't need a turntable or records, just get a VST to add surface noise and crackle to your digital music." :)
 

Justdafactsmaam

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I tend to agree, the music is finished when the master is done. It's not the listener's job to keep working on the mix, any more than it's the diner's job to finish cooking the meal.

That said, lots of people don't care who does what as long as they like the sound. Fair enough.

Either way, tube amps are still a bit of a head-scratcher, since the same plugins you mentioned here can be used at home to spice up the sound... often for free.
That’s exactly what I do. The ones I have aren’t free but they are very inexpensive, accomplish everything actual physical tube gear does, allows for more precise control of the effect AND they have bypass switches and off switches.

They don’t look as cool though. There is a lot of cool looking tube gear. It’s awesome audio porn. Like real porn, it can be fun to look at but you don’t marry it.
 

Platypus20

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With the internet, today maybe I could have kept the Conrad-Johnson tube amps, I had up and running. In the mid 80s, the only tubes I could get were from the local electronic stores, you got what you got. With new tubes it was great for 3-4 months then the tube issues would start. Buying better quality tubes is easier today, not cheaper, but easier, many vendors on the net. I replaced them with a Conrad-Johnson solid state unit, that 25-30 yrs later, l’m still using. Never did they sounded any different.
 
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Waxx

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Tube power amps are not only about the harmonic distortion, but also about the low damping factor that enchanges the bass and reduce the treble, it's also about the random factor that gives an impression of realness to the music, while plugings that give harmonic distortion, don't have that randomness, they follow a agloritme in best case.

Tube preamps are only about hte harmonic distortion and randomness of it, not about the damping factor and have a less profound effect and are easier to emulate with vst's or so.

And yes, it's an effect, one that some like and some don't, and it's an distortion of the signal so less hifi in the classical sense of the word as clean neutral amps. But for me it's about the enjoyment of music, not about perfect graphs, and a good tube amp can help with that in my case. That is why i have one (next to other clean amps).
 
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