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

olieb

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Chr1

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Jesus, these valve amps are good/bad threads and the consequent follow up of ketchup/distortion factory tropes get boring.

And go round in circles ad infinitum...

If peeps like tubes, cool. They are not claiming that they are more high fidelity than SS.
So this doesn't make them the work of Satan like some here like to make out.
Can we all just agree that we are allowed to like different things?...

This audio malarkey is a hobby. WTF.
 
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AaronJ

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Thats the kicker....tube amps in guitar land rule despite the Kempers.. Tone junkie guitarists are far worse than audiophiles in chasing that something in their head. It never goes away.. pretty sure your born with it.
Joe
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MattHooper

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I second this. Tube amps have a visceral impact that’s hard to objectively quantify. Listening to a tube amp is an experience in itself. All the rich harmonics are there to be enjoyed. A tube amp’s non-linear response including saturation also aligns with how we perceive sound. I think people are confusing real world with the now heavily quantised, digital representation of it. We’re analog creatures, not digital robots.

Seems we both like our tube amps, though I don't really agree with the general rational presented in the above.

We are always hearing analog from our systems, D to A conversion is part of the process. I also wouldn't agree with what seems to be implied in what you wrote: the idea that sound converted to digital, and digital sources, are necessarily unnatural sounding "because we are analog creatures." That's very similar to the early audiophile claims that digital sounds wrong, bad, sterile based on some naive understandings of how digital and human hearing works. I never found digital sources unmusical or unnatural compared to analog - digital sources, from CDs onward, have been my source for most of my time as an audiophile and I find it musically thrilling.

I'd also disagree I think with the idea that tube amp distortions align more with how we perceive sound. As far as I know, our ears don't add the type of distortion tube amps can add, and in principle the more accurate system, with digital recording/reproduction being the most accurate, would replicate "the real thing" more closely, by not adding distortion.

Now, as it happens I do happen to have my own reasons for preferring what seems to be a bit of added distortion from my tube amps. To me reproduced sound (though the practical-sized systems many of us use) tends to be a bit thin and reductive relative to real voices and instruments. But I don't blame that on digital, but rather all the distortions that build up from the recording point (microphone colorations etc), through production choices/mixing, through general limitations of sound reproduction at the speaker end. So I don't mind goosing things with a touch more body and warmth with my tube amps (which is what I perceive). But again, I don't think there's reason to blame digital per se.
 

Duke

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As far as I know, our ears don't add the type of distortion tube amps can add, and in principle the more accurate system, with digital recording/reproduction being the most accurate, would replicate "the real thing" more closely, by not adding distortion.

Agreed.

My understanding is that the ear/brain system has a "masking" characteristic which which tends to mask low-order harmonic distortion ("tube-like distortion") such that it tends to be significantly less perceptible, whereas even small amounts of high-order harmonic distortion ("solid-state-like distortion") are not "masked" and therefore have a much stronger tendency to be audible and objectionable. The higher the order of the distortion, the less it is masked. My recollection is that, in the course of his research which resulted in the GedLee Metric, Earl Geddes found 25% second harmonic distortion to be "statistically undetectable". His research actually showed a slightly negative correlation between THD and listener preference. In other words, THD is the wrong metric. I'm not saying Earl is a tube amp fan, but after conducting this research he said to me, "now I see why you and your friends like tube amps."

YouTube video cued up to where Earl talks about correlations between metrics and perception:

 

SIY

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low-order harmonic distortion ("tube-like distortion") such that it tends to be significantly less perceptible, whereas even small amounts of high-order harmonic distortion ("solid-state-like distortion") are not "masked" and therefore have a much stronger tendency to be audible and objectionable.
This is often asserted but doesn't actually seem to be true. Good ss amps have very low levels of higher order distortion, and tube amps have piles of it. Here's a couple recent examples off my test bench; the SS amp has more than two orders of magnitude lower 7th and 9th harmonics, for example. Point is, though, human ears are not particularly distortion sensitive.

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Mordecai

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Seems we both like our tube amps, though I don't really agree with the general rational presented in the above.

We are always hearing analog from our systems, D to A conversion is part of the process. I also wouldn't agree with what seems to be implied in what you wrote: the idea that sound converted to digital, and digital sources, are necessarily unnatural sounding "because we are analog creatures." That's very similar to the early audiophile claims that digital sounds wrong, bad, sterile based on some naive understandings of how digital and human hearing works. I never found digital sources unmusical or unnatural compared to analog - digital sources, from CDs onward, have been my source for most of my time as an audiophile and I find it musically thrilling.

I'd also disagree I think with the idea that tube amp distortions align more with how we perceive sound. As far as I know, our ears don't add the type of distortion tube amps can add, and in principle the more accurate system, with digital recording/reproduction being the most accurate, would replicate "the real thing" more closely, by not adding distortion.

Now, as it happens I do happen to have my own reasons for preferring what seems to be a bit of added distortion from my tube amps. To me reproduced sound (though the practical-sized systems many of us use) tends to be a bit thin and reductive relative to real voices and instruments. But I don't blame that on digital, but rather all the distortions that build up from the recording point (microphone colorations etc), through production choices/mixing, through general limitations of sound reproduction at the speaker end. So I don't mind goosing things with a touch more body and warmth with my tube amps (which is what I perceive). But again, I don't think there's reason to blame digital per se.
Yes we both like our tube amps. Nothing beats them when you get lost in a riff. I also definitely prefer them for general listening.
As for digital, I agree with you. I don’t hate digital but I just prefer analog. I probably did not explain it very well. When I say analog sound, it’s what you and I hear when we listen live in say a rock concert. I like digital piano but I would always, always choose to play a grand piano. I like FLAC recordings but I will always prefer to listen to an orchestra playing live. The simple reality is that we need to record these beautiful sounds for consumption later. And recording them in digital format is simply convenient. And as you pointed out, this process is reductive…and an “almost inaudible difference” isn’t the same as no difference. For simple melodies with maybe single to a few instruments, this could be the case and more than enough for a pleasurable listening session. But for complex musical composition with multiple instruments, dynamics, layers, etc. the cumulative “almost inaudible” differences become discernible. Harmonics, standing waves, etc…these little things that do make the sound richer in a live performance are not present enough. We will not recapture these little things that are lost in recordings by using tubes however, they do add some (new) analog details that most of the time are just as pleasurable to my analog ears.

I do not consider myself an audiophile. I appreciate graphs and tech specs. I like Amir’s reviews because he shares his own subjective take that adds context to the sterile graphs and charts. However, I don’t consider the pursuit of “clean” sound as the main goal. I will not pit valves against SS amps, or deny someone’s reality because it doesn’t align with some measurements. I can’t “hear” what 400 Hz sounds like…although I can discern if the guitar is out of tune, or that tempo has changed ~10bpm. I can almost always repeat a tone 5 seconds after it’s played on the piano. To me, the gear that someone should buy should only match his/her ears. Anything more is a waste. If someone can’t hold a tune or cannot discern that Adam Levine is singing on auto-tune, then investing in a 5K USD “audiophile” gear is a waste. It’s more a status, than actual listening.
 

Chr1

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This all pretty much boils down to whether you want simply the highest fidelity or you prefer the what sounds "good to you" option.
Most people here will say that they have to be one and the same.
I actually like to have both a very transparent option and a not so transparent valve option. The problem arises when people start saying one is good and the other is bad. Or one is better than the other.
"Good sound" is subjective.
High fidelity ain't.
 

SIY

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I also definitely prefer them for general listening.
You certainly can (I certainly do) but you need to understand that the actual sound isn't the reason. When you do a controlled comparison, the differences (if there are any- there usually aren't) are simply EQ.

Tube amps are great because of nostalgia. They are certainly outperformed by solid state amps, but in general not audibly so.

To me, the gear that someone should buy should only match his/her ears.

Except that you likely have never actually evaluated with your ears. Your evaluations are ears, eyes, preconceptions, biases, and likely some wishful thinking. Using ears alone, all that wonder stuff you think is real is likely to suddenly not be discernable.
 

Mordecai

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In most cases, just the opposite. Output transformers limit deepest bass.


Except that once you compensate for the higher output impedance (a tweak of EQ), they pretty much do. Unless you peek. The vast majority of nonsense about "tube sound" is from people who have never done a comparison with basic ears-only controls.
deepest bass? Is it just the only visceral thing about music? Man, what works for you works for you. it does not mean it‘d be the same for me.

also the part abt compensating blah blah is as confusing as f**k. It doesn’t make sense. Tube amps are made to sound like tube amps. Plain and simple. And anyone who uses EQ to make valve amp sounds like a SS amp should send their valve amp to me because that’s just sad.
 

dtaylo1066

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I have concluded that my fondness for some tube amps is based on the fact that my brain must find pleasant the second or third order harmonic distortion. I will be soldering up a second harmonic generator and will test it on my Hypex amps, which we know measure superbly.
 

SIY

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also the part abt compensating blah blah is as confusing as f**k. It doesn’t make sense. Tube amps are made to sound like tube amps.
Someone has stuffed your head with a lot of marketing nonsense. But that's how this industry works, sadly enough.

"Sound like tube amps" has exactly ZERO evidentiary support. Just lots of stories. If you actually are an EE as you claim, what I said should not be even vaguely "confusing as f**k." It's a simple voltage divider issue with the source versus load impedance.
 

Mordecai

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You certainly can (I certainly do) but you need to understand that the actual sound isn't the reason. When you do a controlled comparison, the differences (if there are any- there usually aren't) are simply EQ.

Tube amps are great because of nostalgia. They are certainly outperformed by solid state amps, but in general not audibly so.



Except that you likely have never actually evaluated with your ears. Your evaluations are ears, eyes, preconceptions, biases, and likely some wishful thinking. Using ears alone, all that wonder stuff you think is real is likely to suddenly not be discernable.
I don’t know what‘s your obsession of what I need to understand about sound. Dude, I play instruments. I sing. I mix. I’m a classically trained pianist. I took a DSP course as an elective in uni. Listening with headphones connected to a ‘source’ is the least musical thing that I do. Of course I have listened to both valve and solid-state amps but frankly, I didn’t have any need to compare them A/B as I can competently remember how they sound playing them 3 days apart. I can do a blind test and discern a valve sound from solid-state, particularly at high volume. If I can hear someone singing flat and discern how many semitones flat, I don’t think I really need to do an A/B comparison.
 
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SIY

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I don’t know what‘s your obsession of what I need to understand about sound. Dude, I play instruments. I sing. I mix. I’m classically trained pianist. I took a DSP course as a elective in uni.
Good for you.

I didn’t have any need to compare them A/B as I can competently remember how they sound playing them 3 days apart.
I seriously doubt that. And anyone with any experience in sensory testing will likewise doubt that. People make these superhuman claims all the time, but few have enough actual confidence to put themselves to the test. The very few who do have found the experience quite profound.

Try actually running a controlled comparison. Ears only, No peeking. Level-matched. The results may open your mind a bit.
 

Mordecai

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There is a huge difference between a guitar amp - used as part of the creative process, and specifically designed so it can be set up to produce massive amounts of audible distortion...

and an amp designed for audio reproduction - which is usually not.
why not? physics is the same mate for valves whether it’s in a guitar amp or your headphone amp. Sizes vary. Power outputs vary. But physics stay the same. They will distort at high gains. You will get harmonics. This is science.
 

Mordecai

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Good for you.


I seriously doubt that. And anyone with any experience in sensory testing will likewise doubt that. People make these superhuman claims all the time, but few have enough actual confidence to put themselves to the test. The very few who do have found the experience quite profound.

Try actually running a controlled comparison. Ears only, No peeking. Level-matched. The results may open your mind a bit.
You can doubt. it’s not superhuman feat to discern a tube amp from solid-state, again at high gains.

it’s quite funny that you deride a tube amp for being a lot inferior than SS amp and then you argue that the differences are not discernible. make up your mind.
 

Mordecai

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It is with basic controls. Ears only. No peeking. Matched levels.

No controls, no validity to an evaluation.
Ah not scientific enough, hey? never thought listening with headphones should require me to revisit my design of experiments notes. Audiophiles…
 

SIY

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You can doubt. it’s not superhuman feat to discern a tube amp from solid-state, again at high gains.
And yet, you haven't. Nor has anyone else- without peeking.

Ah not scientific enough, hey?
Nope. Science uses controls and evidence, not data-free dubious claims.

Note the name of the forum.
 

Mordecai

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Sure, it's a bit like those people who choose to put ketchup on top of everything.
Or like you say:

Actually it's distortion.
Wow. You guys have all drank the kool aid. It’s like mass hallucination here. Long live solid state amps! It’s hifi therefore it must be good!
 

Mordecai

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And yet, you haven't. Nor has anyone else- without peeking.


Nope. Science uses controls and evidence, not data-free dubious claims.

Note the name of the forum.
my first-hand experience is a dubious claim of what exactly?
i said tube amps distort at high gains. It’s physics.
It produces harmonics. Again, this is physics.
tube amps sound different from solid-state amps. see above.
I LIKE the sound that it produces…a subjective statement.
so which exactly do you wish to apply science?

fyi, a statistically valid experiment requires at least 30 samples, not a sample of one. Also, the “experiments“ I normally see here are the dubious ones. many if not all experiments here made no attempts at all to identify the experimental design or even whether it is a single-factor or not. No consideration given to extraneous variables, or interactions among variables…what variables are held-constant, allowed to vary, etc. No blocking,
no randomization…nothing. It’s oftentimes a sample of one with uncalibrated instruments, often devoid of references to measuring instrument limitations, etc. No stat analysis (which is a bit hard to do with one sample!). So please spare me all the bull. I suggest if you really are too serious abt experiments and all, read Design and Analysis of Experiments (Montgomery). Now, listening to headphones doesn’t need to be all that serious. Music is the one that should be enjoyed, not experiments.
 
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