X5 Speakers: Tubes vs Solid State (or variations with pre-amps)

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Daryl Zero

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I've been bending Doggie's ear and I'm trying to figure this out. I also had another member over yesterday to listen to the X5s and we chatted about this question as well.

I played garage music in the early 1980s and also did some home recording and a tiny bit of diy small studio recording. I wrote and co-wrote some stuff mainly for friends, some small clubs etc. I like indie and alternative music though I also like most genres when there is really good stuff. I also look for stuff most people don't know about.

So basically, I love creative music and I love to hear the detail in the music. One example people might know is XTC from the 70s through the 90s. They sometimes had two guitarists (Andy Partridge and Dave Gregory) who played intricate and interesting little guitar bits through the music. Right now I'm driving the X5s with a solid state integrated amp and I can hear all the details extremely clearly.

I've watched New Record Day with Clayton Shaw's interview and Ron's commentary about the difference between the Sapphires and the X Series saying that the X Series seems almost too detailed. In the interview, Clayton said that he prefers tubes on the speakers.

Talking to Roger who came over, he mentioned that he likes to put music on as background. I almost never do that. I usually intently listen to music. I think that partially has to do with the fact that I taught myself to play copies of songs, stole some guitar ideas and learned how to write songs by listening carefully. There are a few exceptions, like Pink Floyd that can essentially put me into a trance (and asleep).

So I have no experience with tube equipment but my research is tubes give a richness but sort of fuzz the details which is why the bass is not as tight as on solid state. I see so many posters saying tubes is the way to go but I'm wondering if that has more to do with listening styles and music genre interests.

At the same time, I see that there are combinations that could be done including a tube preamp with a solid state amp or the other way around. If anyone out there uses a combination, I'd like to hear how that works and whether the pre-amp or the amp colors the sound more and whether the combination gives you the best or each or whether there is an integrated that gives you the best of each.

I'm hoping that other posters can share what they prefer and why also including the type of music they listen to and their listening styles (background, relaxation or detailed listening or a combination).  Thanks.

Tyson

I find that people who are musicians (or ex-musicians) that one area that's critical to do well is tone.  IME, tubes preserve tonal information much better than SS amps can.  Some SS amps might seem like they are more detailed but that's mostly because they strip out tonal information.  That leaves you with the impression of more detail, but in fact it's more like looking at an X-ray and not at a full color picture.  So in fact, tube amps are more detailed if you include tonal information. 

SS amps do have more percussive bass, that's true.  However the X5's have a powered bass section using a really powerful SS amp, so not an issue for them.

Best bang for the buck is a good quality integrated amp.  But those aren't that flexible.  I'm a big fan of Cary Audio, I think they have a smooth, beautiful, big, bold sound that goes well with reference level speakers like the X5.

Tangram

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I moved from a big SS integrated (Hegel H300) to a tube preamp (EAR Yoshino 868) and Class A amp (Pass Labs XA30.5). But I have the M3 Sapphires. With a powered sub built-in I may be tempted to go with a tube amp. Opinions on which one will be as plentiful as there are audiophiles. What I would say though is consider the tubes the amp uses: number and type. Not so much because of replacement cost. But if you want to tube roll and the tubes used are a bit esoteric (good example is a lot of the Allnic gear) you could end up frustrated.

I can’t say what I give up with my setup because I’ve never owned a tube amp, just preamps (line stage and phono pre). But give a tube amp serious consideration if you have  a musician’s ear.
« Last Edit: 12 Oct 2021, 02:09 am by Tangram »

geerock

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When I first got my X5's I was using an all in pair of Odyssey monoblocks being fronted by the preamp section of an Anthem mrx710.  I almost immediately wanted to send the X5's back as it was just bad.  Of course they began to break in but were still not great.  I decided to go back to a favorite combo of mine from the past....a tube pre with SS mains.  Considering that I love 6sn7 tubes, I called Don Sachs to make me one of his preamps and a few weeks later it arrived at my door and I had a huge increase in everything.  Soundstage, depth, tonal richness, the works.  I was happy with that until I read about Linear Tube Audio and and their ZOTL designs.  I saw they had a return policy so I ordered the ZOTL 10 to replace the monos.  Another big jump.  I then came across an LTA reference 40 on the used market that had all the factory upgrades and another favorite power tube of mine, the el34's.  And the DS Preamp and Ref 40 are what I'm using to this day.  I also have a Carver Crimson 275 that I modified and that too was a nice combo, but ultimately the LTA had more of everything I was looking for as it seems to have qualities of both SS and tubes.  The modified Carver now powers a set of Klipsh Cornwall IV's in another really nice sounding system.  For me, I have to have tubes in the lineup somewhere.

abomwell

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When I first got my X5's I was using an all in pair of Odyssey monoblocks being fronted by the preamp section of an Anthem mrx710.  I almost immediately wanted to send the X5's back as it was just bad.  Of course they began to break in but were still not great.  I decided to go back to a favorite combo of mine from the past....a tube pre with SS mains.  Considering that I love 6sn7 tubes, I called Don Sachs to make me one of his preamps and a few weeks later it arrived at my door and I had a huge increase in everything.  Soundstage, depth, tonal richness, the works.  I was happy with that until I read about Linear Tube Audio and and their ZOTL designs.  I saw they had a return policy so I ordered the ZOTL 10 to replace the monos.  Another big jump.  I then came across an LTA reference 40 on the used market that had all the factory upgrades and another favorite power tube of mine, the el34's.  And the DS Preamp and Ref 40 are what I'm using to this day.  I also have a Carver Crimson 275 that I modified and that too was a nice combo, but ultimately the LTA had more of everything I was looking for as it seems to have qualities of both SS and tubes.  The modified Carver now powers a set of Klipsh Cornwall IV's in another really nice sounding system.  For me, I have to have tubes in the lineup somewhere.

Geerock, was the LTA Reference 40 a significant improvement over the ZOTL10? 

geerock

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Oh yeah...at least for me.  The 10 is really a killer piece for the money and gives you a taste of the David Berning design.  But the ZOTL40 Reference + has more clarity, realism, precise imaging, and has 3D soundstage in spades.  Those Mullard el34 tubes are just so lush sounding it is a joy to listen to this amp.  There is no analyzing the music...just relaxing enjoyment.
Both amps are fast, fluid and do an excellent job of reproducing the pace and punch of the music. But the 40 has more of everything...black background, high clarity, accuracy, realism, and dynamics.   I cant tell you the amount of times I've had the performers in the room with me.  I'm not sure I would pay for the difference for the two under normal circumstances but this 3 month used 40 with all the upgrades was a fantastic buy on the used market and was close enough that I went to pick it up and listen to it before I took it home.  Plus I added some great NOS tubes in place of the stock 12au and 12ax7's.  No shipping and worrying about if I was buying damaged goods.

abomwell

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Thanks, that's very helpful. Something to look forward to buying if a used once pops up at some point.

Daryl Zero

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Poster Doggie also made that same choice between the Z10 and 40.

Daryl Zero

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I cant tell you the amount of times I've had the performers in the room with me.  I'm not sure I would pay for the difference for the two under normal circumstances but this 3 month used 40 with all the upgrades was a fantastic buy on the used market and was close enough that I went to pick it up and listen to it before I took it home.  Plus I added some great NOS tubes in place of the stock 12au and 12ax7's.  No shipping and worrying about if I was buying damaged goods.

Maybe if you were able to get those performers to pay rent while they're in your room, that would make up the difference in price.

geerock

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Maybe if you were able to get those performers to pay rent while they're in your room, that would make up the difference in price.
Pay rent?  Some of them were drinking my booze, and had tip jars in front of them.  Larry Carlton even took my favorite chair!
😀

doggie

Poster Doggie also made that same choice between the Z10 and 40.

Close! I chose the LTA Ultralinear Integrated over the Z10 Integrated.

Daryl Zero

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Close! I chose the LTA Ultralinear Integrated over the Z10 Integrated.

Aah. I thought it was the 40 but I also saw the Ultralinear. What's the difference between the 2? They are the same price.

morganc

The 40 is a bit warmer in the midrange.  As the spatials are so neutral I personally prefer a touch of warmth.

On a different note….The Don Sachs pre for me is a divine pairing with the Spatials……

doggie

The 40 is a bit warmer in the midrange.  As the spatials are so neutral I personally prefer a touch of warmth.

On a different note….The Don Sachs pre for me is a divine pairing with the Spatials……

Good to know. I founds that moving to a Lampizator tubed DAC did that for me. The Ultralinear is pretty neutral with a very refined and open sound. The Baltic 3 DAC adds the "special sauce" that let me just engage with the music. Trying different tubes can give me room to dial in the sound to meet my own tastes. This is also true of the LTA amps also. They respond well to tube rolling.

bbybaudio

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Play using EL34s or KT150s. KT150s are overall fuller sounding. However for triode listening, prefer the EL34s. Waiting for my DS Valhalla.

Daryl Zero

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Anybody try the PS Audio BHK Signature Hybrid Preamp with these speakers?

Downtheline

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Anybody try the PS Audio BHK Signature Hybrid Preamp with these speakers?

Yeah I have the bhk pre. Tried a benchmark LA4 also recently, went back to the bhk. Running an F8 by first watt for amp.

Daryl Zero

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Any details you can provide on your opinion on how it sounds/works out for you? How does the preamp go with the First Watt F8? Your experiences? What speakers you have and size room?

Enquiring minds and all that.

Downtheline

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I have the x5s, a large room, I listen near field. I feel have to use a sub - rythmik f15. Dac is holo may KTE.

So far I really like the pairing. Was looking for more mid range warmth, and I found it. Prior amps were the schiit aegir monos and benchmark ahb2 before that.