WHY do tube preamps sound different than Solid State?

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Naimnut

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My question is sincere and I am honestly trying to learn. Here are some thoughts to help you understand where I am coming from and why I'm asking the question:

1. I've read comments to the effect that "as you approach the state of the art, solid state and tube equipment begins to sound very similar".
2. I've read that tube equipment tends to generate more even-ordered harmonic distortion. Does this mean that distortion in a tube preamp can cause the sound to come across as "richer" and "fatter"?
3. I've read with interest Roger Sanders excellent white paper on tubes vs. solid state, and his comments make sense, for power amps. But what about preamps? Do preamps clip?
4. It seems that several factors greatly influence the sound any preamp - the quality of the power supply (bigger, stiffer and isolated in a separate box seem to be important), the quality of the volume control, the quality of the transformers...Frankly I'm out of my depth here, but some of you might be able to help me understand this better.
5. Some highly rated tube preamps have multiple tubes, and use some in the power supply. Others have very few. How should a person think about this?

Looking forward to retirement I'm thinking of trying a small group of preamps in my system and doing side by side comparisons. My main system is LP12/Ittok/dynavector 17D3/Linn Linto/Naim 82/hicap/Innersound electrostatic amplifier/ESL 63 speakers. I know many parts of this system can be improved, but it sounds wonderful as it is. I just think that a better preamp will "open the window wider" or "clean the glass"...

Candidate preamps on my short list: Audible Illusions (I can borrow a fairly new one from my brother), Teddy Pardo PR1, one of Emmanuel Go's First Sound preamps, a Prima Luna, or a used unit from one of the well known companies - McIntosh, Audio Research, Conrad Johnson

Thanks, in advance, for thoughts anyone would be kind enough to share.

FullRangeMan

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Re: WHY do tube preamps sound different than Solid State?
« Reply #1 on: 17 Feb 2019, 06:45 pm »
Tubes always sound more organic, natural and sport a richer harmonic content than transistors, the second harmonic is very pleased to the human brain.

Naimnut

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Re: WHY do tube preamps sound different than Solid State?
« Reply #2 on: 17 Feb 2019, 07:14 pm »
Mr. FullRangeMan -
What you say seems to be the general consensus around tubes. But help me understand - is the second harmonic of which you speak part of the recording? Or is it generated by the preamp? Or is it a subtle part of the recording that solid state preamps cannot typically reproduce accurately?

FullRangeMan

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Re: WHY do tube preamps sound different than Solid State?
« Reply #3 on: 17 Feb 2019, 07:21 pm »
Mr. FullRangeMan -
What you say seems to be the general consensus around tubes. But help me understand - is the second harmonic of which you speak part of the recording? Or is it generated by the preamp? Or is it a subtle part of the recording that solid state preamps cannot typically reproduce accurately?
The recording have a set of musical harmonic content and the amp translate its own version accorcing tube or SS used to amplify the music signal.

FullRangeMan

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Re: WHY do tube preamps sound different than Solid State?
« Reply #4 on: 17 Feb 2019, 07:34 pm »
5. Some highly rated tube preamps have multiple tubes, and use some in the power supply. Others have very few. How should a person think about this?
I like minimalist approach in audio equips, multiple tubes add a complex circuit schematic that result in a more expensive amp, more heat and expense to retube and dont sound better than a simple few tubes amp, but I sure there is some audiophools will say more tubes is better.

A solid example of minimalist school is Steve Deckert at Decware audio on the other side you have McIntosh.

Elizabeth

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Re: WHY do tube preamps sound different than Solid State?
« Reply #5 on: 17 Feb 2019, 07:58 pm »
I agree the 'typical' high end tube preamp no longer 'sounds like tubes' (used to back in the 'good old days'.  )   
If you want a tube preamp to sound like tubes, you need a classic, and it uses 6SN7 or 6DJ8, and even 12ax7s.. All those new tubes like in ARC etc have almost no 'tube sound'. And you want to be sure to have tube rectifier! in the tube preamp. Plenty of kit tube preamps still use classic circuits.
And what makes a tube sound.. yes your friend second harmonics.. and all the rest to go along..

FullRangeMan

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Re: WHY do tube preamps sound different than Solid State?
« Reply #6 on: 17 Feb 2019, 08:11 pm »
On preamps there is a chinese preamp named Omo preamp sell at defunct Cattylink shop at $1038 that showed two classic sound options Matisse or Marantz with only two small  tubes.

Early B.

Re: WHY do tube preamps sound different than Solid State?
« Reply #7 on: 17 Feb 2019, 09:13 pm »
My question is sincere and I am honestly trying to learn. Here are some thoughts to help you understand where I am coming from and why I'm asking the question:

1. I've read comments to the effect that "as you approach the state of the art, solid state and tube equipment begins to sound very similar".

The concept of, "tube sound" is only relevant at the low and middle end of the hifi spectrum. Good, high end designers can make an amp or preamp sound like whatever they want. 

Tyson

Re: WHY do tube preamps sound different than Solid State?
« Reply #8 on: 17 Feb 2019, 09:19 pm »
It's like asking "Why do movies shot in 4K digital look different that movies shot on 70mm film?"  They might have similar levels of resolution and contrast, etc... but 4K always looks different than film.  Same with tubes and SS.  They might end up with similar levels of overall performance, but they will always sound different because their basic design is different. 

To me, 4K video never looks as pleasing as 70mm film.  And by the same token, SS gear never sounds as pleasing as tube gear.  Others disagree with me, and that's what makes the world a great place - we all have our preferences and half the fun of this hobby is figuring out for ourselves exactly what those preferences are. 

JLM

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Re: WHY do tube preamps sound different than Solid State?
« Reply #9 on: 18 Feb 2019, 12:44 pm »
Harmonics is the key, even (pleasant sounding) order for tubes, odd order for solid state.  But any harmonics take away from fidelity.  Thus tubes versus solid state in low/mid-fi is a matter of attempting to be euphorically entertained (by however you want everything colored) versus a more sterile/accurate (lesser amount of harmonics) sound.  As said above, at the hi-end they sound more alike, so at that point why bother (unless you're a follower of a particular tube designer)?

Note that tubes age, so their sound changes as they wear out. Is your goal to listen to music, or to tubes?

Freo-1

Re: WHY do tube preamps sound different than Solid State?
« Reply #10 on: 18 Feb 2019, 01:01 pm »
This article will explain some of the reasons why tubes sound different from SS:


https://spectrum.ieee.org/consumer-electronics/audiovideo/the-cool-sound-of-tubes


Read the sidebar: distortion under test (Very Interesting)


I've owned a lot of gear over the years, but this tube preamp design is perhaps the best overall preamp (tube or ss) I've come across:
 


 


While better designed gear sounds more similar than not, regardless of what anyone tells you, tube gear does sound different than SS.  Most musicians who play guitar will tell you that their SS emulation amps DO NOT sound like a tube amp.   






OzarkTom

Re: WHY do tube preamps sound different than Solid State?
« Reply #11 on: 18 Feb 2019, 01:06 pm »
  Most musicians who play guitar will tell you that their SS emulation amps DO NOT sound like a tube amp.   

Stevie Ray Vaughn was one of the big ones.

FullRangeMan

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Re: WHY do tube preamps sound different than Solid State?
« Reply #12 on: 18 Feb 2019, 01:55 pm »
Harmonics is the key, even (pleasant sounding) order for tubes, odd order for solid state.  But any harmonics take away from fidelity.  Thus tubes versus solid state in low/mid-fi is a matter of attempting to be euphorically entertained (by however you want everything colored) versus a more sterile/accurate (lesser amount of harmonics) sound.  As said above, at the hi-end they sound more alike, so at that point why bother (unless you're a follower of a particular tube designer)?

Note that tubes age, so their sound changes as they wear out. Is your goal to listen to music, or to tubes?
Is your goal to listen to music, or to tubes?
Its possible listen to music only live with all that ambient noises, home audio dont play a 100% real copy from the live music, nor this is desirable. For my personal taste I prefer a nice tube version from the musical facts. I dont recommend a chase for live music in a home as it will be a frustrating journey.
« Last Edit: 18 Feb 2019, 03:25 pm by FullRangeMan »

OzarkTom

Re: WHY do tube preamps sound different than Solid State?
« Reply #13 on: 18 Feb 2019, 02:38 pm »
Some of the very best recordings were recorded by the tube AKG microphones from the 50's-60's. Those old microphones sell at very high prices today. AKG has brought tube microphones out again because of the high demand.

https://www.akg.com/Tube%20Microphones

FullRangeMan

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Re: WHY do tube preamps sound different than Solid State?
« Reply #14 on: 18 Feb 2019, 03:38 pm »
Also Neumann and Schoeps make great sound quality but are expensive, usually ribbon mikes have good sound.

galyons

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Re: WHY do tube preamps sound different than Solid State?
« Reply #15 on: 18 Feb 2019, 03:41 pm »
Mr. FullRangeMan -
What you say seems to be the general consensus around tubes. But help me understand - is the second harmonic of which you speak part of the recording? Or is it generated by the preamp? Or is it a subtle part of the recording that solid state preamps cannot typically reproduce accurately?

I think there is a bit of confusion or misinformation here.  Please do not confuse harmonics and harmonic distortions.  They are not the same. Harmonics are a natural part of acoustic music.  When a note is played on a musical instrument, more than the basic note, the fundamental, is created.  As an example, on a violin, an "A" above middle C vibrates at 440Hz. This is the “fundamental” or “first harmonic”. The second harmonic vibrates twice as fast (ratio 2:1): 880Hz. This produces the next higher "A" a full octave above the fundamental. The third harmonic will give a ratio of 3:2. This will be an "E" a full octave  plus a fifth above the fundamental. This is basic wave physics.

Harmonic distortion is a different phenomenon.  It is an artifact of the voltage produced in an amplifier.  All AC current is in waves, so wave physics apply.  There are odd and even order distortions. The human ear finds even order distortion pleasant, (musical), but odd order distortion discordant, (not musical).  Solid state devices are switches, therefore they produce switching distortion, as well,  Switching distortion is discordant.  Vacuum tubes are electronic valves, not switches, so most of tube distortion is even ordered.

Cheers,
Geary

FullRangeMan

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Re: WHY do tube preamps sound different than Solid State?
« Reply #16 on: 18 Feb 2019, 04:17 pm »
I think there is a bit of confusion or misinformation here.  Please do not confuse harmonics and harmonic distortions.  They are not the same. Harmonics are a natural part of acoustic music.  When a note is played on a musical instrument, more than the basic note, the fundamental, is created.  As an example, on a violin, an "A" above middle C vibrates at 440Hz. This is the “fundamental” or “first harmonic”. The second harmonic vibrates twice as fast (ratio 2:1): 880Hz. This produces the next higher "A" a full octave above the fundamental. The third harmonic will give a ratio of 3:2. This will be an "E" a full octave  plus a fifth above the fundamental. This is basic wave physics.

Harmonic distortion is a different phenomenon.  It is an artifact of the voltage produced in an amplifier.  All AC current is in waves, so wave physics apply.  There are odd and even order distortions. The human ear finds even order distortion pleasant, (musical), but odd order distortion discordant, (not musical).  Solid state devices are switches, therefore they produce switching distortion, as well,  Switching distortion is discordant.  Vacuum tubes are electronic valves, not switches, so most of tube distortion is even ordered.

Cheers,
Geary
Unfortunately the speaker industry or propably the AES disregard the Fundamental musical distortion freq and named the Fundamental as H1.

rollo

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Re: WHY do tube preamps sound different than Solid State?
« Reply #17 on: 18 Feb 2019, 04:58 pm »
  Simple. Different designs sound different, period. Selecting a preamp either SS or tubed is a SYSTEM choice. Matching a preamp to an amp is key. What amp are you using ? Digital or analog source ?
IMHO the preamp is the heart of the system. I look for accuracy, low distortion without being lean bright or hard sounding. Also like to mix SS and Tubed. meaning a SS Pre and tubed Amp or visa versa. No RULES just preference.
For example the Audible Illusions is dark and warm. A great candidate for a SS amp like Bryston. Lots of classic combos out there to learn about.

charles

Mark Korda

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Re: WHY do tube preamps sound different than Solid State?
« Reply #18 on: 18 Feb 2019, 06:30 pm »
Hi,
     does vacuum tube rectification vs. silicone diodes for rectification have anything to do with the sound?....Mark Korda

FullRangeMan

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Re: WHY do tube preamps sound different than Solid State?
« Reply #19 on: 18 Feb 2019, 06:47 pm »
Hi,
     does vacuum tube rectification vs. silicone diodes for rectification have anything to do with the sound?....Mark Korda
Yes it have, it have its owns differences, inclusive different tube rectifiers have different sound accents.