I was thinking it might be fun to contrast and compare the tubes vs. solid-state debate with the SMSL DAC. I’d readily concede that solid-state/transistor components are, watt for watt, cheaper, more reliable, cooler running, smaller and lighter in weight. But when solid-state is so terrific why haven’t tubes become extinct within the half century since transistors came on the scene? Maybe, just maybe, because tubes sound better?
Tube technology might be a hundred years old, however it still sounds great to a few people. Ultimate AV Magazine recently conducted a poll, “Do You Prefer Tube-Based or Solid-State Audio Gear?,” as well as the results demonstrated a nearly two-to-one preference for transistors over tubes (41 vs. 21 percent). So even among audiophiles, tubes aren’t always favored.
I’ve owned tube and solid-state gear, and I like both for different reasons. Tubes, like analog recordings, use a more full-bodied sound than transistor gear. There’s a “roundness” to tube sound that solid-state gear never equals. Tubes are less forgiving about mismatches, so to get the best away from a tube amp it must be combined with just the right speaker. Solid-state amps are nowhere as fussy about speaker matching.
I might never say tubes are always better-sounding than transistors, or that analog audio is usually better than digital. The excellence of the design, or the recording play their parts. Some naysayers think tubes have higher amounts of distortion, and this some audiophiles like the sound of that distortion. I wouldn’t go that far, but I can’t say that accuracy ought to always be the very best priority for virtually any hi-fi. The goal, I think, would be to make the majority of your music collection sound good. Thing is, most recordings don’t sound good, therefore the most accurate rendition of their sound might be counterproductive.
All musical perception is purely intangible. We can’t put a finger on a musical image and point somebody else to what we’re seeing as we can over a painting, piece of sculpture, a musical score, a book or a photograph.
Because musical images are made entirely in our imaginations, what we should think we are going to hear is often what we should hear. This is why otherwise reasonable people think they hear huge differences in foolish (but high-profit) items like cables or power cords. Even though there is absolutely no real difference, they hear very real differences that simply aren’t there. The differences are very real because listener’s vivid imagination, but no where else. This is why we use double blind tests where neither the subject nor the presenters know what’s being heard once we try to do scientific research, just like the AES research above.
Music is centered on using our imaginations. It is a very good thing and why music is such a strong art. For this reason Mingda Tube Amplifier can recreate the first listening experience. Unlike a TV or movie, close your vision, and you may be seeing and feeling the same things that you simply do inside the concert hall. I close mine and see the performers, see them moving around, breathing, moving valves and keys, turning pages, and after that I begin to see the music itself. You need to concentrate, and when you listen carefully and keep your vision closed, you’ll begin to see the music, too.
If you feel a great, warm glowing tube amplifier will almost certainly sound smooth, liquid and warm, it can! Our imaginations are very prone to suggestion; that’s the complete point of music.
For monitoring accuracy, obviously use solid state, however when you want it to sound ideal for enjoyment, it’s tubes all the way. Use solid state monitor amplifiers when you’re producing music so you can hear exactly what you’re laying down, but when you desire to kick back and also have it sound as good as possible when you’re all done, tubes are it.
Whenever a transistor amplifier alters the sound, it more often than not makes it worse. Each time a tube amplifier modifies the sound, it always helps make the music sound better.
Crummier tube amplifiers may have more of the distortions that make tube amplifiers seem like tube amplifiers. If you want to hear the “tube sound,” get a TubeCube 7 (3 WPC, $180) and you’ll hear how smooth, liquid and warm tubes really sound – however it only puts out enough power for desktop or background use.
To get a greater quality tube amplifier which includes enough power for a lot of home Hi-Fi uses so long as you’re reasonable with playback levels, the Elekit TU-8200 (8 WPC, $699 in kit form) is superb. It self-biases which means you knhcnt must match tubes or tweak it.
For that ultimate, get a classic McIntosh MC225 (25 WPC), MC240 (40 WPC) or MC275 (75 WPC), that are the best-designed tube amplifiers ever made. They excel for their stable designs (no bias adjustments or matched tubes ever needed) and also have extremely low distortion due to their unique design. They have got enough power for anything, and they are unflappable for his or her capability to deliver seemingly limitless low bass response. They are all fifty years old today and you’ll pay at least a couple of thousand dollars used, and once you get yours, you’ll know why people pay such ridiculous prices. They are that good.
Of course the McIntosh, when operating to the original specifications, has such little distortion that it sounds less “tubey” than weaker amplifiers. If you’re playing a McIntosh that hasn’t been serviced in a decade, then it’s probably away from spec or needing new tubes, whereby it can have more distortion and a more “tubey” sound. Here’s where the art will come in: simply how much euphonic distortion would you like?
For most of us with reasonable budgets, choose the Xiangsheng Pre-amplifier. If you want it loud and possess unlimited funds, or prefer to crank the bass without biamplification, get yourself a used McIntosh MC240. The new version of the MC275 is probably pretty good for the rich and unadventurous, but it’s another design compared to classics and that i have not tested it.