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Author Topic: Tubes vs. Transistors
Jeff_H

Posts: 47
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Post Tubes vs. Transistors
on: August 6, 2012, 12:03
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This is a very old debate - WHY do amplifiers made from tubes sound different than amplifiers made from transistors?

Here's an engineering perspective:
Part 1:
https://electronicdesign.com/article/analog-and-mixed-signal/-house-of-fire-firebottles-and-groove-tubes-versus-devices-that-find-their-origins-in-sand-part-1-

Part 2:
https://electronicdesign.com/article/analog-and-mixed-signal/Tubes-Versus-Solid-State-Audio-Amps-The-Last-Word-Or-House-Of-Fire-Part-2-

bear

Posts: 153
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Post Re: Tubes vs. Transistors
on: August 6, 2012, 19:31
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Teemuk's free book on SS guitar amp design is, as far as I can tell, the magnum opus of the field. Yes, free, and here: https://www.ssguitar.com/index.php?topic=711.0

One of his contentions is that if you actually make the SS circuitry behave with similar characteristics to how tube circuits behave, they sound very similar. People just don't do that.

I play SS amps most of the time (ZT Lunchbox and Vox Pathfinder), and I have solid tube stuff at the ready (Boogie Quad pre) but just go for ease most of the time. Good tone is good tone and life becomes simpler when you just grab good tones where you find them rather than chasing too hard for a sound that might not really exist without a lot of extra help.

Jeff_H

Posts: 47
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Post Re: Tubes vs. Transistors
on: August 9, 2012, 08:55
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Hi Bear,

I agree with the statement that if you actually make Solid State behave with characteristics similar to tubes, they would sound similar. Actually, that's what modeling amps do, but they do it digitally rather than through direct circuit implementation.

For me, tubes sound "Bigger". I have a 15watt tube amp, and a 65watt solid-state. The tube amp just seems to get louder and sound bigger - it's all perception, but that's how it feels.

-Jeff

joe
Administrator
Posts: 224
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Post Re: Tubes vs. Transistors
on: August 9, 2012, 09:23
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There are so many "bigness" variables besides the tubes, the speakers and cabinet dispersion prominent among them. The microphone is a great reality check. Make comparison recordings and see whether the tube amp still sounds bigger.

Plus, a 15-watt amp is going to tend to sound "bigger" than a 65-watt in most cases because you'll get more of the "fattening" effect of power amp distortion at normal listening volumes.

Schrodinge-
rsgoldfish

Posts: 105
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Post Re: Tubes vs. Transistors
on: August 9, 2012, 19:01
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I just got a tube amp, and I've been loving it. It's such an improvement over my SS amp, even though the SS has had five decades of technological improvement.

Here's a fun fact, though. My SS cost $100. It was made in the simplest and cheapest way possible. I think more than one person has compared their new, shiny, expensive tube amp to their bottom-of-the-line SS amp, and been wowed. There are some great transistorized amplifiers out there, but they cost a little bit more.

Double D

Posts: 195
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Post Re: Tubes vs. Transistors
on: August 9, 2012, 23:34
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I don't believe there is a 'versus' between any gear. You use what you like and is appropriate for the gig. As has been mentioned often in this blog, sometimes "bad" sounds work better than "good" tones. I've got both solid state and tube amps and use both as it is convenient or appropriate.

Digital-
Larry

Posts: 192
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Post Re: Tubes vs. Transistors
on: August 13, 2012, 17:15
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Far as I know, the Tech21 Sansamp and related products do (to various levels) actually use semiconductors, but in an amp structure/layout similar to a tube amp. One of the things SS amp designers were somewhat keen to get rid of was the output transformer, which if nothing else is heavy.

I don't really trust any listening results that are not done using double-blind.

magnetmons-
ter

Posts: 16
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Post Re: Tubes vs. Transistors
on: February 13, 2013, 06:38
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Tubes VERSUS transistors?! OK, so many of our idols made their name playing through tube amps, but a few also went down the less trod path, most famously Dimebag, who managed to get an awesome tone!

I've used a Peavey rockmaster tube preamp through an old Marshall ss power amp for a good 15 years, and love the tone I get, to each his own, I guess!

mwseniff

Posts: 149
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Post Re: Tubes vs. Transistors
on: February 15, 2013, 08:31
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The Pearce guitar amps built in the 80's/90's were great sounding guitar amps and they had a good rep among many guitarists The were fairly expensive compared to most amps on the market and never got very wide distribution or usage. I serviced a number of them over the years but never had a chance to play one in a band situation just testing in my shop. That is where the rubber hits the road and I have never been satisfied with anything but tubes playing in a band because the real difference is what happens when you run out of amp headroom. Tubes compress the signal and creates pleasing sounding distortion, transistors (and ICs ) tend to be very harsh when the run out of headroom. The main way to avoid this to use a really big pwr amp (200-400 watts or more) I played a system we built back in the early 80's with a Carver PM 1.5T pwr amp and a seperate preamp powering a pair of 18" 3 way spkrs in a thiel designed enclosure. It sounded great in a band situation as long as I didn't overdo the volume and drown out the drummer :-). The thing is with 750 watts per channel it never clipped the amp much (and Carver designed the PM1.5T to clip a little more nicely than many amps) so it sounded very smooth and sweet. The system pretty much filled up a van so it was impractical unless you had a semi and roadies. That setup would have made a lot of doom metal players very happy, it worked great for low tuned guitars as well as basses.

As far as bigger sounding tube amps have always been described that way. A Dynaco ST-70 at 35 watts per channel beat SS amps that were 10 or more times as powerful in listening tests run by many different folk. There are many reasons that this may occur but AFAIK nobody has really ever managed to scientifically define the difference. I believe it is technology and human psycho-acoustics combined that are responsible. I have over the years heard some great sounding SS stuff but that is in hifi where clipping occurs much less than guitar amps. The other thing that we need to consider is the program source and a guitar signal is much different than a stereo mix. A guitar's signal is much more demanding of the pwr amp. A final consideration is the circuits themselves, a tube amp has a far lower parts count than a SS amp and IMHO this complication causes a lot of unintended side effects when the amp is operated outside it's design specs.

NicPic

Posts: 25
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Post Re: Tubes vs. Transistors
on: June 30, 2013, 10:00
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The best SS amp I ever had was a crate 2x12 plus combo that literally scorched...My resisters fried once..I had them replaced and the amp sounded even better..Quilter Amps makes a very convincing solid sate amp..But My heart loves 6L6 and EL84 tubes..I just think tubes respond better to ones touch...

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