Re: Vacum Tubes was: Made in China

From: James Rogers (
Date: Mon Apr 23 2001 - 16:53:01 MDT

At 03:47 PM 4/23/2001 -0400, John Clark wrote:
> Brian D Williams <> Wrote:
> > As any high end stereophile can tell you, tubes can do things
> > neither transistors nor integrated circuits can do
>So they claim, but test instruments can't detect the wonderful things vacuum
>tubes are supposed to do, I certainly can't hear it, and even those of the
>ear don't do very well in double blind experiments. I think it's a case of
>"this 30 watt
>class A mono tube amplifier cost $5000 so it must sound better than this
>$50 transistor
>amplifier from Radio Shack". But perhaps not.

There is a detectable difference between types of amplifier
components. Specifically, the nature and spectra of the harmonic
distortion varies depending on the type of device. Vacuum tubes have a
more pleasant sounding distortion mode than most transistors. This is what
the audiophiles are generally referring to, because distortion is audible
on crappy or older components.

Where the argument gets stupid in the world of audio, is that most modern
components generate an imperceptible amount of harmonic distortion, so
differences in the theoretical distortion functions are largely irrelevant
to the sound of the device. Contrary to what Brian seems to imply, it is
trivial to add "tube distortion" in the digital domain as the distortion
modes of tubes are well-known. In fact, for real world audio applications
tube distortion *is* frequently added digitally (after recording through
extremely low distortion transistor amps), giving all the harmonics of
crappy tubes without the noise.

The primary problem is that a lot of people believe "tubes sound better
than transistors" without knowing why. If they did know why, they would
also know that a high-quality modern tube amp will effectively sound the
same as a high-quality transistor amp. Some people intentionally use their
amps hard in attempts to get harmonic distortion, but that seems kind of
stupid since it shortens the lifespan of the amp and it is cheap to add
easily controlled distortion with a little DSP in the signal chain.

-James Rogers

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