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Tube Pre vs tube amp


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I keep hearing that horns and tubes go very well together.

I want to caviot this post with the thought that I'm only concerned with 2 channel stereo systems here. Guitar amps are another matter.

To me it makes sense to get a tube preamp with preouts hooked to a solid state amp. After all, isn't an amp supposed to be transparent while increasing the available power for the speakers? I'm under the impression that a solid state amp would be better suited for this. Don't they typically provide more power, with a higher SNR vs tube amps? I would think solid state amps do a better job of reproducing the sound coming from the preamp, (whether tube or solid state itself) without addig their own...flavor to it. So if a person wanted that tube sound, a tube preamp with a solid state amp would be the way to go?

However I keep seeing tube amps and I'm wondering what the advantage is?

Anybody have some experience they can share?

Thanks

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Lance:

I understand your thinking. Audio really seems to be one of those fields where one can speculate and ponder a huge variety of possible combinations that 'on paper' should make sense. I've found over the years that really good synergy between components is something that can sometimes be hard to predict, but is obvious when it happens. Component specifications and response measurements can be grossly misleading. In my own experience, paying attention to impedance relationships between stages: (source output to pre input -- pre output to amp input -- amp output to loudspeaker load, etc.) has been helpful. Those are among the more obvious elements one might consider, but those same relationships exist within individual components, themselves, and can in part be responsible for the strength of one design over another.

In other words, the design of the circuit in question rather than only the amplification device used (e.g. transistor or vacuum tube) may be a significant part of the equation. As of right now, I'm using a small solid state preamplifier that was remarkably less expensive than some tube-based preamps I have bought, built, or borrowed, and it's performance has been, as far as the actual circuit, at least equal to and often better than any of them. There is a downside to it, however: the quality of the volume pot is really rather poor in terms of tracking between left and right channels at lower rotations. For the time being, I'm accepting that compromise and making necessary balance adjustments. Turned up higher, balance is fine.

I often wonder what I would do if I suddenly 'arrived' at system perfection. The search would end.................and, very probably, also much of the fun. ;)

Erik

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I have 5 different power amps- 4 SS and 1 tube(under repair) . I have 3 preamps-2 SS 1 tube. If your question is fousued on the pre amp I can answer it very easily. You can make your selection a lengthy process of reading specs, graphs, and techincal jargon or you can do things the easy way. Buy a Peach. I have rolled amps and preamps until I can hardly remember everything that I have heard . I find merit in both SS and tube power amps . The preamp part is easy. The Peach will be the end of your preamp search. Upgrade proof component. You may find a few dissenting opinions on this forum but not many. Works great with tubes or SS. . I am using a Mac 2105 -SS-with a Peach II (tube)and it sounds so good that I am not even worrying about how long it is taking to fix my tube amp.

Now for the bad news. Peach preamps are no longer made. You may be able to find one here or on audiogon if you are patient or lucky. They sell instantly.

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I haven't even begun to think about brands yet.

I'm just trying to get an idea if it's better to go with tube amps or a tube preamp. To me it doesn't seem like amps should change the sound of whatever is coming out of the preamp. I'd like to be able to hook the preamp to the speakers and then not hear a difference when I add an amp to help drive the speakers later on. Of course there's no real way to prove this since preamps by themselves can't drive speakers, since they have no internal amps...right?

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Lance,

Without knowing your system it would be hard to recommend anything but let me say you can have a fine sounding system using tubes or SS and in any combination. It's more about matching the sonics to your desires. The word commonly used is synergy. What do you have now?

Thanx, Russ

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I'm just trying to get an idea if it's better to go with tube amps or a tube preamp. To me it doesn't seem like amps should change the sound of whatever is coming out of the preamp.

In my experience different amps sound very different. I've had amps that sounded great on one set of speakers and then not good at all on another. What you're referring to is the ultimate goal of an amplifier designer - Straight wire with gain. It does not exist.

I've found that the match between amp and speakers is probably the single most important aspect of what is referred to as synergy.

As far as tube pre / SS power amps, or hybrid integrated amps, they are very popular and probably for good reason. I've had a quicksilver tube pre and a Sunfire SS power amp and it sounded very good, but with 86 db speakers (Magnepan). If you have horns you may not need the benefit of what SS amps provide, which is more power for the $$. Not saying a tube amp is the way to go, but with efficient speakers your options are a little more open.

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Nada, nothing, not a damn thing.

I going to buy a 2 channel set up from scratch in a few months. I'm on a budget of about $3k. I recently had enough to begin my purchases, but then something unexpected and expensive came up and I no longer have that cash available. But, I'll have it available again in a few months.

I think I've decided I'll pick up used Klipsch RF-7s. And I'd like to get my hands on a used Emotiva RPA-2 Amp (No longer in production). I was also going to go with the Emotiva RSP-2 preamp, but is also no longer in production. Since there's currently no Emotiva preamp available, that's what got me started looking at tubes preamps.

Anybody ever tried a tube buffer out?

http://www.pacificvalve.us/files/Yaqin_Tube_Buffer.pdf

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I'm originally from Syracuse, New York. Say aren't you my cousin th at I lent $100 to about 20 years ago. With interest that comes to $83,400. Time to pay up.

Marty Thibault

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Also,

Is biasing ever required on tube preamps, or just tube amps?

Only power amps, or integrateds which contain a pre and power amp. For the hybrid tube pre / SS power amps you mentioned above it is not necessary.

Takes 15 minutes, done once every 6 months or so, or when you change tubes or move it or something like that.

Tubes is like light bulbs....EZ.

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As to the OP question, here's my opinion: a lot of what constitutes "tube sound" has to do with the power section of a tube amp interacting with its load, i.e., the speakers. Tubes do behave differently than transistors when driven hard (resulting in more "pleasing" harmonic disortion, e.g., even harmonics vs. the odd harmonics present in overdriven solid-state), but in a hi-fi amp, you'll never be driving your pre-amp OR output tubes to the point of compression and distortion like a guitarist would (or at least I hope not!), making it somewhat of a moot point. Yes, tube preamps can "color" your signal a bit before going to a solid-state (SS) power amp, but in my own rig, the biggest change in sound was when I switched from a hybrid tube (tube pre, SS power) to an all-tube amp (tube pre and power). The presence of output transformers have a lot to do with this, as does the circuit topography, which in my self-built tube amp is a lot simpler than the SS amp I was coming from (yielding improvements in terms of detail, imaging, and tonal balance).

In short, there's no easy answer here - but again, tube power amps work a lot differently than their SS brethren, while tube pre-amps usually don't have the same idiosyncrasies (i.e., low damping factors, since your're not driving low-impedance devices, nor transformer distorion, since there's no transformers, etc.)

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I go the all tube route myself but whenever I see hybrid it is a tube pre and any discussion of mixing the two always centers around a tube pre and solid state amp. I have never even seen a discussion where anyone seriously considering the reverse.

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"I have never even seen a discussion where anyone seriously considering the reverse. "

I have done this many times with great success, and am doing it right now. I know of many who use a solid state preamp with a valve amplifier. CD players offer considerable gain, and in most cases are able to drive amps into the clipping range, making the use of ANY preamp (valve or SS) not really necessary. Preamps are actually used to attenuate strong source signals (like CDPs), and offer certain benefits like impedance buffering/matching between stages. I also use non-tube Lexicon processor in our Home Theater system, and it works extraordinarily well with the push-pull and single ended tube amps.

I have also used many different tubed preamp designs, including the one shown below which I built several years ago and used a great deal. Same with the Foreplay preamp, of which I built probably half a dozen different versions -- AC filaments, DC filaments, tube rectified, SS rectfied, and so on. I still use it sometimes.

post-10533-13819474816294_thumb.jpg

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I ran a Mac C34v SS Pre behind a set of tubemagic monobloc tube amps for a month or so waiting on my Peach tube preamp to be completed.This particular C34V is very clean and is one of the best SS pre-s that I have heard. I had previously been running the C34V behind a MAc 2105 SS power amp.

Having rolled many different combinations of SS/tube amps ams pre-s I will put it this way. You can definitely run a SS pre and tube amps and get fantastic sound- provided that the pre amp is clean with no noise issues. IMHO the power amp determines the sound more than the preamp. If i were presented with a chance to buy some kind of excellent tube amp for a good price- I would not pass it up because I only had a SS pre to run behind it.

As part of a planned system I would certainly figure a tube preamp behind whatever power amp you prefer. Provided that the preamp is a Peach.

One side note- I am running tube source components- Jolida tube CD player and a Tercell tube Phono Preamp. Every component down to the speaker wire changes the final sound product to some degree. They are all different .

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I go the all tube route myself but whenever I see hybrid it is a tube pre and any discussion of mixing the two always centers around a tube pre and solid state amp. I have never even seen a discussion where anyone seriously considering the reverse.

Count me into the reverse club. My K's are driven by a Pilot SA-260 amp which is fed by a Carver C-1. The combination of an extremely quiet & linear source (I SIM'd the C-1 and had a hard time believing the phase & response curves) and a personality filled (ahem) amp works great for me. BTW, you can pick up those old Carvers for very little cash on CL all the time.

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