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Amplifiers - owner/fan claims vs reality


Jon B
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Preface: If you like tube or solid state amps that's just great - keep on keeping on. It's your money, and your choice. Just don't wait around for me and others like me to bow down to your personal tastes and bless it as sonic superiority. It's a personal choice and not much more.... 

 

To be very honest, and I have no doubt I will be endlessly flamed for saying this, there is precious little audible difference between well designed and built solid state amps, yet people will argue brands and their favorite tech until the are blue in the face. And there is a dubious real world difference between tube and solid state when it comes to accurate sound REPRODUCTION, please note I did not say sound creation. There is a world of difference when it comes to playing an ELECTRIC guitar using a tube vs solid state amp. I know, because I played and recorded through vintage Vox, Marshall, and Fender tube amps for many years and have no doubt replaced my fair share of L6S and EL84 tubes. But those amps are the source - and the sound creation portion of the equation. When blind testing it is clear,  tube amps do have a warmer tone when compared to solid state gear to this very day, and what we used to call - "more crunch" than solid state amps. And folks, "crunch" just like porn is hard to define, but you know it when you hear it, and in the case of porn - see it. Yet engineers are constantly trying to model and imitate the tube sound in their solid state guitar amplifier designs, but have not perfected it in the opinion of most musicians.

 

Stereo Review and other publications back in the day covered this topic almost every month, and often said blind testing in the late 70's and early 80's (when I got started in music and HiFi) told us that most humans are not capable of hearing the differences between amps (and other gear) unless the gear fundamentally changes the reproduction - which really kills their claim that their desire is to accurately reproduce the source material. If the goal was to colorize the original content that is fine, but doing so while claiming to get accurate playback is intellectually dishonest. People select different speakers for the same reason. For years I used the exact same speakers I saw and heard in the studios for playback because I trusted the taste of the engineers making the calls on the recordings. Now I use what sounds good to me and I do not insist that MY CHOICE is the best choice ever in audio reproduction. 

 

I see the reviews all the time, this amp is brighter, has tighter bass, is very flat and so on. But put the blind fold on those folks in a listening room and they cannot tell you what brand is what or the model of those amps which is my point. And yes, they may be able to tell you if it is a tube or solid state amp due to their personal sound preference which is more of a texture thing than an accuracy thing. Conversely, I can definitely tell you the difference between a Fender Twin Reverb, a Vox AC30, and a Marshall JCM800 when I hear it, all are tube amps and all are designed to have their "own" distinctive sound, which is not, and should not be the case on the reproduction side of things. A tube guitar amp would sound pretty nasty playing back any quality recording. But fire up a Peavey, Yamaha, or Line 6 solid state guitar amp and I doubt any guitar player could accurately identify which is which because they do not have their own identity for the most part. And those amps may have a reasonable shot at playing back a recording because they are designed to be somewhat clean - not perfect playback, but better than a guitar tube amp. No claim of better or worse, just the design intent is different. A good audio amp like a good set of speakers - should be invisible if they are properly designed. The playback should get its flavor from controls like tone, filters, or an EQ.

 

Mr. Klipsch had a goal, according to everything I have read about him, to build speakers that ACCURATELY reproduce sound. Speakers or hardware that add or take away from the reproduction are not accurately reproducing the sound. And I submit that recording studios, sound engineers, and producers know the most about what they want their product to sound like and I know for a fact that they do not embrace low quality junk nor do they use tube amps for their playback systems in the studio for the reasons I have already stated.  

 

Just my 2 cents and you are welcome to begin flaming away. but please reread this post prior to pressing send and it is possible upon reflection that you get my point. I'm not saying anything is "better" than anything else, only the differences are not as pronounced or meaningful if we truly are trying to accurately playback what a performer has created. 

Edited by Jon B
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You are mostly correct on the amplifier design aspect - but I find that a lot of the colour in recordings is the responsibility of the person / persons that mixes the music 

It’s an interpretation of their sound wave senses, and unless they are great interpreters  - they fall short of the mark in accuracy 

 

 

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This is where I am now.  I'm not necessarily looking for an amp (or sound system) that is "accurate" or has a flat frequency response, great imaging, soundstage, or any of those other characteristics that "audiophiles" speak of.  For me, the most important characteristic is musicality.  How do I define musicality?  Musicality is defined to me as the ability to extract the most musical enjoyment from the sounds I'm hearing.  For me, this probably means reproducing sound that is closest to live sound.  This likely requires good accuracy and a large soundstage.  "Imaging" is a characteristic that has never brought me musical enjoyment so I don't pay much attention to that.  While I wasn't there when the recordings I listen to were recorded, I do know what live music sounds like and live music has always brought an extra level of emotional engagement.  I think achieving high dynamics is also very important to replicating live music and is a big part of getting that emotional engagement that comes from live music.

 

This hobby/passion for me is all about the music and not the gear.  I think too many "audiophiles" get caught up in the gear as the primary objective and may forget about the music.  If that is how they get their enjoyment, then more power to them and I can't tell them otherwise.  For me, it's important to listen to the music and not the gear -- music is what brought me here.  If there was a single box that could provide me with the level of musical enjoyment I want, then that's all that I would need.  I haven't found that yet.

 

Up to this point in time, tube amplifiers have typically given me more musical enjoyment than solid-state, but that's not to say there aren't great solid-state amps out there.  What sounds best to me may not sound best to everyone else.  My room is different, my ears hear different, and my brain processes what my ears hear differently from others.

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    In general, I'd say I agree with you.  There is precious little difference in sound between well designed amplifiers.  And, for the most part, changing amps or rolling tubes isn't going to have nearly as dramatic of an effect as changing speakers, room treatment, or phono stylus.  Those truly are the low-hanging fruit of audio.

    However, despite my desire to have everything be measurable and testable via the scientific method, I am forced to admit that there is a bit of art to audio reproduction as well.  There does seem to be some difference to be made in the intangible and immeasurable, though in my experience it is subtle.  I do think that amplifiers and even (gasp!) cables can make some difference.  I think most people put far too much focus on these things, but I do think that on a very subtle level, there is something to it.  Once you have your room, speakers and sources 100% dialed, you can make very small improvements with things like amplifiers, CD players, etc.  However, for most people, this is like washing your car and thinking it will go faster due to less weight and drag.  More placebo than anything.

   That said, I do use tubes in my system (SS as well).  Could I tell if you switched the tube amps out for SS?  Maybe, I don't know for sure.  They light up nice and make me happy, so I'm not complaining, haha.

 

 

 

 

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  • 2 weeks later...
Posted (edited)
On 4/7/2021 at 7:52 PM, dwillie said:

Marshall JCM800=💗

 

I agree. There is nothing that compares to a Vintage Les Paul and a Marshall JCM800! That sound is definitely a gift from God.

Edited by Jon B
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2 hours ago, Jon B said:

 

Not sure what you mean.

I don't want to be so presumptuous as to speak for @Schu directly, but I read it as he was just saying thank you! I also enjoyed reading your blog. I am looking forward to reading your next blog.

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