Ceko

Riding the Tube chain

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I have a solid state integrated amp. It can do service as a pre-amp too, or a power amp as well I think. So I was wondering, if I combine the power amp part of my integrated with a tube pre-amp, what would that sound like? Or the pre-amp part of my amp to a tube power amp.

Does anyone actually have that kind of setup? Are those the kind of things you’d experiment with during bake-offs? Of course it’s far too expensive to just go out and buy stuff like that.

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My active system is fed by a type 26DHT preamp and runs a mix of valve and solid state power amps .....for me a valve pre gives the most detail, good instrument separation etc compared to a solid state pre 

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Posted (edited)

That’s interesting @MF 1000, so you have a tube pre and a mix of power amps? Did you chain them or something? How did you get to do that? Did you miss anything from pure tube or pure ss?

Edited by Ceko

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What would it sound like? That depends on the preamp, is the simple (and not very helpful) answer. My system has had a valve preamp of some flavour or other for as long back as I can remember and like Keith, I find they do add something positive. And no, that doesn't have to mean distortion. I built the current one to run the valves at a very linear operating point after some experimentation and it's relatively low distortion with a pretty flat frequency response. Not that I care. What it does do is seem to add some width and depth (and 'life', however you take that) to the image. Obviously that's an illusion and false, but I care somewhat less than not at all. It sounds lovely, regardless of whether it's powering my single-ended valve amp or one or other solid state power amp(s).

I would always say valve preamp and solid state power amp is better than the other way round, but that's based only on ones I've owned, borrowed or listened to. Mind you, that amounts to quite a few and I have to say I've never yet heard a combination of solid state preamp and valve power amp sound wonderful.

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4 hours ago, Ceko said:

That’s interesting @MF 1000, so you have a tube pre and a mix of power amps? Did you chain them or something? How did you get to do that? Did you miss anything from pure tube or pure ss?

Here is my system architecture 

ABB1DCA0-5195-4C3D-8D1D-139BACC5CB86.thumb.jpeg.a1952ce674095901a530fcb9f1320b4e.jpeg

A fully active 5 way setup with 7 amps and 2 digital crossover/dsp units

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Wow that is one awesome graphic of your setup. Respect my man! 

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Posted (edited)

I fully understand Rabski and his system, and I can see how it works. My own experiences are slightly different. I've built too many valve amps and preamps to count over the last 12 years, and I've tried a very large number of combinations. In the end I settled on 2 stages of tube amplification, which I can do with my smallish room and 89db single unit Alpair 10ms. Whenever I added a third stage it degraded the signal. I'm not alone in tube builders to come to this conclusion - there are innumerable 2 stage tube amps out there, both SE and PP. The thing is that you can't "add clarity" (expect possibly with DSP) or add purity by inserting another stage. The signal is what it is.

However, you can improve the sound for the listener. This can be done in a variety of ways - better interfaces and impedance matching, better volume control, better frequency response (though there will be insertion effects) or just a more subjectively pleasant sound. The thing is to set goals for what you want to achieve and ask fundamental questions about what adding a stage is going to provide to meet those goals. Especially if you actually don't need to add further amplification which is often the case. There may be trade-offs. You sacrifice a small amount of clarity for a more pleasant sound for instance. But unless you are getting a sound that you find more pleasant, or unless you need some sort of switching and volume arrangement (I don't - all my sources are in my Mac Pro with digital volume), then I don't subscribe to the old idea that you're "supposed to put a preamplifier in front of an amplifier". I think that's outdated convention these days. And I especially don't believe that "the preferred solution is tube preamp and solid state amp". It may be, but it equally may not be. For a single unit speaker I like a tube amp. If I had different speakers I might look for other solutions or a mix if I was bi-amping. 

There's no real answer to "tube or solid state", and which way round they go, other than "it depends". Up until this year I'd have said "use a DHT preamp" like a 26, which I used myself numerous times together with 01A, 10Y, 46 etc. But when it came to adding a little gain to my system because my 2 stages of tubes needed it, the best solution I've found so far is a couple of NE5534 op-amps. Yes - the old favourites found everywhere in professional equipment and studios. No coupling capacitors, very little effect on clarity. That turned my preconceptions on their head - I preferred that solution to all the DHT preamps I'd spent ages building. I could also have used a posh step-up transformer with a nickel or amorphous core. There's no shortage of ways of adding gain. 

So I'd say keep an open mind - all kinds of solutions can work in practise, and some in ways you didn't expect. Just analyse what you are trying to achieve and only insert whatever gets you there into the amplification chain. Just adding a preamplifier which has been well reviewed (or "adding a tube for tube sound") won't necessarily get you better sound - you're adding a stage so what does it give you that you didn't have before? And what are your alternatives - passives, transformer volume controls, a DAC with a volume control and switched inputs..... long list! Some digital and some analogue these days, a lot has changed. 

Edited by pmcuk
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6 minutes ago, ESK said:

Good lord.  The cabling must be something else.  :nerves:

Yes especially as he uses Nordost Odin II :o     (I jest)

The most popular configuration is valve pre and SS power bu it is not the only favoured one. There are a lot of valve integrated amplifiers that have a passive pre at the front end. In effect the signal comes in goes to a input selector switch and then to the variable volume control and finally into the valve power amplifer. No active electronics in the front end and a nice, 'clean' sound...and cheap. I am using such a set up now with a transformer volume control feeding an external valve power amplifer. And very nice it sounds too. So it is really 'it depends on what is used' but the favoured set up is a valve pre and SS power amp. Valve pres can be less expensive as you do not have the big valves and humungous transformers of power amplifiers.

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14 minutes ago, George 47 said:

I am using such a set up now with a transformer volume control feeding an external valve power amplifer. And very nice it sounds too. So it is really 'it depends on what is used' but the favoured set up is a valve pre and SS power amp. Valve pres can be less expensive as you do not have the big valves and humungous transformers of power amplifiers.

Transformer volume control and valve amp is nice! But it depends what you mean by "the favoured set up is a valve pre and SS power amp". If by this you mean "a popular set up..." this may well be true. But I'd be wary of influencing readers towards the idea that "it's a better setup". You're adding amplification unless it's just a buffer, but in both cases, why? Especially if what you're inserting into the signal chain is a 12A*7 valve, which if I'm going to be cruel are valves best used in guitar amps (and perfect for those). I'm being a bit of a Devils's advocate here, as you can see! 

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21 minutes ago, pmcuk said:

Transformer volume control and valve amp is nice! But it depends what you mean by "the favoured set up is a valve pre and SS power amp". If by this you mean "a popular set up..." this may well be true. But I'd be wary of influencing readers towards the idea that "it's a better setup". You're adding amplification unless it's just a buffer, but in both cases, why? Especially if what you're inserting into the signal chain is a 12A*7 valve, which if I'm going to be cruel are valves best used in guitar amps (and perfect for those). I'm being a bit of a Devils's advocate here, as you can see! 

Anything and everything can be 'nice' :D

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1 minute ago, rabski said:

Anything and everything can be 'nice' :D

True enough! Depends on the transformer and the tube amp as well....... I assumed George made decent choices, but it really is a case of "anything and everything".

When I found that a couple of NE5534 gave me better results than a 26 preamp in my system I went straight back to the drawing board, scratching my head....

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Here's my simple setup. Volume control is in software in whatever source I'm using - iTunes, TV, YouTube etc. Everything I use in terms of audio-visual is on my Mac, including GarageBand for music projects. I don't have a TV set, and no vinyl or CD player. There's a DVD player in my Mac Pro. I'm a real believer in simple (except when it comes to tube power supplies which are ridiculously complex). Truly anything can work. 

My Setup 2020.png

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2 hours ago, ESK said:

Good lord.  The cabling must be something else.  :nerves:

All done in star quad mogami for the signals and some multicore ‘Event grade’ for the speakers 

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Too much Behringer in there Keith ;)

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