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whats the appeal with valve amps?


jcr71
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i know nothing about valve amps other than they look pretty and seem to be popular.

why is such old tech still relevant and still so expensive?

do they have a nostalgia appeal like old British motors(and need regular maintenance) or do they still outperform modern stuff?

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Super Wammer

Can of Worms just been well & truly opened 

stand back and remember the firework code 🤣

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Shiney pretty things they are..! ?
Oh, and apparently they can sound rather good...
I'll confirm when I get my Prima Luna 2 plugged in...

Sent from my CLT-L09 using Tapatalk



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Any decent tech is (relatively) expensive, though in terms of comparable performance, the critical components of a valve amplifier (notably transformers) tend to be more costly.

Depite there being currently now 39 valves in my 'normal' system, I don't necessarily agree with the concept that valves inherently 'sound' better or worse than solid state. The great and sadly missed designer, Tim de Paravicini, was always quick to point out that you can create the same presentation with either, and that the circuit (and many would also argue, the component quality) is more important.

Some designers use valves for visual appearance and also deliberately tailor the sound to emphasise even-order harmonics. It isn't necessary. Nevertheless, on one practical point, distortion differs between valves and solid state devices. The former tend to have even-order (aurally more pleasant) distortion, the latter don't. Also, when the wick gets wound up to excess, the distortion in a valve amplifier increases linearly with the output, whereas solid state tends to turn quickly into harsh and potentially speaker-killing clipping.

In electronics terms, both offer advantages (and disadvantages). Provided you can be bothered to work out the design to allow a valve to operate in its ideal range, and as long as you pick a suitable valve in the first place, valves can be extremely linear and low distortion devices. The primary downsides is that with the required transformers, builds are heavy, generate heat and are relatively inefficient.

They sound rather pleasant mind you. Top-class valve amplification and high-efficiency speakers can deliver a near holographic, life-like presentation that the vast majority of solid state can't touch.

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With good valve amps, it's their ability to sound like there's nothing there, in the midrange, between the source and the speakers when compared to solid state.

If a valve amp doesn't sound - relatively speaking - like there's nothing there in the midrange, then it's not a good valve amp.

Solid state amps tend to sound robotic / synthetic in the midrange. Although this is all relative, with good solid state amps the difference can be small and subtle when compared to good valve amps.

I've yet to come across any valve amps that have the bass grip of good solid state. Although again - depending on the speakers and the particular amps involved, the differences may be small and subtle.

It's also worth pointing out that choice of amplifier, once you have a decent one (examples of which can be bought for affordable amounts) is the icing on the cake. And that it's the speakers and analogue source that are the sponge and the filling in the cake. There are too many hi-fi cakes that have fantastic icing with bland sponge and filling.

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The cost issue is easily explained.  The valves themselves are very expensive compared to transistors.  A small signal transistor can be had for a few pence and an output transistor for about a pound, whereas a preamp valve will cost at least £10 and power valves at least £20.  In addition, valves need valve bases (more expense) and a valve power amp (usually) needs an output transformer.  The mains transformer also needs to power the valve heaters as well as provide the high voltage, so it needs to big enough to do that, and the high voltages need high voltage capacitors which are more expensive than low voltage capacitors.  Also, the technology doesn't lend itself to efficient production like surface mount transistors do, so that puts up the labour cost.  Finally, valve amps are usually made in relatively small quantities to cater for a niche market, so there's no "economy of scale" advantage either.  That' all adds up to an expensive product.

As for sound, that's not so easily explained.  Some people will claim there's no sonic benefit to using valves, whereas others will argue that their sound quality cannot be matched by transistor gear.  Personally, I believe a good valve amp can sound sublime.  I don't make them commercially anymore because when I started there weren't so many around and I had a market for them, but these days there are so many to choose from - including relatively cheap ones from China - that I chose not to compete.

Personally, I've gone off valves just because they're so inefficient.  The amount of power consumed for the amount of power output seems rather too environmentally unfriendly.  Yes, it could be argued that anyone who drives a petrol or diesel car isn't going to reduce their carbon footprint by very much just by not using a valve amp, but it's something to consider.

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11 minutes ago, Rothwell Audio said:

Personally, I've gone off valves just because they're so inefficient.  The amount of power consumed for the amount of power output seems rather too environmentally unfriendly.  Yes, it could be argued that anyone who drives a petrol or diesel car isn't going to reduce their carbon footprint by very much just by not using a valve amp, but it's something to consider.

I try to be as environmentally friendly as practical. However, I do like to look at the entire 'chain of custody' so to speak. Without doubt, my valve setup is comparatively highly ineffecient. A pair of 845s in class A is hardly Greta Thunberg's dream hifi. However, new manufacture of solid-state devices needs resources, including precious metals and some compounds that cause major issues with eventual disposal. By comparison, all but two of the valves in my system were made before 1960, and many are a lot older. They would have gone either to landfiil, or would have needed sometimes difficult recycling.

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It was once said to me that valve amplification is physically frail, but electronically strong and solid state amplification the opposite. I dont know how true that is, but I always remembered it. Once you've had a reliable and predictable valve amp you learn to trust them. My Megahertz is a case in point - it has performed well for a number of years now and was not expensive. Its a SET design.

Ive been drawn towards these simpler single ended triode amps driving ultra efficient speakers (e.g., horns) as a means of achieving high quality sound quality for reasonable money.

Even in a more conventional domestic system I would advise having at least one valve powered device in the chain - I find an all SS system dry and uninvolving.

That's my experience anyway.

Jack

I

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Super Wammer

The one amp in my setup that draws more power then the rest (inc two valve power amp monoblocks and a two box valve preamp) is a SS Class A device (Musical Fidelity A370) taking 685watts just ticking over.

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....and sand amps are mostly much more powerful and usually drive far less efficient speakers, so that ups the transistor footprint as well.

But when all's said and done a well made amp is a joy to own as well as listen to. I buy, sell, and build valve amps and don't see any of them ending up being picked apart for circuit board gold in poorer countries,  yet that's the future for pretty much any class d amp (indeed any surface mount electronic device). Valve amps can be easily recycled and as Richard mentioned, we're using up mostly obsolete parts that made the bulk of their carbon footprint many decades ago before global warming was even talked about.

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10 minutes ago, Non-Smoking Man said:

It was once said to me that valve amplification is physically frail

Well the Marshall guitar amps I used to throw about as a roady that got used every night and other than a valve change (more often for Marshall than others) they were incredibly reliable.

I kind of dislike threads like this as they seem to miss the point in asking the question.   A great amp is a great amp (regardless of whether it is valve or not).  People out there have been using EAR 509 valve amps for many years (with the occasional valve change) and similarly the great old Leaks and Quads.   The transistors and capacitors in the circuit will require changing with age (but the same is true of SS amps).

My advice is to let your ears do the choosing .. and for me personally the only valve amps I would now be tempted to buy would be those of the self biasing variety (like Prima Luna and some EAR designs).

There is something magical about a valve amp with no circuit boards and point to point wiring .. makes long term maintenance a simpler job perhaps (but I could be wrong).  Also if you over drive it it does not destroy tweeters (as SS amps can) and still sounds euphonic.  

I guess going forward if energy prices keep rising as they have been of late we will all only be able to afford to run Class D amps lol 

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Super Wammer

Of course the heat output from my kit in the lounge isn’t wasted in winter :D

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5 minutes ago, Rothwell Audio said:

😂

Hopefully, she doesn't even know they exist.  :D

I take your point though.  There's more to being environmentally friendly than just the energy consumed when running something.

On a serious note, it always needs to be a balanced approach. Someone, for example, running a ten-year-old car and doing minimal annual mileage isn't going to make a positive environmental contribution by buying an electric alternative. Far too many 'calculations' fail to look at the complete picture, and fail to take into account the damage done by the production and disposal of things.

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Of course the heat output from my kit in the lounge isn’t wasted in winter 
Water cooling second system could be used to create hot water...

In our house we should to be able to collect enough free 'gas' to run our boiler in winter, just need to increase the Jerusalem artichoke intake a tad.! ;-)

Oops, went a bit off piste there.!

Sent from my CLT-L09 using Tapatalk

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