Audiophiles have had a long running discussion about what types of amplifiers are better, tube or solid state. A lot of this depends on your own personal taste, but It seems a lot of audiophiles prefer tube amplifiers and often consider them better than their solid state counterparts. Let’s look at some of the reasons they feel this way.
The general thought is that tube hi-fi equipment sounds better. This is probably due to the differences in the way tube and transistor amplifiers are built and how power flows through each one. As a result, the sound from tubes has a more compact bass with brighter highs. Tube amplifiers are also known to have a warm and rich sound, and can actually make digital music sound less digital.
Tube amplifiers are not without issues though. They require more maintenance and tend to be delicate, needing to be replaced from time to time. Tubes will work better with more efficient speakers since they don’t put out as much power as solid state amps. Another thing to note is that the pairing of tube amps and speakers makes a difference. Some pairings work better than others and so there could be some trial and error involved to get the best sound.
Solid-state amps are more reliable which gives them an advantage over tubes. They can run for decades without maintenance. Also, they are immune to electromagnetic interference which can cause a hum or other noise in a tube amp. Another difference is that tube amps need very large power supplies (around 2000V) whereas solid-state amps don’t. This means that solid-state amps can be more compact and weigh less than tube amps.
With regards to sound, solid-state amps are commonly thought to be a more accurate representation of the original recording. Solid-state amps will give you more power but that doesn’t necessarily mean better sound. If your speakers aren’t efficient, you will want to use a solid-state amp. The same goes for your home theater.
Size and power aren’t the only factors when it comes to the build of each type of amp. Another is something called stray capacitance and pertains to the transistor’s output coil. Without getting too technical, stray capacitance exists with solid-state amps and has to do with how they have their output transformer wired where multiple currents flow out of phase. This out-of-phase flowing can cause one current to add or subtract from another resulting in stray capacitance. If the stray capacitance gets too large, it can cause a noticeable deterioration in the sound quality.
Tube amplifiers don’t have stray capacitance and so no stray currents exist to change the quality of the audio.
So what it all really boils down to is what you think will work best for you. Do you prefer the warm sound of a tube amp or the precise representation you get from solid-state? Is no maintenance important or are you willing to swap out the tubes from time to time? Do you have the right speakers? Is your space limited?
These are questions you’ll have to answer for yourself as you look for your perfect home audio amplifier. Best of luck.
For even more info check out Why Tubes Sound Better.