Solid State or Tubes?

Opinion 1


If you are looking for a high-power amp that won’t break the bank, solid state will probably serve your needs perfectly. Tube amps are costlier (sometimes by a great amount) and tubes are, as you might expect, somewhat more fragile. The difference is really in the way a solid state amp overdrives compared to a tube amp. Solid state amps will play loud, but once they reach their upper limits, the distortion produced is generally not particularly musical. Meanwhile, like almost all analog gear, tube amps will produce a much more pleasing overdrive. However, keep in mind that most quality solid state gear is built with enough headroom to avoid overdriving them, so it’s an issue to be aware of, but not necessarily one you need to be concerned about.

Opinion 2


A tube is a voltage amplifier—a small change in voltage at the grid produces a large change in voltage at the plate. A transistor is a current amplifier—a small change in current at the input produces a large change in current at the output. Since a speaker is a low-impedance device, typically 8 ohms, it needs a relatively large amount of current at a relatively small voltage. That is why a transistor amp will drive a speaker directly but a tube amp needs an output transformer to convert the large voltage change to a large current change.

Tube amps are often driven at maximum output or even pushed over to achieve a pleasant distortion. An overdriven solid-state amp does not work as well, so they are usually designed to be used well under maximum output. Distortion can be added though either on-board or external effects. Obviously, this is not quite the same sound as an overdriven tube amp. That is why some people are willing to pay a premium for tube amplifiers that use 50-year-old technology.

In applications where clean sound and ultimate reliability are a concern, solid-state is the way to go. These situations would be sound reinforcement (PA’s), bass, steel guitar, jazz guitar, keyboards, electronic drums, etc.

In conclusion, tube amps are cool. I grew up with them and know how they work. They have a different sound, especially when pushed hard. Transistors are more practical, more reliable, and can produce huge amounts of power with relative little weight or money. There is clearly a place for both in today’s musical world.

Opinion 3


One of the perpetual discussions audiophiles engage in is tubes vs. solid state. Preamps and amps come both ways and both have their enthusiastic supporters. I like the good things about “tube sound” and I like the good things about solid state equipment. Unfortunately, there is a down-side to each and I really dislike the downsides of both tubes and solid state. As a prospective buyer of a preamp or amp, you may be struck with uncertainty about what to buy after hearing both sides’ arguments. One thing you may notice in tube vs. solid state discussions is that, as a group, tube-guys tend to be more passionate about their tube amps and preamps. They HAVE to be to put up with some of the “cons” of living with tubes. Solid state is a lot easier to live with, but many would argue that the price you pay for the livability is less emotional involvement in the music. (see link for the lengthy details of this discussion)

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