What are Tube Amplifiers and what makes them so good?

Unfortunately, nowadays most music amplifiers don’t use vacuum tubes but transistors to amplify the sound signal of an audio source (e.g. CD player, turntable, MP3) in order to make it audible through your loudspeakers. Why is this unfortunate? Because we believe transistor driven amplifiers miss those features outlined in this article.  

This however comes with some disadvantages (while the major advantage being cost effectiveness and convenience). A tube (or valve) amplifier is – simply speaking – using the same way as a transistor to amplify a music signal to make it audible but uses vacuum-tubes instead of transistors. This comes with some pros as you may see when you read on. 

 

The warm and organic sound

Tube amplifiers have an organic and warm sound due to the “harmonic” distortion they add to music. Although distortion “distorts” the music and is something we want to prevent, harmonic distortion is different as it doesn’t just randomly distort the music but in a way that it adds overtones which correspond to the same notes (or frequencies) played from a music recording, just an octave or two higher. This means that harmonic distortion is basically evenly adding to the music what is already there and this leads to a warmer, fuller and rounder sound. 

(By the way, even today do professional recording studios use tube amplifiers to capture the sound before it is digitally recorded).

 

The Volume – real tube-power

It actually has a meaning when we say “real tube power” because the above mentioned harmonic distortion increases progressively with increased volume. Meaning the louder you listen the more harmonic distortion is added hence the louder it sounds. Non tube amplifiers are missing this feature which means the actual volume you get out of a tube amplifier with the same wattage as transistor amplifier (“regular amplifiers” or even digital amplifiers) is higher. 

 

The rated power / wattage

…Is the true power of the amplifier that it can deliver – continuously and without limitation. We are not exaggerating and you will be surprised how much Watt you really get out of other “high power” amplifiers (one could just measure it). 

 

They have been around for a long time

In fact, well sounding tube amplifiers have been there since the 1960s! And so far they have not disappeared so they seem to be good – only problem is their price. But this is what we try to solve here at Tholin-Audio. 

Since the 1970s they have been gradually replaced by cheaper transistor amplifiers which are now dominating the market. However, this was probably more for the reason of cost and convenience but again, this is something we try to solve for you at Tholin-Audio.

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