My Home Stereo Stuff


Statement: "Transistors make sense. Tubes make music ." 

    92 years after Lee DeForest invented the first electronic amplifying device, there are more manufacturers of tube amps then at any time in history. While transistors have the advantage in some areas such as operating voltage, tubes are simply a better music amplifying device. For those listeners who care, and who can hear the difference, tubes are not just a preference but a necessity. Once one hears their favorite music reproduced with good tube equipment, there can be no going back to solid state. 

What's a tube? How's it work? Why is it better?

Vacuum tubes are amplification devices. You have to amplify the signal coming from a guitar or CD player in  order to play it through a speaker. A basic triode tube works like a valve by using a metal grid to control the  flow of power going between 2 plates, the cathode and plate(anode). The power goes from cathode to anode, and the power from the anode is what drives the speaker. The power from a cathode comes from electrons given off when the cathode is heated. Usually there’s a little heater right next to the cathode, or the cathode can be the heater itself. If you put a positive (opposite) charge on the anode, the electrons are attracted to it. But the electrons won’t become music until you attach a signal source to the grid, which will control the flow of electrons to the anode(plate) depending on the music signal. Then you have a “more power” version of the music signal coming off the anode! Since a few hundred volts are needed to attract those electrons, you need a transformer to convert the high voltage to something a speaker can handle, like 10 volts or so.

That tubes sound better is not so much a matter of “if” as “why”. Some say it’s because tubes produce harmonics like real instruments do. Harmonics are the overtones that make a piano sound different from a violin or trumpet. Tubes produce overtones that are even (2nd, 4th, 6th) just like musical instruments.  Transistors produce odd overtones (3rd, 5th, 7th), which aren’t “musical”. Some say that tube amps don’t have the same perfect frequency response of transistor amps, and tend to lessen high frequencies while producing a “fat” or “wooly” bass sound which is pleasing to the ear. Well, some do and some don’t. The transformer is usually the cause of this, but a properly designed and built tube amp will have a fine frequency response. 

Personally, I think it has something to do with the difference between squeezing music through a microscopic silicon junction, and passing it over a grid in a cloud of electrons. As the legendary designer William Johnson of Audio Research said, “...we find that tubes are simply a better conductor than a semiconductor.” Listen for yourself and you be the judge. 

Pictures of my home brewed mono block vacuum tube amplifier in total darkness, extended exposure time with the digital camera (14 seconds exposure time)

An exposure time of 3 seconds on the digital camera with low light condition reveals the amplifier with the glowing light. 

I ordered this vacuum tube amplifier DIY kit off the Internet from Doc. B, took about 6 weeks for the parts to arrive, everything needed to be special ordered.  I had to built the vacuum tube amplifier from scratch, everything needed to be made, the wooden base, the connectors, painting the transformers, and etc....  took me about 1 1/2 week to build the two mono block vacuum tube amplifiers.  Mono block = 1 amplifier per channel.

A close up of the glowing tube.   I think it is kind of cool looking, besides sounding good, it looks like a nuclear reactor ready to blow.....  

My Counterpoint SA5.1 vacuum tube pre-amplifier, this is very well known vacuum tube pre-amplifier.  I think the original selling price of this unit is something like $3000.  Everything is vacuum tube based, including the power supply, which is a separately contained unit.   (I am borrowing this unit from Philip Liu indefinitely)

This is how it looks when I listen to music with my vacuum tube amplifiers at night.  With the light off in the room all I see is the warm glow of the vacuum tube amplifiers on top of the speakers.  My stereo equipment includes B&W 500 series front speakers, B&W center, Hitachi 50" ultravision projection TV, JBL Sub woofer. 

Counterpoint tube Pre-amplifier with tube power supply, Hitachi hi-fi VCR, Panasonic AC-310 DVD player, Sony 925 AC-3, DTS receiver, Pioneer LD player.

My TEAC RWH-500 reference model CD recorder, yes I duplicate my own CDs from the originals.  I also have a optical toslink box hooked up from the PC to record any MP3 files digitally to this CDR without going through any D/A converter.  
My Technics Sl-PG480A CD player, this is a single disc CD player, the only reason I have this CD player is that it has an optical toslink output, which I use to hook directly up to my TEAC CDRW drive to record CDs with.  Since when you digital optical toslink hook up you bypass all the D/A converters and avoid all interference, theoretically the music quality is much better. 

My NAD 5100 monitor series single disc CD player, this is a very good sounding CD player.  I currently have it setup at the office hooked up with my mono block vacuum tube amplifiers. 

My Bogan DB-110 vacuum tube mono block amplifiers
These AMPs were made sometime in 1955, it is old, but it sound great!  It uses the 6V6GT tubes.

My ELAC 50H turntable (Vinyl record player)

A pair of "Leak" Sandwich speaker
These English speakers are seldom seen here in the States. The cones are styrofoam, laminated with thin aluminum. Hence the ' sandwich '. Straight-forward 2-way air-suspension design. The cone tweeter is attached to the grille frame, and is nestled in a soft-foam lined cavity in the front baffle. 

What's next?

I have always dreamed of owning a pair of the B&W 801 series speakers.  I would be happy with just the Matrix series, but the Nautilus series wouldn't hurt either.  :)

Around $12,000 for the pair

And of course I would need the right vacuum tube amplifier to push those speakers, so a Mcintosh is the obvious choice.

Anywhere from $2000-$4000 for the pair

And of course I will definitely need the right CD player.  Like a Krell unit.... 

Anywhere from $2000-$7000
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