The proof as to why tubes sound better than other amplifiers is completely unobtrusive for someone who finds no passion in unlocking the mysteries of sound and music. But dedicated audio enthusiasts can expound and fairly conclude that tubes produce better sound at a higher intensity. Sound amplification can be: using vacuum tubes and using solid-state or electronics: diodes, transistors, etc.
The two has been a subject of controversy for the past years. Although small, light, and cheaper, solid-state amps has gained a bad reputation amongst the guitarists in the 60s. It was only popular for playing sounds under low to medium frequencies. It was recalled on a guitar magazine that solid-state amps produced flat and lifeless sound. Perhaps the ultimate advantage of a tube amplifier over a solid-state – from which it would draw its strength – can be summarized in one word – Distortion.
Although there are factors which make solid-state amplifiers favorable than tube amplifiers, solid-state do not perform well when it comes to crossover and transient intermodulation distortion whereas tube amplifiers have this second order harmonic distortions rendering the beautiful music. Here are the top reasons why tubes sound better.
Distortion goes through different meaning. It is often depicted as something unwanted. However, that is not the case when you ask a guitarist. Nowadays, it is essential in a heterodyning procedure to improve the quality of the sound produced. Heterodyning is a method of processing a signal to produce heterodynes and new frequencies by introducing it to the signal path.
Distortion in its simplest definition is the alteration of the sound’s waveform. The analog distortion the tubes create produces a set of frequencies that are harmonic. Harmonics are two times the standard frequency which makes it one octave higher. Tubes sound better because it produces a musical effect by just adding an increased level of harmonic distortion and monotone.
2. Warm and Smooth
“Fuzz”- it is a guitarist’s jargon term for a particular form of distortion. It can be heard a lot from speakers and preamplifiers. For them, it adds a musical effect. How?
Clipping happens when the amplifier tries to produce a charge it could no longer hold during the phase where it’s already overloaded generating some kind of a distortion. Soft clipping prevents distortions by bringing down the peaks to a line level not allowing it to square off every time it clips. The peaks get camouflaged by having its tops rounded during an excessively high-intensity energy which in turn leads to a loud fused sound often depicted as “smooth” and “warm”. The tubes sound better because the tubes clip in a better way to the point that the sound becomes soft and warm.
3. Loud and Clear
“Love works in mysterious ways” – according to famous romance author Julia Quinn in her book “The Duke and I”. It is almost true with tubes. Tubes have its mysterious ways as it may not deliver quality sound in the beginning.
Burn-in is a process of stabilizing a tube and checking its reliability by having the unit constantly switched on for a period of time. This makes re-biasing unnecessary and easy tube rolling as the initial matching might not drift and the sound produced further improves without waiting for the tube to be stabilized. Tubes sound better because the tube inside is cleaner and has been deoxygenated to produce a loud and clear sound when the device operated at a higher frequency under full voltages for hours.
Biasing plays a huge role in using tubes for a system of amplification. It works by regulating the amount of current passing through the tube when the tube grid runs out of signal. It is what biasing does. It is necessary so that signals are properly amplified which in turn properly distributes the right amount of distortion.
There are two ways to perform tube bias: under-biasing and over-biasing. The idle voltage when under-biasing is increased so that the headroom is decreased and the signal in an earlier state can be distorted. Tubes sounds better because it allows biasing which in turn produces a subtle sound by controlling the current flow while preserving tube life.
How does tube make sound quality seamless? Aside from “burn in”, clipping, and biasing, it also has something to do with lesser or no negative feedback at all and the circuit design. Negative feedback is the amplification output signal directed back as an input signal to create a circuit to minimize the fluctuation in the output.
You should know that the lower the negative feedback; the greater the harmonic distortion. However, the effects of utilizing lower negative feedback depend on the phase shifts of the circuitry. In other words, tubes sound better because it can produce a seamless sound which depends on a good circuitry design to employ lower negative feedback.
Tubes definitely brought music to the next level as it allows you to listen to edgy instruments without fatigue. Tube amps may not be as popular as solid-state amps but they surely give you the warm sensational tone. It was a guitarist’s fault from way back in the ’60s as to why tubes sound better and solid-state amplifiers sucks. You might find it humorous but solid-state amplifiers were terrible in amplifying sound at high frequency. In contrast, vacuum tubes operate in the point of an overload without the addition of an unpleasant distortion.
To wrap things up, tubes sound better because it is able to produce a musical, smooth, warm, loud, clear, subtle and seamless sound at high frequency because it affixes harmonic distortion. It clips better, “burn in” cleans and frees the tube with oxide contaminants to run under high voltage for a time period, and under-biased to control the current flow. However, this does not justify the closure to whichever amplifier sounds better but rather explains that tubes work well in manipulating distortions to create a musical effect with the addition of making the sound warm, making it a good material for music reproduction.