I honestly can't hear a difference between tube and solid state amps.

Dr. Ika

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I thought I could, and spent years in a "tube only" phase. But this past week or so, I've come to the realization that it was all in my mind. Now, I can tell the difference between a good and a bad amplifier, regardless of technology. And I have owned bad tube amps and bad solid state amps; however, as far as tube "warmth", "dynamics", etc., I simply don't hear it. The seeds of doubt began a few years ago when I had a Fender Frontman with a built-in LED distortion circuit. I also had an ADA MP-1 which was the rackmount tube preamp of the late-80's into the early 90's. Anyone who was anyone had one of those. I plugged that MP-1 into the Fender Frontman clean channel, A/B'd back and forth between that and the Fender's distortion channel (with the MP-1 bypassed), and with a little gain and EQ tweaking, both sounded identical. The LED distortion of the amp sounded exactly the same as the MP-1.

"Dynamics" is one element that tube amplifiers supposedly excel in (responsiveness to picking), but every single amp I've played through, tube or solid state, would respond dynamically if the gain knob was set right. "Warmth"? I've been fooled plenty of times by what I thought was a tube amp that turned out to be solid state. I thought I got a fantastic deal on a Hughes & Kettner tube rack preamp when I was stationed in Germany. The price was great for what (I though) I was getting based on the tone I heard in the store. I opened it up to see how many 12AX7's were in there and all I saw was a circuit board...

Of course, there are things like tube rectifier "sag" that is exclusive to tube amps, and that is something I've never really had a thing for, though I understand some people love it. But as far as tone itself and dynamics, no - I can't hear the difference. Odd and even-order harmonics? Can't hear the difference.

I'm open to the possibility that if I sat down with one good example of each, and spent some time going back and forth, there might be something I'd notice, but that "something" just might be the difference between two different amplifiers anyway.
Big difference, great tube amp just makes your guitar sing and it's totally different feel from the solid state amp.
 

warchol

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Jan 22, 2004
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151
I thought I could, and spent years in a "tube only" phase. But this past week or so, I've come to the realization that it was all in my mind. Now, I can tell the difference between a good and a bad amplifier, regardless of technology. And I have owned bad tube amps and bad solid state amps; however, as far as tube "warmth", "dynamics", etc., I simply don't hear it. The seeds of doubt began a few years ago when I had a Fender Frontman with a built-in LED distortion circuit. I also had an ADA MP-1 which was the rackmount tube preamp of the late-80's into the early 90's. Anyone who was anyone had one of those. I plugged that MP-1 into the Fender Frontman clean channel, A/B'd back and forth between that and the Fender's distortion channel (with the MP-1 bypassed), and with a little gain and EQ tweaking, both sounded identical. The LED distortion of the amp sounded exactly the same as the MP-1.

"Dynamics" is one element that tube amplifiers supposedly excel in (responsiveness to picking), but every single amp I've played through, tube or solid state, would respond dynamically if the gain knob was set right. "Warmth"? I've been fooled plenty of times by what I thought was a tube amp that turned out to be solid state. I thought I got a fantastic deal on a Hughes & Kettner tube rack preamp when I was stationed in Germany. The price was great for what (I though) I was getting based on the tone I heard in the store. I opened it up to see how many 12AX7's were in there and all I saw was a circuit board...

Of course, there are things like tube rectifier "sag" that is exclusive to tube amps, and that is something I've never really had a thing for, though I understand some people love it. But as far as tone itself and dynamics, no - I can't hear the difference. Odd and even-order harmonics? Can't hear the difference.

I'm open to the possibility that if I sat down with one good example of each, and spent some time going back and forth, there might be something I'd notice, but that "something" just might be the difference between two different amplifiers anyway.
Personally, I like the "imperfections" of a good used tube amp.
Subtle things like inter-tube modulations with low filter values,
light ringing, slight tube microphonics etc. Gives character to the sound IMHO.
 

chamas

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After years of using Line 6 digital amps, I switched back to tube amps. Digital almost seem flat with nothing special happening even with a nice amp sound. Tube amps give depth and air, almost a 3D like quality that makes it sound so much better.
 

omahaaudio

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The difference is that tube amps produce even order harmonics that make an amp "sing" while solid state amps produce odd order harmonics that are less sonically appealing.
Tube amps (heavy) produce lots an lots af even order spasms in my lower back and shoulders as I carry them, while solid state amps (light) produce minimal odd order spasms and a lot less pain.
 

bobio

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Toob free post ;)

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chris m.

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I see both sides. My tube amps sound great. But I bought my 12 year old son a cheap, analog SS Marshall combo amp-- I think it's the MG100DFX, without checking it to confirm-- and I have to say it sounds just fine, especially its clean tone. It certainly doesn't sound quite as good as my tube amps, nor as good as my BluGuitar Amp1 SS amp, but I absolutely could gig with it.

If all my amps disappeared tomorrow, would I go out and buy a tube amp first? Probably not. I think I would buy another Amp1.

We should differentiate between pure analog and digital modeling, however. At this point in time for live applications I definitely prefer the sound of actual analog SS amps that rely on traditional components like transistors and diodes over digital modeling amps that rely on computer chips to simulate the desired sounds. For direct recording to computer I have had great results with digital stuff, even with the original kidney-shaped POD.
 

notmyusualuserid

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Just saw this, surprised - haven't read all the pages. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and there are some simply awful works of art (paintings), to my eyes, that other people will pay thousands of dollars for. Comparatively, if someone can't tell the difference (with their ears) between tube vs. digital, then they don't need to worry about transporting or paying for heavier/more expensive tube amps...Don't worry - be happy. But, for those of us who can hear and appreciate the difference and warm tone of a tube amp, it's our choice what to spend, transport, and invest in for our own pleasure and performing needs.
When I was 'performing' I cared more about the audience's pleasure, wants and needs. Call me old fashioned.
 

klasaine

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For going 23 pages - it's been relatively well mannered.

This is just an anecdote. I'm not concerned with what amp anyone uses, or even why. All I care about is how you sound to me.

Last Sunday I spent 8 hours coaching three different high school Jazz bands. Rhythm section playing and improvisation. I used my personal guitar but plugged into one of the school's Fender Champion 40 1x12" SS (possibly digital-?) combo amps. Once I dialed it in with just a little bit of grit and reverb - mixed in with bass, drums, keys and a horn section - it was honestly scary how comfortable I felt playing through it. I sounded like me and it felt like me playing through my amp. *All my tube amps feel different to me. 'Scary' enough that I'm thinking about buying one ($250 USD) to leave in my car. I'm not kidding. It did get brittle when the volume was past about 8 but below that it was loud enough to play with a high school jazz band.
 

DocHelliday

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Live, no one hears a difference. Including international tube snobs.
I picked up this old Philco radio cabinet and threw in a Peavey Studio Pro 40 w/ EVM 15b speaker.
The gig had traditional rockabilly guitar players and the headliner was from Spain

I got so many compliments on sound!
If they'd seen the Studio Pro before it was in this tuxedo, well...
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Mjark

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I use solid state at home. For the last couple of years it’s been a Spark Positive Grid. Before that Super Champ XD, before that a J-Station.

I still use tubes to play live although I used my Crate Power Block twice when my 72 Deluxe Reverb failed without any problems.

Quilter are nice amps. I’ve used my friend’s a few times.
 

MilwMark

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Where did the idea that tubes produce only even order harmonics and SS does not produce even order harmonics come from?

Where did the idea that decent SS amps can't - as a class of technology - produce the same touch-sensitivity come from?

When I read things like this I wonder what people are doing wrong when using gear, to be honest.
 

Brent Hutto

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Where did the idea that tubes produce only even order harmonics and SS does not produce even order harmonics come from?

Where did the idea that decent SS amps can't - as a class of technology - produce the same touch-sensitivity come from?

When I read things like this I wonder what people are doing wrong when using gear, to be honest.
Far as I can tell, some know-it-all wrote that in a magazine article 30-40 years ago, based on who knows what kind of conjecture, and it became one of those memes that future know-it-alls memorized so they could repeat it for the rest of their natural lives. People can't resist having a handy, technical-sounding bit of simplistic mumbo-jumbo that answers complex questions. The fact it's obviously wrong doesn't make it any less attractive!
 

printer2

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The difference is that tube amps produce even order harmonics that make an amp "sing" while solid state amps produce odd order harmonics that are less sonically appealing. However digital modeling has changed much of that as they "model" or copy the audio signal that is produced by a tube amp. So it comes very close to sounding like a tube amp. However, the question is: do you want the real thing or a copy?
Sorry, you are mistaken. Both SS devices and tubes can produce either even or odd harmonics depending how they are biased.

I caught this video from another thread, I instantly thought of this one. While not the ultimate experiment it does show that maybe there are more similarities than differences.

 




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