Down The Tubes

Just as playing an LP is as much theatre as the actual or perceived sound quality there’s something rather warm and homely about listening to a valve amplifier, or tube amp if you prefer.

The MusicalParadise MP-301 mkII

The MusicalParadise MP-301 mkII

Mrs Bloke was rather surprised to find out that I had squirrelled away four hifi amplifiers. Yes, it’s true. A couple of rather fine, though certainly not exotic, solid state amps. And a couple of valve amps.

Mullard EL34s - matched pair

Mullard EL34s – matched pair

The list comprises of:

  • Solid state:

    Sansui AU-317 mk II
    Marantz PM 6003

  • Valve/Tube:

    Musical Paradise MP-301 mkII Integrated Amplifier
    Jolida JD102CRC Integrated Tube Stereo Amp

My go to amplifier, at the moment is the Musical Paradise. Despite its theoretically very low output, in terms of watts, it can still rock my speakers – Quad 11Ls – and it has a headphone output.

In fact, by US standards my hifi is laughable, but to me it sounds better than quite a number of five-figure systems I have heard. But hey!

The thing is, that compiling a nice hifi system is just like brewing a fine beer. The central concept is balance.

And just as a good beer recipe takes account of the characteristics of each individual ingredient, a good hifi consists of a number of components which compliment each other. Lose the balance and things go awry.

One of the interesting things with using a valve amplifier is that, rather than working with just one specific tube, there is a certain degree of choice, both in valve specification and manufacturer. The benefit is that each of them brings a different characteristic to the sound of the amplifier.

The rather pleasant "glow in the dark" effect

The rather pleasant “glow in the dark” effect

A day or so ago I switched on my amplifier to find that one of the channels had blown. At that point I was on my second set of valves, 6L6GC STRs made by Tung-Sol in China.

Fortunately, I had a spare matched set, Mullard EL34s, now made in Russia.

Even more fortunately, I’m really liking the sound although it will be a few hours yet before the valves settle in. It’s all rather organic in a way.

The thing is, the nature of the sound is far more influenced by the type of valve used in the amplifier than by the the actual cost. You might get a far more acceptable sound from a comparatively modest amp with carefully matched valves than from an expensive amp with a bad combination. Anyway, that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

And remember, listen to the music and not the equipment.

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