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.
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.
The list comprises of:
- Solid state:
Sansui AU-317 mk II
Marantz PM 6003
Musical Paradise MP-301 mkII Integrated Amplifier
Jolida JD102CRC Integrated Tube Stereo Amp
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.
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.