The revival of vacuum tubes, horn speakers and turntables to amplify sound has spawned upgraded designs based on old schematic platforms. Sleek and shiny analog gears have suddenly sprouted in the marketplace, and the younger generation of audiophiles now has a lot to choose from.
Suddenly audiophiles today are faced with the daunting task of separating the shaft from the grain. But as I have written earlier, the technology involved in making these gears has long been perfected. The add-ons which we now see in modern-day analog equipment are nothing but aesthetic and, to a certain extent, meant to make handicaps out of us with their remote control features. Minus these distractions, your ultimate choice still depends, as it has always been, on your listening preference, the size of your listening room and its acoustic treatment.
It seems only yesterday when all these gears were almost consigned to oblivion. Thanks to electronic companies such as Audio Research, Conrad Johnson, Musical Fidelity, Thorens, Clear Audio, among others, which have held fast to their analog faith. Despite the general market push to the digital max, these companies (although being forced by time to manufacture digital audio equipment) never wavered in also making tube pre-amplifiers, amplifiers and turntables; thereby keeping the analog fire burning.
A reader wrote to ask which among the tube amps in the market today offer the best sonic qualities. Sound preference is subjective, and I don’t wish to impose my partiality on others. I am definitely biased to the low-powered single-ended-triode (SET) amplifiers because, aside from their simplicity and musicality, they match beautifully with high-sensitive speakers.
SET is a classic which has achieved a cult status among audio purists. It reproduces excellent mid frequencies which to me are the most important ingredient in the audio spectrum. With a SET amp operating in an acoustically treated room, the music is immediate, warm and engaging.
This high sonic quality is mainly attributed to the SET’s minimalist circuit design in which only an output tube is required. The plate is connected to one wire on the primary winding of an output transformer, with the secondary winding of this transformer supplying the speakers. The other wire of the output transformer primary winding is linked to the power supply. SET amps normally give you between five to 30 watts of power, more than enough to drive speakers with sensitivity rating of above 96 dB.
With SET matched up with the right speakers inside an acoustically treated environment, your room suddenly becomes invisible; in its stead is perhaps a concert hall you’re all too familiar with, or a recording studio miles and hundreds of yesterdays away.
But as I’ve said, sound preference is very subjective and I can only advise those who seek my opinion to go check out SET amps themselves. I’m sure audio dealers will only be too happy to have their equipment auditioned.
One thing that a new sound enthusiast should remember, however, is that nothing beats a sound system in which each component is circumspectly crafted and matched to enhance sound as a whole; or one that can bring the Carnegie Hall, or Sheffield’s Lab recording studio, right in your listening room.
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For comments and suggestions, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org