Surprisingly, this is still a recurring question among musicians worldwide. The simple answer is: yes, the sound that is created from tube amps is more pleasant to the ear in general, and yet, there are too many things to consider. People try to apply adjectives to describe the sound of bulbs. They usually go for; “Warm”, “Cleaner”, “With more soul in the tone”, “More chubby” etc.
It is also noticeable that its strength is the sharpness of the middle range (strings, voices) and the extension in the treble. All these considerations are still subjective and very general. The bulbs do not create completely better sound than what comes out of solid-state amplifiers, but the human ear perceives the sound of the bulbs as something more comfortable.
It’s the Distortion That You Are All Looking For
The bulbs generate distortion of the second order, which is considered “more musical”. Some say that this has to do with the denomination of “harmonic distortion”. This is exactly the same note, called fundamental, that is only one octave above. But in addition, a bulb-based amplifier not only generates distortion but also increases it in volume as it happens in a real instrument! When the note decays, the content of the harmonic distortion also decreases.
The result is that a bulbs amplifier reveals notes with more sustain (with more permanence in time). Another thing is that bulbs amplifiers are very good at low volume levels, while solid-state amplifiers are best heard at medium and high levels. As for protection,
Bulb amplifiers suffer from overload gradually and not suddenly as with transistor-based amplifiers. Known as “clipping”, it is an abrupt cut of the signal which produces exorbitant levels of ultrasonic harmonic distortion that usually “burn” the tweeters. This is less likely to happen in tube amplifiers than in solid-state one.
Similarly, if there is an internal short circuit caused by a transistor, it is very likely that the speakers suffer the consequences. In bulb amplifiers, a short circuit is dissipated through the output transformers, preventing damage from reaching the woofers or tweeters. It will be necessary to say that not all amplifiers are equal. Do not expect that the offer of Chinese equipment of ultra-low price is comparable to the systems of Marshall, McIntosh or Rogers.
Something More Comfortable for Your Soul
Much is said about the “magic of the bulbs”. Many fans and enthusiasts have been surprised to include a preamp or better yet a bulb amplifier because they have noticed an increase in the intrinsic joy of listening to music at home.
Believe it or not, the harmonic characteristics of bulbs lower your stress and provide a sense of well-being. In fact, the University of Music and Performing Arts of Frankfurt, conducted an extensive scientific study named “Magic of the Tubes” where participants reported up to 60% decrease of stress, tension and nervousness and up to 120% increase in the feeling of well-being when listening to a Hi-Fi system that included bulbs, when compared with a solid-state system based on transistors.
Other results concluded surprising facts that the bulb-based system improved the emotional status of the participants (enjoy music) with an extraordinary 187% in comparison to the transistor system! The bulbs-based system improved mental status (less stress, more relaxation) by more than 102% on solid-state-based audio and 30% of the participants felt worse when listening to the transistor system and not a single person felt worse after listening to the bulbs system.
After the first study of such kind, we can finally confirm that tube amp systems scientifically prove that enjoying the unique distortion that comes out of the bulbs will always be a more comfortable solution than the solid-state option.