I have been getting into the audio hobby over the last couple of years. I have enjoyed the learning process and the journey to listening to high quality music. However, I am still new to this hobby. I have been using the THX AAA 789 as a headphone amp, balanced of course. However, I keep hearing how experiencing audio through a tube amp can be quite enjoyable and also a different experience.
The problem being I don’t know if a tube amp is right for me. I say this as I hear that you really need to have high impudent headphones. I also often hear that tube headphones create a “warm” sounding music. I enjoy listening to detailed music and enjoy airy highs. I wonder if going to a tube amp would not be enjoyable to listen to this type of music.
Headphones I currently have may also not be ideal to run on a tube amp as well. I currently have a Focal Elex, 58x, and a HD 598 (my first headphone before I knew what I was doing). From what I am hearing none of these headphones would truly benefit from a tube amp. However, I am new to tube amps and this hobby and would love some clarification and help. Feel free to also suggest headphones and tube amps that pair well. I know that the HD 600 is the benchmark. I just don’t want to lose the highs and detail that I so love.
What price range are you looking at? The entry points for quality tube amps is generally the Bottlehead Crack w/ Speedball upgrade, Shortest Way 51+, Hagerman Audio Labs Tuba, Feliks Echo, Cayin HA-1Amk2, or the new Quicksilver. Most of those are $500-1000.
You are correct your current headphones aren’t very tube friendly. You should look into Senn 600/650/6xx or the 600 ohm Beyerdynamics like DT880 or T1.2. If you want to spend more most ZMF tube well and the Senn HD800 series does as well.
As far as losing highs and detail… That really depends on the amp and headphones. Beyers still have Beyer highs even with tube amps. Senn 6?? wake up considerably in both the highs and lows when tubed.
There really isn’t a true “tube sound” like many claim. They run the spectrum from very dry and analytical to very wet and thick. Of those I named above, the Tuba is on the drier side, the Crack is a wetter thicker amp, and the Cayin has a selector knob for output impedance that let’s you choose somewhat dry to somewhat wet.
DT880 600ohm doesn’t sound that great on tubes. It doesn’t sound bad, but not great ether. For me 880 and A100 just work well with each other. For tubes from what I got so far, just HD 600 work well.
All that aside I would buy a warm solid state Class-A before tubes. I got WA-6SE, a 1200 Euro Class-A tube amp, and I am sad to report it was a disappointment. To be clear it doesn’t sound bad but so far it feels like always stops one step short from being great. Imagine a sound that makes you say “hell yes”; the amp was always one step short of providing that experience. I get more enjoyment from $500 RebelAmp then from 1200 Euro Woo Audio, both class-A both single ended.
To each their own. I’m curious, which tube amp did you use with DT880? I agree amp pairing with 880 is tricky, but to my ears it has sounded better of my tube and tube hybrids than most pure solid state amps. Although it sounds pretty darn good from Schiit Asgard 3 too.
With the headphones you have a good option is an hybrid amp or a not otl tube amp with a low output impedance (that actually are not really common) about the sound with the tubes amps the sound signature depends mostly by the tubes it may change drastically and is not always warm. This possibility to tune the sound with different tubes based on your headphones and preferences is one of the main advantages of tube amps.
Hmmm, interesting thought. I considered a hybrid amp but was not sure if there was much difference from a solid state. I guess I just considered a tube amp would sound more of a different sound than a hybrid.
“Warm” is a description of sound signature that typically happens with a slightly elevated or emphasized presence in the upper bass and lower mids. THE Senn HD650 is often described as warm. Tubes are often thought of as being similar, but they actually are not always.
The “dry” and “wet” terms exist on a spectrum. They refer to the…and forgive me because this is not easy to describe, and you’ll likely get several other answers from others on this forum and elsewhere…texture of the overall presentation. A dry sound gives each instrument and voice its own well-defined “pocket” in which it’s produced. A wet sound is more blended together. In the extremes dry sounds chalky and wet sounds syrupy.
Thick refers to the sound having body, not necessarily added bass or warmth, but just more fullness and weight.
Analytical often refers to being bright (treble forward) and detail-forward.
My response was an attempt to move you and other readers away from thinking of “that tube sound” with tube amps. Tube amps are as varied in their sounds as solid state amps. But, they have a reputation for being warmer and thicker than neutral. That’s in large part because most of the super budget tube amps are warm thick, and wet to the point of sounding sloppy. Because they’re cheap, they’re accessible, and thus represent the sound. Which is a shame, because there are a lot of different sounding tube amps out there who some don’t appreciate because they don’t sound stereotypically “tubey”.
Garbage. It’s cold, grainy, veiled, and bright. As someone who purchased an 887, I’m not too happy with it overall and moved on since then and felt like the THX amps didn’t come near the hype. If you want an amp that sounds like the THX hype for power and sound that delivers, the Headamp GS-X Mini. Even then many discover they want a touch of warmth.
Also careful… Class A for solid state can mean either highly resolving and a bit bright or a bit warm. Really class A is playing a single transistor. The transistor type, manufacturer, biasing, supply voltage, input coupling, and output stage coupling factors into the sound of class A amps. There is no universal rule for what class A should sound like.
Honestly I’d consider an Asgard 3. For a tube hybrid, I’ve been REALLY impressed with the Vali 2+. Little bit of tube rolling and you can get nearly any sound you want. It’s the only $150 amp that I grab for first and stick a $3k DAC and a $3k set of headphones one and don’t regret the amp.