So... Tubes vs Solid State for under 1000$, in 2021?

Hello all of my fellow audio nerds,

I’ve heard some great advice about stepping up my headphone amplifier to power some higher-end cans, and they spoke highly of tube amplifiers and offered some interesting suggestions.

So, what do you like more? Tubes or Solid State?

For preferences, I listen to aggressive electronic music, chill electronic music, modern rock, acoustic tracks, and some fun ambient songs.
I have a pair of ZMF Eikons on the way, and I’m just curious what the community’s opinions are between some nice solid-state amps and tube amps.

Cheers audiophiles, love yall

Fortunately, Eikons can do well on both. My favorite solid states have been Violectric, so something like a V200, V220, or V280 you might find used under $1k. Paired with a Soekris DAC, it’s been one of my favorite pairings. For tubes, my point of reference is the Linear Tube MZ2, which can be found on occasion under $1k with the standard power supply. I do like that pairing slightly more, but it’s pretty darn close.


while I don’t know anything about how the Eikon sound, their impedance is 300 ohms, so they could possibly benefit from an OTL tube amp like the Bottlehead Crack with Speedball upgrade. another popular amp is the Monolith Liquid Platinum, which is a hybrid tube / ss amp. hybrids were designed to power both low impedance and higher impedance headphones, as you’ll ruin an OTL if you try to run low impedance headphones on it.

all that said, you want to try a tube amp because it gives warmth to your sound. warmth has also been described as making your headphones sound fun. hybrid amps do this as well, but to a lesser extent because of the ss portion…however, the Liquid Platinum mentioned is particularly good at adding warmth despite being ss.

then you have just ss amps and they can be warm, or neutral or what I call cool (to provide a polar opposite comparison to the description of being warm) which means more detailed / analytical.

however, what you use depends on the headphones you have…as some like tubes and some just don’t jive with them, besides the whole impedance concern.

but at the end of the matter…this is a journey and I say walk the path and try things out and find what you like and don’t like and carry on carrying on getting experience and wisdom.

TLDR; you do yourself a disservice if you don’t try tube amps, hybrid amps and solid state amps.


I think @FiCurious gave a pretty good answer. Buying used can really drive up the value proposition. I bought a Violectric HPA V200 recently for well under $1k and it still lists for $1200. It’s a very good amp. If buying used is uncomfortable for you, or if availability isn’t there, I think some strong solid state options are the Lake People G111 (Lake People actually makes the Violectric line, sorta like a Chevy/Buick kind of thing) and Cayin IHA-6. For a tube amp I’ve been running the Cayin HA-1AMK2 and think quite a lot of it. @Marzipan’s suggestion of the Bottlehead Crack + Speedball is also solid - and a great value if you’re willing to assemble it yourself. Otherwise, there is some guy on Etsy who builds them for a fee - total still under $1K AFAIK. I know @Hazi59 speaks very highly of his work but I can’t remember the name right now, lol. The downside of the OTL style of tube amp is you pretty much have to use them with hi-impedance headphones, which are limited to Sennheisers, Beyerdynamics, ZMFs, and a model or two each from Audio Technica and AKG. There are two solid options for hybrid amps - Monolith Liquid Platinum and Schiit Lyr 3 - under $1K as well. The Liquid Platinum is the amp I primarily used when I reviewed the Eikon 2-3 months ago.


If you’re skiddish, the Vali 2+ with a Realistic Lifetime to Tong Sol 6CG7 tube made me LOVE the Eikons. Unfortunately they’re on back order brand new until March 17th. But the cheapest dollars per smile amp is the Vali 2+ (with tube swap).

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I really love me some class-A solid state amp. One thing I miss about all the vintage gear I used to have.

I think class A is a good middle ground, but honestly I haven’t heard the new stuff that’s out and about.

If you’re on the fence about things, why not buy some good, but rather inexpensive examples? Like a THX 789 and a Darkvoice with some rocking tubes, maybe even used? Decide between the lower budgets for what you prefer and then upgrade?

It looks like you already got some really good advice here, so I won’t say too much more other than you can’t really go wrong with any of the recommendations mentioned so far.

Another good tube amp for under a thousand that works really well with zmf is the Hagerman Tuba. It has a more leaner dry sound for a tube and has the added benefit of being able to drive low impedance cans as well as high impedance so it is quite versatile but you might want to buy some NOS tubes to roll in as the new production mullards it ships with are a bit mid foward imo.

I think the Bottlehead Crack with speedball upgrade would definitely be the best bang for your buck option as far as tubes go, but only if you were to build it yourself. otherwise still a really good option for ZMF im told (i actually have one on the way, but it’s stuck in the post atm). the name of the builder on etsy mentioned above is theheadampbuilder and he does some really beautiful work.

The Feliks Echo is another good choice, while I haven’t heard this one personally a lot of people will vouch for it’s synergy with ZMF. Just keep in mind it is a OTL so it will really only be useable with high impedance.

As for solid state I think one of the better options is the liquid platinum while still being well under you budget so you would have extra money for a dac upgrade or another pair of phones. Otherwise you can’t go wrong with the Violectric line, something like v220 or v280 would be perfect and works very well with ZMF. I have a v281 that i used with my Eikon when i had it and still use with my Auteur and Verite C, great synergy!

sorry i guess i did have quite a bit to add, lol

Saw this the other day on Youtube - Headphone Tube Amplifiers under $1000 Live Stream good stream imo.

I have an Auteur on the way and will be using them on tube amps. I have a Bottlehead crack w/ speedball and Shortest Way 51+.


Save more money and try one of these with the ZMF’s…You went big on the headphones, they are worthy of something nice :+1:

And yes, it’s. Bad ass pre-amp too, i love my older model, the new versions are even nicer…


It looks really not bad.:+1:.
But with some upgrade it cost fast the double :see_no_evil:.

Another Question,for this price you can get the Feliks Elise is a question what is better?

I put the Little dot vi+ for low impidance or the Mk 7 for high impidance in the room,and the Little Dot mk5Se looks not bad.

There is not better only different, both quality components. The Decware CSP3 gives you an added feature that it is actually a quality pre-amplifier w/ a very particular feature (dual channel gain) that is valuable to someone like myself who is more into the 2 channel speaker systems rather than HP’s. For someone who would like to upgrade later on the Decware would offer an available option already in hand to base other components on…I have read good things about Feliks Elise and mostly happy customers. Either way both suggestions are beyond the $1K mark requested originally… :money_mouth_face:


you gave me a scare here… as I understand it, the guy from was recommending Meze among other things in his Echo review, I think he has the Empyrean, which is 31 Ohm or so, therefore I assumed I was safe running my Meze 99 (32 Ohm) to give the Echo a first try. sonically I was pretty happy with the result, and the amp itself did not display any signs of damage… I am worried now…

it’s not going to outright kill your amp right away…but if you continue to run low impedance headphones on it, there will be issues.

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point taken, thanks, will wait until I get hold of HD 650 or something similar. good thing I ended up in this thread! :slight_smile:

I asked Feliks about the echo.
And they didn’t necessarily recommend plugging in low impedance headphones.
It would work but the potential is lost, which the echo can bring from 80 ohm upwards.
That’s why I went straight for the Euforia from Felik’s 2 biggest Topmodel in addition to the 20th birthday edition.

Tor Audio does not offer a bad tube amplifier, as well as the Little Dot Mk5 is also available as a balanced version.
Maybe the Cayin Ha1 that @wavetheory introduced the other day.

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How would you compare the Bottlehead Crack to the SW51+?

So, I am really enjoying both. Crack has that “tube sound”, sometimes referred to as “wet sound” while the SW51+ is on the dryer side but still has that tube/euphoric feeling. Both draws you into the music and you can just get lost and enjoy. I picked up the Crack while waiting for the SW51+ and the Crack + hd6xx combo already gave me that WOW factor. The SW51+ just takes everything I liked about the BHC to another level. While the BHC still takes it on bass quantity the SW51+ has the edge on bass quality and layering. The bass just sound tight on the SW51+. I sometimes feel the bass on the BHC is a little loose. That is the first thing I noticed after spending a week on the SW51+ then going back to the BHC. The stage width on the SW51+ is a little wider in my opinion. The mids doesn’t seem to be as pronounced as the BHC, so, SW51+ feel more neutral with just that righteous tone to it.

does Shortest Way have an actual website? I can’t find anything…

All of the information can be found here and here. FYI, from what I’ve read I do not think he is making the SW51+ anymore and the last units are being sent out to their owners.

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ah…well, I don’t want to learn about and then tempt myself with unobtanium. pehaps one day our paths will cross at the right time…but until then :clown_face:

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