Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Tube Amp Owners Rejoice!

I know I promised a bit of a CEDIA wrap up last time, and I still may write one (not that you're chomping at the bit for it), but I have more pressing matters at hand!

I occasionally run little mini-tours and host mini-listening sessions when a customer brings in a pair of speakers for repair. Yesterday a guy drove down from Ohio with his CS1.2s, so I hung out with him in the listening room for a few minutes. Our VAC Renaissance 70/70 300B tube amp caught his eye as it does many. It's a strikingly cool looking amplifier.

We were listening to CS3.7s which are really quite sensitive at 90dB, and they have a very stable impedance/magnitude curve, so I thought, what the heck. I wouldn't normally hook that amp up in our massive 10,000 cubic foot listening room especially for customers because many encourage me to "crank it up" beyond levels at which one can maintain sanity. This amplifier coupled with our speakers conjoined in our room is not a system built for blowing out walls.

Anyway, because of the great specs of the CS3.7 and our dear customer's sensibility with the volume knob, I warmed it up for an hour and then switched from a mighty Krell to this piece. Sweet Momma! This sounds Gooooood! So I turned it up...no strain!

After the office closed for the day I went in there to do some more listening. It was really for pleasure, but I did it under the premise that I needed some topical inspiration for the blog...anything to get out from behind the desk right? Vocal after vocal was super pure, violin solo was chilling, piano was true to life. This is a really fun setup to listen to.

We're only lacking in bass weight. The Krell will really spoil a man in terms of bass power and punch. I recalled having superb results with CS1.6s on this amplifier at home with a SmartSub, so I thought I'd try an SS3 and PXO2 in the mix. This worked marvelously. The bottom octave snugged up substantially and came up to the same level as the rest of the music. If any THIEL owner has a tube amplifier and feels like his/her bass is lacking, soft, or MIA, I very much encourage an audition of a SmartSub. I lost nothing in terms of coherence, the soundstage actually got wider and deeper. It took very little imagination to see the musicians working their art.

If I get some free time before we ship this pair to one of our distributors, I'm going to try an Integrator in crossover mode. I suspect that this will be even better because I can preserve more headroom in the VAC.

Back to my point stated in the title, many THIEL owners for many years have enjoyed considerable musical bliss with tube amplifiers. But, our flagship and 2nd best speakers aren't notorious for their high sensitivity and flat impedance curves. For this reason, many people have summarily dismissed tube amplifiers as a possibility for driving THIELs. I highly encourage anyone who has dismissed a tube/THIEL combo in the past to try again with CS3.7s, even in large rooms. You may like it, you may hate it, but CS3.7s are probably more well suited for tube amplifiers than any thing else we've built in the CS3.x series in the last 15-20 years, maybe ever. It's certainly a more appropriate match than CS6s or CS7.2s in the vast majority of cases.

Happy listening!
-Your glowing grid service guy

P.S. The CS1.6 is equally sensitive and 'resistive', therefore just as well suited for a medium powered tube amp as the CS3.7. I encourage this audition as well! In fact, if memory serves, one of our newer dealers sold a pair of CS1.6 on a Cayin tube amp much to the new owner's continued happiness!

8 Comments:

Anonymous Art M. said...

You ought to hear the 1.6's with my Cary SLI-80 - in 40wpc triode mode no less! The REL Strata III is a match made in heaven.
Art

8:55 PM  
Blogger LPAnderson said...

Gary,

I thought this was one of your better posts. Generally speaking, I probably wouldn't consider a tube amp for a new pair of Theils because solid state amps seem so much more simple, straightforward, and easier to match--just buy a Krell/Levinson/Bryston/etc. and be done with it. Years and years of glowing reviews follow all of these brands and others like them.

But since ultimate musical expression is indeed my goal, and I would be expecting/hoping to add a sub anyway... why not use tubes for the main speakers and use the sub exactly for what it was designed to do?—supplement the bass. In that regard, it would almost seem "redundant" to use Krell/etc. to flesh out the bass, but still add the sub to... er,... flesh out the bass. It's interesting for me to consider for the first time, that it might be able to get BOTH, sweet sound and full bass drive, by combining the tube amp (for your mains) with a sub.

So consider me now in the camp of those that would definitely consider a tube amp for your Thiels. I still might find I like the "drive" and "punch" from solid-state, but I'd at least want to try listening to that "sweet tube sound", I've heard so much about.

Thank-you for the time and thought you put into your posts, I thoroughly enjoy them.

11:54 AM  
Blogger LPAnderson said...

Gary,

I thought this was one of your better posts. Generally speaking, I probably wouldn't consider a tube amp for a new pair of Thiels because solid state amps seem so much more simple, straightforward, and easier to match--just buy a Krell/Levinson/Bryston/etc. and be done with it. Years and years of glowing reviews follow all of these brands and others like them.

But since ultimate musical expression is indeed my goal, and I would be expecting/hoping to add a sub anyway... why not use tubes for the main speakers and use the sub exactly as it was designed—to supplement the bass. In that regard, it would almost seem "redundant" to use Krell/etc. to flesh out the bass, but still add the sub to... er,... flesh out the bass. It's interesting (for me) to consider for the first time, that it might be able to get BOTH, sweet sound and full bass drive, by combining the tube amp (for your mains) with a sub.

So consider me now in the camp of those that would definitely consider a tube amp for your Thiels. I still might find I like the "drive" and "punch" from solid-state, but I'd at least want to try listening to that "sweet tube sound", I've heard so much about.

Thank-you for the time and thought you put into your posts, I thoroughly enjoy them.

11:58 AM  
Blogger LPAnderson said...

Gary,

I thought this was one of your better posts. Generally speaking, I probably wouldn't consider a tube amp for a new pair of Theils because solid state amps seem so much more simple, straightforward, and easier to match--just buy a Krell/Levinson/Bryston/etc. and be done with it. Years and years of glowing reviews follow all of these brands and others like them.

But since ultimate musical expression is indeed my goal, and I would be expecting/hoping to add a sub anyway... why not use tubes for the main speakers and use the sub exactly as it was designed—to supplement the bass. In that regard, it would almost seem "redundant" to use Krell/etc. to flesh out the bass, but still add the sub to... er,... flesh out the bass. It's interesting (for me) to consider for the first time, that it might be able to get BOTH, sweet sound and full bass drive, by combining the tube amp (for your mains) with a sub.

So consider me now in the camp of those that would definitely consider a tube amp for your Thiels. I still might find I like the "drive" and "punch" from solid-state, but I'd at least want to try listening to that "sweet tube sound", I've heard so much about.

Thank-you for the time and thought you put into your posts, I thoroughly enjoy them.

11:59 AM  
Blogger LPAnderson said...

Gary,

I thought this was one of your better posts. Generally speaking, I probably wouldn't consider a tube amp for a new pair of Theils because solid state amps seem so much more simple, straightforward, and easier to match--just buy a Krell/Levinson/Bryston/etc. and be done with it. Years and years of glowing reviews follow all of these brands and others like them.

But since ultimate musical expression is indeed my goal, and I would be expecting/hoping to add a sub anyway... why not use tubes for the main speakers and use the sub exactly as it was designed—to supplement the bass. In that regard, it would almost seem "redundant" to use Krell/etc. to flesh out the bass, but still add the sub to... er,... flesh out the bass. It's interesting (for me) to consider for the first time, that it might be able to get BOTH, sweet sound and full bass drive, by combining the tube amp (for your mains) with a sub.

So consider me now in the camp of those that would definitely consider a tube amp for your Thiels. I still might find I like the "drive" and "punch" from solid-state, but I'd at least want to try listening to that "sweet tube sound", I've heard so much about.

Thank-you for the time and thought you put into your posts, I thoroughly enjoy them.

11:59 AM  
Anonymous Sue Furnell said...

Hi Gary, I have some old thiel CS1s and have put many old valve amps on them. My 50yr old leak TL10s with KT61s may not be great on power but you can sit down with background music playing and before you realise it you get pulled in. Its enticing and very emotional.
The different amps have different qualities but even though I experiment with other valve amps (using a modern chinese kt88 at mo) I have not changed these old speakers. I know I was lucky to get them as I'm in the UK and you dont really see or hear of them over here.
Sue

8:47 PM  
Anonymous Sue Furnell said...

Hi Gary, I have some old thiel CS1s and have put many old valve amps on them. My 50yr old leak TL10s with KT61s may not be great on power but you can sit down with background music playing and before you realise it you get pulled in. Its enticing and very emotional.
The different amps have different qualities but even though I experiment with other valve amps (using a modern chinese kt88 at mo) I have not changed these old speakers. I know I was lucky to get them as I'm in the UK and you dont really see or hear of them over here.
Sue

8:48 PM  
Anonymous Lance Cochrane said...

I'm a tube amp builder. Have been since 1970. Thiel speakers sound very nice with tube amplification, sharp and crisp. The smaller models sound larger than they are. It's funny how the volume control tells you how much power is being delivered but doesn't tell you much about the sound clarity level. If the sound clarity is high it seems louder than it really is. A DB meter tells you one thing, your ears another. The smaller Theil I have playing at the moment are not as efficient as my larger pair, much larger pair of speakers from another maker, but they seem louder because they are more clear. There's not the need to blast in order to delude oneself that the volume will compensate for lack of clarity. Tubes with Theil? Works just fine.

KQVKQ9

8:54 PM  

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