Amplifier artforms

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Sometimes that which I write can conflict with my world view of what we do. This happens when I am trying to make a point about one thing and unintentionally is at the expense of something else. A good example was yesterday's post where I suggested a vacuum tube was the last thing I would design into an output stage of a power amplifier, yet the first thing I would add to its input. It was assumed by some readers this means I do not like tubes nor the work of tube manufacturers building amplifiers. And that is not what I wished to come across.

Some of the finest sounding power amplifiers I have ever heard were completely tube based. They are hard to beat with solid state means. Which is why we have decided to add a tube to the front of our new amplifier set for soft launch in April. But the fact that I think using a tube as an output device in a power amplifier's a bad idea doesn't mean I don't enjoy the results when others do. No, to the contrary, I do enjoy them and tolerate their shortcomings. And every design has shortcomings.

Take damping factor as an example. DF is a measurement of how well a power amplifier is able to control a loudspeaker. The higher the DF, the greater the control over the speaker. Tube amplifiers have less DF than their solid state brethren and exhibit less control over loudspeakers. How much this affects the sound quality of what we listen to has much to do with the type of loudspeaker and one's sensitivity to the results. A highly inductive dynamic loudspeaker requires a lot of control in order to have authoritative bass response, a tube amplifier struggles to provide this. A solid state amplifier with adequate design hasn't any problem in the same situation. And this is just one example.

Designing high end audio equipment destined to tickle the pleasure centers with well reproduced music is an artform. There are no perfect solutions and many paths to achieving great sound.

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Paul McGowan

Founder & CEO

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