Should you leave your hi-fi gear on or turn it off?

    Everybody knows, of course: if it’s solid-state, leave it on. If it’s tube, shut it off.

    A couple weeks ago, in my queue on the YouTubes, up popped a vid starring Mr. McGowan, in which he supported that truism. Naturally! Of course!

    But: au contraire, mon frère. Please allow me to beg to differ.

    As really committed readers might remember, for roughly 25 years,

    I used a system in which the anchor points were an EAR G88 preamp and a pair of Richard Brown’s BEL 1001 Mk. Something mono amplifiers – they started at Mk. II and evolved to somewhere beyond IV, over the years I owned them.


    Dan Schwartz's BEL 1001 mono power amplifiers.

    Dan Schwartz’s BEL 1001 mono power amplifiers.


    The EAR G88 was an absolutely mind-blowingly sublime preamp that was pure-tube – and I very rarely turned it off. Unless we were leaving the house for a few days at a minimum, it was on 24 hours a day. In 25 years it had two tube changes. And that was only because I was trying to be a good housekeeper; I never heard the sound deteriorate, and I didn’t hear a substantial improvement with a new set.

    In hindsight, I left the G88 on at the suggestion of its designer/maker, Tim de Paravicini. There’s something he knew about tubes and their operating characteristics.

    The BELs, on the other hand: leave ‘em on, right? After all, they’re solid-state amps; it’s obvious.

    No. Not so obvious.

    Richard Brown insisted they go off every day. “Pshaw,” said I – as a reviewer for The Absolute Sound, I KNEW best. And so I left them on – for maybe three or four months. Then, just out of a sort of idle curiosity, I decided to test myself (and Richard’s thinking).

    Well, whaddaya know? I was dead fricking wrong.

    EAR 509 power amplifier.

    EAR 509 power amplifier.


    When turned off and then back on, the sound was harmonically richer, more – wait for it – tube-like. Irony, huh? The sound emerged from a quiet background either way but was more 3-dimensional, more life-like when the amps had been turned off.

    Solid-state turned off every day, tubes left on in perpetuity. Geez, these designers and their eccentricities…

    BTW – I’ve told this tale in these pages, but I’ll tell it again. Dan Meinwald, the importer of EAR, is a good friend of 30 years, and a long time back, he brought over a pair of EAR 509 amplifiers for comparison with the 1001s. He thought the EARs were better across the board. But while I thought that the EARs made the presentation of classical music more genuine, for rock and jazz, the BELs had the edge.


    Header image courtesy of Linforth.

    9 comments on “On or Off?”

    1. This article reminds me of my hi-fi horror story from some years ago. I was delighted because I’d been lent a pair of prototype mono blocks to try. Leaving your equipment on had just become the in thing, well, a new suggestion, so that’s what I did.
      One day I came home and could smell burning rubber, not a good sign. I’d placed the amps on inner tubes to isolate them.
      For some reason one of the amps had overheated, no thermal protection due to being prototypes, and melted the tube. The fault also took out two of the drive units in the speaker which had to be replaced. It could have been so much worse though, if the tube had more than just melted. It was all very close to the curtains. Needless to say these days I don’t leave my amp on all the time.

    2. All of my solid state equipment gets plugged in and turned on with music playing through my system 24/7, is only powered off if there is a power failure, and this is true even if I leave home for a week.

      I have Audio Research tube gear that does not stay on as ARC recommends swapping tubes at 2000 hours.

      This has worked best for me over the years.

    3. Stand by power mode is pretty much the happy medium I guess. My dedicated headphone amp has this as well as my cd transport with power supply.
      All desktop amps I own are solid state. If I had tube amps. I’d shut them off.

    4. I don’t have pockets lined with $100 bills, so everything is turned off when it’s not used. If I do serious listening, I’ll fire the big system up before dinner and it’s ready to go a couple hours later. Never noticed a difference from the days when I used to keep a few of the components on, or in standby for days at a time, vs. letting them warm up fully over the course of a couple of hours.

      The amount of “standby” electricity we consume is insane. Every wall wart, every charger, every component in standby mode is drawing electricity. Individually they don’t consume much, but together it’s a substantial amount of electricity. I only say this because I’d rather keep the money in my pocket and not in the utility company’s bank account.

      To me, it’s the same as leaving my kitchen sink running continually in a small, steady stream–I’d be paying for water that I was letting flow down the drain. Or in essence, if the water isn’t actively serving a purpose (filling a glass, washing cookware, etc.), then it’s a resource being wasted. These electronics are basically doing the exact same thing–using power that is serving no purpose other than laziness. We don’t want to physically get out of our chairs to turn on our TVs now, do we? And do we want to plug in or unplug a dozen different chargers throughout the house as we go through charging cycles on everything we own (phones, remotes, 18V tool batteries, etc.)?

      I really wish electronics and audio component manufacturers would get away from these wasteful methods of powering components at a trickle when we’re not using them. Kind of ironic when some of them crow about how “environmentally conscious” they are, yet turn around and sell us a component that is continually drawing current from the wall.

      1. Good afternoon Rudy!
        For what it’s worth, I own sabril peaces of vacuum tube hifi gear.
        But I have one tube amp, that has a digital power surge protector in it.
        But often times, I will reach right there in the left back side of it, and turn the rocker switch off.
        Other wise, my wife and I, are staring at a red light that’s inside of the power button that turns blue after the amp is turned on, and fully warmed up.
        A penny saved, is a penny urned is how I look at it.
        And on top of that, buying 8 KT88 tubes for that amp, gets really expensive real quick.
        Also, money that I rather keep in my pocket.

      2. Rudy, If you live in the north, leaving the cold water run lightly overnight during extreme cold spells, and during the during the day if needed, is a way to avoid frozen pipes. Audio equipment is voluntary.

    5. So Dan, does standby power count on digital or tube equipment? It’s what Paul previously suggested for PS Audio gear — and then allow awhile for it to reach best audio when fully turned on?

    6. My solid-state mono blocks has been powered up for 12 years with zero issues, and I feel bad
      every time I have to turn them of for any reason. So the cost of electricity is worth it in my book IE. I make my own espressos instead of wasting it on Starbucks.

    7. i sent this article to my tube guru who is very smart and has a thriving tube biz. this is his response. I share it because it adds some good comments. Since i use all PS gear, i leave all gear on “standby” which leaves the main circuits on but takes the tubes off line.

      Interesting article. I do not usually post on commercial sites or chat groups, I don’t feel that retail tube dealers belong there. However, I have always advocated for turning off tube equipment when not in use. Reasons:
      1. Tubes begin to degrade after as little as 5000 hours of use. The negative effect on the sound is so gradual that the listener probably never notices, but by 30,000 hours your tubes have to be sounding pretty tired. Why not keep them sounding fresh years longer by turning the tubes off when done listening?
      2. Keeping tube gear on longer than 8 hours at a time can start degrading internal components in the amp from heat build up. Capicators dry out and resistors can drift in value.
      3. The risk of fire is much greater with tube gear on and unattended like at night or when nobody is at home. ANY electrical device, tube gear especially, can fail catastrophically when in use.
      4. Tube units are energy hogs. You can spend hundreds more in electricity keeping tube gear on as compared to turning it off when not in use.
      5. Along those lines, the carbon footprint of tube gear is big. Burning fossil fuel to make the electricity to keep tube gear running all the time can dump tons of extra carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

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