Vacuum Tube Audio

Several Ways using Vacuum Tube Amplifiers will Drastically Improve your Home Audio System

Using Vacuum Tube Amplifiers for your Home Audio System

Vacuum tube amplifiers (also known as audiophile grade amplifiers) range from low powered single ended, zero feedback designs to high powered push pull models and can be highly efficient, which makes them the perfect choice for your home audio system if you’re looking for midrange purity and a musically engaging sound.

These units take a completely different approach to modern solid state amplifiers in how they are designed, manufactured, and how they deliver power to your loudspeakers. If you’re a true audiophile who is willing to go the extra mile to achieve the purest audio signal and an authentic listening experience, a vacuum tube amplifier is the way to go. In this article, we’ll cover the benefits of vacuum tubes and explain why they are used in high-end audio applications. We’ll also cover the different types of vacuum tube amplifiers available and look at some examples of quality made models. 

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What are vacuum tubes?

To understand what a vacuum tube amplifier is, you should know what a vacuum tube is first. In short, a vacuum tube is an electrically heated lamp known as an evacuated glass unit. During the beginning of the 20th century, engineers began combining several of these tubes into an assembly called an amplifier. 

The popularity of tube amplifiers hasn’t faded in the age of digital music. If you’re a true audiophile who cherishes listening to vinyl or CDs, you’ll appreciate the rich sound and nuanced expression that a well designed vacuum tube amp can deliver. 

These units are often considered a high-end audio component because they provide a unique sound signature and longer lifespan than solid state amplifiers. Audiophiles prefer vacuum tubes for their non-linearity and ability to drive low impedance speakers.

Audiophile grade tube amps can provide a wide range of power outputs, from as low as .5 watts per channel all the way up to 1000 watts per channel or more! They can be used to power single speakers or multiple speakers arranged in stereo or surround sound configurations.

How do vacuum tubes work?

If you’re new to the world of tube amplifiers, it might seem strange that these units are still in production and popular among audiophiles. Technically speaking, solid state amplifiers are superior in almost every way.  So why do audiophiles prefer vacuum tubes? The answer has to do with the way these tubes interact with electromagnetic speakers.

When a voltage is applied to a thin metal plate (called a cathode) inside a vacuum tube, electrons are freed from their atoms. This is called ionization. The electrons then travel towards the plate where there is the highest electric potential, which is called the anode. When the electrons reach the anode, they’re transferred to it and access electricity. This process results in what’s called an electron beam and it travels directly through a vacuum between two electrodes. In this way, tube amplifiers work like light bulbs.

During this process, the electron beam gains energy and if there’s a second Anode for it to travel to without hitting a solid material, it will fly out of the vacuum and hit the second Anode, resulting in receiving energy and losing some of its charge. This process creates what are called electrons, which are exactly the same as the ones that were freed in the first place. These free electrons then travel towards the Anode, thus completing the circuit. The entire process is called amplification because it allows a small current to create a larger one.

Different types of Vacuum Tubes

There are two main types of tubes: triodes and tetrodes. Triodes have one cathode and two anodes. Tetrodes have two cathodes and one anode per tube. Both types of tubes can act as amplifiers. 

Vacuum tubes can be modified in different ways by changing the cathode makeup, adding a getter (which removes gases from the vacuum), or by adding a plate structure for controlling the electron beam. These modified versions of the tubes are known as type 69 and type 78, respectively. Type 69 tubes are commonly used in amplifiers because they have a lower voltage drop than type 78s.

Technically speaking, any amplifier using vacuum tubes can be considered a linear amplifier. This is in contrast to transistor circuitry, which utilizes transistors. Because there’s a limited number of audiophile-grade vacuum tube amplifiers on the market today, vacuum tube enthusiasts enjoy a lower noise-to-power ratio and lower 1/n distortion factor than transistor amps.

According to New York City audio engineer Sam Sternberg, vacuum tubes can enhance audio quality in two ways. The first is by increasing voltage and current, which allows more power to drive loud speakers. The second is by adding warmth to the sound through what’s called second kind noise modulation. This kind of noise is generally low frequency and adds warmth and body to audio signals.

How vacuum tube amplifiers enhance your sound

There are two main ways that vacuum tube amplifiers improve your sound: by increasing power and creating (even order) warm-sounding distortions.

Power

Vacuum tube amplifiers can create much louder sounds than solid state amps can because of the way they generate power. In fact, some tube amps can  generate anywhere between 400 watts rms (about half a horsepower) to well over 1,000 watts rms—and that’s before you consider the power that the speakers will actually use.

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The way this power is increased comes down to voltage and current. Most speakers can only handle a certain amount of voltage and current before they begin to burn out or blow out. Conversely, tube amplifiers can typically generate a higher voltage and allow for a higher current, which allows them to push more power to your speakers.

The latter part—increased current—also allows tube amps to drive lower impedance speakers with ease. This is because tube amps can easily handle the impedance dips that occur when speakers hit the 4-ohm and 2-ohm marks.

Choosing an amplifier

Amplifier watts per channel rating refers to how powerful the unit is overall. For example, a 400 watt per channel amplifier is more powerful than a 20 watt per channel amplifier. But keep in mind that most speakers are rated in watts and that this rating is meant to indicate how much noise power (volume) the speaker  can handle without damaging them.

So a 20-watt speaker will never need to reach the volume of a 400-watt amplifier. That being said, most home stereo systems will operate exceptionally well within the range of 20 watts or so. 

Inputs and outputs

Preamplifiers and Integrated Amplifiers feature high-quality RCA or XLR inputs and outputs. Integrated Amplifiers and Power Amplifiers utilize speaker terminals and RCA or XLR (balanced) inputs. Ensure you buy an amp with enough input and output connections to fit you listening and power requirements.

2 thoughts on “Several Ways using Vacuum Tube Amplifiers will Drastically Improve your Home Audio System

  1. Itís nearly impossible to find educated people in this particular subject, however, you seem like you know what youíre talking about! Thanks

    1. Richard Segal says:

      Thank you for taking the time to write. I’m glad you appreciated the post. I love vacuum tube audio…I’ve been enjoying it for many years.

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