When it comes to tubes, I guess you could say I’m, well, biased. I like the way tube amps look, I like the way they sound, I like being able to swap tubes to get different sounds, and I especially like hearing my British friends call tubes valves. Although my home theater setup uses high-powered solid-state amps, it’s only because the cost of replacing the tubes in a seven-channel system is frightening.
But my first real stereo — which I still own — was the tube-powered Dynaco ST70, and a McIntosh tube power amp and preamp still drive my smaller stereo rig. I use a Bellari tube phono preamp with my Pro-Ject turntable, and all my guitar amps — Fenders, a Silvertone, a Supro, and a Vox — use tubes. So, yeah, I like tubes, OK?
Since tubes-versus-solid-state amplification debates tend to end up in eye-gouging, roll-on-the-floor-types of conclusions, I’ll leave the merits of tube power to another discussion. But if you’ve ever wondered what tubes might do for your system, the great news is that the burgeoning Chinese hi-fi ("Chi-Fi") market means there are plentiful supplies of both less expensive tubes and tube-based gear that’ll let you experiment without it costing a fortune. There are also some great U.S, U.K., and Canadian companies offering lower-cost, lower power tube gear.
Just remember these types of systems need to be paired with very efficient speakers — say 92-94dBs or even higher. Many horn-based speakers, such as those from Klipsch, fit the bill, as do some single-driver speakers (which lack crossovers), such as those from Omega or Lowther, if horns aren’t your cup of tea.
We’ve gathered a gallery of nine models that have caught our interest. If you buy (or already own) one these amps, we'd love to know how you like it. And what you've done with or to it, of course. Feel free to hit the comments section to add some choice suggestions of your own
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