Audiophiles are tempted by tubes. What’s all this talk about warm, mellow sound? Are tubes better? Do they run too hot? How do I determine where to jump in if I want to try them?
You can purchase products that employ tubes in the preamp, and/or the power amp. When you get tubes in the preamp section only, reliability is typically very good, and you get a nice big taste of the warm flavor of tubes. When you get tubes in the power amp section, the conversation changes. Output tubes run hot and produce relatively little power for the money. Reliability is nowhere near as good with a tube power amp as preamp. No matter how expensive the tube amp is, there’s a reasonable chance it’s headed into the shop during its warranty period. It is not plug and play. Hence it is vital to know what you are buying and WHO you are buying it from!
A lot of our customers go “tube-lite.” Meaning, they purchase a PeachTree integrated amp that uses a single tube in the preamp, called a tube buffer stage. You get a “bit” of the tube sound, but the effect is subtle. The amp section is solid state. There is a DAC on board. They’re fine products built in Asia to hit tempting price points.
PeachTree’s Nova 65SE for $800 is a fine starting point. It has 65×2 of power (solid state) and can even be used as a preamp alone if you choose.
PeachTree’s Nova 220SE for $1600 is really a strong buy. It has 220×2 of power (solid state) and can drive the vast majority of speakers out there very well.
Both these products give you a dose of tube sound because of the single tube in the preamp section.
PT is extra smart. They allow you to activate the tube or NOT- so if you’re a solid state lover, you don’t have to employ the tube. It’s YOUR choice.
Tubes In The Preamp
If you want to step deeper into the tube pool, you get a preamp or integrated amp with tubes in the preamp section that employ gain. This design is all-in with the tube sound, not tube-lite like the tube buffer plan of PeachTree and a few others.
Rogue is our favorite choice in this category. Built in the USA, Rogue makes integrated amps and preamps that employ tubes.
Sphinx Two $1400 (100×2)
The Sphinx Two integrated amp uses a pair of tubes in the preamp section. The power amp is solid state, 100×2. We find the Sphinx Two is the least expensive integrated out there that is built solidly and gives you a heaping helping of tube love. It even has a nice phono section.
Pharaoh $3500 (185×2)
Pharaoh has almost double the power of Sphinx. Also using tubes in the preamp section and a solid state amp. Pharaoh is a serious consideration for the price point if you’d like tubes in your life but you don’t want to expose yourself to output tube issues.
Tubes In The Preamp AND Power Amp
When you get tubes in a power amp, or the power amp section of an integrated amp, you’ve got to be a big boy. This means, no whining, crying and complaining when you get the odd cough, sputter or hiccup with output tubes. Likewise when it comes to service. It doesn’t matter if your amp is killobucks from companies like BAT, ARC, C-J etc. Endemic to tube power amps… are idiosyncrasies that you accept, or not. Further, the reliability is nowhere near as good. Going here puts you in a no gripe zone!
If you have tubes in your power amp section, the romance of tubes hits its zenith. Lush vocals and orchestral strings rule. They sound quite lovely. You give up bass grip and lightning attack, but you might prefer the effect of a tube amp given your musical library.
Rogue Cronus Magnum Mk II $2500 (100×2)
The Cronus Mag 2 is the best choice out there in a full figured integrated amp, using tubes in the preamp AND power amp section. You get real power, 100×2, built in the USA quality. This guy gives you the tube sound in spades, the full enchilada. We invite you to visit to hear it for yourself- and COMPARE it to units with tubes in the preamp alone, and/or solid state units.
The Other Guys
If you get a tube integrated from virtually anyone else near Rogue money, you’re getting a built in China piece, 50×2 or less, for Cronus Mag 2 money, $2500. Please think about this investment for a minute…
Why not buy a Cronus Mag 2, built in the USA, 100×2, three year warranty from a company who will support you? And of course, buy it from Audio Emporium because we will be able to do a killer demo for you and be here if you need help down the road.
The other alternative is to buy a lesser powered American built integrated for $5000 on up, that will NOT outperform Cronus Mag 2!