Which Sounds More Analog – TT with SS Amp or CD with Tube Amp?

Audiogon Member, Mceljo asks, “For perspective, I will be turning 36 next week so I didn’t grow up listening to vinyl and have never really experienced tube amplification. I am getting a Yaqin EL34 tube integrated in the next couple of weeks and my dad thought it would be fun to use his vintage turntable as a source for a true analog listening experience. Logistics will likely make this difficult as we live states apart.This discussion made me wonder what other peoples experiences have been using different combinations of gear. On the analog end you have a turntable and tube amplifier and on the digital end you have a CD player and a solid state amplifier.I am curious if the people that prefer the analog systems enjoy the sound of a turntable with a solid state amplifier or a CD player with a tube amplifier more. Is one combination more analog sounding than the other in your experience?”

Any combo can be really good or less so. The devil is all in the details. Getting a good match first between amp and speakers matters most perhaps. Then there is the quality of the source. There is usually a lot more involved to get a turntable set up right and sounding its best than there is with a CD player. So generalizations are tough. IT can all be really good or less so. It all depends. On much more than merely if CD or record, tube or SS. Those are just two common topics that get a lot of buzz these days among “audiophiles” and that generate relatively strong opinions either way. But you know how far an opinion will get you, right?

It all comes down to the speakers one uses as to the AMP one HAS to use. SO with that said…Yes I love the sound of a Tube Preamp with my SS AMP. It is a great combo and my speakers love it. I can play Vinyl or cd’s and I still get a nice rich sound that has plenty of Umph! It can take a while to get the sound dialed in with the right Cartridge with the right Phono Pre and the right transport/dac or universal player or SACD/cd player. AND dont forget about Cables! O and how a bout that room.We might need room treatments to absorb those nasty reflections. All this stuff really makes a big difference with the sound. Its a beautiful thing when it all comes together! Good Luck.

I use a SS DAC with tube preamp and amplifiers and just love the organic gestalt and deeply emotional involvement it provides ( I had used a turntable happily for many years).

Mapman pretty much summed it up. It’s all in the synergy of your particular system. Personally, I’ve ended up with all tubed components, cdp, pre, and amps. The more tubes, the more organic and enjoyable the music is for me.


Digital has come a long way in last 15 years or so and good digital these days can be hard to distinguish from analog. The best of each tend to sound similar to me. If I had to choose, in theory, I would prefer the best possible analog source to the best current digital source available. That source would be a large format RTR tape, not phono. In most cases, with most recordings, what sounds best will vary case to case. But digital is probably still not able to match the best analog POSSIBLE with technology to date. BUt in most cases, practically, it is so close that it really does not matter in practice for most.
In general tube amps may sound similar to SS amps but some tube amp sound might be quite distinctive and hard to replicate with SS. Its a different flavor of sound, not necessarily “better” though in this case.

SS versus tube amplification is an even tighter race to call. The best I have heard of both tend to sound similar.


Is it not possible to state an opinion without 75% of the post being caveats?

No, IMO there are way too many variables involved to be able to make any generalizations that would be meaningful and useful, the variables including even the recordings as Mapman indicated. And whether the goal is to make the (sonically) best recordings sound their best, or to make run-of-the-mill recordings sound as good as possible.

FWIW, though, since you are asking for experiences, my system has evolved over the years such that I now use a solid state preamp for both analog and digital sources, and a tube power amp. I’ve never used an integrated amp.)


What do you think? Tell us in the comments below.

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