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A lot of people seem to recommend tube amplifiers… I mean they look cool but are they better? Should I get one?

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NO.

I mean, not intrinsically. Tube amps can be just as good as solid-state transistor-based amplifiers, but the truth of the matter is the use of tubes introduces a host of issues that may or may not frustrate the absolute crap out of you.

There are large followings of enthusiasts who love the sound these amps create, and that’s perfectly fine! But depending on your tastes, you may not like or want this in your life. From a purely objective standpoint, transistor amps will almost always beat the pants off comparable tube amps in performance… for much less money, too.

  • Tube amps rely on components that degrade over a much shorter period of time than transistor chips—and will eventually require replacement
  • Tubes can add distortion to your music, giving a distinct “warm” sound. Some people (like vinyl enthusiasts) really like this sound because it’s how they first listened to their LPs and/or made music themselves with amps that used tubes
  • Tubes get hot with use, and have the potential to be less safe than transistor amps
  • In general, tube amps will be more expensive than their solid-state counterparts

However, tube amps offer the ability to mess around with how they sound through an activity called “tube rolling” where you swap out stock tubes for others. Some people enjoy this, but it’s definitely something you have to dedicate time and effort to if you go that route.

If you just want your headphones to be properly powered and nothing else, get a solid-state amp. If your music is going to be a hobby in and of itself, then a tube amp might be your speed. Maybe.

(full disclosure I have a tattoo of a tube on my right arm, so please don’t think I’m in the pockets of Big Transistor or anything)

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