Tubes


Via Matrixsynth

Dave of http://umop.com/ (The Packrat, Parallax, Retarded Animal Babies, and much more) sent this one (from Toothpaste for Dinner) to me and Eric Barbour of Metasonix. It's a funny comic and the connection to Metasonix and tubes is obvious. Eric replied with the following and gave me the OK to post it, so here it is. It also reminds me of the analog vs. digital debate. In my opinion sound is sound and it's all what you make of it. It's as simple as it gets - everyone likes what they like.

"Okay guys....yeah, it's funny.

Um, do I try to claim 'warmer sweeter tone' or 'vintage sound' for my products? Forgive me for ranting, but I keep having to make these points.

There have been long and often-incoherent lectures on 'tube tone' over the last 40-plus years. Speaking personally, I've long suspected this 'tube tone' crap to be based on people's vague memories of early tube hifi and radio equipment--which usually had poor frequency response and high second- harmonic distortion, either due to poor design or an attempt to keep the item below a certain retail price. ....


Please let me talk about my personal observations of 'tube tone'. I've heard tube amps that were as accurate as any solid-state amp you can think of (we are talking about high-end home audio, not guitar amps or pro audio, because that's the area where "tube tone" is the biggest hypefest).

And I've heard modern tube amps that were so shrill and ugly sounding, they made me think they were badly-designed transistor amps. I've also seen, used, and repaired a long long list of vintage hifi, radios, and guitar amps. They were all over the place in sound quality, though generally pre-WWII and cheap gear had that soft, indistinct 'vintage-stereotype' sound. Plus, I've heard transistor amps that were so damn good, they made me wonder why so much ink was wasted on blubbering about 'tube tone'.

My considered opinion: people who mumble about 'tube tone' are full of shit, and/or simply regurgitating catch-phrases they've been hearing for years. There are good tube amps and there are bad tube amps. Simply being a tube amp does not guarantee anything except a marketing handle that can be used to wheedle the clueless rabble into paying too much money for it.

At the CES ten years ago, I heard a brand-new, very costly ($8000) stereo tube hifi amp that was claimed to be 'the ultimate in high-end tone'. It was so shrill, lacking in bass, distorted, and otherwise ugly-sounding, it drove people out of the room. Even so, it ended up on the cover of major high-end magazines. (Later I was told by other people in the business that the company founder had severe high-frequency hearing loss, and was literally unable to discern that the amp sounded bad to most people. Nor was he willing to admit as much. He wound up telling the designer what to do, based on his own ears. Because he was an egotistical fool, who refused to acknowledge that his hearing was bad.) I'd tell you his name but it was an embarrassing incident and better forgotten. That firm went bankrupt recently, as his sales 'went off a cliff', and I'm not sure he deserves the extra abuse.

This also goes a long way toward explaining why I don't make tube hifi gear, hopefully. High-end audio is more like a freak show than a 'market'. It's full of arrogant over-50 man-boys who are obsessed with 'accuracy', yet usually have no idea what that means.

Guitar amps are starting to be similar to high-end in the sheer snobbery and idiocy. I've heard tube simulation devices, like the Line 6 products, that are as close to sounding like real vintage tube gear as one could possibly want. There are now quite a few tube amp simulators, made by various firms, that are basically as 'perfect' as can be. I've also heard 'real vintage style' tube amps, usually invented by idiots who wanted to take advantage of the 'tube tone fad', that sounded like broken transistor amps.

Yet guitarists keep demanding tube amps. And nowadays, they are paying extremely stiff prices for real tube amps with major brands like Marshall or Vox or Fender. Have you priced a Marshall JCM2000 amp head lately? Right now, despite a massive global recession, this 'standard for heavy rock' will cost you about $3000, with an 'official' Marshall speaker cab. Marshall and Vox belong to Korg, which is deliberately using these old brandnames to sell high-priced product to people who still think those firms are the same as they were in the 1960s. They aren't......the amps don't even sound like the old ones, mainly due to the poor quality of the tubes being made today. But it doesn't matter. They, like Gibson, Fender, and many other old brandnames that were around at the dawn of rock & roll, are simply trading on nostalgic warm tone feelings for bygone days.

It's why I find people who complain about Metasonix's 'high prices' to be pathetic. Those same people are often willing to pay $4000 for a modern reissue Gibson guitar, or $2500 for a 30-year-old TB303, or $75,000 for a Fairchild 670 limiter, because those things 'have the magic'. Whatever the hell that means.

My 'marketing', such as it is, doesn't focus on 'warm vintage tube tone'. Because it's not a real thing, it's a buzzword. Metasonix sounds different from everything else on the market and that's all I try to claim. It's the most 'real analog' possible--class A tube circuits. They might sound warm and soft, they might sound like a broken vacuum cleaner being shoved up your ass. It's more a question of the circuit design and the user's choices.

No one else had the guts to make tube synthesizer circuits, and to this day, if you ask a mainstream synth builder if they can design a tube synth circuit, they claim it is physically impossible or horribly impractical and costly. (Dieter Doepfer immediately comes to mind, because I've personally seen him tell people exactly that. And based on his marketability standards, he's right. Tubes are hell to deal with--costly, flaky, difficult to source, wasteful of power.)"