Avon Sunfire Tube Amp: Looks Important

We've been meeting here for a while now and I really like you, so I think it's probably important for me to tell you something that you're not going to be happy to hear: tube amps are a joke. Sure, you may think you can tell the "warmth" from a tube model versus one where the sound is generated inside a hunk of silicon, but you really can't. Seriously. Let's double-blind it. I'll give you this, though: Your amps, like this Avon Sunfire, are really, really pretty. And mine are really, really inexpensive. If only we could meet in the middle! Product Page [AyonAudio.com via Crave.CNET.com]
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23 Responses to Avon Sunfire Tube Amp: Looks Important

  1. Simon Greenwood says:

    You haven’t even scraped the surface of audiophilia with tube amps. Wait until you get into the world of power smoothers and vacuum sealed titanium alloy cable. Audiophile AC smoothers can cost upwards of £10k and while they will do wonders for your power supply and get rid of any stray hum in your speakers I still can’t work out how they can improve the quality of sound through an amp that should be the best available in the first place (and that is usually a black box with a volume control, if you’re lucky). I’m convinced that such things are bought by people who wouldn’t be happy if the band they were listening to set up in their living room as they would be too live sounding.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Umm. Sorry. You are wrong. I’d invite you to listen at my house, but I’m on the east coast. (I suspect you are in California.) Why don’t you go to one of the nice dealers in your area and listen for yourself? Compare a tube amp to a chip amp and then post what you hear. Do you really think all the writers in the hi-fi magazines who think tube amps sound good are full of shit? Is it a conspiracy? (Really, you sound like David Pogue: Let me use this $100 record player to record my LPs to CD. Do they even make records still? Silly old scratchy things.)

    Also, I could have come up with many better examples of crazy-looking tube amp designs — Art Audio, KR Audio.

    Good luck with that double-blind.


  3. pork musket says:

    For playback, I agree – there’s really no difference between solid-state and tube. For playing an instrument through an amplifier (keyboard, bass, guitar, etc), any musician with a decent ear for tone will tell you that there is indeed a difference between tube and solid-state – but you’re also using the tubes for distortion and tone-shaping so I suppose that makes sense.

    Additionally, part of the “benefit” of a tube amp is that a tube amp watt is typically a lot louder than a solid state watt. Don’t ask me why, I’m not an electrical engineer.

  4. jbang says:

    Joel: Tweaking or not it’s refreshing to hear a gadget blog not lick the boots of just any old tube amp whore.

    I’m sure there is a difference, but how many people, readers included, listen to 128AAC/MP3s daily? How many have tweaked their import settings to a higher quality?

  5. Anonymous says:

    … “Let’s double-blind it” …

    Lets! I hypothesize that people will be able to tell the different, but that most will not be able to correctly say which is which.

    I guess the question you can ask when you get the result back is: ‘are they worth the blackmarket kidney selling sized wads of money they’re sold for?’

  6. deejayqueue says:

    I will say this for the difference between tube and silicon: The tube amp makers get the point of amplification.

    Straight line with Gain.

    Yeah, it’s nice to have fancy DSP and Dolby this and that, but ultimately, for music, you don’t want any extra signal processing to get in the way. You ideally want your speakers and amp to not be “colored” in any way, same with the room you’re in. You want the speakers positioned to eliminate resonance waves from the walls, floor and ceiling. The solid-state amps have always done odd things to the signal, whether it’s clipping, a/c noise, what have you. Joe Schmoe probably can’t tell the difference, but on paper a solid state amp will never be as flat or as efficient as a tube amp can be.

    • Joel Johnson says:

      In total fairness to everyone, while I do sincerely believe that tube amps are mostly hype, I am definitely tweaking you guys a bit with this post.

  7. Anonymous says:

    not to interrupt all the debate, but it’s AYON audio, not avon audio

  8. theficus says:

    What about those crazy audiophile people who will pay hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to replace their power cord and speaker wire made of exotic materials and manufacturing techniques?

    Try reading sites like audophilia.com and there’s people who swear that just replacing their power cord with one that costs $3000 actually makes their music sound significantly better (after a customary “break in period” — who the hell breaks in a power cable??). Just read something like http://www.audiophilia.com/hardware/Cables/reviews/ma14.htm to get a feel for the insanity. These people are nuts.

    Yes, quality cables with quality shielding for analog components can certainly make a difference, but there quickly becomes a point of diminishing returns in my opinion.

    I guess if I paid $1000 for a few feet of speaker wire, and another $5000 for a special power cable, I’d swear up and down that it made my music sound better.

  9. Anonymous says:

    i feel like with the new tripath chipsets chip amps have come a long way. (google t-amp.) they don’t sound anything like tube amps but they sound damn good.

  10. Bigo383 says:

    Tube amps are HYPE!!! Quit living in the 1950’s.
    Solid state and digital OWN the prehistoric vacuum tube. The only “feel” you get with a tube amp is because you gotta dime the volume to get any tone at all, and at that level yeah you can feel it…….so can your neighbors and your soon to be ex-wife!! If your are interested I’ve got an amp comparison on soundclick. E-mail me and I’ll send you the link. So far everyone, including the ‘Tube snobs” have not been able to tell the Marshall from the Peavey from the Cube 60…..NO ONE. In fact they all pick the Peavey as being the Marshall and the best sounding.

  11. Bigo383 says:

    OOps guess ya need my email
    charvel6man@aol. com

  12. dculberson says:

    But Mr. Ficus, how can you argue with increased sound stage?? Obviously your tastes aren’t discriminating enough.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I have a tube amp that I built from a kit and then modified a bit. It sounds quite exceptional “to me” I also recently purchased a Sonic Impact T-amp which I am very impressed with. They both sound excellent. I have less than $500 in my amp/speakers, I DIY’d my speaker cables from cat5 and they sound better than the Monster cable they replaced. I built my power cables too, from something exotic? no, but my system is dead silent too, no hum, no nadda. I have 2 tube amps right now, both are push pulls, one uses 11bm8’s and the other el84’s, they both have different sounds to them but both sound great. I’m going to recap the el84 amp and update all the connectors on it, I’m sure the sound will change with the updated parts. I’m currently building a tube preamp that I hope sounds good heh. Sound is an extremely subjective thing. I doubt very seriously that I’d ever spend big money on a tube amp, it just wouldn’t happen, I’d build it myself first. To say that tube amps don’t sound good just shows ignorance, I find chip amps to be digitally “perfect” which is to say that they can reproduce the sound recording almost if not exactly the way it was laid down in the studio. Now having said that, my T-amp is probably the sweatest sounding chip amp I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. I think that a tube amp can reproduce music in such a way that sounds warmer, yes, but I’d equate it to almost sounding “live”. my 2cents.

  14. Anonymous says:

    As far as tube amps go, I’m not sure anything surpasses Josh Stippich’s ElectronLuv designs. Think Cory noted them once:


    Sadly, http://www.electronluv.com seems to be in some kind of hiatus. Google electron luv and you will still find some pics around.

  15. ~robp says:

    I bought the fat-man itube 182 about 3 weeks ago and I can honestly say the sound is incredible – especially with decent (PMC-DB1) speakers.
    My partner is in now way and audiphile but even he was amazed at the sound – and this is coming from mp3s, cds etc.

  16. dculberson says:

    Tube amps introduce distortion. It’s pleasing distortion, but distortion nonetheless.

    A mid-grade silicon amp is more accurate. Accuracy doesn’t necessarily mean more pleasing to the ear, though.

    Only tangentially related: Once you’re spending more on the sound reproduction equipment than the studio spent on the recording equipment, you’ve gone off the deep end. It’s nuts. Charmingly so, but still nuts.

  17. Halloween Jack says:

    You will never, ever budge the true believers on this. It reminds me of the discussion we had on Consumerist about vodka, and how some people insisted that they could tell the difference between, say, Grey Goose and Skyy, despite testimony to the contrary from several bartenders, not to mention reports of blind taste tests where the likes of Smirnoff won.

  18. Halloween Jack says:

    Oh, and I’d never buy a tube amp, even if I could afford it, because I’m of the old enough oldskool that I associate exposed tubes with the insides of non-grounded electronics, and getting your hands anywhere near them was a good way to shake hands with Jesus.

  19. Anonymous says:

    You’re wrong Joel; the defects (some would call them traits) of tube amps are clearly audible. Of course the other half of that story is that if you really wanted, you could add a DSP to some op-amp-based design and simulate the ‘sound’ of any vaccum-tube-based design so perfectly that really no one could tell the difference.

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with t-amps and the like that could foil this plan. Yes, when the device is too cheap/shoddy, you’ll have problems with noise. Same thing with tube amps. And yes, silicon-amp clipping sounds totally different from what you’re used to from tubes. But this is just a detail of how the devices fail when operated outside the limits of their designs; it doesn’t say anything about what will happen when you buy a model that is good enough for you so you can stay inside those limits.

    So, tube amps do sound differently, and just liking their quirks is not necessarily an indicator of full-of-shitness, but they possess absolutely no magical quality that is impossible to reproduce with modern technology.

    • Joel Johnson says:

      Okay, I’ll buy that. My main point remains: spending lots of money on something that can be, at best, simulated with a $5 DSP, is goofy.

      And though I’d never argue with a guitarist about what gets his mojo working, for my money I’d rather buy a decent amp simulator (see: Line6) with a wide range of to-my-ears-indistinguishable sounds.

  20. Anonymous says:

    One last thing: Those of you who claim that tubes are obsolete and that silicon devices can “do everything” a tube can do are totally ignorant.

    Tubes are the ONLY devices that can handle enough power to be used as a transmitting device of any significant power. That new HD TV station in your town uses a TUBE to broadcast that signal to you. Ever seen a transmitting tube? I’ve got a 50Kw Thales 680 tube that cost over $30K new. They use tubes in every TV and radio transmitter in the world. Dummies.

    Second, Big0383 is foolish to think that an .Mp3 file has enough resolution for anyone to be able to tell which amp is which. It would be like trying to tell which Mona Lisa is the fake while looking through a veil. Come up with an actual test and I’ll be happy to take it.

    Seriously, you guys need to do some homework before spouting off an opinion. It makes you all seem childish and rash, not to mention opinionated and ignorant.

    Tell me, am I the only engineer here? If so, then the rest of you really need to get a clue.


  21. A New Challenger says:

    @Halloween Jack: Do you live on top of Manhattan Chase? Is the deplorable quality of the elevators just a rumor?

    I’d rather spend all that money on more music, frankly. I’d actually like to do some test to hear the difference for myself, but I don’t feel like bothering the Circuit City employees since I’m not a serious buyer.

    I wonder if there’s any scientific analysis of the sound waves generated by solid state vs. tube amps.

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