Audiophiles have argued for years that vacuum tubes “just sound better” than their silicon analogs – but what’s the science behind this fact? There happens to be a very definite reason behind just why the tubes please the ear more than the transistor in the battle of better sound.
Sand versus Air
Believe it or not, it’s all about electrons and air: in silicon transistors (the driving force behind solid state audio equipment), the sound signal switches a higher voltage via silicon impurity-doped circuitry.
In other words, you’re hearing sand.
However, in vacuum tube electronics, the same function is applied albeit using actual air (and the lack thereof, hence the “vacuum” part). Since sound waves propagate via air to reach our picky little ears anyway, it makes more sense for them to resonate with air through the amplification process rather than dig through sand.
Your ears really do hear the difference, and the higher volume/gain amplifies the imperfections in the process as well.
Vinyl versus Magnetics
The same goes for the classic vinyl versus CD argument (which should be a second article, you lucky reader): vinyl is more analog than CD, highlighting all those infinitesimal changes in frequency to please the ear.
Digital CDs, on the other hand, must sample the analog signal so many finite times per second and record the resulting pulses on magnetic media to be amplified. The higher the sampling rate, the higher the quality – but also the less available storage space after the fact.
Most producers over-amplify the sound these days anyway, masking the frequency changes making the CDs even more shitty quality-wise compared to their analog friends.
So there you have it – tubes really do sound better, especially at higher volumes.
Have any input on this subject? Leave a comment.
Raphael is a Physics major in college. He is the least-frequent contributor, but his posts focus on Physics and the mathematics behind some thing. He specializes in quantum physics, but is fluent in Newtonian mechanics, relativity, Maxwell electromagnetism, and nearly any other physical field you can pitch at him other than exercise (though he can calculate energy needed to burn off calories). He is not a member of the Ninja Turtles.