I'm probably in danger of being drummed out of the audiophile corps for admitting this,
but I've never been a really big fan of "tube sound." Most of my experience has
been with my brother Isak's stereos and what I've heard in stereo shops. The only
audiophile tube equipment I've ever actually owned has been a couple of Conrad-Johnson
amplifiers, but even after living with them for a bit, they just didn't grow on me.
But obviously, tube-based audio gear has an enthusiastic and vocal following.
Personally, I'd thought it was odd enough when the first tube-output CD players
came out, but even I have to admit that some of the designs of tube-output CD
players are quite visually stunning such as the Shanling CD-T100 tube CD Player
For the audiophile of more limited means who seeks at least entry-level tube
nirvana, you can still pick up components like the Musical Fidelity X10-D on the
used market, which is a cute little metal box with a tube stage in it, allowing you
to add a tube stage to your signal path just about anywhere you'd like.
stick one after your preamp, on the output of your CD player, pop three of them
on the post-decoder analog outputs of your DVD player (because, as far as I
know, nobody's come out with a tube-output DVD player), or even on the output
of your computer's soundcard. Even though all consumer soundcards suck, that
way you could make the sound suck through a vacuum. Or something
like that. You might not get good sound, but at least it'd be crummy sound with
a tubey quality.
I thought the X10-D was a brilliant marketing idea, though not so brilliant
that I'd gone and bought one myself.
I don't believe Musical Fidelity is making the X10-D any more, but all is not lost for the
computer audiophile hoping to experience sonic tubosity, since now AOpen has
unveiled the very first Pentium-4 mainboard with a vacuum tube output stage for
the onboard sound:
[ http://english.aopen.com.tw/products/mb/ax4b-533tube.htm ]
The AX4B-533 Tube Motherboard also features Cardas wiring and
Vishay resistors, so they've certainly put some effort into selecting parts
with audiophile appeal.
I'd still prefer to have a decent AES/EBU or S/PDIF digital output and then do the
D/A conversion and processing in another box with plenty of space and shielding
between it and the rest of the computer guts, but that wouldn't be quite as much
a conversation piece as a tube mainboard. If nothing else, AOpen's AX4B-533 Tube Motherboard
is a good argument for the current trend of "modded" cases with windows and
interior lights so your friends and family can be suitably amazed and impressed
by all the high-tech components in your system.
Though, to be sure, I'm getting that effect anyway with the two Tyan S2460 Dual-Athlon systems
I'm using for my main workstations--not because I've gone to the trouble of installing
windows on the cases, but because all the cases I've tried so far cause the CPUs to
overheat when the cover is installed. With all the fan noise, I guess I wouldn't be in a
position to appreciate the tubey goodness of a vacuum tube output stage anyway.
Fortunately, I don't have to worry about surround encoding in the editing I'm planning
to do over the next couple of days, so I think I can get away with monitoring the mix