Tube v. Digital

Why do tube amplifiers sound better? I don’t know. And even more mystifying: Why do vintage tube amplifiers sound even better than new ones? It’s an enigma.

Back in the day (yeah, the 80s, man) I played through an Ampeg Gemini IV. It was the best sounding amp I ever had, but I didn’t appreciate it back then. I kept worrying it would catch on fire: after a half hour of operation the tubes in the back glowed red hot. And it was old, late 60s. I didn’t know that it should’ve been nurtured and kept forever. I was a young fool. So I got rid of it and played all solid state until the mid 90s, when I sold all my amps and went totally acoustic for more than a decade. Even with the solid states, I unknowingly kept trying to mimic the Ampeg sound using my Ibanez MS-10 overdrive pedal. I got the crunch, but not the je ne sais quoi of the Ampeg–the compression, the warmth.

For the past year I (as well as our very own Chopper Newt) have been recording through a Line6 Toneport GX, a digital guitar amp modeler. It models a whole range of classic vintage amplifiers to uncanny pefection… or so it seems until compared with the real thing. I’ve been pondering buying a new amplifier, however. Since times are tough, it’s got to be relatively inexpensive, so I’ve been considering the new Vox Valvetronix amps: digital modeling amplifiers with a real tube preamp. Seems like a good compromise, right? Today I compared the Valvetronix VT50 side by side with a real tube AC15. Why did the AC15 sound so much warmer and, I dunno, organic? I can’t account for it, but it did. It seems a digital “model” of an AC15 just can’t compare to a real AC15: the digital model is more shrill, less warm. Reminds me of the distinction between vinyl and compact disc. Digital just doesn’t sound as good.

After the AC15, just for fun, I plugged into a vintage 1965 Fender Princeton Reverb ($2300). Why would an old beat up tube amp with crackly pots sound even better than a new tube amp? Is it just my imagination? Is it possible for the speaker to “break in?”

At any rate, I can’t afford that Princeton, but the new AC15, at only $599, isn’t out of the ballpark. Start saving, boy.

In addition to the mystery of the tube amps, I also discovered that my new Fender Esquire sounds absolutely awesome through a nice big, loud, amplifier turned up the 10. Recording in front of the computer, I worried the Esquire was a dud since I got so much hum from the hot single-coil pickup. But this, it turns out, is totally an effect of the computer monitor. Through a well grounded amplifier, the Esquire makes very little noise, except at high gain when I suppose any single coil pu will hum like a hive of bees.


31 Responses to “Tube v. Digital”

  1. Interesting. I wonder if you could get far enough away from your computer…while still being able to run your applications of course…to record without the hum?

  2. I tried this: the greater the distance from the monitor, the quieter the hum. But my set up right now prevents me from getting too far away. And, of course, I’m limited by the length of the USB cable and my headphone cable.

    The real issue is: should I buy the Valvetronix amp, which I can more afford, or the AC15, which I can less afford? Or no amp at all? Of course, I have no need of an amp at this point. But this isn’t about need.

  3. You got another kid on the way. You need to start a college fund.

  4. FU. Are you saying I have to be responsible? Anyway, my first daughter already has more in savings than I do. And I mean WAY more. But there’s no hope for the second daughter’s college fund. She’ll just have to attend the university where my wife is a professor. I can’t be denied an amplifier just for college.

    Also, I’m going to sell my other telecaster. And maybe a few more items I can dig up.

  5. blood and semen?

  6. Ha ha.

  7. There’s always a market for drug-free urine…oh wait.

  8. Yeah…you’re talking to Dr. Doobie there, smoking spleefs all over France!!

  9. Hashish was the drug of choice while in France, man.

    Check your inbox, SP. New and awesome version of IKAG there. Listen to it and, once again, thank the evil gods that you know me.

  10. I will download posthaste.

  11. Well….

  12. It’s surprisingly good…email with details was sent.

  13. Surprisingly? KMASP.

  14. If we had more traffic and people participating it would be pretty cool. That way if you wanted to respond to something specifically that happened 2 or 3 posts previous, you could.

    …and apparently it only goes 3 deep…much like myself.

  15. Also, we’ve been getting some decent playage on

    Way Back (Mr. Peabody) in the last 2 days has gotten 12 plays
    Just A Girl 16 plays
    Giant Robot 7 plays
    (no love for 202330…always surprised by that, 202330 rocks.)

    Also, have you noticed that reverbnation has stopped calculating our widget hits? Apparently we got too many?!?! I didn’t realize that there was a limit.

  16. I did receive the RN message. I think we’ve gotten the limit from our particular placements. We need more placement. But do I really care? Not really. It’s about the music, man.

  17. You’re a rebel, man.

  18. One hit on CL so far…. We’re now in the haggling stage.

    • First dates are always awkward.

      • Indeed. Now the guy seems to have dumped me. Or at least he hasn’t called.

        Who is Scott DeSantis? He’s requesting to be my FB friend. I have no idea who he is.

        I’m finding FB more and more annoying, actually. Might have to cancel that account soon.

  19. 1) No idea who Scott DeSantis is. He’s not a FB friend of mine.

    2) I’m kinda hooked on Facebook. Love it. I’m actually done with myspace. We don’t get many hits anymore and, if reverbnation isn’t counting the widget hits anymore…what’s the point? (Not that I’m going to get rid of it…just let it stagnate.)

  20. My prospect won’t haggle, so I’m dumping him until he comes to his senses. Actually, he’s willing to pay $250, but I’m holding out for at least $275. I thought people knew how the game was played: I begin at $300, he says $250 and we meet in the middle at $275. Or, if he wants to play hardball, he says, “No way, how about $260?” and we agree on $265.

    At any rate, I need to scrape together $399 for the amplifier. Although I’d prefer the AC15, I can’t justify $599 with another kid on the way, so I’ll seem thrifty if I get the VT50 for $399, most of it paid by selling a guitar. Right?

    I’m not hooked on facebook.

    I haven’t visited my myspace page in months.

    Now I’m returning to a low-tech device called a book. This one is about Medieval Europe.

  21. Book? Sounds familiar.

    I hate selling stuff online…even hate buying stuff online. It’s not that I mind haggling, just the online haggling process.

  22. I’ve become a pro at e-bay bidding. I got some super deals building my Esquire.

    Speaking of guitars, I’ve now acquired the right to that Fender Bullet bass owned by my bro-in-law. I just have to get it somehow.

    Looks like this:

  23. Another bite on craigslist. Yeah.

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