When it comes to figuring out the best set-up for your turntable, there are no one-size-fits-all prescriptions. One of the first decisions to make is “tube amp vs solid-state” and even a cursory search is going to throw you in the midst of the war between the amps.

Your ideal listening experience is going to be strongly influenced by your personal tastes, both aesthetic and soundwise, as well as your budget and the types of music you find yourself drawn towards. 


While there are plenty of discussions to be had about what comprises the best record player, which turntable cartridges types are ideal, and how often you should update your gear, picking an amp is one of the most important choices you’ll make.


As any audiophile knows, when it comes to brand and price range there is an endless abyss of options for amps and preamps. Where you land on that is going to be very individualized and will involve trial and error and personal research. But the big question one must answer before stage diving into the aisles of your local audio equipment store is which type of amp you want for your vinyl set-up: a tube amp or solid-state amplifier.


Unsurprisingly, both types of amps have camps full of enthusiasts who are ready to go to bat for why their preference creates a superior sound. As with all essential audio gear, there are viable pros and cons for each that directly connect with the kind of listening experience you’re looking for.

Finding the Perfect Amp

Before you land on what’s right for you, it’s helpful to break down exactly how each hi-fi amp works, the ways they sound different from each other, and why people pledge allegiance to either one.


Tube Amps

tube amp tube box s

Tube amplifiers (also known as valve amps) have been around since the early 1900s, marking themselves as both an early and enduring piece of audio technology. In 1906, the inventor and radio pioneer Lee De Forest created the first electronic amplifying device, the triode which he named the Audion. Forest was able to invent the first tube amp technology (it was not an amplifier by itself) by placing a zig-zag of wires inside a glass tube, with cathode and anode electrodes creating voltage gain and amplifying electrical signals in a way never seen before.


This creation of vacuum tubes gave way to what we now know as tube amps, a popular choice for vinyl lovers everywhere. In order to function, cathodes and anodes interact in a vacuum in order to create enough voltage to power a speaker. While there are different types of tube amps that create a variety of sounds, a commonality of all tube amps is the warmth of sound. 


People who love tube amps often cite the “holographic effect” as a reason to stick with them. This effect can be described as the feeling of being in the same room as the musicians, surrounded by different instruments on all sides of you. It’s almost as if the amps are immersing you in a live 3-dimensional concert. In an ideal “holographic” listening session, each instrument creates its own layer of warmth, adding to the feeling of being in the same space as the original musicians while they play.


Another potential pro for tube amps is the ability to switch out the tubes themselves if you find yourself desiring larger or smaller tubes, something with a warmer effect, or you want to collect more power tubes just in case. This practice is called “tube-rolling.” 


One of the downsides of high-quality tube amps is that they can run up a hefty bill, and the technology is more fragile than solid state and usually requires more upkeep. Also, tube amplification provides less power than solid-state, which means it requires more filtering in order to avoid hum. Common complaints about tube amps are that they add a hum to the noise floor of a recording, and sometimes lack sound definition particularly when you get into lower bass parts. 


However, both the pros and complaints vary based on which type of tube amp you’re looking at: single-end amplifiers or push-pull amplifiers.


Single End Amplifiers

Also known as single-end triodes, SETs use a vacuum tube with one single triode per channel to produce output, which means the signal’s plus and minus parts in each channel are never split. 


This single tube doing it all is the simplest type of analog power amp, with a total power output ranging between 2 and 8 watts. In order for a SET tube amp to truly do its work, you’ll need high-efficiency speakers (somewhere around 95dB or higher) with no low impedance curves in order to stop the amp from cutting off or fading out the sound at high frequencies. In layman’s terms, because a SET uses one single tube and creates lower wattage, it needs the help of high-end speakers. 


It should also be noted that the combination of low power and high heat output can also mean SET tube amps wear out faster.


However, the pros of single-end amplifiers are that they offer great sound detail at a low volume because the music is being channeled through fewer signal pathways. So when it comes to a potentially warm and coherent listening experience, single-end triodes can be a winner.


Push-Pull Amplifiers

Instead of funneling sound through a single lone ranger tube, push-pull amps use two tubes to break up the plus and minus sides of the music signal, then they slap them back together in each channel into a complete flowing musical wave.


From a functioning perspective, push-pull amps tend to be more efficient than SETs because the tubes wear out slower due to sharing the workload, and they have higher output power. This means they work with a wider range of speakers, create less distortion, and often provide better sound quality for bass.


However, a potential downside of push-pull amps is that they can provide slightly less detail than a SET, particularly in low volume, because the electrical signal is split and put back together. The complex signal path means there is more potential for overdrive or sound loss from the original recording.


Both types of valve amps have the potential to create gorgeous tube sound and give you a warm and holographic listening experience. But they also can require more from your wallet and your speakers.


Solid-State Amplifiers

pre box digital

The more modern solid-state amplifiers (also known as transistor amps) use transistor circuits to pull beautiful music from an electrical signal (versus the voltage method of tube amps), which means they can connect and work with your speakers without any transformers. 


Solid-state amps tend to put out more watts than tube amps and are known for creating a clean sound and supporting that deep bass boom so many people love. Unlike the potential hum that can come with tube amps, the noise floor with transistors is nearly non-existent, which makes for a clean tone and very little to no distortion.


People who love the specific biting guitar sounds of metal, the many small bonks of an electronic song, or even the meticulous notes of classical music might prefer the crisp accuracy of solid-state amplification.


Transistor amps also tend to be a lot easier for people on a budget, both because of the amp costs themselves, but also because they don’t require transformers or the same amount of upkeep as tube amps.


All that said, the downside of solid-state technology is that the sound itself is less warm and can even sound stark or brittle. This potential brittleness can sometimes lead to the music clipping at higher volumes, which eats into the otherwise solid headroom, and listeners feeling fatigued by the nature of the sound.


If you’re looking for a more affordable option with a crisp sound that’s compatible with a wide range of speakers, then solid-state is a great pick. But if your priority is warmth and fullness, they may not be your top match.


Hybrid amp

If you want a little column A, a little column B, then a hybrid amp set-up might be ideal. 

In general, most hybrid amps are a transistor amp set-up combined with preamp tubes. The idea is to harness the warmth and fullness of tubes and connect them to the power section of solid-state in order to have an easier time with speakers and output. When done right, you can get some of the texture of the tubes without sacrificing detail. But as with most sound technology, a high-end amp that focuses exclusively on harnessing tubes, or exclusively on the benefits of solid-state is more likely to give you the consistent quality amp sound with less configuring on your part.


The War Between Tube Amp Vs Solid State Wages On

When we loop back to the ultimate question of whether solid-state or tube amps are better for vinyl enthusiasts, it’s truly a toss-up. The right fit for you will directly connect to the genres of music you listen to, your budget, whether volume and accuracy is a priority, or warmth and fullness, and of course – what speakers you already have.

In fact, unless you’re in the market for a new set of speakers, checking your speaker compatibility might be the quickest way to narrow down which amp type is the best.