The eternal war of opinions
Tubes sound warm and emphasize the mid-range, transistors sound cold and hard – is that what you want to read?
If so, we have to disappoint you. Today (!) there are tube amplifiers that sound like tube amplifiers, and transistor amplifiers that sound like transistor amplifiers, but also transistor amplifiers that sound like tube amplifiers, and tube amplifiers that sound like transistor amplifiers.
Why? Because the sound of an amplifier also depends on the switching concept and on the tubes or transistors used. And because (holy cow!) there are also hybrid amplifiers.
As this is supposed to be a meaningful collection of tips, rather than a confusing convoluted text, we offer you the following, perhaps somewhat unconventional advice:
Put aside archetypes and stereotypes, as well as nostalgic audio ideals, and be honest: Do you want to buy a tube amplifier because of the sound, or because the orange glowing tubes just look so enticing and make the neighbor envious?
Naturally, there are “typical” examples of tube amps and transistor amps that quite convincingly represent the respective sound ascribed to them. On the other hand though, this doesn’t completely come across unless the appropriate loudspeaker is also used. So if you really want to know what the subtle difference is between tubes and transistors, go to the effort of making a comparison (on a dealer’s premises, for instance) between the two audio extremes: “single-ended triode with a full-range loudspeaker” versus “high-performance transistor amp with a dynamic floorstander”.
You will then know the possible range of sound (and it is enormous, believe us). However, you will also know that both types of amplifier actually entail certain merits and limitations. You will then be able to calmly feel your way toward the amp that you believe in. Go on a journey of discovery!