Plus ca change, plus c`est la meme chose
-- Jean Anouih
Dolphin HSL specializes in offering the DiY community audio amplifier kits. There is an enormous divide between the mass market for audio equipment and high end audio. You can not touch the high end unless you are prepared to take out a second mortgage on your house. The entry level starts in the high four figures and only goes up from there. It is not all that unusual to spend $100,000+ on a set of monoblocks. Yes, you do see this all too often. Sometimes, it appears as if this is the whole point: the braggin' rights bestowed on the owner willing to shell out those kinds of prices. Do they actually get their money's worth? That's debatable, to say the least. All too frequently I see offerings whose technical merits do not justify the prices being asked.
The audio situation today greatly resembles that of ham radio back in the 1950s -- 1960s. Radio equipment was not cheap; a high end ham rig was out of the question for a great many hams. The answer then was DiY. Hams either rolled their own, or bought kits, the most famous being Heathkit. The aspiring ham had publications (QST, 73, the Radio Amateur's Handbook) to aid the do-it-yourself-er, some of which are still published. You may not be able to justify spending $THOUSANDS for high end audio, but you can build your own and get results just as good for a fraction of the cost.
I have been designing and building amplifiers since 1971. I am often asked why I don't simply replicate existing designs from the "Great Age of Hi-Fi". The time from 1948 (introduction of the Williamson) to 1964 (first solid state amps) may be called the GAoHF, but that equipment was still mass produced. This meant cost cutting that compromised sonics; it is true today, and it was true 60 years ago. The more things change, the more they stay the same. We can do better than that. Our designs do not compromise sonics, and therefore include features rarely seen in commercial designs, especially those for the mass consumer market. Our designs borrow ideas from precision electronics and from RF practice. More accurate electronics means more accurate audio. Another reason to not copy old designs is the availability of more modern technologies. We are not adverse to employing solid state where solid state can do the job best. The only reason to avoid solid state is the nostalgia appeal of replicating designs from the 1930s. Do you think a master designer such as Norman Crowhurst would have said no to transistors had they been available in his day? The fads and fallacies of audiophoolery are what we avoid. We don't pretend to be "guru's" or "experts" who have the final word. We depend on solid knowledge and good engineering practice. We don't do voodoo here.
There is no such thing as a perfect amplification device. The perfect lens for telescopes or microscopes has yet to be ground, and the distortionless active device has yet to be invented. There are a lot of things wrong with tubes: they're mechanically fragile, inefficient (small signal types take about two watts to just light 'em up while the DC plate power can be measured in milliwatts) run hot (after all, you have red hot metal sealed inside) and do not lend themselves to miniaturization. (A vacuum tube equivalent of a Pentium IV would require enough power to light up a small city.) However, the first active electronic device remains the most linear active electronic device. The first transistor, the point contact transistor, was so horrible that it is a miracle that its developers, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain, didn't tell their employer, Bell Labs, that this device had no future. The point contact transistor was noisy when it worked at all, unstable, and strictly a low frequency, low power device. William Shockley's BJT wasn't much better: still a low frequency device, and notoriously nonlinear, even if its reliability was far ahead of the point contact devices that it replaced. BJTs make excellent digital devices, but those very characteristics make it a very poor analog device.
The linearity problem was recognized as long ago as the early 1950s; the "Holy Grail" of solid state development has been a device that could match the plain old fashioned triode in linearity. This research has led to a wide plethora of solid state devices: the junction FET, lateral and vertical MOSFETs, VFETs, and other designs that never made it out of the lab -- high hopes (and hype) for all, but every one so far has fallen short. Some have fallen out of production. To this day nothing sounds as good as a well designed vacuum tube amp. Some premium solid state amps (I myself have designed a few) come close, but none quite get there. Indeed, the dawning of the solid state era in 1964 was a big step backwards for audio quality. It would take the next twenty years before solid state sonics got back to the point achieved by a run-of-the-mill tube amp from the 1950s.
When it comes to audio performance, the vacuum tube is far from obsolete.
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