Just because something is new, it doesn’t have to be better than the older model and this is how our story on the tube amps begins.
If you are familiar to music and all the things that come along, you may know about the reigning of the solid state amplifiers. They ruled for many years, in many shapes and several features that would blow your mind off, but lately, we are watching how tube amps win back the market once lost.
Sitting on the fence?
Tube amps are sonically better for audio and it’s the “fault” of the simpler circuits and the small number of components. This combination gives you a purer signal path and you can handle the signal better and constantly. As the components are fewer, they give for fewer elements in a circuit to degrade the signal, muddle or distort the sound.
A simple circuit is more reliable simply because there aren’t many elements that may fail on you.
In terms of drifts and deviations in component specifications, tube amps are also more tolerant and this makes them a better option for the simpler, purer circuits.
Many types of music presents amazing dynamic signal swings and in tube amplifiers the onset of overload/clip as top power is accomplished gradually, whereas the rising distortion is basically low even-order harmonic type.
In some listening teste, you get to observe that high levels of even-order harmonic distortion may appear less offensive to the ear than small levels of odd order harmonic distortion, produced by solid-state circuits as they get to their power limit and enter clipping.
In the case of transistor amplifiers, the distortion elevates quite fast when the maximum power level is reached, giving almost square ware features and a high DC component may damage loudspeakers drivers if not stopped.
For a better image, we can take a look at the tube guitar amplifier that comes with circuits to drive the output stage into overload distortion and uses the occurring distortion to get their well-known “tone”. The tube helps the amplifier’s sound, whereas in the case of a solid-state amplifier the distortion becomes pretty hard to take and also destroys the speakers.
Feeling lost? The explanation is not over and when the transistors overload, the third harmonic is in fact the dominant distortion product. The audiophiles call this third harmonic the “blanketed”. This actually makes the tone thin and hard and not fuller, as you may think.
In the case of tubes, the dominant product is the second harmonic. As their distortion products are more musical, it’s only natural that tubes sound better. They give a better load to transducers and this does it when it comes to better sound.
We’re almost there
If all this info hasn’t been enough of a reason for you, keep in mind that vacuum tubes are also more liner and need less feedback. As tubes are voltage amplifiers, they are more linear amplification technology and need less negative feedback to give the circuit linear.
Typically, negative feedback slows the amplifier down and gives a lifeless sound. High feedback gives sterile sound, dull and the low or zero feedback designs creates instant and natural sound.
Last, but not least, let’s not forget that higher working voltages in the tube amplifiers give wider voltage swings and good signal headroom before reaching the overload territory. A high working voltage produces higher audible energy storage with lower value capacitors. You get around 80 volts in a transistor circuit and 500 volts working in a tube amplifier. This is why you feel sound in tubes sounds more powerful.
All of these facts should be enough reasons for you to try a tube amp. And the price that comes along should seal the deal anytime.
TOP 5 Best Tube Amp under $500
if it’s the first time when you’re thinking about using a tube amp and don’t want to spend too much money, don’t hesitate to start really small with Nobsound NS-08E Vacuum Tube Integrated Amplifier Mini Audio HiFi Stereo Headphone Amp.
The tube amp is actually a headphone amp that gives some power to headphones like HD 580, HD600, HD650, K701, K702, Q701.
The tube amp needs a 3.5mm input and output audio jacks. The output power the little unit needs is more than 1100mW (32ohms). The total distortion on the unit is less than 0.005% and its SNR is more than 110dB.
The tube amp has an impedance ranging from 18 to 600 ohms and the frequency response varies from 20hz to 30kHz.
Don’t get fooled by the small size of the tube amp as the unit is pretty strong and may be used on powered speakers when in need.
In order to complete its description, we need to talk about the appearance and the unit features a nice bronze trim and blue light under the tubes.
The unit has a solid construction as it’s all metal. It leaves not only a nice feel, but also a solid feel.
The low ends get boosted when using the tube amp and you get to observe better separation between the high/mids and lows.
The unit is dual voltage and impresses with its performance, despite its size. Don’t forget to look over the instruction if you want to have it around for longer time.
Let’s go through the best parts:
- The unit may be small, but it’s strong
- The tube amp looks nice and has a solid build
- The lows/mids/highs get more distinctive
- The unit is pretty durable
Let’s play fair and also go through the not-so-good parts:
- Some observe hissing at some point
- Is it really tube amp?
No matter the cons though, we still think the unit is a nice buy that impresses with its performance on sound.
Nicely looking and reliable, the Monoprice Stereo Tube Amp Audio Component Amplifier is a 15Watts class Ab power amplifiers that gives less than 0.1% total Harmonic distortion.
The tube amp features a Bluetooth V4.0 wireless streaming and requires one stereo analog RCA input.
First thing that impresses you on the unit it’s the polished piano black case that combines very well with the brushed aluminum face. The softly glowing exposed tubes complete this appearance that is both classic and modern altogether.
You can use the stereo RCA jacks to connect directly to your CD player, but you may very well connect it to your phone using the Bluetooth. You get wireless streaming sounds clear and clean thanks to the Qualcomm aptX audio codec.
The unit gives a frequency response ranged from 20Hz to 20KHz +/- 2dB. and the total harmonic distortion is not lower than 0.1%.
If the output impedance range goes from 4 to 16ohms, the input impedance is 47 Ohms. The unit has an input sensitivity of 280mV and the SNR is lower than 75dB.
The unit requires 100-120VAC input voltage and the fuse ratings are F1A/125V. The unit uses 2x6N2 tube types.
The Bluetooth range is pretty good, up to 32 feet.
Not that we went through the numbers, we talk about the performance also. The unit gives war, soft sound that is clear and nice.
Let’s pinpoint the things we like the most on the unit:
- It has a nice appearance, modern and classic at the same time
- The unit comes with a Bluetooth that reaches quite far
- The sound is warm nice and clear
- The tube amp has a good build
As for the things we’re not very fond of, here they are:
- The unit is in fact a hybrid system that uses a solid-state power amplifier but a tube pre-amp
- The look could be more polished
All in all, for a very good price, you get a reliable unit, placed in the middle, but giving nice, warm sound, even from a distance.
It’s not that we’re shallow or anything, but the first thing that strikes you on the Nobsound MS-10D Tube Power Amplifier is the looks, for sure.
The tube amp looks nice and the finish is great. Not only the looks may surprise you, but also the sound quality, considering the low price.
The Hi-Fi integrated amplifier comes in an 110V version, but you may also get 220-240V if it betters suits you like that.
When we go through the numbers, we see the tube amp needs an output power of 25W+25 W and an input power of 100W.
The input impedance is 47kohm, whereas the input sensitivity is 300mV. The frequency response ranges from 28Hz to 20KHz, whereas the output impedance is placed between 4 to 16 ohm.
The tube amp has a good build and a nice appearance. The wooded sides give elegance and the analog meter is subtle, in a good way. The aluminum volume knob and the brushed aluminum front complete the looks of the tube amp.
The tube amp has a good size and has amazing finish.
The sound is soft, richer and warm.
Our most important pros are:
- The tube amp has a nice, elegant appearance with lots of aluminum parts and wooded sides
- The tube amp has a good size and a nice finish
- The tube amp has a solid build
- The sound is warm and rich
We don’t forget to remind our cons:
- The unit has also plastic parts
- The tube consumes lots of power
Despite the cons, for the price you pay, you get a pretty good, reliable and definitely nice looking tube amp that gives soft sounds.
When you want a tube amp that makes a great compromise between the traditional sound and the new technology features, without paying a fortune for it, give it a go with the Nobsound MS-10D MKII Hybrid Tube Amplifier. You don’t get a unit that produces smooth, nice sound but also comes with the possibility to connect it to some of your new devices. The unit comes with Bluetooth/USB/Headphone for Hi-Fi so it gets you in the 21st century, for sure.
The tube amp is therefore a great choice for the Hi-Fi lovers, for a very good price.
As we go through the numbers, we see the unit needs an input Voltage of 110V-240V/50-60Hz. The output Power is 25W+25W and the unit consumes around 100W, with an input impedance of 47 Kohl. We don’t forget about the output impedance which is 4-15 ohm.
The tubes are Beijing 6N1*2+6P1*2.
Going farther with the details, we see the nice USB flashlight LED light that is efficient and not disturbing, for most.
In terms of performances, we need to mention about the bass that is tight, warm and nicely detailed. The unit is a great choice when listening some classic music or jazz as the sound is so warm and nice.
The unit has a solid build and looks kind of cool also.
The Bluetooth is efficient and it’s connected, along the USB, through the same signal Channel. So, you need to pull out the USB, restart the Bluetooth function and the machine and only afterwards connect in order to use the Bluetooth.
You can use no less than 5 formats for the USB: MP3/FLAC/WAV/APE/WMA. Keep also in mind that the Bit Rate should not be go over 16BIT/48KHz. Unless you want some disturbing noise, which it’s not the case for sure.
Let’s list the most important pros:
- The tube amp comes with USB and Bluetooth connection
- The unit has a good build and looks nice
- The unit is great for classic and jazz
- The bass is warm and detailed
In terms of things we like less, we only have some:
- The unit gets hot
- The left channel is louder than the right channel
These cons aren’t deal breakers and we’d say you get a pretty good deal for a unit that gives in the 21st century good, old fashioned sound.
Even if you have to give it some time to run until you get to see the results, the GemTune GS01 Hi-Fi Tube Amplifier is still a good investment to make when you want to improve your sound.
The tube amp features the EL34 that gives great highs and mids, whereas the included 6N9P keeps deep lows.
The tube amp has a self-biasing design and analog inputs. The output tags are great for speaker impedance, bots 4ohm and 8 ohms.
The tube amp is a great choice for vocals, jazz, pipes or strings. The upper midrange, the high frequency gets smoother, less piercing and less glaring. As for the low frequency, it becomes less bloated and more focused.
The bass is solid and the highs are crisp and clear.
Let’s tell you about the numbers a bit. The unit requires a 110V input voltage and an output Power of 8W*2. It gives a frequency Response ranging from 20Hz up to 20kHz and has a signal/Noise Ratio of 88dB.
The input impedance is 100Kohm and the distortion is <=1% (1kHz). As we already mentioned, the unit comes with tubes 5AR4*1; EL34-B*2; 6N9P*.
The VU meters work just fine and look cool and the tubes are nicely glowing. The metal casing is pretty solid and durable and whole unit has a great appearance.
It’s better not connect regular headphone jack to amp and only use a Lineout jack.
Let’s make a short list of pros:
- The unit has a solid, durable casing
- The tube amp gives solid bass, clear high and more focused low frequency
- The tubes are nicely glowing and the VU meters work well
- The sound is warm
Along with the good things, come some that we don’t like much:
- You need to give at least 20 hours of running until you enjoy the new sound
- The tubes do get hot
These things are minor flaws and we think the tube amp is a good buy when thinking to improve the sound when listening some jazz.
Best tube combo amp under $500
The VHT AV-SP1-6 Special 6 Combo Amplifier is a reliable and pretty long lasting tube combo amp that gives good performance at a very good price.
The unit uses one 12AX& preamp tube and one 6V6 output tube. It comes with a footswitch that is efficient and pretty silent.
The unit uses 4, 8 and 16ohm speaker Jacks and mod-friendly eyelet-type board.
The tube combo amp combines the hand-wired tube efficiency and one-of-a-kind features. You may easily accommodate the unit for your home use.
The sound gets clean and you may also enjoy the overdriven tones thanks to the duplicating the foot switchable functions.
The unit features 2-channel amp, is hand wired and very easy to use. The high/low power switch enhances low-volume tones with smoother, richer tones- when you use the half-power mode.
You may use the unit in the high-power mode confidently also as the sound gets loud and nice.
The tones are clear and the unit gives decent breakup.
The unit has a solid build and is both lightweight and compact. The tubes are factory installed and you get total plug and play configuration.
On top of everything, the unit comes with 10” VHT Special Design speaker, highly sensitive.
Here are the parts we like the most:
- The unit comes with a functional and quiet footswitch
- The unit comes with tubes factory installed
- The sound is warm soft and clear
- The unit is very easy to use
We do have some parts we’re not quite fond of:
- The unit is not made in our US
- The interface speaker could use some improvement
These cons aren’t deal breakers though and we think that, for the money you pay, you get a reliable, easy to use and lightweight tube combo amp.
Best stereo tube amp under $500
You can get a pretty good quality stereo tube amp without paying the month rent money. It’s the case of the Monoprice 113807 Stereo Tube Amp System with Bluetooth & Speakers that gives nice, warm, rich and soft sound without leaving your wallet empty.
The unit has a polished piano black case that combines nicely with a brushed aluminum face. The tubes are exposed and the VU meter is lighted. The result is a unit that combines retro and modern appearance altogether. The build is solid, not only nice looking.
The tube amp uses stereo RCA jacks the connect directly to your CD player. You may also use the Bluetooth V4.0 to connect the unit to your phone, if that’s your liking.
The aptX audio codec provides clean and clear Bluetooth streaming. The breading on speaker cables and the quality connectors add up to the quality and performance of the unit.
The pair of 4-inch 2-Way Bookshelf Speakers and the 10-foot pair of the cables make the unit easy to use and versatile.
The preinstalled banana plugs on the speaker cables ease up your effort to connect them. The wireless Bluetooth connection may seal the deal for you.
Let’s highlight the most important pros:
- The unit gives warm, rich and soft sounds
- The unit has a solid build and a nice appearance
- The tube amp comes with preinstalled banana plugs
- The wireless Bluetooth connection increases the value of the stereo tube amp
On the other hand, we don’t forget about the cons:
- The unit has plastic that gets easily fingerprints
- The unit could use more attention to the details
Despite the cons, the unit is still a good option when you are on a hunt for a stereo tube amp that gives nice sound and also looks very nice.
Best tube amp head under $500
The hand-built of the Bugera G5 Infinium might explain why the 5-watt Class A amplifier gives such good performance.
The tube amp head is driven by ECC83 and 12BH7 tubes and is made with Infinium Tube Life Multiplier technology. The new Morph EQ helps you sweep easily between USA and British EQ-style tone.
The device has a classic push-pull power amp design for vintage tonal character and high-definition reverb with designated Reverb control.
The unit has a modern look and feel but gives nice, just like in the old days, sounds on modern music just as well.
The included high-definition reverb, the built-in 2-way power attenuator are all features that ensure great sound at any volume.
The Class-A amp head with ECC83 front-end and the 12BH7 power stage create a versatile unit that ensures nicely-balanced harmonics and natural tube compression. The unit gives warm distortion and break-up.
The unit is adjustable through the designated control on the front panel so you may customize your sound as tough or smooth as you want.
You may operate the G5 at 5 watts, 1 watt or 0.1watt as the tube amp head comes with a built-in Power Attenuator. The speaker-emulated output is great also.
The tube amp comes with a heavy-duty footswitch for channel and reverb selection for easier and more comfortable control of your tone. The FX loop with effects level switch gives you control over the signal routing.
In terms of performance, we see the distortion that is neither too fuzzy, but more refined. The drive channel ranges from light crunch to hard rock rhythm overdrive. The clean channel has a nice sound just as well.
Let’s list the things we like the most:
- The device has a modern appearance
- The unit includes high-definition reverb, 2-way power attenuator
- The unit is adjustable through the control on the front
- The sound is nice and the unit is great for classic rock
We do need to pinpoint the things we don’t like:
- The reverb could be improved
- The unit is not for the heavy use
When in need for a tube amp head for some bedroom listening, the unit is a good option to try though.
Best tube guitar amp under $500
The manufacturers are always trying to create better and more performant tube guitar amps for better prices as not all of us have the pocket for the high end products. This is how the Fender Mustang III 100-Watt 1×12-Inch Guitar Combo Amplifier caught our attention and it’s a good example of how good quality meets the lower price.
The unit has a knob that lets you choose the tones, mean or clean, from no less than 17 various amp models, that fit so many types of music.
The Fender Fuse Software lets you accommodate on the fly, with your computer so that you may alter the effects that come along: phaser, delay, echo, tremolo and so on.
You only need to plug in your MP3 player into the Auxiliary input when in the mood to jam along with your favorite tracks. In case you want a more intimate experience, you may use the 1/8th headphone output jack that mutes the speaker output.
The tuner function works well and the button switch makes things easier. The screen display is easy to follow and to maneuver.
The unit is highly versatile and you may use it for indoor and outdoor events. It comes with so many options and is highly responsive. It may get very loud, but only if you need it to be.
For more functionality, the input Jacks nobs and buttons are placed on the top of the front panel.
The unit is lightweight and easy to carry around. It has a compact design and is highly portable and easy to store.
Let’s pinpoint the most important pros:
- The unit has a compact shape and is easy to store/move around
- The unit is lightweight and versatile as you may use it indoor and outdoor just as well
- You have so many option to choose from
- The sound may get very loud and you can have all sorts of tones
On the other hand, we’re not putting aside the cons:
- Some need a bit of more time to get used to the unit
- You may find it a bit more sophisticated than you’d expected to be
The cons are minor and we look at the whole picture, which consists of a versatile, lightweight, compact and highly customizable unit.
Best headphone tube amp under $500
The Little Dot MK III Headphone Tube Amplifier may surprise you with their performance and nice appearance, for a very decent price.
The unit gives a smooth, pleasant sound with no trace of dynamic compression or imaging fuzz.
You get to use two gain switches that deliver maximum compatibility with all headphones, no matter the impedance or sensitivity.
The unit has a good range of driver tube-rolling: EF92, CV131, WE403A/B, 5654, M8100, CV4010, EF95, 6JI and the equivalents of the vacuum tubes.
When we go through the numbers we see the frequency response ranging from 12Hz to 100kHz and a power output of 350mW @ 600ohm, 300mW@ 120ohm, 100mW @32ohm.
The power consumption of the unit is 30W and the recommended load impedance placed from 32 ohms to 600ohm.
The pre-amplifier voltage for the unit is 10V RMS and the pre-amplifier gain is 3-10X (you can also control it through the gain switches).
The pre-amplification circuit comes with both driver and power tubes.
The high quality aluminum chassis and the good build give you a pretty long lasting device.
When we check the performance, we appreciate the smooth mids and the high clear. The bass I refined and sound is spacious and clear.
The unit looks great and gives nice sound.
Our most important pros are:
- The unit looks nice and has a good build
- The sound is spacious and clear
- The bass is refined and the mids are smooth
- The unit doesn’t give any trace of dynamic compression
We do need to list the things we like less:
- The volume knob needs to work better
- The coating is not the best quality out there
The down sides are not major though and we think the unit is a great choice when looking for a headphone tube amp at a good price.
Best tube amp for Metal under $500
The Laney Amps IRT15H Guitar Amplifier Head gives you the chance to get the tones you like for your metal songs anytime, for a pretty good deal.
The tube amp is a class AB tube amp with 3 band EQ that only needs 15 watts.
The unit has a single high gain iron heart channel with full EQ and switchable pre-boost feature. The tube amp is designed to give nice iron heart tones at low output levels, which is why it’s the perfect choice for a small venue or some home recording.
The input option of 15W or smaller than 1W helps you decide how much volume you want. You plug into the 15W input and you actually get 15watts RMS. When you want less output, without losing your tone, you simply plug into the <1 W option and get what you want.
The unit is highly versatile and you may record silently or in live situations using the Speaker Emulated Record Out feature on the rear panel.
The tube amp comes with a built-in digital reverb and FX loop. The impedance is 8 or 16 ohm.
The unit is easy to use and it gets pretty loud. It’s highly portable and powerful and has a good build. It’s lightweight and comes with its own carry bag for easier transportation.
You get great tone control when using the unit and amazing heavy tones.
Here are the most important pros:
- The unit is a class AB tube amp
- The unit only needs 15Watt
- You get great tone control
- The unit is lightweight and easy to carry around
We also need to keep in mind the minor issues:
- The tones could be brighter
- The unit is not for the large venues
When in need for a small tube amp for your metal songs, the unit handles very well the small venues or some home recording.
Best clean tube amp under $500
For the clean sound it gives, the GemTune BL-02 Tube Amplifier is a great option to try at least for a while.
The tube amp comes with EL34B tube and is great for vocal music and chords just as well. The unit is a Class a Single Ended unit that minimizes distortion. The unit comes with 5 tubes 5Z3P*1; EL34-B*2; 6N9P*2 and they all give great quality on the sounds.
The Stereo Hi-Fi integrated gives great, refined music. The unit has a self-biasing design and analog inputs.
The output for speaker impedance is 4/6/8ohm.
The unit has a stainless steel case and rubber feet that provide great stability and solid feel.
The side wooden panels look nice and the volume knob is lightweight and responsive. The power switch is well placed and has a solid feel.
The unit has great display for the wiring and the whole unit has a well thought out design. The sound is clear and nice.
Let’s make a short list of cons:
- The unit has a good design and a solid feel
- The sound is nice and clear
- The unit comes with stainless steel case and rubber feet for stability and longer life span
- The unit comes with 5 tubes
We need to specify our cons also:
- The tube sockets need to be of better quality
- The unit needs better performance over the noise
Despite the cons, for the quality it gives on sound, the unit is a great buy anytime.