Music systems, which those of us of a certain age just call “stereos,” started out filled with vacuum tubes, then went to transistors, and finally computer chips. What’s the difference, and which is best? There are a lot of factors involved. The leap from tubes to transistors meant smaller, safer, longer-lasting, and less power-hungry components.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, electronics manufacturers started bailing on tubes because solid-state components were all the rage. In part, it was because the electronics industry wanted something new to sell (sound familiar?), but transistors represented a major improvement over tubes, even if it was a hassle to replicate their linearity, for the simple reason that unlike tubes, solid-state components did not wear out.
“Tubes are it, tubes are the ultimate, but tubes are completely messed up,” Hansen says. “They wear out the minute you turn on a piece of equipment.”
But did those stereos, speakers, and amplifiers lose something in the process? Many audiophiles say that the quality of sound was much better with vacuum tubes. An article at Collectors Weekly runs down the history of sound amplification, the difference between tubes and transistors, and whether it ultimately matters in the experience of fine music.