If a tube falls in the forest, does it make a sound?

I love reading the gushing descriptions about how tubes are supposed to sound.

“Blow Hard brand 12AX7′s have chocolatey mid-range, solid bass and extended highs…”

Really? I have more tubes than most people will have in 100 lifetimes and I have never heard a tube make any sound at all. Yes, I know what they are trying to say but they are misleading people with these descriptions of “how a tube sounds.” Talking about how a tube sounds outside of the context of a specific piece of equipment and system is a joke and that’s why some people who have chased a holy-grail tube are sometimes so disappointed. These descriptions can only do one of two things: disappoint or delude.

Here’s an actual description:

“very clean detailed sound, nice high end”

So, if I put this in a 1961 Rheems phonograph with crystal cartridge and 4-pound tone arm, I will get very detailed sound?


My favorite 12AX7 for use in my highly modified Conrad Johnson PV1 is the Telefunken smooth plate but I’ve heard plenty of pieces of equipment where that wouldn’t be the best choice. And tubes will not fix the sound of a poorly-designed piece of gear and won’t ruin the sound of a well-designed piece of gear. When everything is right selecting tubes puts the icing on the cake. Nothing more than that. People hate this because it means that the only way they can find out what works best is to try and try again. It also means that if you buy something that really isn’t good there’s not much hope. Reminds me of when I got a HK Citation I preamp about 20 years ago. What a miserable piece.

So why all of these flowery descriptions? They make it easy to separate people from their money. They also make good fodder for online forums and guys who would rather talk gear than listen to music.

You know those gear-hounds: they get out their Sheffield Drum Record, that copy of Dafos or play Dark Side of the Moon for the 3000th time.

I suppose I’d rather talk about gear than listen to that. I’d rather go to the dentist…

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