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 Forum index » How-tos » Production - engineering/mixing
Tube amps, warmth, and harmonic distortion
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Kookoo



Joined: Nov 20, 2005
Posts: 42
Location: Austin, TX, USA

PostPosted: Tue Feb 21, 2006 4:59 pm    Post subject: Tube amps, warmth, and harmonic distortion Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I've always wondered about the technical differences that cause a sound difference between tube amps and solid-state amps, and if those people who swear that tubes and tapes sound better than transistors and bits are just zealots or if they're right.

I found some excellent resources that explain the differences between tubes and transistors, which lead me to a better understanding of how to get more punch and warmth when doing recording and mixing in an all-digital environment. I'm still not sure about some things, but it's a start at least.

http://milbert.com/tstxt.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valve_sound
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaccuum_tube

The things that really blew my mind were the explanations of how vaccuum tubes work, and the coloration differences between tubes and transistors.

I did some experimenting with a 1kHz test tone, some free saturation and tube-modelling VST plugins, and a sonogram. The test tone generator comes from the ndc pack, the tube modeller comes from Voxengo, and the saturation plugins were the default Ableton Live saturator as well as another one I found on kvr.

The voxengo tubeamp plugin was the only one that was properly able to generate a good second harmonic (i.e. 2kHz) for the test tone. When driven harder, it could eventually come out with a fourth (i.e. 4kHz) also, but not without getting a third (i.e. 3kHz...etc) in there too. All the saturator settings and presets I tried could only either generate odd (i.e. 3kHz etc) or could only generate all harmonics (2k, 3k, 4k, 5k, etc). And which harmonics were emphasized was very different between the saturators and the tubeamp.

There was one weird anomaly that is creating a doubt in my mind about whether I really understand this or not... the tubeamp preset called "Only Even Harmonics" only actually generated what I understand to be ODD harmonics (3k, 5k, 7k, etc). Either I don't understand something or the preset is named incorrectly, since for a 1kHz tone it seems like 2k, 4k etc are even.

All in all, the tubeamp plugin sounded way better at warming than anything else I found, and it drove up to +10db with a nicer tone. At first I couldn't hear the difference that the sonogram was indicating. So I EQed the output of the amp to remove the 1kHz base tone and cranked it up so I could hear only the harmonics. That was when things really started to click for my ear. After spending some time listening to those harmonics, I could really hear them pretty easily with the EQ disabled, and started to audibly appreciate the difference between "warm" and "muddy and warm". And then when I put the tubeamp on Battery with a fairly dynamic jazz drum kit sequence it really sounded good. And I knew why this time Smile

So, anyway, I'm sure for some of you this is not news. But I thought anyone else who's like me might find it really interesting and useful. I welcome any corrections or comments from you grizzled veterans out there.
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paul e.



Joined: Sep 22, 2003
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 21, 2006 6:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

makes sense to me !

elektro 80 will probably be able to say more about this subject

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elektro80
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 21, 2006 6:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Huh? I was writing a post in this other thread about preamps and then suddenly the Kookoo post was gone Shocked

Seems like Kookoo started a new thread. Very Happy

My other post disapperead in the mess, and right now I going to try to fix some grounding problems in my Ferrograph. I will have to get back to this tomorrow or so. This is an interesting subject though.

I am sure guys Rob, Kassen and Morbius will have a lot of stuff to say about this.

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Kookoo



Joined: Nov 20, 2005
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Location: Austin, TX, USA

PostPosted: Tue Feb 21, 2006 6:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

elektro80 wrote:
Huh? I was writing a post in this other thread about preamps and then suddenly the Kookoo post was gone Shocked


Heh, oops Smile Shortly after making the other post I realized that it was misguided and that I already knew the answer... sorry about that, I didn't think it had been there long enough for someone to reply to.
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seraph
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 22, 2006 1:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Kookoo wrote:
I didn't think it had been there long enough for someone to reply to.

never underestimate electro-music.com users. we are fast Very Happy

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ian-s



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PostPosted: Wed Feb 22, 2006 2:21 am    Post subject: Re: Tube amps, warmth, and harmonic distortion Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Kookoo wrote:
the tubeamp preset called "Only Even Harmonics" only actually generated what I understand to be ODD harmonics (3k, 5k, 7k, etc). Either I don't understand something or the preset is named incorrectly, since for a 1kHz tone it seems like 2k, 4k etc are even.


If the fundamental is 1K then 2K is the 1st harmonic, making it odd?

Is this a standard of does it vary internationally like high rise floor numbering?
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seraph
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 22, 2006 3:05 am    Post subject: Re: Tube amps, warmth, and harmonic distortion Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

g2ian wrote:

If the fundamental is 1K then 2K is the 1st harmonic, making it odd?

afaik no. If the fundamental is 1K then 1K is the 1st harmonic, partial, whatever...

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The man that hath no music in himself, nor is not mov'd with concord of sweet sounds, is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils; the motions of his spirit are dull as night and his affections dark as Erebus: Let no such man be trusted. - W. Shakespeare
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Blue Hell
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PostPosted: Wed Feb 22, 2006 11:38 am    Post subject: Re: Tube amps, warmth, and harmonic distortion Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

seraph wrote:

afaik no. If the fundamental is 1K then 1K is the 1st harmonic, partial, whatever...

Yes, But 2k is the first overtone, that might confuse things a bit.

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seraph
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 23, 2006 6:41 am    Post subject: Re: Tube amps, warmth, and harmonic distortion Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Blue Hell wrote:
seraph wrote:

afaik no. If the fundamental is 1K then 1K is the 1st harmonic, partial, whatever...

Yes, But 2k is the first overtone, that might confuse things a bit.

that's exactly why I would avoid using that word. All upper components of a sound are "partials". the ones in harmonic relationship to the fundamental are also called harmonics, so every harmonic is a partial but not all partials are harmonics.

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The man that hath no music in himself, nor is not mov'd with concord of sweet sounds, is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils; the motions of his spirit are dull as night and his affections dark as Erebus: Let no such man be trusted. - W. Shakespeare
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