Adjustable tube hybrids -- what are your experiences?

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JMAC
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Adjustable tube hybrids -- what are your experiences?

Post by JMAC » Thu Nov 01, 2018 11:11 pm

Hi fam,

I haven't had the pleasure of hearing one of Gilbert's tube hybrid designs, and I'm curious to know how the tube affects the sound when it's engaged. In my experience with tube amps (the good ones), tubes can add a 3D quality to the midrange, to the extent that vocals and instruments like vibraphones can seem to hang in midair.

Is that what these tube circuits do? Anyone who has spent time with these amps care to chime in?

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Re: Adjustable tube hybrids -- what are your experiences?

Post by esoxhntr » Sat Nov 03, 2018 8:47 am

I have been fortunate enough to hear a number of the adjustable designs. I won't get into 3D qualities, or holographic sound - those are personal perceptions of sound... valid, but personal.

The easiest way for me to think of the tube adjustment function, is as a fine tuning mechanism for your room/speaker combination. It's not like an EQ, more like a sweetener or warmth control. You can get a surprising variation of sound by twiddling the solid state and tube controls. When we were doing demos with the NSI-G at Toronto AudioFest a couple of weeks back, there was a noticeable reaction to adjustments of both controls, and it was quite clear to the listener where the appropriate levels were for their particular taste.

It's such a simple and effective idea that I don't know why other companies don't do it, unless they are afraid of the "purist" reaction, which I have seen on occasion. The solid state Nazis think that inserting a tube is cheating, and the tube aficionados are all agreed that if there is a tube, then the whole bloody lot should be tubes. Whatever.

In short, the adjustable tube/solid state controls are a marvellous tool to get your system to sound the way your ears want to hear it. Flexible, effective, simple.

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Re: Adjustable tube hybrids -- what are your experiences?

Post by JMAC » Sun Nov 04, 2018 3:49 pm

That’s a helpful summary—thanks. Sounds like a tone control, but instead of adjusting treble/bass, it adjusts saturation for lack of a better word. I often think of my current setup in terms of saturation, or the comparison between black and white film and Technicolor. All the details are there in both, but the hues and color can be fuller and deeper depending on the circuit.

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Re: Adjustable tube hybrids -- what are your experiences?

Post by esoxhntr » Tue Nov 06, 2018 9:18 am

That's pretty much the idea.

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Re: Adjustable tube hybrids -- what are your experiences?

Post by masluck » Tue Nov 06, 2018 6:52 pm

Hi,

As an owner of an adjustable hybrid for close to 2 years, I can provide my observations and rational for asking Gilbert to take a standard BC 2k4sh and build a one of a kind adjustable hybrid amplifier - based upon his exploratory work with the BC 307 preamp. First off, to set the stage and get it out of the way, I have railed against the notion that Gilbert's in his "finest hour" because his "current focus" has been on developing pure solid state preamps and amps, and that their perspective represents the total and absolute truth to music reproduction, blah blah blah...there are those who continue this posture both here and the hallowed halls of the Audio Assylum and assert that anything other than a SS circuit borders on euphonic hallucinogenics - even with the knowledge that most quality studio microphone amps of any merit are tube based and start the "recorded sound food chain" so to speak.

The funny thing with Gilbert, and I have known him personally for over 20 years, is that he designs based upon his own agenda, desire to experiment and fascination with "both" topologies. He "consumes ideas" rather than directives from within his customer and his dealer networks. Thus, to the SS aficionados, his new NSI (with an adjustable 6SN7 tube circuit) is uncompromising heresy, seeing that he is at the pinnacle of his SS game, so to speak. :shock: :shock:

Personally, I don't care what reviewers, dealers, the informed, the uniformed, those that have days, those that have decades, etc. in this hobby think and to be candid, I think the same applies to Gilbert. That is how I went into my discussion with him on taking the "blender circuit" he designed in the BC 307 and putting it into the amp he was building for me. I couldn't be happier with it, as I have an infinite flavor palate with an unlimited amount of SS and tube adjustability render things how I want them - not just how the stereo designers, mastering/recording engineers, producers, artists, etc. wanted it to sound (in their respective environments). There is absolutely nothing wrong with adjusting sound to fit the needs of anyone or there wouldn't be mixing consoles, eq's, tube mic preamps, etc.

If you are thinking about one of his adjustable hybrid designs, or have your eye on a used one, take the plunge - if being able to tailor your sound with a tube, or completely run the amp in pure SS mode is high on the list, you wouldn't be happier.

Good luck on your journey!!!

Mark

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Mr. Masluck

Post by Bob Neill » Wed Nov 07, 2018 10:14 am

This has the distinctive sound of preemptively defensive knickers in a twist. If one prefers enriched and deeply saturated colors and other forms of romanticism to what instruments actually sound like, he need not tilt about at imagined purists, he can just spin the variable harmonic distortion injection tube knob on his preamp and/or the new NSI amps to his pleasure and ignore the imagined puritanical enemy. We all have our preferences in audio and Gilbert is clearly and graciously willing to accommodate us all. 

I have yet to hear the NSI G -- due here tomorrow -- and I will give it a full and complete listen. I expect to prefer it in its solid state mode “of total and absolute truth” based on my experience of the NSC/002i-ESP and (limited) experience of his mixed model gear.  I expect to smile as I turn the tube knob counterclockwise and hear the instruments emerge into the full and natural clarity that is their due. But if the tube circuit in the NSI has something new and thrilling to offer that I’ve yet to hear, I promise not to pretend not to hear it!

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Re: Adjustable tube hybrids -- what are your experiences?

Post by JMAC » Wed Nov 07, 2018 12:22 pm

I'm looking forward to reading about your experiences, Bob. You always write with a particular clarity that I appreciate.

I think it's instructive that Gilbert has chosen the BC1, BC2, BC3 Galatea, NSL, NSC, and (presumably) the 002i as the amps that make him happiest -- some have tubes, some don't. I think I'd quite enjoy having a knob to turn up the hyperreality for some moods, and turn it down for others. I imagine I'll find a resting spot somewhere in between, but even the extremes will still sound like Blue Circle.

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Re: Mr. Masluck

Post by masluck » Wed Nov 07, 2018 6:12 pm

Bob Neill wrote:
Wed Nov 07, 2018 10:14 am
This has the distinctive sound of preemptively defensive knickers in a twist. If one prefers enriched and deeply saturated colors and other forms of romanticism to what instruments actually sound like, he need not tilt about at imagined purists, he can just spin the variable harmonic distortion injection tube knob on his preamp and/or the new NSI amps to his pleasure and ignore the imagined puritanical enemy. We all have our preferences in audio and Gilbert is clearly and graciously willing to accommodate us all. 

I have yet to hear the NSI G -- due here tomorrow -- and I will give it a full and complete listen. I expect to prefer it in its solid state mode “of total and absolute truth” based on my experience of the NSC/002i-ESP and (limited) experience of his mixed model gear.  I expect to smile as I turn the tube knob counterclockwise and hear the instruments emerge into the full and natural clarity that is their due. But if the tube circuit in the NSI has something new and thrilling to offer that I’ve yet to hear, I promise not to pretend not to hear it!
Mr. Bob Neill,

I don't recall personally addressing you in my post, therefore any belief that I was conducting some kind of preemptive... (whatever you said) is purely within the 5 inch space between your ears sir, populated or not.

Thanks!

Mark

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Re: Adjustable tube hybrids -- what are your experiences?

Post by Bob Neill » Wed Nov 07, 2018 6:42 pm

Well I guess those in the audience who have read what I have to say on this matter on my website, here, and on Audio Asylum can be the judge of that.

"...that Gilbert's in his "finest hour" because his "current focus" has been on developing pure solid state preamps and amps" and "those who continue this posture both here and the hallowed halls of the Audio Asylum" do have a familiar ring to them. Not too many folks talk about BC on the Asylum other than me, especially in the way that I talk about it. But who knows, maybe I have a doppelganger out there somewhere. In any case, peace, brother.

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Re: Adjustable tube hybrids -- what are your experiences?

Post by esoxhntr » Wed Nov 07, 2018 10:47 pm

Hey Bob,

I see what you're getting at, and though I agree in principal about wanting tonal/timbral accuracy, I just don't think it really exists in any pure way with regards to audio equipment. The fact of the matter is, the truth is gone once that signal goes into a microphone or a DI in the recording studio. We all spend a lot of time and effort in the search to re-create that truth, but I can tell you as a performing musician with literally thousands of gigs under my belt that recorded music is not like being there - and I know that as a fan of live music you are very aware of that same fact.

So, we are left with the age old question... what is truth in audio? Is it solid state? Is it tubes? Is it in a particular design? Is it the same from room to room, from speaker to speaker, from your ears to my ears? The answer in each case is likely definitely not. In point of fact, I have stopped looking for truth, and I spend my time just trying to listen to what sounds musically pleasing to me.

What I like about the NSI-G is the same thing liked about the BC307 - I like having the option afforded me by the ability to add (or not add) an element of tube signal. Using the tools at hand (room, speakers, music, ears), you have the ability to explore timbre and tone quality. You can find the truth, and then challenge your perception of it. Or you can simply find a happy medium for the set of tools you have on hand. Given the choice, I like having the option.

I know what you mean about the NSC/002i EPS combo - it certainly turned my head when I first heard it, and it continues to be a superbly musical combination. I can well see why you like it. Is it more "truthful" than the NSI-G? I can't say so. I bet if you lined a few of us up to listen to various combos of the NSC/NSL/NSI-G/002i/etc., we'd all come away with different opinions about which was the preferred amp. In this case, the truth is what each of us decides it is.

What I was trying to convey in my original post was a positive reaction with regards to Gilbert's adjustable tube designs. I spent most of my effort writing about the NSI-G because it was the latest iteration of adjustable tube. I quite enjoyed my experience with the BC307/NSL/NSP driving a set of ATC SCM40 speakers. I very much enjoyed my time with the NSI-G driving the Marten Miles 5 speakers. I also very much enjoy my NSC/NSW and NSC/002i combos running a number of different speakers. Is any one of them more truthful than the other? Hard to say, man.

You will hear the NSI-G for yourself tomorrow. What I will tell you about the NSI-G, is that it challenged my ears and my concept of what recorded music could - and should - sound like. Your ears will tell you whether or not you feel the same way about it as I do. And no matter what your opinion is, you will be right... As are each of us for our own particular preferences. I hope you enjoy the NSI-G as much as I did. Hint... by the time the NSI-G gets to you it will likely have been off for a day or two. You need to leave it on overnight before you make any judgements.

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Re: Adjustable tube hybrids -- what are your experiences?

Post by Bob Neill » Thu Nov 08, 2018 8:34 am

George, Thanks for getting the conversation back on track. When I listen to my NSC/002i-ESP I'm not especially aware of The Truth so much as just hearing something more like the sound of 'live' music (clarity, presence, 'natural warmth') than I've heard elsewhere. I know it's a mimic of reality but as mimicry it gives me a similar feeling, which is what I'm after. I hear instruments and not my gear: I"m not aware of hearing a designer's interpretation of 'live' music. Gilbert gets that in his latest A/B gear and gets it most so far in my current rig. If the NSI G gets it more, with or without the tube circuit, I'll be more than happy. Note: I"m also sure that my Resolution Audio front end and JM Reynaud Abscissa Jubilees are factors here. Forward!

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Re: Adjustable tube hybrids -- what are your experiences?

Post by Raven » Thu Nov 08, 2018 9:08 am

Bob Neill wrote:
Thu Nov 08, 2018 8:34 am
George, Thanks for getting the conversation back on track.
+1

George,

Retirement is looking good on you. Your recent posts (not that your prior ones were not good) are a pleasure to read and you have covered the difficult subject of putting into words a balanced review of what the NSI-G delivers as a music reproduction device.

To the masses,

Years ago at TAVES, we had the 307 in a system feeding horn speakers. Attendees were able and encouraged to adjust the settings to their liking. I would say the split was SS=20% 6922=30% 6SN7=50% when attendees were asked to choose one signal/circuit only. Interestingly, when asked to choose their favourite sound, it was always a blend of SS and tube and the SS/6922 was the most popular. Back in the showroom with Dynaudio speakers, SS was the clear favourite.

Audio gear sonics have always had 2 main axes to judge, X= quality, Y= sonic timbre. Whether you are a proponent of tubes, SS or small flightless aquatic birds, adjustability is not unwelcome. Now I'm nostalgic for my Alpine car stereo with the equalizer set to "Happy face" in my 1979 Rabbit GTI blasting old school Rush.
Mystic Audio - Please visit us at www.mysticaudio.ca

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