The Digital Future

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by Josh Ray on February 02 '06

 Industryfeatures Gill 2

Another day, another manufacturer giving up tubes for the the digital crack pipe. Well, not completely giving up tubes, but as 6Moons points out, David Gill of "all tube, all the time" Art Audio is about to release a new integrated amp with digital guts. Sacrilegious? Heck yeah.

But Art Audio is not the first. Bel Canto made the jump, as did Audio Research (not completely, but they've got a digital amp in the mix) as well as a few other players. Of course, for those audiophiles out there screaming "chips are not digital," I'm not going to make any big distinctions between class D, Tripath, switching and chip amps because, really, they ain't tubes and they ain't got big heat sinks so no sense making things more confusing than they need be, ya dig?

What's interesting about this is how much can be done with the new don't-call-it-digital technologies. The ICEpower modules from Bang and Olufsen are finding their ways in many, many new amps and provide huge juice to the tune of 1000 watts in a tiny box. Sound? A cross between tubes and solid state, or so the professionals say. Same with other pseudo-digital (switching) amps like NuForce, Chord, Kharma, Linn and other big players. Heck, if anything can be said about 2005, it was the year digital amplification exploded.

So does this mean the end of tubes? Of course not, since many will argue tubes just can't be touched sonically. But with the digital dogs kicking ass and taking names, it's increasingly hard to justify the price, low power and lack of user-friendliness of tubes. Of course, tubes are just damn cool and make women swoon which is, of course, all that matters. But if Srajan "touch my tubes and die" Ebean gave up his $10k+ tube monos for the $1200 Audiosector Pateks then, well, it's worth talking about. Are we looking at a "digital" dominated future?


Josh, chip amps and class d amps use entirely different technology. Not sure why they should be lumped by size.
I'm lumping them together under the "digital" banner because they're not class A or AB. They're part of the new school. Chips amps, class D, switching, Tripath and whatever new technologies pop up in the near future are all part of this movement away from tubes and SS. I'm also lumping them together because SonicFlare is theoretically about simplifying all this crazy stuff. While the Gaincard and its offspring may be completely different than ICEpower or Tripath or BASH or anything else, I don't want to get too complex. So maybe there should be a name for the new generation of efficient "digital" amps. I don't want to mention switching or chip or Tripath by name each time for the same reasons I don't call out all the different tubes in a piece of gear. It simply doesn't need to be that complex.
i have been on the audio rounabout for many years buying and selling high end amos and sources; until i tried amooded triparh amp from redwine audio along with atotally digital front end vua redwine modded squeeze box it surpasses all thatched went before; the downside is that i dont troll the magazines with as much zeal anymore; it is a digital and price perfomance revolution
FYI, Audio Sector also makes a fantastic integrated that made me give up my tube my ear (with a pair of Zu Cable Druid Mk IVs) there's more of a "you are there" quality to the chip amp's sound. And it's about 1/2 the price of a Bel Canto....
Actually, chip amps of the gainclone model run in class AB.
Thanks, Dave, did not know that about the Gainclones. Yeah, Matt, amazing stuff that's relatively cheap just killing top gear from a few years ago. One designer of expens loudspeakers I talked to at CES said switching (ICEpower, NuForce, Linn, etc) amps are the future and any amp manufacturer not taking a serious look at switching to switching is a fool. The technology is relatively new and it will only get better and better.
I have gone through periods of solid state, digital and tube amplification in my system over the years. I have owned a number of the digital amps, and have tried a lot of the newest digital amps recently. I think that these new digital babies are better than most solid state stuff out there, even the big name monoblocks. These are the companies that should be taking stock of their future! I went back to tubes after a 7 year period of trying build a totally satisfying solid state system. But after much trying, product development etc., I was never completely satisfied with any solid state based system. Now with tubes, I feel I have gotten a lot closer. I still lump all the new offerings in the same sonic category as traditional solid state, like Spectral, Levinson, Gamut, ASR etc. They still miss that certain something tubes have, they still sound sterile to my old ears. But the technology is so young, that I bet in five to ten years, even my ears will start to be satisfied. Listening to the NuForce amps in my home a few months ago, I have heard a lot of promise there (but some problems too). I think with a true high-end designer/sorcerer contributing to the design, they really could be giant killers. I'd sure love to hear a pair of 50 watt Nuforces with a stiff power supply, and proper attention to EMI!
Hey, I just checked out the Gill Audio article. Now that's a chip amp I would love to hear! the implemetation described by the designer is definitely in the direction that I have been hoping this techology will go.
Yeah, John, the whole new world of these quasi-digital technologies is really interesting and is just starting to get moving. But it still needs a proper name, something that sounds damn cool and, really, isn't at all confusing for newbs getting involved. There's SS, tubes and the new stuff...