Amplifiers are useful tools in boosting mic level signals to line level signals that are usable.
There are various amps out there and they all have their merits and short comings….
Some of these amps are vintage amps that may have been made decades ago… Most audiophiles claim that vintage amps sound better than newer amps.
This post will therefore discuss why this is the case because most people seem to be confused about this.
With that said, let’s get into this post….
So, why do vintage amps sound better?
Vintage amps sound better because their internal circuitry is mostly hand-wired with a greater attention to detail. Additionally, the presence of tubes provides even order harmonics to the sound, this adds warmth to the output and makes it more musical.
Amplifiers today are built with a lot of tech and “better” specs that tend to reduce or completely eliminate saturation. Vintage amps on the other hand, literally have saturation mechanically built-into them.
Most modern saturation plugins are used to bring in qualities of tube saturators as well tape machines…to be provide that warm vintage feel that comes with analog equipment.
For most audiophiles myself included, vintage amplifiers sounding better is due to its aesthetic appeal,
In the sense that vintage amps give off a nostalgic aspect and feel that cannot be easily replicated by today’s digital or physical tools.
They may try to come as close as they can but there’s just something about a signal passing through old mechanical circuitry, that has a distinct feel.
Depending on the design used, vintage amps give off a natural kind of distortion that is often times characterized by“Depth” or “warmth” to the sound.
This warm distortion is what we refer to as even-order harmonics.
It is useful and you’ll find it in most saturation plugins as well as pedals.
Amplifiers made in the old days were full of these harmonics, but later designs eliminated them, only for the new tech audiophiles to want them back because they’re pretty pleasing to the ear.
Plus, that distinct feel adds a good texture to a signal.
Most amplifier designs today don’t necessarily colour the sound of the signal running through it. Reason being, new technology strives to be perfect, in the sense that signals passing amps have to come out “clean”.
However, older tech is different because the imperfection which creates the harmonic distortion in vintage amps is why it’s perceived to sound better.
We can therefore acknowledge that the harmonic distortion mechanically built into vintage amps is not a flaw but perharps a happy coincidence.
Advantages of using vintage amps
Below are some advantages that come with using vintage amps.
Uniquess is something I’ve fairly gone into but it’s worth mentioning again.
The ability of vintage amps to sound natural and good is one of the pros of using them and is one of the reasons why audiophiles till this day keep vintage amps handy. To be used in situations that call for a vintage aesthetic feel.
In addition, you can pretty much make vintage amps sound better by pushing them at their input stage using a gain pedal that is clean.
Using such a pedal to drive the input of the amplifier can help you being out that natural tone out of them combine with some edge and grit.
This gives you more control over your signal.
Vintage amps, especially the good tube ones, have a finger touch sensitivity that is quite unique and can’t easily be mimicked by digital plugins.
Vintage amps can pretty much respond to finger sensitivity when you’re for example playing and running guitar through them.
This is helpful in bringing out natural nuance that comes with playing such an instrument.
Most digital plugins don’t do this, even if they did…it would require someone with deep amp knowledge to be able to catch the subtle difference that can be heard in a signal when it passes through a vintage amp.
Disadvantages of using vintage amps
Lets get into some disadvantages of using vintage amps.
One of the issues that comes with using a vintage amp, or basically any physical amp, is that you have to take the time to mic them up.
With digital plugins you don’t really have to worry about getting all that in place… all you have to do is just plug in your guitar and you’re good to go.
In this way, you can save a lot of time and combat any difficulties that come with setting up an amp.
Vintage amps are not just something you can easily walk into a shop and find.
Just like most vintage gear,
It’s pretty difficult to find them…actually good ones for that matter.
It also takes a lot of effort to test out different amps in order to find the right one.
This would mean having to buy a bunch of vintage amps, or to would mean you would have to find somebody with the amps that you can test out.
Or it would call on getting an experts advice which could cost you money.
Furthermore, audio equipment requires an attentive ear, which means trusting somebody’s ears and judgement can be a challenge for most audiophiles.
With plugins you don’t really have to move around and source these amps physically.
You can simply buy them online and in a matter of an hour you could test more than 10 of them to find which one works best.
This also saves you the hassle of dealing with a bunch of amps that could take up space.
One other problem that is common in older amps is something that is called the cold solder joint, which is where the solder will form a crack just from age.
This can be quiet inconveniencing to repair.
Dirt is another huge factor that causes amps to fail.
The combination of dirt, dust and oxidization will interrupt the signal because the shiny metal surface will no longer be conductive when these things accumulate on it.
Most amps used in the old days that may have been exposed to cigarette smoke may have gotten tar and other chemicals in the smoke inside the amp and this can cause crackles, noises, signal interruptions and nasty distortion and so on.