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Music for the Ears: What Is Tube Rolling?

Updated: August 03,2022

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If you’re a true audiophile, you’re probably always on the lookout for better sound quality. The quality of a song can vary significantly depending on the medium through which it’s played. 

This article will show you what tube rolling is and how easy it is to do. Rolling the tubes can give your instruments and amps a new lease on life by changing the sound they produce. It’s a technique that has been used for years by musicians and audio enthusiasts alike to achieve the best sound possible. 

It might look complicated at first, but it’s actually far easier than it seems and definitely something true audiophiles will like, if for nothing else, then for the knowledge of further sound engineering. 

Solid-state Amps vs. Tube Amps

Before we start on tube rolling, it would be fair to first explain what amplifiers are and how they are categorized. Tube amplifiers consist of audio-vacuum tubes that look like small lightbulbs at the top of the amps. Their purpose is not to shed light; it’s just the result of the tube’s construction. 

Tube amps are using the tubes to circulate and convert electrical signals into audio signals that you later get out of your speakers. Hardcore tube-amp enthusiasts often argue that the sound is a lot fuller, warmer, and more natural than when using solid-state amps. 

On the other hand, solid-state amplifiers use transistor circuits to convert electrical energy into audio waves. They are more durable than tube amplifiers and not as “needy” in maintenance. However, when first introduced in the 1960s, the sound produced was simultaneously too harsh and too fragile. 

Solid-state amps couldn’t produce the sound quality as good as tube systems, so people still went with tube amps over them. Today, however, technology evolved, and the difference between the two is barely recognizable, even for someone with a trained ear. 

This advancement has also resulted in some solid-state amps going digital, offering a wide range of effects that can closely mimic almost any sound set by tube amps. However, if you still prefer analog over digital but are unsure which one to choose, check out hybrid amps as they offer the best of both worlds.  

However, there is no better teacher than experience, so you should try connecting your amps and speakers to hear the difference for yourself. Once you do so, you can also connect the speakers to the TV and enjoy a thrilling experience while watching your favorite shows.

Tube Amp Basics

The two main types of tubes are preamp and power tubes. Preamp tubes are generally smaller and influence the sound’s overall tone and characteristics. They boost the signal before it reaches the power section, bringing it to the line level.

Power amps are larger and amplify the pre-amped signal on the master volume. In other words, they boost the line level signal before it reaches the speakers. While power amps don’t shape the tone as the preamps do, different sets of power amps provide you with different responsiveness.

Changing tube positions also influences the sound, so play around with different orders. Also, make sure that all the tubes are from the same set, as tube matching is highly important when tweaking the sound.

How Does Tube Rolling Work?

Now that we know the difference between a solid-state amp and a tube amp and have explained how they work, it’s time to explain the concept of tube rolling. Tube rolling is simply switching and changing tubes to find the desired sound. 

Well, how do tubes work? A tube is similar to a lightbulb in a way that both are glass bulbs that hold some rarefied gasses and have a heated thread (containing a plate and a metal grid) that allows for a free passage of the electrical current. The vacuum bulbs are where the electrical energy is converted, and the audio signal is amplified to your monitors. 

Note that not every set of headphones or speakers is able to withstand the amplified surge of energy due to unmatching impedance. When looking for a pair of headphones that’ll be able to withstand the output sent to them, the best option would be a pair of in-ear studio monitors

They provide great quality; they’re durable and can also be used for audio mixing.

Some high-quality PC speakers can also do a solid job if you do not have studio monitors to connect to the amp.

How to Tube Roll

Alright, safety first! If you’re a beginner and still learning how tube amps work, keep in mind that they run on dangerously high voltages. You must never try and replace tubes while the amplifier is on or you’ve just turned it off. Apart from possibly short-circuiting the amp, you can seriously get hurt by burning or even electrocuting yourself.

Tube rolling can be entertaining, especially for those who play their own instruments. Let’s say you’re a guitarist that loves to play. For you, changing the tubes in a guitar amp is likely to be a thrilling experience as each tube will offer a different sound. 

The first thing to do is check the user’s manual that you got with your amplifier. Many manufacturers put low-cost stock tubes into their amps, knowing that their customers will likely replace the tubes in amps. 

You can simply change your amplifier’s tubes and call it a day. However, if you’re looking for a more specific sound,  it’s best to do some research prior to purchasing new tubes. 

You’ll want to know what tube is compatible with your amp and what manufacturers are offering. Even though different tube manufacturers create similar tube models, they can still provide you with a different type of sound. If all this already sounds confusing to you, don’t despair. There are plenty of articles and videos online designed to help you out as best as possible.

Finally, after finding the right tube, or at least the one you’re going to try first, it’s time to place it in the amp. Learning how to change tubes in an amp is as easy as it gets. They are usually held on by retaining clips, which you need to press down and then slightly rock the tube in a circle, and - voilà - the tube is out. When putting the new tube in, simply align the pins with the openings on the amp and gently push the tube in. 

If it happens that the amplified signal is too amplified, but you are hesitant to remove a tube for fear of losing the warmth, a limiter might be an excellent option. The limiter will also keep the sound from peeking while keeping it rounded. 

An important thing about tube rolling is that you’ll never know what sound you’ll get, so the only thing to do is to repeat the process until you’re satisfied with the sound achieved. A good rule of thumb is to leave the tube in after rolling it for at least a day before changing it once more. This will allow your ears to get used to the new sound. If you’re still not satisfied with it the next day, feel free to redo it. 

Once again, we urge you to be aware of your own safety. If the amp has been on for a while, leave it off for a few minutes before making any tube changes to allow them to cool off first. If, for whatever reason, you decide to change the tubes while they’re hot, use mittens or any kind of thick cloth that will guard your hands against burns.

Summary

Tube rolling is like a treasure hunt. You’re constantly seeking that one gem that shines brighter than all the others, but you are more than likely to bump into some rocks first during your adventure. Tube rolling can be really satisfying as it allows you to achieve anything you’d like to hear. Don’t be afraid to try out different tube brands or make your tube changes every few days. 

FAQ

Does tube rolling make a difference?

Yes, tube rolling makes a difference. Distinct tube manufacturers have different tube constructs, even though they may be the same model. By switching between the tubes, you can hear the difference until you find the sound that suits your ears perfectly.

What is amplifier tube rolling?

Amplifier tube rolling means changing the tubes on an amplifier. And what is tube rolling used for? This procedure intensifies a different sound frequency to get the sound output that is more comfortable to the listener’s ears. 

What is the difference between tube and solid-state amps?

The main difference is in the amp construct. Tube amplifiers have vacuum tubes or valves, while solid-state amps use electronic transistors.

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Damjan
ABOUT AUTHOR
Damjan

While Damjan started his career in humanities, his interests quickly moved on to the tech and IT world. VPNs, antiviruses, firewalls, password managers - cybersecurity is what he knows best. When Damjan’s not losing hair over the dwindling of our collective sense of tech safety, you’ll find him looking for solace in 100-hour-long RPGs and rage-inducing MOBAs.

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