I've read about how a tube amp is "perceived" as being louder by the human ear, but I'm curious how much difference there really is. I went to see my dad's band this weekend, and the guitar player had a 2x12 100w Fender solid state amp. The volume was on 7 and while it was definitely loud, it wasn't like I left there with my ears ringing.

I see people on forums talking about 100w tube amps on 2 and they are going deaf. I just can't believe there is that big a difference in volume. I realize loudness is relative, but are some people really that sensitive? Or are tube amps actually THAT much louder than a solid state of the same size?
Last edited by 757ian123 at Feb 27, 2014,
Volume isn't linear in the way you're assuming it is.

First off, one amp on 7 might be putting out a larger percentage of its power than another amp on 2. The design of the amp and the taper of the controls varies an awful lot.

Second, tube amps and solid state amps are rated very differently. SS amps are usually rated for maximum output, so a 100 watt tube amp with all the knobs on 10 should give you 100 watts. Tube amps are rated completely differently, involving output at a certain percent THD or total harmonic distortion. So a 100 watt tube amp with all the knobs all the way up will fairly often put out 200 watts, sometimes even more.

Then you get into speaker sensitivity and any number of other factors, and it turns out that you can't really measure volume the way you're trying to. There are plenty of free dB meter apps for phones, try one of those out for a rough but at least reasonably measured idea of what's really going on.
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Don't really know about how the power amps are rated as far as guitar amp goes, but I agree with all of the rest.
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From personal experience: hooked up a 15 watt Orange TT to a 2x12 with 2 Celestions 70 watt cabs. The guy on the other side had the same cab but with a 100 watt solid state amp (Vox Tonelab). The Orange at about 5 buried the Tonelab at max and was cutting over our drummer who was amplifying his kicks at the time.

Back in the mid 90s when I had no clue I joined a band that was playing through Marshall JCM900 100 watt heads hrough 1960a cabs. I bought a 4x12 cab that was rated at 250 or 300 watts and a Marshall SS head that was 100 watt. On 10 I was barely audible over teh guys in their Marshalls on 3.
When I had my AC30 which is on paper 30 watts in the shop the tech said it was putting out 45 watts with it maxed out. That amp would shake the walls everywhere I took it. Was just too damn loud in my band. To compare my 50 watt Marshall AVT would get buried in a band setting and couldn't even provide adequate stage volume. And then I gigged a 15 watt tiny terror combo for about 4 years and it was all you needed to fill a pub with less than 400 or so people playing rock and 80s metal.

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Last edited by cheesefries at Feb 27, 2014,
Thanks guys. Real world experience and stories was basically what I was looking for. So I guess its true then, there is a major difference in volume between tube and SS of the same wattage.
I owned a 200 watt solid state amp, it was loud really loud at 5 we could rattle the drummers house and make stuff move. At 4 (same exact cab) my 50w non master volume amp it will physically hurt we never turned it above 3 after we learned that lesson. Maybe if I can take it to an arena ill try it again lol
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There are a lot of variables but 8995 captures most of them. Download a quality SPL app and test for yourself. Measure all your amps at 20' distance and report back. Tubes, SS, speaker choices, speaker load in ohms and cabinet design all play a role in the final measured loudness.
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A VOX AC30 with the Celestion Alnico Blue speakers is the loudest amp I've played!! It belonged to someone I did some work for. I took my Marshall 6101LM along (all tube 100watt 1x12 combo) & we dimed the pair of them for a laugh. The VOX had the edge, just, but that might be down to the frequency responce rather than actual volume. But considering the AC30 is only 30watts, it was incredibly loud!
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Quote by 757ian123
So I guess its true then, there is a major difference in volume between tube and SS of the same wattage.
This isn't always the case. A Sunn Beta Lead (SS amp from the 70's) is one of the loudest guitar amps I've ever heard, and a damn cool one at that. It'd definitely keep up with a cranked JCM800

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Quote by 757ian123
Thanks guys. Real world experience and stories was basically what I was looking for. So I guess its true then, there is a major difference in volume between tube and SS of the same wattage.

For the most part, this is true. Because the tube amps accentuate the "even" harmonics - which are the ones that the human ear best perceives - they usually "seem" louder than their solid-state counterparts, which usually accentuate the "odd" harmonics. However, once you crank a solid-state amplifier into earthshaking territory, the harmonic accentuation tends to disappear and all harmonics pretty much even out. But all other things being equal, the perceived "loudness" of a tube amplifier is often considerably greater than that of a similarly rated solid-state amplifier.

Tube amps can, by virtue of their design, greatly surpass their rated output power. As someone has already stated, a 100-watt RMS tube amp might peak at twice that power rating, but the amplifier cannot sustain that "peak power" level. Some amplifier manufacturers have rated their amps in their product literature according to "peak power," which is disingenuous because the amplifier does not perform constantly at that level.

One of the most important aspects of amplifier "loudness" is the efficiency of the cabinet design and the efficiency of the speakers. The more efficient the setup is; the louder it will be - both real and perceived volume levels. This is why the best speakers cost considerably more than do their less-efficient counterparts. Then there is the question of just how many speakers you are running. Sound is the result of the sound waves moving air. The more speakers you have; the more air you are moving, and the more sound you get.

Finally, you have to take into account the venue where the amplifier is being used. If you are in a place with a lot of materials and constructions that can inhibit the soundwaves (either by blocking them, reflecting them, or absorbing them), then your efficient, high-powered amplifier might seem as if it is not very loud at all. This is why you have to insist on a sound check wherever you are playing. It is the only way to be sure that you and your band will sound your best.
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