New Series: All About Valves

At Expressive Audio we feel that it’s important to give our customers the option of valve or solid state amplification, whether it be for a phono stage, a pre-amplifier, a power amplifier, or an integrated amplifier.

Valve amplifiers are viewed by some enthusiasts as the holy grail - the ultimate in musical reproduction.  For others they’re nothing more than fragile, expensive, old-fashioned relics, with their advocates mistaking distortion for “a silky warm sound”.

One of the main challenges for the prospective purchaser of a valve amplifier is that it seems to be a territory particularly cluttered with jargon and black magic.  There’s a whole world of acronyms and impressive-sounding pseudo-electronic phrases are passed around.  


In this series, we’re going to break everything down into basic principle, explain all the jargon, explode a few myths, and give a clear and unbiased (see what I did there!?) perspective on the real advantages and disadvantages, so you can feel informed and make the best decision.

The series will cover:

  • What are valves?  Their history, and how they work.

  • The basics of valve amplifiers: an introduction to power supplies and pre and power amplification stages

  • Types of valves: diode, triodes, tetrodes, pentodes, beam triodes, and a guide to the commonly used valves in hifi

  • Amplifier design: what do amplifier “classes” mean?

  • Push/Pull versus Single-Ended

  • Advantages, disadvantages and differences from solid-state amplification

  • Myth and jargon busting

Leave a comment below if there’s anything you’d like to see covered in the series.  We’ll put an instalment out every week, until we’ve covered everything.

About the series author

Stephen Nelson-Smith is co-founder and director of Expressive Audio - a family-run music, movies, and multiroom consultancy based in Lincolnshire.  He grew up around electronics, with both his parents enthusiastic radio amateurs, and his father a broadcast engineer. He studied electronics, but didn’t pursue the sciences at degree level.  He’s been active in the hifi industry for nearly twenty years, including a spell running the repairs department for one of London’s biggest hifi and multiform consultancies.  He loves to write about and explain technical the principles behind hifi, to demystify and deconstruct the pseudo-scientific woo that often accompanies it.

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