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Old 23rd December 2002
Gear Addict

A non-expert explanation:

In traditional designs most of the time the voltage on the plates (annodes?) of a 12ax7a is at least 150 volts, and often 300 volts or higher. Generally speaking, higher voltages, within the tube's operating range, mean higher dynamic range. Most of the cheap stuff marketed at the project studio market tends to just have a tube or two in one stage of a design that is mostly cheaply opamp circuitry, and typically run at around 50 plate volts, aka a "starved plate". This stage, mixed in to crap up a crap design in an allegedly cool way, offers no dynamics, no headroom, no bandwidth. Because these boxes are generally marketed at musicians, who associate tubes with distortion ala guitar amps, they don't understand that tubes can as clean and pristine as transistors or opamps, and even sound great like that, so they think this is what high end tube gear is supposed to be and are happy with **** gear.

I suppose it is possible that there can be positive applications of a starved plate, but I haven't met it. The Studio Projects preamps blend function might have potential, though, since it's in parallel to the normal circuit, preserving bandwidth and dynamic range while blending in a smoother, thicker character. While some like the feature, I think some have been unimpressed, so who knows?