Do You Prefer Tube-Based or Solid-State Audio Gear? - AVS Forum
View Poll Results: Do You Prefer Tube-Based or Solid-State Audio Gear?
Tubes 35 15.84%
Solid State 91 41.18%
Combination/Hybrid 20 9.05%
I don't have enough experience with both to say 75 33.94%
Voters: 221. You may not vote on this poll

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post #1 of 91 Old 05-17-2013, 06:48 PM - Thread Starter
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Let's face it—tubes are big, hot, and delicate, while transistors and their solid-state progeny, integrated circuits, are small, relatively cool, and robust. Yet despite the apparent drawbacks, tube-based audio gear has retained a loyal following among audiophiles.

 

Which do you prefer, and why? Keep in mind that I'm talking about analog electronics here—mainly preamps and power amps—not digital or class-D amps, which are a different story altogether.

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post #2 of 91 Old 05-17-2013, 07:13 PM
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Scott it's a great question and the simple reality is that it is very difficult to find dealers that sell tube gear. There are some high end places where you may even have a 10:1 ratio of solid state to tubes. At the entry point, Tubes also tend to be more expensive than solid state gear. So it doesn't surprise me if most overwhelmingly say they don't have enough experience.

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post #3 of 91 Old 05-17-2013, 10:16 PM
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I voted that I dont have enough experience.

I have heard some big tube Audio Research Amps driving some Wilson Maxx 3 at a dealer, build a Bottlehead Quickie which I use with my receiver in "pure direct" mode.

My father-in-law also has some of the much sought after Adcom amps that were designed by Nelson Pass driving some JBL 4312 speakers.

Then there is of course the amps in my Yamaha RX-V863....

Now for the complicated answer....

I think the tube stuff sounded better but I have no measurements to back it up....so it is all subjective at this point and in a blind test I could easily disagree with myself as the AR and Wilson mix was the first true "audiophile" system I had ever heard and I built the quickie so there is a little pride in that and could be influencing my listening experiences....

I find tubes to be more interesting but the cost of ownership is higher....

That said, if I was to buy an amp tomorrow I would buy McIntosh amps because of their high resale value...but tubes are just an area of high interest to me.

Trying to enjoy the simple things in life.

 

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post #4 of 91 Old 05-18-2013, 12:50 AM
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Solid state all the way baby! wink.gif
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post #5 of 91 Old 05-18-2013, 02:32 AM
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Tubes add coloration to the sound. Modern competently designed solid state gear does not (unless you are one of those that have a certain unfounded "belief" system that biases your decession making rolleyes.gif).

I prefer my electronics to not add color to the sound.wink.gif

Tubes do seem to be a trendy accessory these days and if one feels they need to use tubes to in an effort to keep up with the trend then by all means do so and enjoy your distortion.

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post #6 of 91 Old 05-18-2013, 04:47 AM
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I am in the midst of something of an experiment. After living with a solid-state Audio Research LS3 preamp for 19 years, I have taken a plunge and purchased a McIntosh C2300 preamp, which is a tube unit. I was, admittedly, influenced heavily by all the praise for this unit on another forum and, quite secondarily, a review by Harry Pearson (formerly of The Absolute Sound). I am basically a solid-state person, but was intrigued by the 2300.

I listened to the 2300 in three sytems before buying one. I've had the 2300 in my system for a bit over a month now, and have noted some things. With the 2300, I have noted an openness to the sound (midrange in particular, which is where most of the music is) that the LS3 doesn't have. I can actually make out more of the lyrics in Sting's "Fortress around Your Heart" from his The Dream of the Blue Turtles LP. I have heard details here and there I didn't notice before in various recordings. There is a bit more of an "in the room" quality to the sound. These are good.

What the LS3 has, by comparison, is a less open sound but a somewhat tighter one, and there is more weight to lower frequencies, more dynamism. The bass has more authority. The 2300's performance has improved as it's been used, but the LS3 is still better at this. I've heard this is one of the classic differences between tubes and solid state.

For DVD and Blu-ray, the gap is much smaller, and as noted, the 2300 has improved as time has gone on. Watching The Avengers is more than satisfying, but the LS3 still has a bit more oomph. Watching Rick Wakeman's solo performance in Yes: Live at Montreaux The leading edges and transients of keyboard notes were more prominent (and initially distracting) with the 2300, very different from the LS3. But then, the low synth notes were more articulate with the 2300.

This is all with the 2300's stock tubes. Many 2300 owners like to swap out those tubes for better ones. I will be trying that, as I'm replacing the stock tubes with another brand I researched (JJ ECC803s) to see if the 2300's dynamic performance improves. Then, there are Gold Lion tubes, considered by many to be the best ones for both audio (especially with Mac gear) and guitar amps; they'd be next. If, after one or two tries, things don't improve appreciably, I may well sell the 2300 and go back to my LS3, giving up the 2300's benefits, or go for another solid-state preamp, probably the McIntosh C48. Or I may become content over time with what the 2300 has to offer. I'll see.
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post #7 of 91 Old 05-18-2013, 05:40 AM
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Tube for music, solid state for HT.
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post #8 of 91 Old 05-18-2013, 07:15 AM
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There is a hybrid preamplifier, the VTL TL-6.5 Signature, that I was very excited about but cannot afford. I could've gotten it on a credit card, but I wasn't going to go into debt for it. It features a solid-state power supply with two tubes in the signal path. Had I the money, I'd have bought that and been very happy, I think.
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post #9 of 91 Old 05-18-2013, 08:21 AM
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There are good and bad designs using either tubes or solid state or some combination of the two. With that said in my basement I'm using a home built tube amp to drive some old Altec Iconic speakers and I think it sounds very good. The amp uses a single ended 300B triode in a very simple circuit that puts out 8 glorious watts! I think that this overall simplicity goes a long way toward providing a very smooth(not necessarily accurate) listening experience. There's just not a lot of stuff to mess up the sound.

Upstairs in the living room I'm using a Yamaha receiver in a 5.1 setup where tube amps with 8 watts per channel would not be a practical option. I think that both systems sound good.
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post #10 of 91 Old 05-18-2013, 09:03 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Scott Wilkinson View Post

Keep in mind that I'm talking about analog electronics here—mainly preamps and power amps—not digital or class-D amps, which are a different story altogether.

First, Class D is analog.

Second, actually they're not a different story at all. Some people prefer early implementations of Class D (and modern cheap implementations of Class D) for the same sonic reason some people prefer tubes (and especially SETs): high output impedance that leads to FR errors (often boosted midrange and shelved-down treble) compared to a modern amp with low output impedance.
The more advanced Class D variants (Hypex, etc.) place their filters differently, and don't have the output impedance flaws that early Class D (and low-end modern Class D) have.

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post #11 of 91 Old 05-18-2013, 09:13 AM
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I like tube preamps for electric guitars, where the intent is to create / color the sound with THD, but not for music / HT reproduction where I want no coloration
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post #12 of 91 Old 05-18-2013, 10:23 AM
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OK. Lots of experience here. Began building Dynaco tube kits back in my late teens and used them along with solid state off and on for decades. Early solid state designs were "hard" rather than "tube sweet" in the core area of music -- the midrange, though they clearly excelled in the low end, yet caused tooth decay at higher frequencies. Tubes were erratic in some designs, often requiring replacement and tube matching -- think of older FIAT's in the shop at regular intervals.

Come forward to today and you'll find a few companies that have delivered far better tube-based designs that can deliver high power and high current to the most demanding speakers. And adding features to better regulate the tube anomalies, you can get really great sound that has the best of both worlds. I'm thinking here of a company like VTL. I used their mono-blocks for 25 years along with a Hovland tube preamp.

However as I've watched over the past couple decades, solid state has really come of age. Many of the designers have learned how to make solid state deliver the virtues of both accuracy and extension with euphonious sound, without the downside of past problems. So, I'd say that in the best of both technologies there's significant parity. However, tubes are still finicky and are more likely to alter their capabilities versus solid state devices, over time. So, regulating their function is key to making great sounding components. Putting in very high quality power supplies and caps certainly help. Personally, I've recently bit the bullet and moved onto solid state gear from Spectral Audio. Absolutely the best bang for the buck at the high end of pre/power amps. I'd say in general you will likely get more for your dollar from solid state these days than tube electronics.

A better question is looking at front-end designs: what have we learned about digital versus analogue that is beginning to make the very best digital sources and their playback sound as good as analogue without the problems of vinyl playback.

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post #13 of 91 Old 05-18-2013, 10:44 AM
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Tubes can add a nice flavor to music but I want a faithful reproduction of audio so I go with solid state. Historically tubes were a technological limitation, a problem which solid state solved. Given the higher price and (technically) lower output tubes seem like something you'd get into if you have a lot of time and money on your hands or if you're just a natural tinkerer. Seems more like a model train hobby than audio-related. smile.gif They sure can be pretty though.

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post #14 of 91 Old 05-18-2013, 10:59 AM
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Solid state for me. I believe tubes color the sound a bit.
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post #15 of 91 Old 05-18-2013, 11:05 AM
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I run high efficiency Klipsch speakers, so I should be using tubes. However, I love the blackness of a solid state amplifier and very low signal to noise ratios are important for me.

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post #16 of 91 Old 05-18-2013, 01:55 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by elmalloc View Post

Tube for music, solid state for HT.
That's right! Tubes for music, solid state for everything else.
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post #17 of 91 Old 05-18-2013, 03:09 PM
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I like the glow of the tube. I wish I can buy "fake tube amp" for decoration purpose. Unfortunately even those fake tube amps (usually emphasized with orange LED to enhance the glow) are still expensive.

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post #18 of 91 Old 05-18-2013, 04:10 PM
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Tubes for audio, transistors for home theater.
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post #19 of 91 Old 05-18-2013, 04:22 PM
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There are all sorts of caveats that one could start with when it comes to tube vs solid state (not the least of which is that not all tube amps sound "tubey" and you can design tube amps to sound indistinguishable from solid state, and solid state to sound tube-like, etc...)

But that aside, I've always preferred a good tube amp over any solid state when I've compared both. I'm talking about those tube amps that do sound different from the average solid state. To my ears they bring a tone and organic quality that I just haven't found in solid state (all other things in the system being the same).

I don't think others ought to necessarily share the same view of course and I understand all the good reasons someone would choose solid state. And sure the tube amps I like are likely adding some form of distortion to the signal. But colorations are a fact of life, tube amp or no tube amp. I find the way colorations add up in the average music production chain, from the mic colorations to the mixing board colorations, effects, compression, mastering etc, all the way to my ear, usually results in an end product that is a hardened, brittle, edgy, squeezed, synthetic product compared to the sound of most real instruments (and that often includes electronic instruments, which before they've gone through this process usually start off much richer).

The very characteristics that I find stripped out of most reproduced music are what some tube amps seem to add back in: a fuller sense of body, a more immediate yet organic tone, more spacious...in almost every parameter it's a less mechanical sounding version of the musicians and instruments than when I use a solid state amp.

A number of times over the years, usually for convenience when my room or audio system is in flux, I've used various solid state amplification. When this happens I found myself less and less interested in sitting and listening to music. So much so that I begin to doubt that I'm all that interested in the activity any more. But then the tube amps go in and, bam!, suddenly it hits me what I'd been missing and instead of finding it hard to sit and listen exactly the opposite happens: I'm transfixed. I can't get my butt off the sofa and I find myself hours into listening time after time.

So, it seems tubes are it for me. Which was very hard on my home theater project since I had only one room - my living room/audio/music room - to use for a home theater. I wanted high performance video and audio for the home theater part, but wanted to maintain the ability to use my tube amps/turntable etc as well. The best I could do was run separate speaker wires into the room, on going to my home theater equipment, the other to my tube amplification/turntable/DAC system. I just switch speaker cables when I want to listen to my music system.
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post #20 of 91 Old 05-18-2013, 06:42 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DS-21 View Post


First, Class D is analog.

Second, actually they're not a different story at all. Some people prefer early implementations of Class D (and modern cheap implementations of Class D) for the same sonic reason some people prefer tubes (and especially SETs): high output impedance that leads to FR errors (often boosted midrange and shelved-down treble) compared to a modern amp with low output impedance.
The more advanced Class D variants (Hypex, etc.) place their filters differently, and don't have the output impedance flaws that early Class D (and low-end modern Class D) have.


I agree that class-D is analog, but I maintain it is a different story. Tubes and solid-state class-A, B, and AB amps simply increase the amplitude of the input signal, whereas class-D amps convert the input waveform to a PWM (pulse-width modulation) square wave, which is a different process.


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post #21 of 91 Old 05-18-2013, 07:01 PM
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tube amps predate me having ears...

I grew up with solid state and it's all I know. it's never left me wanting more, and I can't imagine putting up with the physical characteristics of tubes.

it may be a case of ignorance is bliss, but I have zero desire to try tube amps

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post #22 of 91 Old 05-18-2013, 07:56 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Scott Wilkinson View Post


I agree that class-D is analog, but I maintain it is a different story. Tubes and solid-state class-A, B, and AB amps simply increase the amplitude of the input signal, whereas class-D amps convert the input waveform to a PWM (pulse-width modulation) square wave, which is a different process.
Does the type of power supply matter? I am running class H amps which are class AB with switched-mode power supplies and tracking supply rail voltages. Sometimes the line gets a little blurry with modern solid state designs.
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post #23 of 91 Old 05-18-2013, 08:09 PM
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What is the pre-occupation with tubes?

Heck - I remember in the 1970's when we had tubes in our TV set at home, and my dad and I going to the local electronics store yearly to test all of them, find which ones were about to go bad, replace them.

Yea - apples and oranges, but with solid state reliability and all that......why not let the past be that past?

If some want the retro-look and all that, great for them.

But this tube vs solid state thing.....I guess I just don't get it, except it generates headlines and something to hammer the keyboard about.....
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post #24 of 91 Old 05-18-2013, 10:05 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mtbdudex View Post

What is the pre-occupation with tubes?

Heck - I remember in the 1970's when we had tubes in our TV set at home, and my dad and I going to the local electronics store yearly to test all of them, find which ones were about to go bad, replace them.

Yea - apples and oranges, but with solid state reliability and all that......why not let the past be that past?

If some want the retro-look and all that, great for them.

But this tube vs solid state thing.....I guess I just don't get it, except it generates headlines and something to hammer the keyboard about.....

See my post a few up from yours. That's why.

It's the nature of many of us hobbyists to try to maximize the our experience. For some, tubes are one of the tools in the kit, just like any other equipment choice. My old flat flat panel is more reliable and easier to work than my home theater, but it's my home theater that rocks my world in terms of the experience it creates.
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post #25 of 91 Old 05-18-2013, 10:28 PM
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I bet most, if not all people who say that they have no interest in tubes, or that they old tech, color sound, etc, I bet they have speakers that are boxes with cones and domes. I have Acoustat speakers and most solid state amps can't drive these type of speakers. Solid state amps are fine for Best Buy type boxes, but if you listen to quality speakers, tubes do sound better if nothing else, because they work better with ESL's.
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post #26 of 91 Old 05-18-2013, 11:55 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dclark View Post

I bet most, if not all people who say that they have no interest in tubes, or that they old tech, color sound, etc, I bet they have speakers that are boxes with cones and domes. I have Acoustat speakers and most solid state amps can't drive these type of speakers. Solid state amps are fine for Best Buy type boxes, but if you listen to quality speakers, tubes do sound better if nothing else, because they work better with ESL's.

better for you. don't forget that part, it's pretty important wink.gif

I gave up on being an 'audiophile' a while back. when nearly every pair of speakers that were raved about sounded wrong for me. it made me realize that the only way you could ever truly hear what the artist intended, was to not only use 'reference' speakers, but also the artists ears... point is it's a futile endeavour if your goal is to hear exactly what the artist intended. not saying you shouldn't even try, but there comes a point where close enough is as close as you can get. it just doesn't make sense to me to worry about that last 5% when chances are your hearing is more than 5% difference than the artists anyway.

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post #27 of 91 Old 05-19-2013, 12:12 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by VTOLfreak View Post


Does the type of power supply matter? I am running class H amps which are class AB with switched-mode power supplies and tracking supply rail voltages. Sometimes the line gets a little blurry with modern solid state designs.


I seem to remember learning that class-D amps use switching power supplies, which makes sense, but I don't know for sure. You're right that class-H amps are sort of class-AB and sort of class-G with continuously variable rail voltage. They aren't class-D because they don't convert the input signal into a PWM signal.


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post #28 of 91 Old 05-19-2013, 12:49 AM
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I would also like to point out that tube amps seem to be a little more tinker friendly with the ability to switch out tubes for others to "change the character" if you will of your audio component....you definitely need to like the warmer sound though from my experience

Trying to enjoy the simple things in life.

 

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post #29 of 91 Old 05-19-2013, 01:59 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dclark View Post

I bet most, if not all people who say that they have no interest in tubes, or that they old tech, color sound, etc, I bet they have speakers that are boxes with cones and domes. I have Acoustat speakers and most solid state amps can't drive these type of speakers. Solid state amps are fine for Best Buy type boxes, but if you listen to quality speakers, tubes do sound better if nothing else, because they work better with ESL's.

I bet most if not all people who cant live without their tubes only got "into" them because they are not readily available for purchase at common brick and mortar electronics stores. Esoteric tubes bring with them a feeling of exclusivity and a sense of feeling special....and from what I have experienced a certain amount of snobbery.

Lets face it, if a certain model speaker will only sound "good" when there are tubes in the chain adding color and distortion then they likely arent very good speakers.wink.gif

I don't need snobs to tell me how to think, thank you!
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post #30 of 91 Old 05-19-2013, 05:00 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by R Harkness View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by mtbdudex View Post

What is the pre-occupation with tubes?

Heck - I remember in the 1970's when we had tubes in our TV set at home, and my dad and I going to the local electronics store yearly to test all of them, find which ones were about to go bad, replace them.

Yea - apples and oranges, but with solid state reliability and all that......why not let the past be that past?

If some want the retro-look and all that, great for them.

But this tube vs solid state thing.....I guess I just don't get it, except it generates headlines and something to hammer the keyboard about.....

See my post a few up from yours. That's why.

It's the nature of many of us hobbyists to try to maximize the our experience. For some, tubes are one of the tools in the kit, just like any other equipment choice. My old flat flat panel is more reliable and easier to work than my home theater, but it's my home theater that rocks my world in terms of the experience it creates.

I totally respect the hobby aspect of listening, keeps the economy going by spending $$$$ also biggrin.gif

Hey - when I am "kidless", 10 years from now and got my 3 off to college, I might get one of these and the appropriate speakers for a neat visual/listening 2ch room.

The warm glow ahhhhh, I saw these in showroom next to the latest 4k UHDTV by Sony a few weeks back.


Thing is, that room should be mostly devoid of any visual stimuli EXCEPT the tube amp and select "stuff", either close your eyes and listen, or listen while you zone out on the glow...zen

btw, this song is appropriate for this thread...

if you want to laugh a little watch this version
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