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Positive Feedback ISSUE 24
march/april 2006


Vacuum Tube Valley Expo
by Lester J. Mertz


Vacuum Tube Valley (VTV) magazine is one of the innovations of Charlie Kittleson and his many friends including John Atwood and Jack Elliano and more about them later. All of these friends are dedicated tube lovers, and many add to the not so frequently published magazine of the same name; VTV. But hey, don't get me wrong and I'm not bitchin' that it doesn't come out on any sort of a regular basis as this magazine is well worth the wait and one you'll save rather than recycle. Charlie has expanded his efforts to include this expo / swap meet, along with his many other endeavors; such as selling rare New Old Stock (NOS) tubes and tube amplifier components such as hard to find capacitors; providing repairs and rebuilds to tube amplifiers (audio and guitar); selling new tube testing equipment such as the "VTV dual triode characterizer" for checking out your preamp tubes, and more. One of his additions is the new "Tono" products—a line stage and another 300B stereo amplifier, maybe we can get these for a review?

The weekend long event, November 19 and 20, 2005 took place at the Pasadena Embassy Suites, located interestingly enough in Acadia, CA. The main room was a swap meet style presentation with smaller start up companies getting their chance to show their products, while the more established and well-healed companies had listening suites of their own on the second and third floors.

The exhibitors in the main room included the well known Antique Electronic Supply, of Tempe AZ, selling tubes and parts (  Steve Slater, of Apex Jr. Electronic Parts was also selling parts and goodies but he hadn't brought along any of his quality subwoofer plate amplifiers, one of which a part of my den system, check him out ( LAOC audio society's own Bill Stierhout had a table display with his Quantum Power devices (310-394-4488) that use a patented circuit to clean up the electrical power throughout your home. The device is a parallel type and doesn't inhibit or reduce current flow - power demands.

Also on the main floor—Audience / Auricaps' table with John McDonald; G&L guitars had lots of solid body types set up to try out; Merv Harding of Quality Rare Records, Henderson NV had several boxes of LPs and I picked up a couple of treasures there, and there was lots more, sorry if I did mention everyone.

Taking the elevator up to the second floor I found Kara Chaffee demonstrating her latest DeHavilland Electric SET amp with very new Hyperion speakers, (please break in those tweeters before the CES!); Gini Systems of southern California had a room full of new tube amps and some of these were just monstrously large but beautiful with a different aesthetic than what's usually seen. One system was being played but the room was extremely crowded and almost impossible to hear what the sound was like. "Jumping Cactus Loudspeakers" was a new company from Vail, AZ, and the look, multiple boxes, reminded me of the Green Mountain Audio stuff from a few years ago, but the sound was promising.

The last room on that floor was Acoustical Horn Company where some vintage era (1940s) two way speakers were playing monophonic from a small SS wall wart sized amplifier. The sound was excellent! Impressed, I started talking with Bill Woods—a speaker designer for a pro-sound reinforcement company from Canada. I asked about the speakers playing and he explained that the bass was a 1945 Lansing 15" woofer and that the large conical horn sitting on top was actually a brand new cast aluminum horn of his own design. I thought the integration of the sound from the two units was great, especially for a horn system. He had to go as he said he was giving a presentation on horn loudspeaker design downstairs in one of the group meeting rooms and I followed along. I spent the balance of that day listening to the speaker's presentations.

On Sunday I returned for the all day VTV presentation of their "Practical Tube School" given by John Atwood. I got there a little early and two other attendees and I started sharing our stories, one fellow was buying all of the old juke box tube amplifiers he could find and rebuilding them, many of these are 2A3 and 300B amps. Another fellow was building tube amplifiers for anyone who needed this service, Dan Norman gave me his card at lunch—Ec-Lec-Tic Engineering; give him a call if you're need of help, he's in the San Francisco area. He will check out your kit, measure the components and compare to schematic values or even build you your amp from scratch.

John showed up and joined our discussion with his own war stories, a real guy! The school was excellent and covered everything from the beginning: First there was THE VACUUM and all things were created after that, just joking! As the day progressed John took the group that turned out to be guitar amplifier guys and not audiophiles as I had expected through the complete tube story. There were enough of us to keep the audio questions going and not get completely sidetracked on the guitar amp repairs. Just about everything imaginable was touched upon, even the materials to make own tubes!

John introduced Charles Alexanian, affiliated with the Mu Tube Company of Oceanside, CA. Don't get your hopes up—they only make specialized tubes, mostly transmitting types for the government. He passed around bits and pieces and explained how things went together, then showed us some tubes he had made in his garage! Well, I was impressed, I hadn't thought about it enough but the first vacuum tubes were made pretty much in the same way.

Charles Kittleson talked about the current state of the tube industry and gave us pointers on buying tubes. He suggested that buyer's beware as many re-branded tubes are turning up, especially on the internet auction sites. Russian made tubes, such as Electro Harmonix, are by far the largest manufacturer currently making tubes under various brand names. The US agent has been buying old trade marks, Tungsol, Mullard, etc. and introducing new Russian and Chinese tubes under those names. Charles feels that the materials currently being used do not equal the quality of tubes from the golden age 1940's through the 1960's. Most of that production was of superb quality and US government driven throughout WWII and the cold war period.

Jack Elliano, of Electra-Print Audio, (the major US made SET transformer supplier) gave us the transformer story, which he considers a "black art." He said that he had learned most of it from J. Harrison of the "Peerless Transformer Company." He gave us a brief transformer history hitting the landmark points, such as David Hafler's patented long core transformers used in the famous Dynaco push pull amplifiers. His simple rules are more weight = better sounding bass and lower resistance means less wasted power. He explained that the output transformers make the difference between good and excellent sounding amplifiers.

John finished the day up by coving tube testing, testers and reforming capacitors in old and unused equipment – especially stuff the people find in grandma's attic. Don't just plug it in! You'll probably turn that beautiful find into toast! Get to someone who will lovingly bring it back to life.

The VTV Audio Expo was a special event and a must for tube gear lovers. I'll bet you won't find anything similar from the solid state crowd—can't you just see it happening in your mind's eye, "Hey guys, I've got eight pairs of RCA complimentary symmetry (PNP/NPN) output transistors from the late 1960s that I'm selling as New Old Stock." Any takers on that!