Vacuum Tube Rebels - The Past Meets The Present

Vacuum Tube Audio In The 21st Century (So Far)

Vacuum Tubes
Allen McGregor/Flickr CC 2.0

In the 21st century, we marvel at the wonders of the new technologies that have made our life easier and more enjoyable. In home electronics and home theater these days, "digital" rules. From the humble beginnings of the transistor we now have everything from microprocessors to such digital products as the CD, SACD, DVD/Blu--ray, DVRs, HD and Ultra HD TVs, Media Streamers, and of course, we can't overlook the extremely popular portable music playback devices, such as iPods, Android and iphones.

But many of us still remember the analog world of the Vacuum Tube, the trusted workhorse that started the whole home electronics boom in the first place. Trivia Note: CRTs used in those old analog TVs were also a type of vacuum tube.

The Eastern European and Asian Connection

Believe it or not, the vacuum tube is not only still with us but as a side benefit of the fall of Eastern Europe and The Soviet Union, the traditional vacuum tube is becoming a more common site in Western high-end audio products.

With U.S. and Asian companies firmly entrenched in production of digital solid state devices, countries that had previously been behind the digital curve such as Russia, Eastern Europe, and even China still have large tube manufacturing facilities and thus, have been producing and exporting vacuum tubes to the West more freely in the last decade or so.

As a result, the high end audio market has tapped into this phenomenon like gangbusters.

Vacuum Tube HiFi Components

Many "true" audiophiles have never been completely satisfied with the sound quality and performance of transistors and integrated circuits, therefore, a niche market has opened up for vacuum tube audio equipment. Manufacturers, such as Audio Research, Cary Audio, ECP Audio, Glow Audio, Granite Audio, Jolida, Manley Labs, McIntosh, Rogue Audio, and others are also quenching the thirst for vacuum tube products with their exceptional lineup of home audio equipment.

In fact, if you still own an iPod, you may still be able to find a used vacuum tube iPod/iPhone dock/amplifier on Amazon or eBay.

Also, in another twist, Monoprice offers not only offers a line of vacuum tube audio products, including amplifiers, preamps, and headphone amps, but some also incorporate wireless Bluetooth. In other words, you can enjoy both the convenience of direct wireless Bluetooth streaming, and that warm vacuum tube sound.

In addition, even though vacuum tubes are associated with hi-end audio, there are actually some inexpensive vacuum tube audio products available from China-based sources.

Home Theater Applications

The Vacuum Tube has also made its way into the home theater environment, with products, such as: The Jolida Fusion Vacuum Tube CD Transport, and the Rockford Fosgate FAP-V1 5.1 Channel/Dolby Pro-Logic II Preamp. Add a multi-channel hybrid vacuum tube power amplifier, such as the Butler Audio Model 5150, and you can have a vacuum tube based home theater audio system.

Vacuum tube audio for home theater hasn't gone unnoticed by big player Samsung, also briefly offered a line of vacuum products, including an Audio Dock and Home Theater-in-a-Box Systems. Although, as of 2017, these products are no longer being produced, if you find one used, they are worth checking out.

Vacuum Tubes In Your Ear and On The Road

In addition to home audio and home theater vacuum tube-based products, other innovative applications for vacuum tubes in audio also include the Apex Audio, Moon Audio, and Vincent Audio, offer Vacuum Tube Headphone Amplifiers. Also, for those who can't leave their vacuum tubes at home, companies such as Butler Audio (Tube Driver) and Milbert Amplifiers produce a line of unique vacuum tube car audio products.

Sources For News and Information On Vacuum Tube Products

There are several print and online publications, including Audiophilia, The Absolute Sound, Superior Audio, and Stereophile Magazine that regularly present and review vacuum tube audio products.

The Vacuum Tube Lives On

Even with all the emphasis on digital technology in the new century, the vacuum tube is making a big comeback with audio aficionados (or did it really ever leave?). Some say that the warm, glowing sound of a good vacuum tube amplifier has no equal.

I still have fond memories (early 70's) of owning a Dynaco Stereo-70 tube power-amp which, today, is considered a true "classic" in home audio technology. Its design changed through the years and was discontinued for a time, but has now been revived with a new design, at a much higher price than I would have paid in my college years. Check out a review of the Dynaco Stereo-70 by Stereophile Magazine .

Supported by continuing loyalty from the audiophile community and audiophile press, in addition to increased profits for Russian, Eastern European, and Chinese suppliers, the vacuum tube's continued success might just be insured, despite the digital revolution.

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