Vacuum Tube Valley

VTV 2006

Los Angeles, California

June 1st-4th, 2006

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The Embassy Suites hotel in sunny Los Angeles where the Vacuum Tube Valley (West) Show, the VTV 2006, was hosted.



Another picture of the outside of the rather ordinary hotel hosting VTV 2006.






The courtyard of the hotel where VTV was hosted this year. A very nice courtyard. Lovely in fact. If only the hotel's room decor was correspondingly lovely...

The VTV was hosted in rooms on the 2nd floor except for the general marketplace room down on the first. One just had to circumnavigate the courtyard on this 2nd floor, looking for yellow signs on hotel room doors proclaiming them to be part of the show, gently push open the door (so as not to bump someone on the nose or noggin coming out) and have a seat.

This show was about one tenth the size of the Stereophile / Primedia-sponsored Home Entertainment Show 2006 show (you might want to also check out our HE2006 show report) which was, oh, about one quarter to one half mile away. Easy to walk to, not to much traffic on the streets, and was quite a nice walk - good to get outside for a bit.

There were a couple of rooms with more expensive gear (Audio Note, de Havilland) who had chosen to exhibit here rather than at HE 2006, and the rest were of lesser known and/or less expensive equipment. The Stereophile Show is quite a bit more expensive relative to other shows and many manufacturers and dealers cannot afford to exhibit there.

There was a steady stream of people, and the lack of crowds allowed one to have a seat and listen for quite a while, without feeling the need to get up after just a few minutes so as to not bogart the sweet spot. However, I am sure the exhibitors would have liked more people to show up.

OK, a question. Why oh gawd why are so many rooms using cheap, yes cheap, DVD players as digital sources? No we're not talking about modded Sony DVP9000ES's or anything. About half the rooms here and about 20% of the rooms at HE 2006 across the street seem to be using $100-$500 players to demonstrate music on what are sometimes $100K+ systems. Do they actually believe the rhetoric by some popular web denizens that all CD, and DVD, players sound the same? Is this what the manufacturers use to test with, their dealers use to demo with? Like Neli says, at least get a cheap turntable - its going to sound sooo much better.

About our listening process: it may be cruel to think about, but it only takes seconds to recognize and categorize the sound of a bad-sounding system, but it may take days, weeks, years to plumb the depths of a great-sounding one. Like wine, someone hands you vinegar, you can tell pretty quickly that you do not like the taste, and why. Someone hands you... OK, out of my depth here... something else, it may take a few cases for one to decide that the wine has a slightly annoying aftertaste 5 minutes after consumption. It also helps if one is an experienced wine taster - judgments can be made about the better wines, not the great ones but the better ones, much more quickly if one has tasted a lot of the greatest wines in the world beforehand.

This report will also, like our HE 2006 report, traverse the show in the same order we first experienced it, except that the large Audio Note room, which was easily best of show, and most expensive of show, will be saved for last (we saw it third the first day and also on the second and last day).

We describe the sound we experience in terms of our categorization of the purpose and behavior of hi-fi music reproduction systems, to wit:

As a minimum, as a baseline, the sound should not be "Terrible" nor "Offensive", the sound should be able to degrade gracefully when faced with overly complex music material:


The most commonly desired category. [1] A big soundstage, powerful bass, lots of macrodynamics. [2] Lots of midrange detail.


The most neglected category by the very high-end. [1] Competent sound (dynamics, frequency balance, soundstaging, timbre is not terrible). Nothing offensive.


Enjoyable plus something extra. [1] Timber and note envelopes altered to sound more like music does when the listener has consumed alcohol


Also enjoyable and pleasant [1] Exaggerated subtleties.


Often thought to be at the end of the high-end rainbow, but repeated experiences with blues and melancholy music pushes one to go farther. [1] The music pulls at the heart in the direction of the emotional content of the musician's message. This effect can be of varying strengths. [2] Leads to mood swings and to listening to more ‘fun’, lighthearted music than before.


True timbre and note envelope development. [1] The subtleties of the sound is real. The correctness of the macrodynamics, level of detail, etc. is not necessary for this category


The ‘Absolute Sound’. Comparable to the real thing. The most often mistakenly heard category. [1] Able to suspend the listener’s sense of disbelief. Transparent - ability to ’see’ the stage and the musicians. [2] Sufficiently technically correct reproduction but only to the degree where it satisfies requirement [1].


The voice of God. Contact with the Cosmic Consciousness. [1] Some things occur inside the listener which are not typically associated with listening to music. The music becomes a pathway to experiencing things and ideas that are beyond the usual daydreams one has had before, and in fact, quite strange, but in a good way. [2] Rampant confusion and respect caused by [1]

More... and an example and another.


Our preference is for the system to address each one of these categories, to max out on all of them in a well-balanced splurge of a musical feast. As a particular system may fail to do this, or even attempt this kind of a magnificence, it is my preference for it to be enjoyable and Neli's, I think, for it to be sophisticated.

In all categories, in all respects, it is necessary that for the system sound to not be Terrible, that it degrade gracefully when confronted with music too complex for it to handle. That it not chase one out of the room - if it collapses into a wall of murk, fine, but please not have lots of screechy, ear piercing, 'weapon of mass ear destruction' kinds of nasty behavior.

And one final note: In all of our reports, and this is the 12th report to date, it is only the rooms with expensive, or over-hyped, or well-established, equipment that we describe with unflinching prose whether they sound great or disappoint. About the small guy however, unless they exceed our expectations, we will just say a few words, or nothing at all.

OK, room by room, then:





The Marketplace

We started here because it was in front on the ground floor. We just kind of gawked at things as we made our way around the room. We will show a few of them here so you can get a feel for it.

All Marketlplace pictures.















Minarik Guitars

Minarik Guitars moved their room and setup down in the marketplace, providing music to the music lovers.




Lots of vacuum tubes for sale.





Now we are getting tempted...






Kick-ass selection of LPs. Why-oh-why did we forget to get back here? Neli, we need to starting taking a suitcase with us that can carry supplies in to the show and LPs from the show that can be carried onto an airplane. [You know things are pretty crazy around here when Husband starts talking to Wife using show reports. :-)]




Fritz Speakers





Audio Note room #1

This room was exhibiting some less expensive Audio Note equipment. I can say more about the sound here on the last day because I spent a lot of time waiting for the wife to get done with her conversation so we could go back to the Stereophile Show hotel. She actually never did get finished so I got to hear a lot of music before I gave up ;-)

There is so something incredibly Enjoyable about small Audio Note systems. They are so well-balanced, containing Emotion, Naturalness, Sweetness, even some Sophistication. Yes, turn them up and you do get Impressive, but not techno music impressive nor diamond midrange impressive. The real key though, is that small Audio Note systems may be the only way, certainly the only way that I know of, to get to Magical if you are on a budget [budget being defined loosely here for sake of argument].

OK, after getting a few requests for more details in our show reports, which I take to mean describing the sound using low level audiophile-type attributes, we will say something more about the sound. This is hard because it is how these attributes combine that we get emotion or naturalness or enjoyability - and there are not words to describe how these attributes combine in one system versus how they combine in another ...yet.

The sound here has a lot of separation, the notes did not obscure each other. More separation than most systems at both shows. This means that there is this space around each note that allows it to freely bloom, that the rise and decay, and subtle variations between, are allowed to evolve freely. However, I would say that the those subtle variations mid-note were not quite as resolving as say, well say the Continuum room at HE 2006. I would say the mid-note resolution, which is what we are largely talking about now, is good but not exceptional.

The tone quality was first rate. The notes sounded pure and subtle variations of the harmonics around each note could be heard, as the note unfolded in time, just like it occurs in actual music. There was not just a single 'middle C note' , for example, alone by itself. This can be heard with, for example, guitars where when the vibration of the string starts to diminish, or the finger finally leaves the fret to go to the next, there is a very small change to the note... well, sometimes there are large changes, too, of course, but there is almost always a small change.

Oh yeah, Bass. Yes, getting good bass from a two-way speaker is very difficult. Heck, even getting it from a 3-way or 4-way speaker causes all manufacturers fits. I would say the bass is 'satisfying' but missing some resolution and does not have much slam. First off, the speakers need to be on their stands - and the speaker stands used in this room were either the external crossover box, or on our second visit, a cardboard box the crossover came in. Second, to get the best bass out of any speaker, and especially a two-way, there has to be attention paid to vibration control. I know Peter, the Audio Note manufacturer, disagrees - but in our experience, you can get unexpectedly amazing bass from a system by using some quality vibration control products.

Let's see, PRaT was good but not excellent. Continuousness was good. Bloom was very good. Guess I already said that, but this, I think, was what allowed the music to be quite emotional and involving. I mean, why does Roy Buchanan's music [no, we didn't hear any of Roy's music here] make one want to weep when he makes his guitar 'cry'? For example, on "The Messiah Will Come Again". Is it not the subtle change of harmonics and the way the notes bloom and decay as he strings out each note for eternity - in some way invoking some primeval instinct we have for compassion and forlornness?


All Audio Note room number 1 pictures




Audio Note loudspeaker

This speaker, with the custom flames up the front, was later replaced by the speakers pictured below.




Audio Note CDT-Two/II transport, M5 Phono preamplifier, DAC 3.1x





Just unpacked E/Lexus loudspeakers that would would take front stage later in the show.





Audio Note CDT Two/II transport and M5 Phono preamplifier





Audio Note TT1 turntable, Rega RB250 arm, IQ3 cartridge.





Audio Note TT1 turntable, Rega RB250 arm, IQ3 cartridge.





Audio Note TT1 turntable, Rega RB250 arm, IQ3 cartridge.





AN-E/LX Signature external crossover.





Quest Silver mono block amplifier





The Cheer, American Electronics Project, Inc. room

This room h

Cheer, American Electronics Project, Inc. room pictures




The Cheer, American Electronics Project, Inc. room

This room had a very pleasant sound. The amps seemed to control the speakers nicely. The speakers look like Sonus Faber speakers, and if so they are usually quite hard to control like this. Oops, no, Chinese Sonus Faber clones down to the leather faceplate and everything: backplate looks like it says: Nanueng Audio Equipment Company's NJK-7C speakers.

The system sounded very tuneful and rich, good midi-dynamics, decent PRaT. Missing was some micro-dynamics and detail - but overall the sound was nice and Enjoyable, and somewhat Emotional and Impressive [I like amps to grip the speakers like this - it impresses me anyway].

Neli and I both liked the sound here - and it is easily our 4th best of show.

All Cheer, American Electronics Project room pictures.














A Cheer amplifier





Cheer CD55 CD player





Cheer amplifiers





The Sonist loudspeakers and Royal Device SET amplifiers room


Sonist loudspeakers and Royal Device SET amplifiers room pictures.




Sonist loudspeaker





Sony CD player, Royal Device amplifier





Sonist loudspeaker faceplace





Sonist loudspeaker close-up





The Top Audio, Triode Corporation, and Twin Audio-Video room


All Sonist loudspeakers and Royal Device SET amplifiers room pictures




The Top Audio, Triode Corporation, and Twin Audio-Video room





















Tri TRV-35SE Vacuum tube integrated amplifier





Tri TRV-M300SE mono block vacuum tube amplifier










The Tekline Speaker Art, T.R.L, Mr. Cable room

We arrived in the middle of a cable audition for another attendee. People could come, check out the cables on display, and select a few and do a shootout right then.

All Tekline Speaker Art, T.R.L, Mr. Cable room pictures


Tekline Speaker Art loudspeakers





T.R.L. - Transistor Research Labs ST225 preamplifier.





Sony NS900V DVD player modded by Tube Research Labs





Tekline Speaker Art loudspeakers





Tekline cables.





Tekline cables.





Flying Mole equipment. This was also shown at HE 2006 as well.






Flying Mole Cascade DPA-M1600 multi-channel amplifier





Demonstrating the flexibility of 10 gauge Tekline power cords.





The Jumping Cactus speakers room

This is the second time we have seen Jumping Cactus at a show - they were also at T.H.E. Show at CES in Las Vegas this year, 2006. The speakers sound like they have some potential. But they sounded better in Las Vegas, and no wonder; they had better associated equipment - for example this room was using an external CD-ROM drive for a computer as a CD player.

More Jumping Cactus speakers room pictures.




The Jumping Cactus loudspeaker





Audio Electronic Supply SE-1SET stereo amplifier





Jumping Cactus subwoofer





Jumping Cactus loudspeaker





Jumping Cactus loudspeaker's tweeter unit





Jumping Cactus loudspeaker=






External Panasonic CD-ROM player for the Jumping Cactus room

CD-ROM drive? You ARE... the weakest link.






The Juicy Music room

What a great name!

All Juicy Music room pictures.




A display of Juicy Music electronics.






They were using a turntable in this room. Good choice!





Juicy Music's pCAT Lynx 25W class A powerdeck amplifiers





Juicy Music's pCAT Lynx 25W class A powerdeck amplifier with cover on





Juicy Music's Peach, Blueberry and Merlin electronics.





Juicy Music's Blueberry with cover off.





Another Juicy Music Blueberry.





Juicy Music's preamplifier.










Another view of the pair Juicy Music's pCAT Lync amplifiers.





The de Havilland Electric Amplifier Company room

The de Havilland-based rooms at exhibitions seem to be getting better each show. These systems seem to be going for Emotion and Enjoyability, a little Sweetness, and somewhat eschewing Impressiveness and Realism. This system at VTV 2006 was no exception, though perhaps sounding a little less dynamic than at other shows. Perhaps a little less separation. But these are not the forte of this system, at any show, anyway.

I know, I know. People want details. The sound is kind of 'tubey', but  not in that 'underpowered' kind of way, nor in notes never end kind of way. Well, the notes do end a little late, but not very. The harmonics are very present, but are also somewhat of-a-kind, in that you can kind of predict what the next CD will sound like on this system.

Personally, I think the industry really needs more systems like this, and the Cheer-based system,  that perhaps err on the sweet and enjoyable side. And what really needs to happen is for more dealerships to carry systems that sound more like this one. To show people who are tired of being shouted at, or just plain world-weary, people who want something pleasant to listen to at the end of the day, show them that such respite from life's travails can indeed be found in today's modern hi-fi stereo systems.

Sometimes I wonder if we need to create a new category: 'Offensive', which some people seem to pursue, perhaps unconsciously, in order to clear their listening room of their other family members?

All de Havilland Electric Amplifier Company room pictures.




Nola loudspeaker






de Havilland amplifier on a Silent Running amplifier stand





de Havilland preamplifier






























de Havilland preamplifier from above





de Havilland amplifier from above






de Havilland preamplifier from the side





de Havilland amplifier close-up






de Havilland amplifier - trying to capture the glow of the machine




de Havilland preamplifier very close-up





Rear of NOLA loudspeaker and its outboard crossover.





The Madisound and Tonian Labs Room

There were plenty of raves about the Tonian Labs' loudspeakers after CES 2006 but as we listened closely, this system, the first day, did not provide evidence of anything special here, but they were only playing their TL-NFSM Pro loudspeakers without the ribbon tweeter. So, not much to say here.

All Madisound and Tonian Labs Room pictures




Loudspeaker parts.





Tonian Labs loudspeaker





Tonian Labs loudspeaker





Tonian Labs loudspeaker











Fountek Electronics Altitude 3500 vacuum tube amplifier



Marantz integrated amplifier










Equi-tech power conditioner. It reads 122V just like down the street at HE 2006.










Tonian Labs' TR-L1 Super Tweeter





The Bauls Audio , Bastanis speakers room


All Bauls Audio , Bastanis speakers room pictures.




Bastanis loudspeaker





Bastanis loudspeaker










North Star Design Model 192 transport and DAC




Bastanis loudspeaker





Bastanis loudspeaker





North Star Design CD player





The Audio Note room #2 room

OK. Well, here we are.

This was fun. And different.

Waiting here for wife to never return at the end of the show, Peter Qvortrup of Audio Note U.K. fame started playing his private stash of CDs and LPs. This wasn't your typical demo of 'Wow, hear how well recorded this music is'. It is rather, "the quality of the recording sucks, but it is great music none the less, isn't it? Check out those lyrics! Hear that musicianship! Let's crank it up. See, on an 'accurate' system, it is not too bad, is it?" I paraphrase, and badly. But you get the idea.

This is kind of at the other end of the rainbow: We start out playing 'audiophile quality' music because it sounds really great on our first systems and because, let's face it, everything else sounds like garbage. And this is where we end up, playing the music we want to hear, music we Love - and the system finally able to keep up with our ever evolving explorations of The Music Out There.

Music played that I enjoyed and hastily scratched down the titles of:

NightWish -- Once
Ministry -- Rio Grande Blood
Clutch -- Blast Tyrant
Dream Theater
Slipknot -- Subliminal Verses

For those of you who don't know (I didn't) most of this is recent heavy metal, much of it from the U.S. Peter feels there is a revolution going on right now in this genre, and you know what? He may be right. We may be missing it, too caught up in stuff like 40 year old Beatles re-releases (OK, they ARE the best). Me, I have been watching the tail end of techno and rap as they die off and/or mutate into other things. These are the music genres of my daughter's generation - but even at 23, she is starting to get into that nostalgia trap that we fall into where we tend to heavily favor the music of our teen years.

The question is: why is it so easy to be blind to what is happening right now in music in various genres, and how can we be better informed? I don't know. Maybe that is not the question. Maybe we have to look inside ourselves and wonder at our static nature and lack of growth in the ability not only to appreciate music [I think most of us in this hobby do OK here if we are not continually fighting our systems] but also in the appreciation of different kinds of music.

Also played was some oldies from the early days of the recording industry. Difficult listening if your system cannot separate the noise (pops and clicks) from the music. Were the classical musicians really better then than they are today? Some people think so. Time for Mike and Neli to listen for ourselves and see if we think so as well.

How did the system sound? Well, take the smaller Audio Note system and add more detail, more resolution, more bass and capital 'M' Magic.

We will be able to say a lot more fairly soon now because much of this system: the speakers, M10 preamp, a version of the M8 phono stage, the step up transformer are here now at Audio Federation. Everything but the Ongaku amps (piss and whine, moan and bitch), which is now owned by the folks at Dagogo. But we have our Audio Note Kegons amplifiers - they will just have to do :-))))

All Audio Note room #2 room pictures.




Audio Note Ongaku amplifier





IO Gold cartridge on an AN-1S arm, mounted on a Voyd 0.5 Reference table





SEC Silver Signature loudspeaker





Audio Note Ongaku amplifier





AN-S4 step-up transformer





SEC Silver Signature outboard corssover on top of an M10 linestage 'Galahad' power supply










Audio Note Ongaku amplifier






Audio Note Ongaku amplifier with tubes glowing





Audio Note Ongaku amplifier from above





Audio Note Ongaku amplifier from the front






Audio Note Ongaku amplifier - just the tubes.






Audio Note Ongaku amplifier






One of the Audio Note Ongaku amplifier's 211 tubes - up close and personal.







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All pictures in this report are freely copyable and distributable.
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