Local News

Durham Company Making Audio Equipment The Old Fashioned Way

Posted June 20, 2001 10:18 a.m. EDT

— If you think your favorite musical artists sound good on re-mastered CDs or MP3s - you have not heard anything yet.

For years, those televisions you watched and the radios and Hi-Fi's you listened to were powered by vacuum tubes. Transistors and more recently, digital technology, replaced them. Now, they are making a comeback - a very expensive comeback.

Vacuum tubes have cast their warm glow for a hundred years. Valve Amplification Company in Durham is one of a few companies still building high quality, and expensive, audio equipment powered by tubes.

"People threw away the tubes in the 60's rushing for the new thing, and they realized pretty quickly they had thrown the baby out with the bath water," says VAC founder Kevin Hayes.

VAC makes most of the parts for its amplifiers and pre-amps. Some components are made to VAC specifications. Tubes from the United States., China and Russia are tested and emblazoned with the company logo. Everything is carefully assembled by hand.

"We are building the Bentley through Ferrari class of audio electronics," says Hayes.

And they are doing it at Ferrari prices. VAC gear costs from $1,000 to $36,000. Transistorized integrated circuits rule the audio world now, but it is not a universal grip. A growing number of audiophiles are going back to tube-powered equipment for what they feel is superior sound quality.

"We're trying to preserve the feel, the space and the emotion of the original event and bring it back to life in someone's living room or studio," says Hayes.

Hayes says not everyone cares enough about audio quality to pay for his equipment but engineering and audio measurements do not necessarily equate to pleasing sound.