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audioXpress Magazine

May 2021

 

From The Editor's Desk: A New Window For Vacuum Tubes
Glass Audio was launched in 1989 by Edward T. Dell Jr. 
Editorial By J. Martins

 

audioXpress Magazine May 2021

 

  The original Glass Audio periodical was launched in 1989 and was published twice a year by Edward T. Dell Jr. "in the interest of high-quality audio reproduction using vacuum tube technology. Issue "0" was published in 1988 to promote and introduce the new concept, generating useful suggestions from readers —  and the positive response encouraged Ed Dell to move ahead. This was a seemingly strange endeavor for the small Peterborough, NH-based publisher, known then for The Audio Amateur and Speaker Builder periodicals. The compact disc (CD) had replaced vinyl as the mainstream format for music distribution, but tube amplification was still inspiring a select group all over the world.

As Richard Painter wrote in the first issue of Glass Audio, "I believe that although the tube may be equaled or even bettered by transistors in high-current, low-impedance applications, they are unequaled in small signal voltage amplifying circuits (preamps, pre-preamps, and so forth)."

Most tube preamplifiers and amplifiers introduced then, in the late 1980s, had another distinctive Feature — they were relatively affordable. Also, many new companies focusing on high-fidelity tube amplifier designs were appearing in the US, United Kingdom, and Japan. Glass Audio #1 featured a directory of Tube Electronics Manufacturers, listing 57 brands, including many relatively new names, at the time. The reason for this resurgence was directly linked to the availability of low-cost Russian, East European, and Chinese tubes, largely focusing only on audio applications — one of the few remaining markets. In contrast, most tube manufacturers from the United States and Western Europe had already ceased their activity or were about to, while the prices for the most recognized new-old stock (NOS) tubes continued to increase dramatically.

 

audioXpress Magazine May 2021

 

In his editorial for the first issue of Glass Audio, Ed Dell highlights this "tube renaissance" in both high-end consumer audio and also for professional audio equipment.

In 1989, the year Sony sold 50 million Walkmans and celebrated the 10th anniversary of the portable cassette player, it was also possible to find precious tubes and tube equipment being sold cheap at garage sales everywhere — magnets for DIY audio and tube enthusiasts. The enthusiasm around tube audio grows in direct contrast with the transition to other "cheaper" or "more convenient" forms of music distribution, as manufacturers gradually find ideal market application niches for tubes.

Fifteen years later, in May 2005, when audioXpress celebrated the anniversary with a special issue of Glass Audio, the magazine was still filled with many ads from tube suppliers and specialized amplifier manufacturers from the US, Europe, and Japan. An interesting article from Eric Barbour — a regular Glass Audio contributor since 1991, and also co-founder and former associate editor of Vacuum Tube Valley, the only other magazine that focused on tubes — discussed a visit to the MU, Inc. tube factory in Oceanside, CA. Or what was left of it, as Barbour documented with his photos of this operation mainly focused on radar, radio transmitters, and industrial applications. "I already knew that MU was probably the last factory in North America capable of making glass vacuum tubes without depending on numerous outside parts suppliers," he stated.

Today, as tube audio equipment continues to enjoy cult status, keeping a handful of tube companies busy, there are not many other applications left. The unique properties of vacuum tubes are mainly valuable for high-end audio, studio recording and processing, or music instrument amplification and effects, and that is where opportunities remain for a few manufacturers.

As we reach another May edition and we celebrate audioXpress' roots in Glass Audio, we are obviously very glad to once again display a tube entirely manufactured in the United States on our cover. As audioXpress reported back in 2018, the 150-year-old Western Electric reintroduced its flagship product — the famous 300B electron tube. Against major obstacles, the Rossville, GA-based company is back in production, as Charles Whitener, the company's CEO and main promoter explains in this edition. And audioXpress has already received a pair of new WE 300Bs to review.

 

 

J. Martins
Editor-in-Chief

 

 

 

 

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