Hi-Fi is more fun after you’ve electrocuted yourself a few times. Hi-Fi is a lot more fun when you’ve left little blood inside your gear. Hi-Fi just sounds better when you’re the proud papa. Frankly, if you’re not hurting yourself, destroying the finish on your kitchen table, and frying something valuable, you’re just missing out on some of the best parts of this hobby.
With that in mind ….
If you walked five paces past the registration desk, you’d run into a long line of banquet tables piled high with all sorts of small and friendly DIY wonderment. If you took a moment to stop and look, you’d almost certainly wind up talking to the charming Victor Kung. Victor is the proprietor of VK Music in Vancouver, BC, and the North American connection for kits from Triode Corp, 47 Labs, Elekit and others. While Victor has shown before, I don’t think I’ve ever seen this much of his inventory in one place.
That was a problem for me. I started out with the best of intentions, taking pictures, taking notes, and pretending to care about “journalism.” I didn’t even make it to the end of the table. I ignored the camera and note taking in favor of fondling the gear, listening to bits of it, poking at it with a stick, and trying to figure out how many of these kits I could build between Christmas and New Year.
I didn’t get pictures of the Elekit TU-H80 ($215), a tiny hybrid amp with a 12ax7 input tube and 5 whole watts of solid state power on the backend that requires no soldering to assemble. “It’s like Lego,” said Mr. Kung, ebulliently risking a trademark infringement suit from which he’d never recover.
I was smitten with the looks of the Elekit 22 ($795), the product of some real industrial design, a little hybrid with two 6SN7GT tubes on the input and 12 watts out. I was intrigued by the Elekit TU-8100 ($299), a size and sound quality rival to the old Miniwatt N-3, but with space inside to shoehorn in a PS-3249E USB dac (all of $65 whole dollars).
I haven’t spun a cd at home (except to rip it) in ten years, but I was completely taken with the Sparkler Audio S303 ($1250), a top loading, full function cd player with that retro favorite TDA1543 dac.
I seriously dug the easy-to-build TU-8233 ($1,075), with 6SN7s up front, and your choice of a 2a3 or a 300b for an output tube. Heck, the thing detects which tube you’re running, and lights a color coded idiot lamp around the volume knob in case you forgot which tube you shoved in.
I barely registered that one pair of kit speakers, the Elekit SP-BR02WM ($695) sported wooden cones. I never took good pictures of the sweet sounding and wonderfully utilitarian — ie: fugly! — 47 Labs Treasure Model 0647 CD player ($1,375). Heck, I just hid it behind a pair of Senn HD650s while I snapped a couple shots of the ridiculously tempting Elekit Tu-8200DX ($750).
I’d already heard Bob Sattin’s tricked out specimen over in the Headmasters room, but this was a bone stock example making sweet, sweet music in the middle of a loud, crowded hallway. Midrange through the wood speakers? Sweet. Sound through the Senns? Sweet. Music from the 47 Labs spinner or the onboard USB dac (that $65 option)? Sweet.
Specs are friendly as well: Eight watts out with 6L6 tubes in ultralinear or pentode mode. Four watts in triode. Ubiquitous 12au7 tubes up front. The ability to swap in a hot KT88, a crunchy 6550, or midrangey el34 — all of which you can grab at the local guitar shop. Hey, I even have a few dozen el34s lying around…
I was whipping out the credit card when Kirsten reminded me that I still had at least seventeen unfinished DIY projects at home and dragged me away from the table. I never finished taking the pictures. I never even got to say goodbye to Mr. Kung.
I’m sure I’ll be talking to him again, though.