Florida 2019: Sunday with Paul

VAC, Von Schweikert Audio, Merrill Audio

— by Paul Elliott

VAC (Valve Amplification Company)

Kevin Hayes

From the late 1980s to early 1990s, Kevin was an academic; his hobby, music systems of that era, always left him wanting more.  He instinctively knew there was more on the recording, so, finally he just built an amplifier that he felt was better than what was available then.  Friends kept saying he should start a company and produce them. With some help from the family, he launched VAC.  It took almost 5 years to become a viable entity, many long days and seven-day-weeks to get VAC going.  Now he feels blessed that he is able to be doing what he loves, and he produces some great music making stuff.

“Music is a form of communication of emotions.”

“Music moves something inside me and if it does not then something is not right.”

“Tubes work better, I’ve tried both.”

I asked what he does to take the fear of owning a tube amp away from the unknowing. He says that, first and foremost, he designs and builds very stable electrical and mechanical systems, including very careful ventilation.

Kevin designed the IQ automatic biasing system, the system that monitors the signal and maintains the critical biasing point to keep the output tubes operating at the optimal point no matter what the signal is doing.  This never lets the tube drift out of its maximum operating parameters.  He first did this to take the fear out of owning glass power amps. Much to his surprise, it actually improved what he was hearing.

I asked Kevin what he listens for when he is voicing his designs. His answer: “Life.”

Von Schweikert Audio

Damon Von Schweikert

I actually had coffee with both Kevin and Damon together because they have been exhibiting together for a number of years and was curious about the relationship. It seems to be as simple as the sum is much better than the parts. They both feet that each other’s equipment enhances their own.

Damon told me he feels that everything in the signal path takes something away, and the challenge is to design and build something that does the least harm.

Traditional speakers dictate were in the room they must go, anything else is a compromise. He and Leif Swanson have designed and built a system designed to sound good wherever they are placed.  This voicing to the room is usually done by the dealer network.

Damon’s father Albert did a lot of studies in psychoacoustics when designing and building speakers, first starting in 1976 in their garage. Damon remembers helping his father cutting the sheets of wood on the old Craftsman table saw.

Leif Swanson joined us just as we finishing and mentioned that they use many brands of amplifiers for the final voicing, but the one they end up with are VAC’s; at that point, they are done.

Merrill Audio Advanced Technology Labs  

Merrill Wettasinghe

Merrill studied piano for twelve years a child growing up in a home full of music. This is what defines his designs: accurate reproduction with fast transient speeds.

When he builds his prototypes, he takes them around to different homes and listens with different systems getting feedback to see if he is going in the right direction.

When asked why music is so important to our lives, he says that he feels that music has a healing quality.  Mental and emotional.

When he designs and build amplifiers, he tries to keep his equipment from making its presence known to the signal.

The electronics must have as little external influence as possible.  He is always striving to do this without allowing scope creep driving the production costs too high.

He feels his products speak (play) for themselves in providing the listener with all the emotion he feels.