Valve Amplification Company and Von Schweikert | PAF 2023

vac essence

I do love the synergy between Valve Amplification Company and Von Schweikert Audio that’s demonstrated at all the high-end audio shows. These are some of the best, if not very best, exhibit rooms in our industry, and I’ve said a number of times that it’s a gift that VSA, VAC and The Audio Company get together several times per year just to treat audiophiles to the sheer possibilities within our hobby.

Words and Photos by Marc Phillips

While I cover these rooms over and over during the course of the year–I wouldn’t have it any other way–I have noticed that I lean toward favoring Von Schweikert over Kevin Hayes’ Valve Amplification Company when it comes to dispensing superlatives. (It’s that old story about loudspeakers stealing all the glory in a room.) But the 2023 Pacific Audio Fest was VAC’s show, where they made a huge impact in a number of rooms.

vac and von schweikert

While the Big System consisting of Valve Amplification Company, Von Schweikert Audio, Esoteric, MasterBuilt cables, Aurender and Hana was certainly commanding the room and casting a spell over the consistently busy room, a small pair of monoblocks, all black and sparkly like a Koetsu Urushi Black, called my name and beckoned me over. These small 85 wpc monoblocks, along with a new preamplifier, are from the new Essence line from VAC.


Here’s a little backstory. At AXPONA 2023, I was chatting with Kevin Hayes. At one point I said “Hey Kevin, how come we’ve known each other for all these years and I have yet to review anything from Valve Amplification Company.” Kevin smiled politely and said, “What would you like?”

Now, at PAF 2023, I’m walking into Kevin’s room and the first thing I see are those gorgeous little monoblocks. Kevin came over. I pointed to the Essence monoblocks. “These,” I said, answering that year-old question. “I want to review these.”

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The Essence monoblocks were not plugged into the Big System in the Valve Amplification Company and Von Schweikert room. A quartet of 300iQ power amps handled the job admirably. VSA’s Leif Swanson brought the $180,000/pr Ultra 7s, as he has the last few shows–I’m starting to get the hint that Leif is really proud of this particular design. I concur with Proud Papa–the Ultra 7s have the same visceral impact and musicality of the much larger Ultra 9s and Ultra 11s that were making the show circuit before the pandemic, but they’re probably a lot easier to pack up and ship. Work smarter, not harder, I always say.


So how was I going to get some seat time with the Valve Amplification Company’s Essence line? I found the answer rather easily when I walked into the Nola room at the show and they they were, making sweet music with the Baby Grand Reference Gold 3s that I heard at Dr. Vinyl’s this spring. The monoblocks and the matching preamplifier will all retail in the high four-figure range, so that’s well under $30K for amplification from one of the finest tube amplifier companies to ever walk into a high-end audio show and say okay everyone, set those boxes down here.


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kronos and hana


  1. I was starting to wonder how PTA, who has loved the VAC VSA combinations for years, now barely mention them even though they frequently/usually have amongst the best sound, if not to the best sound at just about any show they display at.

    I was so moved by their historic displays to the point that I bought a pair of Ultra 9’s and used all VAC electronics for the signal path. It’s great seeing them back in PTA again, present with photos, but yet not a word on the review side.

    I suspect it is the pressures of high end audio increasingly following the pay to play game, which I fear will be harmful as the deep pocket manufacturers overwhelm the smaller specialty companies till many new customers forget what truly inspired sound sounds like,.whelm the smaller companies with great sound start to fade from the forefront as the better smaller companies fight to innovate and survive during these tough times in the audio world and people turning to ear buds instead of a true you are there system.

    • Wrong, wrong and wrong. We’ve posted at least a couple of VSA reviews in the last year (E-3 and Ultra 55), and both Dave McNair and Greg Weaver have reviewed the reference amps from VAC in the last few months. I just talked to Kevin Hayes about reviewing the new Essence amps, and both Garrett Hongo and I are going to tag team that review. I’ve been talking to Leif Swanson about reviewing the new E-5, but we’re waiting for him to finish and put it into production. Brian Hunter, over on the Audiohead side, has also reviewed VSA in the last year. The VAC and VSA rooms at the last few shows have all made our top ten lists. As far as “pay to play” goes, VSA has been a sponsor of ours for a long time. We love both brands, and say so every chance we get. Your comment is quite odd, to say the least.

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