"Successful projects have many fathers. Unsuccessful projects are orphans"
Some notes about the history of AVVT
From 1998 to 2001, our company JACMUSIC was the sole sales agent of AVVT tubes, located in the Czech Republic. I learned many good things during that period., and I have seen bad things too. It was learning by doing. We had our break through projects, and we made mistakes as well. Today, with the disappearance of that company, we must put those projects already to history again. With the things we learned, all we need to do, is not forget them. Time goes by so fast.
How it all began
In the 1970's, after the disappearance of directly heated triodes like 2A3, there was indeed a period of low production and no interest. It sounds so weird perhaps today, but indeed nobody was interested in tubes at all any more. I can remember it very well. It was said with the coming of silicon semiconductors, the electron tube was dead. I can remember people saying this with an important look on their face. Tube factories did not close without reason.
It was in those days, that a young engineer, by the name of Alesa Vaic started his studies of Vacuum Technologies at the Prague university, sponsored by his mother. It was the last year where you could study vacuum technology. In those days the Czech Republic was behind the iron curtain. There was no way in or out for civilians, unless you were a company owner. In the old socialism system of the Czech Republic, a company owner is a person who gives others work and income, and these people have certain privileges, such a allowance to cross the border. Alesa was in contact with some tube collectors from Italy, and he knew that for some tubes prices were very high. Like you find such a tube in the CZ republic for the price of a bottle of beer, and you can sell it in Italy for a three months CZ Republic salary. So he was hunting all flee markets around Prague, for those very old balloon radio tubes. Later on, he developed the idea to jump into the replica market. I know Alesa personally very well, and he is a trial and error kind of person. Well many engineers are like that and there is nothing wrong with it, as long as you learn from your errors. So he tried to set up a production for the most sought after tubes at that moment, which sure was not the 300B, because it was still in production. The collector's market was asking for replacements of the balloon type of tubes for 1920's radios. A whole series of Tungsten heated, no-getter tubes resulted from this. Alesa spoke some Italian, and was sometimes smuggling tubes out of the country, to Italian collectors. None of those tubes he produced was a big hit on the market. It was like this, how Alesa learned 300B was a more interesting tube, as production stopped. I still have his old design drawings for RE604, and he even made me a working sample of RE134 that I still have. In the end, he went for the 300B.
You have to imagine this. Alesa Vaic was making a new kind of 300B, while you could buy only two other types. One was the Shuguang China 300B, sold under self invented brand names by most dealers. The other was Western Electric 300B and the Cetron 300B which are clones of each other. That was all there was to buy. So Alesa picked his nose into an interesting market, and....he was the only one. We have to say it: He was the pioneer of tube re building.
Soon began the production of the first replica of the 300B which he called VV300B. This was in fact based on wild ideas of Alesa Vaic, and much more mature ideas of his mentor at the Tesla factory, a materials specialist, the man who taught him all the fine tricks, and the art of glass blowing. We don't mention the mentor's name here, but I know him very well, and he whishes no longer to be associated with Alesa Vaic. So we have to respect this.
Most of the technical experience came from his mentor, who was R&D manager at Tesla. It was particularly this person who opened many doors for Alesa, taught him all internal things, and materials sourcing. Without this man, Alesa would have been a nobody. This was all before my days with Alesa.
Alesa's problem was at that time, there was no internet. Nobody missed it, as we didn't know. Yet, when you have no sales platform, you can do no business. To get in touch with people, he was advertising in those "free add" newspapers, that published Europe wide. You could advertise in there for free, and readers have to pay a normal price as for a newspaper. You could buy them at every gas station or railway station. I sometimes bough one, called "flee market". Given there was no internet, it was the only way to look over the border. Only like this you could see what people in Russia have for sale, and what people in Sweden are looking for. Under "electronics", Alesa was offering: "Electron tubes. Factory sales Vaic-Valve", and his phone number. So I called him, and he told me about the problems of being isolated behind the iron curtain. We didn't get anything going, but one year later, I read an advertisement of Dr. Kron. offering Vaic-Valve tubes. I responded to that, and out came the story that he joined up with Alesa. Then, I didn't follow up any more on it.
Two years later, I read an article in a HiFi magazine, about his factory, and also there were some hints in there, about a break-up with his partner. That was already not Dr. Kron any more, but it was Audio Note, UK. I called Alesa, if we could talk about a partnership, and his answer was: Yes. One week later I was in Prague.
When I met Alesa for the first time, he was in debt, and his small factory was short before a financial break down. He picked me up from the Prague rail way station. I can tell you I didn't feel safe there. There were bare footed beggars and strange people hanging out there, anyone could see I was a visitor from the abroad, with a suitcase. This was not the clean Prague you may know today as a tourist. I carried a few hundred Euro (Deutschmark...) cash with me, worth a few months salaries in that country at those days. So I was glad Alesa found me right away. He was waiving a paper with VAIC on it. He was wearing old jeans, with holes in it, the kind I I use to work on my car. He was looking terrible, with reddish eyes of no sleep, and drinking too much coffee and whatever else. It was clear he was under terrible stress. He was accompanied by his charming wife Agatha, wearing for this visit mint green hot pants, the hottest you have ever seen.
First we went to his luxury apartment in the center of town. Alesa drove a like new 6-cilinder Ford from a leasing company. It had a build in car phone. Now today we all have portable phones, but by then those were a big as a suit case. However car cell phones just were available. You had a heavy unit in the trunk, but on the dashboard you had a normal looking phone with a spiral cable on it. It was one of the first, and it cost about 1/4 of the price of a new car. In his beautiful, huge appartment, Agatha served us sandwiches, and Alesa came right to the point. He needed money urgently. He had 40 employees, and no orders. The business situation was a divorce procedure with Audio Note, and we decided to solve this issue before any other, and make a good agreement with Audio Note. I write it a bit dramatically here, but that was the situation indeed.
From his apartment we went to the factory, which was in a building, to be torn down. Believe me, some parts of the streets were better suited for horses than for cars. In the factory it was relative clean, but whatever it was, it was used, restored, self made, repaired, or just working old stuff. The ovens you see on the picture, were few of the better looking stuff. I was shocked by the extreme contrast between his personal expenses, and the poor situation in the factory. Agatha and Alesa could live on a low spending budget amazingly well, but that was "surviving" as Alesa always used to call it. Later I learned what that means. Like when some lager payment came in, they had this reflex to do "something nice" for themself with that money. They had been waiting for this to happen a long time, so when the moment came, they felt fully justified doing so, and leaving company bills unpaid as usual. On the picture you can see Agatha wearing the golden chain, Alesa bought for her on such an occasion, where Alesa got from me a large invoice payed in cash. She proudly wears it for the factory picture shooting.
In the factory, I met the person that was his Mentor during his university days. Alesa hired him as production manager. In the factory things were technically and somehow it was managed all right, at least it looked that way to me optically. To use the words of the legendary Steve Jobs here: AVVT was like sinking ship, with a hole in the bottom, leaking water, and Alesa's job as a manager was to point the ship in the right direction. It was just that what I saw here. I had this feeling to preserve what we can, survive with that, and grow incremental from there. So no quantum leaps. One of those things to do, was a clean divorce from Audio Note, in a way we all could agree upon now, and later. In January 1998, together with his Mentor, Agatha and Alesa and myself, the four of us went to Brighton in the UK, to visit Peter Mason of Audio Note. It was a bit naive of Alesa, to bring the last tube lot he made for them, and it filled almost the entire back of his station car. He said there is they were obliged to take them, because he has a contract, and they must pay in cash. Too bad they didn't take those tubes any more, but ok we were allowed to sell those, even with the Audio Note brand on it. (Which couldn't be removed off the glass).
The negotiation worked out well, and there was not so incredible much to say. The good part was, Audio Note accepted my role as negotiator, and my basic message was, let's part in piece, let's cut the financials here and now, and no bad reputation actions afterwards. That was a solid promise by each party, and it worked. A few weeks later we had it on paper and signed. Let me honor Audio Note here. Looking back to what happened before the divorce, I learned most details later. Learning all of that, made me realize they really were gentlemen to us, at that meeting in Brighton. They even payed our hotel. As we parted, Mrs. Mason spoke a few sentences to me under four eyes, about how she advised me to handle Alesa. That was compressed wisdom, and I did it just like that. What a respectful way to treat us. In case Audio Note reads this: Thank you!
On the way back, it got adventurous. We had the whole trunk of Alesa's Ford filled with the 300B tubes Audio Note did not take, and our suitcases piled on top of it, and we had to drive through the black forest on the way back from the French coast. It was winter time, and we had to pass a higher road up in the mountains. The car was too heavy, and as it began to snow, it began to slip sidewards, off the street, and down there was a steep hill. Slowly...with some cracking noise of the tyres. We couldn't stop it, and we were ready to jump out. Alesa prepared us: We must save the tubes, save as many as you can and let the car go. Well, but we put stones under the wheels, and it prevented the car from sliding off the hill, and then it stood still. So there we were, in the middle nowhere, it was snowing, and fully silent and dark. Alesa's analog car phone didn't work. Any other mobile devices or GPS were not invented yet. So what to do? We slept in the car and let the engine idle to have the heater working. Each of us had to stay awake one hour, as we were still afraid, the car would begin to slip off the hill again. When daylight came, it appeared we were 500 meters away from the next village. There was a man with snow mobile coming, who woke us up, and cleaned the road. After that we could drive again, and we made it in one piece to my house, and we had a good laugh about it.
We clarified the whole rest by phone and fax. Email we didn't have yet. Alesa left the legal and sales details up to me He was glad he could begin all over, and I could be his partner in this. When Alesa and myself joined up, I had some marketing ideas, that we realized later. Such as to re build a single plate 2A3. We were the first who did that. Well, and a few other things too.
To make sure these unique projects don't get forgotten, and then afterwards being claimed as someone's else great products, I will take some time here, to list the recent history of the some AVVT tube projects I did together with Alesa Vaic. Let me tell you that all those new tube projects were driven by myself. Alesa only wanted to make as much 300B as possible.
Alesa Vaic never was the kind of person who was afraid of a risk. It was in 1998 when I first proposed the idea to Alesa to make a 2A3 tube, but he said this project was too difficult with the existing tools. His problem was the tools he needed got lost in legal struggle with a former business partner from Italy.
Then, together with my webmaster, Mattijs de Vries, (great person, who now runs his own company now) we put a survey on the AVVT website, where people could reserve those tubes, in case we would make them. We were completely overwhelmed with what we got back. Everybody needed those tubes in large quantities. Reservations of 4...10pcs were normal, and several reservations we had for 100 pcs and more. We were so excited! Well it didn't quit come that way, and we learned a few lessons from that.
Now look, what happened AFTER we re-build the 2A3 (as the first company!)
The "fun" tubes.
When you want to design new tubes, you have to understand this market. Tube collectors need in large quantities everything which is not for sale. So, the harder it is to get, the harder they "need" it for highest prices. Then when you think you have a market, you are heading for a big mistake. If you would decide to build one of those "very much needed" products, you would approach the market after a while, and say: "ok, folks we have build it, and it's on stock, and you can buy it now".
What comes then is typical. Customers make a U-Turn as quickly as they can. THIS is not what they wanted. The very moment, the product is for sale, the attitude changes. Suddenly every one wants you to prove why something that is now "normally available" should cost more than NOS products, whereas NOS products have proven quality, and yours have not. Now, I am not saying people are wrong with this thinking, there is a lot of common sense it it. What I am saying, it is wrong to be so loud about needing it so much, and when time comes to do business, make a U-Turn. So the buyer's idea was only to be served a rare item on a silver platter, at a moment when others do not know where to get it from. My mistake was, not understanding that each and every buyer, was on that track. If we would have sold just a few single percent of the so called "need" we would already be fine, but with zero percent it gets kind of difficult, and that's how it was.
So when you try to understand mass behavior, you will end up very confused, because you'll never understand that. This issue breaks simply down to lesson 2, and that explains it a lot better. I really learned that lesson the hard way.
Of the new made 2A3, the first single plate 2A3 ever for sale again since 1945.... we sold only 10 pieces in the first 6 weeks after introduction, which takes us to Lesson #2.
Conclusion: Never invest money in a fun project, without pre paid investments
The lemming effect
It kept puzzling me, how we could fix the technical problems and build a 2A3 mono plate. After a while I got Alesa to make a 2A3 from a 300B, just to have a beginning at this point. It was no real 2A3, it was just a 2.5 Volts 300B, same as some Chinese make them still nowadays. We made the change from a 300B into a semi 2A3 by rearranging the electrical connections of the filaments. For a 2A3 we put them all in parallel, which is actually a bad thing to do, but at least we had something to begin with. From here it all started. Then we changed something to get the Gm up, and another thing to move the Rp where we wanted it, use real 2.5 Volt filaments, etc. But it was very frustrating, because when we changed one parameter, some other would change along with it, and we never got it really right. That kept Alesa busy. But we were heading in the right direction, and we knew we had something here that might work.
And then (typical for Alesa) after the summer holidays he walked into my office, and said: Jac look here, this is what you need, here is a real 2A3. I put it on my tube tester, and all parameters were right! He made it all alone, while the factory was closed, and all workers were in holiday. He had a room for technical projects, that his workers respectfully called the Edison room. The tube tested as a correct, good and wonderful 2A3. Our reference was an original 2A3, that we again and again compared the prototypes tube with. Note that at that time the Chinese 2A3 was the only 2A3 from new production available at that time. So again, to compare our 2A3 with, there was no JJ 2A3 (yet) , and no Sovtek 2A3 (yet), and no Fullmusic 2A3 (yet) or whatever 2A3. There was NO new production 2A3 mono plate on the market, only the SHUGUANG Dual plate 2A3 from China. So without being arrogant, please consider me as the person who initiated to rebuild the FIRST SINGLE PLATE 2A3 ever again since (let me guess...) 1950. Making the mesh tube is partially my idea, together with two persons from New York. More about that later...
The Lemming effect is the most important one in Audio business, but how could we know. So we offered the 2A3 tube in the "RAT" news group, which was the only internet platform for tube sales at that time. No Ebay, no nothing. We posted something like: "OK READY FOR SALE". It was done by my webmaster. Now look what happened. Suddenly everybody felt comfortable, and absolutely had no interest to buy NOW. They all needed good feedback from others first. The initial market potential shrinked to just 1 (One) percent, and basically that one percent of the customers was still interested, but for later, just not for now, and all the persons who needed 10, 20 or 100pcs suddenly wanted a test pair fist, and of course not just now, but also later. And when I say all, I mean ALL. The "need" was suddenly reduced to zero, and we were left with empty words and a batch of SINGLE PLATE 2A3 tubes that was unavailable on the market so far, and nobody wanted to buy. So again, you could NOT buy Russian 2A3, no cheap JJ copies, no Chinese nothing. Just unavailable NOS single plates, or AVVT and that was it. Yet we got stuck with those.
The situation started to change into a price discussion, without any initiative from our side. Now, I am a business man too, not just an engineer. If somebody wants to pay 700$ for something, he might as well pay 800$. As long as he WANTS it. So we never reduced the price at all. This can not be a price issue, as the so potential buyers told us. Suppose we reduce to half the price, the question is why are we more expensive than Chinese 300B. Things can not work this way.
So, we sold the great great quantity of 10 pairs, to some original buyers who kept word, and the rest we wanted to smash and kill the project. Here comes another mistake we made. .Instead of that, we gave many away to magazine writers. This was a major waist of shipment costs. Nobody, absolutely nobody did anything with them. Not even send us feedback that they did nothing with them.
Now comes the crazy part. These were marketing lessons for us, of the kind you can not learn in school. Here comes the challenge. We were supposed to prove that if a new made tube cost 5x more than NOS, it must sounds 5x better. And if not, the so called interested people turn away.
From this we have drawn some hard conclusions, and today while AVVT is history, I still practice those lessons.
Conclusion : This market consist of followers only.
My 1st Project with Alesa
LOOK AT THE DATE: 23.7.1999
The queens of the triodes is not the 300B as everybody is shouting. It is the AD1. There has always been this magic about the 4Volt heated tubes, according to Mr. Vaic because of the ideal dimensions of such heater wires. We made a few AD1 solid plate, but sound was not special. Then, we used the mesh wire of the 2A3-mesh, and build a few AD1 mesh. I did a hearing comparison together with a friend of mine, (HJ Dorn) who owned a pair of self made speakers based on two working plasma horn tweeters, he has by the German company CORONA. These are the older types, build by the inventor himself which have a larger flame diameter as later types. These older types are the best sounding tweeters ever made, they range from 500Hz to 150kHz. Later types go down not a deep in frequency. Plasma tweeters have no membrane. They are real horns and inside is plasma flame, which is compressing the air. They are high loudness, lowest distortion ever, zero phase error, and efficiency is a dream as they have an electronic input with all tube electronics. These are the fastest transducers that excists, as the only weight that needs to be moved is that of the plasma flame, which acts as a the "membrane". The weight of the ionized gas bubble is only 1/100.000 compared to a moving coil membrane. Also they have no moving parts. Well ok, the flame is moving, if you want to call that a "part". Anyway, with those speakers we could clearly hear the difference between mesh and solid plate.
The sound of the AD1-Mesh struck me, and from that moment I knew it. Mesh has that magic that some believers say it has. At first we did not sell very many, but it did inspire Yamamoto Soundcraft Japan (a loyal customer of Alesa Vaic) to build an AD1 amplifier, and from then business picked up.
Another tube we reintroduced as the first company was the famous 274A rectifier tube, back in the year 2000. I noticed Shuguang has picked up this idea in 2004, and Fullmusic made a good 274A in 2002 already. Also Western Electric is announcing it since a few years now. But.... we just want to point out here who has this idea first. We didn't make very many of them. The good ones were all sold. I have some non-working prototypes that I will picture later.
It gets a bit boring.... but yes we were the first with a 300B Mesh. This was all Alesa's idea. Unfortunately he found NO WAY to make the mesh dark enough as we needed it, to get close to 40 Watt. He did have a secret way to make the mesh gray, but this was as far as he got. Together with coolers, he could make it up to 22 Watt, and later versions around 28 Watt, but that was it. These tubes were very reliable, and made many PX25-mesh too, which looked pretty much the same.
We felt always honored that the competition jumped on our projects. It showed we were on the right way.
Thank you Shuguang, JJ, Dr. Kron and Fullmusic, for being inspired by our work.
THE STORY ENDS HERE WITH THE CLOSURE OF THE AVVT COMPANY IN 2001