Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tesslor Returns To The Vacuum Tube

While still looking forward to the day that a Bluetube Audio Vacuum Tube Amplifier is available, there are still several ways to hear the warmth of yesteryear vacuum tube audio. One of them has been on the market for some time. And although it might not have the same attention to detail, it comes close.

It started with a little company called Vacuum Tube Valley, which was owned by the late Charlie Kittleson, and eventually migrated to a Chinese-based Tesslor. While there seem to have been a few bumps during the transition, Tesslor is owned by someone with an equally interesting backstory.

Zeng Dejun is well known in China for researching and developing a hi-fi vacuum tube speaker that received several international awards. Almost all of his work is influenced by the vintage vacuum tube radios of his youth. He might have even worked with Kittleson, being they were fellow audiophiles.

The Tesslor Stereo is a surprisingly simple, elegant design with brilliant sound. 

First and foremost, Tesslor-USA is the U.S. distributor for Tesslor classic tube products. Even so, the quality of the work hasn't changed overall. The inspiration for the Tesslor Stereo is still reminiscent of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.

No, it's not exactly like an old Grundig, Lowe and Nordmende vacuum tube radios, but it comes remarkably close. It also doesn't come encased in real walnut or cherry wood like Bluetube amps will, but the medium-dense fiberboard is pressed and painted with a matte finish reminiscent of the 1950s.

There is a lot to like about the stereo despite only having a single auxiliary audio input for a PC, CD, or MP3 player. The beauty of it is found in the warmth of the sound and the soft glow of the tuning dial. It also includes a magic eye tuning aide, which is basically a light bar that becomes solid on each station.

The difference between vacuum tubes and transistors.

Some people might argue that great sound is in the ear of the beholder, much like the debate that sometimes revolves around vinyl and high quality digital. The case can easily be made that vacuum tubes aren't very efficient and produce significant heat. And yet, many musicians in the music industry still love vacuum tube amps.

The only way to really describe it is in the warmth of the music, but some people might call it more natural instead. Either way, it is more satisfying to listen to. So much so that when I was first introduced to vacuum tube sound when I was older, it made me stop and listen to the music.

In terms of every day, I'm much more inclined to listen to music on my Sonos wireless system. But the vintage warmth of the audio, even if it is being played from an iPhone or iPad, makes for a nice change of pace, especially with blues, vintage rock and some indie rock on the playlist.

One of the only oddities I experienced was a lacquer-like smell the first few times I gave it some play time. The cause can likely be traced back to packaging the unit before the paint or other chemicals had time to set. The heat from the vacuum tubes will help the smell dissipate faster, but I don't recommend breathing in any fumes if you have the same experience. Play it by a window the first few times.

The Tesslor R-601S Scores Vintage Big At 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Vacuum tube amplifiers, speakers, radios, and stereos clearly don't represent the future of music, but they do represent a style of sound that helped move it along. The fullness and hum of a vintage stereo is unique, something to play on warm mornings and cold evenings, especially if you have a fireplace.

The Tesslor R-601S Stereo can be found on Amazon. You can also find the Tesslor R-601 Classic Tube AM/FM Radio there. They retail for about $200 to $300. The radio also has an auxiliary mode.

While I haven't seen the latter first hand, the only difference seems to be the number of speakers. If you prefer, you can also order either model direct from Tesslor USA. You will likely need a 3.5 mm stereo to mono adaptor, aux input cable, or whatever adaptor works best with your MP3 or component.
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