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Thread: State of the Vacuum Tube Industry 2016

  1. #1
    Join Date: Jun 2010

    Location: Singapore

    Posts: 29
    I'm Hansen.

    Default State of the Vacuum Tube Industry 2016

    It's been almost five years(!) since the last I wrote a report on the vacuum tube industry. I made some mistakes back then, that now when I look back I notice. Hopefully I won’t make as many this time around.

    Since I wrote my last report, the vacuum tube market has shifted especially in China and the high end hifi segment of the market.

    Current audio vacuum tube production is still largely limited to 3 locations: China, Russia and the Czech and Slovak Republics. While many other developed nations still produce and develop vacuum based electronics, only Japan and Germany have produced glass vacuum tubes suitable for audio recently.

    Links for information & history of various manufacturers:
    More information such as company history can be found on each manufacturer’s website.

    The competition in the high end segment of the market between the Chinese companies, along with the falling Renminbi, and the recoup of production line costs by big firms, has led to aggressive pricing for Chinese premium tubes. In the seven years since their launch, the Shuguang Treasure tubes have dropped by about 50% in price. Psvane high end tube have also dropped and cost just slightly more. Needless to say this has had a huge effect on the boutique high end hifi tube makers.

    The Big Four
    The top tier triumvirate of vacuum tubes manufacturers, 长沙(Changsha)曙光(Shuguang), New Sensor Corporation & JJ Electronic, are joined by aggressive newcomer 长沙(Changsha)恒扬(Hengyang), who market tubes under the brand name Psvane. Shuguang, New Sensor and JJ are very price competitive in their own domestic regions (East Asia, America and Europe respectively) while Hengyang/Psvane is fairly dominant in the low volume, high margins boutique high end.

    While primarily vacuum tube manufacturers, they also do (or had) produced amplifiers which featured their main product. Each of these four manufacturers maintain at least one affordable range of vacuum tubes, and may also have premium and boutique ranges.

    Brand(s): Shuguang, 天籁之音 Natural Sound, 珍品 Treasure, 复克 Shuguang Electrical Replica
    China based Shuguang, manufacturing arm for consumer vacuum tubes of the state-owned Shuguang Electron Group, has been producing Western vaccum tubes since 1980. It still maintains the most competitively priced range of consumer vacuum tubes, producing a vast array of direct-to-consumer tubes for use with hifi, instruments, recording and radio, as well as supplying OEM tubes to amp manufacturers. As the manufacturer with the most capacity for production (I believe they at least have 5 plants for vacuum tube production), they able to influence the vacuum tube market strongly via price and volume. After their acclaimed Treasure series launched on their anniversary, they have followed up with Natural Sound and the Shuguang Electrical Replica series, carving out a low priced boutique market segment between New Sensor’s and JJ’s premium range and Hengyang/Psvane’s, Quanzhen/Full Music’s and the Czech manufacturers boutique high end vacuum tubes in pricing. Shuguang has an confusingly wide range of tubes, many which are only availible in certain regions, but many are variations of tubes of the same designation; Shuguang has poor distribution of datasheets which are difficult to find and seldom translated; while most of their tubes are (supposed) to run at reference spec, a few of their tubes are creatively issued Western designations and may have slightly different spec or other operational difference from the reference spec.

    New Sensor Corporation
    Brand(s): Electro-Harmonix, Genalex, Mullard, Sovtek, Svetlana, Tung-Sol
    OEM: SED, NEVZ-Soyuz, Vaco, Voshod
    US based New Sensor Corporation distributes (from the USA) vacuum tubes made in Russia. It still manufactures its own vacuum tubes out of the CJSC Expo-PUL factory (formerly part of Reflektor) in Saratov, Russia. In 1992, New Sensor & Expo-PUL began distributing Sovtek brand vacuum tubes and amplifiers (originally many products were rebrands, but by 2012 all Sovtek products are made in-house at Exo-PUL), and shortly after launched tubes under the Electro-Harmonix. In 2000 New Sensor became the sole shareholder of CJSC Expo-PUL, and in 2001 acquired the Svetlana brand rights in USA & Canada. The Svetlana line of tubes is now distribute consumer tubes made by other former Russian plants (such as SED, Vaco & Voshod (maybe NEVZ), all of which no longer perform direct-to-customer sales). Over the 2000s, they have acquired the brand rights for the Genalex, Mullard, and Tung-Sol brands (and possibly the Svetlana brand worldwide after 2012) which attempt to replicate the sound of these famous former tube makers. New Sensor (especially their Electro-Harmonix brand) is primarily focused on instrument effects & amplification, but still maintain a catalog of products for hifi, notably producing modern versions of classic Soviet era tubes. Their latest product is the KT150, the most powerful ever tube in the octal beam power/pentode family that can be used for both audio and instrument amplification. The Russian “sound” has many fans and New Sensor supplies OEM tubes to many amp manufacturers. New Sensor has an extremely wide range of tubes, but many tubes of the same designation are found in different brands; generally New Sensor publically publishes a lot (but not all) of their vacuum tube data which is easily available through their website; New Sensor have the most tubes are creatively issued Western designations and may have slightly different spec or other operational difference from the reference spec.

    JJ Electronic
    Brands(s): JJ
    Slovak Republic based JJ Electronic began operation in 1994 with machinery from the old Tesla group of factories begining with 3 tube types. Today, it maintains a strong market share for tubes for instrumental amplification, being the traditional competitor of New Sensor, while still maintaining a small line of audiophile tubes. Since 1999, JJ has also produced tube amplifiers. JJ has a small range, but have few duplicates with the range; their website has the datasheets for all the tubes they produce; JJ's tubes are normal specced to run at reference level but a few of their tubes are misleadingly designated and have some operational differences from reference specs.

    Brands(s): Psvane, Psvane HiFi, Psvane Treasure, Psvane Treasure Mark II, Psvane Replica
    OEM: Huaguang (see below)
    China based Hengyang, is a young aggressive company, which first entered the market as a boutique high end hifi vacuum tube manufacturer with their Treasure series. They have quickly followed up with the boutique Treasure Mark II series as well as the competitively priced HiFi series, which I believe are produced in the former Guiguang factory in Guangdong. Additionally, they distribute transmitting triodes which are manufactured by Huaguang in Jinzhou. Hengyang has in a short amount of time have assembled a large product range that caters to primarily hifi amplification, but could also be used for instrument amplification - they only lack affordable preamp / driver tubes to have a complete range in both high end and budget range. Shuguang is almost certainly a shareholder considering how many distributor the two companies share, but almost certainly not a majority sharholder. Some Chinese amp makers have begun to use Psvane as the OEM for their tubes, and Hengyang negotiates deals with amp manufacturers to offer premium Psvane tubes as an upgrade from stock tubes for a competitive price.

    Boutique Vacum Tube Manufacturers
    The boutique manufacturers compete in the high end, high priced, high margins, low volume segment of the market, focusing on product quality and workmanship rather than affordability. While much smaller in terms of production capability compared to the Big Four, most boutique manufacturers are capable of performing as an OEM for amplification manufacturers, but mostly offer their product as an an upgrade of stock tubes to various high end amp manufacturers or as stock on their own amplification products.

    Brand: Full Music
    China based Quanzhen have a new 212 and a line of CNE products since I last wrote. Full Music used to be the largest player in the Chinese domestic boutique market, but now competes directly with Psvane.

    Emission Labs
    Czech Republic based Emission Labs hasn't produced anything new under its own brand since I last wrote, focusing more on improvements and variations of existing products. They have however developed a new tube currently exclusive for Ayon Audio I believe (see below).

    KR Enterprise
    Brand: KR Audio
    Primarily a high end hifi amp manufacturer, Czech Republic based KR has a few new amps but nothing new on the tube front since I last wrote. I have noticed their tubes available through more online channels than previously however.

    EuroAudio Team
    Brand: EAT
    Czech Republic based EAT might have a really small range of products, but they have entered the OEM market producing a batch of 1000 quads of KT88s for PrimaLuna. They have been focused more on turntable production in the past few years (not surprising considering the interest in that market segment).

    Industrial Manufacturers
    The industrial manufacturers generally produce non-consumer vacuum tubes such as klystrons, magnetrons, rectifiers, thyratrons, or vacuum or gas-filled tubes for non-audio purposes. However, high power SET amps have become somewhat popular in diy and high end audio and a investors seeking to make high quality, high powered vacuum tubes have begun to seek out these industrial manufacturers to produce their designs.

    Elrog GMBH
    Brand: Elrog
    Germany based Elrog industrial vacuum tube manfacturer has produced 2 new tubes since my last update, a 300B and 211 (for total of 3 triode types) - again these are modern redesigns as opposed to reproductions.

    Takatsuki Denki
    Brand: Takatsuki Electric
    Japan based lighting manufacturer Takatsuki hasn’t introduced (or announced) a new product since my last post.

    锦州(Jinzhou)华光(Huaguang) Electron Tube
    Brand: Huaguang
    China based Huaguang was previously state owned factory 777, and is the OEM of Psavane's Replica series 211, 212 & 845 transmitting triodes. They have also produced the 300B, KT88 & KT150 but I've only seen them being sold in China. Tubes sold under the Huaguang brand are expensive compared to equivalent Shuguang and Psvane products.

    南京(Nanjing)三乐(Sanle) Group
    Brand: Sanle
    China based Sanle is descended from the Nanjing vacuum tube plant, once the cradle of Chinese electronics. Sanle still produce transmitting tubes (among other industrial tubes), and a few have been used to make high powered SE amplifiers.

    Noritake Itron
    Japan based vacuum display specialist Noritake has collaborated with Korg to produce a brand new type of vacuum tube that they have dubbed the the “Nutube”. It is essentially an audio vacuum triode with most of the advantages of modern ICs. No product has been launched so far using this tube yet however.

    A few other custom vacuum tube manufacturers are still around. Greenstone USA for expamble could possibly custom for you audio tube, but I'm sure that would cost even more than NOS tubes.

    Outsourced Manufacture Brands
    Shuguang is currently the only manufacturer that does outsourced manufacture of vacuum tubes for other companies that I am aware of, so all outsourced manufacture tubes are going to be made by them. In this method of manufacturing, the brand owner designs the product and supplies the specifications to the outsource manufacturer who makes it. The brand owner maintains the IP rights to the product; an example of this is how Apple makes iPhones.

    汉轩电子 Hanshare Electronics
    Brand: Canada Fuller
    Outsource Manufacture: Shuguang
    China based Hanshare Electronics is a electronic parts retailer who ODM their product through Shuguang. It has stopped offering its tubes through Ebay only selling via Taobao. Fuller tubes are very expensive by 2016 Chinese domestic prices. Supposedly, they have internals were designed in Canada and look similar to Synergy Hifi’s Create Audio tubes although I can’t verify this.

    Valve Audio Connexion
    Brand(s): Valve Art
    Outsource Manufacture: Shuguang
    China based Valve Audio Connexion are made in Shuguang’s Changsha factory. Valve Art used to produce exclusive tubes but for a long time seem to have been unable to keep up with demand. Valve Art tubes are affordable (when available) and generally well liked, with the Shuguang sound but better quality control.

    Rebranders (Manufacturers)
    These are amplification or DIY parts manufacturers who do not maintain their own vacuum tube facilities (as far as I’m aware). Usually their tube are simply relabeled, or with some other cosmetic alteration - this is the amp manufacturer’s guarantee that this particular tube works with their product. Sometimes they will commission a particular design or work with a vacuum tube company to create a new tube and the accompanying amplification. This list only includes amp manufacturers who retail rebranded tubes or have commissioned or co-designed unique tubes (even if it just cosmetic).

    Ayon Audio, Austria
    ODM/OEM: Emission Labs
    Austria based boutique hifi manufacturer Ayon Audio has add the the AA 20B and AA 82B to their inventory While the former seems a rebadged EMT tube, the latter seems to be an exclusive custom from EML. Ayon is generally an insignificant player in the vacuum tube industry as their tubes are not directly available from Ayon outside of purchase of their amps as part of complete product, or as replacement parts for their amps.

    ODM/OEM: Probably Shuguang
    This is a small Chinese loudspeaker and amplifier maker who offers a blue glass globe 6SN7. I suspect their ODM is Shuguang who have makes a blue glass 6SN7 and globe 6N8P (Chinese variant of the SN7) and the tube combines features of both.

    Brand(s): Jinvina
    ODM/OEM: Probably Shuguang design, maybe Quanzhen, JJ, New Sensor, Psvane, Quanzhen, NOS, Magic Parts
    China based hifi, av and guitar amplifier manufacturer Meixing's new 805ASE & 845BSE could be Quanzhen made, their KT88s and EL34s are probably Shuguang’s - the others have elements that could be Shuguang's but I can't say for sure. Their KT90, 6SN7 & 2A3 look different from most other manufacturers and their 6SN7 looks very different internally. Interestingly, Meixing uses different OEM tubes from all the big four, as well as Full Music and Ruby Tubes, in addition to their own line of tubes.

    深圳(Shenzhen)拓利好 (Tuolihao)
    ODM/OEM: Probably Shuguang design, Psvane
    This is a loudspeaker and hifi electronics maker who offers the globe shaped 6F8G-Q (6SN7 with different pinout) on a ceramic base. Again, I suspect Shuguang is the ODM.

    Tube Amp Doctor
    Brand(s): TAD
    ODM/OEM: JJ, New Sensor, Shuguang, NOS
    This German based DIY and instrument amp manufacturer retails a line of tubes from various manufacturer and NOS under their own brand. They have been known to request tubes made to their specification, and to be exclusive retailers of that newly developed tube for a limited duration.

    OEM: Shuguang, EAT, New Sensor
    Dutch amp manufacturer PrimaLuna retails a line of tubes with standard tubes supplied by Shuguang, and rebranded upgrades from New Sensor and EAT.

    Music Group
    Brand(s): Bugera
    OEM: Shuguang
    Philippines based Music Group, holding company for the Behringer group of companies retails a line of rebranded Shuguang tubes under their Bugera brand which also manufactures instrument amps.

    Peavy Electronics
    OEM: JJ, New Sensor
    US instrument manufacturer Peavy retails a line of tubes under their own brand for their amps. My guess is they are rebranding a mix of JJs & New Sensors.

    OEM: New Sensor
    US instrument amplification manufacturer Mesa/Boogie retails a line of tubes under their own brand for their amps that looks to be rebranded New Sensors.

    Sophia Electric
    ODM/OEM: Quanzhen, unknown
    US based Sophia Electric rebrands triodes and double triodes from Quanzhen, but their new KL-88-ST & EL34-ST is visually different from others in the market and looks to be an exclusive design.

    Fender Musical Instruments Corporation
    Brand(s): Groove Tubes
    OEM: JJ, New Sensor, Shuguang
    Groove Tubes was a former instrument amp manufacturer based in the US founded in 1979. It was acquired by Fender Musical Instruments Corporation in 2008 and now is an importer and distributor of vacuum tubes as well as the OEM for Fender products. They rebrand JJ, New Sensor & Shuguang, focusing on guitar amplification tubes.

    Telefunken Elektroakustik
    Brands(s): Telefunken Black Diamond
    OEM: JJ
    Telefunken USA was incorporated in early 2001 to provide restoration services and build reproductions of vintage Telefunken microphones. In May 2009, Telefunken USA was been renamed Telefunken Elektroakustik Division of Telefunken and awarded the exclusive rights to manufacture a wide variety of professional audio products and vacuum tubes bearing the Telefunken Trade Mark, in over 27 countries. Their tubes are made by JJ.

    Various other amp manufacturers
    OEM: Various
    Many other manufacturers such as McIntosh, Triode, Luxman, etc rebrand tubes to match their amps and also retail these tube as replacement parts. While none (that I know) of have commissioned special tubes recently, some of these companies have in the past. Eg the 50CA10 was produced by NEC for Luxman.

    Rebranders (Resellers)
    These brands do not produce or design tubes. They purchase tubes from a manufacturer (or more than one manufacturer), provide clearer marketing material to their customers, put their brand on it representing their seal of assurance. Like most resellers, most also provide some kind of second level QA and proper tube matching for their customers. Some deal in NOS tubes and will rebadge NOS tubes if they obtain a large enough supply to do so. Sometimes they will commission a batch of tubes to a specific specification to create a new product line that they think there is a market for. Most of these resellers cater to musicians who are generally less technically inclined than audiophiles, radio operators and recording engineers, selling mainly preamp tubes, the 6L6 octal family of tubes, rectifiers, and EL84s.

    Brand(s): Northern Electric, Preferred Series
    OEM: JJ, New Sensor, Reflektor (NOS), Quanzhen, Shuguang
    This Canadian vacuum tube e-retailer has 2 brands: Northern Electric are rebranded Quanzhen preamp tubes; the Preferred Series are rebranded New Sensor, NOS Reflektor & Shuguang preamp, rectifier and power tubes.

    OEM: New Sensor
    Germany based instrument parts e-retailer Tube-Town sells a line of rebranded preamp, rectifier and power tubes which appear to be selected New Sensors.

    PM Components
    Brand(s): Golden Dragon, PM Guitar Tubes
    OEM: Shuguang
    This UK based parts importer and distributor has 2 brands Golden Dragon & PM Guitar Tubes. Golden Dragon tubes are catered towards audio and radio use, while PM Guitar Tubes are selected for instrument amplification. Both brands seem to have a lot of rebadged Shuguangs although I’m not sure if their entire current line is Shuguang made. They used to distribute SED tube before it ceased direct to customer sales.

    Watford Valves
    Brand(s): Harma, Harma Cyro
    ODM/OEM: JJ, New Sensor, NOS for Harma Cyro
    This UK based web and brick and mortar vacuum tube retailer rebrand JJ and New Sensor guitar tubes under the Harma brand, and has a more esoteric range for cyro treated Harma Cryo brand.

    Penta Labs
    OEM: Shuguang
    This US based surplus buyer and reseller has been trading in electron tubes for over 60 years. The focus more on industrial and broadcast tubes but carry pretty much every type of tube, including audio tubes, currently favour carrying Shuguang for their audio tubes.

    RF Parts Company
    Brand(s): RF Parts, Taylor Tubes
    OEM: Shuguang, possibly Sanle and/or Huaguang
    RF Parts is a US based importer and reseller of radio and broadcasting tubes. While they do carry US tubes, glass vacuum tubes are currently all imported from China supplied by Shuguang, and possibly Sanle and/or Huaguang. Their tubes used to be rebranded under their RF Parts brand, but they have acquired the Taylor Tubes brand and currently rebrand tubes under the later barnd.

    Magic Parts
    Brand(s): Ruby Tubes
    OEM: JJ, New Sensor, Shuguang
    Magic parts is a bass and guitar parts distributor based in the US. They distribute a line of guitar focused tubes under the Ruby Tubes brand.

    Brand(s): Black Sable
    OEM: JJ, New Sensor, NOS
    US based instrument parts e-retailer Tube Depot rebrands (actually they just put them into their boxes) cyro treated JJ, New Sensor and NOS tubes under the Black Sable brand.

    Recent manufacturers who no longer make vacuum tubes
    Synergy Hifi which used to produce the ODM boutique Create Audio vacuum tubes seem to be no longer in business, due to setbacks in their amplifier distribution and heavy competition in boutique vacuum tubes.

    SED has stopped direct to customer sales since 2012. Any audio vacuum tubes they make are now distributed by New Sensor.

    The Westrex Western Electric reissues never seemed to have taken place - not surprising as many existing manufacturers seem to have taken to making their own reproductions and re-issues.

    Blackburn Microtech Solutions produced an ECC83 under their TechTube Blackburn brand in 2009. They shortly went into administration shortly after.

    At points in this report I make certain speculations. I don’t guarantee everything in this document is 100% factually correct. Again feel free to share this info and please let me know if I have made a mistake.
    Last edited by HanTheMan; 22-04-2016 at 19:59.
    Hansen Chew

  2. #2
    Join Date: Jan 2012

    Location: Athens, Greece

    Posts: 406
    I'm John.


    Hi Hansen,

    This is immensely useful and informative - thank you for taking the time.

  3. #3
    Join Date: Jun 2010

    Location: Singapore

    Posts: 29
    I'm Hansen.


    Finally had some extened free time to do some research.

    Gonna see if I have time to do up a few more. Which I've been meaning to do but didn't have the time.
    Hansen Chew

  4. #4
    Join Date: Oct 2008

    Location: Glasgowshire

    Posts: 9,298
    I'm Gary.


    Great post (and awesome Avatar..big Roger Dean fan here...copied the Asia cover for an art school project!)

    Interested in tbe Elrog 300B's for my own amp.
    How good is it that theres new modern designs on valves? :-)
    Last edited by Gazjam; 16-04-2016 at 15:23.
    Warning: I have no data to back this opinion up.

  5. #5
    Join Date: Jun 2010

    Location: Singapore

    Posts: 29
    I'm Hansen.


    Edited main post to add Tuolihao, another small Chinese amp maker to the list.

    A quick note on Chinese tubes... Old Chinese state tubes had a grading system like the Soviets. Unlike the Soviets these grades were not silk screened printed on the tube. Instead they are stamped on in red ink. Be careful when buying high grade Chinese tubes. Not every tube in production had a grade.

    J - Military grade
    M - Consumer grade
    T - Premium grade
    Z - Special grade
    Q - Avionics grade

    J is the most common grade - simply means that it was earmarked for use by the military. They are possibly more durable; they probably passed a test for vibraton and/or microphonics. Shuguang is about to release an ECC83J later this year.
    T grade sometimes have different spec, some times not. This type of tube is rarer than J but more common than the other grades - not all tubes come with an T grade. Shuguang's 天籁/Natural Sound and Psvane's Treasure series have the T suffix to denote their premium status.
    Q grade sometimes have different spec, some times not. Less common than T, there are only a few tubes with this grading. Toulihao makes a 6F8G-Q tube.
    M grade had different specs in the few tubes I've seen with this grade; usually they had better max ratings. This type of tube is very rare - few tubes come with an M grade.
    Z is an extremely rare grade. I haven't come accross it looking try Taobao for deals. Special in this case means made for special purpose - which mean it could have an unusual spec. Shuguang's Treasure series have the Z suffix to denote they are an anniversary product.
    Hansen Chew

  6. #6
    Join Date: Jun 2010

    Location: Singapore

    Posts: 29
    I'm Hansen.


    Taurus Corporation
    Brand(s): Vizion
    OEM: No clue
    Taurus Corp is a Japan based musical instrument and effects company. They rebrand two types of 12AX7s under their Vizion brand.
    Hansen Chew

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