Friday, 11 November 2016

Visit to Elrog Tube Factory!

European Triode Festival 2016

It is a three day drive from our home in France to the ETF in Denmark. The car was filled to the brim with speakers, amplifiers and other gear. We decided to limit driving to eight hours a day in order to have some energy left once at the show. Thomas Mayer of VinylSavor and recently the new proprietor of Elrog tubes invited us to visit the tube production factory on the way. What better way to get ready for a triode festival than to visit a triode factory and see how they are made. Like the making of transformers the art and science of making tubes is one of the great mysteries of audio reproduction. It was a treat to be invited to see it in person, especially one who's roots are woven into the history and lore of Telefunken, one of the mighty institutions of tube development and manufacture.

There were plenty of adventures before we got there though. Lots of snow and resulting accidents made the drive long and tiring. However the snow made the small town of Hagenow, where the Elrog factory resides, look like a Christmas Fairy tale. The old buildings beautifully kept and covered in snow was like stepping back in time. The walk to the factory from the hotel was filled with snowfall and people shovelling the sidewalks. They smiled and nodded to us - perfect strangers - in a small town. Nice.

At the factory Thomas greeted us and we sat in his office catching up. It was hard not to look at the tubes and start tube talk right away. On the shelf amount the current production tubes was a monster transmitting tube I did not recognise. He saw me looking at it and told me what it was and said they will be putting it into production. Nothing is sexier than a monster transmitting triode. My mind scanned ahead to see these glowing in the listening room. Soon we were on tour in the assembly room where the grids and heaters are welded onto supports in small and precise three dimensional sculptures. The care and skill was impressive to see. The many different kinds of wires and materials, winding machines and precision welders were fascinating. My mind raced unsuccessfully to see how it all worked while trying to be polite and keep conversation and introductions present and attentive.

We walked past the the science fiction machines of the vacuum extractors. They were large and impressive - harking back more years than could be imagined - recently improved to raise the vacuum level to increase performance and reliability. This is part of Thomas's production history showing, front end loading quality into the production not only for a better product but also greater sustainability in achieving the bottom line. Quality improves sales and reliability equals lower cost to both customer and manufacture long term.

Next was the testing and burn in room. Tubes were everywhere - in heavy racks, in boxes, in the test stands. So many tubes were hard to see without wanting to take some home. I had to remind myself that I don't have an amp for them - yet. We were introduced to the tube Guru at the centre of production, Matias. He was in the middle of testing when we walked in, the 300B tube under test was glowing nicely, the thorated tungsten filament is easy on the eyes, warm and bright - quite attractive. After introductions Matias began explaining what he was doing in running the tube   
through its test points and documenting its characteristics. I was keen to hear this 300B which is unique in 300Bs by having this type of filament. My experience is that this filament is often clearer and more pure in tone than the more typical 300B oxide type filament.

After years of using vacuum tubes, looking at them and wondering how they worked and were built, imagining electrons boiling off heaters, floating in clouds while the grid releases them in waves to wash over the plate it was a strange realisation to be in a place where they came into existence. The chemistry, physics and skill required were obvious. The history of practice and profound understanding required left a lasting impression. Building a device which runs to such extremes, which defies the atmosphere and burns like a little sun, is not an ordinary enterprise. After all they are taking music, turning it into fire and light, and then turning it back into music again. It was hard to fall asleep that night thinking of all the machines, processes, purity of elements, magical RF induction making metal glow red, swarming around in images with the eyes closed.

Our thanks to Thomas who not only was kind enough to invite us to see a little of these mysteries but also for sustaining the production of such a rare device, a modern thoroughbred of current production classical audio tubes.

My first Elrog tube!

- Photos curtesy of Camila Barcha, Copyright© all rights reserved.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Chuck,

    it was great having you at the factory. Thanks a lot for the beautiful and enthusiastic visit report and the great photos.

    See you again soon!