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Do speaker designers have all the fun? They get to choose from dynamic drivers, ribbons, planar-magnetics, electrostats, air-motion transformers, bending-wave drivers à la German Physics and Manger, ion tweeters and more. What scope of choices do transistor amp makers have by comparison? That's why the Nelson Pass launch of two new FirstWatt models with proprietary vertical power JFets aka static induction transistors in costly silicon carbide is so exciting. How about valve amp makers? They too must fancy variety. Occasionally more resourceful suppliers like KR Audio and Emission Labs author new valves, say the mondo KRT 1610 of the former or the 1605 of the latter. But factories still making valves aren't exactly mushrooming.

Absolare's parallel 845 SET monos with ER 845s at HighEnd 2012 in Munich

Perhaps a bit below the radar of the average valve fancier because it's really happened outside our small hifi world was the release of the Elrog 845. El-who? Superman's real dad? Turn your compass to Germany. There the last audio-related valve manufacture went back to the Telefunken works in Ulm some 50 to 60 years ago. But now enter accredited engineer Klaus Schaffernicht and his brand Elrog. With it he supplies Boeing, McDonnell Douglas and Panavia with very different types of tubes. Uses include monochromatic cathode ray guns for monitors in airplanes like the MRCA Tornado. Over the last few years his firm has expanded into valves for gas-analysis test gear to eliminate the radioactive inspection sources previously standard in that field. He'd never bothered with hifi tubes.

Voxativ monos with ER 845

Until Thomas Deyerling and Stefan Noll as the owners of Cayin Audio/Germany visited him one day with our kind of lowly 845 triode in tow. Inspecting their sample, Schaffernicht, so the story goes, was hilariously amused by its relatively primitive assembly. Still he agreed to design something equivalent from scratch. Enter the ER 845 in Jena glass with a CNC-routed graphite anode. The direct-heated cathode has Thorium-infused carbide-layered Wolfram wire. The socket is brass. The vacuum Torr rating went up. Methane contents went out the window. In short, industrial-strength construction. No antiquated hifi toys from China. Modern über valves from the land of Daimler-Benz and Bavarian Motor Works. Or so a marketing man would put it.

I'd first become aware of the ER 845's existence through Inès Adler of Voxativ. She'd learnt of it through her trade show collaborations with Cayin. During last year's Istanbul visit to the maker of Echole cables and Absolare electronics, I'd mentioned it to owner Kerem Küçükaslan. He wrote in right after Munich High End 2012: "We showed our new monos with Elrog's 845. Our Dutch distributor had obtained matched quads from the very first production run. As you'd pointed out as very likely during your visit, these are better than anything else—NOS or current Chinese production—by a very real margin." Asked about retail pricing for civilians, "€1.600/pr" was Kerem's terse answer. Had the queen of triodes as the 300B is known in the far East just been displaced? Long live the new king?

At these prices and given the 845's innately higher power delivery—Kerem's monos make 50 watts a side—quite possibly so. As of High End 2012 three manufacturers have already embraced the Elrog version to be their endorsement over the usual suspects. Do speaker manufacturers have all the fun? Perhaps not. Just imagine what other valves Elrog could make if someone asked them nicely or waved the right amount of money at them. Anyone?