FORGET IT: A proposed UK start-up valve maker. Was I too harsh?

First published here in 2011

I received this question. My answer follows. I retrospect, I might have been a bit harsh. But then again ........?

Hi. A well known valve supplier and I have discussed putting (a new valve amplifier line) into production. Given your experiences with valve amplification would you be interested in selling same amps?

Well, I think it fair to say and with some regret too that currently the economic situation facing the UK audiophile industry in general and audiophile start-ups in particular is grim. I can’t see any point beating around the bush re this – especially if you are thinking of making a financial investment. My reasons for this gloomy, but I hope not permanent observation are as follows:

1. There’s the current credit crunch situation which it seems is very much beyond anyone’s control. The point here is that while there are entire sections of the UK which are to all intents and purposes recession-resistant (rich or filthy rich) this doesn’t automatically mean that they are prepared currently – if they ever were – to indulge in audiophile expenditure. They have the wherewithal but not necessarily the motivation.

2. Next, the market for valve amps in the UK is small. Yes, there is a renaissance – but it must be seen against the background of a small population, or low base if you prefer. Most of the ‘open points’ in the price bands are already well served, possibly to saturation point. At the highest price bands, Audio Research still dominates.

In the mid price band, Manley Labs (my own personal favourite) are poised to make an impact (albeit in a small market sector) and Conrad Johnson are still producing fine equipment too. Esoteric Audio Research produce outstanding gear and have a cult following. At the entry level, PrimaLuna is the one to watch. Even though I don’t sell their equipment, I very much respect it. Frankly, their sound quality versus their price is setting the bar very high for others.

Thus in a non expanding (possibly contracting) sector in a definitely contacting market, finding an ‘open point’ will be very challenging.