Friday, 29 April 2016

Western Electric in Hong Kong  – A visit at Mr. Wu's workshop

Hello to everybody reading on,

finally it did happen and I got one of my contacts working in Hong Kong. I did meet with Mr. Western Electric of Hong Kong, better known as Mr. Wu.
In these days of mobile internet any business address is available at a fingertip, in particular here in HK, where the people run crazy with mobile web. Everybody is permanently online with a minimum of two cell phones at once, independent of age, just to prevent not to miss any incoming message. In these days businesses are getting rare without a web page or a email address. When Google will provide any information worldwide on a fingertip, you need to accept that there are still some people existing which are hiding to such digital ease. If you want to meet Mr. Wu, you need to know somebody who might be able to give you his physical address. He does not have a business card, a web page or a any other registered form. There is neither a telephone book in Hong Kong, nor other options to find the location of his company – wonderfully out timed.

Wu is located at the very end of the 荃灣線 -line (Tsuen Wan Line) of Hong Kongs MTR (Mass-Train-Railway/Subway) in a remote industrial area. With other words, just another 300 m distance and you will match the western end the urbanized territory of this megacity. It is a 30 minute foot walk from the subway station through warehouses and fabrication units, when you will end up in a place of nowhere. A 30 level warehouse with a entrance corridor of 100 meter length and maybe 500 stainless steel mailboxes at the wall. At the 4th floor, at unit L in the remote dark end, round the corner, a very little workshop is hidden, secured with extremely rigid and solid locks. Just  lettered with a tiny golden "Western Electric"-sticker at a metal sliding door.
To here loads of Japanese and Korean audio enthusiast did pilgrimage in order to get some of his famous Western Electric Amps. That's the way to do it and it is the only way to meet him, bring a trolley for the long way back, – no Paypal.

Hong Kong's Mr. "Western Electric" – Wu

His workshop is so small that three persons are blocking each other already in movement, so one needs to get outside, to get space for the two others. I would estimate, may be 15 square meters for two sections in one room, where the storage shelf will be the dividing wall to the heavy metal work bench.

Mr. Wu is a extremely warm, nice and simpathetic man, he doesn't speak any word of English, but he laughs a lot for compensation. He did originally work as an electrical engineer for a Chinese Company. When this company did move back to China mainland, he decided to set up his self employment and started to restore vintage Western Electric amplifiers like the 91A or the 124's and their variants and derivates. The rising interest in the growing asian vintage audio markets pushed him fast into the position, that he needed to find other resources for original vintage amps and unreplaceable spares. So he decided to make replicas of famous Western Electric -transformers using original WE cores, -amp parts, covers and bodies in order to reissue the original designs and their matching to the original specifications. He found lots of vintage Western Electric military and telephone equipment, originally sold as rubbish from US Government to China to get rid of the metal trash in the 1970ties. He did work out that some of this trashed transformers were made with identical iron cores than many famous audio transformers like the legendary old WE 171A (the output transformer of the WE91A), the 618A/B input device or several others dependent designs. As a main idea of his business he rewinds these vintage WE- cores and this gives hime the opportunity to build up amplifiers with almost identical attitudes than the rare vintage originals. Original is a funny word, the western meaning is unknown to the asian culture.

Some of his power amplifiers, on top the 124's, in the middle the 91A, beside some
kits for different layouted preamps

In the western world we have a completely different understanding of "originality" than in Asia. The foremost asian countries like Japan, Korea and China do practice a cultural tradition since more than 1000 years, which is called Shanzhai. Shanzhai means a permanent improvement through copying the best, practiced with art, skills and as well with commercial products (a well known problem, where the western copyright ends in its own set limits). In such basic tradition any product can be optimized when ressembled with all necessary improvements supplied.

So Mr. Wu did start to make replicas of famous WE-amps, like the WE 91A, the WE 124A's, at the beginning mainly directed to Japanese customers. Later the Koreans got as well interested, as some Hong Kong residents together with some people from the western world got supplied by him. All his transformers, a wide choice of input-, stepup-, interstage- and output transformers, create a fundamental base for a wide spread range of different pre- and power amplifiers. He orientates the finish as well to the rare and obsolete vintage originals in designs in color and built quality. His famous preamp line, featuring the direct heated WE-tennisball tubes (from the 100 and 200 DHT line), has been discontinued for several problems with vintage tube stock. Now Wu just offers kits for different preamp designs including all necessary transformers and body parts for the interested, of course in WE-gray.

The rewinding gauge, the central work space

Heavy metal workshop for body work, actual 2,5 sqm space.  .

Storage shelf for ready made WE-amplifiers of different dedication.
This is Mr. Wu's set for the demonstration, a set of his legendary preamps driving two
driver amps, ending into power triode booster amps, able to bring
30 watts to his Heathkit speakers, all strictly separated into two monophonic rails.

One patient waiting for service to complete the demonstration set up for stereo.

It is already time again that lots of audio enthusiast will visit Munich for the coming High-End-Show soon. You can be safe about the fact, that you won't see any product from Wu there. This typical battle for attention of techno audio addicts or the all around "bling-bling"-audio from mainland China will be there. But refined intimate made products with a sustainability like the here shown products you will not find at such events anymore.

For this you might need to get into the old-school habit of a real personal visit to this unique place. If you are interested into Mr. Wu's audio creations, you need somebody to bring you there or you will need a precise description to find him in Hong Kong, I will be able to provide such.

Read on soon, Volker

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Extending my last Posting

Hello to everybody,

I know that my blog is hardly neglected since I am in Hongkong. But to be honest it is extremely difficult to find issues about vintage hifi products here. To me it seems to be a hermetic sealed community, which has some interest into such things, but no interest to get in contact with foreign people.  Hongkong, a city tremendously believing into the future with a hard limited affinity to history, is not the place for such themes.

So I visited again my "friend" at the flea market in Sham Shui Po, who everyday sits there and assembles his own tube amps made from vintage parts. Last weeks he has got a new sets of WE input transformers with a ratio of 1:10. When I was there he installed a pair into his standard tube amp. After perfect matching he did play for me some some classical piano music, – I was sitting in the perfect hot spot of his speakers at his stand, and I was very surprised about the sound coming from his Japanese speakers from the 1970ties (maybe Sansui or similar). Maybe it was as well because of his open stand, without any side walls, but it did sound extremely balanced and natural.

A little late round the next corner I did have the chance to listen to another set with Uesugi brothers preamp and some Japanese vintage mono tube power amps in combination with some quite ordinary JBL speakers of the 1970ties. No, not the well known 4000 series of studio designs, some more ordinary floor standing three way units with 12'' woofer and particle board enclosure. This set was not even able to bring half the authenticity and life of the flea market set up  into performance. I would expect for 10 times the money...

Last not least I would like to get you some idea of the situation here about hifi. Just look at this image it will tell another story for the analoge enthusiast. But to be honest, I did find a record store in town, – with exactly the same new high end releases known from Europe, and that of course for the same amount of money.

Stay on, I will com back quite soon and maybe I will bring another interesting entry?