This year while at Capital Audiofest we were checking out some of the different amps from Linear Tube Audio or LTA for short. I found out they are based in Tacoma MD, only about 30 minutes from the Hilton where CAF is held, so I asked about visiting their building to see how their excellent amps are built. LTA is a small business with about 10 people doing everything from prototyping to hand assembly and sending them out to their customers. We often do not think about how the things we love are built so I wanted to showcase how a small team puts out great products.
Mark Schneider founded Linear Tube Audio in 2015. Coming from an extensive engineering career that included management, manufacturing, and product design – including being the architect behind the fastest document scanner in the world – Mark was forced into an early medical retirement. After a remarkable, multi-year recovery, he decided to commit himself to the passion that started a long time ago with a pair of 3-panel Magnepans, a Thorens turntable with an SME arm, and some SAE amplifiers.
Since the debut of ZOTL technology, no one else has been able to successfully manufacture David Berning’s complex designs. It was this uniqueness and complexity that attracted Mark to producing ZOTL amplifiers specifically, in addition to their spectacular sound. Each amplifier requires hours of hand-building, which is currently done by Mark and his team in LTA’s Washington, DC workshop. David Berning personally reviews initial units to ensure that the build quality meets his extremely high standards.
Due to its continued high demand 8 years after production ended, Mark decided to have Linear Tube Audio debut by introducing an improved version of David Berning’s original MicroZOTL, the MicroZOTL2.0. For the amps following, Mark and David have worked collaboratively, with David designing the core amplifier circuitry to Mark’s specifications, and LTA creating the rest of the unit.LTA About Page – https://www.lineartubeaudio.com/the-company
LTA was present in several rooms at CAF this year, including one set up with a pair of Credo EV1202 Refs as well as being all through the headphone hallway powering just about any pair of headphones you can imagine. I really enjoyed the LTA and Credo room, the sound was immersive and clear. Bass was extremely impressive considering the driver size in the Credos, the midrange was full and lush, and highs were well represented without being bright or tinny. Powering this system were a pair of LTA ZOTL40 Reference+ Power amps, MicroZOTL Preamp, and a Meitner Integrated DAC. I would like to spend more time with the LTA gear in the future as each piece deserves its own review.
To say we did a factory tour at the LTA headquarters may be misleading as when we hear factory we often think of some huge industrial building with assembly lines and robots. LTA is different, based in a historical rowhouse converted to a workshop, it is a smaller building with hardwood floors, personalized workstations, and a certain coziness to it. As a DIY guy I felt right at home, it reminded me of my workshop, parts bins line the walls, with racks for testing, burn in, and prepping for customer delivery.
When you first walk in, there is a sitting area, where the team can test out their new products, currently a pair of Devore Fidelity Super Nines are here as the reference speakers. Also in this area, there is a rack of headphones covering a wide range of architectures such as Planar and Conventional as well as a closed and open back. In the front, they also have a couple of workspaces for testing, as well as the burn-in rack where amps are run to verify all functionality. Heading back into the back room you have all the production stations, this is where the folks like Eric who gave us our tour are hand-building the LTA amps. There are bins of parts labeled and placed along the walls to make board construction efficient and organized. Everything is soldered to the board with Cardas Silver solder, ensuring a great connection, as well as offering a lowered melting temp to help keep parts from getting hot during the soldering process.
We then headed to the Tube Room. Boxes of tubes stacked up ready to be tested and matched. Every LTA product has a set of matched tubes, they test each one in a couple of different devices as well as run them in on a tube burn-in device. This ensures you get the best possible sound out of the set of tubes you get in your LTA amp. This process like everything that LTA does is not a fast one, but it is worth it for the customer. LTA is not interested in just pumping out amps, they are interested in taking their time and making something you can own for your lifetime.
In the basement is where all the chassis and packing materials live, as well as prototypes, and the tooling to make the prototypes. Mark has his workspace set up down here to create new products and try out anything that may strike his fancy. Eric was showing the new packing area and how LTA has moved to custom-formed packing that both protect the amps better as well as really speeds up the process, no longer needing to cut pieces to fit one by one.
It’s like a Family
Corporate job postings love to say how their culture is like a family, then when you work there you find out it’s nothing like a family. LTA is much different, everyone there takes care of each other, pitches in where they can, and help each other out. If someone is sick they aren’t forced to sit there and suffer and get others sick as well. Eric was telling me about a time when he was able to come in at night and work, as well as take parts home and build there, as he has his own electronics workspace with all the tools he needs to complete his work. This flexibility really makes people’s personal lives much less stressful. Everyone I talked to at the show and the shop really seemed to enjoy their work and were passionate about the company itself. Happy employees will always put out top-notch work and you can see that come through in the final product. Eric also appreciates that his and others’ voices are heard, when they have ideas they can flesh them out and if it works they can be implemented. So many companies don’t do this and good ideas never see the light of day in those types of places.
LTA is a good representation of a lot of our industry that people may not really know about. Many brands we love are built by a small team of passionate people putting their love and care into everything going out the door. A lot of times we see the big companies and assume everything is made in giant facilities with hundreds of employees, but that is really only a small portion of the vast amount of audio brands. The LTA team was inviting and awesome to talk to. I recommend you check them out if you haven’t already.
For more information on LTA check out their site below.