• WARNING: Tube/Valve amplifiers use potentially LETHAL HIGH VOLTAGES.
    Building, troubleshooting and testing of these amplifiers should only be
    performed by someone who is thoroughly familiar with
    the safety precautions around high voltages.

Russian Tube Stuff -- WSJ

The following is a snip from the June 3, 2005 issue of The Wall Street Journal dealing with bargains around the world:

WHAT TO BUY: Hi-fi equipment

Russia, backward? Nyet. In a case of old technology trumping the new, tube amplifiers -- a stereo technology last big in the U.S. in the 1960s -- are still made in Russia. Tube amps incorporate low-tech vacuum tubes, which stereo fans say produce a warmer sound than digital equipment, and the gear is catching back on not just with Russia's super-rich, but with music buffs on a budget. The key: The country has lots of new and Soviet-era vacuum tubes, plus out-of-work electronics specialists. Made in Russia and Ukraine, the amps start at around $600, less than half the cost of most Western models.

The catch: These things can weigh 50 pounds or more and require careful packing and extra baggage fees (fragile tubes should be removed and carried on). Plus, getting to a retailer may take some code-cracking: To reach Andre Popkov's Renaissance Audio Systems in Moscow, take the subway to the next-to-last stop (it's called Skhodnenskoye -- but you have to read Cyrillic), find the yellow-brick Mendeleyev Chemistry Institute, pass under the Do-Not-Enter sign... on second thought, email Mr. Popkov beforehand. With advance notice, his manufacturers will also customize equipment for U.S. voltage.