This KC-based audio guru engineers build-it-yourself tube amplifier kits

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Photo by Caleb Condit and Rebecca Norden

Not so long ago, vacuum tubes powered every home stereo. Today, they’re only for audio obsessives. And among that crowd, Kansas City’s Bruce Rozenblit is something of a legend.

Rozenblit, who lives in Waldo, runs a company called Transcendent Sound with a dedicated cult following. Copies of his 1999 treatise Audio Real sell for upwards of a thousand dollars on Amazon. Rozenblit’s main focus is high-end, build-it-yourself tube amplifier kits. His kits cost anywhere from five hundred to seventeen hundred dollars—a comparable prêt-à-porter setup could run you twenty grand.

“A tube amp is kind of like a musical instrument,” Rozenblit says. “It has a voice of its own. Each piece of equipment imparts something to the music. It’s the difference between a good violin and a crappy violin. It lets the emotion come through the music—there’s magic to it. And there’s no other technology that can do that.”

Rozenblit was born and raised in KC. He’s been obsessed with audio since hearing a Swiss-made Revox Reel-to-Reel in fifth grade. He got a degree in electrical engineering from UMKC but wanted to stay close to his elderly parents, limiting career options.

“There was very little in electronics in KC, so I had to do consulting,” he says. “I hated it. In the consulting business for an electrical engineer, there’s just no creativity. The boredom became excruciating. It’s like I was sitting in an old age home waiting to die.”

Rozenblit built up a name by writing for audio hobby magazines. In 1996, he quit his job to start his own company. “It’s a very, very small market,” he says. “You have to keep coming up with new products.”

About half of Rozenblit’s customers are overseas and most of the rest are clustered on the coasts. They tend to be older, but he’s hopeful that the renaissance of vinyl might bring younger people into the hobby.

If you want to try, Rozenblit gives away free directions for elite DIY speakers on his site.

“The less money they spend on speakers, the more money they have to buy my amps,” he says with a laugh. “They only have so much to spend.” –Martin Cizmar

Categories: Best of KC, Music, People