Back when I was a freshman in college, I tried to build what was already legendary audio gear: a Dynaco PAS-3X preamplifier, and a Stereo 35 power amplifier. Both were available only as kits, and I screwed them up. I mean, I wasn’t bad with a soldering iron, but I sucked at following directions.
So my cousin Ron (that’s him on the left) came to my rescue, fixing all my mistakes and
making both chunks of iron sing like bells. In the process he decided to build a PAS-3X of his own, along with a Heathkit A111 power amplifier.
I wore out my Dynacos by the late ’70s. (Along with my KLH Model 18 tuner and AR turntable with a Shure V15 Type II Improved phono cartridge.) Ron’s worked at his Mom’s place for a few years, and were retired eventually to a cabinet where I spotted them a few years ago at her new house in Maine. When I asked about them, she said “Take ’em away.” So I did. After that they languished behind furniture, first at our apartment in Massachusetts and then at the one here in New York.
So a few days ago, after my old Kenwood receiver crapped out, I decided on a lark to give Ron’s old gear a try. I had no faith it would work. After all, it was fifty year old iron that hadn’t been on in forty years or more. Worse, it wasn’t solid state stuff. These things were filled with vacuum tubes, and had components and wiring that had surely rotted to some degree with age.
So I plugged them in, made all the required connections between the two units and a pair of Polk speakers (which date from the ’90s), and then fed in some music from the collection on my iPhone.
Amazing: they work. Beautifully. Some knobs make scratchy sounds when I turn them, and every once in awhile the right channel drops out, requiring that I re-plug an input. But other than that, it’s all fine. The Heathkit, which has the size and heft of a car battery, could heat a room, even though it only produces 14 watts per channel. When it’s running, it’s too hot to pick up. But the sound is just freaking amazing. Much better than the Kenwood, which is a very nice receiver. I’m sure it’s the tubes. The sound is very warm and undistorted. Vocals especially are vivid and clear. The bass is tight. The high end is a bit understated, but with plenty of detail. (Here’s a test report from 1966.)
My original plan was to sell them eventually on eBay, since these kinds of things can bring up to $hundreds apiece. But now I love them too much to do that.
I mean, these things make me want to sit and listen to music, and it’s been a long time since any gear has done that.
They also connect me to Ron, who sadly passed several years ago. He was my big brother when we were growing up, and a totally great guy. (He was also cool in a vintage sense of the word, at least to me. And you had to love his red ’60 Chevy Impala convertible, which he drove until he joined the Army, as I recall.)
So I gotta keep ’em.
Originally published at blogs.harvard.edu on March 1, 2016.