ST-70 amplifier
The new ST-70 amplifier in all its tubed glory. It is pictured here without the optional brown metal protective tube cage.
By Columnist
updated 5/8/2006 4:13:41 PM ET 2006-05-08T20:13:41

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Before there was the transistor, there was the tube. Lots of them. Televisions, radios — if it was electronic, it had a tube in it. Then, in the 1950s and 60s, transistors revolutionized the industry. They allowed manufacturers to make smaller, cooler-running circuits — and eventually lower prices.

But tubes never disappeared completely, particularly when it came to stereo equipment. Hi-fi fans will tell you that nothing sounds as sweet as equipment that allows tubes to shape the sound. That’s why hundreds of happy tube fanatics flocked to the first annual Vacuum Tube Valley Expo in Piscataway, N.J., this past weekend to see old — and new — designs.

Dynaco was a legendary manufacturer of innovative and inexpensive hi-fi gear that made its name with early vacuum tube models. In the late 1950s and early 60s many hobbyists bought Dyna do-it-yourself kits and constructed their own control and power amplifiers as well as FM tuners.

More than 40 years later, classic Dynaco tube equipment is still in great demand by aficionados. Mark IIIs, Stereo-70s and the rare Stereo-35 amps sell for hundreds on the popular auction Web sites. They originally sold for well under $100.

Finding a working, classic Dynaco in mint condition is like money in the bank. But finding one in very good or good condition is not so easy anymore. If owners haven’t changed the circuitry (sometimes for the better — most of the time not) then the amps themselves need some first aid to sound their best.

That’s why it was so wonderful to walk into a room at the show and see brand-spanking new Dyna amps on display. Beautiful, shiny new reproductions of the original (greatly desired)tube models. Needless to say, at an exposition full of tube fanatics, the Dynakit room was packed.

Kevin Devaney is to thank for resurrecting the Dyna name. A businessman and avid Dynaco hi-fi fan, Kevin bought whatever was left of Dynaco when others had finished draining every penny out of the well-known brand name.

Kevin decided the Dynaco brand name needed to be brought back to life — especially the tube models. The best way to do that, he decided, was to redesign the early tube amplifier kits.  That way costs would be kept as low as possible, with hobbyists doing the actual construction — just like 40 years ago.

Dynaco ST-35
The new version of the Dynaco Stereo-35 looks identical to the old one.
On display at the show were Kevin’s new Dynakit amplifiers — the new Mark IV (40-watt monoblock, $425-450 depending on the capacitors), the ST-35 (17.5 watts/channel stereo amp, $450-480) and the ST-70 (35 watts/channel stereo amp, $625-650). 

The famous brown metal tube cage is optional.  So are the tubes. Since tube gear fans have their favorite tubes, Kevin decided to leave that up to the hobbyists.

In a short listen, Kevin’s new ST-35 sounded terrific playing CDs on a pair of Omega Super 3 XRS speakers .  Kevin has promised that I’ll be able to audition the amp very soon. It should be interesting to compare it to my original Stereo-35, which is still in very good condition.

Kevin hinted that if his new-old amps sell well, other old Dynaco gear might be in line for ressurection in the future.

I saw and heard a number of other wonderful stereo systems based on interesting vacuum tube designs at the weekend expo. Some amplifiers sold for a few hundred dollars; some for a few thousand.  Some for even more. Auditioning what was being played in the Audio Note room was a labor of love.

There was even one room featuring a reel-to-reel tape deck. Charles King used an ancient Stellavox tape deck and a modified Dynaco FM3 tuner as music sources in his room. Needless to say, it was very crowded in Charlie’s listening room.

At the other end of the spectrum, there were some interesting displays which showcased iPods as real music components. 

The people at Robyatt Audio were showing off an affordable, high-end home hi-fi using an iPod instead of a CD player or FM tuner. 

The iPod was plugged directly into a beautiful Italian-made Tektron TK2A3/59S-I integrated amplifier chock full of vacuum tubes ($2,050) using those same terrific Omega speakers mentioned above. You can use any of a number of output tubes in this amp (2A3, 45, 245, 345, 300B, 50, 250, 350 or VT52) for slightly different sounds.

Robyatt Audio
The baeutiful, simple Tektron integrated amplifier uses tubes throughout its design.
Overall, the sound coming from this little system was top-rate.

So was the music coming from the Red Wine Audio room. Proprietor and chief designer Vinnie Rossi makes some very good sounding amps and preamps — transistor stuff that we won’t discuss today.

But Vinnie also has a booming modification business. He takes very good-sounding components and takes them to the next level. He makes very simple circuitry sound amazingly good.

One of those components is the Olive Symphony music distribution/storage/CD player that I recently told you about . Vinnie does lots of modifications that I won’t go into in great depth but one that I will tell you about. He changes the Symphony to run on batteries. The unit still plugs into the wall, but when you’re listening to it all the power comes from the new battery.  Noise coming from your home AC line — and in my home there’s a lot of noise — is totally eliminated. The difference is astounding.

So is the sound of Red Wine’s modified iPods, called iMods. Basically, Vinnie takes the iPod’s digital output signal and routes it through a much better-sounding circuit. The headphone jack is turned into an audio output jack so you can plug your iMod into your stereo. 

If you rip your music, as recommended, using Apple’s Lossless codec (the best compromise between file size and sound quality) you won’t believe just how good your iPod can sound.

The sounds coming from Vinnie’s room proved his point. The music sounded less "digital" than I’ve ever heard coming from inexpensive digital sources.

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