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A Trip Down Memory Lane – Triumph of the Tubes

In the early days we all knew that tubes sounded better than transistors. Well, in the very early days everything was tubes. Marantz made the best, but others, such as Fischer and McIntosh made excellent products. However, second only to Marantz in sound were the products of a small company called Dynamo which sold inexpensive kit amplifiers. They were easy to build, cost effective, and sounded near state of the art at the time.

DYNACO made three superb products: the Pas3 preamplifier, the Stereo 70 power amp, and two mono block power amplifiers called the Mk. III’s. These products have been the basis for thousands of modifications of their designs made by other manufacturers over the years. In fact, the great William Z Johnson of Audio Research fame started out by modifying DYNACO designs. (To be fair, Bill quickly developed his own product designs which are hallmarks even to this day.)

Saul B. MarantzWho was the genius behind the DYNACO product line? David Hafler was the man. He started a revolution with great sounding products at unbelievable prices. His designs were simple, yet very sophisticated. He did not waste any money on adding parts that did not improve the sound. In fact, he tried to eliminate parts to see if the sound would get better. David was a great engineer who had a great ear!

His products are still very much in demand on the used market. In the early days, nearly everyone tried to modify his designs, but few actually came up with products that sounded significantly better. One who did was Walter Key, who designed the Paoli 60M power amp. It was based on the DYNACO Mk. III power amps (60 watts RMS per amp).

The product was so good that it was used to demo other quality audio components. I remember attending a CES audio show where a famous electrostatic speaker maker was demonstrating his new and improved design. It was supposed to be powered by a sophisticated class D switching amplifier. However, behind the scene was a pair of Paoli 60M’s. These amps compared favorably to early Audio Research power amps. I could not afford their power amps, so the Paoli 60M’s fit the bill. (I did purchase the SP3a1 preamp at the time, which reigned supreme for quite a while.)

I got interested in David Hafler’s products early on. I purchased two of his kit products. Being somewhat of a novice I found them fairly easy to assemble,  but they early solid state designs and just did not measure up sonically to Hafler’s tube designs. He was not the only one having trouble with early solid state. Sid Smith, who helped develop products for the great Saul Marantz, was now working on and amplifier design for Jon Dahlquist of DQ 10 fame. He told Dahlquist’s chief engineer Carl Marchisotto that he was running into trouble. When he said that it was so much easier to make a good sounding power amp, Carl said: “Welcome to the world of solid state.”

The DYNACO Stereo 70 power amp (35 watts per channel) had such a sweet top end that many audiophiles used it to power their tweeters (often electrostatic) in a bi-amped arrangement. It was very good over most of the frequency spectrum, but lacked weight in the low end.
121712wzj-600Returning to William Z. Johnson, I met him at a Hi-Fi show in DC where he was demonstrating his preamp and power amp on a pair of Magnaplar’s. Bill was the distributers for Magnepan in those days. If was fortuitous for both companies, at least in the way the products complimented each other. Maggie’s sounded their best with Audio Research then and probable still do today (with the possible exception of the David Berning amps.) Bill loved to use the voice of Joan Biaz to demo the products because nothing could reproduce the female voice like Maggie’s driven by Audio Research.

Bill sold his products door to door to certain high end audio stores. It was a tough sell at first. But when people seriously began the listen they began to understand that his tubes just sounded better. Every major manufacturer had moved to solid state, including DYNACO. Most of the review magazines had already bought into the idea of solid state was clearly better. Some said Johnson had set the audio industry back twenty years. But thankfully, Gordon Holt of Stereophile magazine help set everyone straight.

Bill resurrecting the vacuum tube paved the way for a tube renaissance. Today, tubes are very much a part of high end audio. Of course, there are many excellent solid state designs today which sound quite good. But, for me, there is nothing better than listening to a sophisticated tube amp powering a pair of Maggie’s. Do not despair, however, in a modest sized room a pair of AudioEngine A2’s will do just nicely, and they have builtin class A/B amplifiers!

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