Dynakit PAS-M & Stereo 120 NG vs Schiit Freya Plus, EVO400 and others

Gallery: https://www.flickr.com/photos/190302627@N04/
When I originally started out, I started with Yamaha S501 integrated amp which was reasonably priced at about $500 and eventually exchanged it for some other components like tube setups as time went on. I like solid state as well and wanted to share an experience that hopefully helps others. This isn't necessarily about a budget system even though it just so happens to be. It's more about the idea that I'm absolutely astonished at what can actually be achieved with today's upgrades on affordable vintage type gear with staggering results regardless of cost. I'm not an audio engineer or specialist in the technical specs of this stuff. I'm merely an enthusiast who enjoys listening to jazz and other genres of music but mostly jazz. I mainly play vinyl and CD's. It just so happens that I enjoy listening to different amps, integrated amps and preamps and have compared a pretty good number of them over the course of about 3 years now. I believe there are good and bad examples of everything. I've also listened to various speakers too. 

First, it amazes me how much room acoustics, speaker position as well as your own seating position in a room can influence the sound one hears. I have reached a pretty comfortable setting with regard to this. Onto some components in question. I sat down and spent some time comparing some pretty reputable brands. Right now I mainly listen to four sets of speakers in no particular order. 

Dynaco A10 (warm sounding)
Magnepan .7 (semi warm sounding)
Klipsch Heresy II (live sounding)
Betsy open baffle Lii Fast 8's (live sounding)
REL T5i dual subs

I was super curious about Primaluna's EVO series of integrated amps Kevin Deal at Upscale Audio talks about. BTW, I can't speak for others, but they were wonderful people to work with, at least for me. I visited their showroom and was pretty impressed. My friend ended up getting the EVO400 which I borrowed and listed to in three different rooms. With the Magnepan .7's it was an amazing match and perfect synergy IMO. What surprised us though is that it tended to have a bright and more brittle sound with the Heresy's which are already a pretty live sounding speaker as it is. What he does now instead is uses his McIntosh MHA150 as a preamp stage and the EVO400 as the amp stage. This produces a warmer, more rolled off sound. That's about $10,000 worth of amps! Not pocket change for most. If we took the MHA100 itself and the EVO400 itself, the EVO400 has a bigger soundstage while the MHA150 sounds more confined. In other words there seemed to be greater spatial separation with the EVO400. The only thing is the bright sound it produces on its own which in my opinion, doesn't quite seem to be the most fitting mix with Klipsch's Heritage line. Maybe some other tubes in the mix may help this with the EVO400's preamp stage and perhaps switching out its existing EL34's as well. After hearing the EVO, I didn't feel it was gonna be the right match for me. The fact that I like the way jazz sings with the Heresy's was crucial for me because ultimately I love that live band sound they produce. The EVO was just a bit too much ear fatiguing in the match.

One of the things that drew me into the old Stereo 120 transistor were its controversial reviews. I have this thing about nasty reviews where people simply parrott what others say over and over. Pretty soon, I begin to question if these people have really sat down and compared this stuff. I couldn't believe some of the harsh things others online said about this old original amp which made me even more curious. Is this really true? In the meantime I was in the process of wanting a Dynakit PAS-M. This is a newer generation PAS like my old PAS but all new and up to date. I compared all sorts of components pictured in the gallery in my rooms. I like them all for what they do well. 

I then realized Kenny Russell at Funtastic Vintronics was selling these newer upgraded Stereo 120 solid state amps for a mere $600. This is not the original one you find on ebay for $50 to $200 with the older internal components. The chassis is vintage but modifications are made internally. This is a fully restored unit with many new components. Kenny told me I'd be happy with the Stereo 120 if I tried it. I figured with the PAS-M costing just $1000 and the Stereo 120 solid state coming at a mere $600, why not give it a try. In the meantime, I was experimenting with a Schiit Freya Plus. Everybody talks about this thing. IMO it's a pretty nice preamp. It's relatively affordable but another thing is that Schiit is basically popular because all the popular audiophiles on YouTube talk about it. So basically it's more of a popular thing but just because something isn't as currently popular doesn't mean it's inferior. There's also a thing called marketing and it has a huge impact on the way people purchase things and it also makes them believe it's a better thing. I actually liked the way the Freya Plus sounded in tube mode but what happened is that it was pretty bright and brittle sounding with my Bob Latino VTA ST-70 tube amp after I listened to it more. The Loki tone control added $150 to the $900 price plus the Mani phono stage which added an additional $130. That's $1180 plus cables needed to attach them and it's pretty cluttered. 

I finally got the Dynakit PAS-M and Stereo 120 NG from Kenny Russell. When I first heard it all connected, I said WTF is this! The way it sounded with all my speakers astounded me regardless of cost. Out came this lush, warm, detailed sound I never heard before with anything I've had in this room. Even the phono stage blew me away. I decided to send back the Schiit Freya Plus and Loki and pay the 5% restock fee. Here's a guy by himself that hardly anybody knows about putting passion into an chassis at an extremely affordable price and knocking it out of the park! For me what determines how good a sound system is, is how it connects me emotionally to the music. I was emotional in ways I wasn't before. Kenny does world class work and I'm having a funtastic listening experience. :)

Why continue to use the Heresy's? I have always found them to be excessively bright, fatiguing and thin on bass. When I had the opportunity to buy a pair of Altec Madrid's I quickly sold my Heresy's! Since you like jazz on a lively upfront speaker the Altec Valencia's would be a much better choice than the Heresy's - and better than your other speakers, too!
The Stereo 120 was a good amp for its time (mid 60's). But certainly outclassed by the tube Dynaco ST-70! 
Actually I love the Heresy's. The voice and midrange are beautiful with them. Coupled with the REL T5i's, they produce a more lively sound which is what I really enjoy, particularly with jazz. I was just surprised that the EVO on its own probably isn't the best match unless used with an alternator preamp stage. The thing that I find interesting too and maybe this is not something mentioned enough. I think if others really want to get into this, it's important to match the components with the speakers. The other thing is I don't think anyone needs to feel compelled to spend a fortune to hear great performance. Certainly it's perfectly fine to buy expensive components if one wishes to. I am just amazed though what these Dynakit's are capable of, it really blows me away.

I have compared my new Stereo 120 NG solid state Kenny made to my Bob Latino, VTA ST70 using KT88 tubes which is their latest generation of this well known amplifier. I also use my  ST70. IMO though, the Stereo 120 NG is actually a better match with the Heresy at less than half the cost and it drives tha Maggy .7's very well. When coupled with Kenny's PAS-M, his newer Dynakit Stereo 120 produces an open, spatial separation that I didn't even get from the Yamaha AS1200 integrated amp. That's a $2800 integrated amplifier. When I listen to Danny Boy by Bill Evans, the drum symbols shimmer and sparkle in the right channel exactly one minute into that song. I've tried this song with several amps and I'm amazed at how different those symbols present themselves in the right channel. They are very delicate symbols and this is a very mellow song, but I like using this song because even late at night when playing music at low volume, you can still hear all the beautiful details without any loudness control. 
Interestingly I have a great friend who's an Altec guru. Those speakers you mentioned sound interesting. I'll give those a look as well. Thanks.
PL user(Dialogue HP)

You could possibly tame the highs with different tubes in the 2 innermost preamp slots. Being subjective it's a YMMV thing. Could be dramatic or subtle, depending on the ears.

I prefer the old 6l6G sound in mine. A sound somewhere between the KT88 and EL34.
   Great post rankaudio, I should hire you as my marketing director!

    A few years ago I started playing around with the Dynaco Stereo 120 out of simple curiosity. I have owned and listened to more than 100 amplifiers ranging from vintage Pioneer and Pilot tube amps to solid state Bob Carver and Sansui. Each having its own unique sound and signature. I like the sound of tubes best.

  After doing about 4 of these I dialed in on what worked best in the Stereo 120. I was astounded. I don't recall hearing any solid state amplifier before that sounded like this one. These simply don't sound like a solid state and certainly after the "modernization" is applied. They far surpass the original 120 amps sound and performance, it will eat a Dynaco 70 for lunch. Had I not heard this with my own ears I could not have believed it.

  My simple theory is that a circuit can only be as good as it's components allow, a weakest link scenario. A good circuit with bad components will not see its potential. I have applied this theory to my Stereo 70 amps and found vast improvements, why not apply this to the 120? Haffler had a knack for getting the most out of the least, he was a genius of circuit design and he hit it on the head again with the 120. The 120 has it's problematic reputation due mainly to budget oriented signal path components and a temperamental and unreliable power supply that is difficult to work on at best. Introducing a wonderful modern regulated power supply, new circuit boards with premium components and adding huge increases in overall capacitance allows this amp to breath deeply, like a  Khumbu valley Sherpa.

  Not to be satisfied with a great sound alone, I take great time and effort to make these amps look quite unique. How many solid state amps would you want to leave the top off of, like a tube amp, to marvel at its appearance? Whether you like it or not this amp is a "giant killer" in its class. Quite frankly this amp should fetch at least a thousand dollars considering the cost to build let alone the time and effort it takes.

  I completely disassemble these, hand polish the chrome, removing every bit of blemish possible. You cannot ever get it all because of the type of plating used over the mild steel. Some of the cosmetic flaws are underneath the chrome and show through, they're permanent. I try and always start with a great condition chassis, some are obviously better than others though. I chemically and manually clean every screw, nut and washer, every clamp, the heatsinks, everything gets attention and detail. The transformer is tested and detailed accordingly, the cover is refinished and treated to a custom aluminum badge identifying the amp as "enhanced". New feet, new power cord, new blue LED pilot bulb. I even deox the fuse holder, I get down in there deep, all the way around. I reuse the original outputs. New better input jacks are installed, these are custom made just for the 120.

  I also offer a volume control that allows this amp to be used stand alone, no preamp, with a line level source like a tape deck, cd player, mp3 and so on. Even a turntable with an integrated preamp works great since that gives a line level output signal. It's a very versatile amp with the volume control feature. It's also very compact and easy to find a suitable place for where other larger amps could not be used.

  I recently had a batch of custom color circuit board made to build some "limited edition" versions, as if they weren't already this way. I have a few sets of black, white, and yellow in addition to the standard red, green and blue ones. I even had black and red power supply boards made and also have these in the standard green. With complimentary colored wiring these new colors should look really special. I am currently in the process of putting one amp together using the new white PCBs and using a black power supply board but new build orders have stacked up, since I own this unit myself it has been shelved temporarily until I get caught up. I do have one Stereo 120 ready and it is available right now on my site, check it out at: