Review: Dodd Audio MK II 120 wpc w/sonicap upgrade Tube amp

Category: Amplifiers

"If you're gonna play in Texas, you gotta have a fiddle in the band." ...

Who plays what fiddle is another story.

The Dodd mono block amplifiers second iteration with a platinum sonicap upgrade and boasting 120 watts per, of fascinating tube power, just doesn’t seem to mind.

If you want to really hear the Stratovarious or the Stratocaster, sax, or double bass in that band, chamber, orchestra, or the singer, the room, the crowd, all the other pieces too, along with a taste of the atmosphere of the venue, with according distinction, separation, fidelity, harmonically rich and fluid, with sufficient impact to realize a near tactile event, then the Dodd Audio EL34 based mono blocks should definitely be of interest to you.

Maybe it is because Dodd Audio resides in Garland Texas. It could be too, the tube mono blocks are excellent tools for discovering just what lives in your recorded fare, regardless the genre. I feel it’s more the latter than the former, here.

The 120 watt per channel mono block amps accounted for in this article are not Gary Dodd’s current production amplifiers. These are the MK IIs, and the most previous models, and have since been supplanted by a further iteration, the third in this series or the MK III, I suspect.

ON the Dodd Audio website you won’t be inundated with an inordinate litany of specific numbers pertaining to the parameters & auspices of these amps. You will however be given a taste of the components Dodd Audio is currently offering including pictures and an invitation to call Dodd Audio for the details and pricing. These current production items range from power supplies, an 800 and a 1500 watt unit, a battery operated phono preamp, a likewise operated line stage active preamp, and the 120 mono block amplifiers.

The near clandestine or if you would rather, humble approach to advertising Dodd Audio follows is the best form of advertising to date, which is by “Word of mouth”. I don’t profess to know Gary Dodd personally, but I have found the web is littered with page upon page of Gary’s achievements with his battery operated components yet oddly enough the mono blocks have escaped the publicized attention they should have garnered by now. Maybe it is due to the fact the design topology in the mono amps is not as innovative as is a battery powered preamplifier. The resultant sonics of the mono amplifiers should certainly be noted equally well however.

We’ve all encountered a sound at some point that just floors us and our senses. One which we simply can not forget. One that haunts our minds and comes to be our template for what could be aural memory comparisons. The ‘magical sound’ I entertained which impacted me so deeply was generated by an all Thor power lineup. Line stage preamp, and two 30 wpc mono blocks driving a pair of VSA VR 4JR speakers in a moderately sized room, similar to my own. A Shanlin tube SACD CDP was the source piece on that memorable occasion.

What I actually recall coming from that rig was absolutely enchanting. Goose bumpily disbelief set in almost immediately. Huge golden toned bubbles enlarging and bursting in front of me which rained a shower of salubrious melodic notes, all shimmering with a sheen of glistening dew like sprinkles that captured the light within them and revealed it to the listener in an eerily tactile fashion.

The terms big, wet, and luxurious are appropriate yet not completely adequate. It was as if Ted Turner had crawled into the gear and colorized an otherwise black and white classic better than he had done with any other film to date. It was a cathartic event. I think we may forget the actual Sonics of such a presentation over time, but we never forget the depth of the impression it makes upon our soul. Right then and there I was hopelessly hooked on tubes being something I had to have in my own home. Soon.

I’ve found in high end audio without too much trouble, though with copious amounts of dead presidents on hand, there are many differing levels of excellent one can attain. There’s the excellent we can never afford, and the excellent which comes from properly fitting together high value and high performing goods, that when the matching of them becomes acute, the results are often astonishing. Then too, once in a while there is that certain high value over achiever that can produce startling results, but never seems to get it’s proper due and is passed over for some other more prominent and avidly endorsed piece of equipment. I think the Dodd mono block tube amps are just one of these latter sorts.

Efforts to corral a pair of the thor ‘SET like’ amps proved unsuccessful after some time so I thought to simply seek out another likewise outfitted set of amps. EL34 were the output tubes in those monos I heard that day so my thoughts turned to those amps which used them. They are a popular tube choice and quite versatile in how they can be configured as output tubes. In the 120 MK II’s they are configured to run in a push-pull, ultra linear fashion. There is no other choice of operation with the Dodd monos for the end user to select. The Thor amps were arranged electronically as triode only yet produced 30 magical watts each.

I think the chosen ultra linear push pull, transformer coupled topology is the tube world’s answer to getting one as close to solid state performance as one can or ought to get, without defaulting back to sand power. It is for the solid state fan who wants to capture the speed and dynamics of SS, as well as the liquidity and harmonic influence of a more textured re-creation of the sound, and of course thru the use of tubes. It may be too it is simply the push pull affair which lends itself to being more speaker friendly…. Not just the ultra linear composition.

Enter The Drag-a-Dodds

They aren’t Bruce Lee look alikes but they are lean, taut and ready for action. Esthetically the Dodd monos have a look which belies their performance. At a glance they seem bland and nondescript, but upon a closer more detailed look they reveal clean lines, thoughtful solid build, and promising perhaps some wealth of sonic answers.

The rear of the amps contain the connection for SE input cables, and 3 speaker binding posts which accept both spade and banana terminations. The negative rests in the middle of the high and low output taps. There too, you’ll find the main fuse holder which protects the amp. One other fuse is inside the amp and the bottom cover must be removed to get to it. It’s also highly doubtful this interior fuse will blow according to Gary Dodd.
Why, you ask?

I don’t recall exactly, but I did ask when I had decided to make use of an outboard meter for biasing them with.

To his credit, Gary said if I shipped them back to him he would modify mine so only a pair of upright pins or wells to affix your meter too, could then be used for the process. Gary then would place a stainless steel cover plate over the then removed OEM meter. Apparently this modification was something he had planned to do in his upcoming models as the new status quo. If the interior fuse does take a dump on you, or you merely have too much time on your hands and wish to peer into the point to point wiring or other interesting workings of the design, you’ll need a small Allen wrench. The footers do not need to be removed to take off the bottom plate.

Two rows of the taller EL34s flank the smaller triangle of splitter and driver tubes immediately in front of the transformer, and about the on board biasing meter. Seven tubes, 3 small, 4 tall. Simple.

These modest looking power houses need to be biased manually. It doesn’t take long and is quite simple a thing to do. They come with an on board meter that is nestled in the midst of the mini tube triangle array. A selector switch immediately below it and two small wells hiding within them, the biasing screws, one for each bank of EL34s, to either the right or left of the switch itself altogether provide the means. The biasing screws are also recessed so no casual handling of the equipment can affect the bias accidentally and need only a small flat head screw driver to make any adjustment.

For my purposes I attached internally, a pair of leads to the wires normally terminated at the meter so a DMM with a large LCD display could then be used to more accurately bias them. I ran the extension leads out thru the ventilation holes in the amps’ base plates. The recommended bias is .700 ma. Adjusting this setting too will reflect on the sound you hear, thus making for a highly configurable, simple to operate, inexpensive to maintain, pair of gutsy involving sonic appliances that excel in recreating the musical scenery.

Lastly of the user friendly devices, there are two toggle switches to the very front of the amps. One is the power switch; the other is a mute or standby switch. That’s it. 3 switches, 4 output tubes coupled to an enormous but silent transformer, 3 input tubes, a RCA input and 2 output taps for 8 & 4 ohm speakers. Naturally, speakers of other impedance values will work, and no speaker keeps an unwavering impedance curve at every frequency.

Setting up

here is the no brainer portion of the show. connect the cable of choice that is just swinging free from your preamp, variable volume DAC or source, to one of the MK II amps, and repeat with the other dangling cable.

Select the end of the speaker cables which are likewise just laying about without attachment... and then yes, repeat once more... there are two amps here! One for each channel.

Unless you really really like them, and want to bi amp your speakers vertically, in which case consult your owners manual.

When connecting loudspeakers to these amps, begin by using the impedance taps specific to the rated nominal impedance of your speakers.

the negative or common speaker lead afixes to the center post of the three side by side speaker binding posts. They will accept modest sized spades and bananas.

turn off the power switch on the front facia and insert your favorite power cord into the 15A IEC located directly dead center at rear of amp.

Double check your connections and you should be set to go!

For the more worrisome tube roller receiving a preowned unit via the Audiogon classifieds, you may wish to emulate the following in some way.

I used all electronically tested & matched, (not a prerequisite) CED Winged C Russian EL34’S, and 3 Tungsol 5687 minis, I biased the amps at the recommended .700 ma and tried every speaker in house with these interesting and talented mono block amps. Apart from the constraints and limitations of the speakers these Dodd monos drove everything I threw at them with apparent ease. Never clipping, or acting as if they had hit the power band wall.

Dem tubes, dem tubes, dem glass tubes…

Rolling tubes is optional with any tube based component. Roll the tubes out of the device and roll in another flavor of the sound or it’s depiction. Ahhh, the glory and fun of glass. From meagerly priced recent tube type issues to the more extravagant at times, ‘New Old Stock’ (NOS) choices, the combinations and investment on board the MK II amps are as usual left up to the desires of the ruling roller, as it were. Just another novelty act, one might think of this tube replacing business. Perhaps. Perhaps not. Make no mistake however, it is very real and intrinsic purely to the tube realm as a viable avenue for those so inclined. Consequently, with tube appliances, what you see is not always exactly what you ultimately get. I do not preview such items with the notion in mind of what could be with different tubes on board. Not at all. It is merely a consideration which lingers about the back of one’s mind. After all makers of tube components must choose designs which have a wealth of those tubes in steady supply. Otherwise there will surely be some issues forthcoming, either on the available replacement side of things or for continued production. NOS tube supplies continue to diminish and their costs are rising.

The splitter and driver mini tubes in the 120 MK IIs can be rolled just as the EL34s. Either the 5687 or 7044 (or their replacements) can be used in the amplifiers. All of one type or the other work very well indeed. Too, there are replacement tubes for each of these types, so the combinations are enough to keep one off the streets for some time trying them all out. In fact a mixture of them can be integrated into the amps, so long as the top tube in the pyramid (just above the bias meter) is of one type, and the two below it remain one of the two aforementioned sets. So one 7044 + two 5687, or the other way around will work fine. Just keep the bottom pair of tubes alike. The choices aren’t endless but there are a great many once you begin to consider the various brands, eras, suitable replacements, etc. Such an inherent value as having the ability to extract numerous sounds from one vacuum tube apparatus with but the interchanging of some of it’s tubes is a most substantial thing for those in the icy grips of audiophilia nervosa… or anyone else that wants another perspective on their music, but does not want to rush out and buy another set of mono blocks, preamp, source, or speakers.

Using the Russian CED EL 34s throughout this concern I swapped in and out the mini tubes first to see what was available for me sound wise. I ran the GE outfitted ones first but felt there was too much bite. I tried all RCA and the results were softer and warmer by far, though a skosh to uninteresting. I slipped in a set of tungsols and I was happy. Want to ‘dreamy’ it up a bit? Change out the top most mini tube to an RCA. Need a slice more definition? Use a GE in that spot. The output tubes as well are awaiting either approval from the user or their stand-in to arrive.

Consequently the ‘end’ sound of these amps is so variable via bottle juggling, that one can ‘tune’ it to a near exacting preference. The main advantage here is going to be the actual costs of the tubes, and all of these tubes, even as NOS options are quite reasonable, as tube prices go. In tube amplifiers re-tubing usually is a matter of ‘when’, not if, so those costs have to figure into selecting an amp for myself. I re-tube every amp I buy almost immediately so I have a stable known platform from which to begin any exchanging affairs. Not to mention the immediate auxiliary set this act provides.

There has been no need at all to re-tube the MK IIs in the near two years I’ve owned them now, nor has any tube failed. Life expectancy for the OEM tubes is set far beyond what many will ever see in normal use…. Especially if they become a card carrying member of the ‘tube rolling’ circuit.

Tube comparisons and other thoughts

Running all electronically tested & matched, (not a prerequisite) CED Winged C Russian EL34’S, and 3 Tungsol 5687 minis, I biased the amps at the recommended .700 ma and tried every speaker in house with these interesting and talented mono block amps. Apart from the constraints and limitations of the speakers these Dodd monos drove everything I threw at them with apparent ease. Never clipping, or acting as if they had hit the power band wall.

My toughest load is my Phase Tech PC 10.5 3 way towers, which have a 4 ohm nominal imp, dropping to 2 ohms when deep into the labyrinth of bass notes, and an 87db sensitivity. The bass begins to drop off noticeably around the low 40s with these speakers but the Dodd’s had respectable control and communicated easily the musical content with strength and honesty.
Prior to the Gary Dodd units arrival, I adopted a BAT VK60 amplifier for a time. By contrast, a BAT VK60 did not fare as well below the 50-60 Hz zone but did provide more of a spatial quality giving the presentation’s elements more distance from one another. The BAT too held a slightly more defined leading edge well into the treble region, but in there the tendency of those delineated notes was more akin to a starker presence and less ease. Neither amp presented the upper areas of sound as thin in fact, but only by comparison did the BAT seem to yield less involvement up there, than did the 120 MK IIs. I recall it like triangles had lots more angle to them. Strings had more strings than tones. Not to the point of irritation, just a easily noted thing.

I outfitted the BAT with a compliment of RCA 6SN7s throughout with 3 different era NOS tubes on 3 different attempts to improve upon the whole, and ended up sending them all back save one set to the vendor as either poorly sourced or noisy tubes. Ultimately I did acquire a good set and a new twin mated pair of the big Russian output tubes.
At no time, regardless the tube compliment could I manage to attain the warmth and solidity the Dodd 120s afforded at every sitting. In fact I found the previously owned BAT VK500 sand amp to be far more warmly set than was the VK60 irrespective of the speakers I used with them. Additionally, where the VK60 & VK500 would lay back the sound stage from the plane of the speakers, the Dodd amps alternatively surrounded them with the stage they presented thus migrating the recorded venue closer to the listening position.

The Phase Tech 10.5 towers thumbprint is a bit to the warmish side of neutral and they do excel in the upper timberland acres with a fine tweeter assembly. Mid range too is exceptional with detail and ambient resolution. Naturally these thoughts are held with my keeping their actual price points in mind. The PC 10.5s were a former flagship speaker. 15 years ago they were selling for just under the $3K per pair boundary.

One would then probably surmise they would be more amenable to the more articulate and airy BAT, yet comparatively speaking, the Dodd possessed the greater heft in delivering the goods.

I ultimately chalked this notable disparity in tonality between the BAT & Dodd amps, predominately up to the voices of the different output tubes, yet I can not completely discount the fact the Sonata IIIs weren’t entirely run in while the BAT was on site. EL34s were indeed the hardier and more robust sounding of the lot versus the big Russkies on all other speakers though.

Certainly this more resolute/starker difference is a matter of preference in a presentation, and not a deficit in performance of either amplifier.

These sonic differences prevailed throughout the whole of my on hand speaker trials without change. Each time the prevailing character of each amp shone thru with deference to the loudspeaker in use.

Imaging, one of my pet peeves and something I strive for in any system I might put together, was very good to exemplary. The instruments were intuitively placed well about a properly defined stage. Plenty of air separated the players from one another. The VK 60 added still more of this commodity however it never quite provided the fullness of sound in the upper mids that the MK IIs could.

Everything just made good sense when I listened to music through either amp, yet the Dodd amps were most often the more involving of those two.

The big BAT glass amp held its own throughout quite well prominately setting whatever environs were on the recording, a mite further away, and with less weightiness in the images.

Another thought here is using just these two amps, Balanced Audio Technologies, and Gary Dodds mono blocks, it’s only fair to say their similarities are far less than their disparities. The VK60 also had some years on the MK IIs too…. about 10, give or take a year here or there. Each contained new glass throughout though.

When you get it right, you’ll know it.

An interesting after the fact experiment was done using the Silverline Sonata IIIs in conjunction with the mono blocks though. Somehow, perhaps due to my own haste, I miscalculated the actual time of run in for the Sonatas. I felt they were done breaking in and sounded less than in the upper regions than I thought they should sound so I got plenty worried. Having heard thru other sources the Sonata IIIs possibly have a tougher impedance curve than proclaimed, I felt they should be set to the four ohm taps of the mono amps. So I put them onto the lower taps instead of the normally chosen ones. My rush to amend the sound came at about the 150 – 200 hour mark. Given what I heard following the swap I was set vastly more at ease. That simple move had fueled distinct differences by way of presentation and tonality. I made that move and left them so attached thinking everyone but Silverline was right about their load characteristics. I’ve since changed this assignment and my own mind, back to preferring 8 ohm taps as best for the Dodd + Silverline combination.

All the aforementioned notes on the MK II and Silverline combination were made while the Silverlines were operating from the 4 ohm taps.

On the four ohm taps my predilection for an enveloping, musically rich replay was certainly in play. By so attaching them the sound was fluid, warm, and romantically inclined, though not to the point of disallowing other faster more complex music to be unclear… but things were headed down that road. The sonic depiction was not inordinately syrupy or sluggish, nor was the tonal capacities diluted by using a lesser powered interface, Images were by contrast, fatter, but more translucent than opaque. The stage was exceedingly increased and lay about the speakers in each direction. Adequate power to plant the images in space simply wasn’t there and control was lacking. Such is the case when a higher impedance speaker is placed onto a lower impedance output tap, or that is my understanding. The available power output then drops. The saving grace here is the efficiency of the Sonata IIIs… at a rated 93db, even a loss of power by as much as half allowed for a still inviting presentation.

Swapping back…

Listening to the now 8 ohm tap, with familiar tracks the additional resolution, detail, and ambient retrieval was markedly improved. This welcome addition overshadowed my previous experience with warm and richly revealed cues as this new sound presently became more exciting. The presentation inundated me with more musical truth thereby creating a more realistic setting in front of me.

Sure enough, some loss of big and thick occurred. So too was there some loss of dark and unrealized. The sonic replacements did however outshine that former experience simply by conveying far greater musical and venue oriented statements which offered up a more exciting sonic sea to be engulfed within.

I sat there mesmerized as all this took place. I kept waiting for the edgy strident and brittle behavior of the not yet run in Sonata’s to return, and finally just got tired of waiting for it. It was then I succumbed to this new system sound and got over being angry at myself for the said miscalculation.

Naturally this obvious transformation for me, took some adjusting to, and in the end it was more than welcomed. Had it come at the expense of tonal encumbrances, artifacts, sterility, or an analytical reproduction, it would not have been well received.

It never got to that point though.

No tilting up of harmonic quality took place. Strings revealed both picks and bow activities upon the string itself, with just as much ease and without subtracting from the notes being played. Vocalists head movements about the mike, and their breaths became synonymous with the conveyance of their emotive content. Dog house bass tones were yet more practical and resolved possessing greater immediacy and range. Triangles did not receive more ‘angle’. Symbols gained more shimmer. Banjos got pluckier. Mandolins sweetened up.

Hartman and Prysocks’ baritones remained baritone. Raw boned wailings from the likes of Johnny Lang, Dr John, Wilson Pickett, and the inimitable Joe Cocker, made me transcendentally revisit some of their past concerts. Norah Jones’ breathy style got more seductive as her presence in the room was made more like a touchable thing.

AS configuration friendly as I have mentioned the Dodd amps are, the sound ultimately became so remarkably different, it was as if I had replaced some major piece in the signal conduit. Every aspect of the rendered sound was more articulate, visceral, immediate, and simply sprang into being from nothingness. Notes gained some greater weight. There was an increase in depth of stage information. Instruments filled out and attained a more organic or realistic timberal quality. Naturalness was the hall mark of the current presentation.

Things went from “Hey that’s pretty good!!” to “oh, wow!” in a hurry.

On recordings with enough well recorded venue info, you become a part of the audience and your seat is in the first few rows though not the first or second usually. With exceptional recordings you receive the better, “May I have your autograph please?” sort of experience. I was astounded by the various and overt changes in performance increases such a seemingly minor and “Oh by the way I forgot” thing could account for by just changing to another more appropriate tap, the music was sent to another world.

As amenable to alterations in the tube compliment as the Dodds are, they respond welll to shifts of accessories too. Power cords, amp stands, tube rings, and power filtering – conditioning, all yielded easily noticed resulsts. All were notably different, and many were outright improvements.

“Into the Mystic”

I’ve long since forgotten about ever acquiring those Thor Audio mono block amps despite the spell they cast on me so long ago now. Now and then one only needs to have another form of enchantment in it’s place.

I’ve not forgotten that the sound we have at our disposal can very likely be altered, elevated, shifted or just improved upon. I can an do understand the import of having quality electronics on the premises for any such effort as well.

The MK IIs are just such a component. They provide the heart which propels the musical life force of the system into the reproducers, and cast some spells of their own.

You don’t have to add the ‘eye of a newt’ or the tongue of a crow to formulate any such supernatural web weaving. Merely add other good devices into the caldron, as it were, sit back and relax. The magic will appear if you have done your due diligence along the way.

Be mindful as well, without any hocus pocus what so ever being tossed about in your listening room, the Dodd MK II mono block amps will indeed captivate your attention, and lift your own spirits too. Even if you play them as they are equipped right out of the boxes they come to you in.


The bottom line on these amps is this… they are made of superior materials well designed and solidly built. Function leads form here and a practical yet neat and comely appearance is the esthetic.

They are vastly configurable with the numerous tube choices and their combinations. They are esy to shift about weighing in at less than 50 pounds each. They provide substantial power supplies that can run some quite difficult loads. They don’t run extremely hot as many tube amps can, say for instance the BATs.

They hold their bias well and checking it once a month revealed only minor changes were necessary, as they had drifted to .675 & 665 on avg. respectively, from the standard .700 suggested setting it is not even an audibly noticeable shift.

Having the Dodds about now for 2 years, they have given me no cause for concern, no incidents, outages, or worry. They just keep on keeping on. They emit enough power to prevent casual speaker damage and satisfy repeatedly with highly musical, dynamic pulse and dexterity. They convey the decay tubes alone can render, and display an involving harmonic palette.

What ever the motif, the Dodd 120 MK II w/cap upgrades handle quite easily everything I threw at them and respond as well to just about every alteration audiophiles might come up with as their next “great tweak!” to aim their way.

So in a word they are fun. Fun to have, own and operate. Satisfying to listen too, and easy to manage. Even the packing using molded closed foam cells the amps fit into like a well tailored suit, says some pride of production and ownership is contained within.

Their affordable upkeep costs make for a true user friendly appliance. Their end product too, the music they make, is an exceptionally grin filled toe tapping, knee bobbing, experience. I’d recommend them to anyone looking to get into tubes regardless their own experience level with hollow state.


Alas nothing is perfect and the MK IIs are no exception. All of the supplied tubes are laid out on a wide open surface towards the front of the amp. Tubes in general run hot. Very hot to the human touch. If small and curious inexperienced fingers are around the listening room from time to time, this definitely poses a threat.

One thought aside from a screen enclosure of sorts is to place them higher up, and well beyond reach of any adventurous small fry, or pet. 50 lbs is still 50 lbs and there are two for which to manage new real estate for, yet

I would submit some thought be given here for the end product is worth a few added safety steps.

If a formidable budget is not the current state of affairs, and no bail out funds are on the horizon, try either bribing or prying a pair of the MK II mono’s from the home of a current owner. I think you will be glad you did.

Full disclosure notation

I don't know Gary Dodd from Adam's house cat. I bought these amps preowned from another member.

I am however most grateful to Gary Dodd for his input, offers of assistance, and his ability to have put together such a fine way to amplify a signal and drive good speakers with.

Also to Audiogon for providing the catylyst which gained me so very much, for so reasonable a price.

No audiophiles were injured (that I'm aware of) in formulating comprising, and posting of this article.

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Cary, CJ, BAT, Thor
Nice review.
Was fun to read.
You are welcome.
Great review, thank you it was a joy to read! Gary Dodd makes some fine products that's for sure!


Thank you.

Their flexibility and ease of operation as well as the costs for it, make the MK II or now, MK III, monos a no brainer for the ultralinear fans. Or those looking to get into tubes from SS and don't want to worry about exacting amp & speaker matches, as SET amps entail..
Man what a nice review. Very good read. IT is interesting to see an amp doing 120W/channel using EL34s and not KT-88 or Tung Sol KT-120s. I was looking up info about Gary Dodd and some of his tube gear and found out Gary Dodd is very ill with life threatening heart issues.

More info can be found here.

Just trying to get word out for Gary. He seems like one of the true upstanding gents in this hobby.
A lot of audiophiles tend to be excited about sound of  the tube gear they just acquire/purchase  without  any comparison.