It’s often said that we don’t build anything in America anymore. That’s clearly bunk; we just build different things than we used to.

The same could be said of Americans: DIY and projects in the home are bigger than ever…we just don’t build the things shown in Popular Mechanics mags of the ’50’s, like  miniature train setups or hovercrafts powered by lawnmower engines.

Or hi-fi kits.

At one point, most major brands of American  hi-fi gear produced kits. Looking back from a distance, we mostly think of Dynakits (produced by Dynaco), and the two leaders, Heathkit and Eico. But kits were also offered by HH Scott, Harman-Kardon, even McIntosh. The Vintage Hi-Fi website has a lot of information on vintage kits, and several of these images are from that site (many thanks to them). Almost everything was available in kit form, back in the ’50’s and ’60’s. Speaker drivers were often sold accompanied by enclosure plans., and enclosures built by third-party companies like Barzilay were readily available. Even top-of-the-line speaker systems like the Electrovoice Patrician and JBL Paragon were offered in simplified two-way configurations that could be upgraded with the purchase of additional drivers and crossovers.

The Dynaco/Dynakit Stereo 70 amp and  matching preamps PAS-2 and PAS-3 probably introduced more folks to component hi-fi and kit-building than just about any other gear. The Dynaco name periodically reappears; the company may be in business again, right now—I’m just not sure.

An unbuilt ST-70 kit. An unbuilt kit speaks to me of lost direction and abandoned aspirations….

When we think of hi-fi kits, amplifiers usually come to mind—but turntables and even tone arms were offered in kit form. This 1959 Audax tone arm kit would run about $130 today, adjusting for inflation.

Eico was a major force in the kit world…

…as was Heath, whose Heathkits became synonymous with build-your-own gear. Both companies are long gone.

Ikea could learn a thing or two from this Harman-Kardon kit.

McIntosh was equally well-organized with their MacKits.

I’ve owned/sold a ton of McIntosh gear through the years, but have never seen a Mac Kit piece. That chromed logo cracks me up. I can also think of alternate meanings for “STFT”.

Walt Jung—a designer known for his pioneering work in the characteristics of capacitors—wrote about his early experiences with audio kits in a nostalgic piece in The Audiophile Voice. Even Julian Hirsch wrote about amplifier kits in Hi-Fi Review, way back in 1962. Reproduced here, the article is an interesting comparison of kits from Eico, Dynaco, Scott, and others.

As is true of most special interests, once you get looking, there’s a lot of information out there about vintage hi-fi kits. There’s even a subculture that collects unbuilt kits, like toy collectors who seek out toys that were never played with, and still reside in pristine boxes…like tiny corpses in tiny coffins….

I get it— but there’s just something wrong with that….

So: ever build a kit? Or build gear from scratch? Tell us about it. Being the king of cold solder joints, I’ve never done it.

2 comments on “Kits!”

  1. Built a Dynaco Preamp. It sounded OK but it did have a slight channel imbalance from balance center, but the price is right. Thinking about a kit from GR-Research and their speaker builds. They have a great Youtube channel.

  2. I built two kits. The first was a gift when I graduated high school in 1973. A Heathkit stereo cassette deck. When I opened the box, I was mesmerized by the prebuilt transport, with its smoke colored window and silver piano keys. It excited me so. The process involved soldering each electronic component onto a PC board, and then assembling the unit. The final step was screwing great looking walnut side pieces. I remember how delighted I was to make my first recording, Carly Simon’s “You’re so Vain” off the radio, and replaying it through my 1 watt sony radio and bass reflex speaker – which my dad and I built. A little bit later I was dismayed that the left channel’s VU meter would always read -15 dB, when the record button was pressed. That problem never fixed itself. It was annoying, but not audible. The bigger problem, I didn’t realize until later, was that the magnetic record flux level at 0dB was quite low, when played back on better equipment. I think the cost was around $150 – as much or more than a better deck from Sony would cost. That’s $900 today. I never really got over the fact that my deck cost more and was inferior to my brother-in-law’s JVC, which had noise reduction.

    My next, HiFi kit experience was quite a bit better. A Dynaco PAT-4 Pre-amp. I got this when I was 19, and it was the way I listened to records and cassettes throughout college. The PC board was already assembled with the electronic components. It had a nice gold colored face-plate, and a rocker power switch that glowed orange at power on. The look of the switches was old fashioned, but I loved the unit and its look. Dynaco did have value in their kits, and the quality was better than Heathkit (at that time), so I was a proud owner. I probably sold the unit after college. I doubt if I got much money for it, so I wished I still owned it!

    – Jerry Chapman Los Angeles

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