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... 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 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.

    4 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

    3. In 1965, my parents' "Big Radio", a 1947 Magnavox AM/FM/SW/Phono with 15" field-coil woofer and massive horn mid/tweeter breathed its last. As I was already a hi-fi nut, my dad told me to find a new system but it had to fit in the mahogany Magnavox cabinet. The only gear that would fit were a Harman-Kardon transistor amp and tuner and Dynaco gear. As dad didn't trust transistors, Dynaco it was. Dynaco only built an FM tuner and my mother demanded an AM tuner so she could listen to her beloved Cincinnati Reds. So, we bought the whole kit and kaboodle: PAS-3X, FM-3, Stereo 70, an EICO AM tuner and an Electro-Voice 15" full-range speaker. Only the Stereo 70 and the EICO were kits as I was a total newbie to kits and wanted to play it safe. My dad had his doubts and bet me $20 the kits wouldn't work when I finished them. He had to pay up. Later, I convinced my folks to add a second speaker for stereo and after much wheedling, they agreed to buy an E-V bookshelf - been so long I don't remember the model. Both kits went together well, the Dynaco easier than the EICO but when it was all connected it worked well. The system is now in the hands of my nephew who has committed to bringing it back to full working condition.

    4. Oh, I forgot: the summer of '65, I built myself an EICO ST-70 integrated amp. That stretched my meager abilities to their greatest extent. It worked but I had a hard time getting rid of a 120 hZ buzz. Finally found a service guy who agreed to look at it and he took care of it quickly. Think the problem was a cold solder joint somewhere. Used it all through college until I started selling stereo equipment and bought a Sherwood S-7600 receiver on closeout.

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