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April 29, 2020

Dynaco PAS Full Function RCA Jack Kit from Dynakit Parts

Likely the most popular tube amps in existence, Dynaco has many fans both young and old. Given how well they have stood the test of time, I hope they continue to be sought after for many decades to come. There are a number of companies offering kits resembling the originals with modern bits and pieces, but if you want to build or restore a Dynaco as close to the spirit of the original as possible, Dynakit Parts offerings are a great choice. 

Dynakit Parts is a company based in Paramus, New Jersey and has an impressive selection of reproductions of all the most popular Dynaco vacuum tube products. The kits are about as close to the originals as you can get, from the can capacitor to the screw-down terminal strips but have the benefit of using freshly made transformers and other modern parts.

If you are familiar with the older Dynakits from the 60s, you will remember they featured RCA inputs that are a little different than what we typically see today. On the pre-amps and integrated amps, they were spaced very close to one another and it is hard to find RCA cables that fit them now-a-days, not to mention middling quality (though good for the time).

There have been several attempts to reproduce the RCA board on the PAS using higher quality materials, however because of the spacing, not all the RCAs were able to fit in these offerings. Now that we're in 2020 that is not the case. Dynakit Parts has created a very nice-looking solution for those of you looking to feature all the inputs of the original while also providing a high-quality solution. Best of all, you do not have to cut or modify the existing chassis in any way, the kit fits like a glove. 

Above you'll see the items that are included in the kit. You get the handsome brown polyimide board with integrated grounding scheme, nine pair of gold RCAs, two pair of half-watt resistors, a bag of hardware, some detailed instructions, and a nice decal to identify the connections. The cost is a very reasonable $75, especially considering how many gold-plated RCAs are included. Last I checked they run about $6 a pair at PartsExpress, so you can do the math.

Something else that $75 bucks buys you is you don't have to wire up all the ground connections. Just tightening on the RCAs makes electrical connection with the integrated grounding. The image below gives you a better look at the traces.

So what do you have to do to get this puppy ready for install? Simply populate the RCAs onto the board and lightly tighten with a socket tool of your choice. Next you add the resistors and solder in place, and viola! you are done. So simple you can knock it out in 5-10 minutes. You'd then install on your PAS chassis using the provided hardware, or if you prefer a permanent install you can use pop-rivets to fasten the board in place.

Here is the other side of the board when completed.

...and here are a couple of images of the unit installed in a chassis (the nice ground lug is included in the parts):

So what's the verdict? If you are looking for an RCA board that features all the connectivity of the original PAS, this is a no-brainer. It's well made, easy to use and the gold RCAs look like they'll withstand the test of time. You could make a similar board yourself by drilling out a FR4 board, but you'd end up paying the same or more and it probably wouldn't look as nice. 

Now, if you're not a purist and don't need every connection available for the PAS, Dynakit Parts makes a nice kit with a couple less RCAs for a very reasonable $50 (as of this writing). 

If you're interested in the PAS RCA board or other Dynaco-related items, whether building a kit or performing a restoration, Dynakit Parts should be on your short-list. I've ordered quite a few things from Kevin over the years and everything has been superlative.

Hope you enjoyed the write-up. For more PAS related entertainment, you can check out this restoration I did several years ago.

Review disclosure: Dynakit Parts provided a reviewer's sample of the PAS RCA Board to DIYAudioBlog for an honest review. 

February 4, 2020

AudioQuest NightHawk Carbon Custom Headphone Cable

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’d know that AudioQuest is one of the most prolific audio cable manufacturers in the business. They also make some other nice stuff including the Dragonfly-series USB DACs and Niagara-series power conditioners. I personally really like their Jitterbug, an inexpensive little USB device that filters the power on your computer’s USB out.

Several years ago, Audioquest released their first foray into the burgeoning headphone market: The Nighthawk. The Nighthawk was priced competitively at $699 when it came out in 2015. It also made use of 3D printed "plastic-wood" cups, which was relatively cutting edge for the time. Since then, there’s been so much fierce competition in this price range that it would be hard to recommend it at its original price (these days I’d recommend the Audeze LCD-2 Classic or MrSpeakers/Dan Clark Audio AEON in this range). 

AudioQuest must have noticed the sea-change in the space, subsequently reducing the price to $599, then to $399, before discontinuing it at a price of $249. Somewhere during this 5-year stint the NightHawk Carbon came out with a revised driver and a closed-model, the NightOwl, came out. The interesting plastic-wood was also replaced with a less unique (and probably less polarizing) shimmering dark blue, not too far from the color-scheme of some Massdrop headphones like the Sennheiser HD-6XX (see 6XX mods here). 

Does the free-falling price-point insinuate that Audioquest's stint into headphones was poorly executed? Not at all, it's actually quite good for a company's first entry in the space. I personally find them a joy to listen to. Their signature is warm, slightly dark, very forgiving of poorly recorded music (think garage indie and alternative rock), and provide good bass quality and quantity. They’re well suited for movies and videogames in addition to music. They’re also very easy to drive with a 25-ohm impedance, and they’re light and comfortable. Some other niceties include a substantial travel case, two different pairs of earpads in the box (leather and velour), and a headphone cable with a microphone built in.

Oddly, the headphone cable is only four feet, which is a length typically reserved for headphones that are intended for mostly portable use. Given the NightHawk is semi-open and is not foldable, this is an odd choice, but fortunately solvable given the cable is user replaceable.

Given the Nighthawks are on the dark/warm side of things, a crisp-sounding cable will help bring the details out and give the headphone a more balanced sound. I chose the Xev, which is silver-clad copper in PTFE, rather than an all-copper or litz copper solution. Had the headphone been more detailed to start, a copper cable would work perfectly well.

The Xev is a hand-braided litz of four isolated 24 gauge silver-clad copper wires sleeved in soft black nylon multifilament from TechFlex. 

The NightHawk makes use of 2.5mm TS connectors, where the sleeve is ground/negative, and the tip is signal/positive. They need to be slim fit or you'll run into issues. Eidolic makes a nice connector that fits the requirements as of this writing, and you can find solutions on AliExpress as well.

Below is a photo of the completed Xev cable, flexible and lightweight with plenty of length for those of us that need more than 4 feet. 

The sound is notably more balanced with more prominent treble, making it a definite keeper. 

If you are interested in the NightHawk Carbon, I'd suggest picking one up soon, as they are discontinued and AudioQuest has released a letter to distributors indicating they don't plan to offer any subsequent headphones, at least not in the immediate future. For the current price, build quality and extras, I could see this being a great first step into audiophile headphones, although one should also check out the Sennheiser/Massdrop HD-6XX, it's a hard value to beat.

To order a custom cable for the NightHawk, NightHawk Carbon, NightOwl, or many other headphones, please visit Zynsonix.com today.